Magharebia (Washington DC)

29 November 2012

Tunisian Salafist Discusses Path to Extremism

Tunis — A young salafist explains what drew him to the movement and why he opposes the violent actions of more radical Islamists.

Dressed in shirt to mid-calf, baggy pants, a hat on his head and with a thick beard, Ali Azizi is a 28-year-old trader from Sidi Bouzid. Magharebia caught up with the young salafist as he was working in one of the poorer suburbs of Tunis.

"Praise be to God, God finally guided me to the right track, and enlightened the darkness of my path after I had been immersed in the pleasures of life," Azizi said as he began to discuss how he first became involved with salafism.

After dropping out of college, Azizi said he got a job at a café. "There, I became acquainted with bad fellows and indulged myself in the pleasures of this world. I became an alcoholic and soon after deviated even more and committed a number of sins. I eventually entered prison many times, on multiple charges associated mostly with theft and drug abuse," he explained.

As for what made him change course and adopt salafism, he said that his mother died while he was in prison.

"This incident affected me very strongly, especially since our relationship was not at its best due to my bad behaviour. When I was released from prison, I suffered psychologically to a degree that I cannot even describe, regretted all that I had done, and decided last Ramadan to repent," Azizi said. "I returned to God and decided to follow the teachings of our Islamic religion."

As for the way he dresses, considered by some as Afghani dress foreign to Tunisian traditions, he claimed the wardrobe was "at the heart of religion".

"It makes no sense to commit to this religion if you don't commit also to its appearances," he said.

"This outfit is important and you must abide by it to complete the image of the one committed to believing in God and his religion. Hence religiously, this dress is the best for a Muslim and there is nothing here that should be surprising," Azizi told Magharebia.

Azizi went on to criticise the way some paint salafists with a broad stroke, highlighting erroneous stereotypes.

"They treat us as if we were coming from another planet. We belong to this country too; we are tolerant and accept others in the framework of peaceful co-existence, even if the others are not Muslims. We have no problem with anyone," he said.

He said he supports the modern state and the gains achieved by Tunisian society since independence. He also defends women's rights and dignity, but he said he did not mind polygamy and recognised a need to wear a veil.

Yet on the other hand, the young salafist did not hide his displeasure with the actions of more radical followers of the movement.

"In the salafist movement, there are groups that are open with moderate rhetoric, while there are others who tend to militancy and extremism," Azizi explained. "When you listen to the latter, you can conclude that it is an invitation to violence, with a tendency towards extremism."

"This is unacceptable because Islam is a religion of moderation," he said.

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