algeria salafi (Photo: Sheikh Chemseddine Bouroubi, a well-known traditional Algerian imam, reads a religious book at a Salafist stand at a book fair in Algiers October 29, 2010/Zohra Bensemra)

Algeria is cracking down on imports of books preaching the ultra-conservative Salafist branch of Islam, officials and industry insiders say, in a step aimed at reining in the ideology’s growing influence.

Salafism is a school of Islam that has its roots in Saudi Arabia and emphasises religious purity. Its followers reject the trappings of modern life, including music, Western styles of dress and taking part in politics.

Algeria has for years turned a blind eye to Salafism, but recent shows of strength by its followers — including some Salafist clerics refusing to stand for the national anthem — have focussed official attention on the group.

Customs officers and officials from the ministries of religious affairs and culture have been given instructions to enforce more tightly an existing list of banned literature, and have been policing industry events where books are on sale.

“This year, instructions to pay attention to Salafist literature were tough,” Mohamed Mouloudi, a publisher and importer of religious books who opposes the Salafist school of Islam, told Reuters.