Every Innovation is…

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله وعلى آله وصحبه، أما بعـد

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Jaabir ibn Abdullah رضي الله عنه narrated that the Messenger of Allaah صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

كل بدعة ضلالة وكل ضلالة في النار

Every Innovation is misguidance and every misguidance is in the (Hell)Fire.” [Saheeh Muslim, 2/592]

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This hadeeth is from the ‘Jawami’ al-Kalim’ of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم – It imparts huge amount of guidance and establishes major principles in the Deen – through the shortest and most concise of words.

The scholars on Ahlus Sunnah wal-Jama’ah have explained the matter of bid’ah in great detail and there is no ikhtilaf on its negative impact. Innovation is primarily divided into two definitions:

i) Language (linguistic)
ii) Shari’ terminology

Linguistically, anything that is newly invented can be simply termed as bid’ah in Arabic; whether this is the invention of the automobile or mass communications or anything else related to the Dunya. However, in Shari’ terminology, bid’ah has a specific and precise meaning -: something that is introduced into the Deen of Islam, which does not have any evidence or basis in the Deen nor a precedence in the Deen. It is of course, the latter definition that scholars use when expounding the vast amount of evidence in which bid’ah is condemned and the bid’i is harshly reprimanded and threatened with Divine Punishment.

The Shari’ definition of bid’ah is defined as “worshipping Allaah (or coming closer to Allaah) with that which is not legislated by Allaah” or it can also be said that it is worshipping Allaah with that which Allaah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم and the Khulafah ar-Rashidoon were not upon. Imam Shatibi رحمه الله تعالى has perhaps given the best and comprehensive definition of bid’ah in his famous and monumental work, ‘Al-I’tisaam’ thus:

“A newly invented way (belief or action) in the Deen of Islam, in imitation of the Shari’ah by which nearness to Allaah is sought, not being supported by any authentic proof – neither in its foundations, nor in the manner in which it is performed” [Al-I’tisaam, 1/37]

Therefore bid’ah can’t be understood except within the above two context. And bid’ah of any kind within the Deen and Shar’iah is not permissible at all and subject to punishment.

As for the term بدعة حسنة (bid’ah hasanah) and its usage by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab رضي الله عنه regarding the Taraweeh in Ramadan; this is an example which many Muslims become unnecessarily confused and divided upon.

There is established evidence that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم prayed Taraweeh during Ramadan and led people in jama’ah; as ‘Urwa رضي الله عنه narrated that he was informed by ‘Aishah رضّى الله عنها: “Allaah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم went out in the middle of the night and prayed in the masjid and some men prayed behind him. In the morning, the people spoke about it and then a large number of them gathered and prayed behind him (on the second night). The next morning the people again talked about it and on the third night the masjid was full with a large number of people. Allaah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم came out and the people prayed behind him. On the fourth night the Masjid was overwhelmed with people and could not accommodate them, but the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم came out (only) for Fajr. When the salah was finished he recited the tashahhud and (addressing the people) said, “Amma ba’du, your presence was not hidden from me but I was afraid lest the night prayer (i.e. qiyam/taraweeh) should be enjoined on you (i.e. become obligatory) and you might not be able to carry it out.” So, Allaah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم passed away and the situation remained like that (i.e. people prayed individually).” [Saheeh al-Bukhari, 3/229]

It is therefore due to his صلى الله عليه وسلم fear that Taraweeh may become fard and burdensome on his ummah, that he did not lead them again after that. The situation continued in the consequent years where the Sahabah used to pray Taraweeh individually or in small groups in the masaajid. During the time of Umar’s Khalifate, he simply re-initiated an act of unifying the jama’ah behind one imam for Taraweeh and the reasons for this are many… Amongst which -: It was an act that had an origin and precedence from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم – where he used to lead the unified ranks of the people for Taraweej in jama’ah. After the passing the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, it remained a Sunnah mu’akadah and was never in fear of becoming fard (ever again) and people continued to pray as much or as little as they liked.

Furthermore, ‘Umar’s added ijtihad in this mashalah itself carries weight by virtue of his status as a Khalifah ar-Rasheedah, whom the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم enjoined on Muslims to follow.  No one can claim such a status after them and there is also no doubt of Umar’s strict observance and guarding of the Sunnah and being staunch against anything contrary to it. Hence when ‘Umar made the statement of Taraweeh being “bid’ah hasanah” (good bid’ah), he said it in the linguistic sense and not in shar’i meaning of the word – since there was a strong and established religious basis for it. He was merely overjoyed and happy to see the sight of people praying behind one imam again as was the case during the Prophet’s time when he صلى الله عليه وسلم led them in Taraweeh for those three nights.

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Further reading:

An in-depth overview of this critical topic

A Clarification of Doubts Regarding Innovation
Q&A on Bid’ah
Further explanation

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May Allaah Safeguard us from the evils of innovation in the Deen of Al-Islam

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