Firstly, there is no such thing as salafi fiqh. There is no salafi madhab.
So why is this phrase used? Its used by those in the know to explain the catastrophe of fiqh that is applied in todays time by predominately the salafi movement who do not necessarily ascribe to a madhab, strange considering that the bulk of salafi scholarship is based off of the following of one of the madhahib.
Why is it a catastrophe? The salafi fiqh paradigm is rooted in the following problems thus making it into a catastrophe.
1. The “rajih”. Literally; “preponderant”. Our hanabilah call it the “m’utamid” position. But how does salafi fiqh use this today? Its basically a method of extracting WHAT IS ASSUMED TO BE, the “strongest” position of each madhab, and to see the most agreed upon stance. The “jumhur” if you will. This aspect of fiqh is not so problematic in comparison with others which I will highlight after this one. However this aspect of the raajih culture is typically overhyped by most salafis today when most of it is just preference. There are other problems found in this “rajih” culture but I will leave this unattended
2. The manhajification of fiqh: this is the cream of the crop. The salafi fiqh culture is based on manhajifying fiqh. Thus what was once a pure ikhtilafi matter on “growing the beard or shaving” has now become, via manhajification” as a sunnah vs bid’a thing whereby the one who shaves is seen as a deviant or at minimum “NOT following/opposing the sunnah“. This is like this for pretty much every fiqh mas’ala common in today’s salafi discourse!
3. Fiqhul-hadith. This is more prominent among the ahlul-hadithers. Its a bastardization of the original dhahiri movement of Ibn Hazm and Dawud adh-dhahiri. What exactly is this bastardization? Its mainly the reading of hadith tradition and gaining what you understand from it as the sublime extraction of your everyday life for fiqh matters. The problem. It opposes the methodology of the companions. They did not extract their own understanding of narrations. Whenever they took from abu hurayra or others, they would seek further elucidation FROM THE FUQAHA of the sahaba. Likewise, it opposes the entirety of the salaf. Imam Ahmad ditched the ahlul-hadith oration in the halaqa for the fiqh analyzation of Imam ash-Shafi’i. This was the practice of all the salaf. Further more, all of the ahlul-hadith ulema were either themselves madhabs (malik, al-awza’i, layth bin s’ad, abu hanifa, shafi’i, ahmad, etc etc) or were followers who enriched their madhab or at minimum applied the rulings of the fuqaha. Moreover every ahlul-hadith alim on the planet followed suit. Dawud adh-dhahiri, and ibn hazm later on, were the odd balls of the entire prophetic tradition.
However many salafis of the west fall into this because this is mainly manifested in taking a hadith book, searching a topic that half way seems related to your inquiry you have in your mind, and then proceed to read ahadith in that chapter half way related to your issue, and then take one hadith from it, and apply it. The problem here is this is a religious malpractice. You cannot simply relate one or two ahadith on the issue and suddenly determine the view of Islam on it. In fact, most of the hadith books, the ahadith related in each chapter at times contradict each other. You dont have the tools required to know which are the mansukha traditions and which were were nasikhed. More importantly, a review of an issue requires the gathering of all the ahadith from 8-9 different books in order to see what was related on the topic, and the piece the puzzle together in order to begin scratching the surface as to which narrations were specific, which ones were general, and which of the traditions TRANSFORMED other traditions from the default hukm lafdhi of tahrim and reduces it down to makruh or even halal, or even mustahab, or even wajib. Or vice versa!!!!
However, I blame this strand on the equally absurd extremist taqlid shakhsi cult. Had it not been for their absurd extremities in fiqh and taqlid, the equally absurd and opposite la madhabi salafism would have never emerged. Extremism breeds extremism.
Anyways, Imam Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani al-Maliki رحمه الله narrated that Imam Sufyan ibn Uyaynah رحمه الله said:
“ Hadith are a pitfall except for the Fuqaha’
Ibn Abi Zayd رحمه الله comments on this statement saying
“He [Sufyan ibn `Uyayna] means that other than the jurists might take something in its external meaning when, in fact, it is interpreted in the light of another hadith or some evidence which remains hidden to him; or it may in fact consist in discarded evidence due to some other [abrogating] evidence. None can meet the responsibility of knowing this except those who deepened their learning and obtained fiqh (jurisprudence).”
4. Make believe ijma!: This somewhat correlates to the rajih culture highlighted in point one, however this deserves a section of its own. This make believe ijma is basically the assertion that the most standard salafi fiqh positions, like for example, lining heal to heal in salah, is somehow the ijma, and that a lack of application by the majority of the muslims on this issue is tantamount to “opposing the sunnah and hadith” which is the result of the manhajification highlighted above.
5. Lastly, but not least. “THE CLEAR CUT SUNNAH”. This claim, laid by common salafi brothers is the concept that their perceptions of the sunnah in the reading of hadith entails “clear” extractions.
The problem!: nothing could be further from the truth. What most ignorants view as “you see it right. Its clear akh” is actually NOT clear at all. The basis for why differences occur IS PRECISELY DUE to the ambiguity of the scirptural sources THUS REQUIRING the utilization of usulul-fiqh to help process and piece together the puzzle and interpret the traditions in a cohesive manner.
Results of this phenomenon vary. One person thinks its clear, yet when another hadith is presented, he may say “its not sahih”. This ruling of his is most likely fueled by his desire to weaken someone else and validate his own. Or to rely on one personality to the exclusion of someone else, thus reinforcing the taqlid concept while being ignorant that he is making taqlid.