The Meaning of the Word “Salaf” – Abu ‘Abdis-Salaam Hasan bin Qaasim ar-Raymee

Chapter One: The Meaning of the Word “Salaf”

The Linguistic Meaning:

Ibn Mandhoor said: “The words Salaf, Saleef and Salafah all refer to the unified group of the past.” [1]

Abus-Sa’adaat Ibn-ul-Atheer said: “It is said that the Salaf amongst people are those who died previously, such as one’s forefathers and relatives. This is why the first generation, such as the Taabi’een, were called the Salaf as-Saalih (pious predecessors).” [2]

‘Abdul-Kareem As-Sam’aanee said: “The word ‘Salafee’ with an ‘a’ after the S and L and ending with an F is an ascription to the Salaf and an attribution to their beliefs.” [3]

After quoting these words from As-Sam’aanee, Abul-Hasan Ibnul-Atheer Al-Jazree said: “A group of people were known by this ascription.” [4]

The Religious Meaning:

Imaam As-Safaareenee said: “What is meant by the madh-hab (belief) of the Salaf is that which the Companions, may Allaah be pleased with them, adhered to, as well as the distinguished ones who followed them upon goodness, their successors and the Imaams of the Religion – those who received testimony as to their leadership, were known for their great status in the Religion and whose words are taken by the people after the Salaf, apart from those who are accused of innovation or renowned for unacceptable ascriptions such as the Khawaarij, Rawaafid, Qadariyyah, Murji’ah, Jabariyyah, Jahmiyyah, Mu’atazilah, Karaamiyyah and those similar to them.” [5]

The Permanent Committee (for Research and Verdicts) was asked: “What is Salafiyyah, and what is your opinion concerning it?”

So they replied: “Salafiyyah is an ascription to the Salaf. The word ‘Salaf’ refers to the Companions of Allaah’s Messenger (sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Imaams of guidance from the first three generations of whom the Messenger of Allaah (sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) testified for as to their superiority when he said: ‘The best of mankind is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them. Then there will come a people who will bear witness before taking an oath, and take an oath before bearing witness.’ [Reported by Imaam Ahmad in his Musnad, Al-Bukharee and Muslim]

The word Salafiyoon is the plural of Salafee, and it is an ascription to the Salaf. The meaning of the word Salaf has already been mentioned. Furthermore, it also refers to those who follow the methodology of the Salaf, which entails following the Book and the Sunnah, calling the people to them and acting upon them. So as a result of this, they become the adherents of the Sunnah and the unified body (Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah).” [6]

Our teacher, Muhammad Amaan bin ‘Alee Al-Jaamee, may Allaah have mercy on him, said: “When we use the word ‘Salaf’ generally, from a religious standpoint, we mean by it: The Companions of Allaah’s Messenger (sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) – i.e. those who were present during his lifetime and accepted the Religion from him directly…those who also fall under this term are the ones who followed them – those who inherited their knowledge before a long time had passed and those who fall under the testimony and praise of Allaah’s Messenger for them that they were the best of mankind, when he (sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: ‘The best of mankind is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them.’ This term (Salaf) also includes the successors of the Taabi’een.” [7]

Our teacher, Saalih bin ‘Abdillaah Al-‘Abood, said: “What is intended by the term ‘Salafiyyah’ is: Following the way of the Pious Predecessors (Salaf as-Saalih) of this Muslim ummah, who are in fact Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah. This means uniting oneself and gathering others upon the following of the Sunnah of Allaah’s Messenger (sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), in hidden and in open, and following the way of the first and foremost from the Muhaajireen and Ansaar, who followed them in goodness.” [8]

Shaikh Bakr bin ‘Abdillaah Abu Zaid said: “If it is said: the Salaf or the Salafees or their efforts, Salafiyyah, then these are all ascriptions to the Salaf as-Saalih (righteous predecessors), which includes all of the Companions, may Allaah be pleased with them, as well as those who followed them in goodness, excluding those who were driven by vain desires. Those who remained firm upon the methodology of the prophets (after them) were ascribed to their righteous predecessors because of that. And so they were called: Salaf, Salafees, and their ascription would be: Salafee. So based on this, the term Salaf means the righteous predecessors. When used generally, this term means: Everyone that strives to follow the Companions, even if they are in our time, and so on. This is what the scholars all agree on. So it is an ascription, which can be traced back to the Book and the Sunnah, and it is an ascription that cannot be separated for even a moment from the first generation (i.e. Salaf), rather it was from them and returns to them. As for the one who opposed them by using a different name or ascription, then no (he is not from them), even if he lived amongst them and was their contemporary. This is why the Companions were free from the Qadariyyah and the Murji’ah.” [9]

He also said: “Be a Salafee upon earnestness, following the way of the pious predecessors , as well as those after them, who followed their footsteps in all aspects of the Religion, such as Tawheed, acts of worship and so on…” [10]


[1] Lisaan-ul-‘Arab (6/330)
[2] An-Nihaayah fee Ghareeb-il-Hadeeth (2/390)
[3] Al-Ansaab (7/104)
[4] Al-Lubaab fee Tah’dheeb-il-Ansaab (2/126)
[5] Lawaami’-ul-Anwaar: (1/20)
[6] Al-Lajnat-ud-Daa’imah Lil-Buhooth-il-‘Ilmiyyah (no. 1361) (2/165-166)
[7] As-Sifaat-ul-Ilaahiyyah fil-Kitaabi was-Sunnah (pg. 57)
[8] ‘Aqeedat-ush-Shaikh Muhammad bin ‘Abdil-Wahhaab as-Salafiyyah (pg. 254-255)
[9] Hukm-ul-Intimaa ilal-Firaq wal-Ahzaab wal-Jamaa’aat al-Islaamiyyah (pg. 46-47)
[10] Hilyat-ut-Taalib al-‘Ilm (pg. 8)

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