The Concept of Bid’ah in Islam
Bid’a is a word that has been misused so often today, that its definition needs to be explained clearly.
Bid’a, literally means innovation. In special terms it means carrying out actions which displease Allah Most High and his Messenger
[at-Tirmidhi, chapter 2]
Qadi Shawkani writes:
“In Islam there are two kinds of bid’a: bid’a sayyia and bid’a hasana. If a new thing opposes the Qur’an and Sunna then it is sayyia, but if it is not against the Shari’a then it is hasana”
[Qadi Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar, chapter on ‘Salat at-Tarawih’]
Imam an-Nawawi writes that there are certain types of bid’a. Two of them are bid’a sayyia and bid’a hasana. Bid’a sayyia is a bid’a that opposes the Qur’an and Sunna, whereas bid’a hasana is a bid’a that is not against the Qur’an or Sunna. For example: to invent the usul (principles) of Hadith, usul of Fiqh, usul of Tafsir etc.
[an-Nawawi, Tahzib al-Asma wa’l-Lughat, word ‘bid’a’]
Hafiz Ibn Rajab defines bid’a to mean new things that have no basis in the Qur’an or Sunna. If a new practice has evidence from the Qur’an or Sunna it will not be bid’a shari’a, but it will be bid’a logawiyya (linguistic)
[Ibn Rajab, Jami’ al-‘Ulum al-Hukkam, page 252 ]
Hafiz al-‘Asqalani says that if a new thing is against Islam, it will be bad. If it is not against Islam, it will be hasana (good)
[al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar., Fath al-Bari, chapter on ‘Tarawih’ ]
Hafiz Ibn Taymiyya writes that bid’a is always bad, but some scholars say that there are two kinds of bid’a, that one is good and one is bad. If a new thing has origin in the Qur’an and Sunnait will be called bid’a logawiyya (linguistically) but not bid’a in Shari’a. The word bid’a will only apply to bid’a in Shari’a. For instance, the Qur’an was collected in one book after the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), and the congregational tarawih prayer was started in Sayyidna ‘Umar’s time but these two things have an origin in the Sunna. Therefore, it will be called bid’a linguistically
[Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtida as-Sirat al-Mustaqim, chapter on ‘Bid’a’ ]
From the above, the conclusion is that if a new thing has been started, and it neither goes against the Qur’an or Sunna, then it can be declared a ‘good’ innovation.However, if a new act is initiated against the Qur’an and Sunna, that will be called bad bid’a, or a reprehensible innovation.
Definition of Bid’a Sayyia
Bid’a sayyia is a new thing, introduced to and made part of the Din of Islam that has no origin what so ever from the Qur’an or the Sunna of Rasulu’llah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).
Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim write that there were some Companions talking and the Prophet was listening. One of them said:’I will make prayers (salat) all night long.’ The second said, ‘I will fast all the time.’ The third said, ‘I will never marry.’When our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) heard them say this, he said,’I am the most God conscious of Allah than any of you. I pray salat, I fast, and I marry women as well. And who so turns his face from my Sunna, cannot be of my Umma'”
[Mishkat, Muslim, Bukhari, chapter on ‘Ihtisam’]
The reason why our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) stopped them from doing what they wanted to do was because it was against his Sunna (way). Whatever we do which is against the way of our Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) sunna is a bid’a sayyia.
Rasulu’llah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) stated:’On the Day of Judgement, some people will come to me when I will be standing by Hawd al-Kawthar (watering place).They will be grabbed and taken towards the Hellfire. I shall say,’These are my people’ but in reply I will be told:’These are the people who introduced innovations after you, so they are unbelievers'”
[Bukhari, Muslim, ‘Kitab al-Hawd’]
From the above hadith we learn of the innovations from which we have been warned. Such innovations that make a person murtad (a non believer.) A few examples of innovations which cause a person to become murtad are: claiming to be a prophet, deny giving zakat, performingHajj at a place other than the Ka’ba, or to introduce any other new belief which is in opposition to Qur’an or ahadith.
A person once sent salam to ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) who replied, ‘I do not accept his salam as this person has innovated by becoming Qadariya (A sect which does not believe in destiny)
[Mishkat, Kitab al-Iman wa’l-Qadr, transmitted by Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah]
The above narration emphasises the fact that bid’a is to hold such an ‘aqida which is in direct opposition to the Qur’an and Sunna e.g. to become Qadariya, Jabariya etc.
Rasulu’llah(may Allah bless him and grant him peace) stated:’Every innovation leads astray and every creator of the astray goes in the Fire’
[Muslim, chapter on ‘al-Jumu’a’]
An example of this bid’a is given by Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim who writes:’The one who denies the punishment of the grave is an innovater’
[Kitab ar-Ruh , Chapter Ten]
Allah Most High says in the Holy Qur’an:
“And we ordained in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. But the Monasticism which they innovated for themselves, We did not prescribe for them”
[Sura al-Hadid, verse 27]
This verse points out that when something new is invented to please Allah Most High then it is permissible, and Allah gives reward for it. Those who do not fulfil the requirements then Allah will not reward them.
Rasulu’llah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) stated:
“The person who introduced a good thing in Islam, shall obtain the reward for it and also the reward for those who adopt it. As for the one who introduces a bad thing [bid’a sayyia] he will obtain the punishment for introducing it and also the punishment for those who adopt it”
[Sahih Muslim, Kitab az-Zakat;at-Tirmidhi, Chapter Eleven]
This Hadith gives proof of the fact that it is permissible to introduce a good act in Islam; also it gives permission to follow that deed with the intention of reward.
Even our Prophet’s Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) intoduced new things in Islam that the Messenger of Allah himself had not done, and our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not stop them. If by doing something new without the permission of our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was bid’a then these people would not have done so. Yes it was important for them to remember not to start something new which would be against our Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) sunna in any way.
There are many examples, but for the moment we shall highlight two:
1) Our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) askedBilal (may Allah be pleased with him) ‘What do you practice that from which you look forward to a lot of reward from Allah Most High? The reason I ask is because I heard your footsteps in Paradise.’ Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) replied,’Whenever I complete any ablution [wudu] I always perform a prayer [nafila salat]
[Bukhari, Kitab at-Tahajjud]
This new practice that Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) started by himself was so much accepted by Allah that our Proph
et (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) heard his footsteps in paradise.
Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani writes, in his commentary to the above hadith, that to worship at a set time is permissible.
[al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari]
2) In a mosque in Quba an Imam used to lead congregation prayers. In every rakat (cycle), after reciting Sura al-Fatiha and a verse of the Qur’an, he also recited Sura al-Ikhlas as well.When our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) asked him, ‘Why do you do this?’he replied:’I love reading Sura al-Ikhlas.’Our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:’This love will take you towards Paradise’
[Bukhari, Kitab as-Salat]
Our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not stop either of these two Companions, but instead gave them inspiration of the glad tidings they were going to receive.
Imam al-Bukhari writes:
“‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) ordered that congregational Tarawih prayer should be offered together. When the people started this and ‘Umar saw this he said, ‘This is a good bid’a'”
[Bukhari, Kitab at-Tarawih]
‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) ordered the people to offer congregational prayers of Tarawih, and called this a ‘good bid’a ( bid’a hasana).From this we can prove two things:
1) After our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) any new thing that was initiated and was not against his Sunna or the Qur’an is called bid’a hasana.
2) To start something new in Islam, which is not already there and does not affect the Sunna then this will be a bid’a hasana
This hadith supports the fact that if a new thing does not oppose the Qur’an or ahadith then it is a bid’a hasana.
During the Khilafa of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) came to him and said:’In the Battle of Yamama many huffaz of Qur’an have been martyred. I fear that if the huffaz continue to die in such battles, the Qur’an could disappear.I recommend that you command for the Qur’an to be collected.’ Abu Bakr replied:’How can I do a thing which was not a practice of Rasulu’llah?’ ‘Umar replied:’By Allah, this is a good thing.’ ‘Umar mentioned this many times to the Khalifa.Later, Abu Bakr said:’Allah has opened my heart to the fact that this was not an action of Rasulu’llah but that this is a good thing.’ Abu Bakr then told Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him) to start collecting the Qur’an. Zayd questioned the Khalifa by asking: ‘Abu Bakr, why are you doing something which was not an action of Rasulu’llah?’ Abu Bakr replied:’By Allah, this is a very good thing.’ Zayd later said:’Allah opened my heart to the fact that this was a good thing so I started collecting the Qur’an until it was collected'”
[Bukhari, chapter on ‘Fada’il al-Qur’an’]
The above Hadith goes a long way in proving that the introduction of a good thing (which was not an action of Rasulu’llah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace)) is the sunna of the Sahaba (may Allah pleased with them).
During the time of Rasulu’llah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) seven different types of qira’a (recitation technique) were used to recite the Qur’an.But ‘Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) united the people to one type of qira’a. This was a thing not done by the Prophet (may Allah be pleased with him),Abu Bakr, or ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) but by ‘Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him)
[Bukhari chapter on ‘Fada’il al-Qur’an’]
Punctuation in the Qur’an
Names of suras written in the Qur’an
Mihrabs in the mosques
Minarets of mosques
Taqlid of the four schools of Fiqh
Fixing congregational prayer times with the clock times
These are all bid’a hasana and have been accepted by the whole of the Umma.
In the Haramayn (Makka and Madina) they celebrate Laylat al-Qadr on the 27th night of Ramadan – it is not establishd in hadith. Is there any set date for Laylat al-Qadr, or even to congregate for hours on end? To give the Ka’aba a bath twice in a year is not mentioned in the Qur’an.So why do all these Muslims from the whole world join them in prayer there? In which hadith does it instruct us to recite the whole of the Qur’an in Salat (Tarawih) and finish on the 27th night of Ramadan?
In which hadith does it say that al-Bukhari is the next book after the Holy Qur’an, or did any the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) say this?
In Saudi Arabia they celebrate their National day. They hang the picture of the King every where, even on the riyals – where does this derive from?So then it would be right to say that to assent that al-Bukhari is the second highest book after the Qur’an is bid’a? Which Companion of our Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) started the sciences of ‘Ilm at-Tafsir, ‘ilm al-Hadith, usul al-Fiqh, and asma’ ar-rijal (biographies of narrators of hadith)? So does this mean that these sciences are also bid’a?
Our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and his Companions used to call Saudi Arabia’Jazirat al-Arab’ but the present Government has taken that name out and changed it to Saudi Arabia.
These are some new actions done by the Sahaba and the pious which were not counted as bid’a:
Hafiz Ibn Taymiyya writes:
“Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal would place his hand on the grave of a person who had just died and then supplicate to Allah.”He also says:”There were some people from amongst the Salaf who would never narrate a hadith of Rasulu’llah without performing wudu “
[Ibn Taymiyya, At-Tawassul, page 90]
Hafiz Ibn Taymiyya did not refer to the above as innovations even though both acts are not evident from the life of Rasulu’llah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) or the rightly guided Khalifas. This clearly proves that the Salaf believed that it was permitted to do something which did not oppose the Qur’an and Sunna of the Messenger (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).
It is in this same book of Hafiz Ibn Taymiyya where it mentions many other cases of the Sahaba starting things that were not present during the time of Rasulu’llah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). A few examples of these are:
1) Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him) would do masah (wiping) of his neck during wudu.’Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) would put water in his eyes and do masah of the ears,; ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) considered it virtuous to walk along the same routes which the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) used in his lifetime, and also to stop where the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace)stopped, and to perform wudu where the Prophet performed it. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar would also place his hands on the places where Rasulu’llah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) sat to obtain baraka (blessings).
[Qayda Jalila page 223 by Hafiz Ibn Taymiyya]
All of this is evidence in support of the fact it is permitted to do something not done by the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) so long as it does not oppose the Sunna and is intended for reward alone – this was the practice of the Sahaba (may Allah be pleased with them).
An objection which could arise is that: ‘The Companions had the authority to start something new but we do not.’ Firstly, not all the things mentioned earlier were started by the Companions. Secondly, Hafiz Ibn Taymiyya writes:
“Apart from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) no one has the right to introduce anything new to the Deen [religion] and then call it Sunna; the Khulafa ar-Rashidun followed the Sunna, and therefore their way is called the way of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).Wajib is only what Allah has made wajib and haram is only that whi
ch Allah and his Messenger has forbidden. The authority of classifying mustahab [desirable], mubah [permissible], and makruh [disliked], is with the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) alone. No others have such authority”. He continues by saying,”The majority of scholars do not consider the [above] practice of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar to be permitted”
[Ibn Taymiyya, Qayda Jalila, chapter on ‘Action of Sahaba’]
According to Hafiz Ibn Taymiyya’s statement we can see that the Sunna can only be something that was practised by the Prophet and not by anyone else. Some people consider something to be bid’a, which was not practised by the Prophet, or his Companions. According to the above statement they cannot say this as only the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) had the authority to make such a classification.