- Salafism in Lebanon: Local and Transnational Movements by Zoltan Pall
When thinking of Lebanon, the subject of Salafism does not immediately come to mind, perhaps, probably because of the country's diverse sectarian make-up. Yet this book by Zoltan Pall—based on his PhD-thesis, which he defended at Utrecht University (my current employer) in 2014—a research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore, shows that Salafism in Lebanon is, in fact, very much alive and even growing among Sunnis in the country.
After explaining the tenets of and divisions within Salafism, the author delves into the transformation of this ideology in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and especially Kuwait in chapter 1. Describing how different trends within Salafism (politically quietist "purists" and politically activist "haraki" Salafis) came into existence as a result of ideological cross-fertilisation and political and social developments, Pall pays special attention to the Jam'iyyat Ihya' al-Turath al-Islami. He shows how its one-time leader, the "haraki" scholar Abu 'Abdallah 'Abd al-Rahman bin 'Abd al-Khaliq, was ousted from the organisation as a result of his political positions, which led to the organisation becoming a "purist" vehicle supported by the state, leading Ibn 'Abd al-Khaliq and his supporters to form a new group.
The reason the Gulf is so important to Lebanon is that while Saudi Arabia supported the "purist" tendency among Kuwaiti Salafis, Qatar created space for "haraki" Salafis, which led to both trends developing regional and even global networks of charity, influence and support, including in Lebanon. This expansion of Salafism from the Gulf to Lebanon in the 1990s is the subject of Chapter 2. Pall describes how Lebanese religious students returned from their studies in Saudi Arabia in the late 1980s and early 1990s and, building on the earlier work of the scholar Salim al-Shahhal (1922–2008), set up the country's Salafi community. This process was facilitated by the weakening of traditional Sunni religious organisations, the failure of Sunni-Islamist alternatives and the deepening of sectarian cleavages in Lebanon. The space these developments created for Salafis was exploited by Gulf sponsors, who donated money to their like-minded brothers and sisters in Lebanon.
The different Salafi trends and factions that came into existence in the Gulf countries had such an impact on Salafis in Lebanon that similar factions emerged in that country, too, which is the subject of Chapter 3. As a result, both "purist" and "haraki" networks developed in Northern Lebanon as a result of regional ideological conflicts in the Gulf and political developments in Lebanon itself. While both trends had their respective sponsors, it was the "haraki" trend that eventually became the biggest one as a result of the so-called Arab Spring. While "purist" Salafi scholars in Lebanon condemned the revolutions against various Arab regimes, Lebanese "haraki" Salafis cheered them on, making them much more in tune with popular sentiments.
Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the establishment of religious authority among Salafis in Lebanon and the structure of their networks, respectively. The former is important because, as Pall points out on, "Salafis construct their authority on the claim that their teaching represents Islam exactly as God revealed it" (p. 115). Unlike other trends in Islam, which allow some leeway, Salafism derives an important part of its authority from its claim to doctrinal purity. Yet Pall rightly points out that Salafis also make use of religious, social, and economic capital to help construct their authority. This is particularly important since, as Chapter 5 points out, Salafis in Lebanon mostly lack formal and hierarchical structures that provide organisational or institutionalised authority.
Finally, Pall focuses on the transnational networks that Lebanese Salafis maintain (Chapter 6) and the recruitment of Salafis in Lebanon (Chapter 7). Salafis' networks do not just extend to the Gulf but also to European countries likes Sweden and the Nether-lands, where their charitable organizations [End Page 671] are employed to win over new converts. Such successful recruitment of followers is ascribed...