Bid'ah is Not Always Blameworthy

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

How did innovation automatically become a bad thing in Islam?  It arises from a misunderstanding of the nature of bid’ah.  There is a muttafaq ‘alayh narration, from ash-Shaykhayn, where the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is an innovation, and every innovation is misguidance.”  The scholars of Islam are in almost unanimous agreement that this hadits cannot possibly refer literally to all new things without restriction, but only to those things which have no basis in the shari’ah.

There is a process that scholars use to derive rulings from an-nuswusw, the primary sources of shari’ah, and categorise innovations into one of the five classifications of action: mandatory, recommend, neutral, disliked, and forbidden.  A hadits cannot be taken literally, without consideration of the context and prophetic intent.  We do not consider every new thing as some sort of misguiding innovation.  It is the sunnah to accept new acts initiated in Islam that are good and do not conflict with the established principles of shari’ah.  This involved careful consideration.  No real scholar would reject something outright on the flimsy excuse that such a thing was not performed or existed in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.), and the swahabah.  The shari’ah is flexible, and fiqh is based on deep understanding.

Coming back to the hadits on innovation, the primary misunderstanding is the word “kull”, “every”; in the phrase, “every innovation is misguidance”.  Too many people, particularly the literalist Wahhabi sect, take this as an absolute generalisation.  This cannot be so.  Imam Abu Zakariya Yahya ibn Sharaf an-Nawawi (r.a.), in his Sharh Swahih Muslim, wrote, “This generality concerns a specific division, for the intended meaning is the majority of innovation, for not all innovation is blameworthy.”  The basis of this statement is found in the Qur’an and sunnah.

سُوۡرَةُ الاٴنبیَاء
إِنَّڪُمۡ وَمَا تَعۡبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ حَصَبُ جَهَنَّمَ أَنتُمۡ لَهَا وَٲرِدُونَ (٩٨)

Verily ye, (unbelievers) and the (false) gods that ye worship besides Allah, are (but) fuel for Hell!  To it, will ye (surely) come! (Surah al-Anbiya’:98)

Here, the phrase “the (false) gods that ye worship” is an absolute statement when taken according to its literal sense in Arabic.  However, this apparently absolute statement is qualified by numerous restrictions; many people worship Jesus Christ (a.s.), his mother, and the angels, apart from Allah (s.w.t.), yet none of them are “fuel for Hell”.

سُوۡرَةُ الاٴنعَام
فَلَمَّا نَسُواْ مَا ذُڪِّرُواْ بِهِۦ فَتَحۡنَا عَلَيۡهِمۡ أَبۡوَٲبَ ڪُلِّ شَىۡءٍ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا فَرِحُواْ بِمَآ أُوتُوٓاْ أَخَذۡنَـٰهُم بَغۡتَةً۬ فَإِذَا هُم مُّبۡلِسُونَ (٤٤)

But when they forget the Warning they had received, We Opened to them the gates of all (good) things, until, in the midst of their enjoyment of Our gifts, on a sudden, We Called them to Account, when lo! they were plunged in despair! (Surah al-An’am:44)

Here, there is kulli shay’in”, “all (good) things”.  However, it is also a qualified statement, not an absolute one, since the “abwab”, “gates” of Guidance, were not Opened to them.  If they were, there would be no need to call them to account.

سُوۡرَةُ الاٴحقاف
تُدَمِّرُ كُلَّ شَىۡءِۭ بِأَمۡرِ رَبِّہَا فَأَصۡبَحُواْ لَا يُرَىٰٓ إِلَّا مَسَـٰكِنُہُمۡ‌ۚ كَذَٲلِكَ نَجۡزِى ٱلۡقَوۡمَ ٱلۡمُجۡرِمِينَ (٢٥)

“Everything will it destroy, by the Command of its Lord!”  Then by the morning, they find nothing was to be seen but (the ruins of) their houses!  Thus, do We Recompense those given to sin! (Surah al-Ahqaf:25)

Here, there is kulli shay’in”, referring to the wind Sent to destroy “everything”.  But everything does not refer to the buildings that were left as monuments to Divine Wrath, or the mountains and surrounding hills and valleys.

It is recorded, in Swahih Muslim, that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “No one who prays before sunrise and sunset will enter Hell.”  Again, this is not to be taken as an absolute statement, since a person who only prays fajr and maghrib is still found wanting in fulfilling his duties.  Or, a person who prays but his intent is astray, or who commits major sins is still accountable for them and not guaranteed Salvation.  In the same vein, the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) statement, “every innovation is misguidance”, is not a literal absolute blanket prohibition against all innovation.

Then, there is the hadits, “Every eye is adulterous.”  This is recorded in Imam Abu ‘Isa Muhammad ibn ‘Isa as-Sulami at-Tirmidzi’s (r.a.) al-Jami’ al-Mukhtaswar min as-Sunan ‘an Rasulillah, Imam Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahman Ahmad ibn Shu’ayb an-Nasa’i’s (r.a.) Sunan al-Kubra’, Imam Abu Muhammad ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abd ar Rahman ad-Darimi’s (r.a.) Sunan, Imam Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal’s (r.a.) Musnad, Imam Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Khuzaymah’s (r.a.) Mukhtaswar al-Mukhtaswar min al-Musnad asw-Swahih, Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah al-Hakim’s (r.a.) Mustadrak ‘ala asw-Swahihayn, Imam Abu Hatim Muhammad ibn Fayswal ibn Hibban’s (r.a.) at-Taqasim wa al-Anwa’, Imam Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Husayn al-Bayhaqi’s (r.a.) Shu’ab al-Iman, Imam Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn ‘Amr al-Bazzar’s (r.a.) al-Ma’ruf bi al-Bahr az-Zakhkhar, Imam Nur ad-Din ‘Ali ibn Abi Bakr al-Haytsami’s (r.a.) Majma’ az-Zawa’id wa Manba al-Fawa’id, and Imam Abu al-Fadhl ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuthi’s (r.a.) Jami’ as-Saghir.  Here, we understand that the Prophet (s.a.w.) means “every eye” that looks with an indecent intent, not in the literal sense of every single eye.  Otherwise, it would be impossible to function in society.

It is also recorded that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “He who introduces a good practice, in Islam, earns the Reward of it, and of all who performs it after him without diminishing their own Reward, in the least; and he who introduces a bad practice, in Islam, earns the punishment of it, and of all who perform it, after him without diminishing their own punishment in the least.”  This is recorded in Imam Abu al-Husayn ‘Asakir ad-Din Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj’s (r.a.) al-Musnadu asw-Swahihu bi Naklil Adli, Imam at-Tirmidzi’s (r.a.) Jami’, Imam an-Nasa’i’s (r.a.) Sunan al-Kubra’, Imam Ahmad’s (r.a.) Musnad, Imam Abu ʻAbdillah Muhammad ibn Yazid ibn Majah’s (r.a.) Sunan, Imam al-Bazzar’s (r.a.) Sunan, and many others; from Sayyidina Jarir ibn ‘Abdullah al-Bajali (r.a.), Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah (r.a.), Sayyidina Abu Juhayfah (r.a.), Sayyidina Hudzayfah ibn al-Yaman (r.a.), Sayyidina ‘Aishah (r.a.), and other companions; making it mutawatir.

This hadits is a clear statement that some innovations are good, particularly those that are in conformance with the shari’ah; and some innovations are bad.  In another hadits, the Prophet (s.a.w.) defined a bad innovation as “an innovation of misguidance which Displeases Allah and His Messenger.”  This is recorded by Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.), and Imam ibn Majah (r.a.).  This is also found in the Qur’an:

سُوۡرَةُ الحَدید
ثُمَّ قَفَّيۡنَا عَلَىٰٓ ءَاثَـٰرِهِم بِرُسُلِنَا وَقَفَّيۡنَا بِعِيسَى ٱبۡنِ مَرۡيَمَ وَءَاتَيۡنَـٰهُ ٱلۡإِنجِيلَ وَجَعَلۡنَا فِى قُلُوبِ ٱلَّذِينَ ٱتَّبَعُوهُ رَأۡفَةً۬ وَرَحۡمَةً۬ وَرَهۡبَانِيَّةً ٱبۡتَدَعُوهَا مَا كَتَبۡنَـٰهَا عَلَيۡهِمۡ إِلَّا ٱبۡتِغَآءَ رِضۡوَٲنِ ٱللَّهِ فَمَا رَعَوۡهَا حَقَّ رِعَايَتِهَا‌ۖ فَـَٔاتَيۡنَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ مِنۡہُمۡ أَجۡرَهُمۡ‌ۖ وَكَثِيرٌ۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ فَـٰسِقُونَ (٢٧)

Then, in their wake, We Followed them up with (others of) Our Messengers: We Sent after them Jesus, the son of Mary, and Bestowed on him the Gospel; and We Ordained, in the hearts of those who followed him, compassion and mercy.  But the monasticism, which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them: (We Commanded) only the seeking for the Good Pleasure of Allah; but that, they did not foster as they should have done.  Yet We Bestowed, on those among them who believed, their (due) Reward, but many of them are rebellious transgressors. (Surah al-Hadid:27)

Allah (s.w.t.) does not say that monasticism is necessarily bad since He Says, “We Bestowed, on those among them who believed, their (due) Reward,” meaning that the sincere zahidun amongst them were Rewarded.

Similarly, the Prophet (s.a.w.) also said, “You must follow my sunnah, and the sunnah of the rightly-guided successors after me”; the “and” referring to matters that the companions would introduce that did not explicitly come from him, otherwise, he would have simply referred to those acts as “my sunnah”.

It is recorded, in Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Isma‘il al-Bukhari’s (r.a.) al-Jami’ asw-Swahih al-Musnad al-Mukhtaswar min Umuri Rasulillahi wa Sunanihi wa Ayyamihi, and Imam Malik ibn Anas’ (r.a.) al-Muwaththa’, that Sayyidina ‘Umar (r.a.) gathered the community of Madina together to perform twenty raka’at of swalah at-tarawih, as a jama’ah, behind one imam, Sayyidina Ubay ibn Ka’b al-Answari (r.a.).  He famously exclaimed, “Ni’ma al-bid’atu hadzihi”, “What an excellent innovation, this is”.  We must also remember that he increased the number of raka’at from eight to twenty.  Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.) recorded that the community of Madina actually performed 41 raka’at of swalah at-tarawih, including the witr.  This is something that neither the Prophet (s.a.w.), nor the four Khulafah ar-Rashidin did.

In his commentary on the hadits, “every innovation is misguidance”, Imam Shihab ad-Din Abu al-Fadhl Ahmad ibn Nur ad-Din ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani (r.a.) wrote, in his Fath al-Bari fi Sharh Swahih al-Bukhari, “The root lexical meaning of ‘innovation’ is what is produced without precedent.  It is applied, in the shari’ah, in opposition to the sunnah, and is, therefore, blameworthy.  In reality, if it is part of what is generally classifiable as commendable by the shari’ah, then it is a good innovation; while if it is part of what is classified as blameworthy by the shari’ah, then it is blameworthy; otherwise it falls in the category of what is permitted indifferently.  It can be divided into the known five categories.”

For example, when Sayyidina ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) was asked about swalah adh-dhuha’ being prayed regularly, in congregation, he said, “It is an innovation, and how fine an innovation it is!”  In another narration, he said, “The people have invented nothing more beloved to me than it.” This is recorded by Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Shaybah (r.a.), in his Muswannaf, Imam ‘Abd ar-Razzaq ‘ibn Hammam as-San’ani (r.a.), in his Muswannaf; and by Imam Abu al-Qasim Sulayman ibn Ayyub ath-Thabarani (r.a.), in both his Mu’jam al-Kabir, and Mu’jam al-Awsath.  Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) stated, in his Fath al-Bari, that these narrations are swahih.  Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) himself used these narrations as an example of praiseworthy innovation.

Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) himself wrote that Sayyidina ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) was asked whether he, his father, Sayyidina Abu Bakr (r.a.), or the Prophet (s.a.w.) performed swalah adh-dhuha’.  Sayyidina ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) said none of them did, in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  He also said that ‘Aishah (r.a.) said, “I never saw the Prophet (s.a.w.) pray swalah adh-dhuha’, but I always pray it.”  Aside from Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.), this was also recorded by Imam Muslim (r.a.), Imam Malik (r.a.), Imam Ahmad (r.a.), Imam Abu Dawud Sulayman ibn al-Ash‘ats (r.a.), Imam ad-Darimi (r.a.), Imam ‘Abd ar-Razzaq (r.a.), Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.), and Imam Abu Dawud Sulayman ibn Dawud ath-Thayalisi (r.a.).  Similar statements were related from Sayyidina Abu Bakr (r.a.), as recorded in Ima ath-Thabarani’s (r.a.) Awsath.

However, we must understand that this does not mean that swalah adh-dhuha’ was something the companions made up.  What these two narrations mean is that they did not see the Prophet (s.a.w.) perform swalah adh-dhuha’ in the mosque on a regular basis, in congregation, so that it would not become an obligation.  There are dozens of other narrations which state that he used to pray swalah adh-dhuha’, related on the authority of Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah (r.a.), Sayyidina Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (r.a.), Sayyidina ‘Umar (r.a.), Sayyidina ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (r.a.), Sayyidina Hasan (r.a.), Sayyidina Abu Umamah (r.a.), Sayyidina Zayd ibn Arqam (r.a.), Sayyidina Anas ibn Malik (r.a.), Sayyidina Abu Dzar (r.a.), Sayyidina Abu Darda’ (r.a.), and others, in addition to Sayyidatina ‘Aishah (r.a.) herself.  Imam ibn Hibban (r.a.) recorded, in his Swahih, that Sayyidatina ‘Aishah (r.a.) said, regarding swalah adh-dhuha’, “The Prophet (s.a.w.) used to leave a lot of actions, even if he loved to do them, out of fear that the people might take them to be obligatory.”

Another meritorious act of bid’ah was the compilation of the Qur’an into one muswhaf, when many of the huffazh died in battle.  Sayyidina ‘Umar (r.a.) approached the caliph, Sayyidina Abu Bakr (r.a.), and suggested it.  Sayyidina Abu Bakr (r.a.) replied, holding on to the beard of Sayyidina ‘Umar (r.a.), “How could I do something the Prophet (s.a.w.) never did or asked to do?”  But after deliberation, they agreed it was the wise thing to do.  Sayyidina Abu Bakr (r.a.) later said that he felt his chest expanding, and him feeling calm, after this decision.  It was the right thing to do.  This story is recorded in Imam al-Bukhari’s (r.a.) Swahih, Imam at-Tirmidzi’s (r.a.) Jami’, Imam Ahmad’s (r.a.) Musnad, Imam al-Bayhaqi’s (r.a.) Sunan, Imam ath-Thabarani’s (r.a.) Mu’jam al-Kabir, and elsewhere.

It was also recorded by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.), Imam Muslim (r.a.), Imam ibn Khuzaymah (r.a.), Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.), and Imam Ahmad (r.a.) that Sayyidina Bilal (r.a.) used his initiative to pray two raka’at of swalah tahiyyat al-wudhu’.  At the time of the fajr prayer, the Prophet (s.a.w.) asked Sayyidina Bilal (r.a.), “Tell me of the best deed you did after embracing Islam, for I heard your footsteps before me in Paradise.”

Sayyidina Bilal (r.a.) replied, “I did not do anything worth mentioning except that whenever I performed ablution during the day or night, I prayed after that ablution as much as was written for me.”  Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) said that this is proof of the validity of inferring and introducing specific times and occasions for acts of worship, because Sayyidina Bilal (r.a.) arrived at this through his own ijtihad.  In another example, Sayyidina Khubayb ibn ‘Adi (r.a.) performed two raka’at before his execution by the Quraysh, after Badr.  This is mentioned in Imam al-Bukhari’s (r.a.) Swahih, and Imam Ahmad’s Musnad, amongst others.

It is recorded in ash-Shaykhayn and elsewhere, on the authority of Sayyidina Rifa’ah ibn Rafi’ az-Zuraqi (r.a.), that a man was praying behind the Prophet (s.a.w.), and when they stood up from ruku’, that man exclaimed, “Rabbana wa laka al-hamdu hamdan katsiran thayyiban mubarakan fihi”, “Our Rabb, all praises are for You, many good and blessed praises.”

When the Prophet (s.a.w.) finished praying, he asked, “Who said those words?”  The man identified himself, and the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “I saw over thirty angels competing to write it first.”  And this is also an innovation.

And then there is an incident, which was recorded, in Swahih al-Bukhari, and elsewhere, through Sayyidina Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (r.a.).  A group of companions were on a journey when they were asked to treat a person stung by a scorpion.  One of them recited Surah al-Fatihah over the wound and spat on it.  The man was instantly cured.  When they returned and told this to the Prophet (s.a.w.), he said, “How did you know it was of the words which heal?”  This clearly shows that they derived this from their own initiative, when they used verses of the Qur’an for ruqyah.

It is also recorded, by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.), Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.), Imam an-Nasa’i (r.a.), Imam Abu Dawud (r.a.), Imam Ahmad (r.a.), Imam ibn Khuzaymah (r.a.), and others; that Sayyidina ‘Utsman ibn ‘Affan (r.a.) introduced the calling of the adzan at the beginning of the time of dzuhr, during Friday prayers.  This is something that did not happen previously.  Sayyidina ‘Utsman (r.a.) recognised that there was a need to call the people to gather, and allow them time to take their wudhu’ before calling the actual adzan for the commencement of swalah al-juma’ah.

Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.), in his Sharh Swahih Muslim, wrote that when a companion of the Prophet (s.a.w.) introduced an innovation, such as all of the examples above, they are considered to be from the fundamentals of shari’ah, and the sunnah, and when they become widely acted upon or accepted, they are part of the established ijma’.  Any act that the swahabah unanimously accepted becomes a binding ijma’, and there is no question as to its authenticity.

Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) wrote, in Fath al-Bari, that Sayyidatina ‘Aishah (r.a.) said that the maqam of Ibrahim (a.s.) used to be attached to the Ka’bah during the lifetime of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and Sayyidina Abu Bakr (r.a.).  Then Sayyidina ‘Umar (r.a.) created a separate structure during his caliphate.  Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) said, “None of the swahabah disagreed with Sayyidina ‘Umar in what he did, nor did those after them, and so it became a silent consensus ...”

Imam al-Bazzar (r.a.) and others recorded, that Sayyidina ‘Ali ibn Abi Thalib (k.w.) introduced a second ‘Iyd prayer in the mosque.  In the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.), and the caliphs before him, there was only one ‘Iyd prayer for each ‘Iyd in Madina.  During his reign, he was told that there were infirm people in the town, who could not make it to the prayers at the early time that he prayed.  He then appointed another imam to lead a second, later prayer, for these people.

Approved innovations in acts of worship are derived not only from the swahabah, but from pious Muslims of every age, and accepted, as long as these acts conform to the principles of the shari’ah, and the prophetic intent.  These examples from the swahabah to show that this basis was approved from the very earliest days of Islam.  For example, Imam Muwaffaq ad-Din Abu Muhammad ‘Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Qudamah (r.a.) wrote, in his Mughni’, that Imam Ahmad (r.a.) said, that upon khatm of the Qur’an in swalah at-tarawih, “If you finish reading Surah an-Naas, then lift your hands up before making ruku’, and recite a du’a.” When he was asked his source for this, he replied that Imam Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah (r.a.), one of the great scholars of tabi’un, used to do it in Makkah when he led swalah at-tarawih.  So, we know that there is no specific dalil to the Qur’an and ahadits, making this a bid’ah.

It is on this basis that the ummah have the mawlid, the prayers of Laylat al-Qadr, Laylat al-Bara’ah, Laylat al-Isra’ wa al-Mi’raj, the tahlil, the congregational dzikr, and so many practices.  Whilst the manner in which they are done are not exactly as was performed in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.), or in some cases, not performed at all; that does not necessarily make them proscribed.  The intent is the Pleasure of Allah (s.w.t.), and the remembrance of the Prophet (s.a.w.), and the performance of these acts of worship are in accordance with the limits shari’ah.


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