Category Archives: Bid’ah


By Mujlisul Ulama

The Ahle Bid’ah (people of bid’ah) have all along endeavoured and laboured to confuse the minds of the unwary and ignorant by misinterpretation and manipulation of the terms “bid’ah” and “sunnat.” They attempt to seek sanction and justification for their evil bid’ah practices of meelad, salaami, faatehah thaani, etc. by vainly toiling to slip in these practices under the condonable technical bid’ah category defined in Islamic Jurisprudence. The innocent public is befuddled by such trickery and manipulation, but those of knowledge know the deception that these “shayaateen in human bodies” are perpertrating under the hollow facade of “beautifying the Sunnah.”

The bid’atees (innovators of evil bid’ah) claim that their practice of salaami and meelad “add beauty to Sunnat”, hence such practices are categorized as “Bid’ah Hasanah” which does not conflict with the Sunnah of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). In attempting to pass their evil bid’ah off as Bid’ah Hasanah, the bid’atees lump these practices together with such laudable and necessary institutions as Madaaris, Khaanqahs and practices such as the compilation of the Qur’aan and Hadith in book form. They thus argue that their meelaad and salaami customs are like the Bid’ah Hasanah practices of the Madressas, Qur’aan and Hadith compilation and the formulation of Fiqh. Insha’Allah, it will be shown that the meelaad and salaami of the Ahle Bid’ah are bid’ah sayyiah (evil innovation) practices and not Bid’ah Hasanah or practices which “add beauty to the Sunnah of our Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).

The people of bid’ah have committed a basic and a fundamental error in their understanding of the meaning of “SUNNAT”, and because of their misconception of the meaning of Sunnat they fumble around in utter confusion – confusing evil practices with holy and essential institutions imperative for the safeguarding of the ORIGINAL Deen of Allah Ta’ala. The Ahle Bid’ah understand by Sunnat only such acts which were practiced by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) whereas “Sunnat” cover both practice and abstention of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). In the Shariah, Rasulullah’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) abstention is also Sunnat and as such, daleel or proof for a claim. Hadhrat Mullah Ali Qaari (Rahimahullah) explains in Mirqaat:

“Mutaaba’ah (following or obedience) is in both practice and in abstention (tark). Therefore, he who is constant in practicing on an act which was not practiced by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is a bid’atee.”

Shaikh Abdul Haqq Muhaddith Dahlawi (Rahimahullah) states in As-Katul Lama’aat in this regard:

“Like following is Waajib in acts  so it is Waajib in abstention  (tark). Therefore, he who is constant in an act which was not practiced by Rasullullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is a bid’atee.”

In Sharh Musnad Imaam Abu Hanifah (Rahimahullah) it appears:

“Like Ittibad (to follow, to obey) is in practice (fe’l) so is it in abstention (tark). Therefore, he who is constant in a practice not rendered by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is a bid’atee because it (constancy in such an act) comes under the purview of Rasullullah’s (sallallahu alayhi  wasallam) statement:

He who practices an act on which there is not our proof, it is rejected.

Imaam Allaamah Sayyid Jamaaluddin Muhaddith said:  “The abstention of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is Sunnat just like his action is Sunnat.”

From the aforementioned quotations it will be understood that Rasulullah’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) abstention or refraining from certain acts is likewise Sunnat and whoever opposes such abstention has been unanimously branded in the Shariah as a bid’atee.

The question now is: To what is this abstention applicable? Does this abstention cover all acts and practices from which Rasullullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) abstained? For example: Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) did not use automobiles, etc. Does the aforementioned verdicts of the authorities of Islam cover such abstentions as well? It is quite evident that such mundane practices do not fall within the purview of such abstention. The abstention mentioned here refers to all such practices for which the motive and means existed during the time of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), but were nevertheless refrained from. We shall illustrate by means of examples.

Janaazah Salaat:

The motive or purpose of the Janaazah Salaat is “DUA FOR THE MAYYIT.” Such DUA (i.e. Janaazah Salaat) was taught and offered by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and the Sahaabah. Hence, the method in which Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) performed Janaazah Salaat is the Sunnat method, and needless to say, no method could be more beautiful than the method taught and practised by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). The Qur’aan places the seal of ultimate and perfect beauty on the Sunnat practice of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) in the following words:

“Verily, there is for you in the Rasul of Allah a BEAUTIFUL”

Anyone who argues that a method other than the method of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is of greater beauty is guilty of kufr and is mardood, for it would amount to belittling

Faatihah Thaani:

The Ahle Bid’ah have a compulsory practice of performing a congregational dua (which they call faatehah) after the Sunnat and Nafl Salaat of every Fardh Salaat. The faatehah thaani (second faatehah) has become part and parcel of the daily Fardh Salaat. Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) performed the daily Fardh Salaat and imparted the knowledge and method of these Salaat, but the method imparted to the Ummah by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) excludes this faatehah thaani practice. The method of our Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is the most beautiful, but the Ahle Bidah claim that they are “adding beauty” to this Sunnah by the innovation of the second faatehah. This is tantamount to saying that the method of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is not as beautiful as the method of the innovators, hence the need for the innovation. The motive for “adding beauty” to the Sunnah and the motive for second, third, and fourth duas existed during the time of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), but Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) by his practical example and teaching abstained from this faatehah thaani. This abstention of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is then the Sunnat to be followed Deviation from this abstention is in fact conflict with the Sunnah.

Recitation by the Muazzin on Jumu’ah prior to handing the Asaa to the Khateeb:

It is the standard practice of the Ahle Bid’ah to have their Muazzin hand the Asaa to the Khateeb on. Jumu’ah and standing with Asaa in hand the Muazzin recites some incantations. Now Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) performed Jumu’ah Salaat and delivered Jumu’ah Khutbah. His practice and teaching in this regard are Sunnah which in terms of the Qur’aan Majeed is “BEAUTIFUL SUNNAH.” Further, in accordance with the Qur’aan Shareef this “beautiful example” of the Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is the most beautiful practice – the practice of perfect beauty – the practice that could not be further beautified by us. The Qur’aan is explicit on the completion and perfection of the Deen. If then the Asaa-holding and incanting­ Muazzin custom has been designed to “add beauty” to the Sunnah, it will be an tacit admission of the imperfect beauty of the Sunnah of our Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). Such admission is kufr since it clashes with the clear declarations of the Qur’aan. The motive for this practice (viz., the beautification of the Sunnah) existed during the time of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), but he abstained from this custom of the Muazzin. This abstention of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is, therefore, Sunnat which cannot be opposed. Departure from the set and defined practice of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is opposition to the Sunnat of abstention.

We will now cite a few examples from the lives of the Sahaabah to indicate that they regarded Rasulullah’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) abstention (tark) from a practice as SUNNAT TO FOLLOW.

Saja’ in dua:

Hadhrat Ibn Abbaas (radiallahu anhu) warned the Ummah to abstain from saja’ in dua. Saja’ in dua is to make dua in poetic form. He said:

“Refrain from saja’ in dua, for, verily, Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and his Sahabah did not make saja’ in duct.”

If the argument of “adding beauty” to the Sunnah propounded by the Ahle Bid’ah has to be accepted. it will follow that Hadhrat Ibn Abbaas (Radhiyallahu anhu) erred in prohibiting saja’ in dua because ostensibly saja’ merely “adds beauty” to the Sunnat of dua. However, he rejected saja’ in dua on the basis of Nabi’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) abstention from saja’.

Raising the hands higher than the breast in dua:

Upon seeing a man raising his hands higher than his breast while engaged in dua, Hadhrat Abdullah Bin Umar (radhiyallahu anhu), a great Sahaabi. branded the practice as bid’ah. And, his branding the practicing as bid’ah is evidently a reference to bid’ah sayyiah – an evil bid’ah. He said:

“Verily, your raising your hands (in thismanner) is bid’ah. Rasullullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) did not raise his hands higher than this (i.e. the breast).” [Musnad Ahmad]

Hadhrat Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) cited as the proof for
this practice being bid’ah, Rasullullah’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) abstention. Because Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) refrained from this manner of hand-raising, this illustrious Sahaabi brands the practice as bid’ah.

Raising hands in dua during the Friday Khutbah:

Hadhrat Umaarah Bin Ruwaibah (radhiyallahu anhu) upon observing Marwaan raising his hands in dua while reciting the Khutbah remarked:

“May Allah destroy those two little hands. Verily I saw Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) not exceeding during the recitation (of the Khutbah) the indication of a finger.” [Muslim]

This Sahaabi condemns the practice of raising the hands in dua during the Khutbah, not on the basis of any prohibition issued by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), but solely on the basis of Nabi’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) abstention from the practice.

Halqah Zikr in the Musjid:

Who can deny the benefit and the significance of Zikr? But, Hadhrat Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (radiallahu anhu) expelled a group from the Musjid for indulging in some form of halqah zikr. Once at the time of Maghrib Salaat he entered the Musjid and observed that a group was sitting in halqah zikr. The leader of the group was instructing the others to recite Subhaanallah, Alhamdulillah, Allahu Akbar and La-ilaahi il-lallah. He went up to the group and severely reprimanded in the following terms:

“I swear by Allah that undoubtedly you have indulged in an extremely dark (evil) bid’ah. (If you assert the contrary then it will mean) that you are superior in  knowledge to the Sahaabah of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).” [Majaalisul Abraar]

He then ordered the expulsion of the group from the Musjid.

This eminent Sahaabi brands this form of halqah zikr as an evil bid’ah, not because Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had at any time prohibited such form of Zikr, but because Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had abstained from this form of Zikr inspite of the motive of Zikr existing during his time and inspite of him having the ability to resort to such form of zikr.

Nafl Salaat:

Allaamah Sayyidud Deen Kaashaghri Hanafi (rahimahullah) states:

“Exceeding on eight raka’ts (nail Salaat with a single Salaam)  during the night and on four raka’ts during the day is unanimously (by Ijma’) forbidden.”
[Muniyatul Musalli]

In presenting the basis for this prohibition the Fuqahaa of Islam advance “li–admi wuroodil athar  bihi”, i.e. no narration existing or being narrated. In other words, the authorities of the Shariah unanimously opine that the abstention of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) from a practice for which the motive and means existed during the time is daleel (proof) of such abstention being Sunnat. Introduction of such an ‘abstained from practice’ is branded by the authorities as bid’ah sayyiah or bid’ah dalaalah.

The performance of eight raka’ts nafl Salaat with a single Salaam during the night and more than four raka’ts with one Salaam during the day has been branded as conflicting with the Sunnah despite the fact that the performance of Nafl Salaat is an Ibaadat of the highest merit. However, since performance of Nafl Salaat in this fashion has never been rendered by Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), it is branded as forbidden by the authorities of the Shariah. Those who advance as substantiation for the prohibition, Rasulullah’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) abstention. This daleel of abstention in regard to this form of Nafl Salaat is cited in Al-Badaai `Was-sanaa’ as follows:

“It (Salaat in this method) is forbidden because it has not been narrated from Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).”

Hidaayah propounds the daleel for the prohibition in the following words:

“The daleel (proof) of the prohibition is that, verily, Rasulullah (alayhis salaam) did not exceed on this (i.e. eight and four raka’ts with a single Salaam). And, if there was no prohibition (to perform Nafl Salaat in this manner) then Nabi (alayhis salaam) would have exceeded (this number) to convey the permissibility (of such a practice).

Dua at the Khatm of the Qur’aan during Ramadhaan and in congregation:

Another example of Rasulullah’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) abstention being Sunnat and daleel for the Ummah is the practice of making dua in congregation during Ramadhaan on the occasion of completing the recital of the Quraan Majeed. The authoritative Books of Islam such as Fatawa Kabeeri, Durr Mukhtaar, etc. states:

“Dua is forbidden (Makruh  Tahrimi) on the occasion of the khatm of the Qur’aan during the month of Ramadhaan and on the occasion of khatm of the Quraan in congregation because this (form of dua) has not been narrated from Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) nor from the Sahaabah.” [AI-Junnah]

The Illusion of Bid’ah “al-Hasanah”

[By Hadhrat Mujaddid Alf Thaani  Sirhindi – rahmatullaahi alayhi]

…As  long  as  man  does  not  abstain  from  such  ‘bidah  hasanah’  which  is  in  reality  ‘bidah  sayyiah’  (evil  innovation),  he  will  be  deprived  of  fragrance  of  this  wealth  of  Imaan.  Today,  the  compensation  of  the  truth  has  become  most  difficult  because the  entire  world  is  drowned  in  the  ocean  of  bid’ah.  People  are  reclining  and  taking  comfort  in  the  darkness  of  bid’ah  practices.

Who,  today,  has  the  ability  to  eliminate  bid’ah  and  revive Sunnah?  The  majority  of  the  Ulama  of  this  age  (i.e.  the  age  in  which  Hadhrat  Mujaddid  lived  –  more  than  four  centuries  ago)  are  engaged  in  establishing  bid’ah  and  eliminating  Sunnah.

An  accepted  principle  by  the  Ulama  is  the  foregoing  of  even many  benefits  if  the  acquisition  of  the  benefit  entails  the  possibility  of  harm  as  well.  On  the  basis  of  this  accepted  principle,  if  a  practice  revolves  between  bid’ah  and  Sunnah  then  abstention  from  bid’ah  will  be  superior  to  practising  the  Sunnah  because  in  bid’ah  is  the  possibility  of  harm  and  in  Sunnah,  the  hope  of  gain.

Deen  consists  of  following  Rasulullah  sallallahu  alayhi wasallam,  obeying  the  elevated  Sunnah,  and  abstention  from bid’ah  even  though  the  bid’ah  may  seem  (deceptively)  as  clear as  the  ‘noor’  of  the  early  morning.  In  all  truth,  there  is  no  ‘noor’  and  no  glitter  in  bid’ah.  There  is  no  cure  for  the  diseased  in  bid’ah  and  no  medicine  for  any  sickness.  How  is  it  possible  that  bid’ah  be  a  cure  for  the  indisposed  when  it  (bid’ah)  is  the  eliminator  of  Sunnah?  It  either  destroys  Sunnah  (at  its  worst)  or  (at its best)  it  refrains  about  speaking about  Sunnah.

It  is  indeed  among  the  greatest  Boons  of  Allah  Ta’ala  that  in  this  age  of  darkness  –  darkness  of  bid’ah  –  some  fortunate  person  requests  from  Allah  Ta’ala  the  ability  to  eradicate  some  bid’ah  practice  and  to  enliven  some  Sunnat.  It  appears  in  the  authentic  Hadith  that  he  who  revives  a  Sunnat  practice  after  it  was  lost,  will  obtain  the  sawwaab  of  a  hundred  shuhadaa  (martyrs).

Even  some  of  the  later  mentors  of  this  elevated  Path  of  Naqshabandiyah  have  also  introduced  into  this  Path  some bid’ah  practices.  Hence,  they  have  lost  the  original  way  of  the  seniors  of  this  Path  (Naqshabandiyah).  A  group  of  mureedeen  (disciples)  of  these  later  mentors  entertain  the  belief  that  perfection  of  this  Path  could  be  realised  by  way  of  these  bid’ah  practices.  Allah forbid!  Never  ever  is  this  possible.  In  this  Path  (of  Naqshabandiyah)  people  have  made  customary,  innovations  and  new  practices.  Therefore,  there  is  justification  for  the  opponents  of  this  Path  to  claim  that  this  Path  condones the  establishment  of  bid’ah  and  the  abstention  of  Sunnah  …  But  Najaat  (salvation),  is  in  the  following  of  the  Shariah  of Rasulullah  sallallahu  alayhi  wasallam  –  obedience  rendered both  in  belief  (i’tiqaad)  and practice  (amal).


[Based on Al-I‘tisam by Imam Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi  (d. 790 H)
Translated by Mawlana Zameelur Rahman]

The  notion  of  “bid‘ah”  in  Islam  is  one  that  is  confusing  to  many.  There  are  a  number  of reasons  for  this  which  are  not  the  concern  of  this  paper,  but  suffice  it  to  say,  there  is  very  little  clarity  presented  on  the  more  nuanced  aspects  of  this  concept,  and  unfortunately  there  are  few  works  in  English,  if  any,  that  attempt  to  tackle  the  concept  of  bid‘ah  accurately  and  with  serious  depth.  Fortunately,  however,  we  have  an  excellent  and  well-researched  work  on  the  subject  in  Arabic  by  the  eminent  pre-modern  scholar,  Imam  Abu  Ishaq  Ibrahim  ibn  Musa  ibn Muhammad  al-Lakhmi  al-Shatibi  (d.  790 H),  called  al-I‘tisam. 

Abu  Ishaq  al-Shatibi  was  a Maliki  Ash‘ari  jurist  and  scholar,  particularly  known  for  his  contributions  in  the  fields  of  usul  al-fiqh  (principles  of  jurisprudence)  and  fiqh  (jurisprudence).  He  is  the  author  of  al-Muwafaqat,  an  authoritative  work  on  the  subject  of  usul  al-fiqh.  

This  paper  is  primarily  based  on  Imam  al-Shatibi’s  definitive  study  of  bid‘ah  in  his  seminal  work,  al-I‘tisam,  but  will  also  draw  on  other  sources  to  support  some  of  his conclusions.  The  aim  is  to  present  a  coherent  and  satisfactory  examination  of  the  concept  of  bid‘ah,  with  a  treatment  of  all  its  important  aspects,  while  keeping  it  as  short  and  digestible  as  possible. 

A  note  about  methodology:  In  most  cases  when  bid‘ah  is  discussed,  a  taqlidi  (imitative)  approach  is  taken,  in  which  scholars  are  haphazardly  quoted  with  no  real  effort  to  reconcile  apparent  inconsistencies  or  base  the  statements  on  scriptural  proofs.  Al-Shatibi’s  approach  is  tahqiqi  (critical)  in  which  a  serious  effort  is  made  to  appreciate  the  reality  of  the  concept  with  integrity  and  care,  and  to  understand  the  issue  in  light  of  the  available  evidence  and  the  statements  of  the  authorities  with  full  academic  rigour.

There  are  two  aspects  to  the  study  of  bid‘ah:  its  usul  (principles)  and  its  furu‘ (peripherals).  Study  of  its  usul  deals  with  the  formulation  of  a theoretical  framework  or  criteria by  which  to  determine  what  constitutes  bid‘ah  and  what  does  not.  Study  of  its  furu‘  deals  with  examples  of  bid‘ah,  determined  by  the  principles  from  its  usul.

Imam  al-Shatibi’s  book  stands  out  as  the  only  work  that  takes  a  serious  and  in-depth look  at  the  subject  of  usul  al-bid‘ah,  of  which  he  was  acutely  aware.  He  mentions  towards the  beginning  of  al-I‘tisam:

“Rarely  has  a  work  been  compiled  on  it  [i.e.  bid‘ah],  and  whatever  has  been  compiled  on  it  is  inadequate  in  these  areas  [i.e.  of  usul  al-bid‘ah].” [al-I’tisam 1:29]

Towards  the  end  of  his  lengthy  work,  he  mentions  two  such  books,  one  by  Muhammad  ibn  Waddah  (d.  287  H)  called  al-Bida‘  wa l-Nahy  ‘anha  and  another  by  Abu  Bakr  al-Turtushi  (d.  520  H),  called  Kitab  al-Hawadith  wa l-Bida‘.  

He  writes:  “I  saw  that  the  topic  of  bid‘ah  was  greatly  neglected  in  the  speech  of  the ‘ulama’,  except  for  brief  transmissions  as  done  by  Ibn  Waddah,  or  side  issues  are produced  that  will  not  satisfy  the  thirsty.  Rather,  complete  understanding  of  it  as  is required,  I did  not  find,  despite  my  intense  search  for  it,  besides  what  Abu  Bakr  al-Turtushi  wrote  about  it,  but  it  is  meagre  in  proportion  to  what  is  required  with  respect  to  it;  and  besides  what  the  people  [i.e.  scholars]  wrote  with  respect  to  the  seventy  two  sects  which  is  [only]  one  section  from  the  sections  of  the  topic  and  a  part  of  its  parts.  Thus,  I  took  up  the  task  myself  to  pay  the  attention  to  it  [that  it  deserves],  that  perhaps  Allah  will  bring  benefit  thereby  to  its  writer,  its  reader,  its  distributer,  its  copyist,  the  one  seeking  benefit  from  it  and  all  Muslims.”  [Ibid 3:17]

It  is  hoped  the  following  study  of  bid‘ah,  which  aims  to  tackle  the  concept  primarily  from  a theoretical  perspective,  will  serve  as  a  useful  and  comprehensive  treatment  of  this  important  subject,  and  will  help  to  bring  clarity  to  readers  struggling  to  understand  it.  I have  attempted  to  simplify  technical  discussions  as  far  as  possible.

Lexical  and  Shar‘i  Meanings  of  Bid‘ah
There  are  many  words  commonly  used  by  Muslims  which  were  originally  designated  by  the  Arabs  for  a  certain  meaning  and  were  then,  with  the  advent  of  Islam  and  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him),  appropriated  by  the  Shari‘ah  for  other  meanings,  which  then  became  the  popular  meanings  of  those  words  amongst  the  Muslim  scholars and  masses.  Examples  include  commonly  used  words  like  salah,  zakah,  sawm,  jihad  and hajj.  For  instance,  “sawm”  in  the  Arabic  language  means  “restraint”  (imsak),  but  was appropriated  by  Islam  to  mean:  “avoiding  food,  drink  and  conjugal  relations  from  dawn to  dusk  with  the  intention  of  fasting,”  and  this  eventually  became  its  popular  and  well-known  meaning  amongst Muslims. 

It  is  important  to  appreciate  this  distinction  in  our  discussion  on  bid‘ah,  as  bid‘ah  too,  like  many  other  words  employed  in  the  Shari‘ah,  has  both  a  lexical  meaning  –  assigned  by  the  Arabs  –  and  a  Shar‘i  definition  –  coined  by  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  popularised  by  the  early  Muslims.  Without  understanding  this  distinction,  it  would  be  difficult  to  make  sense  of  the  term  in  its  early  usage,  as  will  be  explained  later.

For  further  clarity  on  this  dual  nature  of  many  words  used  in  the  Shari‘ah,  consider  the following  illustration:  

The  word  kufr  as  co-opted  and  popularised  by  the  Shari‘ah  means:  “Denial  of  what  the Messenger  (Allah  bless  him  and  grant  him peace)  brought,”  [Imdad al-Fatawa (6:83)], 

and  this  is  borne  out  by  many  texts  of  the  Shari‘ah.  For  example,  in  a  hadith  recorded  in  Sahih  Muslim,  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon him)  asks  Umm  Ma‘bad:  “Who  planted  this  tree,  a  Muslim  or  a  Kafir?”  She  said:  “A  Muslim.”  He  said:  “No  Muslim  plants  a  tree,  which  a  human  being  or  an  animal  or  a  bird  then  eats  from,  except  that  it  will  be  charity  for  him  till  the  Day  of  Resurrection.”  [Sahih  Muslim,    2:15] 

This  hadith  shows  a  person  is  identified  as  either  a  Muslim  or  a  Kafir,  the  latter  being  one who  does  not  affirm  the  message  of  Islam,  and   is  how most  learned  and  lay  Muslims understand  the  word  kufr.  Literally,  however,  kufr  can  have  a  number  of  other meanings,  including  rejection,  ungratefulness  and  concealment.  Thus,  in  one  place  of  the  Qur’an,  a  derivative  of  the  word  kufr  is  in  fact  used  positively,  where  Allah  says: 

“Whoever  rejects  (yakfur)  false  deities  and  believes  in  Allah,  he  has  indeed  grasped  the firmest  hand.”  [Qur’an  2:256]

Hence,  although  “kufr”  is  never  used  positively  in  its  Shar‘i  meaning,  when  used  in  its literal  sense  as  in  this  verse,  it  can  have  both  positive  and  negative  connotations.  It  will be  shown  that  the  same  is  the  case  with  bid‘ah.

The Linguistic Meaning of Bid‘ah
Linguistically,  bid‘ah  means:  “an  invention  without  a  past precedent”  [Al-I‘tisam, 1:41]

For example, in the following verse of the Qur’an it is used in its linguistic meaning:

“Say:  I  am  not  something  unprecedented  (bid‘)  amongst the  messengers.”   [Qur’an 46:11]

Imam  Ibn  Jarir  al-Tabari  (d.  310 H)  explains  this  as  follows: “Meaning,  I  am  not  the  first  of  the  messengers  of  Allah  which  He  sent  to  His  creation.  Before  me  there  were  many messengers  from  Him  sent  to  nations  before  you.”  [Tafsir al-Tabari, 21:119]

Thus,  according  to  this  linguistic  definition,  anything  that  came  into  existence  without  precedence  in  the  time  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  is  bid‘ah  in  relation  to  him.  Hence,  cars,  computers,  calculators,  microphones,  spectacles,  and  so  on,  are  all  bid‘ah  in  the  linguistic  sense.  It  is  already  clear  that  according  to  the  linguistic meaning,  bid‘ah  is  not  necessarily  unfavourable  and  blameworthy.

The Shar‘i Meaning of Bid‘ah According  to  the  Shari‘ah  –  which  is  determined  by  its  usage  in  the  recorded  sayings  of the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  the  early  Muslims  –  bid‘ah  is  best defined  as:  

“Adopting  as  religion  (deen)  that  which  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  his  companions  did  not  adopt  as  religion.”
A  similar  definition  given  by  some  scholars  is:

“Adding  or  subtracting  from  the  religion  (deen)  after  the  time  of  the  Sahabah.” [Shaykh Muhammad ibn Pir ‘Ali al-Birgivi, al-Tariqat al-Muhammadiyyah, p. 9] 

The  most  important  aspect  of  this  definition  is  that  it  is  restricted  to  innovations  in religion.  With  this  definition,  which  is  its  dominant  meaning  in  the  usage  of  the  Prophet (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  the  early  Muslims,  bid‘ah  is,  in  its  entirety, reprehensible,  blameworthy  and  sinful,  and  cannot  be  described  as  good  under  any circumstance.  Moreover,  as  al-Shatibi  explains,  bid‘ah  in  its  Shar‘i  usage  includes religious  innovations  in  four  different  areas:  actions  (af‘al),  omissions  (turuk),  statements  (aqwal)  and  beliefs  (‘aqa’id).  [Al-I‘tisam, 1:55]

Before  supplying  proof  for  this  meaning  of  bid‘ah,  and  demonstrating  that  the  distinction  between  the  lexical  and  Shar‘i  meanings  of  the  term  is  a  necessary  distinction,  I  will  first elaborate  somewhat  on  the  Shar‘i  definition.

Two  Types  of  Proscriptions  in  the  Shari‘ah
Imam  al-Shatibi  explains  that  those  things  that  are  prohibited  or  discouraged  in  the  Shari‘ah  are  of  two  types:

1.  Direct  violations  (mukhalafah  khassah):  these  are  actions,  beliefs,  omissions  or  statements  that  violate  clear  injunctions  of  the  Shari‘ah.  These  can  be  either  haraam  (unlawful)  or  makruh  (undesirable).  Examples  of  haraam  are  murder  and injustice,  and  an  example  of  makruh  is  overspending  (israf)  in  decorating  masjids.  Even  if  these  actions  are  done  in  inventive  ways,  though  they  may  be  regarded  as  “bid‘ah”  linguistically,  according  to  the  Shari‘ah  they  will  fall  under  the  general  prohibition  of  those  acts,  and  will  not  necessarily  be  classed  as  “bid‘ah.”

2.  Opposition  to  the  Shari‘ah  by  introducing  something  new  into  the  religion  which  is  not  from  it.  This  is  what  is  known  customarily  and  legally  as  bid‘ah.  [Ibid. 1:42]

It  is  clear  from  this  distinction  that  bid‘ah  is  different  from  direct  violations.  Thus  it  may happen  that  there  is  no  opposition  to  a  clear  injunction  of  the  Shari‘ah  in  a  certain  matter,  but  merely  because  it  is  something  new  that  is  introduced  into  the  religion,  it  is  classed  as  bid‘ah.  Proscriptions  of  the  first  category  are  not  necessarily  bid‘ah  because,  as  al-Shatibi,  says:  “Violations  –  in  their  capacity  as  violations  –  are  not  instituted  by  anyone  as  paths  which  are  permanently  adopted  in  a  manner  resembling  legislation” (Ibid. 1:76)  which  is  the  nature  of  bid‘ah  in  the  Shari‘ah

However,  these  two  categories  are  not  mutually  exclusive.  Thus,  it  may  be  that  something  is  a  direct  violation  and  is  also  categorised  as  bid‘ah  because  it  is  adopted  as religion.  An  example  given  by  al-Shatibi  is  the  use  of  chandeliers  (thurayya)  in  masjids,  which  is  regarded  as  overspending  (israf)  and  thus,  makruh.  If  someone  was  to  purchase  a  chandelier  specifically  for  the  purpose  of  it  being  installed  in  a  masjid,  believing  it  to  be  spending  in  Allah’s  path  (infaq  fi  sabil   Allah),  this  will  constitute  bid‘ah  (as  it  is  akin  to believing  that  spending  on  a  cause  detested  by  Islam  is  spending  in  Allah’s  path). However,  importantly,  this  is  not  because  of  the  initial  undesirability  of  this  practice,  but  because  of  the  belief  attached  to  it. [Ibid. 2:418] 

Another  example  is  the  bid‘ah  of  the  Qadariyyah  who  rejected  Allah’s  foreordainment  (qadr),  as,  although  this  opposes  the  clear  injunctions  in  the  Qur’an  and  Sunnah  which  obligate  belief  in  Allah’s  foreordainment, since  it  is  adopted  as  religion,  not  only  is  it  a  direct  violation,  but  also  a  bid‘ah.

Ritualistic (ta‘abbudi) and Non-Ritualistic (‘adi) Matters
The  most  important  element  in  the  Shar‘i  definition  of  bid‘ah  is  that  it  is  an  innovation  “in religion.”  In  order  to  understand  the  definition,  therefore,  Imam  al-Shaibi  explores  this aspect  a  little  further.  His  discussion  can  be  summarised  in  the  following  points:  

☆  There  are  two  types  of  matters  related  to  the  Shari‘ah:  umur  ta‘abbudiyyah  (ritualistic  matters)  and  umur  ‘adiyyah  (non-ritualistic  matters). 

☆  In  ta‘abbudi  (ritualistic)  matters,  the  reason  and  purpose  behind  them  is  not understood  (ghayr  ma‘qul  al-ma‘na)  i.e.  they  are  carried  out  ritualistically;  while  in  ‘adi  (non-ritualistic/explicable)  matters,  the  opposite  is  the  case:  the  purpose  and  reason  are  understood  (ma‘qul al-ma‘na).

☆  Ta‘abbudi  laws  dominate  in  a  category  of  affairs  known  as  ‘ibadiyyat  or  “religious  matters,”  that  is  those  things  which  are  essentially  part  of  religion;  they  generally  comprise  of  ritual  acts  of  worship  like  prayer,  fasting,  hajj,  etc.  and  articles  of  faith,  like  belief  in  Allah,  the  afterlife,  and  so  on. 

☆  ‘Adi  laws  dominate  in  a  category  of  affairs  known  as  ‘adiyyat  or  “mundane  matters”  which  are  not  intrinsically  part  of  religion,  but  originally  part  of  the  world,  like  marriage,  buying  and  selling,  eating  and  drinking  etc. [Al-I‘tisam, 2:401]

The  primary  distinction  between  ‘ibadiyyat  or  “religious  matters”  and  ‘adiyyat  or  “mundane matters”  is  that  in  the  latter,  even  if  they  are  performed  in  total  compliance  with  the  Shari‘ah,  unless  there  is  an  intention  of  “complying  with  the  command  of  Allah”  (imtithal  li  amr  Allah),  they bring  no  reward  (thawab);  whereas,  ‘ibadiyyat  are  intrinsically  rewarding.  [al-I‘tisam, 2:218]

Although  this  is  a  general  observation,  it  is  not  a  hard-and-fast  rule.  Thus,  at  times  non-ritualistic  rules  are  found  in  religious  matters  and  ritualistic  rules  are  found  in  mundane  matters.  For  example,  the  number  of  rak‘at  of  salah,  the  period  of  fasting,  the  number  of  rounds  of  tawaf,  the  value  of  Zakat  and  so  on  are  all  ta‘abbudi  laws  within  ‘ibadiyyat;  the  laws  of  inheritance  where  specific  shares  are  stipulated  for  the  heirs  of  the  deceased  are  examples  of  ta‘abbudi  laws within  ‘adiyyat.  The  command  to  spread  Islam,  preserve  its  texts  and  laws,  teach  and  learn,  and  so  on  are  examples  of  ‘adi  (non-ritualistic/explicable)  laws  within  ‘ibadiyyat;  and  the  condition  of  consent  in  monetary transactions  and  marriage  and  the  laws  of  cleaning  one’s  garments  and  body  are examples  of  ‘adi  laws  within  ‘adiyyat

The  reason  for  mentioning  this  distinction  is  that  bid‘ah  only  arises  in  ritualistic  or  ritualised  (ta‘abbudi)  matters,  as  these  are  what  constitutes  religious  innovations;  whereas,  innovations  in  non-ritualistic,  mundane  or  explicable  (‘adi)  matters,  although  they  may  be  sinful,  they  will  not  be  classed  as  bid‘ah  in  its  Shar‘i  usage  so  long  as  they are  not  ritualised  (meaning,  adopted  in  a  religious  way).

Imam  al-Shatibi  writes: 

“As  for  matters  that  are  ta‘abbudi  in  nature,  their  desired  objective  is  pure  submission,  without  any  addition  or  subtraction.”

He  also  supplies  some  evidence  for  this  from  the  Sunnah. Thus,  all  ta‘abbudi  laws  must  be  adhered  to  as  they  are  without  any  changes.  

In  al-I‘tisam,  after  listing  several  examples  of  laws  that  are  ta‘abbudi  in  acts  of  worship,  al-Shatibi  concludes:

“You  know  from  the  intention  of  the  Lawgiver  that  He  has  not  entrusted  any  ta‘abbudi  law  to  the  opinions  of  [His] slaves,  so  nothing  is  left besides  stopping  at  the  limit  He  has  set,  and  adding  to  it  is  bid‘ah  just  as  subtracting  from  it  is  bid‘ah.” [Al-I‘tisam 3:58]

Thus,  in  the  ta‘abbudi  aspects  of  ‘ibadiyyat  –  matters  intrinsic  to  religion  –  any  addition  or  subtraction  is  inescapably  a bid‘ah.  Innovations  in  these  matters  are  therefore  bid‘ah  in  themselves. 

In  ‘adiyyat  and  ‘adi  aspects  of  ‘ibadiyyat,  however,  since  these  are  not  originally  part  of religion  or  are  not  ritualistic  elements  of  religion,  innovations  in  them  will  only  be  classed  as  bid‘ah  when  regarded  as  religious  or  when  they  are  ritualised.  For  example,  ‘aqiqah  is  a  celebration  established  in  the  religion  for  expressing  joy  at the  birth  of  a  child.  Thus,  it is  performed  for  this  ‘adi  reason,  but  is  also  performed  ritualistically,  as  part  of  religion,  since  it  is  established  in  the  Sunnah.  If  someone  decided  to  express  joy  by  another  form  of  celebration,  this  would  be  an  innovation  in  ‘adiyyat.  Such  an  innovation  would  not,  however,  be  regarded  as  bid‘ah,  for  the  very  reason  that  this  would  not be  an  innovation  in  religion  but  in  worldly  affairs.  However,  if  it  is  accompanied  by  the  belief  that  it  is  part of  religion,  in  just  the  same  way  as  ‘aqiqah,  that  is,  it  is  ritualised,  it  will  also  be  deemed  bid‘ah.  Thus,  al-Shatibi  says: 

“‘Adiyyat  in  their  capacity  as  mundane  (or  non-ritualistic) affairs  contain  no  bid‘ah  in them;  but  bid‘ah  enters  into  them  when  they  are  ritualised  or  assigned  a  ritualistic function.” [Ibid. 2:461]

This  is  why,  al-Shatibi  suggests,  the  Sahabah  would  not  abolish  the  customs  and  cultures  of  the  non-Arab  converts  to  Islam,  unless  they  violated  the  laws  of  the  Shari‘ah.  However,  with  respect to  matters  of  worship  and  ritual,  they  were  extremely  careful  that  no  innovation  infiltrates  them.  In  sum,  if  something  does  not  have  a  comprehensible  purpose  (ghayr  ma‘qul  al-ma‘na),  it  cannot  be  added  to,  subtracted  from  or  changed  in  any  way.  If  something  has  a  comprehensible  purpose,  based  on  that  purpose,  there  can  be  developments  and  changes.  For  example,  the  purpose  of  sadaqah  or  charity  is  to alleviate  the  suffering  of  needy  people,  which  is  a  comprehensible  objective.  Thus,  this  can  be  accomplished  in  a number  of  different  ways  that  achieve  that  objective.  On  the other  hand,  the  purpose  of  praying  two  rak‘ahs  in  Fajr  is  incomprehensible  so  to  create changes  in  that,  by,  for  example,  changing  it  to  three  rak‘at,  is  an  example  of  bid‘ah.
By  “incomprehensible”  is  meant  that  a  detailed  understanding  of  its  purpose  is  unavailable  to  us,  such  that  it  is  not  possible  to  make  any  deductions  or  analogies  based  on  it.  It  is  not  meant  that  a  general  objective  or  purpose  cannot  be  discerned.

Means  or  Wasa’il
“Means”  or  wasa’il  only  arise  in  matters  which  are  not  ta‘abbudi,  as  the  cause  and  reason  behind  something  that  is  adopted  as  a  means  is,  by  definition,  understood.  Imam  al-Shatibi  explains  this  rule,  and  illustrates  it  with  the  following  example:

“If  there  was  someone  who  journeyed  towards  the  obligation  of  hajj  by  flying  in  the  air  or  walking  on  water,  he  will  not  be  regarded  as  a  person  of  bid‘ah  by  his  movement  in  this  way,  because  the  objective  is  only  to  arrive  at  Makkah  in  order  to  fulfil  the  obligation.” [Ibid. 1:331-2]

Thus,  the  aspect  of  “travel”  in  hajj  is  ‘adi  (non-ritualistic/explicable)  as  it  has  the objective  of  arrival  at  Makkah.  Therefore,  this  can  be  done  in  various  ways  that  are  used  to  achieve  this  underlying  goal,  and  will  not  be  regarded  as  bid‘ah.  Means  are,  thus,  in principle,  non-ritualistic.  Hence,  something  that  is  consciously  adopted  as  a  means  is  not classed  as  bid‘ah,  although  depending  on  its  nature  and  objective,  it  may  be  sinful  or blameworthy. 

An Example
As  a  simple  illustration  of  bid‘ah  in  ‘adiyyat,  al-Shatibi  discusses  the  following  example: 

If  someone  were  to  avoid  a  particular  lawful  food  item,  it  may  be  for  a  number  of reasons.  It  may  be  for  medical  purposes  or  due  to  personal  dislike  or  unavailability;  or  it may  be  that  there  is  some  doubt  over  its  lawfulness,  so  out  of  scrupulousness,  the person  chooses  to  avoid  it.  All  of  these  reasons  are  valid  because  they  are  either  worldly –  ‘adi  –  reasons  or  a  legitimate  Shar‘i  reason.

However,  if  the  person  were  to  avoid  it  ritualistically  or  religiously,  meaning,  for  no  other  reason  but  because  he  believed  that  by  avoiding  that  particular  food  item,  he  would  draw  closer  to  Allah  or  it  will  bring  him  reward  or  it  will  be  beneficial  for  his  afterlife  and  so  forth,  this  will  make  it  bid‘ah.  As al-Shatibi  says:  “If  the  omission  is  carried  out religiously,  that  is  innovation  in  religion.”  And  then  he  says reiterating  the  central  definition  of  bid‘ah  in  the  Shari‘ah:

“The  one  who  practises  something  besides  the  Sunnah religiously,  that  is  precisely  [the definition  of]  one  who  practises  bid‘ah .” [Al-I‘tisam, 1:54]

The  above  explanation  conveys  the  basic  understanding  of  bid‘ah.  What  remain  are  the proofs  for  this  conception  of  bid‘ah,  and  some  further  details.

Proofs  for  the  Definition  of  Bid‘ah
Imam  al-Shatibi  provides  extensive  textual  documentation  from  the  Qur’an,  Sunnah  and  sayings  of  the  early  Muslims  as  evidence  of  the  blameworthy  character  of  this  definition  of  bid‘ah  in  the  second  chapter  of  his  book,  but  I  will  suffice  with  a  small  selection  of  clear  texts  in  this  section  to  demonstrate  that  what  is  described  above  is  indeed  the  definition  of  bid‘ah.

Hadith  One
In  a  hadith  recorded  by  both  al-Bukhari  and  Muslim  in  their  Sahihs,  the  Prophet  (peace and  blessings  be  upon  him)  said: 

“Whoever  introduces  into  this  matter  of  ours  what  is  not  from it,  it  is  rejected.”  

Ibn  Rajab  al-Hanbali  wrote  in  his  commentary  of  al-Nawawi’s  collection  of  forty  hadiths, Jami‘  al-‘Ulum wa l-Hikam,  under  the  explanation  of  this  hadith:

“And  in  some  of  its  wordings,  ‘Whoever  introduces  into  this  religion  of  ours  what  is  not from  it,  it  is  rejected.’” [Jami‘  al-‘Ulum wa l-Hikam, p. 155] 

Thus,  the  meaning  of  “matter”  in  the  narration  is  “religion.”  Worldly  innovations,  therefore,  like  new  cities,  technologies  and  crafts  are  excluded,  as  these  are  mundane  activities  (‘adiyyat)  which  are  also  essentially  part  of  the  world.  It  is  this  that  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  referred  to  in  his  famous  statement  recorded  in  the Sahih  of  Imam  Muslim:  “You  are  more  learned  of  the  matters  of  your  world”,  which, based  on  the  context  in  which this  statement  was  said,  means:  in  those  things  that  are  permissible  (mubah)  in  the  religion,  which  are  based  on  experiment  and  experience,  like  medicine,  industry,  and  so  forth,  you  are  free  to  select  and  innovate  your  own  methods,  and  are  not  restricted  by  my  example. [al-Tariqat  al-Muhammadiyyah, p. 9]

Also  excluded  from  what  this  hadith  describes  are  new  acts  of  sin  which  are  in  clear violation  of  the  laws  prescribed  in  the  Shari‘ah,  like  theft  in  a new  way  (e.g.  credit  card  fraud);  as  these  fall  not  under  “innovations  in  religion”  but  direct  acts  of  violation,  unless they  are  consciously  adopted  as  religion.  Thus,  what  this  hadith  declares  as  “rejected”  is precisely  the  Shar‘i  definition  of  bid‘ah  described  earlier.

Hadith  Two
In  another  hadith,  narrated  with  an  authentic  chain  by  al-Tirmidhi,  Abu  Dawud  and others,  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  said:

“Hold  fast  to  my  Sunnah  and  the  Sunnah  of  the  rightly-guided  caliphs.  Bite  onto  them with  the  molar  teeth.  And  beware  of  newly  introduced  matters,  for  verily,  every  newly introduced  matter  is  bid‘ah  and  every  bid‘ah  is  misguidance.”  

“Matters”  in  this  narration  is  contrasted  with  the  Sunnah  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and blessings  be  upon  him)  and  his  successors,  Abu  Bakr,  ‘Umar,  ‘Uthman  and  ‘Ali  (may Allah  be  pleased  with  them  all).  “Sunnah”  in  its  Shar‘i  usage  means  “a path  adopted  in  the  religion”,  in  particular,  that  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon him)  and  his  righteous  successors,  Abu  Bakr,  ‘Umar,  ‘Uthman  and  ‘Ali  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them all). [Mulla Jiwan al-Siddiqi, Nur al-Anwar, 1:474-5]

Hence,  in  this  hadith  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  defined  bid‘ah  as  all  matters  of  religion  not  found  in  the  Sunnah,  precisely  the  Shar‘i  definition  explained  above.  Moreover,  in  this  hadith  he  censured  all  bid‘ahs,  without making  any  exception.

Statement  of  Imam  Malik
Imam al-Shatibi narrates in his book: 

Ibn  Habib  al-Maliki  (d.  238)  narrated:  Ibn  al-Majishun  (d.  214)  said:  I  heard  [Imam] Malik  (d.  179)  say:  “Whoever  innovates  into  Islam  a  bid‘ah  (innovation),  deeming  it  good ,  then  verily  he  has  claimed  that  Muhammad  (Allah  bless  him and  grant  him peace)  betrayed  the  role  of  Messenger,  because  Allah  says:  ‘Today  I  have  completed  for  you  your  religion.’  (5:3)  Thus,  whatever  was  not  religion  at  that  time,  is  not  religion  today .” [Al-I‘tisam 1:64]

Ibn  Habib  and  Ibn  al-Majishun  are  both  well-known  authorities  and  transmitters  of  the  Maliki  school.

In  another  version  of  this  statement,  Imam  Malik  begins  with:  “Whoever  innovates  into this  ummah  something  that  its  predecessors  were  not upon…” [Ibid. 2:306 ] 

As  clear  from  the  context  and   time  in  which  this  was  said,  “predecessors”  refers  to  the  Sahabah.  Thus,  all  religious  matters  innovated  after  the  Sahabah  are,  in  Malik’s  usage,  bid‘ah,  and  none  of  them  can  be  described  as  good.  Hence,  we  are  provided  with  a  very  clear  early  formulation  of  the  definition  of  bid‘ah.

Statement  of  Hudhayfah  ibn  al-Yaman
It  is  reported  from  the  Sahabi,  Hudhayfah  ibn  al-Yaman  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him):

“Every  ritual  the  companions  of  the  Messenger  of  Allah  (Allah  bless  him and  grant  him peace)  did  not  render  in  worship  [to  Allah],  do  not  render  it  in  worship  [to  Allah]  –  or  do not  innovate  it  –  for,  verily,  the  early  ones  did  not leave  any  voice  for  the  latter ones…Adopt  the  path  of  those  who  came  before  you.”  [Ibid. 3:53]

Statement  of  ‘Abd  Allah  ibn  Mas‘ud
Ibn  Mas‘ud  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him)  said:

“Follow,  and  do  not  innovate,  for  verily,  you  have  been  sufficed.”  [Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 1:434]

In  some  versions  there  is  the  addition,  “follow  our  footsteps” [Al-Bida‘ wa l-Nahy ‘anha, p. 17] 

Similar  pronouncements  can  be  found  in  Muhammad  ibn  Waddah’s  al-Bida‘  wa l-Nahy ‘anha  and  al-Shatibi’s  al-I‘tisam.

The  rationale  behind  the  latter  two  statements  is  the  following.  The  Sahabah  superseded  the  ummah  in  the  acquisition  of  virtue  and  reward.  Thus,  in  the  words  of  Ibn  Mas‘ud  their  example  is  sufficient  for  us.  Furthermore,  any  accretion  would  be  regarded  as  bid‘ah  as  it  would  be  to  claim  that  non-Sahabah  are  more  aware  of  religious  virtue  and  more  desirous  of  acting  upon  it  than  the  best  of  generations,  that  of  the  Sahabah.  This  is  why  Imam  Malik  is  reported  to  have  said  in  condemnation  of  bid‘ah:  “Do  you  think  the  people  today  are   more  desirous  of  virtue  than  those  who  have  passed?!”  [Al-I‘tisam, 2:276]

The  pious  ruler,  widely  regarded  as  the  reviver  of  the  first  Islamic  century,  ‘Umar ibn  ‘Abd  al-‘Aziz,  also  said  something  to  this  effect  in  a  statement  which  will  be  quoted  a  little  later.

Al-Shatibi’s  contemporary,  Hafiz  Ibn  Kathir  (d.  774),  expressed  this  principle  under  his explanation  of  verse  46:11  of  his  Qur’anic  commentary  as  follows: 

“As  for  the  Ahl  al-Sunnah  wal-Jama‘ah,  they  say  with  respect to  every  action  and  statement  [which  is  adopted  as  religion  or  is  ritualised],  not  established  from  the  Sahabah   (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them),  ‘It  is  bid‘ah,’  because  had  it  been  virtuous,  they  would  have  beaten  us  to  it,  since  they  did  not  leave  a  trait  from  the  traits  of  virtue  except  they  hastened  towards  it.”  [Tafsir  al-Qur’an  al-‘Azim, p.  1703] 

There  are,  thus,  a  number  of  clear  statements  from  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him),  the  Sahabah  and  the  early  Muslims  that  any  innovation  into  the  religion  after  the  Sahabah  equates  to  bid‘ah,  which  is  precisely  the  definition  of  bid‘ah  outlined  above.

Proofs for the Detestability of  Bid‘ah
There  are  many  strong  and  unequivocal  condemnations  of  bid‘ah  found  in  the  hadiths  and  statements  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  the  early  Muslims.  

Hadith  One
In  a  hadith  recorded  by  al-Bukhari  and  Muslim  in  their  Sahihs,  the  Prophet  (peace  and blessings  be  upon  him)  said: 

“Whoever  introduces  therein  an  innovation  or  shelters  an  innovator,  upon  him  is  the curse  of  Allah,  the  Angels  and  all  of  mankind.  Allah  will  accept  neither  a  compulsory  nor  a  voluntary  deed  from  him  on  the  Day  of  Resurrection.”  

Hadith  Two
In  a  hadith  recorded  in  Sahih  Muslim,  Jabir  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him)  narrates  that the  Prophet  (Allah  bless  him and  grant  him peace)  would  say in  his  sermons: 

“The  best  speech  is  the  Book  of  Allah  and  the  best  example  is  the  example  of  Muhammad.  The  worst  of  affairs  are  their  newly-invented  ones,  and  every  bid‘ah  is  misguidance.”  

In  imitation  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him),  Muslim  leaders  from  both early  and  later  times  repeat  this  formula  in  their  sermons.  

Statements  from the  Early  Muslims
Al-Lalaka’i,  Muhammad  ibn  Nasr  and  al-Bayhaqi  transmit  with  an  authentic  chain  from  ‘Abd  Allah  ibn  ‘Umar  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him):

“Every  bid‘ah  is  misguidance,  even  if  people  deem it  good.”  [Jalal  al-Din  al-Suyuti,  al-Amr  bi  l-Ittiba‘ wa l-Nahy ‘an al-Ibtida‘, p. 64]

This  shows  that  in  the  usage  of  Ibn  ‘Umar  there  is  no  situation  in  which  bid‘ah  can  be  good.  Hence,  whenever  it  is  conclusively  proven  that  a  certain  matter  described  as “bid‘ah”  is  good,  this  is  according  to  a  different  usage  of  the  term.

Al-Darimi  narrates  with  an  authentic  chain  from  the  eminent  Tabi‘i,  Hassan  ibn  ‘Atiyyah (d. 130):

“No  people  innovate  a  bid‘ah  into  their  religion,  except  Allah  removes  from  their  sunnahs  the  like  of  it,  and  then  He  will  not  return  it  to  them  till  the  Day  of  Resurrection.”

Note  the  explicit  usage  of  the  phrase  “in  their  religion,”  and  the  absence  of  any  exception,  supporting  the  conclusion  that  bid‘ah  in  the  Shari‘ah  refers  exclusively  to  religious  innovations  and  that  they  are  all  blameworthy  with  no  exception.

It  is  reported  from  the  famous  ascetic,  Fudayl  ibn  ‘Iyad  (107  –  187): 

“Whoever  sits  with  a  champion  of  bid‘ah,  he  will  not  be  given  wisdom.” [Al-I‘tisam 1:149]

It  is  clear  from  these  statements  that  bid‘ah  was  invariably  used  negatively  by  the  early  Muslims,  as  were  its  derivatives,  “ahl  al-bid‘ah,”  (people  of  bid‘ah)  “sahib  al-bid‘ah” (champion  of  bid‘ah)  and  “mubtadi‘”  (innovator).  Even  those  Muslims  today  who mistakenly  defend  the  view  that  bid‘ah  in  its  conventional  and  Shar‘i  usage  can  be  both praiseworthy  and  blameworthy  do  not  use  these  terms  positively.  This  is  a  clear  proof that  in  the  Muslim  conscience,  bid‘ah  has  always  been  thought  of  as  a  negative  principle  and  never  a  positive  one,  when  used  in  its  normal  context.  Whenever  bid‘ah  was  mentioned  by  the  early  Muslims  without  any  qualification,  it  was  the  Shar‘i  meaning  that  was intended.

Imam  al-Shatibi  collected  all  the  negative  consequences  of  bid‘ah  documented  in  the hadiths  and  statements  of  the  early  Muslims  with  their  original  references.  Some  of  these consequences  are  as  follows:  No  worship  will  be  of  benefit  for  the  practitioner  of  bid‘ah;  protection  is  removed  from  his  gatherings;  respect  for  him  helps  in  destroying  Islam;  he  is  cursed  by  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him);  he  grows  distant  from  Allah;  it  prevents  prophetic  intercession;  it  lifts  and  removes  the  blessed  sunnahs;  the  innovator  incurs  the  sin  of  those  who  imitate  him;  it  is  feared  that  he  will  be  deprived  of  repentance;  he  will  be  disgraced  and  incur  the  wrath  of  Allah;  he  will  be  removed  from  the  fountain  on  the  Day  of  Resurrection;  it  is  feared  he  will  be  counted  amongst  the  disbelievers  and  die  a  disbeliever;  his  face  will  be  blackened  on  the  Day  of  Resurrection and  he  will  be  punished  in  the  Fire;  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  disassociated  himself  from  him;  it  is  feared  he  will  be  punished  even  in  this  world,  let  alone  the  afterlife. [Ibid. 1:183]

All  this  –  and  more  –  is  clear  proof  that  bid‘ah,  in  its  popular,  generic,  Shar‘i  usage,  is  always  blameworthy,  and  as  the  statements  of  Ibn  ‘Umar  and  Imam  Malik  clearly  show, there  can  be  no  good  in  it.  Al-Shatibi  lists  several  principles  why  the  condemnations  of bid‘ah  must  be  understood  as  general  and  inclusive  without  any  exceptions.  Some  of  these  principles  are  as  follows:

1.  The  hadiths  condemning  bid‘ah  in  its  totality  are  frequent,  explicit  and  make  no exception.  When  explicit  and  general  texts  are  recurrent  in  this  manner,  a  principle  of  jurisprudence  states  that  it  must  be  accepted  at  face  value  and  may  not  be  restricted  or  qualified.

2.  The  early  Muslims  invariably  used  the  term  negatively,  as  they  did  “ahl  al-bid‘ah,”  “sahib  al-bid‘ah”  and  “mubtadi‘,”  which shows  that  these  terms  were  never  conceived  in  the  Muslim  conscience  as  having  any  goodness  in  them.  In  fact,  the prominent  Maliki  scholar,  al-Qarafi,  related  consensus  on  the  condemnation  of  bid‘ahs,  quoting  from  Ibn  Abi  Zayd  al-Qayranawi  and  others. [Al-I’tisam 1:313] 

Thus,  bid‘ah,  in  its  conventional usage,  must  be  blameworthy  in  totality  with  no  exception.

3.  In  its  conception,  bid‘ah  is  to  deem  something  good  in  religion  which  was  non-existent  in  the  early  period,  while  goodness  and  virtue  in  religion  is  only determined  by  revelation  to  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him),  and was  practised  and  observed  most  fervently  by  his  companions,  so  even  on  this rational  basis  alone,  no  bid‘ah  –  that  is,  religious  innovation  –  can  possibly  be  good.  

‘Umar  ibn  ‘Abd  al-‘Aziz  expressed  this  principle  as  follows,  as  transmitted  by  Ibn  Waddah:

“You  must  adhere  to  the  Sunnah,  because  it  is  a protection  for  you  by  the  permission  of  Allah.  And  know that  the  people  did  not innovate  a  bid‘ah  except  there  has  passed  before  it  that  which  is  a  proof  against  it  and  an  admonition  therein,  for  verily,  the  Sunnah  was  only  instituted  by  one  who  knew what  is  in  variation  from  it  of  error,  slip,  stupidity  and extremism.  So  be  content  for  yourself  with  what  the  people  [i.e.  the  Sahabah]  were  content  with  for  themselves,  for  they  are  the  foremost (Qur’an  9:110)…For,  if  guidance  was what  you  are  upon  then  you  have  beaten  them to  it …Whereas,  verily,  they  are  the foremost .  Indeed  they  have  spoken  on  it  with  what  suffices.” [I‘tisam 1:63-4]

Proofs for the Distinction between the Lexical and Shar‘i  Meanings of Bid‘ah
One  of  the  reasons  for  confusion  over  the  concept  of  bid‘ah  is  that  sometimes  bid‘ah  was  used  in  its  linguistic  meaning  by  the  early  Muslims.  I  will  present  two  well-known examples  of  this,  and  then  demonstrate  that  these  statements  must  be  understood unconventionally  and  linguistically.

Statement  of  ‘Umar
Al-Bukhari  narrates  in  his  Sahih  from  ‘Abd  al-Rahman  ibn  ‘Abd  al-Qari  that  he  said:  “I  went  out  with  ‘Umar  ibn  al-Khattab  (Allah  be  pleased  with  him)  on  a  night  of  Ramadan  to  the  mosque,  when  behold,  the  people  were  in  isolated  groups,  one  man  praying  on  his  own  and  another  leading  a  group  in  prayer.  So  ‘Umar  said:  ‘I  think  it  would  be  better  if  these  [separate  groups]  were  gathered  under  one  reciter.’  Then  he  made  a  resolve,  so  he gathered  them  under  Ubayy  ibn  Ka‘b.  Then  I came  out  with  him on  another  night,  while  their  reciter  led  the  people  in  prayer.  ‘Umar  said:  ‘A  blessed  bid‘ah  this  is!’.” [Fath  al-Bari 4:317-8]

To  understand  ‘Umar’s  usage  of  bid‘ah  in  this  sentence,  it  is  necessary  to  know  a  little  about  the  history  of  this  prayer.  Imam  al-Shatibi  quotes  from  Abu  Dawud’s  Sunan  from Abu  Dharr  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him)  that  he  said:  “We  fasted  with  the  Messenger of  Allah  (Allah  bless  him and  grant  him  peace)  during  Ramadan,  but  he  did  not  stand with  us  [in  prayer]  in  any  part  of  the  month  until  seven  [nights]  remained.  Then  he  stood  with  us  until  a third  of  the  night  had  passed.  When  the  sixth  [remaining  night]  came,  he  did  not  stand  with  us.  When  the  fifth  [remaining  night]  came,  he  stood  with  us  until  a  half  of  the  night  passed.  So  we  said,  ‘We  wish you  had  led  us  in  supererogatory  prayers  during  the  whole  of  tonight.’  He  said,  ‘When  a  man  prays  with  an  imam  until  he  leaves, he  is  reckoned  as  having  spent  a  whole  night  in  prayer.’  When  the  fourth  [remaining  night]  came  he  did  not  stand  with  us.  When  the  third  [remaining  night]  came,  he  gathered  his  family,  his  wives,  and  the  people  and  prayed  with  us  until  we  were  afraid  we  would  miss  success  (falah)  [meaning,  the  pre-dawn  meal  or  suhur].” [Al-I‘tisam, 1:324]  

Al-Shatibi  then  states:  “However,  when  he  (Allah  bless  him  and  grant  him  peace)  feared  it  would  become  obligatory  on  the  ummah  he  withheld  from  it.  Thus,  in  the  Sahih  [it  is  narrated]  from  ‘A’ishah  (Allah  be  pleased  with  her)  that  one  night  Allah’s  Messenger  (Allah  bless  him  and  grant  him  peace)  prayed  in  the  mosque  and  the  people  followed  him  in  prayer.  The  next  night  he  also  prayed  and  the  people  increased.  On  the  third  or  fourth  night  they  gathered,  but  Allah’s  Messenger  (Allah  bless  him  and  grant  him  peace)  did  not  come  out  to  them.  When  morning  came  he  said,  ‘I  saw  what  you  were  doing  and  nothing  but  the  fear  that  it  might  be  enjoined  on  you,  stopped  me  from  coming.’  And  that  was  in  the  month  of  Ramadan.” [Ibid. 1:324-5]

Al-Shatibi  goes  on  to  explain  that,  therefore,  the  reason  the  Prophet  (peace  and blessings  be  upon  him)  abstained  from  the  continued  practice  of  this  special  night  prayer  in  Ramadan  was  for  fear  that  revelation  will  make  it  incumbent  on  the  Muslims  if  they  were  to  observe  it  continuously.  With  the  demise  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be upon  him),  this  barrier  no  longer  remained  as  revelation  had  come  to  an  end.  Hence,  the  original  ruling  of  the  desirability  of  Tarawih  throughout  the  month  returned,  which  was  only  hampered  in  the  time  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  for  a  temporary  fear  that  ended  with  his  death.  Abu  Bakr  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him)  probably  did  not  attend  to  reviving  this  prayer  due  to  his  other  commitments  and  the  short  period  of  his  caliphate.  ‘Umar  referred  to  it  as  bid’ah  “by  consideration  of  the apparent  situation”,  from  the  perspective  that  Allah’s  Messenger  (Allah  bless  him  and   grant  him  peace)  eventually  left  it  out  and  it  so  happened  that  it  was  not  revived  as  a  continuous  practice  in  the  time  of  Abu  Bakr  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him),  not  that  it  is  bid’ah  in  the  real  sense. [Ibid. 1:326-7] 

This  is  therefore  an  example  of  bid‘ah  being  used  in  its  linguistic  meaning,  not  in  its  Shar‘i  meaning  of  an  actual  innovation  in  religion. Furthermore,  the  practices  of  the  righteous  caliphs  form  part  of  the  Sunnah  as  explicitly mentioned  in  hadith,  so  by  definition,  it  cannot  be  bid‘ah  in  its  Shar‘i  meaning.

Statement  of  al-Shafi‘i
Ibn  Rajab  al-Hanbali  writes  in  his  Jami‘  al-‘Ulum wa l-Hikam:

“Hafiz  Abu  Nu‘aym  narrated  with  his  chain  from  Ibrahim  ibn  Junayd:  Harmalah  ibn  Yahya narrated  to  us,  he  said:  I  heard  al-Shafi‘i  (Allah  have  mercy  on  him)  say:  ‘Bid‘ah  is  two  bid‘ahs:  praiseworthy  bid‘ah  and  blameworthy  bid‘ah.  Thus,  whatever  agrees  with  the Sunnah,  it  is  praiseworthy  and  whatever  conflicts  with  the  Sunnah,  it  is  blameworthy.’  And  he  adduced  as  evidence  the  statement  of  ‘Umar:  ‘What  an  excellent  bid‘ah  this  is!’” [Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa l-Hikam, p. 600]

It  should,  firstly,  be  noted  that  this  statement  of  Imam al-Shafi‘i  is  irreconcilable  with Imam  Malik’s  earlier  statement  that  there  can  be  no  good  in  bid‘ah  if  we  suppose  they meant  the  same  thing  by  the  word  “bid‘ah.”  (Imam  Malik  was senior  to  al-Shafi‘i,  and amongst  his  teachers.)  It  must,  therefore,  be  the  case  that  they  used  bid‘ah  in  different ways.  Al-Shafi‘i  used  it  linguistically  as  proven  by  his  citation  of  the  statement  of  ‘Umar  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him).  His  usage  of  bid‘ah  here  was  linguistic,  and  inclusive  of  religious  and  worldly  innovations;  whereas,  Malik  used  it  in  its  Shar‘i  usage.  It  is  due  to  this  irreconcilability  if  a  uniform  meaning  of  the  word  “bid‘ah”  is  assumed  that  the  distinction  between  a  lexical  and  Shar‘i  definition  of  bid‘ah  is  necessary.  Without  this distinction,  it  would  not  be  possible  to  reconcile  such  apparently  conflicting  statements.

Moreover,  it  is  clear  from  al-Shafi‘i’s  methodology  that  he  disallows  innovation  in  religion. Thus,  bid‘ah  in  its  Shar‘i  meaning,  i.e.  innovations  introduced  into  religion  (even  if  there  is  no  direct  opposition  to  the  Sunnah)  is  unanimously  rejected.  Ibn  Hajar  al-‘Asqalani wrote: 

“Al-Shafi‘i  replied  to  the  statement  of  the  one  who  says  nothing  of  the  House  is abandoned  [so  we  ought  to  salute  all  four  corners  of  the  Ka‘bah]  that  we  do  not  omit salutation  of  the  two  corners  in  abandonment  of  the  house  –  and  how  is  it  being  abandoned  when  the  Tawaf  includes  them?  –  but  we  follow the  Sunnah,  both  in  performance  and  in  omission …” [Fath al-Bari, 3:599]

It  is  clear  from  this  statement  that  al-Shafi‘i  did  not  allow accretions  of  a  religious  nature to  what  is  established  in  the  Sunnah. 

Statements of Major Scholars Major  pre-modern  scholars  besides  al-Shatibi  explained  the  distinction  between  the  lexical  and  Shar‘i  meanings  of  bid‘ah.  Three  of  them  are  quoted  below.

Ibn  Kathir  (d.  774  H)  wrote  in  his  commentary  of  verse  2:117  of  the  Qur’an: 

“Bid‘ah  is  of  two  types:  sometimes  it  is  Shar‘i  bid‘ah,  like  his  (Allah  bless  him  and  grant  him  peace)  statement:  ‘For  indeed  every  innovation  is  bid‘ah  and  every  bid‘ah  is misguidance,’  and  sometimes  it  is  linguistic  bid‘ah  like  the  statement  of  the  Commander of  the  Believers,  ‘Umar  ibn  al-Khattab  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him),  about  his  unification  of  them  on  the  Tarawih  prayer  and  their  continuous  [practice  of  it]:  ‘An  excellent  bid‘ah  this  is!’” [Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, p. 191]

Ibn  Hajar  al-‘Asqalani  (d.  852  H)  said: 

“As  for  ‘bida‘,’  it  is  the  plural  of  ‘bid‘ah,’  which  is  everything  that  has  no  precedent  that came  before  [it].  Thus,  linguistically,  it  includes  that  which  is  praised  and  dispraised.  And in  the  convention  of  the  Shari‘ah  it  is  specified  to  what  is  dispraised;  and  if  it  is  used  in  a  praiseworthy  matter,  that  is  according  to  its  linguistic  meaning.” [Fath al-Bari, 13:340]

Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795 H) said: 

“Thus,  all  who  innovate  something  and  attribute  it  to  the  religion,  and  it  has  no  basis  in the  religion  to  which it  is  referred,  it  is  misguidance,  and  the  religion  is  free  from  it.  The  matters  of  belief,  actions  and  outward  and  inward  speech  are  equal  in  this.  As  for  what  has  occurred  in  the  speech  of  [some  of  the]  Salaf  in  deeming  some  ‘bid‘ahs’  good,  that  is  only  linguistic  bid‘ahs  not  Shar‘i  bid‘ah” [Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa l-Hikam, p. 597]

Similar  statements  distinguishing  the  lexical  and  Shar‘i  meanings  of  bid‘ah  can  be  found  in  the  writings  of  Muhammad  al-Birgivi  (d.  981  H),  Ibn  Hajar  al-Haythami  (d.  974 H)  and  many  scholars  of  the  later  period.  Al-Shatibi’s  extensive  scholarly  treatment  of  the  texts  of  the  Shari‘ah  and  the  usage  of  the  term  by  the  early  Muslims  conclusively demonstrates  the  true  nature  of  bid‘ah  in  the  Shari‘ah,  so  if  used  otherwise  it  is  either  as  a metaphor  or  due  to  ignorance  of  the  reality  of  bid‘ah. [Al-I‘tisam, 1:45]

Answering Objections
Some  people  contend  that  the  condemnation  of  religious  innovations  is  restricted  to those  innovations  that  directly  clash  with  the  Shari‘ah.  Otherwise,  they  are  not blameworthy,  and  in  fact  may be  permissible  or  even  recommended.  Al-Shatibi  answers  their  doubts  in  the  third  chapter  of  his  book.  Three  of  their  most  commonly  used  evidences  will  be  presented  below  followed  by  their  replies: 

Hadith  of  Jarir  ibn  ‘Abd  Allah  al-Bajali
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said as recorded in Sahih Muslim: 

“Whoever  institutes  a  good  sunnah,  he  will  have  its  reward  and  the  reward  of  those  who practise  it,  and  that  will  not  decrease  from  their  rewards  in  the  least.  And  whoever institutes  a  bad  sunnah,  he  will  have  its  sin  and  the  sins  of  those  who  practise  it,  and  that  will  not  decrease  from  their  sins  in  the  least.”  

The  proponents  of  the  view that  innovations  in  religion  need  not  be  blameworthy  or discouraged  argue  that  this  hadith  proves  that  not  only  can  a  new  practice  that  is introduced  into  religion  be  good  but  may  also  be  the  cause  of  an  immense  amount  of  reward.

The  reply  to  this  argument  is  that  this  conclusion  is  contradicted  by  the  context  in  which  this  statement  was  said. [Ibid. 1:304] 

The  full  context  as  narrated  by  Jarir  ibn  ‘Abd  Allah  al-Bajali  is that  a  group  of  people  came  to  the  Prophet  (Allah  bless  him and  grant  him  peace)  dressed  in  wool,  and  they  were  desperately  in  need.  He,  therefore,  invited  the  people  to spend  in  charity,  upon  which  a man  emptied  a  purse  of  silver  and  others  followed  suit.  It  was  then  that  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  made  this  statement.

Sadaqah  (charity)  is  established  in  the  Shari‘ah  and  from  the  Sunnah,  but  one  particular aspect  of  it  was  not  being  practised.  Furthermore,  voluntary  charity  is  not  restricted  to  any  ritualistic  (ta‘abbudi)  law,  as  its  purpose  –  which  is  to  alleviate  suffering  –  is  understood  and  is  comprehensible.  Hence,  the  hadith  does  not  refer  to  inventing  something  new  into  the  religion,  but  about  applying  an  ‘adi  law  to  a  situation  that demanded  it.  Mufti  Taqi  Usmani  writes  in  his  commentary  of  this  hadith:  

“This  is  with  respect  to  what  is  established  as  being  good  from  the  Qur’an  and  Sunnah, but  the  people  have  left  it  or  they  have  not  attended  to  one  of  its  aspects,  as  has  occurred  here,  since  the  virtue  of  charity  is  established  from  the  Qur’an  and  Sunnah,  but  the  one  who  attended  to  this  particular  cause  and  produced  charity  first,  inviting  others  to  it,  attained  this  virtue.  As  for  what  is  not  established  as  a righteous  deed  from  the  Qur’an  or  the  Sunnah,  inventing  such  a  deed  is  innovation  that  has  no  connection  to  this  hadith.” [Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim, 5:407]

Furthermore,  it  should  be  noted  that  “sunnah”  in  this  hadith  is  used  in  its  linguistic meaning  of  “path,”  “way”  and  “method,”  which  can  be  both  good  and  bad  as  described  in the  hadith.  However,  according  to  its  Shar‘i  meaning  –  which  is  its  dominant  usage  amongst Muslims  –  it  refers  to  the  religious  example  set  for  us  by  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  his  closest  companions,  and  thus  can  only  be  positive.

The Innovations of the Early Muslims
The  proponents  of  the  view that  religious  innovations  may  be  good  contend,  secondly,  that  the  Sahabah  and  early  Muslims  introduced  many  innovations  in  religion,  including  the  compilation  of  the  Qur’an  and  writing  down  knowledge.  Thus,  they  argue,  if  inventing  new  practices  in  religion  is  for  a  good  purpose,  it  is  praiseworthy.

The  answer  to  this  is  that  these  are  not  bid‘ah,  as  they  are  innovations  in  ‘adi  matters. These  particular  examples  fall  under  what  al-Shatibi  refers  to  as  al-masalih  al-mursalah (unspecified  benefits).  There  are  two  major  differences  between  these  acts  introduced  by the  Sahabah  and  the  early  Muslims  and  what  is  regarded  as  bid‘ah  in  the  Shari‘ah:

1.  The  basis  of  these  innovations  is  understood  and  comprehensible.  In  other  words  they  are  ma‘qul al-ma‘na  or  ‘adi, and  are  not  ta‘abbudi.

2.  They  are  adopted  as  means  and  not  as  ends,  based  on  the  principle  that  “whatever  an  obligation  is  not  complete  without,  that  itself  is  obligatory.”  

A  group  of  the  Sahabah  compiled  the  Qur’an  into  one  volume  in  the  time  of  Abu  Bakr (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him)  for  fear  that  the  Qur’an  will  be  lost  if  left  to  oral  transmission  alone  as  many  of  the  memorisers  of  the  Qur’an  died  in  battle.  Thus,  for  the  purpose  of  hifz al-shar‘  (preserving  the  Shari‘ah),  the  Sahabah  undertook  this  action.  Hifz al-shar‘  is  something  the  purpose  of  which  can  be  comprehended,  and  it  can  be  practised  in  a  variety  of  different  ways,  depending  on  the  situation  and  on  the  resources  that  are  available.  Furthermore,  its  basis  can  also  be  traced  to  tabligh  al-shar‘ (conveying  the  Shari‘ah),  which  is  from  the  established  teachings  of  the  Qur’an  and  Sunnah.  This  is  also  a  non-ritualistic  (‘adi)  instruction,  as  its  purpose  –  that  is,  to  facilitate  the  message  reaching  others  –  is  understood.  The  same  reasoning  also  applies  to  compiling  knowledge. [al-I‘tisam 3:12-7]

In  sum,  these  “innovations”  were  not  in  ta‘abbudi  matters,  and  therefore  do  not  fall  under  the  meaning  of  bid‘ah  as  intended  in  the  Shari‘ah.  A  clear  indication  of  this  is  that  they  were  adopted  as  means  (wasa’il)  and  not  as  ends  in  themselves  which  is  the  nature of  bid‘ah.

The Scholars’ Division of Bid‘ah into Good and Bad
A  third  proof  presented  by  the  proponents  of  the  view  that  religious  innovation  may  be good  is  that  certain  major  scholars  divided  bid‘ah  into  the  five  juridical  categories,  namely,  fard,  mustahabb/mandub,  mubah,  makruh and  haram.  Al-Shatibi  discusses  the  statements  of  two  prominent  scholars:  al-Qarafi  (d.  684)  and  his  teacher  ‘Izz  al-Din  ibn ‘Abd  al-Salam  (d.  660),  as  both  were  major  scholars  of  usul  al-fiqh.  He  demonstrates  that  there  is  clear  inconsistency  in  their  exposition  of  bid‘ah  which  comes  down  to  a  conflation  of  the  literal  and  Shar‘i  meanings  of  the  word.  I  will  summarise  some  of  his  conclusions  below.

It  should  be  noted  that  al-Qarafi  imitated  ‘Izz  al-Din  ibn  ‘Abd  al-Salam  in  this categorisation,  and  it  is  clear  al-Qarafi  did  not  make  any  distinction  between  a  literal definition  of  bid‘ah  and  a  Shar‘i  definition.  It  appears  that  to  him  they  are  both  the  same. 

Both  al-Qarafi  and  al-‘Izz  state  that  the  method  of  identifying  the  ruling  of  an  innovation (bid‘ah)  is  to  subject  it  to  the  laws  and  principles  of  the  Shari‘ah.  [Al-I‘tisam 1:319] 

Thus,  if  the  laws  prove  that  an  innovation  is  wajib  it  is  wajib,  or  if  they  prove  that  it  is  haraam  it  is  haraam  and  so  forth.  Al-Shatibi’s  first  point  in  response  is  that  if  something  is  proven  to  be  makruh  or  haraam,  they  are  classed  as  direct  violations  and  not  bid‘ah  in  religion.

More  importantly  however,  al-Qarafi,  one  of  the  major  scholars  who  promoted  this  view,  falls  into  a  contradiction  when  he  says:  “The  scholars  (al-ashab)  as  far  as  I  have  seen  are agreed  on  condemning  bid‘ah.” [Al-I‘tisam 1:313] 

Quoting  Ibn  Abi  Zayd  (d.  386), the  prominent  Maliki  jurist,  and  others,  but  then  says:  “The  truth  is  that  it  is  divided  into  five  types,” [ibid]  which  if  taken  literally  would  imply  al-Qarafi  is  openly  violating  the  consensus he  himself  transmitted!  Al-Shatibi  takes  al-Qarafi  to  task  for  this  and  states  he  clearly  “violated  consensus.” [Ibid. 1:322]

A  second  inconsistency  in  al-Qarafi’s  discussion  on  bid‘ah  is  where  he  states:  “If  it  [i.e. bid‘ah]  is  considered  in  a  general  sense,  in  terms  of  it  being  an  innovation  (bid‘ah),  and  ignoring  anything  that  requires  it,  it  is  detested;  for  verily,  all  good  is  in  imitation  and  all  evil  in  innovation ” [Ibid.  1:319] 

Al-Shatibi  points  out  that  this  is  incongruent  with  his  earlier  exposition  as  it  would  imply  a combination  of  two  conflicting  rulings  in  some  matters,  that  of  detestability  and of  obligation.  However,  this  difficulty  is  avoided  if  we  simply  make  the  distinction between  the  lexical  and  Shar‘i  meanings  of  bid‘ah  as  outlined  earlier.

In  examining  ‘Izz  al-Din  ibn  ‘Abd  al-Salam’s  statement,  al-Shatibi  observes  that  the examples  of  “obligatory”  innovations  he  produced  fall  under  the  category  of  al-masalih al-mursalah  explained  above,  which,  he  states,  al-‘Izz  mistook  as  bid‘ah  because  of  their  absence  in  those  specific  forms  in  the  earlier  period.  Al-Shatibi  also  inspects  some  of  the  other  examples  he  uses.  I  will  look  at  a  few  representative  examples  below.

In  the  examples  of  mandub,  al-‘Izz  includes  the  Tarawih  prayer  which  was  examined  earlier  in  the  discussion  of  ‘Umar’s  statement,  “An  excellent  bid‘ah  this  is!”

Al-‘Izz  also  refers  to  Islamic  schools  (madrasahs)  as  an  example  of  mandub  bid‘ahs.  The  reply  to  this  is  that  building  madrasahs  is  not  based  on  a  ta‘abbudi  (ritualistic)  rule,  and is  therefore  not  bid‘ah.  Madrasahs  are  built  with  the  objective  of  conveying  knowledge,  an  important  injunction  of  the  Shari‘ah.  Conveying  knowledge  has  a  comprehensible  purpose  which  is  to  pass  on  the  inherited  sciences  of  the  religion  to  those  who  are  ignorant  of  them,  hence  this  is  an ‘adi  ruling.  It  is  known  that  in  order  to  convey  knowledge  it  is  more  effective  to  have  the  equipments,  books,  instruction  manuals,  instructors  and  students  in  one  place.  And  since  a  madrasah  facilitates  the  interaction  of  all  of  these  things,  it  follows  that  it  is  sensible  to  build  one.  Al-Shatibi  does  however  make  a  caveat,  that  madrasahs  would  be  bid‘ah  in  one  of  two  situations:  

It  would  be  bid‘ah  if  transferring  knowledge  in  the  time  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and blessings  be  upon  him)  and  his  illustrious  companions  was restricted  ritualistically  to  one place.  But  this  is  not  so,  as  we  find  examples  in  their  lifetimes,  of  knowledge  being  taught  in  houses,  markets,  mosques,  during  a  journey  etc.  

Secondly,  if  it  is  believed  madrasahs  are  the  only  place  where  knowledge  can  be  acquired  as  a  religious  conviction,  and  they  are  ritualistically  adopted  in  this  way,  that  would  then  make  them  bid‘ah.  However,  it  is  generally  the  case  that  people  are  not  susceptible  to  the  misunderstanding  that  madrasahs  are  literally  something  that  originates  in  the  example  of  the  early  generations,  because  the  reason  for  constructing  them  (i.e.  the  facilitation  of  instruction)  is  understood  and  comprehensible  to  the  general  mind.  Therefore  it  is  a completely  ‘adi  –  non-ritualistic  –  matter,  and  there  is  little  danger  of  it  becoming  ta‘abbudi  in  the  minds  of  some.  (The  issue  of  a  fear  of  something  being  interpreted  by  the  common  people  as  a  ta‘abbudi  restriction  will  be  discussed  later.)

Al-‘Izz  also  mentioned  “every  act  of  kindness  without  precedent  in  the  first  era.”  as  an  example  of  a  bid‘ah  that  is  mandub.  Al-Shatibi  replies  that  this example  requires  making  the  following  distinctions:

1.  If  the  “act  of  kindness”  is  limited  by  a  ta‘abbudi  restriction,  as  for  example  in Zakah  and  Sadaqat al-Fitr,  a  change  will  certainly  constitute  bid‘ah.

2.  If  there  is  no  ta‘abbudi  restriction  in  “the  act  of  kindness,”  it  would  fall  under  the  general  order  in  the  Qur’an  and  Sunnah  to  be  good  and  kind  to  others.  And  since “kindness”  and  “being  charitable”  is  a  principle  that  is  comprehensible  and explicable,  this  command  can  be  enacted  in  unprecedented  ways.  However,  al-Shatibi  says,  there  are  two  conditions  to  this:  First,  the  normal  rules  of  the  Shari‘ah  apply,  that  the  wealth  is  lawful,  the  charity  is  not  followed  up  by  injury (adha)  and  so  on;  second,  that  there  is  no  insistence  on  a  specific  form  that  gives  the  impression  that  particular  form  is  established  from  the  Sunnah,  for  example,  always  giving  charity  publicly  on  a  particular  day  with  no  ‘adi  reason.  Since  this  gives  the  impression  of  an  innovated  ta‘abbudi  restriction,  it  would  be  cautioned  against  due  to  imitation  of  bid‘ah.  This  will  be  discussed  in  more  detail  below  under  the section  of  relative  bid‘ah.  Of  course,  if  there  is  an  actual  belief  of  a  ta‘abbudi restriction,  that  would  fall  under  the  literal  definition  of  bid‘ah. [Al-I‘tisam 1:347-8]

As  an  example  of  bid‘ah  that  is  mubah,  al-Izz  cites  handshaking  after  Fajr  and  ‘Asr,  which  was  a  common  practice  in  his  time.  Al-Shatibi  replies  that  if  handshaking  after  these  two  prayers  is  not  done  with  the  intention  that  there  is  a  religious  connection  between  handshaking  and  those  prayers  it  will  certainly  not  be  a  “true  bid‘ah”  in  the  way  described  above.  However,  with  persistence  on  it  will  become  a  type  of  bid‘ah  referred  to  as  “relative  bid‘ah,”  that  is,  a  practice  in  which  there  is  a  fear  that  by  persistence  on  it,  it  will  eventually  be  added  to  the  prayers,  the  reason  being  that there  is  no  overtly ‘adi  reason  for  this  specific  practice.  This  principle  will  be  discussed  below  under  the  section  of  relative  bid‘ah.

Moreover,  this  is  an  example  of  where  ‘Izz  al-Din  ibn  ‘Abd  al-Salam  contradicts  himself.  When  he  was  asked  specifically  about  this  practice,  of  shaking  hands  after  Fajr  and  ‘Asr,  he  said  in  his  Fatawa:  “Shaking  hands  after  Fajr  and  ‘Asr  is  from  the  bid‘ahs,  except  for  one  who  arrives  [from  a  journey  at  that  time]…”.  He  goes  on  to  explain  that  this  is  not  from  the  example  of  the  Prophet  (Allah  bless  him  and  grant  him  peace)  and  “all  good  is  in  imitation  of  the  Messenger.” [Kitab al-Fatawa, p. 46-7]

The  Nature  of  the  Evidences  Furnished  by  the  People  of  Bid‘ah
People  who  engage  in  bid‘ah  do  not  recognise  what  they  do  as  bid‘ah.  On  the  contrary,  by  definition,  the  practitioner  of  bidah  believes  what  he  is  engaged  in  to  be  praiseworthy and  established  in  the  religion.  Thus,  they  will  invariably  furnish  “proofs”  for  their  bid‘ahs  from  the  sources  of  the  Shari‘ah.  Al-Shatibi  devotes  an  entire  chapter  to  explaining  the  kinds  of  proof  presented  by  the  people  of  bid‘ah.  He  shows  that  there  is  always  a progression  from  personal  whim and  opinion  to  seeking  out  the  evidence,  as  opposed  to allowing  the  evidences  to  explain  themselves  based  on  the  understanding  of  the  earlier generations.  The  primary  distinguishing  characteristic  of  the  evidences  they  supply  is that  they  are  always  unclear  (mutashabih).  An  example  he  gives  is  the  bid‘ah  of  the Mu‘tazilah  of  their  belief  that  the  Qur’an  is  created,  as  opposed  to  the  belief  of  the  Ahl  al-Sunnah  that  it  is  uncreated.  They  quote  the  verse,  “Allah  is  the  Creator  of  all  things,” (39:62)  as  proof  of  this  claim,  which  is  an  unclear  form  of  evidence.  [Al-I‘tsam 2:44]

Al-Shatibi  explains  that  on  such  shaky  grounds,  anyone  can  support  any  conclusion  they  like  from  the  scriptural  texts.  For  example,  a  Christian  can  take  support  from  the  verse, “And  His  word  that  He  cast upon  Maryam,”  (4:100)  as  proof  that  ‘Isa  (peace  be  upon him)  is  a  partner  with  Allah  (Great  and  Glorious  is  He). [Al-I‘tsam 2:124] 

He  further  says:  “Likewise,  it  is possible  for  every  person  who  follows  the  ambiguous  evidences  or  distorts  the applications  [of  the  evidences]  or  interprets  verses  in  a  way they  were  not  understood  by the  pious  Salaf  or  holds  fast  to  weak  hadiths  or  takes  evidences  on  face  value  to  draw  support  for  every  action,  statement  or  belief  that  agrees  with  his  objective  from  a  verse or  hadith  that  did  not  intend  that  at all.  The  proof  for  this  is  that  every  sect  that  has become  famous  for  its  heresy  (bid‘ah)  draws  support  from verses  or  hadiths.” [Ibid. 2:125]  

I  will  take  a  look  at  some  of  these  invalid  arguments  which are  used  by  the  people  of bid‘ah  in  the  section  on  “examples”  below.

True Bid‘ah and Relative Bid‘ah
In  the  fifth  chapter  of  al-I‘tisam,  al-Shatibi  discusses  an  important  categorisation  of bid‘ah  which  was  alluded  to  earlier.  Bid‘ah  –  in  its  Shar‘i  usage  –  divides  into  two  types: bid‘ah  haqiqiyyah  and bid‘ah  idafiyyahBid‘ah  haqiqiyyah  (true  bid‘ah)  is  bid‘ah  as explained  above.

Bid‘ah  idafiyyah  (relative  bid‘ah)  is  a  kind  of  innovation  that  was  also  regarded  as  “bid‘ah”  by  the  early  Muslims.  In  its  basic  conception,  it  is  a  matter  that  consists  of  two  elements:  one  that  is  established  in  the  Shari‘ah  and  a  second  element  that  is  innovation.  That  is,  its  specific  procedure,  conditions,  details  and  times  are  not proven  in  the  Shari‘ah,  though  they  are  required  as  these  specifications  are  performed  in  such  a  way  as  to  give  the  impression  that  they  are  part  of  religion.  This  is  best  demonstrated  by  means  of  examples:

Voluntary  (nafl)  practices  like  dhikr,  optional  prayer  and  optional  fasts  are  recommended and  praiseworthy,  and  these  voluntary  acts  of  worship  have  the  inherent  property  of “flexibility”  (tawsi‘ah).  If  one  performs  voluntary  worship  (i.e.  recitation  of  Qur’an,  dhikr, supplication,  fasting  and  prayers)  with  a  sequence  or  number  that  is  not  exactly established  from  the  Sunnah,  even  with  continuity  (dawam),  that  individual  is  acting  within  the  remits  of  the  flexibility  allowed  for  by  the  voluntary  nature  of  these  acts  of  worship.  This  is  as  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  said  in  a  hadith  recorded  by  al-Bukhari  and  Muslim  in  their  Sahihs: “You  should  do  [voluntary]  deeds  as  much  as   you  are  able”  which  he  said  specifically  in  the  context  of voluntary  prayer  performed  by  an  individual  with  continuity.  This  is  of  course  with  the condition  that  this  prayer  does  not  adversely  affect  one’s  self  or  his  responsibilities  to  others,  as  explicitly  mentioned  in  the  hadiths.

Voluntary  worship  was  originally  intended  to  be  performed  in  isolation,  not  in  public.  Thus,  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  said:  “The  best  of  your  prayer  is  in your  homes  except  the  prescribed  prayers.”  Thus,  in  the  early  period,  voluntary  worship  was  not  done  publicly  except  rarely,  unlike  wajib  and  sunnah prayers  (e.g.  ‘Id  and  Tarawih  prayers).  If,  however,  a particular  form  of  optional  worship  is  done  with  insistence  (iltizam)  and  continuity  (mudawamah)  publicly,  it  will  become  what  is  known  as  “bid‘ah  idafiyyah”  (relative  bid‘ah),  even  if  the  person  doing  it  does  not  have  the  intention  of  specifying  that  act  to  that  form  and  time.  The  reason  for  this  is  that  those  acts  that  are  performed  in  this  way  –  i.e.  specific  forms  of  worship  done  in  public  –  are  precisely  how  the  early  Muslims would  practise  sunnah  and  wajib  acts.  Thus,  an  impression  may  easily  be  created  that  the  voluntary  act  is  sunnah  or  wajib,  which  if  in  fact  believed  would  make  it  a  “true  bid‘ah”  (bid‘ah  haqiqiyyah);  but  if  only  the  impression  is  created  and  the  public  are  made  susceptible  to  that  belief,  it  would  be  counted  as bid‘ah  idafiyyah. [ibid. 2:232-5 ]

This  is  why  the  Sahabah  left out  acts  that  are  originally  permissible  for  fear  of  it  being treated  as  sunnah.  For  example,  ‘Umar  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him)  forbade  the  people  from  following  the  traces  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and searching  for  places  where  he  prayed,  as  recorded  in  the  Musannaf  of  ‘Abd  al-Razzaq. [Ibid. 2:236]

However,  if  one  were  to  do  this  merely  as  an  expression  of  love  or  longing  for  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him),  and  not  as  a  sunnah  act,  it  would  certainly  be  permissible  and  not  bid‘ah.  But  ‘Umar  forbade  it  for  fear  of  it  being  treated  as  a  sunnah.  After  listing  a  number  of  other  examples,  al-Shatibi  states: “And  all  of  this  is  a  path  to  not treating  what  is  not  sunnah  as  sunnah.”  [Ibid. 2:237]

An  example  from  the  teachings  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  is  the hadith  recorded  in  the  Sahihs  of  al-Bukhari  and  Muslim:   

“None  of  you  should  fast  one  or  two  days  before  Ramadan.”

One  of  the  reasons  given  for  this  by  the  commentators  is  that  there  is  a  fear  of  such voluntary  fasts  being  joined  to  the  obligatory  fast,  so  people  may  begin  to  believe  that  these  voluntary  fasts  are  also  obligatory. 

After  explaining  a  number  of  examples,  al-Shatibi  puts  down  a  basic  statement  defining  this  principle: 

“Every  action  the  basis  of  which  is  established  in  the  Shari‘ah  but  in  publicising  its practice  or  maintaining  continuity  therein  is  feared  that  it  will  be  believed  that  it  is sunnah,  it  is  required  that  it  be  totally  abandoned  as  a  path  to  blocking  the  means.” [Ibid. 2:333]

From the  definition,  it  is  clear  that  the  principle  is  subjective,  as  it  is  contingent  on  a  “fear.”  If  what  is  feared  is  actualised  in  some  of  the  common  people,  there  is  no  doubt the  bid‘ah  would  be  true  bid‘ah  (bid‘ah  haqiqiyyah)  for  those  individuals,  and  bid‘ah  idafiyyah  for  those  who  persist  on  it  without  that  belief.  Additional  specifications  in  the performance  of  a  voluntary  act,  like  doing  so  in  congregation,  out  in  public,  with  continuity,  and  under  people  who  are  followed  as  religious  authorities,  combine  to  make  a  voluntary  action  bid‘ah  idafiyyah,  unless  there  is  a  very  clear  ‘adi  reason  for  doing  so  (As  discussed  earlier  in  the  example  of  madrasah).

The  reason  is  that  it  is  easy  to  see  how  laypeople  will  begin  to  believe  what  is  not  sunnah  or  wajib  as  being  sunnah  or  wajib. In  sum,  “bid‘ah  idafiyyah”  can  be  understood  as  behaving  in  the  way  a  person  advocating  “true  bid‘ah”  would  behave,  as  an  individual  normally  will  only  insist  and  persist  publicly  on  a  non-sunnah  act  in  a  very  specific  way  if  he  believes  it  to  be  sunnah.

Below  I  will  look  at  a  few examples  where  bid‘ah  idafiyyah  was  censured  by  the  early  Muslims  and  in  the  statements  of  later  jurists. 

Ibn  Waddah  narrates  from  al-Sha‘bi  that  ‘Umar  ibn  al-Khattab  would  beat  those  who  openly  fasted  the  entire  month  of  Rajab.  Ibn  Waddah  explained:  “Its  purpose  is  for  fear that  they  would  adopt  it  as  a  sunnah  just  like  Ramadan.” [Ibn Waddah, p. 51]

If  a  person  fasts  the  entire  month  of  Rajab  as  his  private  practice,  that  would  fall  under the  general  recommendation  of  optional  fasts  (unless  it  adversely  affects  his  other obligations).  However,  if  a group  did  this  publicly,  there  is  an  imminent  fear  of  it  being treated  as  sunnah.  Since  this  group  fasted  the  entire  month  of  Rajab  openly  (and  the narration  mentions  that  they  were  known  by  the  collective  title  “Rajabiyyun”),  ‘Umar  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him)  forbade  them  from  doing  so  as  it  may  lead  to  true  bid‘ah.

Ibn  Waddah  narrates  from Khalid  al-Ashajj:

“We  were  in  the  mosque  of  Madinah  and  a  storyteller  told  us  tales,  and  he  began  to select  the  verses  of  prostration  from  the  Qur’an  and  prostrate  and  we  prostrated  with  him. Then  an  old  man  emerged  and  he  opposed  us,  saying:  ‘If  you  are  on  something,  verily  you  are  superior  to  the  companions  of  the  Messenger  of  Allah  (Allah  bless  him  and  grant  him peace).’  We  inquired  about  him, and  we  said,  ‘Who  is  this  old  man?’  They  said,  ‘It  is  ‘Abd  Allah  ibn  ‘Umar.’” [Ibid. p. 29]

Reading  the  verses  of  prostration  and  prostrating  upon  doing  so  is  established  in  the  Sunnah.  However,  specifying  them  for  recitation  and  then  doing  that  in  congregation  creates  the  impression  that  this  procedure  is  sunnah,  even  if  it  is  not  believed  so.  Hence, the  act  is  not  “true  bid‘ah”  but  “relative  bid‘ah”  and  was  condemned  by  Ibn  ‘Umar  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him).

Al-Darimi  narrates  in  his  Sunan  with  a  good  chain  that  a  group  of  Muslims  would  perform  dhikr  in  a  particular  way,  with  the  head  of  the  circle  instructing  the  people  to  recite  certain  numbers  of  different  forms  of  dhikr.  Ibn  Mas‘ud  condemned  them, saying:

“These  are  the  companions  of  your  Prophet  widely-available…By  the  One  in  Whose  hand  is  my  soul,  indeed  you  are  on  a  religion  which  is  more  guided  than  the  religion  of  Muhammad  or  you  have  opened  the  door  to  misguidance  [by  practising  innovation].”  [Sunan  al-Darimi, 1:287]

Reciting  any  number  of  dhikr  is  to  be  commended,  but  when  it  is  done  openly  and  in congregation  under  the  guidance  of  one  who  is  regarded  as  a  religious  authority,  that  particular  number  and  form  may  be  conceived  by  the  ignorant  as  being  sunnah.  Hence,  Ibn  Mas‘ud  condemned  it  as  bid‘ah.
In  all  of  these  examples,  although  it  cannot  be  ascertained  with  certainty  that  the  people  practising  these  acts  did  so  with  the  belief  that  they  are  specifically  part  of  the  Sunnah,  but  because  they  imitated  or  resembled  the  way  a  person  who  does  believe  this  would  behave,  the  Sahabah  forbade  them  from practising  them.

The  prominent  early  Hanafi  jurist  and  muhaddith,  Abu  Bakr  al-Jassas  al-Razi  (305  –  370 H),  comments  on  a  ruling  transmitted  from  the  founders  of  the  Hanafi  madhhab,  that  it  is  prohibited  to  fix  a  particular  chapter  of  the  Qur’an  to  a  particular  rak‘ah  of  prayer.  Since  his  explanation  is  both  lucid  and  instructive,  I  will  quote  its  translation: 

“Abu  Ja‘far  [al-Tahawi]  said:  It  is  makruh  (prohibitively  disliked)  to  adopt  a  part  of  the  Qur’an  for  a  specific  part  of  the  prayers.

“And  that  is  because  if  that  was  to  be  permitted,  it  would  not  be  assured  that  with  the passage  of  time  people  will  believe  it  is  sunnah  or  wajib ;  as  has  occurred  today  in  the understanding  of  many  of  the  ignorant  people  in  the  like  of  it,  so  when  the  recitation  of Surat  al-Jumu‘ah  is  left  out  on  the  night  of  Friday,  and  Alif  Lam  Mim  Tanzil  al-Sajdah  [is left  out]  on  the  day  of  Friday,  they  find  it  strange.  Thus,  the  people  of  knowledge  intended  to  preserve  the  religion  and  protect  it  from  adding  to  it  what  is  not  from  it .

“[This  is]  just  as  was  narrated  from  some  of  the  Salaf  [their]  hatred  of  fasting  six  days  of Shawwal  [consecutively,  immediately  after  Ramadan]  despite  what  is  narrated  in  hadith [of  its  desirability],  for  fear  that  persistence  on  it  will  be  a  cause  for  it  being  appended  to  the  obligatory  [fast  of  Ramadan].

“[And  it  is]  just  as  was  narrated  from  the  Prophet  (Allah  bless  him  and  grant  him peace)  that  it  is  prohibited  to  fast  on  Friday,  unless  [one  keeps  a  fast]  the  day  before  it,  and  unless  it  coincides  with  a day  one  of  us  used  to  fast  [anyway].” [Sharh Mukhtasar  al-Tahawi, 8:525-6]

Imam  al-Nawawi  was  asked  about  the  persistent  practice  of  some  people  of  reading Surat  al-An‘am  in  the  last  rak‘ah  of  Tarawih  on  the  seventh  night  of  Ramadan.  He replied:

“This  is  not  a  sunnah  but  a  detestable  bid‘ah  and  for  its  detestability  are  reasons:  from them  is  the  impression  of  it  being  sunnah …Thus,  every  worshipper  should  refrain  from this  practice  and  should  relay  its  condemnation,  for  indeed  it  is  established  in  authentic hadiths  that  newly-invented  matters  are  prohibited  and  that  every  bid‘ah  is  misguidance,  and  this  practice  has  not  been  transmitted  from  any  of  the  Salaf .” [Fatawa l-Imam al-Nawawi, 1:25-6]

In  this  section,  I  will  take  a  brief  look  –  in  light  of  the  principles  of  bid‘ah  outlined  above –  at  some  common  practices  about  which  people  are  unsure  whether  they  constitute  bid‘ah  or  not.  I hope  that  in  the  course  of  analysing  these  examples,  further  light  is  shed  on  some  important  principles  relating  to  bid‘ah,  specifically,  and  the  method  of  drawing  proof  from  the  Shari‘ah,  generally.  The  first  two  practices  are  examples  that  al-Shatibi  himself  addressed  in  quite  some  detail.  Although,  he  briefly  makes  mention  of  the  third  example,  he  does  not  elaborate  on  it  as  he  does  the  first  two.

Example One: Loud Group Dhikr in Unison
Al-Shatibi  discusses  the  practice  of  “loud  group  dhikr  in  unison”  which  is  basically  a congregational  recital  of  dhikr  in  one  voice.  Some  people  do  this  as  a  specific  ritual  practice,  i.e.  in  a  ta‘abbudi  way,  to  attain  reward  and  closeness  to  Allah.  My  purpose  here  is  not  to  give  an  unequivocal  ruling  on  this  practice  but  to  use  it  as  an  example  to  illustrate  faulty,  ambiguous  (mutashabih),  evidences  used  by  people  of  bid‘ah.

Some  argue  that  this  is  included  in  the  general  evidences  recommending  dhikr.  For example,  the  Qur’an  says:

“O  you  who  believe,  make  mention  of  Allah,  with  excessive  dhikr”  (33:41)   

“And  make  mention  of  Allah  much  so  that  you  are  successful.”  (8:45)

However,  al-Shatibi  explains  that  this  is  based  on  the  mistaken  assumption  that  the generality  of  a  word  implies  the  permissibility  of  everything  that  can  be  imagined  to  occur  from  its  meaning.  However,  this  is  not  the  case  in  matters  of  ritual.  In  brief,  this  form  of  evidence  attempts  to  put  in  practice  absolute  statements  (mutlaqat)  before  examining  their  restricted  application  as established  from  the  early  Muslims  (muqayyidat). [Al-I‘tisam 2:62]  

To  understand  the  invalidity  of  such  an  argument,  consider  the  following  example.  A  verse  of  the  Qur’an  states:

“O  you  who  believe!  Bow  down  in  ruku‘  and  in  prostration  and  worship  your  Lord.” (22:77)

Based  on  the  command  in  this  verse  to  bow  down,  can  one  deduce  the  recommendation  or  obligation  of  performing  stand-alone  ruku‘s  outside  of  Salah,  as  the  verse  gives  a  general  command  to  bow?  The  answer  is  that  this  is  precisely  the  mistaken  type  of  reasoning  explained  above,  as  in  such  ritualistic  matters  one  must  take  into  consideration  the  restricted  application  first before  applying  the  generalities.  Furthermore,  if  a  stand-alone  ruku‘  was  a  valid  interpretation  and  application  of  the  general  command  in  the  verse,  would  not  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  the  Sahabah  be  the  first  to  have  comprehended  this  meaning  and  acted  upon  it?  If  we  were  to  take  this  invalid  form  of  argumentation  to  its  extreme,  one  may  just  as  well  deduce  from the words  “worship  your  Lord”  any  form  of  ritual  worship,  like  yoga,  believing  that  this  a  fulfilment  of  this  command!  But,  of  course,  all  Muslims  recognise  that  this  is  incorrect.  The  reason  is  that  it  is  based  on  this  faulty  reasoning.

Thus,  in  ritual  acts,  it  is  wrong  to  approach  general  evidences  to  prove  specific  practices.  It  is  necessary  to  find  specific  evidence.  Hence,  in  this  case,  group  dhikr  in  unison  would not  be  bid‘ah  if  the  Prophet  (Allah  bless  him and  grant  him peace)  and  Sahabah  performed  dhikr  in  this  way.  

The  above  was  an  analysis  of  what  would  not  count  as  proof  for  the  validity  of  this  practice.  If  it  was  established  that  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  Sahabah  did  engage  in  this  practice  of  performing  loud  group  dhikr  in  unison,  that  would  be  a  valid  support  for  believing  that  it  is  sunnah  and  not  bid‘ah.  There  are  some  authentic  hadiths  which  do  suggest  that  groups  of  Sahabah  did  dhikr.  A  hadith  in  Sahih  Muslim  for  example  states  that  angels  convey  the  news  of  “gatherings  of  dhikr”  in  which  the  people  are  saying  Allahu  akbar  and  subhan  Allah.  
However,  al-Shatibi  argues  that  this  hadith  and  those  like  it  are  ambiguous  as  they  do  not  clarify  whether  this  was  done  audibly  or  quietly,  in  unison  or  individually.  Thus,  it  may  easily  apply  to  what  was  known  to  be  a  common  practice  amongst the  Sahabah,  of  gathering  in  one  place  while  each  of  them  performed  individual  worship,  whether  recitation  of  Qur’an,  recitation  of  dhikr,  or  optional  prayer. [Al-I‘tisam 2:94-5]

Some  scholars  have,  however,  understood  the  meaning  of  loud  group  dhikr  in  unison  from this  hadith,  for  example  ‘Abd  al-Haqq  Muhaddith  Dihlawi. [See:  ‘Abd  al-Hayy  al-Laknawi,  Sibahat  al-Fikr  fi  l-Jahr  bi  l-Dhikr,  ed.  ‘Abd  al-Fattah  Abu Ghuddah, Dar al-Salam, pp. 63-66]

However,  for  lay  Muslims  it  is  advisable  to  follow  the  most  cautious  path,  based  on  the prophetic  advice:

“Leave  that  which  causes  you  to  doubt  for  that  which  does  not  cause  you  to  doubt.”

There  are  many  forms  of  dhikr  established  in  the  Sunnah,  like  reciting  tahlil,  takbir, tasbih,  tahmid,  hawqalah  and  other  litanies  which  may  be  practised  privately  and  inaudibly,  and  there  is  no  doubt  in  the  sunnah-status  of  this  practice. This  accepted  sunnah  can  easily  replace  the  forms  of  dhikr  in  which  there  is  doubt. [For  a  comprehensive  collection  of  dhikrs  established  from  the  Sunnah,  see  al-Adhkar  min  Kalam Sayyid al-Abrar  by  Muhyi al-Din al-Nawawi]

Because  the  flipside  of  the  benefit  attained  from  performing  this  doubtful  form  of  dhikr  is  that  one  would  be  engaging  in  bid‘ah  haqiqiyyah  in  the  situation  that  this  was in  reality  not  a  practice  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  the  Sahabah,  the  danger  in  practising  it  far  outweighs  the  benefits  of  performing  it. 

It  should  be  noted  that  the  above  discussion  applies  only  to  the  situation  in  which  loud  group  dhikr  in  unison  is  done  ritually  (ta‘abbudan),  as  a  formal  form  of  dhikr.  However,  some  Muslim  scholars  and  teachers  use  it  as  a  means  of  instruction,  as  loudly  reciting  some  forms  of  dhikr  together  is  a  useful  way  to  make  people  learn  certain  formulae.  If  done  in  this  way  there  is  no  harm  as  this  has  a  comprehensible  purpose  (ma‘qul  al-ma‘na)  and  is  adopted  as  a means.  Furthermore,  many  Sufi  disciplinarians  justify  their  use  of  this  practice  by  stating  that  it  is  a  means  to  improve  concentration  in  the  heart  of the  spiritual  novice,  so  as  to  achieve  a  state  of  remembrance  that  came  naturally  to  the  Sahabah  merely  by  accompanying  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him).  In  order  to  compensate  for  the  loss  of  the  effect  of  that  companionship,  the  Sufi  teachers  prescribe  these  practices,  only  as  a  means. [Tasawwuf kiya hey pp. 17-26]

In  this  case,  too,  since  it  is  not  performed  ritualistically  but  as  a  means,  it  cannot  be  regarded  as  bid‘ah.  

Example  Two:  Audible  Group  Du‘a  after  Salah
Another  practice  al-Shatibi  discusses  is  the  continuous  practice  of  group  du‘a  after  the obligatory  prayers.  In  the  case  of  group  du‘a  itself,  where  one  person  leads  the  congregation  in  du‘a  by  reciting  the  supplications  audibly  and  the  others  say  “amin,”  we  don’t  have  the  immediate  problem that  we  did  with  audible  group  dhikr  in  unison.  With  the  latter  there  is  a  question  over  its  very  existence  in  the  early  period.  However,  audible  group  du‘a  is  established  from  the  Salaf.  The  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  said:

“A  group  does  not  congregate,  one  of  them  supplicating  and  the  rest  of  them saying amin,  except  Allah  answers  them.” [Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 10:267]

Shaykh  Muhammad  Yusuf  al-Kandhlewi  has  a  section  in  his  celebrated  Hayat  al-Sahabah devoted  to  the  instances  where  the  Sahabah  performed  group  du‘a. [see: Hayat  al-Sahabah,  Shaykh  Muhammad  Yusuf  Kandhlewi,  ed.  Bashshar  ‘Awwad  Ma‘ruf, Mu’assasat al-Risalah, 4:443-6]

Al-Shatibi  also  accepts  that  group  du‘a  in  general  is  approved.  [Al-I‘tisam 2:313]

The  issue  here,  however,  is  doing  it  perpetually  after  the  congregational  Salahs,  such  that  an  impression  is  created  that  it  is  sunnah  at  that  time  and  that  it  is  attached  to  these  prayers.  The  evidence  from  the  example  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be upon  him)  and  his  companions  shows  that  there  is  flexibility  (tawsi‘ah)  in  the  practice  of  group  du‘a.  Thus,  if  done  on  some  occasions  in  a  manner  that  does  not  give  the impression  of  it  being  restricted  to  a  specific  time  or  place,  this  would  faithfully  represent  an  adherence  to  the  evidence  of  this  flexibility.  However,  when  it  is  insisted  on  at  one  particular  time  without  proof,  the  general  evidence  does  not  support  the  practice.  Rather,  the  opposite  is  true  because  “insisting  on  matters  that  are  not  insisted  on  in  the  Shari‘ah,  its  nature  is  that  legislation  will  be  understood,  especially  with  those  taken  as  authorities  [i.e.  imams]  and  in  the  places  where  people  gather  like  masjids”  [Ibid. 2:59-60] 

Thus,  drawing  on  the  general  proofs  encouraging  group  du‘a  for  practising  it  specifically  after  Salah  is  a  type  of  faulty evidence  which  al-Shatibi  says  is  an  example  “distorting  the  proofs  from  their  places.”  [Ibid] 

The  general  encouragement  towards  group  du‘a  has  a particular  application  of  flexibility.  But  if  acted  upon  at  a  specific  time  and  place,  in  conjunction  with  a  particular  worship,  sticking  fervently  to  it  so  it  appears  as  if  a  desired  goal  in  the  Shari‘ah  (maqsud  bi  al-shar‘),  then  the  general  evidence  does  not  support  it.  This  is  what  al-Shatibi  says  is known  as  “two  different  applications”  (ikhtilaf  al-manatayn),  where  the  application  of  the  evidence  is  flexibility,  and  what  the  claimant  is  attempting  to  prove  –  i.e.  adopting  du‘a  after  Salah  audibly  for  the  attendees  always  just  as  sunnahs  are  performed  is  restricted  and  specified.  Thus,  the  evidence  is invalid.  This  practice  would  therefore  be  an  example  of  “relative  bid‘ah.” [Ibid.  2:262]

One  person  in  al-Shatibi’s  time  who  was  in  favour  of  perpetual  group  du‘a  after  the  obligatory  prayers  argued  that  there  is  no  prohibition  of  group  du‘a,  and  there  is  general  encouragement  towards  it,  and  the  omission  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  Sahabah  of  this  practice  specifically  after  the  prayers  is  not  a  proof  of  its  detestability.  Al-Shatibi  replies  that  the  person  is  right  that  there  is  no  prohibition  of  group  du‘a  and  there  is  general  encouragement  towards  it,  which is  why  he  says  if  done  occasionally  after  the  obligatory  prayers  there  is  no  problem  as  this  would  fall  under  the  general  recommendation.  But  if  done  perpetually  it  will  give  the  impression  to  laypeople  that  it  is  a  sunnah  at that  particular  time  which  is  a  ritualistic  (ta‘abbudi)  restriction.  Thus,  it  falls  under  bid‘ah  idafiyyah.

Furthermore,  with  respect  to  the  omission  of  the  early  generations,  al-Shatibi  explains that  there  is  detail  to  this  with  respect  to  ritualistic  matters  that  were  omitted  by  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  Sahabah.  In  such  scenarios,  there  are  two  possibilities:

1.  There  was  no  stimulant  (ma‘na muqtadi  lahu)  in  the  time  of  the  Prophet  (peace  be upon  him)  for  determining  that  ritualistic  ruling.  For  example,  as  was  mentioned  earlier  the  shares  of  inheritance  fixed  for  the  heirs  of  the  deceased  are  ritualistic  (ta‘abbudi)  in  Islam.  However,  there  is  a  particular  scenario  in  which  only  the grandfather  of  the  deceased  and  his  brothers  remain,  which  was  not  addressed  by  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  because  there  was  no  need  to  address  this  scenario  at  the  time.  Thus,  the  Sahabah  and  the  later  scholars  issued  a  ruling  on  this  scenario  based  on  the  general  patterns  they  saw  in  the  rules  of  inheritance.  Such  an  innovation  in  ritualistic  matters  is  allowed  as  it  is  based  on  a  new  circumstance  which  the  Shari‘ah  needs  to  address.

2.  The  stimulant  was  present,  yet  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  and  the  Sahabah  did  not  endorse  it  or  practise  it.  This  is  equivalent  to  the  Shari‘ah  purposely  choosing  to  restrict  that  action  within  those  limits.  Thus  any  change  would  be  bid‘ah. [Al-I‘tisam, 2:263-5]

It  is  in  this  vein  that  al-Shafi‘i  said,  as  mentioned  earlier,  “we  follow  the  sunnah,  both  in performance  and  in  omission.”  Similarly,  Mulla  ‘Ali  al-Qari  said:   

“Adherence  –  just  as  it  is  in  performance,  it  is  in  omission  too  –  so  whoever  persists [ritualistically]  on  a  practice  the  lawgiver  did  not do,  he  is  an  innovator.”  [Mirqat al-Mafatih Sharh Mishkat al-Masabih, 1:94-5]

For  example,  some  people  in  the  time  of  al-Shatibi  argued  that  group  du‘a  is  more  likely to  be  accepted  as  mentioned  in  hadith,  and  this  can  be  combined  with  the  general recommendation  of  du‘a  after  Salah,  and  thus  it  is  argued  group  du‘a  should  be  practised after  Salah.  It  is  precisely  this  thinking  in  ritualistic  matters  that  makes  it  bid‘ah  as  this reason  was  present  in  the  early  period  and  the  Sahabah  would  be  more  deserving  of comprehending  it  and  being  the  first to  act  upon  it. [Al-I‘tisam 2, p. 267 & 274]

Example Three: The Annual  Mawlid Celebration on Rabi‘  al-Awwal
Al-Shatibi  discusses  many  examples  of  bid‘ah  idafiyyah  that  he  says  are  close  to  bid‘ah  haqiqiyya,  like  inventing  an  Adhan  and  Iqamah  for  the  ‘Id  prayers.  He  also  answers  the  question  of  ‘Uthman’s  (may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him)  introduction  of  a  second  Adhan  for  Jumu‘ah.  The  basic  reply  is  that  before  ‘Uthman’s  time,  the  Adhan  was  called  immediately  before  the  sermon.  Although  this  was  sufficient  when  the  Muslims  were  small  in  number,  as  the  population  grew  in  ‘Uthman’s  time,  an  earlier  call  to  prayer  was  required.  Thus  he  patterned  Jumu‘ah  after  the  normal  prayers  where  Adhan  was  called  at  its  start  time,  and  maintained  the  later  Adhan  established  from  the  Sunnah.  Thus,  this  was  an  addition  due  to  changing  circumstances  that  called  for  a  reasoned  response. Furthermore,  the  practices  of  the  early  caliphs  form  part  of  the  Sunnah  as  explicitly mentioned  in  hadith,  so  by  definition,  it  cannot  be  bid‘ah  in  its  Shar‘i  meaning.  [Al-I‘tisam 2:305]

Another  type  of  bid‘ah  idafiyyah  al-Shatibi  discusses  is  what  is  called  taqyid  al-mutlaq (restricting  the  absolute).  For  example,  a  person  selects  a  day  of  the  week,  say  Wednesday,  or  a  date  of  the  month,  like  the  23rd,  which  has  not  been  specified  in  the  Shari‘ah,  and  then  begins  to  always  fast  on  those  days,  not  because  the  person  has  more  energy  (nashat)  or  free-time  (faragh)  or  due  to  convenience  (wifaq),  but  only  due  to  resolve,  planning  and  determination  (tasmim).  This  is  different  from a  person  who  has  a  daily  habit  of  awrad  or  optional  worship,  as  this  is  based  on  convenience,  and  not  ultimately  on  determination  and  planning.  Taqyid  al-mutlaq  is  a form  of  relative  bid‘ah. [Ibid. 2:293-4]

Although  al-Shatibi  does  not  present  it  as  an  example  of  this  particular  principle,  the annual  mawlid  celebration  performed  in  the  month  of  Rabi‘  al-Awwal  is  an  example  of taqyid  al-mutlaq.  Remembering  the  birth  of  the  Prophet  (peace  and  blessings  be  upon  him)  just  as  remembering  any  aspect  of  his  life  is  praiseworthy  and  beneficial,  but  when  it  is  done  permanently  on  a  particular  day of  the  year  without  any  non-ritualistic  or  comprehensible  (‘adi)  basis,  it  very  easily  creates  the  impression  that  that  particular  day  is  superior  for  this  practice,  but  there  is  no  proof  for  this  from  the  sources  of  the  Shari‘ah  or  the  example  of  the  early  generations.  Thus,  if  it  is  performed  in  this  way  without  any  particular  belief  attached  to  it,  it  would  be  a  relative  bid‘ah  (bid‘ah  idafiyyah).  However,  in  the  case  of  the  annual  mawlid  celebration,  the  fear  of  it  being  ritualised  has  actually  been  realised,  and  many  Muslims  in  fact  believe  that  a  particular  day  or  month  of  the  year  is  religiously  superior  to  any  other  time  for  that  remembrance.  Many  Muslims  adopt  it  literally  as  a  formal  religious  festival  or  “‘Id,”  which  is  why  al-Shatibi  included  “adopting the  day  of  the  prophetic  birth  as  an  ‘Id”  amongst  a  number  of  actions  he  listed  as  examples  of  bid‘ah  in  al-I‘tisam. [see: al-I‘tisam 1:46] 

He  also  said  in  his  collection  of  fatwas: 

“Establishing  the  mawlid  in  the  way  that  is  customary  amongst the  people  is  an  innovated  bid‘ah  and  every  bid‘ah  is  misguidance.” [Al-Mi‘yar  al-Mu‘rib, 7:102-3]

The  reason  he  adds  “in  the  way  that  is  customary  amongst the  people”  is  that  if  the restrictions  customarily  bound  to  the  mawlid  celebration,  like  the  date,  were  removed,  and  it  consisted  only  of  a remembrance  of  the  prophetic  biography  or  the  prophetic  birth,  this  would  certainly  not  be  an  innovation  in  religion.  Many  Muslims  actually  believe  that  since  he  was  born  on  a  particular  day  of  Rabi‘  al-Awwal,  it  is  better  and  preferable  to  do  this  remembrance  on  this  day of  Rabi‘.  This  would  make  the  act  for  those  Muslims  bid‘ah haqiqiyyah  as  the  stimulant  for  this  practice  (ma‘na muqtadi  lahu)  was  present  in  the time  of  the  Sahabah.  Thus  the  implication  of  this  reasoning  is  that  the  Sahabah  failed  to recognise  the  virtue  of  that  day,  and  the  reward  of  recollecting  the  birth  on  that  date,  and  the  later  people  were  able  to  comprehend  that  virtue.  And  this  is  absurd.  

I  will  end  with  a  quote  on  this  issue  from a  Maliki  contemporary  of  al-Shatibi,  Abu  ‘Abd Allah  al-Haffar  (d.  811  H).  As  the  passage  is  long,  I will  avoid  quoting  the  Arabic  text.  At  one  point  in  his  statement,  al-Haffar  errs  in  his  reasoning,  which  I  hope  readers  will  now be  able  to  appreciate.  (I  will  highlight  the  error  in  an  end-note.)  Al-Haffar  writes:

“The  pious  predecessors,  and  they  are  the  companions  of  the  Messenger  of  Allah  (Allah bless  him  and  grant  him  peace)  and  their  successors,  would  not  congregate  on  the  night  of  mawlid  for  worship,  and  they  would  not  practise  more  therein  than  the  rest of  the nights  of  the  year  because  the  Prophet  (Allah  bless  him  and  grant  him  peace)  is  not  to  be venerated  except  in  a  way  his  veneration  has  been  legislated. [This  is  where  al-Haffar  slips,  as  “veneration”  or  “respect”  is  a  comprehensible  (‘adi)  matter,  and  is  not  ritualistic  (ta‘abbudi).  People  may  demonstrate  their  respect,  adoration  and  love  for  the  Prophet  (peace  be  upon  him)  in  different  ways.  Yes,  if  this  matter  is  performed  in  such  a  way  that  a  ritualistic  restriction  is  clearly  understood  or  a  ritualistic  restriction  is  actually  believed,  as  is  the  case  with  the  annual  mawlid  celebration,  that  is  when  it  is  no  longer  ‘adi  and  becomes  an  addition  into  religion.  This  is  similar  to  the  example  of  sadaqah  discussed  earlier.  The  valid  points  to  take   from  al-Haffar’s  statement  are  what  he  continues  to  say,  “The  proof  that  the  Salaf…”] 

His  veneration  is  from  the  greatest  of  nearing  acts  to  Allah,  but  nearness  is  sought  to  Allah  (Great  is  His  Majesty)  only  by  what  is  legislated.  The  proof  that  the  Salaf  would  not add  therein  anything  extra  to  the  rest of  the  nights  is  that  they  differed  over  it  [i.e.  the  date  of  his  birth].  It  was  said  that  he  (Allah  bless  him and  grant  him peace)  was  born  in  Ramadan  and  it  was  said  in  Rabi‘,  and  the  day  [of  Rabi‘]  in  which  he  was  born  has  been  disputed  according  to  four  opinions.  Hence,  if  worship  was  established  in  the  night  of  the  day  in  which  he  was  born  due  to  the  birth  of  the  best  of  creation  (Allah  bless  him and  grant  him peace),  that  would  indeed  be  known  and  famous,  and  no  disagreement  would  arise  therein.  However,  an  excess  in  veneration  has  not  been  legislated.  Do  you  not  see  that  Friday  is  the  best day  on  which  the  sun  rose,  and  the  best  that  is  done  on  a  virtuous  day  is  fasting,  yet  the  Prophet  (Allah  bless  him and  grant  him  peace)  forbade  fasting  on  Friday  despite  its  great  excellence?  This  proves  that  no  worship  is  to  be  established  in  a  time  or  place  unless  it  is  legislated  and  what  is  not  legislated  is  not  to  be  done,  since  the  latter  part  of  this  ummah  will  not  bring  greater  guidance  than  what  the  first part  of  it  brought.  And  if  this  door  was  to  be  opened,  a  group  will  indeed  come  and  say  the  day  of  his  migration  to  Madinah  was  a  day  in  which  Allah  honoured  Islam  so  congregate  in  it  and  worship,  and  others  will  say  the  night  in  which  he  was  taken  on  a  night  journey  he  acquired  glory  the  extent  of  which  cannot  be  imagined  so  worship  is  to  be  established  therein.  This  will  not  stop  at  a limit.  All  good  is  in  following  the  pious  Salaf,  for  which  Allah  chose  them.  Thus,  what  they  did,  we  do,  and  what  they  left,  we  leave.  Once  this  is  established,  it  is  apparent  that  to  congregate  on  this  night  is  not  required  in  the  Shari‘ah. Rather,  one  is  ordered  to  leave  it.”  [Al-Mi‘yar  al-Mu‘rib,  7:99-100]

Also Read: The Concept of Bid’ah – Between the Two Extremes

The Concept of Bid’ah – Between the Two Extremes


At the outset, it is important to distinguish between the linguistic and legal definitions of bid’ah. Linguistically, bid’ah refers to anything new without prior precedent, regardless of its merit and its connection to religion.

Legally, bid’ah refers specifically to innovation in the religion, which is always reprehensible by consensus. The distinction is very important. By applying the statements of fuqaha regarding linguistic bid’ah onto legal bid’ah, many of the Ahl al-bid’ah attempt to justify innovation in the religion.

The following comprehensive statement from the great ottoman scholar al-Birgivi summarises the usage of the two definitions of bid’ah by the classical scholars:

“If it is asked how is his (upon him be blessings and peace) statement ‘every bid’ah is misguidance’ reconciled with the statement of the fuqaha that bid’ah is occasionally permissible (mubah) like using a sieve and the perpetuity of eating the wheat kernel and being satiated thereby; occasionally preferable (mustahabb) like erecting minarets, schools and the compilation of literary works; rather it sometimes becomes obligatory (wajib) like the furnishing of proofs to refute the doubts of the heretics and their like??

“We say: bid’ah has a linguistic general sense irrespective of it [being related to] custom or worship, because it is a noun [derived] from ibtida’ with the meaning of innovation…This is the categorisation in the vernacular of the fuqaha. They mean by it anything introduced after the first period…

“And [bid’ah] has a legal qualified sense which is to increase in the religion or decrease from it after the Companions without the permission of the Lawgiver, neither verbally nor in practice, and neither explicitly nor allusively. So it does not in principle include customs, rather it is restricted to beliefs…and certain forms of worship. This is his (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) intent in his statement ‘every bid’ah is misguidance.’ [That legal bid’ah does not include customs is proven] by the indication of his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) statement ‘adhere to my sunnah and the sunnah of the rightly guided caliphs’, ‘you are more knowledgeable in your worldly matters’ and ‘whoever innovates anything into this matter of ours shall be rejected’” (Al-Tariqat al-Muhammadiyyah, Vol. 1 p. 120)


“And [bid’ah] has a legal qualified sense which is to increase in the religion or decrease from it after the Companions without the permission of the Lawgiver.”

Legal bid’ah is forbidden by consensus. This is the bid’ah that is referred to in the narrations such as:

Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) (d. 84H) said: “Every innovation is misguidance, even if the people see it as something good.” (ad-Daarimi, Abu Shaamah)

The permission to increase or decrease from the religion ended after the Companions of the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasalaam).

Thus during the age of the Taabieen, when certain people innovated zikr and gatherings of Allah’s remembrance that did not constitute of any Haram elements, consisted purely of words of zikr approved in the Sunnah, and seemed very beneficial, the Sahabah did not hesitate in branding them as bidatis. The desperate attempts of some of the Ahl al-bid’ah to cast doubt on the authenticity of such narrations is inconsequential in light of the fact that countless fuqaha from the time of the Salaf have authenticated and accepted them as bases for principles in the Deen:

The following hadith is recorded in Sunan Daarimi:

“Al-Hakam Bin Mubaarak narrated to us that Amr Bin Yahya said: ‘I heard my father narrating from his father who said: ‘We were seated at the door of Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood before the evening Salaat. When he would come out, we would walk with him to the Musjid. Then (while we were waiting), Abu Musa Ash’ari (A Sahaabi) came and said: ‘Has Abu Abdur Rahmaan (i.e. Hadhrat Ibn Mas’ood) emerged?’ We said: ‘No.’ Then he sat with us until he (Ibn Mas’ood) came out. When he emerged, we all stood up. Abu Musa said: ‘O Aba Abdir Rahmaan! I have just now seen in the Musjid an act which is displeasing to me, (but) Alhamdulillaah, I did not see anything but goodness.’ He (Ibn Mas’ud) said: ‘And what is that?’ Abu Musa said: ‘You shall soon see. I saw some groups in the Musjid sitting in a halqah (circle) waiting for the Salaat. In every halqah there is a man, and in their hands are pebbles. (i.e. in each group-leader’s hand is a pebble). He says: ‘Recite takbeer 100 times. Then they will recite takbeer 100 times. Then he says: Recite tahleel 100 times. Then they recite tahleel 100 times. Then he says: Recite Tasbeeh 100 times. Then they recite Tasbeeh 100 times.’ Ibn Mas’ood said: ‘What did you say to them?’ Abu Musa Ash’ari said: ‘I said nothing to them in anticipation of your opinion or your command.’ Ibn Mas’ood said: ‘Why did you not command them to count their sins (with the pebbles), and assure them that their virtues would not be ruined (by counting their sins instead of making Thikr in this way)?’

Then he went and we accompanied him until we came to one of the halqahs. He stood by them and said: ‘What is this that I am seeing you do?’ They said: ‘O Aba Abdillaah! These are pebbles with which we count the takbeer, tahleel and tasbeeh.’ Ibn Mas’ood said: ‘Then count your sins. I assure you that your good deeds will not be destroyed in the least bit (by counting your sins with the pebbles). Alas, O Ummah of Muhammad! How swiftly have you been ruined? These are the Sahaabah of your Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), who are still numerous among you. These are his clothes which have as yet not become old. These are his utensils which are not yet broken. (By this he indicated the close proximity to the age of Rasulullah – sallallahu alayhi wasallam). I take oath by That Being in Whose Hand is my life! Are you perhaps on a way which is more guided than the Millat of Muhammad? Or have you opened a doorway to deviation (dhalaalah)?’ They said: ‘Wallaah! O Aba Abdir Rahmaan! We intended nothing but goodness.”

Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood said: ‘There were many who intended goodness which they never attained. Verily, Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said to us: “Verily, there will be people who will recite the Qur’aan, but it will not go beyond their throats.” By Allah, I do not know if perhaps most of you are from among them.’ Then he turned away from them. Amr Bin Salmah said: ‘I saw most of the people of these halqahs fighting against us (the Sahaabah) on the day of the Battle of Nahrawaan with the Khawaarij.”

Shaikhul Islam Ibn Daqeeq presents the riwaayat as follows:

“I am Ibn Mas’ood. So, whoever knows me, knows who I am. Whoever does not know me, then know that I am Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood. Do you think that you are more guided than Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and his Ashaab? Verily, you have innovated a dark bid’ah, or you have acquired greater status in knowledge than the Ashaab of Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).” Ibn Mas’ood has refuted this act notwithstanding the probability of it coming within the scope of Thikr in general.” (Ahkaamul Ahkaam)

The Hadith is found in Musannaf Abdur Razzaaq and Tabaraani who narrated it with several chains.

Many of the early fuqaha authenticated and validated this narration with the statement:

“Verily the narration from Ibn Mas’ood (radhiyallahu anhu) is Saheeh.” The narration’s authenticity has been accepted and used in refutation of bid’ah in authoritative books such as Fatawa Bazaziyyah, Fatawa Qadhi Khan, Fatawa Shaami, Al-Madkhal, Az-Zuhd Li Ibn al-Hanbal, Talbees Iblees, Al-I’tisaam, and many others.

The following two narrations have been reported regarding Hadhrat Ali (radhiyallahu anhu):

“A man intended to perform some (nafl) Salaat on the day of Eid, prior to the Eid Salaat (at the Eid Gah). Hadhrat Ali (radhiyallahu anhu) prevented him.The man said, ‘O Ameerul Mumineen, I am indeed aware that Allaah Ta`ala does not punish for (performing) Salaat!
Hadhrat Ali (radhiyallahu anhu) retorted by saying, ‘And indeed I am aware that Allaah Ta`ala does not reward for any action unless it was executed by Rasulullaah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) or which He has ordained or encouraged. (Therefore) Your Salaat is futile and futility is Haraam. It is very possible that Allaah Ta`ala will punish you for it, because you have acted contrary to (the Sunnat of) Rasulullaah (Allah bless him and grant him peace).’” [Sharah Majma’ Bahrain, Junna, Nazmul Bayaan]

Imaam Nawawi (rahmatullah alayh) states in Sharah Muhazzab:

“It has been reported that Hadhrat Ali (radhiyallahu anhu) once saw a Muat-thin making Tathweeb (i.e. calling out ‘Salaat, Salaat’, thereby calling the people to Salaat) in Esha Salaat, and he exclaimed, ‘Remove this bidati from the Masjid!’”
[Bahrur Raa`iq, page 261, vol. 1]

The following narrations were reported regarding Hadhrat Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu):

Hadhrat Mujaahid (rahmatullah alayh) states that he and Hadhrat Urwah bin Zubair (radhiyallahu anhu) entered the Masjid, when Abdullaah Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) was sitting by the room of Aishah (radhiyallahu anha) and the people were performing Salaatud Duhaa in the Masjid. We asked him regarding their Salaat, to which he replied, ‘(It is a) Bid’ah’.” [Bukhaari, Muslim]

Imaam Nawawi (rahmatullah alayh) states,

“The meaning of this (Ibn Umar’s statement) is because of their making it apparent in the Masjid and in congregation. This is a bid’ah, not that the Salaatud Duhaa itself is bid’ah.”
[Sharah Muslim, vol. 1, page 409]

Hadhrat Naafi’ (rahmatullah alayh) narrates:

“A man sneezed nearby Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) and said, ‘Alhamdulillahi wa Salaamu ala Rasulillaah.’ Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) commented, ‘I also accept ‘Alhamdulillaah’ (that all praise is due to Allaah Ta`ala) and ‘Salaam ala Rasulillaah’ (Peace upon Rasulullaah), but this is not the way Nabi (rahmatullah alayh) taught us. On this occasion (of sneezing) he taught us to say, ‘Alhamdulillaahi ala kulli Haal.’” [Tirmidhi, Mishkaat]

Hadhrat Mujaahid (rahmatullah alayh) said that once he entered a Masjid together with Hadhrat Abdullaah Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) in order to perform Salaat. The Athaan had already been given. A person began making Tathweeb (i.e. calling out ‘Salaat, Salaat’, thereby calling the people to Salaat). Hadhrat Abdullaah Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) commented, ‘Are you mad?? Was the call to Salaat which was incorporated in the Athaan insufficient??’ Hadhrat Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) said to Mujaahid (rahmatullah alayh), ‘Take me away from here, surely this is a bid’ah.’ [Abu Dawood]

It is reported in another narration that he said, ‘Take me away from this innovation.’ He did not perform his Salaat there, despite his old age and frailty at the time. [Tirmidhi]

Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (rahimahullah) mentions the following:

“And Imaam Ahmad reported with a good sanad from Ghadeef Ibnul-Haarith who said, ‘al-Malik Ibn Marwaan sent (someone) to me and he said: indeed we gather the people for two matters: raising the hands (for du’aa) upon the minbar on the day of jumu’ah, and giving exhortations after the fajr and ‘asr prayers. So he said: as for these two, then they are examples of your innovations in my opinion and I will not accept anything of them from you because the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, ‘a people do not introduce an innovation except that a sunnah the likes of it is raised (i.e. forgotten and neglected)’ and sticking to the sunnah is better then introducing a bid’ah’ so if this was the answer of this sahaabee concerning a matter that has a basis in the religion, then what do you think the case would be concerning a matter that has no basis in the religion?”
[Fath al-Bari (13/314)]

The above examples should suffice in demonstrating that a new form of ibadah, which is an innovation in the religion, can never be regarded as hasanah (good), no matter how beneficial and beautiful it may appear to be.


“Bid’ah has a linguistic general sense irrespective of it [being related to] custom or worship, because it is a noun [derived] from ibtida’ with the meaning of innovation…This is the categorisation in the vernacular of the fuqaha. They mean by it anything introduced after the first period…”

It is only in this linguistic sense that some of the fuqaha have divided bid’ah into several categories, and labelled some bid’ah as good.

Imam al-Shafi’i (rahmatullahi alayhi) said:

“Newly-invented matters are of two types: The first of them is what opposes [something from] the Book, or [something from] the Sunnah, or a narration [from the Companions], or [a matter of] consensus, this is the misguided innovation. And the second is what has been introduced of goodness and there is not a single scholar who opposes it. This is newly-introduced yet not blameworthy and Umar (radiallaahu anhu) had said about the qiyam (al-layl) in the month of Ramadan, “What an excellent innovation this is,” meaning, that it is newly-introduced and was not previously done.” (Manaqib al-Shafi’i)

Imam al-Shafi’i (rahmatullahi alayhi) explains that Hadrat Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) used word bid’ah carrying the meaning that which is “newly introduced and was not previously done.” This is the linguistic definition of the word.

This distinction between innovation in general i.e. bid’ah with its linguistic meaning, and innovation in the religion i.e. bid’ah with its legal meaning, has been made by countless fuqaha, including many of the great authorities from the Shafi’i madhab, who understood authentically the real import of Imam al-Shafi’ (rahmatullah alayh) is statement.

The great Shafi’i jurist, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (rahimahullah) explicitly describes this distinction several times in Fath al-Bari. Just before quoting Imam Shafi’is statement he says:

“And “the newly invented matters” (ﺍﻟﻤﺤﺪﺛﺎﺕ ), with the fathah on the daal, is the plural of novelty (ﻣﺤﺪﺛﺔ ) and what is intended by it is what has been newly-introduced and does not have any basis in the legislation. It is referred to in the usage of the Shari’ah as innovation ( ﺑﺪﻋﺔ ). As for what has a basis indicated by the Shari’ah then it is not an innovation. For “innovation” in the usage of the Shari’ah is blameworthy as opposed to its usage (with its) linguistic (meaning), for everything that has been newly-invented without any prior example is named “bid’ah” irrespective of whether it is praiseworthy, or blameworthy. (Fath al-Bari, 13/253)

and at another place:

“As for innovations ( ﺍﻟﺒﺪﻉ), it is the plural of innovation ( ﺑﺪﻋﺔ ) and it is everything which does not have any prior example. Linguistically, [the word] encompasses what is both praiseworthy and blameworthy. In the usage of the people of the legislation (i.e. legally) it is specifically for what is blameworthy and if it is used in connection to what is praiseworthy, then it is upon its linguistic meaning. (Fath al-Bari, 13/278)


“Bid’ah in terms legal terms is blameworthy. This is different with the linguistic sense where everything which is innovated is either good or bad” (Fath al-Bari vol. 15, pg. 179)

Imam Nawawi (rahimahullah) also makes the distinction between “bid’ah in the language” and “bi’dah in religious law”:

“Innovation in religious law is disagreeable, unlike in the language where everything that has been originated without a previous pattern is called innovation regardless of whether it is good or bad.” (Sharh Sahih Muslim 6-21)

Another famous authority from the Shafi’i school, Ibn Kathir (rahimahullah), mentions this distinction in his Tafsir of verse (2:117), and specifies that the type of bid’ah Hadhrat Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) referred was linguistic:

“And bidah is of two types. Sometimes it is a bidah shar’iyyah (with its legal meaning), such as his saying, ‘For every newly-invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is misguidance…’ and sometimes it is a bidah lughawiyyah (with its linguistic meaning), such as the saying of Amir al-Mu’minin Umar bin al-Khattaab (radhiyallahu anhu) regarding his uniting them together for the Tarawih prayer and making them maintain this practice, “What an excellent innovation this is…’”

Similarly, the Shafi’i jurist Taj al-Din al-Fakihani (743AH) makes the distinction between innovation in general, which can be categorised into various divisions, and innovation in the religion (legal bid’ah). Whilst discussing which of the different categories of bid’ah, the Mawlid could be assigned to, he explicitly differentiates this definition of bid’ah from ‘innovating in the religion.’ He clearly mentions that ‘innovating in the religion’, which is the definition of legal bid’ah as used by the early fuqaha, is blameworthy by consensus.

“And it is not permissible that it (the Mawlid) should be mubah (i.e. from the permitted division of linguistic bid’ah), because innovating in the religion is not permissible by consensus of the Muslims.”

Another Muhaqqiq from the Shafi’i school, Shaykh Ibn Hajar al-Haythami , in response to a question regarding bid’ah, used the following answer:

“The statement of ‘Umar regarding Tarawih:

“A brilliant bid‘ah, this is,” he meant linguistic bid‘ah, which is what was done without an exact precedent, as He, Most Exalted, said: “Say, “I am not something unprecedented (bid’a) among the messengers.” (46:9) It is not a legal bid‘ah, for legal bid‘ah is misguidance as he (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said.

He [the scholar being quoted] said:

Whoever divided it from the ‘ulama to good and not good, he only divided linguistic bid‘ah. And those who said every bid‘ah is misguidance, its meaning is legal bid‘ah.” (Fatawa Hadithiyyah)

Hafiz Ibn Rajab re-iterates the view of the Shafi’i authorities that the statements of Imam al-Shafi’i, Hadhrat Umar and others regarding good innovation, were in a purely linguistic sense:

“Whoever innovates a thing and relates it to the Deen, whilst it is not a part of the Deen, then this is clear deviation. The Deen is free from such innovations. It is irrelevant whether this innovation relates to beliefs, actions or statements. As for those things in the sayings of the right-acting first generations where they regard some innovations as good, that is only with respect to what are innovations in the linguistic sense, but not in the Shari’ah. An example of that is the saying of Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) when he had united people to stand in prayer (tarawih) in Ramadan behind a single Imam in the mosque, and then he came in behind them while they were praying and said, “What an excellent innovation this is!…

Another source is that he (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) commanded us to follow the Sunnah of the khulafa who took the right way, and this has become the Sunnah of his khulafa who took the right way since people unanimously agreed about in the times of Umar, Uthman and Ali (radhiyallahu anhum).

Another example of that is the first call to prayer on the Jumuah which Uthman added because of people’s need of it and which Ali affirmed, and which has become the continued practice of the Muslims. It has been narrated that Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) said, “It is an innovation,” but it is very likely that he meant the same as his father meant about standing for prayer in Ramadan [in jama’ah]….

(Whilst commenting on the statement of Imam al-Shafi’i):

As for praiseworthy innovation it is that which is in accordance with the Sunnah, meaning that which has a source in the Sunnah from which it is derived, and it is only an innovation in the linguistic sense rather than in the sense of the Shari’ah since it accords with the Sunnah.” [Jaamiul Uloom Wal Hikam]

Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Ibn Abd al-Salam was the first to introduce a five-fold division of bid’ah.The fact that he categorised the Taraweeh prayers with such “new innovations” as hospices, schools, and ‘every benevolent endeavor’, demonstrates clearly that he was using bid’ah in its linguistic definition, not bid’ah as “innovation in the religion.”

“For the recommended innovations are examples, from them: Setting up hospices and schools and every benevolent endeavour not present in the first era, and (also) from (the examples) is at-Tarawih”

Finally it is worth quoting Imam Malik (rahmatullahi alayhi) who mentions that any such labelling of “innovating in the religion” as good innovation is in effect a slur on the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace):

“Anyone who commits an innovation in Islam and say that it is a good innovation then truly he is stating that the Prophet has betrayed the Message (of Islam). The reason is Allah has declared “Today I have perfected your religion”.

Whatever was not part of the religion then, will not be a part of it today”.


In every issue, the Ummah tends towards one of two extremes. One group of Ahl al-bid’ah label the acts of ibadah introduced by the Khulafa Rashideen as bid’ah in its legal sense, effectively accusing the Sahabah of being complicit in a heinous crime by innovating, or by performing with rigid constancy a non-Sunnah specified form of ibadah – which is also bid’ah. This group brand the taraweeh prayers as a bid’ah, or relegate the exact form as practised with rigid constancy by the Sahabah, to below the level of a Sunnah.

Another group of the Ahl al-bid’ah attach the word hasanah to bid’ah in its legal sense, in order to open the door for any innovation in the religion. They attempt to justify innovations by non-Sahaabah, on the basis of the introductions of the Sahaabah, and they describe Sunnah acts of ibaadat as being ‘bid’ah’ (in its legal meaning) on the faulty basis that such acts were not initially or directly ordered by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).

Acts of ibaadat introduced by the Sahaabah and which Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) himself had approved directly in his lifetime, or after his lifetime, through the principle found in Ahadith such as,

“Cling with your jaws to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of my rightly-guided Khulafa.”, cannot be described as bid’ah in its legal meaning. Rather they are all Sunnah.

‘Umar Ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azeez’ (rahmatullah alaih) statement here demonstrates this tendency of the Ummah to diverge towards two extremes with regards to the actions of the Sahabah:

“Stop where the people have stopped! For indeed, they stopped upon receiving knowledge. The clear evidences would suffice them, and they were the strongest at manifesting them. If there were any merit in something, then they would be the most deserving of it. So if you say: ‘It was introduced after them’ , then no one introduces something into it except that he has opposed their guidance, and desired other than their example. They have described it from what was sufficient, and they have spoken concerning it – what sufficed. What is above them is excessiveness, and what is below them is inadequacy. Some people have fallen short of them, and so they have drawn away. And others have transgressed them, so they have become extreme. But indeed they were between these two (extremes) upon a straight path.”
[Reported by Ibn Qudaamah in Al Burhaan li Bayaanil Qur’aan (p. 88-89), as a statement of ‘Abdul ‘Azeez Ibn Abil Maajishoon and then he said: He related it’s meaning back to ‘Umar Ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azeez. al Haafidh Ibnul Jawzee in Manaqibul Umar Ibn Abdul Azeez (p. 83-84). al Haafidh Ibn Rajab Fadhlul Ilmis Salaf (p. 36)]

An early authority from the Shafi’i school, Allamah al-Khattabi (rahmatullahi alayhi) (d.386), explains clearly the intent behind Hadhrat Umar’s use of the word bid’ah for the taraweeh, and that in reality it is a Sunnah:

“He (Umar (radhiyallahu anhu)) only called it Bid’ah because Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) did not prescribe it and nor was it (existent) in the era of Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu). He encouraged it (Taraweeh behind one Imaam) by him saying Ni’ma (how wonderful) to indicate upon its virtue and so that this term (Bid’ah) does not prevent from practicing upon it. And the standing of Ramadhaan is in actual fact Sunnat, not Bid’at because of the following saying of Nabi (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam):

“Follow those two after me, Abu Bakr and Umar (radhiyallahu anhuma)”.

Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullah) states the fact that the 20 rakats taraweeh prayers are actually Sunnah, due to its explicit and implicit acceptance by the Muhajirun and the Ansars:

“It has been proven without doubt that Ubayy ibn Ka’b (radhiyallahu anhu) used to lead the Companions, during Ramadan, for 20 rak’ahs and 3 rak’ahs of witr. Hence it is the principle (maslak) of most of the Ulama that this is the Sunnah, because Ubayy ibn Ka’b led 20 rak’ahs of prayer in the presence of the Muhajirin (the emigrants) and the Ansars (the helpers) and not a single Companion repudiated it!” (Fatawa Ibn Taymiyyah)

And in Iqaamatud Deen:

“It is compulsory to follow the Ijma of the Sahaabah radhiyallahu anhum. In fact the Ijma of the Sahaabah radhiyallahu anhum is a very strong proof and precedes others.”
[Iqaamatud Deen, Vol 3]

And regarding the fact that the 20 rakat taraweeh prayer was called bid’ah only in a linguistic sense:

“With regard to qiyaam in Ramadaan, the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahi alaihi wasallam) introduced this to his ummah, and he led them in prayer for a number of nights, because at his time they used to pray in congregation and individually. But he did not persist in leading them in one congregation, lest that be made obligatory for them. When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) passed away, sharee’ah was established (and would not change after that).

When ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) became caliph, he united them behind one imam, Ubayy ibn Ka’b, who united the people in one congregation on the orders of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (radhiyallahu anhu ).

‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) was one of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, of whom the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “I urge you to adhere to my Sunnah and the way of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs after me; cling tightly to it.” So what he did was Sunnah but he said, “What a good innovation this is,” because it was an innovation in the linguistic sense, as they were doing something that they had not done during the life of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), i.e., gathering to do this, but it is Sunnah in the shar’i sense.” (Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 22/234, 235)

Similarly, Imam Muwaffaq al-Din Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi (d. 620) declared in his famous book of fiqh al-Mughni:

“There has been the Companion’s consensus (Ijma us-Sahabah) on 20 rak’ahs of Taraweeh.”

Allamah al-Lakhnawi’s statement here adequately summarises the fact that taraweeh was not bid’ah in its legal sense, but rather Sunnah in its legal sense:

“Tarawih is not legal bid’ah so as to become misguidance and the opposite of sunnah, and ‘Umar only called it a bid’ah by consideration of its linguistic meaning because it is from that which he innovated after it was non-existent in the first era and the era of the first caliph. He alluded to this by the addition of the word ‘brilliant’, meaning that that which we innovated is not a legal bid’ah so as not to be good, rather it is a legal sunnah, although it is a linguistic bid’ah.” (Tuhfat al-Akhyar bi Ihya Sunnati Sayyid al-Abrar, p. 26)

Regarding the fact that forsaking the practices of Umar deserves punishment:, Allaamah Badrud Deen Ayni said:

“There is no doubt that one will be rewarded for acting on the practices of Hadhrat Umar and punished for forsaking them. This is so because we have been commanded to follow him due to the instruction of Rasulullaah which says, ‘Follow the two who are after me; Abu Bakr and Umar’.
Since we have been commanded to follow the two of them, this will be compulsory and forsaking a compulsory act will necessitate punishment.” (Al Binaayah, as quoted in Fataawaa Qiyaamil Millat wad Deen Pg.378.)

The fact that Ijma’ of the Sahabah, and the best of generations, was enacted on twenty Rakaats, raises it to the level of an emphasised Sunnah, and signifies that the Ahadeeth narrating different number of rakaats are mansookh (abrogated) and any anomalous view will be simply set aside.

It is ironic that those who claim to follow the Salaf, and criticize taqleed, are so blinded by their own taqleed of the anomalous view, that the Sunnah form of taraweeh confirmed by the Ijma’ of the Sahabah and the Aimmah Mujtahideen, and the ta’ammul (continuous inherited practice) of the whole Ummah since the Salaf, has been discarded widely amongst them within a very short time-scale.

Numerous great Auliya had their own personal forms of Nafl ibaadat, athkaar and ashghaal. These practices were never incorporated into the Sunnah as were the introductions of the Sahaabah. Whilst it is an emphasised Sunnah to observe the 20 raka’ts Taraaweeh, it is not even Mustahab to observe any act of ibaadat introduced by any Wali.
Any such individual actions raised to the level of Mustahab will render the act into a bid’ah.

Combining the constituents of good actions together into a new form of ibadah is legal bid’ah, unless it was approved directly by the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam), or through the acceptance of the Sahabah (radhiyallahu anhum) as a whole.

During the time of revelation, while the Deen was undergoing completion for the Ummah, there were many actions carried out by the Sahabah (radhiyallahu anhum) which will never be permitted again for the Ummah, by consensus.

Some of those actions were approved of, in which case it became part of Sunnah, and some were disapproved of, in which case it did not become part of Sunnah. Hafiz Ibn Rajab describes the following incident:

“And the Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) saw a person standing in the sun, and so he inquired about him and it was said in reply, ‘he has taken an oath to stand and not to sit or take shade, and to fast.’ So the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ordered him to sit and seek the shade and to complete his fast. [Bukhaaree]

So he (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) did not make his standing and exposure to the sun a means of getting close (to Allaah) such that it would require fulfilling the oath. And it is reported that this event occurred on the day of jumu’ah at time of hearing the khutbah of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) while he was on the minbar.

So this man made the oath to stand and not sit or seek the shade for as long as the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) gave his sermon, in glorification/respect of listening to the sermon of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and yet the Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) did not make this a means of getting close to Allaah that would require fulfillment of his oath.

Despite the fact that standing is worship in other places such as prayer and adhaan and offering du’aa on ‘Arafah. And exposure to the sun is a means of getting closer to Allaah for the one in ihraam, so this indicates that everything that is a means of getting close to Allaah on a particular occasion is not a means of getting close on every occasion, rather one follows what occurs in the Sharee’ah in it’s correct place for everything…”

The Sahaabah had a licence from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), and the Ummah has been commanded explicitly by him (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) to obey and follow that which was accepted by the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum). There are innumerable Ahadith and statements of the Salaf, and the early fuqaha, which delineate clearly that the Sunnah, in its legal sense, is restricted to the actions accepted and practised by the Sahabah (radhiyallahu anhum). The import of these Ahadith and statements are so clear that no further explanation is required:

The Prophet sallallâhu ’alayhi wa sallam said:

“Indeed those of you who will live after me, will see many differences (of opinions). It will be binding upon you (at that time) to hold on fast to my Sunnat and the Sunnat of my rightly guided Khulafa-e- Raashideen. Hold onto to it with your canines. And save yourselves from innovations, because indeed every innovation is a Bid’ah and every Bid’ah is deviation.”

And he, sallallâhu ’alayhi wa sallam said:

“The stars are the custodians for the sky, so when the stars pass away, that which has been decreed for the sky will come upon it. I am the custodian for my Companions, so when I pass away, there will come upon my Companions that which is decreed for them. And my Companions are the custodians for my Ummah, so when my Companions pass away, that which has been decreed upon my Ummah will come upon it.” (Muslim (16/82) and Ahmad (4/398))

And he, sallallâhu ’alayhi wa sallam said:

“Indeed my Ummah will split-up into seventy-three. All of them are in the Fire accept one.” It was said: What is the one? He said“:That which I and my Companions are upon.” (at-Tirmidhî (no.2792) and al-Hâkim (l/128-129) and it is Hasan.)

And he, sallallâhu ’alayhi wasallam said:

“Indeed Allaah Ta`ala looked into the hearts of His servants and in accordance to His knowledge He chose Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and sent him with His Message, then He looked into the hearts the people after him and He chose for him his Companions, and made them helpers in His Deen and the ambassadors of His Nabi (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam).

Whatever the Muslims deem good, it is good in the Sight of Allaah Ta`ala, and whatever they deem evil is likewise according
to Allaah Ta`ala.” [Tayaalisi]
An almost identical wording is found in Musnad Ahmad.

The Ahl al-bid’ah carry the trait of quoting and extracting a particular meaning from a hadith in isolation, conveniently ignoring other narrations that clarify unambiguously the real import of the Hadith. For example, they tend to quote only the following narrations of the previous two Ahadith, in order to gain leverage for superimposing their own interpretations:

“Indeed my Ummah will split-up into seventy-three. All of them are in the Fire accept one.” It was said: ‘What is the one?’ He said, “The Jama’ah”'(The Group)


‘Whatever the Muslims regard as good, Allah Ta`ala also regards as good.’

The following Hadith is another example of one which is misused by quoting in isolation. No further explanation is required after reading all the other narrations:

“Whoever initiates in Islaam a virtuous act, and it is carried out after him (his demise), then it is recorded for him the reward of the executers, without their rewards being diminished in the least.” [Sahih Muslim]

Narrations of the same Hadith include the following wordings:

“He who holds on fast to my Sunnat…”(Mishkaat),
“Whoever livens a Sunnat from amongst my Sunnats, which has died after me…”
(Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi, Mishkaat),
“Whosoever livens a Sunnat from amongst my Sunnats, and the people practice
upon it…” (Ibn Majah) .

The Sahabah (radhiyallahu anhum) themselves explained that their practice was the Sunnah of the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam).

Confirming the fact that actions of the Khulafa Rashideen are actually Sunnah, Hadhrat Ali (radhiyallahu anhu) said,

“The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) (ordered that a drunkard) be whipped forty lashes, Abu Bakr (also gave the command) of forty. Whilst Umar gave the command of eighty. All of which are Sunnah.” (Muslim, Abu Daud, Ibn Majah)

Imaam Haakim records the statement of Hadhrat Ali with the following additional words:

“And Uthmaan also completed 80 lashes, and all this is Sunnat.”

Imam al-Nawawi commenting upon this Hadith stated,

“This narration is a manifest proof, that Ali radhiyallahu anhu honoured the actions and commandments of Umar and Abu Bakr radhiyallahu anhuma by acknowledging their actions as a Sunnah, contrary to the lies which the Shias ascribe to him.”

Hadhrat Abdullaah Ibn Mas`ood (radhiyallahu anhu) said:

‘Whosoever wishes to follow the Sunnat, then he should follow in the footsteps of those who had passed away, because those who are still alive are not immune from fitnahs. They (those whom you should follow) are the Companions of Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace), who were the most virtuous of this Ummat. Their hearts were the most pure, their knowledge most deep and they were most informal (free from excesses and pomp). Allaah Ta`ala had chosen them to be the companions of His Nabi (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and to establish His Deen. Recognise their virtue, follow in their footsteps and hold on, to the best of your ability, to their character and way of life. They were Straight Guided Path.” [Mishkaat]

He (radhiyallahu anhu) also commanded not to innovate and that the practice of the Sahabah is sufficient:

“Follow in our footsteps, and do not innovate (new things). Indeed, you have been sufficed.” [Al-I`tisaam, page 54, vol.1]

Hadhrat Huzaifah (radhiyallahu anhu) stated:

“Do not perform any act of worship that was not practiced by the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, for the earlier generation did not leave any room for the latter to add anything (to the religion). Fear Allah, O’ readers, seekers of knowledge, and follow the path of those who came before you.” [Ibn Battah in al- Ibaanah].


“Do not make any Ibaadat that the Sahaabah of Rasulullaah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not do!” [Abu Dawood, Al-I`tisaam]

The early fuqaha have explained that the Sunnah is limited what the Sahabah (radhiyallahu anhum) accepted and performed, and that they are the benchmark between Sunnah and Bid’ah:

Hadhrat Umar bin Abdil Azeez (rahmatullah alayh) gave the following comprehensive advice:

“Amma Ba`ad, I advise you with fear for Allaah Ta’ala, moderation in executing deeds, following the Sunnat of His Nabi (Allah bless him and grant peace) , abandoning that which the innovators introduced after the Sunnat. What a felony is it not to introduce a bid`ah in the presence of a Sunnat?
Hold on firmly to the Sunnat, because it is a protection and fortress for you, by the order of Allaah Ta`ala. Know! No nation introduces any bid`ah except that a proof (against) or experience of it has passed before. Indeed the Sunnat was introduced by such a personality who discerned its opposite factors, considered them and opted against them.

You should also content yourself with those things which the nation (Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) were pleased with, because they were aware and had insight. They stayed away from bidah. They were on the highest pedestal. Therefore if you believe that guidance lies in that which you practice, then it implies that you have surpassed them in excellence.”
[Abu Dawood, page 277, vol. 2]

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rahmatullahu alayh) said:

“The Fundamental Principles of the Sunnah with us are: Clinging to that which the Companions of Allâh’s Messenger sallallâhu ’alayhi wa sallam were upon, taking them as our example to be followed, avoiding Innovation; and every Innovation is misguidance. ” [lbn Battah in Al-Ibânah’an Usûlid-Diyâanah]

Imaam Bukhari said:

“I have met more than a thousand scholars.(then he mentioned the names of the more prominent in each of the lands that he travelled in) and I found that they all agreed on the following points: they all used to prohibit bid’ah – that which the Prophet and his Companions were not upon, because of the saying of Allaah, ‘and hold fast to the rope of Allaah and do not separate’” [Sharh Usul I’tiqaad]

Abu Ishaaq al-Fazaree reported that al-Awzaa’ee said,

“Patiently restrict yourself to the the Sunnah and do not go beyond the limits held by the decisions of the Sahaabah; hold their positions and avoid what they avoided, take the path of your righteous predecessors for verily what was sufficient for them is sufficient for you.” (Talbees Iblees)

Hadhrat Abu Aaliyah said,

“Learn Islam, then when you have learned Islam, do not turn away from it to the right or to the left. But be upon the Straight Path and be upon the Sunnah of your Prophet (sallallahu alahi wa-sallam) and that which his companions were upon…
And beware of these innovations because they cause enmity and hatred amongst you, but stick to the original state of affairs that was there before they divided.” [al-Hilya of Abu Nu’aym]

Imâm al-Baghawî (d.516H) – rahimahullâh – said:

“The Prophet sallallâhu ’alayhi wa sallam informed about the splitting of this Ummah and the appearance of innovations, and he stated that those who followed his Sunnah and the way of his Companions – may Allâh be pleased with them all – would be saved. So the Muslim, when he sees a person zealously engaged in any of these innovations out of belief, or taking any of the Sunnah lightly – must avoid him and be free of him, and abandon him, whether alive or dead. So he does not give salâm to him when he meets him, nor reply to it if he says it first – until he abandons his innovation and returns to the truth. And the forbiddance of avoiding for more than three days between two people refers to things that happen between people – not what is done for the sake of the Dîn – since avoiding people of innovation continues until they leave their innovation.” [Sharhus-Sunnah]

Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazzālī H (d. 505 / 1111; Tūs) wrote whilst distinguishing between the righteous ulama from the evil worldly ones:

“And among them [that is, the qualities of the otherworldly ulama] is that he should guard assiduously against innovated/introduced matters [in religion] even if the vast majority of people have accepted them and that he should not be deluded by the people’s agreement [about the legitimacy] of something they introduced after the Companions(radhiyallahu anhum) and that he should be avid in his enquiry about the state of the Companions and their behaviour and their deeds and about what the gave the greatest importance to.” (Iḥyā Ulūm al-Dīn, Kitābal-Ilm)

Haafidh Ibn Rajab Hanbali (rahmatullah alayh) describes the “perfect Sunnah” as:

“Sunnah is the term given to that path which is followed and adhered to, upon which Nabi (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and the Khulafa-e-Raashideen treaded. This includes the beliefs, actions and statements. This is the perfect Sunnah” [Jamiul Uloom wal Hikm, vol. 1, page 191]

Haafidh Ibn Katheer (rahmatullahi alaih):

“The Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat states that it is a Bid’ah to carry out whatever act and statement is not established from Rasulullaah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) by the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhu). Because if that act was a good one, then the Sahaabah would most definitely have carried it out first. Indeed if an act was a good one, then they would have surpassed us in it. They never left out any virtuous act from the virtuous acts, except that they would excel us in it.” [Tafseer Ibn Katheer]

Imaam Rabbani Hadhrat Mujaddid Alf Thaani writes,

“Rasulullaah has stated that this group can be recognised by the fact that they ‘follow the path on which my companions and I are on’. While it would have sufficed to say ‘the path on which I am’, Rasulullaah specifically mentioned the Sahabah (radhiyallahu anhum) so that it may be known that the path the Sahabah radhiyallahu anhum follow is his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) path as well and that salvation can be attained by following the Sahabah (radhiyallahu anhum).”(Maktubat,Vol 1)

Thus, in relation to the Ummah, the 20 rakats Taraaweeh prayers, the additional Jumuah Athaan, Tahiyyatul Wudhu, the Salaat before being executed, the wording of the Athaan which a Sahaabi saw in a dream, the Tahmeed in Salaat, and other acts initiated by the Sahabah (radhiallahu anhum) are not bid’ah, as understood by one group of Ahl al-bid’ah, nor bid’ah hasanah, as understood by another group. They are all legal Sunnah.

Shah Abdul Haqq Muhaddith Dehlwi (rahmatullah alayh) describes this habit of the ‘deviated people’ in his famous commentary,

“If the Khulafaa-e-Rashideen issued a decree on any matter, even though their ruling may have been based on their Qiyaas or ijtihaad, it is also in accordance to (to be classified as) Sunnat. It can never be classified as Bid’ah, as some deviated people have said.” [Ash-atul Lam`aat, vol. 1, page 130]