The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







A Salafi (Arabic سلفي lit. early muslim), from the Arabic world Salaf سلف (meaning predecessors or early generations), is a practictioner of Salafiyyah (Salafism). Modern usage from the Islamic phrase minhaj as-Salaf منهاج السلف, or method of the early Muslims. The term is also used for the Wahhabi branch of Islam. See the note below.



The word Salaf means predecessors (or ancestors) and refers to the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (the Sahaba), the early Muslims who followed them, and the scholars of the first three generations of Muslims. They are also called As Salafus Saalih or "the Righteous Predecessors".

The Salafis view the first three generations of Muslims, who are the prophet Muhammad's companions, and the two generations after them (the Tabayeen and the next generation) as perfect examples of how Islam should be lived and practiced. These three generations are often referred to as the Pious generations. This principle of law is derived from the following hadith (tradition) said by the Prophet Muhammad: "The best of people is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them (i.e. the first three generations of Muslims)." [Reported by Bukhari and Muslim - ]

Islamic jurisprudence holds that, in order of precedence, the sources of Islamic law are : a) the Qur'an (the Muslim revealed scripture), b) the Hadith (prophetic traditions) and c) Ijma' (consensus). Salafis hold that those should be interepreted as the above three generations would have interpreted them, and not according to innovative ways, thus holding what can be called a conservative or traditionalist view. They thus reject many later Islamic viewpoints as Bida (innovation/invention), Shirk (idolatry) or causes of ignorance of correct traditions.

What is a Salafi and What is Salafism?

The reader will notice that the word "Wahhabi" is always indented with quotation marks here at Those who are labelled with this word do not themselves use this term, as it is used as a means of belittlement. The reasons for the rejection of this term are clearly outlined throughout this book. The correct way of referring to them is by terming them Salafis, as they are those who adhere to the way of the Salaf - the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace) and his companions.

Following the way of the Salaf is the way which has been legislated in the Quran and Sunnah, the very sources of Islam. The Prophet (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace) said to his daughter Fatimah: "Indeed, I am for you a blessed Salaf."

When asked about which was the correct and acceptable way of understanding Islam, the Prophet (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace) replied by saying: "That which I and my companions are upon."

Similarly, Allah says in the Quran that He is pleased with the companions "and also those who follow them exactly (in faith)."

As such, He said regarding the Prophet (may Allah raise his rank and grant him security) and his companions:

"So if they believe as you (i.e. the Salaf) believe, they are indeed rightly guided."

All of the orthodox scholars of Islam followed the way of the Salaf in understanding religion. Early scholars such as Imam al-Awzaa'ee, who died 157 years after the Prophet's emigration to Medina, said: "Be patient upon the Sunnah, and stop where the people (i.e. the Salaf) stopped, and say what they said, and refrain from what they refrained from, and follow the path of your righteous Salaf; for verily, sufficient for you is what was sufficient for them."

Today, one of the famous Sunni schools of jurisprudence is named after a scholar named Abu Haneefah. Millions of Muslims all over the world ascribe themselves to his school of jurisprudence; those who the media would term "mainstream" Muslims. Regarding adherence to the Salafi methodology, he said, "Adhere to the narrations and way of the Salaf, and beware of newly invented matters (in religion), for all of it is innovation."

The orthodox scholars who came after these early generations also followed the understanding of the Salaf in religious matters. Imam ath-Thahabi said: "It is authentically related from ad-Daraqutni (a scholar from approximately 1,000 years ago) that he said: There is nothing more despised by me than 'ilmul-kalaam (innovated speech and rhetoric). I (adh-Thahabee) say: The man never entered into ’ilmul-kalaam, nor did he enter into argumentation (i.e. philosophy), he did not delve into that. Rather, he was Salafee (a follower of the Salaf)."

The present day scholars who stick to the mainstream understanding of Islam also ascribe themselves to the way of the Salaf. Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan is considered to be one of the most knowledgeable of scholars alive today. Regarding Salafism, he made the following remark: "It is not a party from amongst the various parties… Hence Salafism is a group of people who are upon the way of the Salaf, upon what the Messenger (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace) and his Companions were upon; and it is not a party from amongst the contemporary groups present today."

The media claim that Salafis/"Wahhabis" believe that all those who do not follow their form of Islam are heathens" is a tall tale. Salafis believe that those Muslims who do not follow the understanding of the Salaf are not adhering to these and other clear texts. As such, they do not fall under the above-mentioned Quranic verse as being "rightly guided." Salafis distinguish between those who fall into religious innovation and those who fall into disbelief.

When considering the proofs which are contained within the Quran and Sunnah and the statements of all the orthodox scholars of Islam from the earliest generations to the present time, it becomes obvious that it is a great blunder for the media to refer to Salafism as being a new movement called "Wahhabism" which came about only two centuries ago during the time of Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab in Saudi Arabia.

"So after the truth, what else can there be, save error?" [Quran 10:32]

- abridged from the book: The 'Wahhabi' Myth - Source:

1 al-Bukhaaree (no. 2652)

2 Saheeh Sunan at-Tirmidhee (3/54)

3 Quran 9:100

4 Quran 2:137

5 al-Hujjah (6/A-B) of Ismail Abu Fadhl

6 Sawnul-Mantaq wal-Kalaam (p. 32) of As-Suyuti

7 This statement does not come from the standpoint of being narrow-minded. On the contrary, any open minded individual will research the authenticity of any claim that something constitutes revelation from the Creator. If this claim is found to be true and its texts require the person to submit to its decrees, it would not be from wisdom to then proceed to search for contradicting knowledge that leads to uncertainty. Most philosophers would not try to claim that philosophy leads to certain knowledge. For that reason, you will find some philosophers looking at objects and discussing whether or not they are actually in existence.

Philosophizing and leaving the texts and understanding of the Salaf is what leads groups like al-Qaeda to establish new methodologies in religion. Consequently, conjecture is something which is censured in Islam.

"They follow nothing but conjecture; and verily, conjecture avails nothing against the truth." [53:28]

8 Siyar A'laamun-Nubalaa' (16/457) of Ath-Thahabi

9 Refer to the cassette, "at-Tahdheer min al-Bid'ah", second cassette, delivered as a lecture in Hawtah Sadeer (Saudi Arabia).

10 Saudi Time Bomb? Analysis: Wahhabism, PBS Frontline (Nov. 15, 2001)

Famous Salafis

See also

External links


Last updated: 06-02-2005 12:54:20
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13