A fundamentalist interpretation of Islam
Salafiyya is not a sect but a way of looking at Islam. It is found mainly in areas of the Muslim world that follow the Hanbali school of Islamic law (the most rigid of the four main legal traditions) - essentially the Arabian peninsula.
Salafis take the Koran literally, and hark back to the earliest days of Islam. Militant Salafis place great emphasis on jihad, which they interpret as armed struggle and regard as a religious duty. This is not a mainstream Muslim view, but one they share with other extremist groups.
Similarly, despite the general Muslim injunction against suicide, they approve of suicide attacks in certain circumstances, where this would result in 'martyrdom'.
The name comes from the Arabic word 'salaf', meaning forefathers or pioneers. To Salafis, the 'forefathers' are the first three generations of Muslims, whose behaviour is to be studied and, if possible, emulated. Most Salafis adopt a highly orthodox, ultra-conservative view of Islam. Some opt for an austere, pious life devoid of politics. Others turn to jihad. At their most radical, Salafis are religious anarchists, rejecting nation states and manmade laws in favour of God's law.
The word salafi or ''early Muslim'' in traditional Islamic scholarship means someone who died within the first four hundred years after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), including scholars such as Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi'i, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Anyone who died after this is one of the khalaf or ''latter-day Muslims''.
The term ''Salafi'' was revived as a slogan and movement, among latter- day Muslims, by the followers of Muhammad Abduh (the student of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani) some thirteen centuries after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), approximately a hundred years ago. Like similar movements that have historically appeared in Islam, its basic claim was that the religion had not been properly understood by anyone since the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims--and themselves.
In terms of ideals, the movement advocated a return to a shari'a-minded orthodoxy that would purify Islam from unwarranted accretions, the criteria for judging which would be the Qur'an and hadith. Now, these ideals are noble, and I dont think anyone would disagree with their importance. The only points of disagreement are how these objectives are to be defined, and how the program is to be carried out. It is difficult in a few words to properly deal with all the aspects of the movement and the issues involved, but I hope to publish a fuller treatment later this year, insha'Allah, in a collection of essays called ''The Re-Formers of Islam''.
An Introduction to the Salafi Da'hah
(Pro) by the Quran and Sunnah Society, which promotes the Salafi view of Islam