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It advocated a return to the traditions of the salaf, who are the first three generations of scholars after the Prophet Muhammad.
The Salafi da'wa is a methodology, but it is not a madh'hab in fiqh (jurisprudence) as is commonly misunderstood.Since the fifth Muslim generation or earlier, Sunni theologians have used the examples of the Salaf to understand the texts and tenets of Islam.At times they have referred to the hadith to differentiate the creed (Aqidah) of the first Muslims from subsequent variations in creed and methodology (see Madhab), to oppose religious innovation (bid‘ah) and, conversely, to defend particular views and practices.Activists are another strain of the global Salafi movement, but different from the Salafi jihadists in that they eschew violence and different from Salafi purists in that they engage in modern political processes.This trend, who some call "politicos", see politics as "yet another field in which the Salafi creed has to be applied" in order to safeguard justice and "guarantee that the political rule is based upon the Shari'a".The movement is often divided into three categories: the largest group are the purists (or quietists), who avoid politics; the second largest group are the activists, who get involved in politics; the smallest group are jihadists, who form a tiny minority.
In legal matters, Salafis are divided between those who, in the name of independent legal judgement (ijtihad), reject strict adherence (taqlid) to the four Sunni schools of law (madhahib), and others who remain faithful to these.
Salafism has become associated with literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam – and, particularly in the West, with the Salafi Jihadis who espouse violent jihad against those they deem to be enemies of Islam as a legitimate expression of Islam.
Academics and historians have used the term "Salafism" to denote "a school of thought which surfaced in the second half of the 19th century as a reaction to the spread of European ideas" and "sought to expose the roots of modernity within Muslim civilization." the "Companions" (Sahabah), the "Followers" (Tabi‘un), and the "Followers of the Followers" (Tabi‘ al-Tabi‘in).
Another definition of Salafi jihadism, offered by Mohammed M.
Hafez, is an "extreme form of Sunni Islamism that rejects democracy and Shia rule." Hafez distinguished them from apolitical and conservative Salafi scholars (such as Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen, Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd Allah ibn Baaz and Abdul-Azeez ibn Abdullaah Aal ash-Shaikh), but also from the sahwa movement associated with Salman al-Ouda or Safar Al-Hawali.
Because of being active on social media, they have earned some support among more educated youth.