[Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi (rahimahullah)]
The definition of Sunnat
Sunnat is not only that which has been established from Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), in fact Sunnat is the predominant practice of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), be it in the form of a (clear) instruction or something which is perceived (from his reactions). For example, Taraaweeh Salaat is classified as Sunnat-e-Muakkadah, and ta’akkud (emphasis) implies perpetuity. It is clear that there was no perpetuity in this act (by Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), rather it was a special temporary act. [Al-Ifaadhaat, page 355, vol. 8]
A verbal declaration on any matter from Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is not sufficient to render it a Sunnat, in fact, that which was his predominant practice is a Sunnat, and not his occasional practices. [Ibid. page 300, vol. 2]
Types of Sunnat
Sunnat (according to its general definition) is that which Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) carried out as a form of Ibaadat, besides this it would be classified as a sunnan-e-zawaa’id (extra Sunnats). For example the hair-style of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was his personal habit and not any act of Ibaadat, hence there is no doubt that keeping this style of hair is preferable (for the Ummat), but to keep one’s hair in another way would not be classified as contrary to the Sunnat. [Imdaadul Fataawa, page 224]
Sunnat is of two types – Sunnat-e-Ibaadat and Sunnat-e-‘Aadat. The general usage of the word ‘Sunnat’ would include only the first type. Promises of reward and encouragement to practice implies to and refers to this type. Practice on the second type would be a source of blessings and is a demonstration of one’s love for Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). This second type does not form any essential part of the Deen and if its practice interferes with one’s Deen and beliefs, then one should be stopped therefrom. [Ibid. page 229, vol. 4]
The ruling regarding Sunan-e-Zawaa’id and mustahibbaat
The ruling regarding the ‘extra’ Sunnats (sunan-e-‘aadiya) and the Mustahab acts is that their performance warrants reward and non-performance does not attract sin. When one closely studies the nusoos then it will be noted that this is the ruling of these two deeds before they are performed, but after their commencement, the ruling changes. One ruling will apply to a specific application and another is general, which is not specific to its occasion of application. It is Makrooh to leave out and abandon that Mustahab act which has been made a perpetual habit, which one practices over a period of time. This is borne out by a Hadith in Bukhaari Shareef which is reported by Hadhrat Abdullah Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhuma) who reports from Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) that he said, “O Abdallah, don’t be like so and so, who used to stand up at nights (in Ibaadat) and then he abandoned it.” Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had displayed distaste and karaahat at this attitude of this person who used to regularly perform Tahajjud Salaat and then abandoned it. It is clear that after inculcating as a habit a Mustahab act it should not be abandoned. This is Makrooh. [badaa’i, page 150]
The definition of reviving a Sunnat
Shah Abdul Qadir Sahib (rahmatullah alayh) once said to an Aalim (Molvi Ismail Sahib) to stop making rafa’ yadain (lifting hands in various postures of Takbeer in Salaat) because it is a cause for unnecessary fitnah. Molvi Ismail said that if the fitnah of the masses is to be taken into account what then would happen to (the import of) the Hadith, “He who holds fast to my Sunnat at a time of fasaad in the Ummah will receive the reward of 100 martyrs.” Upon hearing this reply, Shah Abdul Qadir (rahmatullah alayh) replied, “We thought that Ismail had become an Aalim, but he does not understand the meaning of even one Hadith. The application of this Hadith is when there is some act which is (being generally practiced) contrary to the Sunnat practice, whereas the topic we are discussing (i.e. not making rafa’ yadain) is not contrary to the Sunnat, in fact it is another Sunnat. Just as rafa’ yadain is a Sunnat, so too is irsaal (not making rafa’ yadain) is a Sunnat.” [Bawaadirun Nawaadir, page 469, vol. 2]
An appropriate and excellent explanation of Sunnat and bid’ah
It should be realised that whatever acts were innovated after the passing of the Khairul Quroon (best of eras) are categorised into two types: one is that whose initiative is new and some ma’moor bihi (essential ordered act of the Shariah) is dependant upon it, where without this (innovation) this faculty of Deen will not function effectively. For example, the compilation and authoring of Deeni subject matter in book-form, the establishment of Madrasahs and khanqahs, etc. These things were not resent during the era of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), and their initiative is new, and some essential part of the Deen depends on (the initiation of) these acts.
Everyone is well aware that it is an essential and necessary requirement upon every (Muslim) individual to protect and safeguard the Deen. One should also remember that during the best of eras, such means (as these innovations mentioned above) did not exist, because there was no need for it. That era was permeating with blessings, and the memories of the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) was so excellent that when they heard or observed Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) saying or doing anything, it remained embedded and etched in their minds. Their understanding and intellect was also such that there was no need for formal classes wherein prescribed lessons in Deen needed to be taught.
Following those eras, others followed wherein negligence and carelessness (in matters of Deen) became the order of the day, memories were weaker, people of deviated and personal views increased, etc., hence the Ulama discerned the gradual destruction of the edifices of the Deen. The urgent need arose to formulate methods to administrate (and safeguard) the structures of the Deen, together with all its facets. In this regard the Kitaabs of the Deen, Hadith, Usool-e-Hadith, Usool-e-fiqh, Aqaai’d, etc. needed to be compiled. Madrasah were established in order to teach these sciences of the Deen. In similar vein, the mashaa’ikh saw the need to establish khanqahs to revive and nurture the desire for nisbat and self-reformation. Besides these, there was no other means envisaged which would safeguard our Deen.
Hence these are such things whose sabab (reasons and causes) are new, and these sababs were not prevalent during the khairul quroon. These are also such matters upon which the existence and preservation of some essential Deeni matter rests. Hence these things may have the apparent hue and definition of bid’ah, but in reality they are not bid’ahs. In fact, according to the ruling of Muqaddamatul Waajib Waajibun, they are Waajib acts.
The second are category are those things whose reason (sabab) is old. For example, the sabab of meelad, teeja, daswah, etc. are all old. The reason for the establishment of meelad is expression of happiness at the birth of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). This very sabab and reason was prevalent and also existent during the era of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum), but it was never celebrated by any of them. Can we claim that, Nauthubillah, the minds of the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) did not discern this? If the sabab was not present during their eras, then at least we could have said that they had no cause to do it. But since the reason for holding meelad was also prevalent during that time, and neither did Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) nor his Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) ever hold or encourage such activities, can we safely aver that this is a bid’ah – in word, definition and practically. Since these innovations fall under the scope of the Hadith, “Whosoever innovates anything into our Deen, is not from amongst us.” That is, it is impermissible to participate and hold such gatherings. This is the general ruling to recognise and distinguish between Sunnat and bid’ah. All corollary rulings can be deduced herefrom. [Wa’azus suroor, page 27]
The differences between Sunnat and bid’ah and the method in which to distinguish between the two
1. There is one other extraordinary difference between these two, and that is that the proposers and advancers of the former are (essentially) the elite (Ulama) and the awaam (masses) are not included (as the initiators), whereas the advancers and initiators of the latter are the masses (who are like sheep). And it is also they who always participate and spend therein. The celebrations and initiation of meelad was originated by a king. He was from the awaam and this practice remains perpetuated by the awwaam. [As-suroor, page 27]
2. I will show one way to recognise a bid’ah and that it is if the act is not established from the Qur’aan Majeed, Sunnat, Ijma or Qiyaas, and the participants deem it an act of the Shariah, then know that this is a bid’ah. After noting this definition, observe that urs fatiha, regarding any particular day as blessed and auspicious to make isaal-e-tahwaab, etc., etc. are not established from any source of the Deen. Are these acts not also regarded as part of the Deen? [Wa’az Taqweem, page 29]
3. Another yardstick in recognising that a bid’ah is evil is to observed whether more of its participants are Ulama or the masses. The Bid’ati leader will not spend of his own wealth. Yes he will be present at the meals. Such functions are more frequented by the ignoramuses. There is no prestige and honour of the bid’ah in the hearts of the Bid’ati Ulama.
Those things which we hold in esteem and deem desirable, we participate therein, even if it means spending from our wealth, like qurbaani. And then also we should observe the masses (who attend these functions) — how many of them are Deeni-conscious and how many are not? Very few may be pious, but they do little, and the majority are faasiq and faajir (open sinners and transgressors). [Hasnul Azeez, page 330, vol. 2]
Innovations for Deen or innovations in Deen?
The reality of bid’ah is that it is such an act which is done thinking it to be part of the Deen. If it is done thinking it to be a treatment (for some spiritual ailment), then how can it be called a bid’ah? Hence, the one is an innovation for the (benefit of) Deen and the other is an innovation in (to the detriment of) the Deen. The innovation for the Deen would be classified a Sunnat and the innovation in the Deen a bid’ah. [Al-Faadhaat, page 308, vol. 2]
A person levelled an objection saying that the (concept of) times and timetable which we have scheduled and prepared were not practiced during the khairul quroon, hence this will be classified as a bid’ah.
If bid’ah is to be classified as these people understand it that whatever did not exist during the khairul quroon is a bid’ah, then during the khairul quroon he was also not yet in existence, hence he should be classified a bid’ah. These poor souls do not understand the definition of bid’ah.
These time schedules and tables are not part of any belief or ibaadat, hence their being or not being in the khairul quroon does not include it into the category of bid’ah. [Ibid. page 125, vol.2]
The necessity for any act to have been present during the khairul quroon will be when the act is one of Ibaadat. If the act is merely one of administration or regulation, then it will not be a bid’ah (even if it was not existent during the khairul quroon). One such Hadith has been added in Hayatul Muslimeen which was taken from Shamaa’il Tirmidhi, wherein regulation in the daily life of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) has been reported. This Hadith appears in the eighth part. [Ibid. page 134, vol. 2]
To exceed the limits in a non-Shar’i or mandoob act, or to make takhsees or ta’yeen would also be included as a bid’ah
It has been narrated by Hadhrat Hasan (radhiyallahu anhu) that Hadhrat Uthman bin Abi ‘Aas (radhiyallahu anhu) was called to the khatna (circumcision) of someone, and he refused the invitation. When asked about it he replied that during the era of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) they would not attend a khatna neither were they called to it. This narration appears in Musnad Ahmad.
From this we realise that the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) disliked the invitations to such occasions which are not established from the Sunnat. They even refused to attend such gatherings.
The secret to this is that an invitation to any occasion places some sort of importance or significance to that which one is invited to, because arrangements are being prepared for it, and to make special arrangements for anything which the Shariah has not, would be classified as an innovation in the Deen. This is the reason why when Hadhrat Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) saw that the people were gathering in the Musjid to perform their Chaasht (Duhaa) Salaat, he criticised them and labelled this a bid’ah. Based on this, the Fuqahaa have said that it is Makrooh to make Nafl Salaat in congregation. To regard and believe an unimportant matter to be important and place great emphasis upon it, or to become dogmatic and rigidly practice on such matters, such that one regards and accommodates it to the level of Faraa’idh and Waajibaat or even more, and then to censure and criticise those who do not participate therein, are all contemptible acts. Theses are the essences of bid’ah. Allaah Ta’ala has stated that those people who exceed the limits placed by Him are the oppressors.
Hadhrat Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood (radhiyallahu anhu) stated that it is necessary upon every person that he not allocate a part of his Salaat to shaitaan, by always turning to his right side after Fardh Salaat (i.e. deeming this to be necessary). He says that he saw Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) sometimes turn to his left side. [Bukhaari/Muslim]
Teebi, the commentator of Mishkaat Shareef has stated that it is proven from this Hadith that the person who persists and is dogmatic on a Mustahab act, such that he deems it necessary and binding and never practices to its contrary, then such a person has apportioned a share of his ibaadat to shaitaan (i.e. he has lost the blessings of his ibaadat). What then can be said of that person who persists and rigidly practices on bid’ah, un-Islamic and detestable acts?
The author of Majma’ has stated that it is proven from this Hadith that a mandoob act also becomes Makrooh when there is a fear that it is elevated in rank. This is the reason why the Hanafi Fuqahaa have stated that it is Makrooh to stipulate fixed Surahs for Salaats, regardless of whether this is done believing it to be part of the Shariah or rigidly in practice. [Tareeqah Meelad Shareef, page 7 and 11]
How a Mustahab becomes a bid’ah
I do not say that Mustahab is bid’ah. To regard it as necessary and binding is bid’ah. If anyone regards a Mustahab act as Waajib, then is this not bid’ah? Necessary, obligatory and Waajib all have the same meaning. [Husnul Azeez, page 676, vol.1]
To deem an un-obligatory act as obligatory is a deviated bid’ah. To censure and rebuke those who oppose or do not practice it, merely confirms its bid’ah status. [Imdaadul fataawa, page 340, vol. 5 / page 306, vol. 5]
To regard the distribution of sweetmeats as necessary is a bid’ah. The Fuqahaa have written that if there is fasaad in a Mustahab act, then it becomes necessary to abandon that Mustahab act. [Husnul Azeez, page 676, vol.1]
Is it not a bid’ah to regard a non-Waajib as a Waajib? Does this not fall under the scope of the definition of bid’ah? [Al-Ifaadhaat Yawmia, page 116, vol. 8, part 1]
The four types of bid’ah and Sunnat, and the explanation of bid’ah-e-hasana, bid’ah-e-sayyi’a, haqeeqiya and sooriya
“It is stated in Raddul Muhtaar, ‘The Sunnats of wudhu: That thing upon which Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and the Khulafa-e-Raashideen, after him, were constant upon are Sunnat, otherwise it is Mandoob. It is reported in Durrul Mukhtaar under the discussion of intention (Niyyat) that verbal statement is Mustahab, that is the preferred opinion, and it is said that this is Sunnat, i.e. the Salaf preferred this or it is a Sunnat of our Ulama, since it is reported from neither Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) nor the Tabieen…
“It is reported from Durrul Mukhtaar: The Ahkaam of Imaamat and the Mubtadi’u (person who indulges in bid’ah), that is (the one who) believes contrary to the accepted (rulings) of The Rasool, not in opposition or resistance, rather with a type of doubt…and Mandoob, like innovations similar to Madrasah…’”
From the above excerpts the following matters are clarified:
Firstly, there are numerous implications of Sunnat:
1. That which is reported from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)
2. That which is reported from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), the Khulafa-e-Raashideen, as is mentioned in the ibaarat (text): “That thing upon which Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and the Khulafa-e-Raashideen, after him, were constant upon are Sunnat”
3. That which is reported from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) or the Taabieen, as is deduced from the ibaarat: “since it is reported from neither Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) nor the Tabieen”
4. That which is reported from the Ulama, as is deduced from the ibaarat: “or it is a Sunnat of our Ulama.”
A few meanings of bid’ah have also been deduced from this texts:
1. That which is not reported from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)
2. That which is not reported from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) or his Khulafaa-e-Raashideen
3. That which is not reported from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), his Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) or the Tabieen
4. That which is not reported from the Ulama. [Bawaadirun Nawaadir, page 778]
In reality there is only type of Sunnat and bid’ah
This multitude is merely on the apparent, otherwise in reality there is only one definition of Sunnat, and that is: It is the practicable path in Deen as stated after the former ibaarat. All these meaning incorporate the definition of Sunnat. The meaning of bid’ah is: Belief in that which is contrary to the accepted (well-known practices of) Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), not in opposition or resistance, rather with a type of doubt. (The practice which opposes the nass, if it is done with doubt and uncertainty (misinformation/ignorance), then it is bid’ah, otherwise it is clearcut fisq and transgression, without any doubt). Or in other words, That which has been innovated contrary to the Haqq which has been established from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), in respect of knowledge, practice or conditions…As it is stated in Durrul Mukhtaar, and this is the true meaning for bid’ah, as borne out by the statement of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), ‘He who innovates anything in our Deen, is not from amongst us.’”
Hence Sunnat-e-Haqeeqi and Bid’ah-e-Haqeeqi cannot be combined or united. However, Bid’ah-e-Sooriya can be coupled with Sunnat-e-Haqeeqi. In this regard, the verbal intention for Salaat is also called a Sunnat. There are some things which may be contrary to the Sunnat, hence they are called bid’ah but regarded as hasan (good/desirable). There are some examples of a clear combination between some types of bid’ah and Sunnat-e-Haqeeqi, and this is borne out by the statement of Hadhrat Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) when he once said, “What a good bid’ah!”
At this juncture we realise also that the bid’ah-e-hasana which some personalities have negated is restricted to just a difference and altercation in words and definitions, because those who have negated it have defined bid’ah in its haqeeqi sense, whereas the claimants (to the validity of bid’ah-e-hasana) have defined it in its general sense.
The limits of sunan-e-‘Aadiyah and sunan-e-‘Ibaadiya
One person once asked if the rearing of sheep/goats is Sunnat or not? The reply was that yes it is a Sunnat, but it is a Sunnat-e-‘Aadiya and not a Sunnat-e-Ibaadiya, and the object of Sunnat is Ibaadat. Nevertheless, the practicing of Sunnat-e-‘Aadiya, if it is executed with love and affection (for Nabi – sallallahu alayhi wasallam), then it is also worthy of rewards. There must not be extremity and excessiveness in sunan-e-‘aadiya, where it is brought to the level of an ibaadat. Some people exhaust all the energies in researching these issues – how big was the ‘asaa (stick) of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), how long his turban was, etc., etc. If a true lover of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) makes these enquiries and his desire is the result of pure love, then this is one thing, but most people who are involved in these types of issues are such that they neglect the necessary requisites of the Deen and regard this as their main objective and aim. If this type of excessiveness continue then it will result in the destruction of the Deen. Everything should be kept in its proper perspective.
The ruling regarding Sunnat-e-Ibaadat is that if there is a fear of it causing fasaad in the beliefs of the masses, then it becomes Waajib to abandon a Mustahab act. In this regard, it was the blessed habit of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) to regularly recite Surahs Alif Laam Meem Sajdah and Dahar for the Fajr on Jumu’ahs, but Imaam Abu Hanifah (rahmatullah alayh) has decreed it Makrooh to recite these two Surahs (every) Friday Jumu’ah. For this reason many ignoramuses have levelled the criticism of Imaam Abu Hanifah (rahmatullah alayh) acting contrary to the Sunnat. [Al-Ifaadaat, page 98, vol. 19]
I ask: whatever food Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) partook of as a habit, will it be classified as ‘aadatan (a habit) or ibaatatan (an act of ibaabat)? It is clear that it was eaten as ibaatatan. Hence, to imitate the habits of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is not Waajib in the Shariah, neither is leaving them out sinful.
One has the choice of appeasing the taste in matters of habit. Some of the noble habits of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) are such that we will never be able to imitate or bear, therefore the Shariah has not made it incumbent to follow the noble habit of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). Yes, if someone has the desire and good fortune of being able to inculcate the noble habits of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), then undoubtedly there is great virtue in that. However, one does not have the right to rebuke others for not doing so. [At-Tableegh, page 255, vol. 20]
The two types of Uswa’-e-Hasana (models/patterns of Nabi – sallallahu alayhi wasallam) – verbal and practical
It is stated in the Qur’an Majeed, “Indeed there is for you in the (lifestyle of the) Rasool of Allaah, a beautiful model.” Allah Ta’ala is indicating to us that He has placed an excellent example for us to follow in the life of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). What is the object of giving a model? So that its likeliness may be prepared. It is a further grace of Allaah Ta’ala that there is no difficulty and inhibition in this model. Two types of model are given – a practical and verbal one. It is a pure mercy of Allaah Ta’ala upon this Ummat that He has granted so much of latitude and not the slightest bit of constriction.
Objection: The examples set for us by Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is to be followed to the letter. For example, Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) mostly partook of barley bread, and he led a life of pure simplicity, where he never procured a home or kept (extra) money, whereas we neither eat like him nor suffer like him. We even don the best of clothing. We have lavish and spacious homes, we save money, etc. Yet the Ulama say that all this is permissible. What is the explanation to our following this example and model of our beloved Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)?
Reply: The answer to this is that there are two types of models – qowli and fi’lee. Fi’lee is of a particular form and qowli falls within the ambit of the Shariah. It is impermissible to go beyond it. However, there is much latitude within it. We were shown the limits of the deeds of obedience, which should not be exceeded. We have also been granted latitude to manoeuvre as much as is permissibly possible. This is Waajib and obligatory. The ush-shaaq (lovers of Nabi – sallallahu alayhi wasallam), have taken the practical model and noted what Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) ate, drank, how he led his life, etc., etc. But for people like us there is scope and latitude, that we can fulfil our needs within the ambit of the Shariah. However, we also need to take note of the limits of the Shariah and not exceed them. In every act, we should take note of the limits of the Shariah. As long as one remains within the limits of the Shariah, then it will be deemed as also having followed the model. [Huqooquz Zawjain, page 460]
The laws regarding leaving out the sunan-e-‘aadiyah and sunan-e-ibaadiya and when they become impermissible
The sunan-e-‘aadiya, like simple clothing, barley bread, and all other such habits of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), if for any reason due to them the objective is lost (i.e. it interferes with one’s ibaadat), then they should be abandoned, because the sunan-e-‘aadiya are not objectives in themselves.
In fact, there are even occasions where the sunan-e-ibaadat, are to be left out if they are the cause of some harm. For example, the Sunnat of Tahajjud is 8 rakaats, now if a person who gets up with difficulty and performs this eight Rakaats, but sleep overwhelms him such that he falls off to sleep and misses his Fajr Salaat with Jamaat, then to such a person it will be told that he only perform two Rakaats of Tahajjud and sleep away, so that he may awaken for Fajr in time. Since six to eight Rakaats are amongst the sunan-e-ibaadat for Tahajjud Salaat, but if a person exceeds this, then the objective (other more important ibaadat) is lost and it (this excessiveness) should be abandoned.
This is the reason why if it is known regarding the conditions of a certain person, that if he undertakes the journey of Hajj, he will not be able to maintain and be diligent in performing Salaat, then he will be prevented from going for Hajj. If there is an overwhelming fear that even one Fardh Salaat of a person will become Qadha whilst on the journey for a Nafl Hajj, then it will not be permissible for him to undertake that journey. When the Hajj will be a cause for some Deeni harm, where another Fardh duty is neglected, then it is clear that instead of this Hajj bringing one closer to Allah Ta’ala, it takes him further away.
Another example is that if for example a person has to eat barley bread, which may cause his stomach to pain. Then the love which a person has for the Sunnat of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) will no longer remain that, rather it may become a dread, and there is a real fear that (a person will think that) by practicing upon an excellent Sunnat causes stomach-ache. Today, it is due to the mutashaddideen (those who adhere doggedly to something), that people have acquired a dislike for and are being distanced from the Sunnat and the Shariah.
In summary, the sunan-e-‘aadiya and ibaadiya are impermissible for that person to whom there may be harm caused to his (more important and primary) Deeni duties. [At-Tableegh, page 74-8]
The two ways of following the Sunnat
The actions of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) are categorised into two classes – one is his acts of ibaadat and the other is regarding his noble habit (aadat). The former requires following and not necessarily the latter. If anyone does imitate the latter, then it will be a display of affection and love.
There is a soori (in form) and haqeeqi (real) way of obedience. To bring the actual instruction into practice, without considering the illat is ittibaa’ (obedience/following) in soorat and to practice upon it taking the sabab and illat into consideration is ittibaa’ in haqeeqat.
These two ways of ittibaa’ were also found in the Sahaabah (radhyiallahu anhum). During the course of the expedition of the Bani Quraidha, when Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was seeing a group of the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) off, he said to them, “Perform your ‘Asr Salaat when you reach there.” It so happened that after much effort the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) could not make it to reach their destination before Asr Salaat. The time for Asr entered whilst they were still on their journey. This led to the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) breaking up into two groups – the one group performed their Salaat on time and said that the object of Nabi’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) advice was that they should perform their ‘Asr Salaat at the destination if they reached there on time, and not to perform it (only) there regardless of when they reached. The other group said that they will follow Nabi’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) instruction to the letter and only perform their Salaat upon reaching the destination. They therefore performed their Salaat upon reaching their destination and not on the way.
When Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was informed of this occurrence, he accepted both views. In this incident, the first group made haqeeqi ittibaa’ and the second soorat ittibaa’.
The definitions of bid’ah-e-hasana and bid’ah-e-sayyi’a
The comprehensive ruling regarding this is that any matter which is neither in part or whole from the Deen, and it is forced onto the Deen based on some flimsy doubt, then it is a bid’ah.
The proof of this is in the authentic Hadith, “He who innovates something into our Deen, which is not part of it, is rejected.” The words (from) and (in) are clear indicatives, and a haqeeqi bid’ah always remain a bid’ah-e-sayyi’a. A bid’ah-e-hasana is a bid’ah in outer form (definition) only. Its reality, owing to some (Shar’i) factor it can be classified a Sunnat. [Imdaadul fataawa, page 285, vol. 5]
Related Article: The Concept of Bid’ah – Between the Two Extremes