What is Salafism? A Statement and Explanation
Followed by Quotations and Legal Rulings from those Blessed with Knowledge and Exemplary Conduct
Quoted in this Pamphlet:
- Imam al-Awza’i (may God have mercy on him)
- Imam al-Safarini (may God have mercy on him)
- Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya (may God have mercy on him)
- The Eminent Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Baz (may God have mercy on him), the official jurist of Saudi lands
- The Eminent Shaykh and Hadith Scholar Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani (may God have mercy on him)
- The Eminent Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Uthaymin (may God have mercy on him)
- The Eminent Shaykh and Hadith Scholar Muqbil ibn Hadi al-Wad’i (may God have mercy on him)
- The Eminent Shaykh Bakr Abu Zayd (may God have mercy on him)
* * *
In the name of God, the All-Merciful, the Compassionate
All praise is due to God, and may prayers and peace be upon His Messenger (upon whom and whose family may God grant blessings and peace)
Almighty God says: “Cooperate in piety and God-consciousness, and don’t cooperate in sin and animosity, and fear God, for indeed God’s punishment is severe.” (Qur’an 5:2)
The Noble Prophet (may God grant him blessings and peace) said, while interlacing his fingers together, “Muslims are to one another like a building, one part of it strengthening another.” (Al-Bukhari)
My beloved brothers within beloved Egypt and abroad: these are strange times full of strange people. In these days, I have found many non-Muslims and Muslims—reporters, party members, lawyers, and some from al-Azhar—to be ignorant of the greatest call to faith on earth: the Salafi call. And who are the Salafis????
We have oppressors and others wrongfully accused of oppression, we have the argument that it’s all “terrorism and extremism,” and we have people who are either envious of this blessed call or despise it. I’ve implored God, the One, the Alone, for help in explaining the meaning of Salafism, and have quoted the words of the imams and stars of this community from among the Salaf, our righteous predecessors in Islam. I’ve abridged their statements significantly, since this is intended to be a statement and explanation, not a detailed description, focusing on how to define Salafism and what it means to belong to this group. Also addressed: who the Salaf are, what the fundamentals of Salafism are, why we must follow the Salaf, and that Salafism isn’t a vain political party or type of partisanship, which is detestable…nor is it a ground for extremism or whatever other accusations we hear so much of these days…
First of all, Islam has no factions or sects. Rather, it is one unified group, one team, called the People of Prophetic Example and Majority Opinion (Ahl al-Sunna wa-l-Jama’a), the People of Hadith, the Righteous Predecessors… so all the scattered initiatives, political parties, and factions we see today don’t have anything to do with Islam.
Almighty God has said, “Hold fast, all of you, to the rope of God and do not let differences come between you.” (Qur’an 3:103)
God (may He be exalted) has said, “He legislated for you in your way of life what He counciled Noah to do, what We have revealed to you, what we counciled Abraham, Moses, and Jesus to do: establish this way of life, this religion, and don’t let differences come between you regarding it.” (Qur’an 42:13)
It’s reported that Anas ibn Malik said that the Messenger of God (may God bless him and grant him peace) said, “The Israelites broke into 71 sects, and my community will break into 73 sects, all of which are in the Hellfire except one: the community of Majority Opinion” (in Abu Dawud). In another narration he said it was “what my Companions and I are upon.” The hadith is authoritative, as established by al-Albani (may God have mercy on him).
* * *
The Meaning of Salafism
Its original, literal meaning: It is said that a person’s salaf includes his ancestors and late relatives; therefore, the first generation that followed the Companions are known as the Righteous Predecessors, or Salaf. (The Endpoint of Unknown Accounts 2/981)
As a technical term: Imam al-Safarini said, “The way of the Salaf means the way of the noble Companions of the Prophet (may God’s pleasure be upon them), the distinguished ones from among their best followers, that generation’s followers in turn, and the leaders of this religion whom others testified to be leaders—leaders whose great standing in the religion was known, whose speech was noted to be in line with the Salaf, and who were never accused of either religious innovation or affiliation with any unfavorable group such as the Kharijis, Rafidis, Qadaris, Murji’is, Jabaris, Jahmis, Mu’tazilis, Karamis, etc.” (The Brightest of Lights 1/20)
Imam al-Albani, the great hadith scholar (may God, exalted be He, have mercy on him) has said, “When we say ‘we and the Salaf,’ all we mean is the best sect on the face of the earth after the messengers and prophets, i.e. the Companions of the Messenger of God (may God bless him and his family and grant him peace). Of these, there were the first generation, then the second generation (also known as the Successors) then the Successors of the Successors, i.e. the third generation; the people of these three generations are called the Salaf.” (The Guiding Treasure for Whoever Asks about the Meaning of Salafism; What do They Despise about Salafism? p. 50)
Shaykh Bakr ibn Abdullah Abu Zayd said, “To say ‘the Salaf and the Salafis,’ or ‘their Salafi way,’ is to mean the Righteous Predecessors, all of the Companions (may God be pleased with them) then those after the Companions (may God be pleased with them) who followed them in the best way, and to except from this group those who let their capricious desires incline them such that they broke off from the Righteous Predecessors in name or action.” (The Guiding Treasure for Whoever Asks about the Meaning of Salafism 8-10)
* * *
Evidence Regarding Why it is Obligatory to Follow the Righteous Predecessors
From the Qur’an: God, may He be exalted, has said: “The forerunners, the first of those who migrated, those who helped them, and those who follow them in all good deeds—God is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. He has prepared for them Gardens under which flow rivers, where they will abide forever. That is the great accomplishment.” (9:100)
God, may He be exalted, has said: “Whoever goes against the Messenger after guidance has appeared plain and clear to him, and follows something other than the path of the believers, We will grant him whatever he follows as a protector and send him to burn in Hell, and what a horrible fate that is!” (4:115)
From the Sunna: The Messenger of God (may God bless him and grant him peace) said, “The Israelites broke into 71 sects, and my community will break into 73 sects, all of which are in the Hellfire except one: the community of Majority Opinion.”
The Messenger of God (may God bless him and grant him peace) said, “The best of mankind is my generation, then those who follow them, then those who follow those people, then those who follow them, then there will come a nation whose oaths outstrip their testimony, and whose testimony outstrips their oaths.” (This is an authenticated narration related by the two shaykhs, al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
And he (upon him be prayers and peace) said, “I counsel you to be mindful of God, to listen, and to obey, even an Ethiopian slave, for whoever among you will live on after me will see a great dispute, so hold on to my practices and the practice of the rightly-guided caliphs—grab on to it and bite onto it with your molars, and beware of completely new practices, for every completely new practice is an innovation, and every innovation means going astray.” (Abu Dawud)
* * *
What I Say to Everyone Who Doesn’t Know the Meaning of Salafism
Salafism is nothing but Islam, nothing but following the Qur’an and the Sunna through the understanding of the Companions of the Prophet (upon him be prayers and peace). This means that every Muslim is a Salafi by default, whether he’s religious or not…whether he’s bearded or clean-shaven…whether she wears hijab or doesn’t wear hijab, she’s Salafi. For Salafism is the spring of pure Islam, and no one person has a monopoly over it… Salafism isn’t a personal call or a partisan movement, nor is it the organization of some contemporary figure… Rather, it has been around since the revelation to the Prophet (upon him be prayers and peace) such that even the term Salaf is an authenticated term used by the Prophet, not an innovated word. The word itself in fact comes from the tongue of the best of mankind, the chief of mankind. Imam al-Bukhari gives us a hadith from ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) that upon the death of the Prophet (peace and prayers be upon him) he said to his daughter Fatima, “Yes, the Salaf, I am for you,” i.e. I am the one who deserves to be followed.
Salafism = the Companions of the Prophet (may God be pleased with them). Salafism = pure, unadulterated Islam. And it is an obligation for every Muslim to be a pure, God-fearing Salafi. God (may He be exalted) has said, “The forerunners, the first of those who migrated, those who helped them, and those who follow them in all good deeds—God is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. He has prepared for them Gardens under which flow rivers, where they will abide forever. That is the great accomplishment.” (Qur’an 9:100)
Here in this verse, we see that God is pleased with whoever follows the Companions (may God be pleased with them), and the pleasure of God is an obligation for all Muslims—in fact, the pleasure of God is better than entering Heaven. The “Hadith of Intercession” in the collection of Imam Muslim reads, “God (may He be majestic and mighty) will say, ‘The angels have interceded, the prophets have interceded, and the believers have interceded, and no one remains but the Most Merciful of those who show mercy,’ so He will seize a handful of people from Hellfire and take out from it a nation who knew no good. After they have turned to cinders, He will toss them into a river at the mouth of Heaven called the River of Life. They will get out from it as a seed comes out of the water current—don’t you see it, how comparing it to a stone or a tree is like comparing a little bit of yellow or green to the sun, or a shadow to whiteness.” So they said, “O Messenger of God, it’s as if you herded sheep with the Bedouins.” He said, “So they come out like pearls, with seals on their necks. The people of Heaven will know them as those whom God freed, whom He made to enter Heaven without having done any action or good deed. Then He will say, ‘Enter heaven—whatever you see, it is yours.’ They will say, ‘Our Lord, You have given us what you’ve given absolutely no one else.’ He will say, ‘With Me you have greater than this.’ They will say, ‘Our Lord, what could be better than this?’ He will say, ‘My pleasure, for henceforth I will never be angry with you.’ “ And there you have it.
The pleasure of God = following the Companions (may God be pleased with them)
God (may He be exalted) has said: “Whoever goes against the Messenger after guidance has appeared plain and clear to him, and follows something other than the path of the believers, We will grant him whatever he follows as a protector and send him to burn in Hell, and what a horrible fate that is!” (4:115)
The Prophet (upon him be prayers and peace) said, “My community will break into 73 sects, all of which are in the Hellfire except one.” It was said, “Which one, O Messenger of God?” He said, “The community of Majority Opinion,” and in another narration: “what my Companions and I are now upon.”
There is a link between the Qur’anic verses and this hadith:
“The path of the believers” = “what my Companions and I are now upon” = “the forerunners, the first of those who migrated, and those who helped them”
* * *
Salafism = The Book and The Sunna through the Understanding of the Noble Companions
All of this means only one thing: following the noble Companions (may God be pleased with them). Thus, Salafism only means following the Companions of the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him)… So what person in his right mind would refuse to attach himself to this group, the group of salvation, the sect that will be given victory? And how can we accuse the most noble creatures of being extremist and reactionary? Here it becomes clear that Salafism isn’t a political party or a movement designed by one person in particular… Rather, it is an extension of the call of the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) and that of his noble Companions.
* * *
Now, Here are the Distinguishing Characteristics of Salafism for You:
- Salafism isn’t a political party or group centered around one particular person, and no one owns it—rather, it is a pure, prophetic calling.
- Salafism is the door to monotheism’s call, and to following who should be followed, without innovation, abstraction, or fanaticism about any particular people or views.
- Salafism is the heart and pulse of the Companions of the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace)—it means loving them sincerely and being free from whoever accuses them of wrongdoing, such as extremist Shi’a or secularists.
- Salafism makes no distinction between politics and religion, for politics is examined according to religion. Whatever religion supports and confirms of politics, we take, but whatever it rejects, we leave.
- Salafism has nothing to do with resisting those in power or pronouncing them infidels—rather, it works to give them good advice without flattering them or obeying them in disobedience to God. It condemns what should be condemned according to proper Islamic legal precepts.
- Salafism has nothing to do with calling certain Muslims infidels without reason, nor with killing innocent people, whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim.
- Salafism has nothing to do with assassinations, bombings, or rowdy demonstrations.
- Salafism gives proper rights to those with whom it has treaties, to non-Muslims in Muslim-majority societies, and to peaceful disbelievers; it calls for contracts and agreements to be fulfilled.
- Salafism has nothing to do with extremism, excess, or violence—rather, it is a veritable source for justice and moderation.
- Salafism is a program of compassion, leniency, good news, and patience, without alienation.
- Salafism seeks beneficial knowledge, good deeds, and the best of actions.
- Salafism is against all terrorism, whether psychological or physical.
- Salafism is a program of good character, the best action, and proper etiquette.
And so the Salaf and Salafis are the followers of the noble Companions, not an investment committee, political parliament, election call, or some kind of cover for someone’s personal benefit… It isn’t some evil to be feared; rather, it is good. The Salafi call is a call to every type of good… and every person’s mistake his own, not that of the Salafi program. So I’m amazed when I see people getting furious at a shaykh—or any other person who claims to follow Salafism—who has committed an action contrary to it. They attribute the mistake to Salafism, but this is a type of slander. So Osama bin Laden isn’t a Salafi, even if he claimed to be. Rather, he was one of the Khawarij. None of what he does comes from Islam. And groups that call other Muslims infidels don’t have anything to do with Salafism, even if they claim to… Nor are those who worship graves Salafis… I say to them, if a doctor committed adultery with an ailing female patient, would medicine be adulterous and corrupt!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Or would it be that this doctor’s mistake is his own… Hey you who hold opinions on either side, where is your fair treatment?
* * *
What Our Righteous Predecessors, the Salaf, Say about the Rules of Belonging to Salafism
Imam al-Awza’i (may God have mercy on him) said, “Restrain yourself according to the Sunna; stand where the nation stood and say what they said, and refrain from what they refrained from, and follow the path of your righteous predecessors, for it suffices you like it sufficed them.” (A Commentary on the Foundations of the Belief of Ahl al-Sunna by al-Alka’i 1/154)
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya (may God have mercy on him) said, “There is no blame on whoever makes the way of the Salaf clear, belongs to it, and traces his heritage back to it—rather, it has been agreed upon that it must be accepted from him, for the way of the Salaf is nothing but truth.” (Collection of Legal Rulings 4/194)
The answer of Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Baz (may God have mercy on him): “If he is honest when he says that he is Athari or Salafi there’s no problem. This is like what the Salaf used to say. So-and-so is a Salafi. So-and-so is an Athari. Purification is a must. Purification is an obligation.” (The Bestowal of the Skilled)
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Salih al-‘Uthaymin said, “So Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama’a are the Salaf in creed up to the last one, until the Day of Judgment; if he is upon the path of the Prophet (may God bless him, his family, and his Companions and grant them peace), then he is a Salafi.” (A Commentary on the Moderate Creed 1/54)
Shaykh Muqbil ibn Hadi al-Wadi’i (may God have mercy on him) was asked about the ruling of belonging to Salafism and naming oneself a Salafi. He answered, “It is a good thing to belong to Salafism and the Sunna…and this affiliation isn’t comparable to a political affiliation.” (The String of Pure Speech on Knowing the Meaning of Salafi)
* * *
And Finally, is it Partisanship or Innovation to Call Oneself Salafi?
The Champion of the Sunna, Imam Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani (may God the exalted have mercy on him) answered this question in one of his sayings. He said, “In all honesty, we wage war against partisans, because God’s word, ‘Every party rejoices at what it has’ applies to these various parties, and partisanship has no place in Islam. There is only one group according to the Qur’anic text: ‘No, verily the party of God are the successful ones.’ The party of God is the congregation of the Messenger of God (may God bless him and his family and grant them peace), and for someone to follow the way of the Companions, he must have knowledge of the Book and the Sunna.”
And he said, “We must consider that this affiliation isn’t an affiliation to a particular person or group that could possibly be at fault or operating on complete or partial misguidance.” He said, “The word Salaf is known in the language of the Arabs and in Islamic legal language, and what concerns us here is searching for it from the Islamic legal perspective. For it is authenticated from the Prophet (may God bless him and his family and grant them peace) that he said on his deathbed to Lady Fatima (may God be pleased with her), ‘Fear God and be patient, and yes, O Salaf, I am yours.’ “
He also said, “So, a Muslim is not allowed to excuse himself from belonging to the righteous Salaf; on the other hand, if he were to excuse himself from any other affiliation, no person of knowledge could pronounce him a disbeliever or transgressor. He who denies this name—you see him—doesn’t he belong to one of the legal schools, in jurisprudence or in creed?”…Then he said, “However, he who claims to belong to the Ash’ari school in creed or to one of the four legal schools is attaching himself to specific, fallible people. As for he who affiliates himself with the righteous Salaf, he attaches himself to general infallibility.” (The Bestowal of the Skilled; From the Distinguishing Characteristics of the Prophetic Program, 48)
And, O God, send prayers and peace upon Muhammad, his family and his Companions.
Acquired 2 May 2011
Translated by Adrian Wood-Smith
Translation reviewed by Emily Drumsta