Abstract |The religion-invoking violent extremism called “radical Islam” has become a global threat. In particular, a form of Sunni Muslim radicalism called Salafi radicalism—embraced by jihadist groups such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State—has gained prominence. What role religious leaders play in causing this phenomenon is not well understood. To address this issue, I outline a novel theoretical framework for conceptualizing Salafi radicalism in terms of an underlying theme and its enablers. This proposal further divides radicalization processes into primary and secondary ones; the former are identified with the onset of radicalization in a community, and the latter develop in communities with longstanding exposure to the phenomenon. A new analysis of a 2013 Pew Research Center report suggests that sharia’s popularity in a community can make religious leaders and their radical ideas highly influential, while in communities where sharia has little influence, religious leaders and their radical ideas likewise lack influence. This article suggests the following primary explanation of the phenomenon: backed by the prestige and resources of Saudi Arabia, religious leaders have popularized the appealing theme of sharia as all-encompassing “divine law” to advance radical Islamist agendas. By identifying sharia as the theme and religious leaders as its enablers, such an explanation facilitates our understanding of the causes and backers of this religious radicalism.