Jihadi-Salafism: Enhancing the Effectiveness of Containment and Mitigation Strategies

Salafism 2Every day, news headlines reveal yet more Muslim youth who have uprooted their lives to join the Jihadi-Salafist group known as ISIS. This surge in foreign fighters has now eclipsed the 1980s Afghan Jihad, and threatens innocent lives from Syria to Morocco. As government officials and civil society peacemakers struggle to address this threat, there is a growing need to identify and support innovative strategies for countering the appeal and spread of religious extremism.

In this global struggle against extremism, it is crucial to develop programs and initiatives that can effectively secure local buy-in and reach those communities that are most vulnerable to the influence of violent ideologies. After more than a decade of engaging with Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith madrasa leaders in Pakistan, ICRD has found that the more conservative segments of the Muslim population are the ones who possess the credibility, access, and capacity necessary to dissuade at-risk populations from violence.

Based on this experience, ICRD begun a study of groundbreaking models for engaging conservative religious actors in countering violent extremism. Beginning in October 2014, ICRD conducted a successful pilot in Pakistan to test the intended methodologies of this project. The findings of that pilot will inform the next stage of research, which will involve a total of four countries:

Pakistan – Home to prolific extremist outfits like the Taliban, Pakistan is experienced in military counters to terrorism, but struggles to regulate its sizable conservative population.
Yemen – Now a haven for al-Qaeda and a growing branch of ISIS, Yemen has largely ignored the contribution of religious actors to countering extremist ideology.
Tunisia – In recent years, a surprising number of religiously conservative Tunisian youth have joined ISIS, and their destructive influence has begun to destabilize this nascent democracy.
Morocco – Although the national program to train imams from other countries has made it a regional leader in countering religious extremism, ISIS has recruited thousands of Moroccans.

WorkSalafism 1ing alongside local universities and CSOs, ICRD will gather insights from conservative religious actors and key national stakeholders to assess existing programs and strategies for countering extremist religious ideology. This analysis will particularly focus on the roles played by conservative Muslims to determine the degree to which they can be enlisted in enhancing the legitimacy and reach of such programs.


Recognizing that the field of countering extremism has grown rapidly and become very broad, ICRD will specifically target strategies that depend upon effective engagement with religious actors, including:

• De-radicalization and the social reintegration of demobilized extremists.
• Efforts to reform religious institutions and train religious actors, including religious women.
• Programs to develop and disseminate religious narratives that counter violent extremism.

Once collected, the findings of this research will be incorporated into a policy white paper that will inform key policymakers and civil society leaders in the US and in those front-line countries currently attempting to counter Jihadi-Salafism.

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