Salafi is derived from Arabic root verb Seen Lam Fa. SLF has different meanings according to context, such as lending money or telling a story. In general terms in Arabic, Salafi means early day Muslims, the period between the death of prophet Mohammed to 400 years later. Some prominent Salafi scholars include Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi'i, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Anyone who died after this period is one of the khalaf or latter day Muslims.

Al-Salaf refers to the companions of the prophet (Sahabah), their followers (Tabi'en), and the followers of the followers. Mohammed praised these generations in the following hadeeth, "The best of people is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them." (Bukhari and Muslim).

Below list are referred to as salafi: (numbers are date of death in Hijri).

Abu Hanifa (150)
al-Awzai (157)
ath-Thawn (161)
al-Laith bin Sad (175)
Malik bin Anas (179)
Abdullah bin al-Mubarak(181)
Sufyan bin Uyainah (198)
Shafi'i (204)
Is'haq (238)
Ahmad bin Hanbal (241)
Bukhari (256)
Muslim (261)
Abu Dawud (275)

Prominent followers of salafi teaching after the 400 years period:

Ibn Taymiyyah (728)
adth-Dthahabi (748)
Ibn ul-Qayyim (751)
Ibn Kathir (774)
Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab (1206)
A call to faith. The Salafi way of thought.

Salafi is a term used to describe fundamentalist Islamic thought. The followers of such practice imitate early Muslims. The historical context of the word actually refers to someone who died within the first four hundred years after the Prophet Allah. The term later was revived as a slogan and movement. Do to the nature of reverting back to the old ways, they are ultra conservative, they want to return to the Golden Age of Islam.

Although the reverting back to the Golden Age of Islam refers to the Prophet Allah’s time, fundamentally Salafi believe the Islamic tenet of purity from the start of the first human being, Adam. They even go so far as to call him the first prophet, as I’m sure many religions do (Christianity for one). That’s how Islam separated itself from Christianity and Judaism, calling them corrupt, and reverting back to purity.

The Movement
Salafi is the name of a group of Muslims who imitate the Blessed Prophet in every aspect of life. This is a return to shari’a-minded orthodoxy, purifying Islam from unwarranted accretions. “The politicization of Salafi movements was a response to colonialism, intended to exert pressure to end foreign domination.” (clogic) This sort of movement is about one hundred years old, thirteen centuries after Allah. Their basic premise is that religion can’t truly be understood like it was back then during the Prophet’s era. They value Tawhid, singling out Allah in all acts of worship. This puts weight on punishment over mercy for most, making them somewhat of an extremist group. But like all Islamic or Muslim religions and groups, this is not synonymous with terrorism or violence. It just means they follow doctrine with tight parameters.

”The "fundamentalism" of the Salaf, then, is a simple reaction to "the loss of roots," the result of capitalism's deterritorialization, which, according to Zizek "undermines every fixed social identity," such as the status of the believing Muslim. The recourse to Salafism, like to that of nationalism, emerges in order to protect the group from the traumatic disorientation of the processes of globalization, from the loss of ground caused by the disintegration of the really existing ummah.” “Muslim longing for the past became even more crucial to Muslim identity after the Balkanization of the Middle East and its subsequent psychic splitting.” (Maryam El-Shall)

Chapters of Salafi in the United States have been on the decline post 9/11, with barely a handful of them remaining. One factor, besides the apparent, is that the eastern Salafi believers did not care for the western. Looking to the premise of the movement, “only Muslims from Allah’s era can really understand,” and you can see why westerners would be even further off the mark. Additionally isolationism is to blame.

Offbeat Perceptions
While researching Salafi I found a lot of western literature criticizing them as a terrorist organization promoting violence. Although even al-Qaeda identifies themselves as Salafi. (Global security) But from my own assessment, however, it seems like they were scapegoated post 9/11 just like any other Islam group. But what struck me oddly was what a Muslim might say about a Salafi believer, “Mention the word ‘Salafi’ to a Muslim what often comes to mind is a criminal who marries several times.” (Umarless) However, that was a rare clip.

I do believe Salafi are both peaceful and violent in nature. Islam is a peaceful message, yet it must also defend itself and spread at the same time… “Salafi projects therefore rely on memories of Islam's early battles in order to fight contemporary wars and reinvoke questions of survival and oneness in order to posit grounds for jihad against innocents.” (Clogic)

The Salafi envisioned society is utopian based precisely for its impossibility, for its purely imaginative status, according to Maryam El-Shall. (clogic) Shall calls the Golden Age of Islam a complete fantasy, a product of select memory even. “The Golden Age of Islam is remembered as the period of "pure Islam," when, because Muslims practiced their faith perfectly, God rained down His blessings on them, ensuring their military and economic success and as well as their cultural dominance.7 Not accidentally, this period also coincides with the West's Dark Ages.8 It was a utopic moment in the history of Islam precisely because it never really existed, except in the contemporary Salafi imagination.” (clogic) He summarizes the Salfi movement as one of “subjective unity,” using that phrase based on Freud’s definition of obsession with the past as a group.

”Part of the Salafi project, then, is not destruction of current Western hegemonic culture in the Muslim world and beyond, but an actual reconstruction of the past in the present for the creation of a kind of utopian future. In this way, then, the Salaf, like the Utopian, straddles two separate set of moments alternately. He looks to the past to correct the present and yet uses the present to create a future based dramatically on the ethos of a mythical past.” (Maryam El-Shall)

Salafism is another generic term used similarly, as a Sunni Islamic school of thought.


See also, Salafiyyah, an Islam movement.

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