Salafi in the arabic language means 'one who follows the Salaf'. The term Salaf means 'predecessor'. The Prophet sallallahu alaiyhi wa sallam said to his daughter Fatimah radhi Allaahu anhaa: 'I am a blessed Salaf.' reported by Imaam Muslim. So our Prophet discribed himself as being a Salaf. Imaam Abu Haneefah (died 1500H) said: 'Stick to the way of the Salaf.' reported by Imaam as-Suyootee in his book 'Sawn al-Mantaq'. The term Salaf refers to the best and earliest generations of Muslims, so its clear that this term is not something new!
Those who call themselves (or rather, those who label people) Wahaabi
, Maaliki etc, call themselves that after a human being (like what the Christians have done). A Salafi is one who follows the best (first 3 generations) of Muslims who stuck to the Sunnah. They are Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa'aah
and they are the people who stick to the narrations and hadith.
The 4 Imaams called the people to follow the Sunnah, upon the understanding of the Companions. Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (died 241H) said: 'Do not make Taqleed (blind following) of me, nor of Shaafi'ee nor Maalik, nor Ath-Thawree and nor Awza'ee, rather take from where they took (ie the Sunnah)' - showing that OUR call should not be different from theirs!
The Salafis cannot be discribed with extremism, since they have (in every era and location) fought againts extremist ideologies and this is recorded and written in thousands of books and articles - islamagaintsextremism.com
The Salafi follows our Prophet more than any individual, no one's word is given precedence over his, no one's example is better than his, no one's guidance is better than his! His Sunnah is to be followed by the understanding of the Companions who numbered over 114,000 at the time of his passing away. They (the first 3 generations) understood the Sunnah better than ANYONE who came after them. We take our Deen, rulings and fatwas from the Salaf and the Salafi Imaams (Abu Haneefah, Maalik, Shaafi'ee and Ahmad ibn Hanbal and countless others who reached the level of knowledge and excellence that only Allah truly knows, may Allah shower them with mercy, Ameen).
The Salafi takes rulings from all these great Imaams without exception, so long as the ruling or fatwa is supported by evidence! Where a difference of opinion occurs between them, then the evidence that is stronger and closer to the Qur'an and Sunnah is given precedence, as Allah commanded the believers, 'And if you differ in any affair between yourselves, then refer it back to Allah and His Messenger if you truly believe in Allah and the Last Day.'
If however, a person is unable to understand the evidences or is illiterate, then there is no harm (in that particular instance) to make taqleed and take a ruling from one of the great Imaams, as Allah has stated, 'Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know. With proofs and scripture...' However, one should always try and avoid blind following and always look for proofs because this is the origin of the command of Allah, where He said to His noble Prophet: 'Say (to them O Prophet): If you truly love Allah, then follow me, then Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.'
The Salafis who are Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa'ah by consensus (Ijmaa') as Shaykhul-Islam ibn Taymiyyah (died 728H) mentions, should never be seen as a threat, rather they call the people firstly to Tawheed (Ibaadah to Allah alone and negating Shirk) and the correct belief (Aqeedah), and the Sunnah of the Messenger (free from Bidah), and they call the people to purify themselves from sins, disobedience and transgression. They command the people to respect their parents, to serve their families and educate their children. They are upright members of the community, they intergrate into the community yet maintain their faith and belief, they care for their neighbours' (regardless if they are Muslim or not), they spend in charity and help the orphans.
This is the mobel Salafi, who follows the Sunnah (and how we all should try to be)!
may Allah forgive us for our ignorance and shortcomings, Ameen.
An Explanation of Sects & their Brief Origin
Insha'Allah hope this clears up any misconceptions & doubt.