As-Salaf us-Salih (or briefly: the Salaf) refers to the first and best three generations of Muslims. They are the Companions (Sahabah) of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), their immediate followers (Tabiun), and the followers of the Tabi’in. These were praised by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam): The best of people is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them [Bukhari and Muslim]. The term Salaf applies also to the Scholars of Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah after the first three blessed generations who followed their way in belief and practices.
Allah said (what means): The first to embrace Islam of the Muhajirin (those who migrated from Makkah to al-Madinah in obedience to Allah) and the Ansar (the citizens of al-Madinah who gave aid to the Muhajirin), and also those who follow them in the best way; Allah is well pleased with them, and they are with Him [At-Tawbah 9:100].
Among these scholars are (the number following the name is the Hijri year of death): Abu Hanifah (150), al-Awzai (157), ath-Thawn (161), al-Laith bin Sad (175), Malik bin Anas (179). Abdullah bin al-Mubarak (181), Sufyan bin ‘Uyainah (198), ash-Shafi’i (204), Is’haq (238), Ahmad bin Hanbal (241), al-Bukhari (256), Muslim (261), Abu Dawud (275), Ibn Taymiyyah (728), adth-Dthahabi (748), Ibn ul-Qayyim (751), Ibn Kathir (774), Muhammad bin ‘Abdil Wahhab (1206) and his many students, and, in our time: ‘Abd ul-‘Aziz bin Baz, Muhammad Nasir ud-Din al-Albani and others.