Between Salafism, Colonialism and Nationalism; the making of an anti-Sufi discourse in Interwar Algeria

Document Type : Research Paper


Open Hellenic University & Department of Balkan, Slavic and Oriental Studies, School of Economic and Regional Studies, University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece


This article examines the intricate dialectics between colonialism, Salafism and the first glimpses of an Algerian nation throughout the interwar period. Founded in 1931, the Association of the Muslim Algerian Ulama (AMAU) embarked on defining the – French dominated – ummah [nation] on cultural and religious terms. By the same token, it aspired to reform the intellectual conditions of the Sunni populace via schools and weekly journals for the steadily growing Arabic-speaking readership. It is against such backdrop, that an old/new fault line was brought in the foreground of the Algerian salafī/iṣlāḥī discourse: the ‘authenticity’ of the scripts as opposed to the ‘heterodox’ ritualism and superstitions of Sufism. By applying the lens of postcolonial theory, it is suggested that the anti-Sufi content of the Association’s journals, reflected the cultural re-codifications of the French ‘Mission Civilisatrice’, albeit in the shape of a restored Islamic orthodoxy coupled with the ambitious ethnoreligious reconstruction of Algeria.


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