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Why I am not a Salafi

I received an anonymous question on our Islamic Art and Quotes tumblr asking if I am a Salafi Muslim. The answer is: No I am not. Those of them who fear Allah and the last day and always strive to do good are my beloved friends.

I believe that Islam is bigger than Salafism, Sufism, and any other sect or group. The goal of Islam is Allah, and there are many roads to Him SWT.

I don't belong to any group. I call myself Orthodox, meaning that I follow the Quran and the Sunnah, but I don't have any historical allegiances and don't care about the historical rivalries between the various groups.

I am with everyone who loves and fears Allah and works for the Hereafter. My biggest mentors are the prophets, peace be upon them, and I identify most with them, since the Quran is my main source of guidance. Islam is even bigger than the Islam that Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, brought to us. Islam encompasses all true religion. The Quran, for example, calls Prophet Lut and his family "Muslims".

The various groups and sects are tools that the sincere Muslim can use to get closer to Allah. The goal is Allah. Sectarianism distracts from Allah.
Indeed, those who have divided their religion and become sects - you are not [associated] with them in anything. Their affair is only [left] to Allah ; then He will inform them about what they used to do. [Quran 6:159]
Most sects were created with good intentions. To get closer to Allah. To get closer to true Islam and revive the religion among people. But...good intentions don't guarantee good results. Once you have created a clearly defined group with "us" and "them", all inside the same religion, you have immediately created division and sectarianism.

I love and respect people belonging to various sects and ideologies, sometimes opposing one another. A sincere believer can find the right path regardless of where he comes from and what group he was born into.

Thus, for example, I love and respect all of these people, though often I may disagree with some of them: al-Hasan al-Basri and the rest of the early Salaf; Ibn Taymiyyah; Ibn al-Qayyim; ibn al-Jawzi; Abu Hanifah;  Imam Malik; Imam ash-Shafi`i; Imam Abu Hamed al-Ghazali; Rumi; the Azhari sheikhs Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, Muhammad al-Ghazali, and Ahmad Mustafa al-Maraghi; Imam Muhammad Abduh and his students; Imam Sa`eed an-Nursi (from Turkey) and his students; Imam Hasan al-Banna and his students; Sayyid Qutb; Muhammad Qutb; Dr. Ali Shari`ati (from Iran and Shiite, but doesn't hold any of the popular Shiite beliefs that Sunnis dislike), Dr. Nasir Subhani; Ibn al-Uthaymeen, Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid, Yasmin Mogahed; Tariq Ramadan; Yasir Qadhi.

What also separates me from Salafism is that I believe the goal of the Sunnah is the Quran, and the goal of the Quran is Allah. The Sunnah is not a goal in itself. The Sunnah is meant to create a fertile environment in which the seeds of the Quran can grow. The Quran is the goal, and arguing and bickering over the Sunnah when ignoring the Quran is completely against everything the Sunnah is for. To me having or not having a beard, for example, is the very least of a Muslim's concerns. Fear Allah and the last day, and do good deeds, this is our concern.

Islam is a matter of the heart. The sects invariably move attention away from the heart to appearances and judging people, is he or she for us or against us?

If a person reads the Quran often, fears Allah and the last day, and always strives to do good, then what right do I have to judge him for belonging or not belonging to a particular sect?

This is not to say that I hold Utopian ideas like love is all we need and regardless of what you do if your heart is good then you're fine. I am not Sufi because it focuses only on particular attributes of Allah and ignores others, to create a beautiful version of Islam, filled with love and kindness, but extremely prone to creating human beings who do not fear Allah the way He deserves to be feared, and who, focusing only on Allah's mercy, forget that His punishment is severe and that they will be judged.

Salafism, on the other hand, is prone to making one forget that Allah is the most kind and most forgiving, and to making one focus only on His punishments and making Allah appear as a hardhearted and exacting micro-manager. It also often demands inhuman amounts of strength and willpower from the person, which can cause desperation and hopelessness. The prophets mentioned in the Quran are a lot more human than the ideal that Salafism seems to ask of us. They cared about the dunya and prayed for it (Prophet Ibrahim and Zakaria praying for children, Yaqub being attached to the love of his son and going blind in crying so often for him, Sulaiman asking to be a king). Many Salafis would look down on you if you show such behaviors, behaviors that the prophets showed. Prophet Ibrahim asked Allah to make Makkah a prosperous city. Some Salafis would say you should be too worried about the Hereafter to care about worldly things. But Prophet Ibrahim cared. And Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of All be upon him, cared so much about the worldly life that his ardent prayers for winning the battle of Badr (a worldly goal) are famous. And when his son or wife died he cried.

Islam doesn't ask us to be automatons worshiping Allah and caring nothing for anything else. Islam tells us to enjoy life's blessings, and strive for both the worldly life and the Hereafter. Islam asks us to unite dream and day (the Hereafter and the worldly life), not to throw away the worldly life.

For this reason to me the Quranic prophets, in their humanity and weakness, are better guided than many of today's Salafis.

True Islam is larger than any sect or group and the smart Muslim will use the good and useful from every sect to get closer to Allah. Salafi literature reminds me not to get lazy in worship, and Sufi literature reminds me, when I fail, not to forget that Allah is most kind and forgiving.

Allah has 99 attributes, many of them seemingly contradictory, and any sect that focuses only on some of His attributes and ignores others is likely to create an inaccurate version of Islam. These sects often work for some people and do a lot of good, but pure Islam itself is better; devoted to serving Allah, focusing on the Quran, too concerned with Allah's judgment to judge others, not hung up on appearances, not concerned with differences but with similarities with others, sincere, forgiving, and non-exclusionary.