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.
Islamic jurisprudence holds that, in order of precedence, the sources of Islamic law are : a) the Quran (the Muslim revealed scripture), b) the Hadith (prophetic traditions) and c) Ijma' (consensus). Modern 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) and Shirk (idolatry).
Salafi vs. Wahabi vs. Qutubi
Though often used interchangeably in common discourse and the media, technically speaking the terms Salafi and Wahhabi are not the same. Wahhabists is a name often used to insult the Salafists.
In modern discourse, however, especially post-911, the term Salafi has come to describe various sects and groups that espouse forms of Islamic Sunni ideology and practice that are variously described as "purist" or even "reformist", and especially for the militant expressions of these ideologies. It is the Saudi-based school of thought that are referred to as Salafis, as they seek to 'purify' modern Islam, sideline classical and much of Islamic jurisprudence, and promote the interpretations of Salafi Islamic thinkers such as Ibn Taymiya.
Please note also that some writers and scholars consider it very important to make a distinction between Qutubis (followers of the thought of Sayyid Qutb) and Salafis.
See the article on Qutbism for further discusssion and http://www.intell.rtaf.mi.th/Publications/Terrorism/thewahhabimyth.pdf for an example of a discourse making the latter point.
- Ibn Taymiya
- Muhammad Naasiruddeen al-Albaanee
- Ibn Baz
- Muhammad Ibn Saalih Ibn 'Uthaymeen
- Abdul-azeez Ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz