Past to present, present to past

Authored by: Jeffrey T. Kenney

Routledge Handbook on Early Islam

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138821187
eBook ISBN: 9781315743462
Adobe ISBN:


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All Muslims look to early Islam for guidance; Salafīs do so with a passion – some would say vengeance – that surpasses fellow believers and earns them the reputation as the puritans of Islam. In the broadest sense, “Salafī” designates those who seek to emulate the Prophet Muḥammad and hold fast to al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ or the pious forefathers, shunning later scholarly tradition for its deviation from the pure message of Islam. Reformers by orientation, Salafīs seek to recover a past that has become occluded by layers of interpretation, contributed by specialists whose reasoning took them away from the plain meaning of the sacred texts of Islam: the Qurʾān and Sunna. Their solution is to return to these sources, and to allow them to speak clearly once again, as they had for earlier generations. The generations typically identified with al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ include the Companions of Muḥammad, the Successors of the Companions, and the Successors of the Successors. The time frame covered by these generations is ambiguous, with some Muslim scholars suggesting a period of 610–750 CE, from the beginning of Muḥammad’s prophecy until the end of the Umayyad period, and others pushing the dating later, often connected to the life of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (d. 855), the classical legal scholar whose teachings have become linked to Salafī ideas and practices. The other classical figure said to have contributed to the formation of a Salafī trend, if not “school,” is Taqī al-Dīn b. Taymiyya (d. 1328), a follower of Ibn Ḥanbal and a strident defender of theological purity against innovation (bidʿa) and popular expressions of faith.

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