Salafism in the south

By Charles P. Schmitz
Submitted to Session P4744 (The South in the Yemeni Conflict, 2017 Annual Meeting
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Salafism grew rapidly in southern Yemen over the last two decades, but its impact on the south is relatively unexplored. This paper will attempt to delimit the nature of Salafist ideas in the south and explore the sociopolitical dimensions of Salafism in southern Yemen.
Salafism encompasses a broad spectrum of ideas that encompasses both Muhammad Abdu’s engagement with modernity and rigid attacks on the traditional corpus of Muslim thought. Delimiting the particular ideas common to Salafism in southern Yemen and their diversity within is a helpful start in understanding the Salafist south.
Salafism also has an important sociopolitical dimension in the south. Salafist schools became very popular in the south among the young after the war of 1994, and in the current war, Salafists and Salafi leaders have played important roles in the military conflict. However, Salafism is associated with both a conservative adherence to existing political leaders and a revolutionary rejection of existing social order. In the southern context, Salafism appears not to form a single sociopolitical bloc, but to comprise diverse and sometimes contradictory political positions. Some Salafist leaders have taken strongly to the southern separatist cause, and others are strongly allied with the Hadi coalition and are fighting in the north as far as Saada. This paper will explore the diversity of Salafist positions in trying to assess the impact of Salafism in the southern scene.