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A Few Notes on the Evils of Innovation

A small article covering a few basic points that must be understood by every Muslim. In addition to establishing that Allāh commands us to follow the Sunnah, the article also focuses upon the fact that the Sunnah shall become corrupted, thus leaving a need for the religion to be purified from all innovations and additions.

The belief of ‘bidʿah ḥasanah’, i.e. a good bidʿah, meaning that a scholar can introduce a new action of worship in Islām which can be considered to be good as long it does not contradict any of the principles of Islām. So we resort to the sayings of the Companions and the Imāms to illuminate the road ahead of these people.

The Dīn is complete:

Allāh says, “this day have I perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islām as your religion” (5:4)

This verse embodies a clear statement that the religion has been completed and so has no need of addition and deletion, and our noble Messenger (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) said, “there is nothing that Allāh ordered you with except that I have ordered you with it, and there is nothing that Allāh forbade you from except that I have forbidden you from it” (al-Bayḥaqī and others)

And he (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) said, “there is nothing that will take you closer to Paradise but that I have enjoined it upon you, and there is nothing that will take you closer to hell but that I have warned you from it” (Musnad al-Shāfiʿī and others).

So the Prophet Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) fulfilled the trust placed upon him by Allāh completely, explaining the religion to the people in it’s inward and outward form, making clear the lawful from the prohibited, the encouraged from the discouraged, even to the extent that he taught us the manners of going to the toilet, the manners of having sex with our partners etc.

Allāh says in His Book, “and We have revealed to you a Book explaining everything” (16:89), and He says, “We have neglected nothing in the Book” (6:37).

So in the Qurʾān is explained the principles of the religion, tawḥīd in all it’s various categories, even to the extent that it teaches us the manners of sitting in circles, visiting other peoples houses, the correct clothing etc. …

The Importance of Sticking to the Sunnah:

Allāh says, “indeed you have in the Messenger of Allāh an excellent example for the one who hopes in Allāh and looks to the Last Day.” (33:21), He also says, “so if you obey him (i.e. Muḥammad), then you will be guided” (25:54)

The Messenger of Allāh said, “I have left behind me two things, if you cling to them you will never go astray. They are the Book of Allāh and my Sunnah” (al-Ḥākim)

And he (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) also said, “…and you will live to see great difference, so cling to my sunnah and the sunnah of the rightly guided caliphs after me, even if it be with your teeth” (Bukhārī)

The Tābi’ī, the Imām, az-Zuhree commented, “clinging to the sunnah is to be saved, as Imām Mālik said, ‘like the Ark of Noah’, he who embarked upon it was saved, and he who did not was destroyed.” (al-Dārimī)

In these narrations is clear evidence that the way of salvation and safety is to closely follow the Sunnah of our Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), and not to deviate from his path, not accepting the guidance of another individual, nor accepting a corrupted form of the Sunnah. Allāh says, “and whosoever contends with the Messenger after guidance has been made clear to him, and follows a way other than the way of the believers, We shall leave in the path he has chosen, and land him in Hell, what an evil destination!”

The Sunnah shall become corrupted:

We are taught in the revelation that the Sunnah shall become corrupted and this corruption would become the norm, so much so that the people who follow the Sunnah would become as strangers, and those that call to purifying the sunnah would be slandered and reviled. The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) said, “Islām began as something strange, and it shall return as something strange as it began. So Tooba (a tree in Paradise) to the strangers.” It was asked, “who are the strangers?” He replied, “those that purify and correct what the people have corrupted of my sunnah” (Ṭabarānī in al-Kabīr [6/202])

And what is this corruption, it is none other than innovation, introducing into the pure religion of Allāh new ways of worshipping Him that He has not taught, blemishing His religion with our whims and desires, something that Allāh Himself condemns, “or do they have partners that legislate some religion which Allāh has not given permission for?” (42:21)

The Companion, ʿAbdullāh ibn Mas’ud laments, “how will it be when the trials overcome you, in which the young grow old and the old grow senile. And the people take the bidʿah as the sunnah, and when it changes they say: the sunnah has changed. It was said: when will this be O Abū ʿAbd al-Raḥmān? He replied: when your speakers are many and your scholars are few, and the wealthy ones are plenty and the trustworthy ones are few.” (al-Dārimī)

How true this statement is today, that the innovations have become so widespread in the religion that the people have taken then to be the Sunnah. And when the true scholar speaks out against these innovations he is labeled as a ‘wahhabi’ by the people because to them it seems that he is changing the sunnah. To Allāh we complain of the ignorance of our times!

Only Allāh (subḥāna’) has the right to tell us how to worship Him:

Allāh says, “follow that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and do not follow as Friends and Protectors other than Him” (7:3)

From the tafsīr of this verse we learn that this verse is a categorical statement that the privilege to tell people how to worship Allāh belongs to Allāh Alone. And how could it be otherwise when the true meaning of ʿibādah is to worship Allāh in a way which He is Pleased with and not according to our desires, “and who is more astray then the one who follows his own whims and desires devoid of revelation” (28:50)

In this regard the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) said, “I warn you of the newly invented matters (in the religion) and every newly invented matter is an innovation, and every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire” (al-Nasāʿī)

And he (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) used to say at the beginning of his lectures, “….and the best speech is the Speech of Allāh, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), and the worst of all affairs are the newly invented matters (in the religion)” (Muslim)

And he (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) commanded us, “whosoever does an action which we have not commanded then it must be rejected.” (Muslim)

And again, “whosoever introduces into this religion of ours that which is not part of it then it must be rejects” (Aḥmad)

‘And in this ḥadīth is a clear evidence that every action which is not legislated in the sharīʿah must be rejected’ [Jāmiʿ al-Ulum of ibn Rajab 1/120]

So every bidʿah that is introduced in the religion has to be rejected because only Allāh and His Messenger (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) have the right to legislate in the sharīʿah of Islām.

Hence in the light of what has preceded we can now give the formal Sharīʿah definition of bidʿah:

“a newly invented way (in beliefs and actions) in the religion, in imitation of the Sharīʿah, by which nearness to Allāh is sought, not being supported by any authentic proof, neither in it’s foundations nor in the manner in which it is performed.” [al-I’tisaam 1/231 of al-Shāṭibī]

And in what has preceded is ample evidence for any fair-minded Muslim that all bidʿah is blameworthy, and in fact a major sin. But unfortunately the Muslims are in such a state today that the words of Allāh and His Messenger (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) are no longer enough to convince them and certain groups of people have come up with belief that has very frail grounds in the Sunnah. The belief of ‘bidʿah ḥasanah’, i.e. a good bidʿah, meaning that a scholar can introduce a new action of worship in Islām which can be considered to be good as long it does not contraḍīct any of the principles of Islām. So we resort to the sayings of the Companions and the Imāms to illuminate the road ahead of these people.

The sayings of the Companions:

ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿUmar (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhū) states, “every innovation is misguidance, even if the people regard it as good.” (al-Dārimī)

This narration is enough to demolish the concept of ‘a good bidʿah’, for you have amongst the most knowledgeable companions of Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) saying the exact opposite. So who do you choose to follow, ibn ʿUmar or these modern day Shaykhs and Mullahs who are Imāms of their own whims and desires.

ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAbbās (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhū) said, “do not sit with the people of innovation, for verily their sittings are a sickness for the hearts” [al-Sharīʿah pg 65 of al-Ājurrī (d.360)]

Muʿādh ibn Jabal (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhū) used to say, whenever he sat in a circle of knowledge, “…and I warn you of what is innovated, for all that is innovated is misguidance” [al-Sharīʿah pg.55, also Abū Dāwūd with similar wording]

ʿAbdullāh ibn Mas’ud (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhū) said, “follow the sunnah of Muḥammad and do not innovate, for what you have been commanded is enough for you.” [al-Dārimī]

Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman said, “every act of worship that the Companions did not do, do not do it” [Abū Dāwūd]

Is this not enough? That the Companions tell us to follow the way of Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) and not to make up new ways of worship? “whomsoever Allāh guides to the truth, none can misguide him, and whomsoever Allāh misguides, none can guide”! [Muslim]

The sayings of the Second and Third generation scholars:

Ḥasan al-Baṣrī said, “do not sit with the people of innovation, do not debate with them or listen to them” [al-Dārimī 1/121]

Abū Āliyah said, “learn Islām. Then when you have learned Islām, do not turn away from it to the right or to the left. But be upon the Straight Path and be upon the Sunnah of your Prophet and that which his companions were upon…And beware of these innovations because they cause enmity and hatred amongst you, but stick to the original state of affairs that was there before they divided.” [al-Hilya of Abū Nuʿaym 2/218]

Sufyān al-Thawrī, “innovations are more beloved to Satan than sin. Since a sin mat be repented from but an innovation is not repented from” [Sharḥ Uṣul Iʿtiqād of al-Lālikaa’ee (d.414) no.238]

This is because the innovator believes that he is doing something good and therefore sees no need to repent.

He also said, “…so cling to the original state of affairs” [al-Hilya 6/376] meaning stick to the Way of Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) and his Companions.

Imām al-Awzāʿī said, “patiently restrict yourselves to the sunnah, stop where the people stopped, say what they said, avoid what they avoided.

Take to the path of the salaf, for indeed what was sufficient for them was sufficient for you.” [al-Sharīʿah pg. 58]

Ibrāhīm al-Masayrah said, “he who honours an innovator has assisted in the demolition of Islām” [Sharḥ Uṣul Iʿtiqād 1/139]

The sayings of the Later Imāms:

Imām Abū Ḥanīfah said, “stick to the narrations and the way of the salaf, and beware of the newly invented matters for all of it is innovation” [Sawnul Muntaq of al-Ṣuyutī pg.32]

Imām Mālik said, “he who innovates an innovation in Islām regarding it as something good, has claimed that Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) has betrayed his trust to deliver the message as Allāh says, ‘this day have I perfected for you your religion’. And whatsoever was not part of the religion then, is not part of the religion today.” [al-I’tisaam]

He also said, “how evil are the People of Innovation, we do not give them salām” [al-Ibānah of ibn Baṭṭah (d.387) no.441]

Imām Aḥmad said, “the fundamental principles of the sunnah with us are:….avoiding innovations and every innovation is misguidance” [Uṣul al-Sunnah of Imām Aḥmad pg.1]

As for the narrations from Imām al-Shāfiʿī in which he categorizes bidʿah into two, then it is weak as all of its chains of narrations depend upon unknown narrators. [al-Masaabeeh fī Ṣalātit Tarāwīḥ of al-Ṣuyutī with ʿAlī Ḥasan’s endnotes] and even if it were authentic then it would be understood in the linguistic sense as explained by ibn Rajab and others.

Imām Bukhārī said, “I have met more than a thousand scholars….(then he mentioned the names of the more prominent in each of the lands that he traveled in)…and I found that they all agreed on the following points:…they all used to prohibit bidʿah – that which the Prophet and his Companions were not upon, because of the saying of Allāh, ‘and hold fast to the rope of Allāh and do not separate’” [Imām Bukhārī’s article on belief as quoted in Sharḥ Uṣul Iʿtiqād 1/170. From amongst the scholars he met were: Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, Abū ʿUbayd al-Qāsim, ibn Maʿīn, ibn Āsim, ibn Abī Shaybah….]

What I have narrated here is just a small number of the many narrations that I have in front of me from various books, I have tried to quote as best to my ability only authentic narrations, and Allāh knows best. It is good to know that the early Imāms were prolific in writing and warning against bidʿah, and even today we have a number of books from them dealing just with this topic. Amongst them: al-Bid’ah of al-Qarnushi, al-Bid’ah of ibn Waddah, al-I’tisaam of al-Shāṭibī and many more.

So once this topic becomes clear, a truth that none can deny, then know that all these innovations in the religions are a clear denial of the above-mentioned verses and aḥādīth, for none were done by the Companions.

So I leave you with the ḥadīth of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), “….so he follows my sunnah has been guided, and he who follows the innovations has been destroyed.” (Aḥmad)

The arguments of the misguided:

Know that every example that the misguided bring from the actions of the companions to prove their belief of a ‘good innovation’, is invalid and it just shows their weak understanding of the Sunnah of Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), for all of these examples have a clear basis in the Sharīʿah, or occurred due to necessity, or from ijtihād. Insha’Allāh I will mention a few of their arguments

1.When ʿUmar (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhū) was caliph, he collected the Muslims to pray in congregation for Tarāwīḥ prayers and said, “what a good bidʿah this is” (Bukhārī), Evidence is derived from this for ‘bidʿah ḥasanah’ but of course they have misunderstood the true intent of ʿUmar which can be clearly understood if one were to quote the context of this narration.

When the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) first prayed Tarāwīḥ, the Muslims used to pray Tarāwīḥ individually or in small groups, and then for three nights they prayed in one congregation behind the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), and after this he stopped them doing so by saying, “I feared that it would become obligatory upon you.” So after this again, the Muslims would pray individually or in small groups, and they remained like this throughout the rule of Abū Bakr and the beginning of the rule of ʿUmar. Then ʿUmar came to the Mosque and saw the Muslims praying in small groups and so gathered them as one jamāʿah to pray behind Ubayy ibn Ka’b and Tamīm al-Dārī and stated the above phrase. This context is reported in Bukhārī, the Muwaṭṭa and others.

Firstly: how can the action of ʿUmar be considered to be new when the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) did it in his lifetime. Not only that but the Muslims were also in the habit of praying in small groups as well. Hence, the praying of Tarāwīḥ in jamāʿah was well established in the sunnah and the practice of the Ṣaḥābahh?

Secondly: The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) gave the reason why he stopped the congregational prayer, for the revelation was still descending, and he feared that praying in obligation might become obligatory upon his nation, and that this might lead to be hard on them. After the death of Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) revelation ceased so this fear was no longer present. Hence ʿUmar (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhū) reinstated the congregation during his rule because he knew his action could not be made obligatory upon the ummah.

Thirdly: all the companions agreed to this action of ʿUmar (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhū), there was a consensus (ijmāʿ) on this. And the scholars of usūl have stated that a consensus cannot occur except when there is a clear text for it in the Sharīʿah.

Fourth: So how do we understand this statement of ʿUmar, “what a good bidʿah this is” when this action that ʿUmar called a bidʿah was done by the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam)? Bid’ah here can only be understood in it’s linguistic sense and not in it’s Sharīʿah sense i.e. when ʿUmar said this he did not mean it in the legal sense that we may understand it today. For how many are the words that mean one thing in the language, but another thing in the Sharīʿah! The linguistic sense is: something new, because praying in one congregation was not present in the rule of Abū Bakr and the earlier period of his own rule.

Hence Abū Yusuf said, “I asked Abū Ḥanīfah about the Tarāwīḥ and what ʿUmar did and he replied, ‘the Tarāwīḥ is a stressed sunnah, and ʿUmar did not do that from his own opinion, and neither was there in his action any innovation, and he did not enjoin it except that there was a foundation for it with him and authorisation from the Prophet…” [‘Sharḥ Mukhtār’ as quoted from in ‘al-Ibdāʿ’ (pg. 80) of Shaykh ʿAlī Mahfooz]

2.The ḥadīth, “whosoever starts in Islām a good practice (sunnah), he gets the reward of it and the reward of all those that act on it. And whosoever starts in Islām an evil practice (sunnah), he gets the evil of it and the evil of all those that act on it.” (Muslim)

The evidence they derive from this is that people can invent new practices in Islām that are either good or bad. But were they to take this ḥadīth in its full context then it would not be possible to infer such a thing.

The context of the ḥadīth states that a group of poor people came to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) so he asked those around him to give charity, but no-one came forward – so much so that signs of anger could be discerned on the face of Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), so one of the companions stepped forward and gave charity and then the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) mentioned the above statement.

Firstly: the word sunnah used in the ḥadīth must be understood in its linguistic sense (i.e. practice) not it’s sharīʿah sense (i.e. the life example of Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam)) because otherwise it would imply that there is something bad in the sunnah.

Secondly: This companion who gave charity, did not do anything new, for giving charity had been legislated from the very early days of Islām as the Makki Sūrahs prove, rather he was simply implementing an already legislated matter. So the statement of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), ‘a good sunnah’ was said at a time when the people were reluctant to give charity, so one man gave it and then others followed him – i.e. he RENEWED a sunnah that was being neglected – this is the meaning of ‘good practice’ – renewing an already existing sunnah.

Hence, we do not stick just to the specific occurrence in the ḥadīth, but we generalize it’s intent as it’s wording is general as is established in usūl. The intent of this ḥadīth is renewing the Sunnah at a time that it has been neglected. This is why the early scholars of Islām included this ḥadīth under chapter heading such as, “the reward of the one who renews the sunnah” [as done by the 4th century Imām al-Lālikaa’ee in his encyclopedic work detailing the belief of Ahlus Sunnah, ‘Sharḥ Uṣul Iʿtiqād Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamāʿah’]

Thirdly: the meaning of ‘bad sunnah’ is to be understood in a similar vein, i.e. the one who renews an evil act will get it’s evil…. and the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) gave the example of the two sons of Ādam one killing the other, so the one who killed got the sin of that action and the sin of all those that would kill in the future without their sins decreasing. And killing had been forbidden from the time of the first Prophet to the last (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam).

Fourthly: the ḥadīth uses the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and from what has preceded it is clear that Islām has already defined in its totality all that it is good and bad, and if we were to say otherwise we would then be accusing the religion of incompleteness and deficiency. This is why Imām al-Shāfiʿī rejected Istiḥsān (declaring something to be good that was not already done so by the Sharīʿah) by saying, “whosoever declares something good has declared it part of the Sharīʿah”.

Published: June 13, 2007
Edited: April 9, 2023

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