A Salaf (Arabic: سلف ) "predecessor" or “early Muslim” in traditional Islamic scholarship means someone who died within the first four hundred years after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), including scholars such as Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi’i, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Anyone who died after this is one of the khalaf or “latter-day Muslims”.
RasulAllah sws said, “The best people are those of my generation, and then those who will come after them (the next generation), and then those who will come after them (i.e. the next generation),…”
- Bukhari & Muslim
The meaning of the [word] Salaf is (Al-Mutaqaddimoon) the predecessors so every person that precedes another is a salaf for him but when this term is used unrestrictedly then it only refers to the first three praised generations from the companions (as-Sahaabah) and those that followed them (at-Taabi’oon) and those that followed them [Atba’ at-Taabyi’een]. They indeed are the pious predecessors (as-Salaf as-Saaleh). Whoever came after them and traversed upon their way (Minhaaj) then he is like them upon the way of the Salaf; even though he may have come after them with regards to time because as-Salafiyyah is a designation which applies to the way (Minhaaj) which was traversed by the pious predecessors (as-Salaf as-Saaleh).
Saalih bin ‘Abdillaah Al-‘Abood, said: “What is intended by the term ‘Salafiyyah’ is: Following the way of the Pious Predecessors (Salaf as-Saalih) of this Muslim ummah, who are in fact Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah. This means uniting oneself and gathering others upon the following of the Sunnah of Allaah’s Messenger (sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), in hidden and in open, and following the way of the first and foremost from the Muhaajireen and Ansaar, who followed them in goodness.”
The principal tenet of Salafism is that the Islam that was preached by Muhammad and practiced by his Companions, as well as the second and third generations succeeding them, was pure, unadulterated, and, therefore, the ultimate authority for the interpretation of the two sources of revelation given to Muhammad, namely the Qur’an and the Sunnah. This is not interpreted to mean an imitation of cultural norms or trends that are not part of the legislated worship of Islam, but rather the fundamental beliefs of Islam, or 'Aqeedah.
The usage of the word itself can be traced as far back as to Muhammad saws, who himself has reported to have said,
”I am the best Salaf for you.”
Examples among the early scholars include prescribing themselves to the salafi manhaj include, Ibn Taymiyyah, who said,
"There is no criticism for the one who proclaims the madh’hab of the Salaf, who attaches himself to it and refers to it. Rather, it is obligatory to accept that from him by unanimous agreement because the way of the Salaf is nothing but the truth."
Particular emphasis is given to monotheism – (tawhid); many Muslim practices which have now become common are condemned as polytheism (shirk). Salafis believe, based on scriptural evidence, that widespread Muslim practices such as venerating the graves of Islamic prophets and saints are shirk. Salafis in general are opposed to both Sufi and Shia and other deviant doctrines, which Salafis regard as having many aspects of shirk, bid‘ah and impermissible intercession of religious figures.
Imaam al-Asbahaanee (d.535H) - rahimahullaah - said: “The sign of Ahlus-Sunnah is that they follow the Salafus-Saalih and abandon all that is innovated and newly introduced into the Deen.”
Salafis maintain that bid‘ah or innovation in the Islamic creed or actions of worship are totally without sanction, and, based on scriptural evidence, that they are unacceptable to Allah. Muslims in one part of the world who engage in bid‘ahs, such as circumambulating around shrines of saints, celebrating Muhammad sws’ birthday etc.
The Messenger of Allah said: “ Every innovation is misguidance and going astray. ”
- Abu Dawud
"Whoever innovates or accommodates an innovator then upon him is the curse of Allaah, His Angels and the whole of mankind. ”
- Bukhari & Muslim
Salafis assert further that actions stemming from a practice rooted in bid‘ah will not result in any reward in spite of a worshiper’s good intentions and are dangerous to the Islamic creed since they replace or corrupt the religious practices (“Sunnah”) of Muhammad sws. Salafis assert that if such practices increase a devotee’s faith, Muhammad would have known about it and assuredly directed Muslims to do such acts since he was the best worshiper amongst mankind and most dutiful.
Abu Haneefah (d. 150H) (rahimahullaah) said: “Adhere to the athar (narration) and the tareeqah (way) of the Salaf (Pious Predecessors) and beware of newly invented matters for all of it is innovation”.
Salafis accept teaching of all four school of law only if their rulings are supported by clear and authenticated evidences from the Qur’an and Sunnah, they are not divided on the question of adherence to the four recognized schools of legal interpretation (madh’habs). Salafis themselves base their jurisprudence directly on the Qur’an and Sunnah as applied and practiced by the first three generations of Muslims. Their interpretation is based on a strict form of Athari theology.
Imaam Abdul Azeez bin Abdullaah bin Baz [d.1420] - rahimahullaah - was asked, ‘What do you say about the one who calls himself ‘as-Salafi’ and ‘al-Athari’, is this a term of commendation? So he replied:
“If he is truthful in saying that he is Atharee or Salafee, then there is no problem. This is like what the Salaf used to say, ‘So and so is Salafee, or so and so is Atharee’. This is a term of commendation from which there is no escape, rather it is a term of commendation that is obligatory.
The Sacred Salafi Methodology- Shaykh Al-Albani