From Academic Kids


A Salafi (Arabic سلفي referring to early muslim), from the Arabic word Salaf سلف (literally meaning predecessors or early generations), is a practitioner 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 succeding generations after them as the 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 - Mutawaatir)

Distinctive beliefs and practices

In doctrinal matters, Salafis claim adherence to strict monotheism, or tawhid. Salafis believe that popular Islamic practices such as venerating the graves of prophets and saints to be akin to pre-Islamic idolatry, and thus properly regarded as shirk, or idolatry.

Regarding God's attributes, the nature of the Quran, seeing God in the Herafter, God's decree, and the Last Judgement, Salafis reject the interpretations of the various Muslim schools of theology kalam and hold to the Islamic doctrine expressed in the creedal statements written by Ibn Hanbal, al-Tahawi, and al-Qayrawani. Salafis consider kalam to be heretical, as the theologians were influenced by Greek philosophy as well as Jewish and Christian doctrine.

In matters of Islamic law, Salafis, other than the Wahhabis (who are Hanbalis), tend to prefer the legal doctrines espoused by Ibn Hazm, Ibn Taymiya, Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Shawkani and Siddiq Hasan Khan. These scholars lived after the four major Sunni legal schools had declared themselves closed to further innovation (the closing of the gates of ijtihad). Rather than simply elaborate the doctrines of the four schools, these jurists sought to return to the practice of the earliest Muslims. Salafis will thus reject many later Islamic practice as bida (innovation).

Salafis say that the proper sources of Islamic law are:

  • the Qur'an, the Muslim revealed scripture
  • the hadith, the recorded traditions of the prophet, his companions, and the first three generations
  • Ijma' or consensus

Salafis hold that Qur'an, hadith, and ijma' should be interepreted as the first three generations of Muslims would have interpreted them, and not according to innovative ways. They believe, then, that they are conservatives and traditionalists. Other Muslims, of course, might disagree, saying that no conservative would completely discard thirteen centuries of tradition.

Pre-modern usage

Throughout history, the Salafi school has been best identifiable with the followers of Ibn Hanbal first in Baghdad and then later in Damascus. Although followers of Salafism were sometimes found among the other schools.

After Ibn Hanbal, the next major figure in Salafism was Ibn Taymiya.

The reform movement of Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab is a direct descendant of the teachings of Ibn Taymiya. Although this movement was less prolific in its intellectual output focusing primarily of the doctrine of Tawhid and Hanabali interpretation of sharia law.

Modern usage

Salafism was re-introduced in the Arab world during the late 1800s - early 1900s by the reform movement centered around the Egyptian Muhammad_Abduh. Although in theological matters, Abduh was closer to the Mu'tazili school of thought; he did adopt from Ibn Taymiya, the latter's position against extreme forms of taqlid and call for ijtihad.

Abduh's student Rashid Rida, the publisher of the influential journal Al-Manar was closer in thought in his later years to the doctrines espoused by Ibn Taymiya.

Like most Egyptians of that time, Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, was influenced by the ideas of Abduh and Rida, as well as traditional Islamic doctrine as practiced in Egypt. Hence the Muslim Brotherhood had elements of Salafi doctrine incorporated with it.

During the same period, Ibn Taymiya's teachings were revived in Syria by al-Qasimi and in Iraq by al-Alusi.

Salafism in the Arab World after 1967

The contemporary Islamic revival in the Arab world began to take shape following the Arab defeat in the 1967 war against Israel. At this time, there were two main Salafi trends which slowly began to merge:

  • The traditional Wahhabis found in Saudi Arabia centered around Ibn Humaid, Ibn Baz, and eventually Ibn Uthaymin
  • The non-Wahhabis who were best represented by the Syrian based scholar Al-Albani.

The main difference between these trands lies in the close identification of the Wahhabis with the Hanbali legal school and the non-Wahhabi Salafis insistence on avoiding any legal school. In this position they identified more closely with the 19th century, Yemeni scholar ash-Shawkani and his Indian student Siddiq Hasan Khan. There are also some minor doctrinal differences.

Salafism in the Arab World after 1991 Gulf War

After the 1991 Gulf War, three new identifiable trends of Salafism came to the forefront.

  • The anti-political pro-Saudi government trend which identifies itself primarily with Saudi scholar Rabi' al-Madkhali.
  • The political and mildly anti-Saudi government trend which identifies itself with scholars like Safar Al-Hawali.
  • The various jihadist Salafi groups.

Each trend accuses the other of straying from true Salafism. The first two groups also argue between themselves that their positions are closer to those of Ibn Baz and Al-Albani. For example , see the article on Qutbism for further discussion and for an example of a discourse making the latter point.

The jihadist Salafi groups condemn both the first and second trends.

Salafism as used in the Western media

In post-911 Western media, the term Salafi or "Wahhabi" has come to describe all fundamentalist sects and groups that espouse forms of Islamic Sunni ideology and practice that are variously described as "purist" or even "reformist", especially the militant expressions of these ideologies.

Famous Salafis

See also

External links



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