So mere affiliation to the Book and the Sunnah, if it is not accompanied by true reliance upon them and acting upon them, then it is merely a claim that is devoid of correctness. Likewise, the ascription to Salafīyyah, if it does not comprise of acting upon the principles of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah, then it is merely an empty claim. And claims to an appellation do not necessitate confirmation of the attributes.
Excerpted from the 2nd Edition of The Sacred Salafī Methodology: An Islāmic Manual of Reform
Therefore, this ḥadīth2 is from amongst the clear aḥadīth which clearly prove that the Victorious Group is from the seventy-three groups which our Prophet (ﷺ) informed shall occur within this Ummah. And his (ﷺ) report is true because he is as Allāh (ʿazza wa jal) said in the noble Qurʾān,
“And he does not speak from his own desire. It is but revelation revealed to him.”
So the distinguishing sign of the Saved Sect is not only as the other groups in this age claim. The distinguishing sign of this sect is not only that it affiliates itself. with acting in accordance to the Book and the Sunnah. Since it is not possible for anyone from amongst the Muslims – even if they be from the sects outside the Saved Sect – it is not possible for any sect from amongst these sects, old and new, to free itself from affiliating to the Book and the Sunnah. This is because if it does such, then it has raised a sign of leaving Islām. Due to that, all of the Islamic groups and all of the Islaamic sects are the sects that the Messenger (ﷺ) mentioned or pointed out in the previous hadeeth. All of these sects participate upon one word. Indeed, it is affiliated to the Book and the Sunnah.3
As for those whom we have pointed out at the outset of this speech from the Salafiyyīn and other than them from amongst those who adhere to their mode of conduct, and they could be referred to by other than this name, then these ones differ from all of the other Islaamic groups because they hold onto something else. This something else is safety from going against the Book and the Sunnah in the name of the Book and the Sunnah. Indeed, that is due to holding onto what the Companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) from the emigrants (muhājirūn) and the helpers (ansār) and those who followed them from the tābiʿīn and the tābiʿ tābiʿīn. Indeed, they are the generations for whom goodness was witnessed in the authentic hadeeth. Rather, it is a mutawātir (concurrent) hadeeth in which the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “The best of people are my generation, then those who follow them.”
So these were the followers in the first generation, the generation of the righteous and pure Companions (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhum). Then there were those who came after them saying,
“Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in īmān.”
So it is obligatory for the one who wishes to be from amongst the Saved Sect that he must act in accordance to what these Companions and the tābiʿīn were upon. And they were the Salaf al-Ṣālih whom we must take as an example.5
 Excerpted from ‘The Sacred Salafī Methodology’ – An Islamic Manual of Reform (2nd Edition, 2005)
 “The Jews have split up into seventy-one sects. And the Christians have split up into seventy-two sects. And my Ummah shall split up into seventy-three sects, all of them being in the Fire except for one.” They said, ‘Which one is that O Messenger of Allāh?’ He said, “It is the Jamā’ah.
 So mere affiliation to the Book and the Sunnah, if it is not accompanied by true reliance upon them and acting upon them, then it is merely a claim that is devoid of correctness. Likewise, the ascription to Salafiyyah, if it does not comprise of acting upon the principles of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, then it is merely an empty claim. And claims to an appellation do not necessitate confirmation of the attributes.
Stated Imām Ahmad (d.241H) – raḥimahullah, “And from the binding characteristics of the Sunnah, which the one who abandons a single attribute from it has not accepted it, nor believed in it and he cannot be from its people: Faith (īmān) in the Qadr (pre-decree), the good and the evil of it…” And he mentioned some important affairs of belief, then he said, “Indulging in kalām (theological rhetoric) concerning al-Qadr, the ru‘yah (seeing Allāh on the Day of Judgement), the Qurʾān and other than that from the sunan is makrooh (abhorred) and prohibited. The one who indulges in such, even if he reaches the truth with his words, is not from Ahlus-Sunnah, until he abandons argumentation, submits himself and believes in the aathaar.” Refer to Usūlus-Sunnah (p. 42, 49).
So Imām Ahmad – raḥimahullah – clarified that following the Sunnah cannot occur, except with reliance upon it, acting in accordance to its prerequisites and using it as a proof, not other than it from methods of argumentation, theological rhetoric and opinion. So if a person claims ascription to the Sunnah, then he uses other than it as evidence, or he gives aid to opinions, theological rhetoric and argumentation with his speech, then he cannot be from amongst Ahlus-Sunnah, even if he reaches the truth. This is because he has reached the truth other than the way of the Prophetic Sunnah.
This is the meaning of the statement of Imām al-Barbahārū (d.329H) – raḥimahullāh, “It is not permissible to say about a man, ‘So and so is a person of the Sunnah,’ until one knows that he has in him the attributes of the Sunnah. So it cannot be said about him that he is an adherent to the Sunnah until he gathers within himself all of the Sunnah. ’Abdullāh Ibnul-Mubārak said, ‘The origin of the seventy-two sects lies in four desires. So from these four desires, there branched off the seventy-two sects. They are the Qadariyyah, the Murji‘ah, the Shee’ah and the Khawārij. So whoever gives precedence to Abaa Bakr, ’Umar, ’Uthmān and ’Alī over the other Companions of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) and he does not speak about the rest, except with good and he supplicates for them, then he has left tashayyu’ from its beginning to its end. And whosoever says that īmān is statement and action, it increases and decreases, then he has left al-irjaa‘ from its beginning to its end. And whosoever says to perform Prayer behind everyone whether righteous or sinful, and to perform jihād along with every caliph, and he does not hold the view of revolution against the ruler with the sword and he supplicates for them with goodness, then he has left the statement of the Khawārij from its beginning to its end. And whosoever says that all of the decrees are with Allāh (ʿazza wa jal) the good and the evil of them, He misguides whomsoever He wills and He guides whomsoever He wills, then he has left the statement of the Qadariyyah from its beginning to its end. And he is an adherent to the Sunnah.” Refer to Sharhus-Sunnah (p. 57) of al-Barbahārī.
Related by Ahmad (1/378, 442), Ibn Abī ’Āsim (no. 1466), al-Bukhārī (4/118) and at-Tirmidhī (no. 3859) by way of al-A’mash, from Ibrāhīm an-Nakha’ee, from ’Ubaydah, from ’Abdullāh Ibn Mas’ūd (raḍi Allāhu ʿanhu) with it. It is also related by Muslim (no. 1963) by way of Ibn ’Awn, from Ibrāhīm with it.
 Taking the Salaf as our example involves a number of issues:
1. Firstly, correctness in this life and salvation in the Hereafter will occur through following the guidance of the Salaf.
2. Secondly, it is obligatory that the ascription to Salafīyyah must be real, by sound following of the madhhab of the Salaf and their guidance. And one must not leave their understanding for the understanding of anyone else.
3. Thirdly, from the results of sticking to the guidance of the Salafus-Saalih and employing their understanding of the texts is the absence of differing from them in statements and positions, and not leaving their ijtihād for a new ijtihād that has no precedence. Imām Ahmad (d.241H) – raḥimahullah – said to his student Abul-Hasan al-Maymūnī, “Do not speak about an issue in which you do not have an Imaam.” Refer to Manaaqib Ahmad (p. 178) of Ibnul-Jawzee. And Imaam Ahmad said, “One will not come across anything, except that there is a position established concerning it from the Companions of the Prophet (ﷺ). Refer to Masā‘il Ahmad (p. 277) of Abī Dāwūd as-Sijjistānī.
4. Fourthly, the results of sticking to the guidance of the Salafus-Saalih is taking whatever agrees with the proof from their ijtihād along with excusing them with good mention whenever they oppose the text in their ijtihād. Said ’Umar Ibnul-Khattāb (t), “There are three that destroy the Religion: [i] the mistake of a Scholar; [ii] the argument of a hypocrite with the Qurʾān; [iii] and misguided Imaams.” Saheeh: Related by Ibn ’Abdul-Barr in Jāmi’ Bayānul-’Ilm wa Fadlihi (2/110). Stated Imām al-Awzā’ī (d.157H) – raḥimahullah – “Whosoever takes the statement of the people of Makkah regarding mut’ah (temporary marriage), the statement of the people of al-Kūfah regarding wine, the statement of the people of al-Madīnah regarding singing and the statement of the people of Shām regarding the infallibility of the Caliphs, then he has gathered together all evil.” Refer to Siyar A’lāmin-Nubalā‘ (8/81) of al-Hāfidh adh-Dhahabī.
5. Fifthly, from the result of sticking to the guidance of the Salaf is discarding deadly khalafiyyah which is founded upon giving precedence to the intellect over the text and rejecting the Book and the Sunnah through corrupt ta‘weelaat (figurative interpretations). Indeed, al-Awzā’ī said, “Stick to the āthār of those who preceded, even if the people reject you.” Saheeh: Related by al-Aajurrī in ash-Sharī’ah (p. 58) and al-Khatīb in Sharaf Ashābul-Ḥadīth (no. 6).