The word Salafi is an abridgement for a long definition. Someone who is a Salafi means:
He is not of the sects of the Khawaarij who consider the Muslims to be Kaafirs (nonbelievers) due to their committing major sins, and make lawful the taking of their wealth and blood.
He is not of the sects of the Shi’ah (Shi’ites) who hate and curse the Prophet’s Companions and claim them to be apostates, claim that the Qur’an has been altered, reject the authentic Sunnah and worship the Prophet’s Family, peace be upon them.
He is not of the Qadariyyah who deny Qadr (the Divine Decree).
He is not of the Murjiah who claim Imaan (Faith) to be only in words and not in deed.
He is not of the Asharriyah who deny Allah’s Attributes.
He is not of the Sufis who worship graves, saints and claim Divine incarnation.
He is not of the Muqallidoon who necessitate that every Muslim adhere to the Madhhab (School of Thought) of a particular Imam or Shaikh, even when that madhhab differs with the clear verses of the Qur’an and authentic hadiths of the Prophet, peace be upon him.
He values Tawheed (the Unity of Allah), singling out Allah in his worship, supplication, seeking aid, seeking refuge in times of ease and hardship, sacrifice, vow-making, placing total reliance in Him and in judging by what Allah has revealed as well as all other forms of worship. This is the foundation he strives to build without which there is no true Islamic Governance.
He actively tries to remove Shirk (associating partners with Allah) which is present in all the Muslim lands, as removing it is a requirement of Tawheed. He knows victory is not possible without Tawheed and that Shirk cannot be fought with the likes of it (i.e. another form of Shirk). So he follows the way of all the Prophets and the example of our Noble Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and he renounces those who, whilst claiming to be the true reformers, compromise with the proponents of Shirk within the Muslim Ummah.
He adheres to the Prophet’s , peace be upon him, way in his life and the way of his Companions after him. The Prophet , peace be upon him, said: “I am leaving you two things and you will never go astray as long as you cling to them — they are the Book of Allah and my Sunnah.” [Reported by Al- Haakim – Sahih].
He returns to the Word of Allah and His Prophet, peace be upon him, when there is disagreement or difference of opinion, acting in accordance with the saying of Allah: “If you differ in anything among yourselves refer it to Allah and His Messenger if you do believe in Allah and the Last Day, that is more better and more suitable for final determination.” [Surah al-Nisaa’ 4:59]
He gives precedence to the Word of Allah and His Prophet, peace be upon him, above the words of anybody else, according to the speech of Allah: “O you who believe! Do not put yourselves send in the presence of Allah and His Prophet and fear Allah. Verily Allah is All-Hearing and All-Knowing.” [Surah al-Hujuraat 49:1].
He revives the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, in his worship and behaviour and thus his behaviour and his life become a stranger among the people as the Prophet, peace be upon him, has mentioned in his saying: “Islam began as a stranger and shall return as a stranger as it began. So give glad tidings to the strangers.” [Reported by Muslim – Sahih]. And in another narration: “So give glad tidings to the few, those who purify, correct what the people have corrupted of my Sunnah.” [Al-Silsilah of Shaikh al-Albaani – Sahih].
He enjoins the good (calls to Tawheed, obedience to Allah and imitation of the Prophet , peace be upon him, ) and forbids the evil (warns against Shirk, disobedience to Allah and turning away from the Prophet’s, peace be upon him, Sunnah). Thus he warns the people, out of deep concern, about the innovations, misguided ways and of the deviant, destructive groups who only invite the people for worldly gain, rule and authority in the land and not for the establishment of Tawheed or the removal of Shirk.
He acts in accordance with speech of Allah: “Truly he succeeds who purifies it (i.e. the soul)”. [Surah as-Shams 91:8], so he seeks constant forgiveness, makes true repentance, brings Allah to mind abundantly, and rushes to do the righteous deeds to purify his soul.
He worships Allah out of combination of Fear, Hope and Love. Allah says in the Qur’an:
” . . . Call upon Him, with Fear and Hope. [Surah A’raaf 7:56], and He says: “Their limbs do forsake their beds the while they call upon their Lord out of Fear and Hope and they spend (in charity) out of the sustenance which We have bestowed upon them.” [Surah as-Sajdah 32:16] and He says: “Yet there are men who take (for worship) others besides Allah: as equal (with Allah). They love them as they should love Allah. But the Believers are overflowing in their love for Allah.” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:165]. The Salaf used to say: “Whoever worships Allah with Love only is indeed a Zindeeq (Heretic) and whoever worships Him with Hope only is indeed a Murji (one who believes that sins impart no harm as long there is Faith) and he who worships Him with Fear only is indeed a Haruri (one of those who deserted from the army of ‘Ali and fought against him). But he who worships Him with Love, Fear and Hope is indeed a believing Muwahhid (i.e. one clinging to the Tawheed of Allah.)”
The word Salafi is an abridgement of that long definition. Furthermore, Salafiyyah is not the blind following of any particular Shaikh or Imaam. It is only adherence to the Qur’an and Sunnah as understood by the Pious Forefathers (i.e. As-Salaf as-Saalih) of the Islamic Community of Believers (Ummah).