The Pious Forefathers (i.e. As-Salaf as-Saalih) of the Islamic Community of Believers are the Companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, their Followers (the Taabi’een and the Taabi Taabi’een (i.e. the first three generations of Muslims) and the Scholars of the Ahl-us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah after them who followed their way in belief and deed. Among them are :
Imam Abu Hanifah (150 AH), Al-Awzai (157 AH), Ath-Thawri (161AH), Al Laith ibn Saad (175 AH), Imam Malik (179 AH), Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (181 AH), Sufyan ibn Uyainah (198 AH), Imam Ash-Shafi’i (204 AH), Ishaq (238 AH), Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal (241 AH), Al-Bukhari (256 AH), Muslim (261 AH), Abu Dawood (275 AH) and others.
Ibn Taymiyyah (728 AH), and his students: Adh-Dhahabi (748 AH), Ibn al-Qayyim (751 AH), Ibn Katheer (774 AH) and others.
Muhammed bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab (1206 AH) and many of his students.
And in our time: Abdul Aziz bin Baz, Muhammed bin Saalih Uthaimeen, Muhammed Naasir-ud-Deen al-Albaani.
The Salafis are the Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah. They are the Taaifatul- Mansoorah (the Aided, Victorious Group) and the Firqatun-Naajiyyah (the Saved Sect) which have been mentioned in the following statements of the Messenger, peace be upon him:
"There shall not cease to remain a single group from my community upon the Truth, victorious; they are unharmed by those who abandon them and those who oppose them. They will remain (in my community and in such a state) until they fight the liar (i.e. the Anti-Christ (Dajjal)." [Reported in Sahih Muslim]
"Verily those before you from among the People of the Book split into seventy-two sects and verily this religion … "
and in another narration
" … this Ummah will split into seventy-three sects: seventy-two will be in the Fire and one in Paradise and that is the Jamaa’ah." [Reported by Abu Daawood - Sahih]
"And this Ummah will divide into seventy-three sects all of which except one will go to Hell and they (i.e. the Saved Sect) are those who are upon what I and My Companions are upon (i.e. those who follow My Way and the Way of my Companions.)" [Reported by at-Tirmidhee - Hasan]
Who are the Salaf and who are the Salafis?