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The Concept of a Salaf and a Khalaf according to our Scholars



As is well-known to you, the esteemed attendees and scholars, within our scholarly heritage there is a concept of a salaf and a khalaf.  This concept is only temporal in nature, and it is not a concept that marks a separate reality between those present in early times and those who came later, in the sense that those  who  are  not  from  the Salaf   are  despised  and  those  who  are  from  the  Salaf   are  praised unrestrictedly.


When  the  verifying  scholars  of Ahl  al-Sunnah  would  speak  about  the  terms  “salaf”  and  “khalaf”,  they primarily meant their respective time periods. And when they would praise the Salaf, they would intend those among them who were known to be from Ahl al-Sunnah; who were for the most part identified with the first three generations.


It is no secret to the esteemed scholars that based on this definition, many of the sects we mentioned were present during the time of the Salaf, such as the Qadirites who appeared in the time of the Companions and Followers, the Shiites, and many sects among the anthropomorphist who appeared in the early history of Islām.  It is impossible to say that all of these sects were praiseworthy and good merely because they existed – without any choice of their own – in an early time period. 


Due to the depth of knowledge our scholars possessed, they would distinguish between the Salaf who were from the people of the truth, and the Salaf who proclaimed their differences with the former. The scholar’s praise for the Salaf is incontrovertibly reserved for the Salaf who were from Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘ah; not for others, even if they were from the Salaf temporally. 


In light of this definition, the scholars called those who came after these generations the “khalaf”, and with that in mind, the terms salaf and khalaf were originated. Considering this, some of Ahl al-Sunnah are among theSalaf and some are among the Khalaf. The verifying scholars distinguished between the Salaf and Khalaf in a general sense insofar as methodology is concerned; the distinction is not between truth on one side and falsehood on the other. In other words, most of the Salaf took to dealing with the issues and pursuing  the  sciences  in  a  general  sense  (barring  some  issues  and  circumstances).  This was the predominant situation during their time, but it was not universal. Conversely, the Khalaf pursued these sciences and dealt with these issues in a detailed fashion and with scholarly verification and investigation. They eschewed generalities. Having said that, this is not a universal judgement of them in the sense that no one among them took an alternative route. This was the predominant situation during their time.     


These facts serve as the basis for the scholars’ statement about figurative interpretation [ta’wil] and noncommittal  [tafwid]  and  realising  the doctrine  of Divine  transcendence  that:  “The way  of  the Salaf was non-committal –although some of them engaged in figurative interpretation – and the way of the latter day scholars is figurative interpretation – although some of them take a position of non-committal.” Both the position of figurative interpretation and non-committal are well-considered and relied upon by Ahl al-Sunnah, past and present. Both positions lead to the doctrine of Divine transcendence, which is the doctrine of the people of truth. 


Consequently,  according  to  our  scholars,  both  the Salaf   and  the Khalaf   are  from  Ahl  al-Sunnah,  and neither  group  is  opposed  to  it  [the  way  of  Ahl  al-Sunnah]  or  deviated. We  believe  in  the  continued connection of  truth between  the  scholars of  the Salaf  and  the Khalaf from  the Ash‘aris and Maturidis: they are united upon one creed and never has there appeared a time in which there was mutual boycott or disunity between them.  


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