When the judgment of acts is based on principles, it is easy to know when those acts deviate, but when judgment is haphazard, confusion happens in judging the correctness of acts.
What did Allah name believers?
هُوَ سَمَّىٰكُمُ ٱلۡمُسۡلِمِینَ مِن قَبۡلُ وَفِی هَـٰذَا
It is He (Allah) Who has named you Muslims both before and in this (the Quran) [Quran 22:78].
If the scholars of the Deen ever understood that by Allah naming us “Muslims”, no other name or description can ever be right for followers of the Messenger besides the word “Muslims”, they certainly would condemn all other references like Ahlussunnah, Maalikee, Shaafi’ee, Hanbalee, Hanafee, Ash’aree, Shee’ite etc. The fact that they do not is proof enough that they consider those names to be mere descriptions necessitated by the evolvement of different shades of understanding in latter generations of Muslims which did not exist when the Messenger was alive.
However, the particular understanding and creedal leaning represented by a particular name may be right or wrong, the mere act of describing its followers by the name is considered a linguistic necessity to differentiate this from that. In his book, موسوعة الألباني في العقيدة, vol 1, page 252, Sheikh Naasiruddeen Al-Albaanee elaborated on the evolvement of names and how “Salafee” is merely a description like any other.
If we were all just “Muslims” once before bid’ahs appeared to make description as “Ahlussunnah” a necessity, then when everyone claimed to be on the Sunnah too, “Salafee” became necessary to indicate according to whose understanding of the Sunnah, then it is logical that there could be need for further specifications (by the principle of naming for identification) when heretics like Jabata and Usaamah also claim they are “Salafee”. If anyone disagrees, we should be interested in knowing what makes the evolvement of further names wrong if “Maalikee”, “Shaafi’ee” and the rest are right by natural evolvement.
However, whoever desires any evil within him by his self-description, with Allah is his reward, and humility is certainly a great virtue. Therefore, whether the tag “serious” or any other is what anyone chooses to attach to his description is certainly not the matter as long as some basic facts are preserved:
1) That the one who does not describe himself as Salafee at all is as much a Salafee as the one who does if his creed and methodology is.
2) That the one who does not describe himself as Salafee does not make an unnecessary issue of describing oneself as Salafee since he accepts all other descriptions in the books of earlier scholars.
3) That the individual strives not to make his self-description a mere slogan. It is this which the erudite scholars of Salafiyyah warn us against; otherwise, any description at all, including “Maalikee”, “Ahlussunnah”, etc. could also be empty self-praise (تزكية النفس) as much as “serious Salafee” is.
However, that there are debates on this matter is not strange to students of ‘aqeedah who know that some people before us even argued strongly that referring to oneself as a believer (مؤمن) is self-praise.
Ustaadh Murtala Alade Adedokun