Bismillaah, as-salaatu was-salaam ‘ala Rasoolullaah
Is Calling Oneself ‘Salafi,’ permitted in Islaam?
Before we proceed deeply into the discussion, one must keep in mind that these labels are not legal terms defined by Qur’aan and Sunnah. They are simply linguistic concepts used in language and do not carry any Shari’ meaning which one will be sinful for not adhering to. Also, we should remind the reader that those who profess ‘salafi’ are not in agreement as to who they consider to be from the ‘salaf.’ Some restrict this to the Sahaabah [ra], others to the first three generations (Sahaabah [ra], their followers and then those who followed them) while the rest say anyone who has preceded their generation. From this, we will continue inshAllaah…
Definition and usage
Arabic definition of the word ‘Salaf’:
وسَلَفَ يَسْلُفُ بالضم سَلَفاً بفتحتين أي مَضَى. والقَوْمُ السُّلاَّف المُتَقَدّمون. وسَلَفُ الرَّجُل آباُؤه المتقدّمون والجَمْع أَسْلاف وسُلاَّف
“It means what passed, and people who have gone forth can be called Salaf, and the ‘Salaf’ of a person are his forefathers, and plural can be Aslaaf and Sullaaf” (Mukhtaar as-Sihaah)
Allaah ta’ala says in surah az-Zukhruf referring to Firawn and his people:
فَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ سَلَفاً وَمَثَلاً لِلْآخِرِينَ
“And We made them a precedent, and an example for later generations.”
And recorded in Saheeh al-Muslim under ‘Kitab al-Fada’il al-Sahaabah’ book 031 hadith #6004 from our mother ‘A’isha [ra] that Rasoolullaah sallaahu alayhi wa salam said to Fatima [ra] (narrating from her):
“…so fear Allaah and be patient (and he told me) that he would be a befitting forerunner for me…”
In simple terms, ‘salaf’ means those who past away.
Claims and criticism
“…so fear Allaah and be patient (and he told me) that he would be a befitting forerunner (salaf) for me…”
Many, if not all, have used the above hadith to justify labeling themselves as ‘salafi,’ separating themselves from other Muslims. This no doubt demonstrates the deficiency of their intellects.
Firstly, Allaah ta’ala has clearly prohibited the Muslims from breaking into differing sects intentionally, each rejoicing on that which they are upon. So this action of there’s is in fact sinful and not praiseworthy.
Secondly, if calling yourself ‘salafi’ was to be derived from this hadith, Fatima [ra] would have been the first one to use it. Since Rasoolullaah sallaahu alayhi wa salam was directing this towards her.
Thirdly, this hadith alone proves that the best person to follow is Rasoolullaah sallaahu alayhi wa salam himself. He is the best of salaf. And it is reported in Musnad Ahmad (4/130, 202 & 344) and by at-Tirmithi in a lengthy hadith, from Harith al-Ash’ari that Rasoolullaah sallaahu alayhi wa salam said:
“…so call with the call of Allaah which Allaah gave you – al-Muslimeen, al-Mumineen, ‘Ibaadullaah.”
Hence, the best of the salaf said to call ourselves by the call of Allaah which he gave us. Thus, calling yourself ‘salafi’ is in disobedience towards Rasoolullaah sallaahu alayhi wa salam.
In this way, the claim of theirs is frail and holds no weight.
Another argument they have brought forth is that by calling themselves ‘salafi,’ they are referring themselves as followers of the best of generations. And they use the following ahadith for their justification:
Reported in Saheeh al-Bukhari and Saheeh al-Muslim from our mother ‘Aisha [ra] that Rasoolullaah sallaahu alayhi wa salam said:
“The best of people is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them.”
And reported by at-Tirmithi:
“The best of people are my generation, then those who follow after them, then those who follow after them. Then there will come after them a people who will be fat, and they will love obesity, bearing witness before being asked to.”
And other similar reports.
Again, these reports by no means provide any evidence for them. None of the generations that Rasoolullaah sallaahu alayhi wa salam praised, referred to themselves as ‘salafis’ saying they follow the salaf. They all called themselves Muslims, in accordance with the Sunnah. So this claim is void of any substance.
They also use statements of some later scholars, such as ibn Taymiyyah and adh-Dhahabi. This does not require any criticism as sayings of scholars is not evidence and their opinions are not binding upon the Ummah. Their statements must be judged according to the Qur’aan and Sunnah and if their sayings comply with these two divine sources, then it is accepted. If not, then their sayings are discarded and rejected. Also to note, nowhere does ibn Taymiyyah state that calling yourself ‘salafi’ is permissible.
They also state that since times have changed and many sects have emerged. It is obligatory to identify and separate ourselves from these deviant sects (deviant in their eyes), is in fact an innovated belief and method. There existed sects amongst the previous nations, such as amongst the followers of Eesa ibn Mariam [as], and also during the time of the Sahaabah [ra]. Yet, they still referred themselves as Muslims; since this is what Allah ta’ala had named us.
In surah aali ‘Imraan ayah 52:
“But when Jesus felt disbelief from them, he said, “Who are my supporters for Allaah?” The disciples said,” We are supporters for Allaah. We have believed in Allaah and testify that we are Muslims.”
And in ayah 78 of aali ‘Imraan:
“…It is He Who has named you Muslims both before and in this…”
And the hadith reported by Abu Dawud from Furat ibn Hayyan [ra]:
“Rasoolullaah sallaahu alayhi wa salam commanded to kill him: he was a spy of Abu Sufyan and an ally of a man of the Ansar. He passed a circle of the Ansar and said: I am a Muslim. A man from the Ansar said, Rasoolullaah, he is saying that he is a Muslim. Rasoolullaah sallaahu alayhi wa salam said: ‘There are people among you in whose faith we trust. Furat ibn Hayyan is one of them.’”
So the best label and the most proper is what Allaah ta’ala and His Messenger sallaahu alayhi wa salam had given us. This is also the way of the salaf.
It is a Call of Jaahiliya (Asabiya)
Linguistically, ‘asabiya’ comes from the word ‘asabah’, which is the relative of the person from the fathers’ side. These relatives are called ‘asabah’ because they strengthen and defend the person that makes him stronger.
So ‘asabiya’ is mans supporting his people to whom he belongs, whether they are right or wrong, oppressing or oppressed. The belonging to these people can be due to kith and kin, ethnicity, color, birthplace, citizenship, school of thought, or a group of people with common interest.
And an example is an incident that took place amongst the Sahaabah [ra] themselves. Jabir ibn ‘Abdullaah [ra] narrated what happened at the watering place of al-Muraysi which led to the Munafiqoon stirring up the traces of asabiya and seeking to destroy the unity of the Muslims. He said:
“We were on a raid when one of the Muhajiroon kicked one of the Ansar. The Ansar said, ‘O Ansar! Help me!’ and the Muhajir said, ‘O Muhajiroon! Help me!.’ Rasoolullaah sallahu alayhi wa salam heard them and said, “Why are you stirring up something which belongs to Jaahiliya?”
From this we can conclude, calling towards this label of ‘salafiya’ is indeed against the Sunnah and it is a call of jaahiliya which holds no benefit. And calling oneself ‘Muslim’ is the right way and in accordance to the Sunnah.
“O you who have believed, fear Allaah as He should be feared and do not die except as Muslims. And hold firmly to the rope of Allaah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allaah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allaah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided.” [aali ‘Imraan 3:102-103]
Wa Allaahu alim