The argument that just ‘professing to be Muslim is insufficient these days’ is patently flawed. Far too often the issue of following the way of the salaf versus being a salafi gets raised with the proponents suggesting that too many deviant sects or misguided schools of thought also profess to be Muslim.
So here’s the issue for me. By worrying about what others will think of you based on the label you ascribe to yourself, you’re focusing your actions to be based on the acceptance of others, rather than concerning yourself with your standing in Allah’s eyes. Worse still, by insisting on creating a label for your flavour of Islam different from that of simply being a Muslim is simply creating another sect.
Consider this. Of the 73 sects that are mentioned in the hadith, 72 will be astray. Now let’s assume we create the ‘salafi’ sect as the 73rd sect. However, by creating it as a sect, it becomes bound by dogma, stigma, perceptions and interpretations. And as is the case with over zealous followers of such sects, when those over zealous ones acquire a senior status in the ranks of such sects, they often yield enough influence to contaminate the true teachings with their personal opinions, sometimes deliberately, and other times unintentionally simply because their words are misconstrued by those same over zealous followers.
At that point, all 73 sects would be astray and would therefore nullify the hadith referred to above. For this simple reason, I believe that being a Muslim and nothing else will always be enough. Learning and practising Islam according to the way of the salaf is the default disposition of any true Muslim. When questioned about the basis for our practises, we’re at liberty to quote authentic sources from the salaf, and in doing so, it would make us practising Muslims. So the 73rd sect is in fact everyone that practises Islam according to the salaf, and whether they choose to be labelled salafis or not is irrelevant.
Through simple laziness we succumb to needing to compartmentalise people so that it makes it easier to judge their worth without having to determine the merit of their actions. In so doing, we negate all their good the moment a single attribute of theirs identifies them with some group of misguided individuals. It is entirely possible for someone to be practising 90% of their deen based on the ways of the salaf, yet because something they do may be construed as sufi or shia, even though it is not shirk, they’re deemed deviants by those that indulge in the excesses of labelling Muslims.
I am a Believer, a Mu’min. And that, I know for a fact, is enough for Allah. So why would I want to contaminate my Imaan by labelling my rituals in my effort to get closer to Allah? Principles versus rituals. Insha-Allah we’ll understand the difference soon before it’s too late.