Why I Am a Salafi By Michael Muhammad Knight Berkeley, (CA: Soft Skull Press, 2015. 320 pages.)

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Daniel Tutt



Is it possible to develop a theory of Salafism, the school of thought which affirms
the authority of the first three generations of the Prophet’s pious followers,
that is based in heterodoxy, theological disorder, innovation, sensation,
and the body? One normally finds in Salafi thought support for the Hadith
corpus over the Qur’an, a scathing critique of the madhhab system of scholarly
authority, and a preference for a strictly literal interpretation of the Qur’an and
Sunnah. But with new scholarship in this field, we must recognize the wide
diversity of Salafi thought and begin to avoid reductive clichés.
Fortunately, Salafism has recently come under increasing scrutiny in academic
studies. For example, we have movements such as “neo-Salafism” in
politics and “sophisticated Salafism” emerging today, which are open to forms
of knowledge outside the Sunnah. It is in this vein of new scholarship on
Salafism and western expressions of Islam that Michael Muhammad Knight’s
Why I Am a Salafi (2015) should be read.
The book combines an academic and journal-based reflection on the author’s
evolving religious identity as an American Muslim. It begins in the
wake of Knight’s experience of ingesting ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic plant
known to promote spiritual epiphanies and insight. This experience was the
focus of his last book, Tripping with Allah (2012), that documented his psychedelic
journey. Why I Am a Salafi is written less as a travelogue or an openjournal
format than were his previous books Journey to the End of Islam
(2009) and Tripping. For example, in Journey Knight documents his adventures
and travels in Pakistan and India, throughout the Middle East, to where
he lives in America, and finally in Makkah, where he performs the hajj ...

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