Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Differences Between Wahabism and Salafism

Wahabism vs Salafism

The word salaf is short for salaf us-sawleh (pious predecessors), salafis therefore is a term used by a sect that claims to follow the first three generations of the ummah of the Prophet Muhammad the companions of the Prophet, his followers/scholars or students called the tabaeen, and their followers or students called taba-tabaee. A web search of the word produces the meaning: a word denoting one who ascribes her/himself to the Salaf of Islam based on its meaning in the Arabic language. This meaning is in coherence with the beliefs of the salafis, the words of Allah in the Quran should be read and accepted as they are and learnt, the explanations of the words are not regarded. This contradicts the scholastic rise of the sect itself.

The word wahabism is naturally derived from the name of its founder and leader Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab. Their beliefs are rigid and focus on direct interpretation of the words of the Quran. The word wahabi is derogatory and no one following the sect refers to himself as a ‘wahhabi’. According to the Wahabis, Allah is above the throne and does not ever leave it, they believe also that he is in the sky of the world. They condemn many acts which they consider polytheistic or “shirk” such as praying at holy shrines such as those of saints or even Islamic Prophets, and wearing amulets. They also consider indulging in philosophical interpretations of Quranic text as a prohibited act and some even call it ‘bidah’ (apostasy) or ‘shirk’.

As such the two sects are one and the same, the latter being an offspring of the former. Most of salafi and wahabi beliefs are essentially the same. In that respect, differences between the two are few and far between. The differences between the two can be found in their origins, their history, the enemies they share and in their various injunctions, which as minor as they may be, lie in the preaching of the different scholars. Even the students of the salafi leader Ibn Taymiyah differ with him on certain matters and do not entirely consider his teachings to be sound.

The founders of salafism, whether the controversial scholars themselves or their protagonists, were Ibn Taymiyya, his student Ibn al-Qayyim and al-Dhahabi, Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab Najdi and his followers like Bin Baz, Uthaymin, Albani, etc. Ibn Taymiyyah was educated by his father and without proper guidance under Islamic scholars began to preach Islam. His preaching became unpopular in no time at all as the people realized how different they were from orthodox Islamic belief. Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn al-Qayyim were often jailed for their erroneous ways and eventually they were thrown out of Iraq and finally settled in Najd. Thus salafism saw its rise and fall in Iraq. Ibn Taymiyyah and his scholars/ followers were very diversified in their Islamic ideology which goes to dissuade the possibility of any third party involvement.

Wahabism came into being in the middle of the 18th century in the desert-village of Dir’iyyah located in the Arabian Peninsula’s central region of Najd as the work of Mohammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab (1703-92) who revitalized the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah, therefore it can be said that wahabism took root from salafism. Despite discouragement from family and friends Abdul Wahhab continued to preach the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah. Wahabism surfaced temporarily in the start of the 18th century in Uyayyinah but it was put down and it’s protagonists jailed. It resurfaced for the third time in mid 19th century under Abd al-Aziz Bin Abd al-Rahman.

Unlike salafism, wahabism is a more violent and intolerant in nature. Or so it may seem, the enemies of both sects were the same; the shia, the sunni and, especially,the sufis. During the rise of wahabbism, many sunni and shia families were killed, the sons decapitated and the women raped. This kind of violence was not seen at the time of the birth of salafism. Around 40,000 houses were burnt down.

As a general rule all wahabis are salafists but all salafists are not wahabis. Unlike salafism, wahabism managed to spread all across the Arabian peninsula and became dominant in Hejaz, the Saud family which was well impregnated with wahabism, having joined hands in mid 18th century, eventually took control of the land and soon gave it the title ‘Saudi Arabia’. Salafism did not manage to take root in many Arab lands, except for Najd which also marks the place of birth of Abdul Wahhab.


  • salafism started in the thirteenth century. Wahabism started in the 19th century
  • salafism started by a few controversial scholars
  • one started in Iraq one in Najd.
  • both were unpopular
  • wahabism was strategized and more violent, salafism a little less so
  • wahabism became more successful
  • wahabism later acclaimed the title salafism.
  • meaning of salaf/salafi
  • meaning of wahabism

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  1. bid’ah doesn’t mean apostasy it means innovation (i.e. bringing something new into the religion, therefore alien to its fundamental teachings)

  2. Both Muslim sects, Shia and Sunni, have denounced Wahhabism as being an extremely perverted form of Islam (particularly, Sunni Islam), and some to such lengths as to say they are kaffir (nonbelievers). I would like to emphasize however, that although the Wahhabis see the Shia as their ultimate enemies, and killing 10 Shias will grant you paradise, they have been to known to kill anyone, Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jew, etc., who does not agree with their perverted form of Islam. Most terrorist groups are Wahhabi, or come from Wahhabi roots, such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, al-Shabbab, etc.

    • Sure Dear Bob , I’m a Shia and I have Sunni friends that both o us believe Wahhabism are against Islam because they use violent for their goals that is completely against the way that prophet Muhammad had .

  3. information is wrong, when both were started, yes the name might be given later. but the belief is the same as before 1400 years ago. \
    beware from Christians information society. they fabricate the history as per their requirements. they misguide you.

  4. Friends…..Everyone need to open his heart. First 50 years of Islam…..no sects….we all have a final Goal….Let’s live & practice our own way by. . letting others live & practice their ways. J A.

  5. Very wrong information. maybe the author’s intention was not to put up the wrong information but I’d strongly advice him to research it more. thanks.

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