OPINION: The Misnomer of Salafi Jihadists and the Exploitation of Confusion

by Jassem Tamim

In the aftermath of tragic events like 9/11, the world looked for answers, explanations, and someone to blame. During this time of confusion, the term “Salafi Jihadist” emerged as a way to label those who betrayed Salafism and embraced what Salafis define as Kharijism.

This article will examine the origin of this misnomer and discuss how it has been exploited by some non-Salafi Muslims to gain ground and support from confused and panicked Western policymakers.

Why call them Salafi Jihadists?

We call Salafis as “Salafis” because they identify themselves as such. However, when someone betrays Salafism and embraces Kharijism, we do not call them “Kharijites” but rather use the confusing term “Salafi Jihadist”. This label is misleading and fails to accurately describe the actions and beliefs of those it aims to classify.

Origins of the Term

The term “Salafi Jihadist” appears to have been coined by insecure non-Salafi Muslims attempting to exploit the confusion and panic that arose after 9/11.

These individuals sought to gain ground and support from Western policymakers, who were desperately searching for a way to understand and address the threat without blaming the entirety of the Muslim community or the Islamic religion.

Reluctance to blame the entire Muslim community

It is important to note that Western policymakers were hesitant to blame the entire Muslim community, not because of their wisdom or fairness, but because they recognized the impossibility of waging a war against over two billion people with a foothold in every corner of the planet.

This realization led them to search for more specific targets and explanations, making them vulnerable to the exploitation of the term “Salafi Jihadist”.


The term “Salafi Jihadist” is a misnomer that has been exploited by some non-Salafi Muslims in the wake of tragic events like 9/11. It is crucial to recognize the true nature of Salafism and Kharijism, and avoid using misleading labels that only serve to further confusion and misunderstanding. 

By accurately identifying and addressing the root causes of extremism, we can work towards a more effective and informed approach to countering violent extremism.

Jassem Tamim is originally from Morocco, settled in United Kingdom. He holds MA degree in Terrorism and Security from King’s College London. He is currently doing PhD research in Digital Counter-Radicalization.