Why the Word Salafi?

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Why the word Salafee?

Imaam Muhammad Naasir-ud-Deen Al-Albaanee
Al-Asaalah Magazine, Issue 9

Question: Why use the name Salafee? Is it a call towards a party or a group or a madh-hab (school of thought)? Or is it a new sect in Islaam?
Answer: Indeed, the word Salaf is well known in the Arabic language as well as in the religious terminology. But what concerns us here, is it’s discussion from the religious standpoint. Thus, it has been authentically reported on the Prophet (saw), that during the sickness from which he died from, he said to Faatimah (ra):

“So fear Allaah and have patience. And I am the best Salaf (predecessor) for you.” 1

Furthermore, the scholars have used this word “Salaf” many times, such that it would be too abundant to number and take into account. Sufficient for us, is one example, and it was that which they have used in their battle against innovations:

“And every good lies in following he who has preceded, while every evil lies in the innovating of he who came after.”

However, there are from those who claim to have knowledge, some people who reject this ascription, claiming that there is no basis for it! And so they say: “It is not permissible for a Muslim to say: ‘I am a Salafee.'” So it is as if he is saying that it is not permissible for a Muslim to say: “I am following the Salaf as-Saalih (the Pious Predecessors) in what they were upon from beliefs, worship and methodology”! There is no doubt that such a rejection – if that is what he intended – necessitates that one free himself from the correct Islaam, which the righteous predecessors were upon, at the head of whom was the Prophet, (saw). This is as is indicated in the mutawaatir hadeeth found in the two Saheehs and other than them, that he, (saw) said:

“The best of mankind is my generation, then those that come after them, then those that come after them.”

So it is not permissible for a Muslim to absolve himself from this ascription to the righteous predecessors, whereas, if he were to absolve himself from any other ascription, none of the scholars would be able to ascribe him with disbelief or sinfulness.
As for the one who rejects this name from himself, will you not see him ascribing himself to one of the madh-habs?! Regardless of whether this madh-hab is related to ‘Aqeedah (Creed) or Fiqh (Jurisprudence)? So he is either Ash’aree or Matureedee. Or perhaps he is from the people of Hadeeth or Hanafee, or Shaafi’ee or Maalikee or Hanbalee or whatever else enters into the title of Ahl-us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah. But the one who ascribes himself to the Ash’aree madh-hab or to one of the four madh-habs is in fact ascribing himself to individuals that are not infallible, without a doubt, even if there were scholars among them who were correct (in their verdicts). I wish I knew – would these people reject the likes of these ascriptions to individuals who are not free from error?
As for the one who ascribes himself to the Salaf As-Saalih (righteous predecessors), then he indeed ascribes himself to infallibility (‘ismah), in the general sense. The Prophet, (saw) has mentioned that one of the signs of the Saved Sect is that they will hold tightly onto what the Messenger of Allaah (saw) was upon and what his Companions were upon. So whosoever holds tightly onto them, then he is certainly upon the guidance from his Lord.
And furthermore, it is an ascription that brings honour to the one that ascribes himself to it, and one that facilitates for him the way of the Saved Sect. And these matters do not apply to anyone that ascribes himself to any other ascription, since they are not free from one of two things. Either it is an ascription to a specific individual that is not infallible or it is an ascription to a group of people who follow the methodology of this individual who is not infallible. So there is no infallibility (in their ascriptions) either way.
On the opposite of this, there is the infallibility of the companions of the Prophet, (saw) (as a whole). And it is that which we have been commanded to hold tightly onto, from his Sunnah and the Sunnah of his Companions after him.
And we must persist and strongly emphasize that our understanding of Allaah’s Book and the Sunnah of his Messenger (saw) be in accordance with the methodology of his (saw) Companions. This is so that we can be upon infallibility, as opposed to inclining away towards the right or the left, or deviating with an understanding that comes solely from ourselves, of whom there is not found in the Book of Allaah or the Sunnah of His Messenger, (saw), that which provides evidence for it.
Furthermore, why is it not sufficient for us to ascribe ourselves to (just) the Qur’aan and the Sunnah? The reason goes back to two matters, the first of which is related to the religious texts, and the second of which is due to the appearance of numerous Islaamic groups.
With regard to the first reason, then we find in the religious texts, a command to obey something else in connection with the Qur’aan and the Sunnah, as is found in Allaah’s saying:

“….And obey Allaah and obey His Messenger and those in authority over you.”2

So if there were someone in authority, who was given the oath of allegiance by the Muslims, it would be obligatory to obey him just as it would be obligatory to obey the Qur’aan and the Sunnah. This is in spite of him, as well as those around him, committing errors. So it would be obligatory to obey him in order to repel the harm of differences of opinions. And this is with the well-known condition:
“There is no obedience to the creation in disobeying the Creator.” 3
And Allaah, may He be Exalted, says:

“And whosoever opposes the Messenger after the guidance has been clearly explained to him, and he follows a way other than the way of the believers, We will turn him to what he has chosen and burn him in Hell – what an evil destination.” 4

Indeed, Allaah, Mighty and Sublime, is free and far removed from all imperfections and defects. And there is no doubt or uncertainty that His mentioning of “the way of the believers” here, is only due to an immense and comprehensive wisdom and benefit. So it indicates that there is an important obligation – and it is that our following of the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of His Messenger, (saw) must be in accordance with what the first Muslims were upon. And they are the Companions of Allaah’s Messenger (saw), then those who came after them, then those who came after them. And this is what the da’wat-us-salafiyyah (The Salafee Call) invites and calls to. And it is that which is its main priority in the foundation of its call and the methodology of its educating process.
I have many times pointed out to our brothers the wisdom of our Lord’s attaching in this aayah ‘the following of a way other than that of the believers’ to ‘the opposing of the Messenger’, what is the wisdom in that, since even if the aayah did not contain the part about following a way other than that of the believers, then the first part about opposing the Messenger (saw) would have been enough to earn the person the evil end mentioned. However, it is not possible that the second part has no relevance, and we seek Allaah’s refuge from such a thing. It’s wisdom is shown by Imaam Ash-Shaafi’ee’s using it as a proof of Ijmaa’ – meaning: ‘He who takes a way other than that of the Companions’- who are unerring – and they and those who follow them are the Jamaa’ah whom the Messenger of Allaah (saw) declared to be the saved sect.
They are those whom it is not permissible to oppose – for one who wishes to be saved from Allaah’s punishment on the Day of Resurrection. Therefore the Muslims have to be aware today, who are the Muslims mentioned in this aayah? And then, what is the wisdom in Allaah’s intending the Salafus-Saalih and those who follow them? The answer has preceeded and is, in brief, that they are the Companions who were present when the revelation came down, and who took it direct from the mouth of the Messenger (saw). They saw the Messenger (saw) living among them following the revealed rulings of the Qur’aan, many of whom were explained by his (saw) sayings.
However, the later peoples do not have this excellence – that they heard the Qur’aan and the Sunnah direct from his mouth – nor did they see how he (saw) followed the texts of the Qur’aan and the Sunnah his practice, and from the wisdom is his (saw) saying: “Being informed is not like seeing for yourself.”
So those who did not see him are not like his Companions who saw him and heard his words directly and saw how he acted. Today there is a very nice saying which some people are distinguished by – but it would be nicer if put into practice. They say in their speeches and lectures, “that it is upon us to make Islaam take practical shape upon the earth.” However, if we do not understand Islaam, and understand it according to the understanding of the Salafus-Saalih, then we cannot put this saying into practice. But those who were able to do that were the Companions of the Messenger (saw) due to the two reasons that we have mentioned:

a) That they heard his words directly and therefore their retention of it is better than ours;
b) Then there are affairs which need explanation through his (S) action, and they saw that.

I will give you a very clear example. There are some aayaahs in the Qur’aan which a Muslim cannot understand unless he knows the Sunnah, which explains the Noble Qur’aan, as Allaah ta’aalaa says: We have revealed the Reminder to you in order that you may explain to the people what has been revealed to them)
Allaah ta’aala’s saying: The male and the female thief: Cut off their hands
Let us produce the Seebawaih (a great scholar of the ‘Arabic language of early times) of this age and let him explain this aayah. Language wise he will not be able to define the ‘saariq’ (thief) nor the ‘yad’ (hand). Who is the thief whose ‘yad’ is to be cut? What is the ‘yad’ that should be cut? He cannot answer! In the language anyone who steals even an egg is a thief, and the ‘yad’ goes right up to the shoulder. The answer lies in the aayah mentioned previously : WA ANZALNAA ILAIKADH-DHIKRA. The answer is found in the explanation of the Messenger(saw) for the Qur’aan. That explanation is found in the practice – for this and for many other aayaahs.
Indeed, the Salafee Call truly unites the Ummah, while any other call only causes division to the ummah. Allaah, Mighty and Sublime, says:

“O you who believe, fear Allaah, and be with the truthful.” 5

So anyone that makes a distinction between the Book and the Sunnah from one perspective and between the Salaf As-Saalih (Righteous Predecessors) from another perspective, then he can never be truthful.
As for with regard to the second reason, then the groups and parties of today do not direct at all towards the following of “the Way of the Believers”, which has been mentioned in the ayah. And there are some ahaadeeth, which further confirm and support that ayah, such as the hadeeth of the seventy-three sects. All of them will be in the Hellfire except one. The Messenger of Allaah (saw) described them as:
“The one which is upon the same thing that I and my companions are upon today.” 6 This hadeeth resembles that ayah which mentions the “Way of the Believers”. Also, there is the hadeeth of Al-‘Irbaad Ibn Saariyah, radyAllaahu ‘anhu, in which he (saw) said:

“So stick to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly-guided Khaleefahs after me.” 7

So therefore, there are two Sunnahs:
The Sunnah of the Messenger, (saw), and the Sunnah of the righteous Khaleefahs.
So there is no doubt that we – us who come in a later time – we must return back to the Qur’aan, the Sunnah and the Way of the Believers. And it is not permissible for us to say: “We can understand the Qur’aan and the Sunnah by ourselves, without turning towards what the righteous predecessors were upon.”
There must be an ascription in this time that distinguishes and is detailed. So it is not sufficient for us to say, “I am a Muslim” only! Or “My madh-hab is Islaam”! For every sect says that! – the Raafidee, the Ibaadee, the Qadyianee, as well as other sectarians!! So what is it that distinguishes you from them?
And if you were to say, “I am a Muslim who is upon the Qur’aan and the Sunnah”, this would also not be sufficient. This is because, the members of these sects – of the Ash’arees and the Matureedees and the Hizbees – they all claim to follow these two sources also. So there is no doubt that the clear, plain, distinctive and decisive classification is to say, “I am a Muslim who is upon the Qur’aan and the Sunnah and upon the methodology of the Salaf As-Saalih (Pious Predecessors). And that can be said in short by saying, “I am a Salafee.”
So based on this, indeed the truth which is unavoidable, is that it is not enough to rely on the Qur’aan and the Sunnah without the methodology of the Salaf, for it explains these two with regard to understanding and concept, knowledge and action, and da’wah (calling) and Jihaad.
And we know that they (the Sahaabah), may Allaah be pleased with them, did not used to fanatically cling onto one specific madh-hab or to one specific individual. So there was not found amongst them he who was Bakree (a follower of Abu Bakr), or ‘Umaree (a follower of ‘Umar), or ‘Uthmaanee (a follower of ‘Uthmaan) or ‘Alawee (a follower of ‘Alee). Rather, if it were more easy for one of them to ask Abu Bakr or ‘Umar or Abu Hurairah, he would ask any of them. This is because they believed that it was not permissible to have total and unrestricted devotion in following, except to one individual. Indeed, he was the Messenger of Allaah (saw), the one who did not speak from his own desire, rather it was only revelation revealed to him.
And if we were to submit to these criticizers, for the sake of argument, that we would name ourselves “Muslims” only, without ascribing ourselves to the Salaf – in spite of it being an honourable and correct ascription. Would they abandon classifying themselves with the names of their parties or their madh-habs or their ways – based on the fact that they are not prescribed in the Religion nor are they correct?

“So this contrast between us is enough for you. And every container becomes wet due to what is in it.”

And Allaah is the Guide to the Right Path. And He, free is He from all defects, is the One in whom we seek assistance.


1 Saheeh Muslim: no. 2450
2 Surah An Nisaa:59
3 See Silsilat-ul-Ahaadeeth As-Saheehah: no. 179
4 Surah An-Nisaa: 115
5 Surah At-Tawbah: 119
6 See As-Saheehah: no. 203 & 1492
7 See Irwaa-ul-Ghaleel: no. 2455