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Bid'ah (Innovation)


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Mufti Muhammad Ibn Adam

In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

The word Bid’a (innovation) has two aspects to it, one being the linguistic definition, and the other, it’s meaning from a Shariah perspective.

Linguistically Bid’a means introducing something new, regardless of whether it is connected to religious affairs or other worldly matters, and regardless of whether one practices it considering it to be part of Deen or otherwise.

In the Shariah terminology, Bid’a means to introduce something in religion that was not done in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), the rightly guided Khulafa (Allah be pleased with them all) and the early generations with the intention of gaining more reward, and despite being a need for it in the time of the Messenger of Allah and his Companions, it was not implemented verbally, practically, explicitly or implicitly. (Taken from Imam al-Barkawi’s al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya, Imam Shatibi’s al-I’tisam and Imam al-Lakhnawi’s Iqamat al-Hujjah).

From the above definition of Bid’a, it becomes clear that new practices that are not considered to be part of Deen, rather they concern our worldly affairs, such as modern technology, cars, planes, etc… can not be considered as Bid’a, for the fact that they are not introduced with the intention of worship and gaining more reward. Innovations with regards to worldly matters do not fall into the category of reprehensible and sinful innovation, thus they are totally permissible as long as they don’t contradict any other ruling of Shariah.

Similarly, acts and practices that were carried out (verbally, practically, explicitly or implicitly) in the time of the blessed Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give peace), his Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) and the early generation can also not be called an innovation.

Also, an act for which there was no apparent need in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), his companions and the early generations, but later in order to attain a religious objective there rose a need to implement it, then this will also not fall within the definition of Bid’a. Examples of which are: building religious institutions, recording the research of Islamic schools of legal thought, writing books on beneficial subjects, establishing sciences in order to understand the Qur’an and Sunnah, using of modern weapons for Jihad, etc...

With the above definition of Bid’a, it also becomes clear that to innovate something in religion that had the same need in the early times, but was not carried out will be considered a Bid’a, thus unlawful.

Another aspect to remember with regards to Bid’a is that there are certain acts of worship which the Shariah has declared to be recommended (mandub) or highly encouraged (sunnah), but without specifying a particular procedure or method for it. Rewards have been promised for various types of worship, but the actual method of implementation has not been prescribed. This method of worship has been left to the convenience of the individual.

In such acts of worship, it is necessary to leave the general permission given by the Shariah. If a particular method is fixed or considered to be superior to other methods, then this will be impermissible and classed as Bid’a.


Classification of Bid’a

The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is innovation and every innovation is misguidance.” (recorded by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad 4/126-127, Imam Abu Dawud, Imam Tirmidhi & Imam Ibn Majah in their respective Sunan collections with an authentic chain of narrators).

Due to the above Hadith, scholars say that from a perspective of the Shariah definition of Bid’a, every type of Bid’a is reprehensible and sinful. When an act is determined to fall into the abovementioned Shariah definition of Bid’a, then it can never be termed as good or lawful. All innovations are reprehensible and misguidance, thus unlawful.

Imam Malik (Allah be pleased with him) said:

“Whosoever innovates an innovation believing it to be good (hasana) has indeed claimed that the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) breached the trust of Prophethood, because Allah Almighty says: “This day I have perfected your religion for you”. Anything that was not part of religion on that day, can not be a part of religion today.” (al-I’tisam, 1/48).

However, Bid’a can be divided into various categories when considering the linguistic definition. As mentioned earlier, linguistically, Bid’a means to introduce something, thus any thing that is introduced will (from a linguistic point of view) be termed as Bid’a.

These innovations may be obligatory, recommended and unlawful. When scholars categorize innovations, this is the aspect they are referring to.

Therefore, innovations such as the study of the disciplines of Arabic that are necessary to understand the Qur’an and sunnah (grammar, syntax, etc), Hadith classification to distinguish between genuine and spurious prophetic traditions, modern technology like electricity, car, plain, light, building of Islamic schools, etc… despite being considered a Bid’a linguistically, will not be considered a Bid’a with regards to the Shariah definition, thus they are lawful.

Imam al-Lakhnawi explains this by quoting from al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya of Imam al-Barkawi:

“If it is said that how can we reconcile between the Messenger of Allah’s statement “Every innovation is misguidance” and the Fuqaha’s classification of Bid’a into the lawful, recommended and the obligatory?

We will say: Bid’a has a linguistic meaning that is general, which is to introduce, regardless of whether it is considered worship or is related to personal habits. It (Bid’a) also has a Shariah definition that is more specific, which is to add or remove in religion in a way that it was not done in the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) and his Companions, verbally, practically, explicitly or implicitly. Therefore, (the Shar’i Bid’a) does not include habits (worldly matters), rather it is restricted to certain beliefs and practices” (Iqamat al-Hujjah, P. 21-22).

Therefore, the classification of Bid’a in various categories is from a linguistic point of view that does not include the Shar’i definition of Bid’a. It is from this, Sayyiduna Umar al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) said regarding the performance of Tarawih prayer in congregation “This is a good innovation.”

Also, practices that do not fall into the Shariah definition of Bid’a such as building of religious schools will still be considered a Bid’a linguistically, but not all linguistic innovations are reprehensible.

Finally, it should also be remembered that practices carried out in the time of the rightly guided Khalifas, other Companions and their followers (Allah be plesed with all) can not be considered a Bid’a. The great Hanafi jurist and Hadith scholar, Imam Abd al-Hay al-Lakhnawi dedicated a whole chapter in support of this in his famous treatise titled ‘Iqamat al-hujjah ala an al-ikthar fi al-ta’abbud laysa bid’a’.

He states:

“Practices that were carried out with the approval of the Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) but were not done in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), such as the introducing of the first Adhan for Jumu’ah prayer, twenty Rak’ats of Tarawih prayer, etc…can not be considered a Shar’i Bid’a.

There are many evidences for this, just to mention a few:

1) The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Hold fast on to my ways and the ways of the rightly guided Caliphs.” (Abu Dawud, Ahmad, Tirmidhi and others with an authentic chain of narrators).

2) The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “follow in the footsteps of the two after me, Abu Bakr and Umar.” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah with a sound chain of narrators).

(See for more details: Iqamat al-Hujjah by Imam al-Lakhnawi with notes by Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda, P.25-58).

And Allah Knows Best


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The Messenger of Allaah صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

“Whoever innovates something reprehensible in this matter of ours that does not belong to it is rejected.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

"In this matter" i.e. religion - Islam. Defining "innovation," Qadi Iyad رحمه الله writes, "Whoever innovates an opinion in Islam that does not have any manifest (zahir) or obscure (khafi) or clear derived substantiation from the Qur'an and Sunna, then it is rejected."

Islam was preferred as a religion, and anyone who attempts to bring into it an unsubstantiated idea has undertaken a disliked practice - disliked because of the implication that Islam is incomplete or defective, and hence has need for some innovation. As for the words "that does not belong to it," they indicate that innovating something that is in accordance with the Qur'an and Sunna (i.e. "which belongs to it") cannot be considered reprehensible. Imam Shafi'i رحمه الله said, "Any innovation that violates the Qur'an or Sunna or a statement [of the Companion - athar] or the consensus (ijma') [of Muslim scholars] is a deviance. And whatever good that has been innovated and does not contravene any of the above is not reprehensible" (Mirqat al-mafatih 1:366, 368).

Thus, according to Islamic law, bid'a is any new way in worship that is done with the intention of attaining more reward, but not proven from the words or the actions - explicit or tacit -of the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم or the four caliphs, Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman, and 'Ali رضي الله عنهم, in spite of them having had the ability to do so (Shatibi, Al-I'tisam).

The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم strongly warned his Umma against innovating something into Islam saying, "When a people innovate something new into their religion, a sunna to that amount is lifted from them. Hence, holding fast to a sunna is superior to introducing a new innovation (Ahmad).

This is why extreme caution is required in the issue of bid'a. When there is doubt about whether or not something is a reprehensible innovation, it is superior to leave the action. Ibn 'Abidin رحمه الله, the great Syrian jurist, writes, "When there is confusion between the ruling of something being a sunna or bid'a, it is preferable that one abandon the [possible] sunna than enact the [possible] innovation" (Radd al-muthar 1:431)

New methods invented to fulfill human needs have nothing to do with bid'a, because they are not introduced as an act of worship or with the intention of earning reward. Hence, they are permissible as long as they do not violate any command of the Shari'a.

It also can be understood from the above explanation of bid'a that many things were not needed in the time of Allah's Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم, but were established later to achieve a religious objective, cannot be included in the realm of bid'a (in the legal sense) either, [even though they may be considered bid'a in the literal sense, i.e., "an innovation" or "something new." Many times the later is intended when referencing a certain matter to be a good or bad bid'a, since every action legally considered a bid'a can only be reprehensible].

Some innovations that do not violate the Qur'an or the Sunna include the establishment of of madrasas with their organized curricula and classrooms and centers and institutions for spreading Islam (da'wa). Also included among these commendable innovations is the codification of sciences like Arabic grammar, syntax, etymology, rhetoric, and literature to better understand and interpret the Qur'an and hadith; the study of philosophy [or other relevant subjects] to repudiate heretical groups; and the use of certain modern weapons for the defense of Muslims.

Examples of [legally] reprehensible innovation include [unnecessary] decoration of masjids or the custom of shaking hands after the prayers. Mulla 'Ali al-Qari رحمه الله writes, "Some of our scholars [i.e. the Hanafi scholars] have explicitly mentioned that it [shaking hands after prayer] is disliked, and for this reason it is from among the reprehensible innovations (Mirqat al-mafatih 1:368, see also Radd al-muthar 5:244). [A] Conversely, one must also be cautious of ignorantly labeling something, which may be recommended or permissible, as a bid'a, since that is also detrimental to the faith.

[Excerpt from, Provisions for the Seekers with commentary by Mufti Abdur-Rahman Ibn Yusuf]

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The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said,

"Whoever honours a person responsible for reprehensible innovations has assisted in undermining Islam." (Bayhaqi, Shu'ab al-Iman)

By these words, one can easily sense the severity of the crime and sin of the innovator. (Provisions for the Seekers)






The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

"Allah puts a barrier in front of repentance for every companion of innovation."

ash-Shatibi رحمه الله said:

"The reason they are away from repentance is because it is hard for them to obey the shari'ah because they are following a way that opposes the shari'ah and that is only consistent with their own desires. The truth is very hard on them. Their souls only follow what they like and do not wish to follow any other thing. Every innovation is followed due to the power of desires as its source is their invention and not the shari'ah... Furthermore, the innovator claims to be following some proof and claims to be implementing the shari'ah (therefore, it is very hard for him to repent and follow the real truth).
[itisam, vol 1, p124]






Sayyiduna Ibn 'Umar رضي الله عنهما said,

"Every bid'ah (innovation) is misguidance, even if the people regard it as good."







Sayyiduna 'Abdullah Ibn 'Abbaas رضي الله عنهما said,

"Do not sit with the people of innovation, for verily their sittings are a sickness for the hearts."

[ash-Shari'ah of al-Ajurri رحمه الله]







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  • 3 years later...

Innovations in Deen



Hazrat Mufti Ebrahim Salejee (Daamat Barakaatuhu) mentioned:

The only religion which has remained in its pure and original form is the religion of Islam. No other religion enjoys this privilege as with the passage of time people began to make additions and omissions into their religion. They added into their religion things that had no basis whatsoever, and there was no one to weed them out of their wrongs. As a result it became difficult for them to differentiate between the original practices and the innovated practices. However, Allah Ta‘ala has taken the responsibility upon Himself to preserve this deen of Islam in its pristine form. Therefore, He sends a revivalist in every century who will trim and shave off the innovations that people introduced into Deen. 

The ‘Ulama explain that the effects of innovations are worse than sins, because sins are such that the perpetrators regard it as wrong and hence they may repent one day from it. Whereas, they regard an innovation to be an act of virtue, hence they will never make taubah from it. 

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