The Islamic reformist movement known as Salafism is generally portrayed as a relentlessly literalist and rigid school of religious thought. This article pursues a more nuanced picture of a historical Salafism that is less a movement with a single, linear origin than a dynamic intellectual milieu continually shaped by local contexts. Using 1930s Aden as a case study, the article examines how a transregional reformist discourse could be vulnerable to local interpretation and begins to unpack the transformation of Salafi activism from a broad, doctrinaire, and, above all, foreign ideology to an integral part of local religious discourse. It situates reform within an evolving Islamic discursive tradition that in part developed as a result of its own theological logic but was equally shaped by local and historically contingent institutions, social practices, and power structures. It thus explores Salafism as a dynamic tradition that could be adapted by local intellectuals to engage the problems facing their own communities.