Dr. Muhammad `Imarah, in his book, Al-Wasit fi al-Madhahib wal-Mustalahat al-Islamiyyah while elucidating the Salafi thought: “Linguistically, the word Salaf usually refers to past events, which occurs in a specific period.
In technical terms, it refers to that golden era of early Muslims, which reflects the true image of Islam with regard to deducing the Islamic rulings in light of pure thought that is guided by the spirit of the Shari`ah.
Generally speaking, the word Salaf is traced back to the early generations of Prophet’s Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) who exerted great efforts in spreading the message of Islam. They witnessed the revelation of the Qur’an, and they showed excellence in understanding its fine meanings. They were contemporaries of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and they were good receivers of whatever they heard from him. The same applies to those who followed their guidance rightly from among the succeeding generations. Hence, the Salafi is the one who emulates those who are well-versed in religious knowledge.
Modern Salafis are those who follow in the footsteps of their rightly- guided predecessors irrespective of how diverse and versatile their inclinations are. Some of the contemporary Salafis stick blindly to literal interpretations. There are others who adopt a moderate trend by picking and choosing what goes in harmony with the essence of Shari`ah, while keeping in mind the basics as well as other things that are liable to change.
Different Inclinations for Different Salafis
Some Salafis’ primary concern is the literal text. Others follow a more rational way of understanding the Islamic legacy. There are other Salafis who stick blindly to a specific school of thought. And there are others who consider the whole legacy of the Muslim Ummah their reference and authority taking the rough along with the smooth at the first instance, then picking and choosing what goes in line with their inclinations later on.
although it is clear that there are different inclinations for different Salafis, the term Salafi is usually ascribed to those who gave priority to the apparent meaning of the text in deducing rulings from their original sources. They went to the extent in saying that the literal meaning of a religious text should be given priority over qiya
(analogical deduction), personal judgement and other rational mechanisms, which are used in deducing legal rulings.
The Salafi School of Thought
the Salafi school of thought is traced back to Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. Among the Salafi scholars we may mention here Imam Ibn Rahwiyah, Imam Al-Bukhari, Imam Abu Dawood, Ad-Darmi, At-Tabarani, Al-Bayhaqi and others.
Certain changes had taken place in the evolution of the Salafi school of thought especially during the lifetime of Ibn Taymiyah and Ibn Al-Qayyim. This period was characterized by a gradual change towards rationalism while giving priority to religious texts.
It is noteworthy here that all these changes did not gain center stage among the masses because they acquired their interpretations and justifications from different perspectives and inclinations.
A Moderate Attitude at Long Last
Moderation, which is a main characteristic of Islamic thought, should be the course to follow. It is inconvenient, as far as Islam is concerned, to stick to the literal interpretation of religious texts and turn a blind eye to rationality and reason. The same applies to adhering to rational justifications and personal judgements, which are, in most cases, susceptible to change let alone error. We cannot deny that the mind may discern the right interpretation of a certain text, but still, our minds are confined to our very limited knowledge and self-motivated justifications. We should issue our judgements and interpret religious texts in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah while keeping in mind the objectives of Islam in an era where susceptibility to change and transformation has become a common denominator.”