Salafi is a term often used to describe fundamentalist Islamic thought.
The teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi, that is, "following the forefathers of Islam." This branch of Islam is often referred to as "Wahhabi," a term that many adherents to this tradition do not use. Members of this form of Islam call themselves Muwahhidun ("Unitarians", or "unifiers of Islamic practice"). They use the Salafi Da'wa or Ahlul Sunna wal Jama'a. Wahhabism is a particular orientation within Salafism. Most puritanical groups in the Muslim world are Salafi in orientation, but not necessarily Wahhabi.
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The Salafiyyah are a movement, and like the Sufis, can come from the Maliki, the Shafi, the Hanbali, or the Hanafi. But, that said, the Salafiyyah movement, is primarily confirmed to the Hanbali, and in particular the Wahhabiyyah, and their theological equivalents. The Salafiyyah movement to return Islam to it's purest roots (like the Islamic Amish!) has taken as reference points the teachings of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, Al Barbahaaree, or Al Laalikaa'ee, or Ash-Shaatibee, or Adh-Dhahabee, or Al Layth ibn Sa'd, or Abu Haneefah, and other scholars who adhered to the methodology of the salaf.
As-Salaf us-Salih (or briefly: the Salaf) refers to the first and best three generations of Muslims. They are the Companions (Sahabah) of the Prophet (S), their immediate followers (Tabiun), and the followers of the Tabi'in. The meaning in the Arabic language is "Those who precede, have gone before". It is a word used by the earliest scholars for "The first three generations of Muslims" and those who are upon their way in accordance with the Ahaadeeth of the Messenger Muhammad (sallAllaahu` alayhi wa sallam) which is reported in Saheeh al-Bukhaaree: The best of people/mankind is my generation, then those that follow them, then those that follow them.
The description "Salafi" is the name of a group of Muslims who try as hard as they can to imitate the Blessed Prophet in every aspect of life. Sometimes it may seem that the Salafis emphasize the laws and punishments of Islam so much that they make you feel there is no Islamic love and mercy. This is because they are sometimes very zealous in their views. A true Salafi values Tawhid, singling out Allah in all acts of worship: in supplication, in seeking aid, in seeking refuge in times of ease and hardship, in sacrifice, in making vows, in fearing and hoping and total reliance, and so on. A true Salafi actively seeks to remove shirk (polytheism) with all his capacity. They tend to be conservative on women's issues. The Salafi Da'wah is that of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. It is claimed to be the Religion of Islam - pure and free from any additions, deletions or alterations.
In the United States, Salafism has been equated by some with radicalism and terrorism in some newspaper articles, books, and public discourse. However, "Salafism" is not inherently synonymous with violence, terrorism, or radicalism. Many Salafis throughout the world are doctrinally rigid, but peaceful.
It is important to distinguish between the following groups, thought of (perhaps) as concentric circles:
- "Jihadist Salafis" - such as the followers of al-Qaeda and like-minded local groups;
- "Salafis" - those who believe that the imitation of the behavior of the Prophet's closest companions should be the basis of the social order;
- "Islamists" - a still broader category,which includes anyone who thinks that the precepts of Islam - however interpreted - should be fundamental to the political and social order; and,
- "Discontented Muslims" - people who identify themselves as Muslims,and who are unhappy with their life prospects, with the justice of their societies,and/or with the state of the wider world.
The Salafi jihadist movement has attracted rootless and or committed internationalist militants. They fight for the jihad, seeking to re-create the Muslim ummah and shariat to build an Islamic community. Simultaneously conservatives and radical, they form a global network that has attracted Muslims from around the world to fight jihad in Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. The salafi-jihadist movement in Central Asia and the Caucasus is more localized - an expression of identity in areas such as Ferghana, villages in Daghestan, and upper Gharm valley. In Central Asia, the term "Wahabi" refers to fundamentalists who come from Pakistan or Afghanistan, but they are not necessarily a political movement. For example, Wahabis in Tajikistan do not recognize themselves as a political alignment. However, most Central Asian regimes use the term Wahabi more broadly to describe Islamic religious movements outside the states' control.