Compilation: Aboo Aamir Al-Atharee
All praise to Allâh the Lord of the worlds; I bear witness that Allâh Alone is worthy of worship, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger.
We live in an era where there is a rejuvenated call to following the methodology of the early generations of Muslims, and this call – all praise to Allâh – has seen a kind of acceptance in some Muslim communities all over the globe save some places where heretical practices are still commonplace. The development is such that the general populace have shown the desire to know the kind of people that constituted Al-Quroon Al-Mufaddalah (the Glorious Generations) of Islam.
Thus for the English audience we present some of the necessary things that should be known about these pious early Muslims, and why it is their methodology Muslims must strive to follow to earn safety.
In this write-up, we rely heavily on the work Ash-Shaykh Saleem bn. Eid Al-Hilaalee – may Allâh protect him – that is entitled: Limaadhaa akhtar'tu man'hajas-Salafee ['Why I have Chosen the Methodology of the Salaf'].
We ask Allâh to make it beneficial to all the Muslims in general. It is Allâh alone that grants success.
What does the term Salaf mean?
Lexically, the word Salaf means those who have preceded in terms of knowledge, faith, honour and goodness.
Ibn Mansuur, the Arabic lexicographer, said in the classical Arabic lexicon, Lisaanul-Arab [9/159], as thus:
'…also As-Salaf are those who were before you amongst your forefathers and relatives; who are older than you are and more honourable. This is why the first epoch of the Taabiuun (who came after the Sahaabah) are called As-Salafus-Sâlih.'
This lexical meaning of the word Salaf also comes into open in the statement of the Messenger of Allâh – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam – to his daughter, Faatimah, the Flower, may Allâh be pleased with her; he said to her when she became sad after her father told her he was about to die:
'What a good Salaf (predecessor) I am to you.' [Al-Bukhaari (7285); Muslim (2450/98)].
Technically however, the word Salaf, when it is absolutely used, refers to the Companions of the Messenger of Allâh – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam, while the Taabiuun who came after them also share in the appellation, from the perspective of those who came after them too.
Al-Qal'shaani said in Tahrirul-maqaalati min shar'hir-risaalah :
'The Salafus-Saalih were the first epoch (of righteous men) those who were endowed with knowledge, took to the guidance of the Prophet – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam, and guarded his Sunnah. They were the people whom Allâh chose as the Companions of His Prophet and to entrench His Deen. Allâh was pleased with them as Leaders of the Ummah. They strove in the path of Allâh in the utmost and they tried their best to bring benefit to the Ummah, and they all made efforts with their souls to earn Allâh's Pleasure.'
Allâh – the Mighty and Exalted – praised them in His Book where He said:
"Muhammad is the Messenger of Allâh, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves…" [Al-Fat'h: 29].
And where He said:
"(And there is also a share in this booty) for the poor emigrants, who were expelled from their homes and their property, seeking bounties from Allâh and to please Him. And helping Allâh (i.e. helping His religion) and His Messenger. Such are indeed the truthful (to what they say)." [Hashr: 8]
In the Verse above, Allâh mentioned the Muhaajirun (Emigrants) and the Ansaar (Helpers) after which He praised and showed pleasure to those who followed them. And He threatened, with punishment, in another Verse, those who might oppose them and take other than their path; He said:
"And whoever contradicts and opposes the Messenger (Muhammad) after the Right Path has been shown clearly to him, and follows other than the believers' way, we shall keep him in the path he has chosen, and burn him in hell – what an evil destination." [An-Nisaa: 115].
"…and follows other than the believers' way…"
The 'believers' when the Verse above was revealed were none other than the Companions of the Messenger of Allâh – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam. Thus it is their way that ought to be followed in understanding the Book of Allâh and the Sunnah of His Messenger – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam.
Therefore, these people, the Companions of the Prophet, should be followed in what they brought (from the Messenger of Allâh – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam), and what they did in their time with respect to the matters of the Deen must be emulated; while forgiveness should be sought for them just as Allâh enjoins the Muslims who would come after them to do:
"And those who came after them say: "Our Lord! Forgive us and our brethren who have preceded us in faith, and put not in our hearts any hatred against those who have believed. Our Lord! You are indeed full of kindness, Most Merciful." [Hashr: 10].
The term, Salaf, was not new to the scholars of old. For instance, Al-Imaam Al-Bukhaari reported in his Sahih that Raashid bn Sa'd said:
'The Salaf used to prefer stallion because it was more courageous and daring.' [The Book of Jihaad, Chapter 50].
While explaining that, Al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar – rahima-hullah – said the word Salaf in the statement refers to the Companions of the Prophet – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam – and those who came after them. What also vindicates that view is the fact that Raashid bn Sa'd – the reporter of the statement – was a Taabi'ee (a pupil of the Companions of the Prophet), and Salaf, to a Taabi'y, is without doubt the Companions of the Prophet – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam.
Similarly Al-Bukhaari reported: The Chapter Illustrating that the Salaf used to save food, meat and others in their houses and on their journeys [The Book of Food, Chapter 27].
What Al-Imaam Al-Bukhaari implied by the word Salaf were the Companions of the Messenger of Allaah – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam.
He (Al-Bukhaari) also said: Az-Zuhree (Al-Imaam Ibn Shihaab) said with regard to bones of dead animals such as elephants' and others:
'I met a people, scholars among the Salaf, who would comb their hair with them and collect their oil in them; they did not see anything wrong in that.' [Book of Ablution, Chapter 67].
Al-Imaam Az-Zuhree – rahimahullah – was a Taabi'ee therefore those whom he meant by Salaf were the Companions of the Messenger of Allâh - salaLlaahu alaihy wa sallam.
As for Al-Imaam Muslim, another collector of Sahih, he said in the preface of his Sahih in the route of Muhammad bn Abdillah – rahimahullah – who said: I heard Aliyy bn Shaqeeq say: I heard Abdullâh bn Al-Mubaarak – rahimahullah – say in the gathering of people:
'Leave the hadith of Amr bn Thaabit [a Raafidi] for he used to vilify the Salaf.'
The Salaf being referred to above were the Companions of the Messenger of Allâh.
Al-Imaam Auzaa'ee – rahimahullah – said:
'Be patient over the Sunnah; stay where the people (Companions) stayed; say what they said and refrain from what they refrained from and follow the path of your Salafus-Saalih (the Pious Predecessors), sufficient for you is what sufficed for them.' [Al-Aajooree reported it in Ash-Sharee'ah p.58].
Also from the perspective of time, the term – Salaf – is used to indicate the best of generations (in the history of Islam); the generations that were worthy of emulation. Those were the first three generations that were confirmed to be on goodness upon the tongue of the best of men, our Prophet, Muhammad – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam. He said:
'The best of people is my generation then those who follow them then those who follow them. Then will come people whose testimonies will go before their vows and their vows before their testimonies.'
[The hadith was reported by many collectors at all levels: Bukhaari, Trimidhi, Ibn Hibbaan, etc.]
It is pertinent to note that even though the first three generations of Islam constitute the best of Islam, yet there were some evil people in those generations. For instance, hypocrites were existing in Madeenah even when the Prophet – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam – was alive. And thus when he died, many of heretical thoughts such as those of Khaarijiyyah (Al-Khawaarij), Raafidah (Shiah), I'tizaal (Mu'tazilah), Ir'jaa, etc, reared their heads. This is why it is important to qualify the people to be emulated even in those generations, thus they must be those whose understanding (of the Deen) conformed to the methodology and understanding of the Companions of the Messenger of Allâh. But one important phenomenon at the point in time was that the bulk of the scholars then were on the path of the Companions of the Messenger of Allâh thus the people of Bid'ah were easily found out and exposed to the people in the light of the Qur'ân and Sunnah.
The three generations were the best if they were to be compared to the successive generations. Things began to worsen as years passed by. This is even a confirmation of what Anas bn Maalik – may Allâh be pleased with him – heard from the Messenger of Allâh that the successive years of Islam would be worse, in terms of knowledge and understanding of the Deen, compared with the earlier years. True is the speech of the Messenger of Allâh – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam.
Thus as there were Salafus-Sâlih (Pious Predecessors), there were also Salafut-Tâlih (Evil Predecessors). The Companions of the Messenger of Allâh – and those who followed their way among the Taabioon – constitute the former; while the heads of heretical thoughts like Abdullah bn Ubayy, Abdullah bn Saba', Jahm bn Safwaan, Ma'bad Al-Juhani, etc, constitute the latter. As Muslims ought to follow the way and manner of the former, they must try their utmost to see the latter as evil people whom those who might represent their thoughts in the present time must be avoided. And how plenty are they in our own time!
With the foregoing in mind, it will be noted that when the term Salaf is absolutely used, it does not just include everybody in the three first generations but the Companions of the Messenger of Allâh and those who followed them in goodness. In essence, the term can be said to embody those who guard over the correct creed and methodology of Islâm which the Messenger of Allâh – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam – and his Companions were upon before the differing and divisions. And this cuts across all the generations only that the first three generations were attested to by the Messenger of Allâh – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam – thus they are the standard.
Broadly speaking therefore, Salafus-Saalih are scholars of former and latter generations who filled the annals of Islam with glories that remain unsurpassed in the history of mankind; and they can be said to run into thousands. Below are their levels:
The Sahabah (Companions): Such as Abu Bakr As-Sideeq, Umar bn Al-Khattaab, Uthmaan bn Affaan, Aliyy bn Abee Taalib; the rest of the ten that were given the tidings of Jannah; the rest of those who fought in the Battle of Badr; and those who were with the Prophet – Sallallâhu alayhi wa sallam – in Bay'atu-Ridwaan (Allegiance of Pleasure), and host of others.
The Muslim belief is that all the Companions of the Messenger of Allâh are trustworthy though they are of varying degrees in terms of knowledge and piety. May Allâh be pleased with them all and may He despise the Shiah – and the modernists – who cast aspersions at the personality of the Companions of the Messenger of Allâh.
Ibn Mas'uud – may Allâh be pleased with him – said:
'Allâh looked into the hearts of the slaves and saw the heart of Muhammad as the best of all the hearts then He chose him for Himself and entrusted him with His Message. Then Allâh looked into the hearts of the slaves after the heart of Muhammad and saw the hearts of his Companions as the best among the rest of the hearts thus He made them the deputies of His Prophet – to fight for His Deen. Thus whatever these Muslims (the Companions) saw as goodness is indeed goodness in the Sight of Allâh, and whatever they saw as evil is evil in the sight of Allâh.' [Recorded by Al-Imaam Ahmad (1/379) and others; it is graded as hasan].
The Taabiuun (Pupils of the Sahaabah): On their lead were Uwais Al-Qar'nee, Sa'eed bn Musayyab, Ur'wah bn Zubayr, Saalim bn Abdillah bn Umar, Ubaydullah bn Abdillah bn Utbah bn Mas'uud, Muhammad bn al-Hanafiyyah, Aliyy bn Al-Hasan Zaynul-Aabideen, Qaasim bn Muhammad bn Abee Bakr As-Sideeq, Al-Hasan Al-Basree, Muhammad bn Seereen, Umar bn Abdil-Azeez, Muhammad bn Shihaab Az-Zuhree, etc. May Allâh bestow mercy on all of them.
The Atbaaut-Taabieen (Pupils of the Taabiuun): On their lead were Maalik bn Anas, Al-Auzaai'yy, Sufyaan bn Saeed Ath-Thauree, Sufyaan bn Uyaynah Al-Hilaalee, Al-Layth bn Sa'd, etc. May Allâh bestow mercy on all of them.
Then those who followed them such as Abdullah bn al-Mubaarak, Waqee', Ash-Shaafi'yy, Abdur-Rahmaan bn Mahdee, Yahyaa Al-Qattaan, etc. May Allâh bestow mercy on all of them.
Then the pupils of the above such as Ahmad bn Hanbal, Yahyaa bn Ma'een, Aliyy bn Al-Madeenee, etc. May Allâh bestow mercy on all of them.
Then the pupils of the above such as Al-Bukhaaree, Muslim, Abu Haatim, Abu Zur'ah, At-Tir'midhee, Abu Daawud, An-Nasaaiyy, etc. May Allâh bestow mercy on all of them.
Then in the latter generations came the following: Ibn Jareer At-Tabaree, Ibn Khuzaymah, Ibn Qutaybah, Al-Khateeb Al-Baghdaadee, Ibn Abdil-Barr, Abdul-Ghaniyy Al-Maqdsee, Ibn As-Sallaah, Ibn Taymiyyah Shaykhul-Islaam, Al-Miziyy, Adh-Dhahabiyy, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jauziyyah, Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbaliyy, etc. May Allâh bestow mercy on all of them.
Then very much later other prominent figures followed them, such as Muhammad bn Abdil-Wahhaab, Abdur-Rahmaan As-Sa'dee, Ibraaheem Aal-Shaykh, Ahmad Shaakir, Muhammad Naasirudeen Al-Albaanee, Abdullah bn Baaz, As-Saalih Al-Uthaymeen, Ash-Shaykh Rabee al-Madkhalee, Muqbil Al-Wada'iyy, etc. May Allâh bestow mercy on all of them.
HISTORY OF SOME SALAF