The Concept of Sunnah & Bid’ah according to the Hanafi Madh-hab

[Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi (rahimahullah)]

The definition of Sunnat

Sunnat is not only that which has been established from Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), in fact Sunnat is the predominant practice of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), be it in the form of a (clear) instruction or something  which is perceived (from his reactions). For example, Taraaweeh Salaat is classified as  Sunnat-e-Muakkadah, and ta’akkud (emphasis) implies  perpetuity. It is clear that there  was no perpetuity in this act (by  Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam),  rather it was a special temporary  act.  [Al-Ifaadhaat,  page 355, vol. 8]

A verbal declaration on any  matter from Nabi (sallallahu  alayhi wasallam) is not sufficient  to render it a Sunnat, in fact,  that which was his predominant  practice is a Sunnat, and not his  occasional practices.  [Ibid. page  300, vol. 2]

Types of Sunnat

Sunnat (according to its general definition) is that which Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)  carried out as a form of Ibaadat, besides this it would be classified  as a sunnan-e-zawaa’id (extra Sunnats). For example the hair-style of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was his personal habit  and not any act of Ibaadat, hence there is no doubt that keeping  this style of hair is preferable (for the Ummat), but to keep one’s hair in another way would not be classified as contrary to the Sunnat.  [Imdaadul  Fataawa,  page 224]

Sunnat is of two types – Sunnat-e-Ibaadat and Sunnat-e-‘Aadat.  The general usage of the word  ‘Sunnat’ would include only the  first type. Promises of reward  and encouragement to practice  implies to and refers to this type.  Practice on the second type  would be a source of blessings  and is a demonstration of one’s  love for Nabi (sallallahu alayhi  wasallam). This second type does  not form any essential part of  the Deen and if its practice  interferes with one’s Deen and  beliefs, then one should be  stopped therefrom.  [Ibid. page 229, vol. 4]

The ruling regarding Sunan-e-Zawaa’id  and mustahibbaat

The ruling regarding the ‘extra’  Sunnats (sunan-e-‘aadiya) and  the Mustahab acts is that their  performance warrants reward  and non-performance does not  attract sin. When one closely  studies the nusoos then it will be  noted that this is the ruling of  these two deeds before they are  performed, but after their  commencement, the ruling changes. One ruling will apply to  a specific application and another  is general, which is not specific  to its occasion of application. It is Makrooh to leave out and abandon that Mustahab act which has been made a perpetual habit, which one practices over a  period of time. This is borne out by a Hadith in Bukhaari Shareef which is reported by Hadhrat Abdullah Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhuma) who reports from Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) that he said, “O Abdallah, don’t be like so and so, who used to stand up at nights (in Ibaadat) and then he abandoned it.” Nabi  (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had  displayed distaste and karaahat at this attitude of this person who used to regularly perform Tahajjud Salaat and then abandoned it. It  is  clear  that  after  inculcating  as a habit a Mustahab act it  should not be abandoned. This is  Makrooh. [badaa’i,  page  150]

The definition of reviving a Sunnat

Shah Abdul Qadir Sahib  (rahmatullah  alayh) once said to  an Aalim (Molvi Ismail Sahib) to  stop making rafa’ yadain (lifting  hands in various postures of  Takbeer in Salaat) because it is a  cause for unnecessary fitnah.  Molvi Ismail said that if the fitnah of the masses is to be  taken into account what then  would happen to (the import of)  the Hadith, “He who holds fast to my Sunnat at a time of fasaad in the Ummah will receive the reward of 100  martyrs.” Upon hearing  this  reply, Shah Abdul Qadir  (rahmatullah  alayh) replied, “We thought that Ismail had become an Aalim, but he  does not understand the  meaning of even one Hadith. The application of this Hadith is when there is some act which is (being  generally practiced) contrary to the Sunnat practice, whereas the topic we are discussing (i.e. not making rafa’ yadain) is not contrary to the Sunnat, in fact it is another  Sunnat. Just as rafa’ yadain is a  Sunnat, so too is irsaal (not  making  rafa’ yadain)  is  a  Sunnat.”  [Bawaadirun Nawaadir,  page 469, vol. 2]

An  appropriate and excellent  explanation of Sunnat and bid’ah 

It should be realised that  whatever acts were innovated  after the passing of the Khairul  Quroon (best of eras) are  categorised into two types: one  is that whose initiative is new  and some ma’moor bihi (essential  ordered act of the Shariah) is  dependant upon it, where  without this (innovation) this  faculty of Deen will not function  effectively. For example, the  compilation and authoring of Deeni subject matter in book-form, the establishment of  Madrasahs and khanqahs, etc.  These things were not resent  during the era of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), and their initiative is new, and some  essential part of the Deen  depends on (the initiation of)  these acts.

Everyone is well aware that it is an essential and necessary requirement upon every (Muslim) individual to protect and safeguard the Deen. One should  also remember that during the  best of  eras, such means (as  these innovations mentioned  above) did not exist, because  there was no need for it. That era  was permeating with blessings,  and the memories of the  Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum)  was so excellent that when they  heard or observed Nabi (sallallahu  alayhi wasallam) saying or doing  anything, it remained embedded  and etched in their minds. Their  understanding and intellect was  also such that there was no need  for formal classes wherein prescribed lessons in Deen needed to be taught.

Following those eras, others  followed wherein negligence and carelessness (in matters of Deen)  became the order of the day, memories were weaker, people of  deviated and personal views increased, etc., hence the Ulama  discerned the gradual  destruction of the edifices of the  Deen. The urgent need arose to  formulate methods to  administrate (and safeguard) the  structures of the Deen, together  with all its facets. In this regard  the Kitaabs of the Deen, Hadith,  Usool-e-Hadith, Usool-e-fiqh,  Aqaai’d, etc. needed to be compiled. Madrasah were  established in order to teach  these sciences of the Deen. In  similar vein, the mashaa’ikh saw  the need to establish khanqahs  to revive and nurture the desire  for nisbat and self-reformation.  Besides these, there was no  other means envisaged which would safeguard our Deen.

Hence these are such things  whose sabab (reasons  and  causes) are new, and these  sababs were not prevalent during  the khairul quroon. These are  also such matters upon which  the existence and preservation of  some essential Deeni matter  rests. Hence these things may  have the apparent hue and  definition of bid’ah, but in reality  they are not bid’ahs. In fact,  according to the ruling of Muqaddamatul Waajib Waajibun,  they are Waajib acts.

The second are category are  those things whose reason (sabab) is old. For example, the  sabab of  meelad, teeja, daswah,  etc. are all old. The reason for the  establishment of meelad is  expression of happiness at the  birth of Nabi (sallallahu  alayhi  wasallam). This very sabab and  reason was prevalent and also  existent during the era of Nabi  (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and  the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu  anhum), but it was never  celebrated by any of them. Can  we claim that, Nauthubillah, the  minds of the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) did not  discern this? If the sabab was  not present during their eras,  then at least we could have said  that they had no cause to do it. But since the reason for holding  meelad was also prevalent during  that time, and neither did Nabi  (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) nor  his Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) ever hold or encourage  such activities, can we safely aver  that this is a bid’ah – in word,  definition and practically. Since  these innovations fall under the  scope of the Hadith, “Whosoever  innovates anything into our  Deen, is not from amongst us.” That is, it is impermissible to participate and hold such gatherings. This is the general  ruling to recognise and  distinguish between Sunnat and  bid’ah. All corollary rulings can be  deduced herefrom. [Wa’azus  suroor, page 27]

The differences between Sunnat  and bid’ah and the method in which to distinguish between the two

1. There is one other  extraordinary difference between  these two, and that is that the  proposers and advancers of the  former are (essentially) the elite  (Ulama) and the awaam (masses) are not included (as the  initiators), whereas the  advancers and initiators of the  latter are the masses (who are  like sheep). And it is also they who always participate and  spend therein. The celebrations  and initiation of meelad was  originated by a king. He was from  the awaam and this practice  remains perpetuated by the  awwaam. [As-suroor, page 27]

2. I will show one way to  recognise a bid’ah and that it is if  the act is not established from  the Qur’aan Majeed, Sunnat, Ijma  or Qiyaas, and the participants  deem it an act of the Shariah,  then know that this is a bid’ah.  After noting this definition,  observe that urs fatiha, regarding  any particular day as blessed and  auspicious to make isaal-e-tahwaab, etc., etc. are not  established from any source of  the Deen. Are these acts not also  regarded as part of the Deen? [Wa’az Taqweem, page 29]

3. Another yardstick in  recognising that a bid’ah is evil is  to observed whether more of its  participants are Ulama or the  masses. The Bid’ati leader will not  spend of his own wealth. Yes he  will be present at the meals. Such  functions are more frequented by  the ignoramuses. There is no  prestige and honour of the bid’ah  in the hearts of the Bid’ati Ulama.

Those things which we hold in  esteem and deem desirable, we participate therein, even if it  means spending from our wealth,  like qurbaani. And then also we  should observe the masses (who  attend these functions) — how  many of them are Deeni-conscious and how many are  not? Very few may be pious, but  they do little, and the majority  are faasiq and faajir (open sinners  and transgressors).  [Hasnul Azeez, page 330, vol.  2]

Innovations for Deen or innovations in Deen?

The reality of bid’ah is that it is  such an act which is done  thinking it to be part of the  Deen. If it is done thinking it to  be a treatment (for some  spiritual ailment), then how can it  be called a bid’ah? Hence, the  one is an innovation for the  (benefit of) Deen and the other is  an innovation in (to the  detriment of) the Deen. The innovation for the Deen would be  classified a Sunnat and the innovation in the Deen a bid’ah.  [Al-Faadhaat, page 308, vol. 2]

A person levelled an objection  saying that the (concept of)  times and timetable which we  have scheduled and prepared  were not practiced during the khairul quroon, hence this will be classified as a bid’ah.

If bid’ah is to be classified as these people understand it that whatever did  not exist during the khairul quroon is a bid’ah, then during the khairul quroon he was also not yet in existence, hence he should be classified a bid’ah.  These poor souls do not  understand the definition of bid’ah.

These time schedules and  tables are not part of any belief or ibaadat, hence their being or not being in the khairul quroon does not include it into the category of bid’ah. [Ibid. page 125, vol.2]

The necessity for any act to have  been present during the khairul quroon will be when the act is  one of Ibaadat. If the act is  merely one of administration or  regulation, then it will not be a  bid’ah (even if it was not existent  during the khairul quroon). One  such Hadith has been added in  Hayatul Muslimeen which was  taken from Shamaa’il Tirmidhi,  wherein regulation in the daily  life of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi  wasallam) has been reported.  This Hadith appears in the eighth  part. [Ibid. page 134, vol. 2]

To exceed the limits in a non-Shar’i or mandoob act, or to  make takhsees or  ta’yeen would  also be included as a bid’ah

It has been narrated by Hadhrat  Hasan (radhiyallahu anhu) that Hadhrat Uthman bin Abi ‘Aas  (radhiyallahu anhu) was called to  the khatna (circumcision) of  someone, and he refused the invitation. When asked about it  he  replied that during the era of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) they would not attend a khatna neither were they called to it. This narration appears in Musnad Ahmad.

From this we realise that the  Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) disliked the invitations to such  occasions which are not established from the Sunnat.  They even refused to attend such gatherings.

The secret to this is that an  invitation to any occasion places  some sort of importance or  significance to that which one is  invited to, because arrangements  are being prepared for it, and to  make special arrangements for  anything which the Shariah has  not, would be classified as an  innovation in the Deen. This is  the reason why when Hadhrat Ibn  Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) saw  that the people were gathering in  the Musjid to perform their  Chaasht (Duhaa) Salaat, he  criticised them and labelled this a  bid’ah. Based on this, the  Fuqahaa have said that it is  Makrooh to make Nafl Salaat in congregation. To regard and  believe an unimportant  matter  to  be important and place great  emphasis upon it, or to become  dogmatic and rigidly practice on  such matters, such that one  regards and accommodates it to  the level of Faraa’idh  and  Waajibaat or even more, and then  to censure and criticise those  who do not participate therein,  are all contemptible acts. Theses  are the essences of bid’ah. Allaah Ta’ala has stated that those people who exceed the limits placed by Him are the oppressors. 

Hadhrat Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood  (radhiyallahu anhu) stated that it  is necessary upon every person  that he not allocate a part of his  Salaat to shaitaan, by always  turning to his right side after  Fardh Salaat (i.e. deeming this to  be necessary). He says that he  saw Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) sometimes turn to his  left side. [Bukhaari/Muslim]

Teebi, the commentator of  Mishkaat Shareef has stated that  it is proven from this Hadith that  the person who persists and is dogmatic on a Mustahab act,  such that he deems it necessary  and binding and never practices  to its contrary, then such a  person has apportioned a share  of his ibaadat to shaitaan (i.e. he  has lost the blessings of his  ibaadat). What then can be said  of that person who persists and  rigidly practices on bid’ah, un-Islamic and detestable acts?

The author of Majma’ has stated  that it is proven from this Hadith that a mandoob act also  becomes Makrooh when there is  a fear that it is elevated in rank.  This is the reason why the Hanafi Fuqahaa have stated that it is  Makrooh to stipulate fixed  Surahs for Salaats, regardless of  whether this is done believing it  to be part of the Shariah or rigidly in practice.  [Tareeqah  Meelad Shareef, page 7 and 11]

How a Mustahab becomes a bid’ah

I do not say that Mustahab is  bid’ah. To regard it as necessary  and binding is bid’ah. If anyone  regards a Mustahab act as  Waajib, then is this not bid’ah?  Necessary, obligatory and Waajib  all have the same meaning. [Husnul Azeez, page 676, vol.1]

To deem an un-obligatory act as  obligatory is a deviated bid’ah. To  censure and rebuke those who  oppose or do not practice it, merely confirms its bid’ah status.  [Imdaadul  fataawa, page  340, vol. 5 / page 306, vol. 5]

To regard the distribution of  sweetmeats as necessary is a  bid’ah. The Fuqahaa have written  that if there is fasaad in a  Mustahab act, then it becomes  necessary to abandon that  Mustahab act.  [Husnul Azeez, page 676, vol.1]

Is it not a bid’ah to regard a non-Waajib as a Waajib? Does this not fall under the scope of the  definition of bid’ah?  [Al-Ifaadhaat Yawmia, page 116, vol. 8, part 1]

The four types of bid’ah and  Sunnat, and the explanation of  bid’ah-e-hasana, bid’ah-e-sayyi’a, haqeeqiya and sooriya

“It is stated in Raddul Muhtaar,  ‘The Sunnats of wudhu: That  thing upon which Rasulullah  (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and  the Khulafa-e-Raashideen, after  him, were constant upon are  Sunnat, otherwise it is Mandoob.  It is reported in Durrul Mukhtaar  under the discussion of intention  (Niyyat) that verbal statement is Mustahab, that is the preferred  opinion, and it is said that this is Sunnat, i.e. the Salaf preferred this or it is a Sunnat of our Ulama, since it is reported from neither  Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) nor the Tabieen…

“It is reported from Durrul  Mukhtaar: The Ahkaam of  Imaamat and the Mubtadi’u  (person who indulges in bid’ah),  that is (the one who) believes  contrary to the accepted (rulings)  of The Rasool, not in opposition  or resistance, rather with a type  of doubt…and Mandoob, like innovations similar to Madrasah…’”

From the above excerpts the following matters are clarified:

Firstly, there are numerous implications of Sunnat:

1. That which is reported from  Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)

2. That which is reported from  Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), the Khulafa-e-Raashideen, as is mentioned in  the ibaarat (text): “That thing  upon which Rasulullah (sallallahu  alayhi wasallam) and the Khulafa-e-Raashideen, after him, were constant upon are Sunnat

3. That which is reported from  Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), the Sahaabah  (radhiyallahu anhum) or the Taabieen, as is deduced from the  ibaarat: “since it is reported from  neither Nabi (sallallahu alayhi  wasallam), the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) nor the Tabieen”

4. That which is reported from  the Ulama,  as is deduced from the ibaarat: “or it is a Sunnat of our Ulama.”

A few meanings of bid’ah have also been deduced from this texts:

1. That which is not reported from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)

2. That which is not reported  from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) or his Khulafaa-e-Raashideen

3. That which is not reported  from Rasulullah (sallallahu  alayhi wasallam), his Sahaabah  (radhiyallahu anhum) or the  Tabieen

4.  That which is not reported  from the Ulama.  [Bawaadirun Nawaadir,  page  778]

In reality there is only type of Sunnat and bid’ah

This multitude is merely on the  apparent, otherwise in reality  there is only one definition of  Sunnat, and that is: It is the  practicable path in Deen as  stated after the former ibaarat.  All these meaning incorporate  the definition of Sunnat. The  meaning of bid’ah is: Belief in  that which is contrary to the  accepted (well-known practices  of) Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi  wasallam), not in opposition or  resistance, rather with a type of  doubt. (The practice which  opposes the nass, if it is done  with doubt and uncertainty (misinformation/ignorance), then  it is bid’ah, otherwise it is  clearcut fisq and transgression,  without any doubt). Or in other  words, That which has been innovated contrary to the Haqq which has been established  from  Rasulullah (sallallahu  alayhi  wasallam), in respect of  knowledge, practice  or  conditions…As it is stated in  Durrul Mukhtaar, and this is the  true meaning for bid’ah, as borne  out by the statement of Nabi  (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), ‘He who innovates anything in our Deen, is not from amongst us.’”  

Hence Sunnat-e-Haqeeqi and  Bid’ah-e-Haqeeqi cannot be  combined or united. However,  Bid’ah-e-Sooriya can be coupled  with Sunnat-e-Haqeeqi. In this  regard, the verbal intention for  Salaat is also called a Sunnat.  There are some things which may  be contrary to the Sunnat, hence  they are called bid’ah but  regarded as hasan (good/desirable). There are some  examples of a clear combination between some types of bid’ah  and Sunnat-e-Haqeeqi, and this  is borne out by the statement of  Hadhrat Umar (radhiyallahu  anhu) when he once said, “What a good bid’ah!”

At this juncture we realise also  that the bid’ah-e-hasana which  some personalities have negated  is restricted to just a difference  and altercation in words and  definitions, because those who  have negated it have defined  bid’ah in its haqeeqi sense,  whereas the claimants (to the  validity of bid’ah-e-hasana) have  defined it in its general sense.

The limits of sunan-e-‘Aadiyah  and sunan-e-‘Ibaadiya

One person once asked if the  rearing of sheep/goats is Sunnat  or not? The reply was that yes it  is a Sunnat, but it is a Sunnat-e-‘Aadiya and not a Sunnat-e-Ibaadiya, and the object of   Sunnat is Ibaadat. Nevertheless,  the practicing of Sunnat-e-‘Aadiya, if it is executed with love  and affection (for Nabi – sallallahu  alayhi wasallam), then it is also worthy of rewards. There must  not be extremity and  excessiveness in sunan-e-‘aadiya,  where it is brought to the level of  an ibaadat. Some people exhaust  all the energies in researching  these issues – how big was the  ‘asaa (stick) of Nabi (sallallahu  alayhi wasallam), how long his  turban was, etc., etc. If a true  lover of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi  wasallam) makes these enquiries  and his desire is the result of  pure love, then this is one thing,  but most people who are involved  in these types of issues are such  that they neglect the necessary requisites of the Deen and regard this as their main objective and aim. If this type of excessiveness continue then it will result in the destruction of  the Deen. Everything should be kept in its proper perspective.

The ruling regarding Sunnat-e-Ibaadat is that if there is a fear of  it causing fasaad in the beliefs of  the masses, then it becomes  Waajib to abandon a Mustahab  act. In this regard, it was the  blessed habit of Nabi (sallallahu  alayhi wasallam) to regularly  recite Surahs Alif Laam Meem  Sajdah and Dahar for the Fajr on  Jumu’ahs, but Imaam Abu Hanifah (rahmatullah alayh) has decreed it Makrooh to recite these two Surahs (every) Friday Jumu’ah. For this reason many ignoramuses have levelled the criticism of Imaam Abu Hanifah (rahmatullah alayh) acting contrary to the Sunnat.  [Al-Ifaadaat, page 98, vol. 19]

I ask: whatever food Nabi  (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)  partook of as a habit, will it be  classified as ‘aadatan (a habit) or  ibaatatan (an act of ibaabat)? It  is clear that it was eaten as ibaatatan. Hence, to imitate the  habits of Nabi (sallallahu  alayhi  wasallam) is not Waajib in the Shariah, neither is leaving them out sinful.

One has the choice of  appeasing the taste in matters of  habit. Some of the noble habits  of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) are such that we will never be able to imitate or bear, therefore the Shariah has not made it incumbent to follow the  noble habit of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). Yes, if someone has  the desire and good fortune of  being able to inculcate the noble  habits of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), then undoubtedly there is great virtue in that.  However, one does not have the  right to rebuke others for not  doing so.  [At-Tableegh, page 255, vol. 20]

The two types of Uswa’-e-Hasana (models/patterns of  Nabi – sallallahu alayhi wasallam) – verbal and practical

It is stated in the Qur’an Majeed,  “Indeed there is for you in the (lifestyle of the) Rasool of Allaah,  a beautiful model.” Allah Ta’ala is  indicating to us that He has placed an excellent example for us  to follow in the life of Nabi  (sallallahu  alayhi  wasallam).  What is the object of giving a  model? So that its likeliness may  be prepared. It is a further grace  of Allaah Ta’ala that there is no  difficulty and inhibition in this  model. Two types of model are  given – a practical and verbal  one. It is a pure mercy of Allaah  Ta’ala upon this Ummat that He has granted so much of latitude  and not the slightest bit of constriction.  

Objection: The examples set for  us by Nabi (sallallahu  alayhi wasallam) is to be followed to  the letter. For example, Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)  mostly partook of barley bread,  and he led a life of pure simplicity, where he never procured a home or kept (extra) money, whereas we neither eat like him nor suffer like him. We even don the best of clothing. We have lavish and spacious homes,  we save money,  etc. Yet the Ulama say that all  this is permissible. What is the  explanation to our following this  example and model of our  beloved Nabi (sallallahu alayhi  wasallam)?

Reply: The answer to this is that  there are two types of models – qowli and fi’lee. Fi’lee  is  of  a  particular form and qowli falls  within the ambit of the Shariah.  It is impermissible to go beyond  it. However, there is much  latitude within it. We were shown  the limits of the deeds of  obedience, which should not be  exceeded. We have also been  granted latitude to manoeuvre as  much as is permissibly possible.  This is Waajib and obligatory. The ush-shaaq (lovers of Nabi –  sallallahu alayhi wasallam), have  taken the practical model and  noted what Nabi (sallallahu alayhi  wasallam) ate, drank, how he led  his life, etc., etc. But for people  like us there is scope and latitude,  that we  can fulfil our needs  within the ambit of the Shariah. However, we also need to take note of the limits of the Shariah and not exceed them. In every act, we should take note of the  limits of the Shariah. As long as one remains within the limits of the Shariah, then it will be  deemed as also having followed  the model. [Huqooquz Zawjain, page 460]

The laws regarding leaving out  the sunan-e-‘aadiyah and sunan-e-ibaadiya and when they  become impermissible

The  sunan-e-‘aadiya, like simple  clothing, barley bread, and all other such habits of Nabi  (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), if for  any reason due to them the  objective is lost (i.e. it interferes  with one’s ibaadat), then they  should be abandoned, because  the sunan-e-‘aadiya are not objectives in themselves.

In fact, there are even occasions where the sunan-e-ibaadat, are to be left out if they are the cause of some harm. For example, the Sunnat of Tahajjud is 8 rakaats, now if a person who gets up with difficulty and performs this eight Rakaats, but sleep overwhelms him such that he falls off to sleep and misses his Fajr Salaat with Jamaat, then to such a person it will be told that he only perform two Rakaats of Tahajjud and sleep away, so that he may awaken for Fajr in time. Since six to eight Rakaats are amongst the sunan-e-ibaadat for Tahajjud Salaat, but if a person exceeds this, then the  objective (other more important  ibaadat) is lost and it (this  excessiveness) should be abandoned.

This is the reason why if it is  known regarding the conditions  of a certain person, that if he  undertakes the journey of Hajj,  he will not be able to maintain  and be diligent in performing  Salaat, then he will be prevented  from going for Hajj. If there is an  overwhelming fear that even one  Fardh Salaat of a person will  become Qadha whilst on the  journey for a Nafl Hajj, then it will  not be permissible for him to  undertake that journey. When  the Hajj will be a cause for some Deeni harm, where another Fardh duty is neglected, then it is clear that instead of this Hajj  bringing  one closer to Allah Ta’ala, it takes him further away.

Another example is that if for  example a person has to eat  barley bread, which may cause his  stomach to pain. Then the love  which a person has for the  Sunnat of Nabi (sallallahu  alayhi  wasallam) will no longer remain  that, rather it may become a  dread, and there is a real fear  that (a person will think that) by  practicing upon an excellent  Sunnat causes stomach-ache.  Today, it is due to the mutashaddideen (those who  adhere doggedly to something),  that people have acquired a  dislike for and are being  distanced from the Sunnat and the Shariah

In summary, the sunan-e-‘aadiya  and ibaadiya are impermissible for that person to whom there may be harm caused to his (more important and primary) Deeni  duties.  [At-Tableegh,  page  74-8]
The two ways of following the Sunnat

The actions of Nabi (sallallahu  alayhi wasallam) are categorised  into two classes – one is his acts  of ibaadat and the other is  regarding his noble habit (aadat).  The former requires following  and not necessarily the latter. If  anyone does imitate the latter,  then it will be a display of affection and love.

There is a soori (in form) and  haqeeqi (real) way of obedience.  To bring the actual instruction  into practice, without  considering the illat is ittibaa’  (obedience/following) in soorat  and to practice upon it taking the  sabab and illat into consideration  is ittibaa’ in haqeeqat

These two ways of ittibaa’ were  also found in the Sahaabah (radhyiallahu anhum). During the  course of the expedition of the  Bani Quraidha, when Nabi  (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was  seeing a group of the Sahaabah  (radhiyallahu anhum) off, he said  to them, “Perform your ‘Asr  Salaat when you reach there.” It  so happened that after much  effort the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu  anhum) could not make it to  reach their destination before  Asr Salaat. The time for Asr entered whilst they were still on  their journey. This led to the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum)  breaking up into two groups –  the one group performed their  Salaat on time and said that the  object of Nabi’s (sallallahu alayhi  wasallam) advice was that they  should perform their ‘Asr Salaat  at the destination if they reached  there on time, and not to  perform it (only) there regardless  of when they reached. The other  group said that they will follow  Nabi’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) instruction to the letter and only perform their Salaat upon  reaching the destination. They  therefore performed their Salaat  upon reaching their destination  and not on the way. 

When Nabi (sallallahu alayhi  wasallam) was informed of this occurrence, he accepted both  views. In this incident, the first  group made haqeeqi ittibaa’ and  the second soorat ittibaa’.

The definitions of bid’ah-e-hasana and bid’ah-e-sayyi’a

The comprehensive ruling  regarding this is that any matter  which is neither in part or whole  from the Deen, and it is forced  onto the Deen based on some flimsy doubt, then it is a bid’ah

The proof of this is in the  authentic Hadith, “He who  innovates something into our  Deen, which is not part of it, is  rejected.”  The words (from) and   (in) are clear indicatives, and a  haqeeqi bid’ah always remain a  bid’ah-e-sayyi’a. A bid’ah-e-hasana is a bid’ah in outer form  (definition) only. Its reality, owing  to some (Shar’i) factor it can be  classified a Sunnat.  [Imdaadul  fataawa, page 285, vol. 5]

Related Article: The Concept of Bid’ah – Between the Two Extremes


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