Thursday, 21 December 2006

What Is Bid'ah ?

The Prophet Muhammad SAW said:

"... Beware of matters newly begun, for every innovation is misguidance."

"Beware of matters newly begun" - meaning - to distance ourselves and be wary of matters newly innovated that did not previously exist, i.e. things invented in Islam that contravene the Sacred Law.

"for every innovation is misguidance" - meaning - that every innovation is the opposite of the truth, i.e. falsehood.

A hadith that has been related elsewhere as: "for every newly begun matter is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell."

- meaning - that everyone who is misguided, whether through himself or by following another, is in hell, the hadith here refer to matters that are not good innovations with a basis in Sacred Law.

Iinnovations (Bid'ah) as defined by the classical scholars of Islam fall under the five headings of the Sacred Law (i.e. the obligatory, unlawful, recommended, offensive, and permissible):

(1) The first category comprises innovations that are obligatory, such as recording the Qur'an and laws of Islam in writing when it was feared that something might be lost from them; the study of the disciplines of Arabic that are necessary to understand the Qur'an and Sunnah such as grammar, word declension, and lexicography; hadith classification to distinguish between genuine and spurions prophetic traditions; and the philosophical refutations of arguments advanced by the Mu'tazilites and the like.

(2) The second category is that of unlawful innovations such as non-Islamic taxes and levies, giving positions of authority in Sacred Law to those unfit for them, and devoting one's time to learning the beliefs of heretical sects that contravene the tenets of faith of the Ahlus Sunnah.

(3) The third category consists of recommended innovations such as building hostels and schools of Sacred Law, recording the research of Islamic schools of legal thought, writing books on beneficial subjects, extensive research into fundamentals and particular applications of Sacred Law, in-depth studies of Arabic linguistics, the reciting of wirids by those with a Sufi path (or circles of zikr in which the movement of the participants increases their remembrance of Allah), and commemorating the birth (mawlid) of the Prophet Muhammad SAW and wearing one's best and rejoicing at it.

(4) The fourth category includes innovations that are offensive, such as embellishing mosques, decorating the Qur'an, and having a backup man (muballigh) loudly repeat the spoken Allahu Akbar of the imam when the latter's voice is already clearly audible to those praying behind him.

(5) The fifth category is that of innovations that are permissible, such as sifting flour, using spoons, and having more enjoyable food, drink, and housing. Common things in life.

The above words on this subject display the Ulama's keen insight and comprehensive knowledge of both the principles of jurisprudence and the human advantages and disadvantages in view of which the Lawgiver has established the rulings of Sacred Law.

The above classification has been confirmed by Imam Nawawi, Ibn Hajar 'Asqalani, and the vast majority of Islamic scholars, where the ruling is that it is obligatory to apply the above code of classifications to the new events and contingencies that occur with the changing times and the peoples who live in them.

The only reason that Islamic law can be valid for every time and place and be the consummate and most perfect of all divine laws is because it comprises general methodological principles and universal criteria, together with the ability its scholars have been endowed with to understand its primary texts, the knowledge of types of analogy and parallelism, and the other excellences that characterise it. This is why we need Muslim scholars.

In light of the Prophetic Hadith:

"…Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell."

The discussion centers around three points:

1. Scholars say that the above Hadith does not refer to all the new things without restrictions, but only to those, which nothing in Sacred Law attests to the validity of. The use of the word every in the Hadith does not indicate an absolute generalisation for there are many examples of similar generalisation in the Qur'an and Sunnah that are not application without restriction, but rather are qualified by restrictions found in other primary textual evidence.

2. The Sunnah and the way of the Prophet SAW was to accept new acts initiated in Islam that were of the good and did not conflict with established principles of Sacred Law, and to reject things that were otherwise.

3. New matters in Islam may not be rejected merely because they did not exist in the first century, but must be evaluated and judged according to the comprehensive methodology of Sacred Law, by virtue of which it is and remains the final and universal moral code of all people until the end of time.


The implications of having such a wide spectrum of permissibles in Islam would easily misguide the weak Muslim to think something not-permissible as permissible. Also, together with the implications of the deterioration of society, certain practices which may have been defined as good may have more harm than benefit in this day and age, due to lack of knowledge and understanding of what is the purpose of Deen, its injunctions and applications to a Muslim's life.

Thus we find today, the Ulama are eveready to clarify the permissibles which have more harm than good due to the consensus via discussion of the learned in Islam, in this day and age. It is safest that a Muslim devotes his energy, time and wealth on things which are purely linked to the Prophet Muhammad SAW, his Companions RA, the Tabi'een RA, and the Tabi-Tabi'een RA. This is because - what was done by our pious predecessors have been ignored and forgotten, whilst the things that were not done, are today emphasised. When these two opposite situations happen in the Ummah, the understanding of the virtues of doing the less important permissible act not attributed to Sunnah will be lost, as the main injunctions in Deen have been forsaken.

We seek Allah SWT's help in our salvation in this World and the Hereafter. Ameen.

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