Muhammad Yusuf’s Theological Views: Understanding Tripartite Salafism in Boko Haram

A Nigerian-born Muhammad Yusuf (1970–2009), a founder of Boko Haram, declares his Islamic theological views in his published creed, Hādhihī ‘Aqidatunā Wa-Minhāj Da‘Watinā (This is our Creed and Method of Proclamation). His declaration reflects a Sunni Salafi thought that expresses a concept I label “Tripartite Salafism.” The concept develops through the historical context of Yusuf and his exposure to the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328), Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792), and Abubakar Mahmud Gumi (1924–1992). The historical antecedents of Yusuf reveal his interaction with the materials and teachings of the staunch Sunni Salafi scholars, suggesting a form of theology and ideology that appears tripartite. Hence, the form of Salafism formed and practiced by Yusuf is “Tripartite Salafism,” as it combines Classical Salafism, Wahhabism, and Izalaism. In this paper, I consider “Tripartite Salafism” as Yusuf’s theological disposition in founding and propagating Boko Haram and analyze his theological views as found in his stated creed. I begin with an exposition of Yusuf’s interaction with Salafism, Wahhabism, and Izalaism at the backdrop of his articulated theological views, followed by a critical assessment of his stated views in relation to the foundational aspects of Boko Haram and its stated ideology.

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