“Dispelling the Mist from the View of the Extremist”

 

Bid’ah Clarified By Shaykh Faheem

In the age whereby Google is consulted in all matters, inclusive of religion and religious teachings, Muslims find themselves in a quagmire of confusion. These confusions vary on each subject of Islām, and upon analysis of the numerous arguments on all of these subsidiary subjects, we deduce that the major misconceptions are due to the lack of understanding the usūl (principles), and as a corollary of that ignorance, arguments on secondary issues (furū’) become the primary reason for disagreements.

Right now, as these words are being penned, Palestine and Al-Aqsa is under threat! Syria has been set back decades due to civil war! Yemen is burning! Uyghur Muslims in china are being oppressed! Kashmir is under occupation! Yet some people have the time, to cast aspersions and to falsely accuse those who are happy at the remembrance of the great favour of Allāh Y upon us (3:164) in His sending the Messenger k as misguided innovators doomed to hell?

This article aims to shed some light on the extremist mentality via an exposition on the subject of Bid’ah. It is hoped that the essay will act as a means of clarification to the reader who may be confused or unclear about the subject of Bid’ah as well as exposing the widespread extremist mentality which seems to have encompassed the worldview of Islām.

In order to progress, we must first highlight some of the traits of the extremist:

  1. “My Way or the Highway” – This mentality is a key sign of the extremist’s behavior which exposes the limited capacity to understand ethical disagreement (Adab Al-Ikhtilāf). An extremist Muslim behaves in a manner whereby, if another Muslim is performing an action which he deems to have no Islāmic basis, the extremist will argue that he is ‘Misguided’ or even a ‘Mushrik’ (Polytheist) whereas the action in question is one which has room for ethical disagreement based on Islāmic principles.

 

  1. Isolated Islāmic Sources: When a person wants to discuss ‘Islām’ yet finds only one source material in the form of one main scholar, then it is a sure sign of an extremist behavior. How can the entire teachings of Islām (tracing its roots some 1400 years) come down to only the teachings of certain latter days scholars who were not themselves Mujtahid Mutlaq (A Mujtahid Mutlaq – Absolute Mujtahid- is a scholar who has reached such a level of understanding that there is no need to see his proofs in relation to his religious injunctions) .

 

  1. Takfīrī mentality: A key trait of an extremist is the fact that he will consider his view of Islām to be so righteous that all others who possess a different view to him will be labeled as disbelievers, hypocrites, etc. Historically, we have witnessed this behavior as a constant within the circles of those people who are extremist in their ideology. Excommunication from Islām is a key weapon in the arsenal of the extremist, which will be used at the first opportunity, even though it is not his prerogative, but must be done via the rulings of the scholars after investigations.

 

  1. His fight is primarily against Muslims: A person with extremist behavior finds himself in a constant quarrel with fellow Muslims. It is always a matter of ‘proving’ and ‘disproving’ his view. In this manner, one may view him as a quarrelsome person in the community who cannot get a sentence together until it is demeaning to his ‘opposition’ Muslim
  2. Islām belongs to his group only: In the end, the reason for the extremist’s behavior is forged upon a sense of self-righteousness. To him, Islām belongs to the group he represents. No other view may even be considered until it is ratified by the ones who he considers as ‘worthy’ scholars from amongst the Muslims. He holds the key to the doors of Jannah and only who he lets in, may have a place therein.

None of the above statements are uncharitable as the majority of Muslims out there experience the same frustrations. The aforementioned pointers boil down to the lack of Islāmic insight coupled with the prevalence of tunnel-vision within these extremist groupings. This tunnel-visioned approach to Islām has led to innumerable disputes and even death. The subject of Bid’ah is only one of many subjects through which the radical Muslim has created a niche market for the prevalence of strife and dissension within the Ummah. Let us progress to understand these differences and the arguments from both camps.

Preliminary Observation:

It is vital for the reader to know that the main differences between the two viewpoints are based on semantics and interpretation. We shall therefore endeavour to produce the proofs utilized by the pro-bid’ah-branding lobbies who deem every new action as an action of misguidance due and who therefore equate it those actions as bid’ah in the sense that they are rendered as actions of misguidance. This will be followed by a rebuttal of such a false notion with evidence from both the linguistic perspective as well as the textual standpoint from the opposition view.

Why is the concept of Bid’ah such a massive problem for this Ummah?

The problems are two-fold.

  1. General
  2. Specific

The general problems with the subject are as follows:

  1. The general public who are unfamiliar with the concept as derived from the Qur’ān and Sunnah tend to utilize terminology such as the word “Bid’ah” in public without understanding it. By this we mean that they have not studied the subject with a capable teacher. Rather their understanding is based on hearsay from lectures, and from browsing the internet. Those who have taught them to translate ‘Bid’ah’ as ‘innovations’ without teaching them the textual and intellectual application of the word should therefore take responsibility for the prevalence of this ignorance in society.
  2. From a terminological perspective, the understanding of the word Bid’ah requires immense insight into the various ahādīth which indicate its definition and implications thereof. Failure to understand the textual evidences (Naql) as well as the intellectual evidences (Aql) can prove to be far more detrimental than beneficial in the study.

 

   The specific problem with the concept of Bid’ah boils down to those ‘scholars’ who are not willing to accept that there is definitely room for interpretation in the subject. This will become clear as the discussion progresses.  It will also become clear that due to the radical approach of the pro-bid’ah-branding lobbies -who deem every new action as Bid’ah-, that their methodological approach is indeed the primary reason for Muslims calling upon others with slogans of shirk and Kufr! For the benefit of the reader, we will divide the opinions into just two camps.

Camp 1: In light of the Pro-Bid’ah-branding lobby

The pro-bid’ah-branding lobbies have based their radical approach to the concept of Bid’ah with a tremendous emphasis on adherence to the textual evidences viz. Qur’ān and Sunnah. They insist that there is no scope for ta’wīl (interpretation) in this matter, or any other matter within the parameter of discussion (double standards indeed). They articulate the concept of Bid’ah with the following maxim (which isn’t a maxim at all but is religiously preached) to fortify their view on the subject:

“Did the Prophet J do such and such thing? Did his companionsE do such and such thing? If not, then it is a Bid’ah”

Once again, this is due to semantic differences and interpretation of certain narrations pertaining to Bid’ah. Let us analyze the evidence of the pro-bid’ah-branding lobbies in order to gauge the origin of the abovementioned-overly-preached-innovated-maxim. This will be pivotal in our search for the truth, relating to the subject of Bid’ah.

   Proof 1: “Allāh Ta Ālā states in the Qur’ān, ‘Today I have perfected for you your religion and completed my favor upon you and chosen Islām as your religion’[1]

Their view is that Allāh Ta Ālā has completed the religion, and by innovating any new action after this, is to opine that the religion is incomplete, and by your innovation of anything ‘new’, you are merely‘adding’ to the already ‘completed’ dīn, hence it is a Bid’ah!

   Proof 2:“Sayyidah Ā’aishah (radhiyAllāhu anha) reported that Rasūlullāh J stated, ‘Whoever inaugurates something in this affair of ours (deen) that is not from it (it has no basis), then (this inaugurated action) is rejected[2]

Hence, if any action has no basis from the Prophet j, it is rejected in totality.

   Proof 3: “Every new matter is an innovation, and every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the hellfire!”[3]

The proponents of this view argue that the hadith is explicit! Thus, any and all innovations are deemed as misguidance, blameworthy and causes one to become hellbound. They insist on taking the hadith literally, and refuse to enter into ta’wīl (interpretation) of any sort.

   Camp 2: Bid’ah in light of the Qur’ān & Sunnah

The proponents of this view take into consideration the usage of the terminology according to its definition and socio-historic background as advocated by the Qur’ān and Sunnah.

The word Bid’ah in the Qur’ān:

“Say (O Muhammad), ‘I am not a new thing among the Messengers (of Allāh)…”[4]

Imām Al-Qurtubī mentions under the commentary of this verse, “This means; ‘I am not the first to be sent as a Messenger since there were many who came before me” This view is taken from Hadhrath Abdullah ibn Abbas, Imām Mujāhid and Qatādah (radhiyAllāhu anhum).

Thus the linguistic definition of Bid’ah as per the Qur’ān is, that which is innovated without prior example, and the Shar’ee (legal) definition of Bid’ah is that which contravenes the shariah, in other words it has no basis.

If the proponents of the first view (camp 1) opine that every Bid’ah is misguidance, then it would bring into question far too many actions of the scholars from the salfus sālihīn. Thus camp 2 opines that on the basis of other ahādīth, Bid’ah, can have good and bad. If there are ahādīth which are indicative of good Bid’ah, then we must find a way to merge the two instead of leaving them to remain in contradiction. Furthermore, those narrations which show novel matters implemented by the companions without prior precedence must be reviewed in order to gain a holistic understanding of the subject.

The Ulamā from camp 2 argue that there is sufficient textual (naqli) and intellectual (aqli) proofs in the sunnah to support that the word “Kullu Bid’atin”(every innovation) may have exceptions:

Example 1:

Every child is born with the primordial disposition (fitrah) and it is his parents who cause him to become Jewish, Christian, or Zoroastrian (in faith)[5]

  • The narration is clear and its usage of the word “Kul” (every) is in evidence. However, if we search the books of Ahādīth, we come across a narration which will remain in conflict of the abovementioned narration unless we take on the responsibility of Ta’wīl (interpretation). That supposedly conflicting narration states:

“On the day he was created, the young boy killed by Moosa’s companion (Khidhr) was stamped as a disbeliever.”[6]

  • When the two narrations are juxtaposed, it proves that whilst the first stated that ‘every’ child is born upon fitrah, the second narration ‘differs’ inherently. By clarifying that there is an exception here and that not every person was born with the primordial belief.

Example 2:

Every son of Ādam, except for Yahyā son of Zakariyyā, will arrive on the Day of Resurrection with a sin.”[7]

  • This example proves quite clearly that when the word “every” is utilized, there is an exception made in the same statement, hence “every” is not inclusive of all.
  • The Aqīdah of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah is clear that all the messengers of Allāh Ta Ālā are infallible. If we do not interpret the above narration to mean, “Every son of Ādam who are not ambiyā”, then this will go against our belief. Hence, interpretation is required. Thus, the narration should now read that every son of Prophet Ādam u who is not amongst the ambiyā will come on the Day of Resurrection sinful. Hence the ‘exception of the prophets as they are infallible.

Example 3:

Every son of Ādam has his share of fornication”[8]

  • If we are to avoid ta’weel (interpretation) here, then the implications are that every son of Nabi Ādam u has a share in Zina. This would be inclusive of the Prophets, the Sahabas, etc. and this is in contradistinction of the Ahlus Sunnah, hence interpretation is necessary.

  Camp 1 insists that the word “Kul” (every) means ‘every’ without exception and that there is no need to delve into interpretation. Hence, any and every action which the Prophet k and his companions did not do, is equated to their understanding of bid’ah.

Camp 2 however argues that this supposed maxim of theirs is a Bid’ah also. Where did the Prophet k explicate such a maxim stating that what he didn’t do automatically be rendered an innovation of misguidance? If there is such a maxim from the Qur’ān and Sunna, then we challenge them to produce it WITHOUT INTERPRETATION. If not, then their “maxim” is a Bid’ah  according to their own standards as well.

Secondly, if we say that ‘every’ bid’ah is a misguidance and a means through which we will become hell-bound, then what happens to the following narration?

“Whosoever introduces a Sunnah Hasanah (good sunnah) within Islām that is practiced after him shall have his reward and the reward of whoever practices it, without decreasing their reward in the slightest; and whosoever introduces a Sunnah Sayyi’ah (bad Sunnah) in Islām and practiced it shall have his sin and the sin of whoever practices it, without decreasing their sin in the slightest.”[9]

  • The above hadith is clear. There is no need for interpretation.
  • This hadith is proof that camp 1 has double standards when it comes to the understanding of Qur’ān & Sunnah. When asked about this hadith, which clearly shows that there are good and bad inaugurated practices, they say, “No! this hadith speaks about reviving a dead sunnah, not inaugurating a new one”. Suddenly, we notice their “interpretation” of the hadith. However, it is false! If we say that this hadith is about reviving a dead sunnah, then what about the section of the hadith which says that a person who inaugurates a “bad” sunnah? Are we now implying that there are “bad sunnahs” inaugurated by the Prophet (sallAllāhualayhi was salllam) which are in need of revival?

An example to prove that the above hadith is not in relation to reviving a dead sunnah, rather it is in reference to inaugurating a practice as the first of its kind in both good sunnah and bad;

Example of inaugurating a good sunnah:

In Sahih Al-Bukhari, a lengthy narration pertaining to a platoon sent out by the Prophet k who were captured, explains that Hadhrath Khubayb (radhiyAllāhu anhu) at the time of his execution requested to pray two rak’āts (units of prayer). The naarator (Abu Hurayrah) states, “he (Khubayb) was the first to inaugurate the practice of praying 2 rakaats before being martyred.

  • No person had performed such an action before this, nor was he following the Khulafā, as this happened in the lifetime of the Prophet k, hence he was the first who inaugurated it. It is preposterous to state that he was ‘reviving’ a dead Sunnah here because, as stipulated, the Prophet k was alive.

Example of inaugurating a bad Sunnah from the narration:

“Rasūlullāh k stated, ‘No one is wrongfully killed except that the first son of Ādam bears a portion of the guilt, since it was he who sanna (introduced)  the act of murder”[10]

  • Since it is well established that Qaabil was the ‘first’ to commit murder. Hence he inaugurated this ‘bad’ practice. Thus all murders will revert to him.

The consistency with the arguments of camp 2 cannot be ignored. Members of Camp 1 who insist that they do not delve into interpretation actually go against their modus operandi here, because their entire premise and stance on the subject becomes questionable. If they allow room for interpretation here, then why do they not allow it for the word “Bid’ah”?

Now that we have clarified that the word ‘every’ according to camp 2 is not general across the board, but has been utilized by the Prophet k in the sunnah to also give off a meaning showing exception, let us progress to understand the shar’ī implications of the word “Bid’ah” in that famously distorted narration.

It would be criminal to delve into ta’wīl (interpretation) of the concept of Bid’ah prior to identifying the textual evidence which necessitates and validates such a ta’wīl. The following two narrations are indicative two things:

  1. That Bid’ah may have good and bad,
  2. There are core aspects in Islāmic understanding which were inaugurated after the physical demise of the Prophet k

Example 1: Good Bid’ah:

“Narrated by Hadhrath Abu Hurayrah (RadhiyAllāhu anhu): Allāh’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever prayed at night the whole month of Ramadan out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allāh, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” Ibn Shihab (a sub-narrator) said, “Allāh’s Apostle (peace be upon him) passed away and the people continued observing that (individually, not in congregation), and it remained as it was during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the early days of ‘Umar’s Caliphate.” ‘Abdur Rahman bin ‘Abdul Qari said, “I went out in the company of ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab one night in Ramadan to the mosque and found the people praying in different groups. A man praying alone or a man praying with a little group behind him. So, ‘Umar said, ‘In my opinion I would better collect these (people) under the leadership of one Qari (Reciter) (i.e. let them pray in congregation!)’. So, he made up his mind to congregate them behind Ubay bin Ka’b. Then on another night I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their reciter. On that, ‘Umar remarked, ‘What an excellent Bid’ah (i.e. innovation in religion) this is; but the prayer which they do not perform, but sleep at its time is better than the one they are offering.’ He meant the prayer in the last part of the night. (In those days) people used to pray in the early part of the night.”[11]

  • By Sayyidunā Umar’s (radhiyAllāhu anhu) saying. “What an excellent Bid’ah this is” shows that even he understood that there could be good bid’ahs.
  • Al-Hāfizh Ibn Hajr Asqalānī (rahimahollah) commentates under this narration by saying that the linguistic meaning of Bid’ah is that which is innovated without precedent, and in sharī’iah it is used as a term in contradistinction to the Sunnah, and is thus blameworthy. If a new act is incorporated under something deemed good in sharī’ah, then it is considered good too, and if a new act is incorporated under something deemed bad in sharī’ah, then it is considered bad too, and if it (the new act) is neither good nor bad, then it falls under the category of Mubāh (permissible) or to the five categories of shariah. [12]
  • Allāmah Badruddīn Ayniīis of the same opinion in his commentary of Bukhārī.
  • Imām Bayhaqī recorded Imām Shāfa’i having the similar viewpoint.
  • Imām An-Nawāwī mentions that the religious scholars say that innovations are divided into 5 categories; obligatory, recommended, unlawful, offensive, and permissible. He has given examples of each.
  1. Obligatory Bid’ah: To gather proofs of the theologians to refute atheists.
  2. Recommended Bid’ah: writing books on beneficial subjects, build schools, hostels, etc.
  3. Permissible Bid’ah: Enjoying a variety of foods

4 & 5. Offensive and Unlawful (4 & 5 are clear ). [13]

Example 2:

Narrated by Zaid bin Thabit: Abu Bakr As-Siddiq sent for me when the people! ofYamama had been killed (i.e., a number of the Prophet’s Companions who fought against Musailama). (I went to him) and found ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab sitting with him. Abu Bakr then said (to me),

“Umar has come to me and said: “Casualties were heavy among the Qurra’ of the! Qur’ān (i.e. those who knew the Quran by heart) on the day of the Battle of Yalmama, and I am afraid that more heavy casualties may take place among the Qurra’ on other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur’ān may be lost.

Therefore I suggest, you (Abu Bakr) order that the Qur’ān be collected.” I said to ‘Umar, “How can you do something which Allāh’s Apostle did not do?” ‘Umar said, “By Allāh, that is a good project.”Umar kept on urging me to accept his proposal till Allāh opened my chest for it and I began to realize the good in the idea which ‘Umar had realized.

Then Abu Bakr said (to me). ‘You are a wise young man and we do not have any suspicion about you, and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allāh’s Apostle. So you should search for (the fragmentary scripts of) the Qur’ān and collect it in one book).” By Allāh If they had ordered me to shift one of the mountains, it would not have been heavier for me than this ordering me to collect the Qur’ān. Then I said to Abu Bakr, “How will you do something which Allāh’s Apostle did not do?”

Abu Bakr replied, “By Allāh, it is a good project.” Abu Bakr kept on urging me to accept his idea until Allāh opened my chest for what He had opened the chests of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. So I started looking for the Qur’ān and collecting it from (what was written on) palmed stalks, thin white stones and also from the men who knew it by heart, till I found the last Verse of Surat At-Tauba (Repentance) with Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari, and I did not find it with anybody other than him.

The Verse is: ‘Verily there has come unto you an Apostle (Muhammad) from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty… (Till the end of Surah-Baraa’ (At-Tauba) (9.128-129) Then the complete manuscripts (copy) of the Qur’ān remained with Abu Bakr till he died, then with ‘Umar till the end of his life, and then with Hafsa, the daughter of ‘Umar.[14]

  • It is evident that the order to compile the Qur’ān into a unified single manuscript was not done by the Prophet k, nor was it his command, yet the giants of the sahabas were willing to go ahead with it based on the concept of it having “goodness” in it.
  • If camp 1 is of the opinion that every action which the Prophet k didn’t do therefore is a Bid’ah, then surely the same applies for the unified copies of the Qur’ān which we have in our possession today?
  • Camp 1 argues that this is the Sunnah of the sahābas, and this is established from the hadith, hence their doing so does not advocate us doing so. If that were true, then what is the entire concept of Sunnah, if not to do something which someone already did??? Hence the lesson from the Sahābas here, is that even if something was not done by the Prophet k, yet it is something of benefit for the Ummah, then the leaders must take this into ‘cognizance’, but cognitive thought is a problem for anyone who harbours extremist views.

   Point of Interest: Camp 2 acknowledges through the textual evidence, as well as intellectual evidences that Bid’ah can have various types. For Camp 1 to now decree that all those who are not following their view are therefore innovators, is absurdity of the highest level, and proof of their extremism! This is because camp 2 are not claiming so without any basis! They opine so with basis from the Qur’ān and Sunnah. To ridicule other Muslims who are following the statements of the great luminaries of Islām is ludicrously unacceptable! This is extremism! In fact, a study of the works of those who are literalists, such as Bilal Phillips etc, reveals that they themselves change their stance according to the agenda,

   “The division of Tawheed into its components was not done by the Prophet (saws) nor by his companions, as there was no necessity to analyze such a basic principle of faith in this fashion. However, the foundations of the components are all implied in the verses of the Qur’aan and in the explanatory statements of the Prophet (saws) and hiscompanions, as will became evident to the reader when each category isdealt with in more detail later in this chapter”[15]

Astoundingly,  here, the author states that a matter of creed which has become part of the essential teaching in the school of the Salafī ideology was not done by the Prophet k nor by his companions  and then he goes on to give his ‘interpretation’ and then further states that it is ‘implied’.  The double standards are in evidence.

Word of Caution: We have concluded that Bid’ah has good, and bad. If an action merits reward or benefit for the Ummah, then it is deemed permissible according to the scholars. Some examples of actions (known by South African Muslims in particular), but were never done by the Prophet k , nor commanded in the Qur’ān and Sunnah, yet are known to be meritorious by those who partake in it include:

  1. Jamaat (going out on a planned event specifically to call Muslims to remember their role as Muslims, or to join Musjid etc.)
  2. Ijtimā – congregational religious events taking place over a series of days in which people travel and spend from their wealth in order to attend and learn.
  3. Hosting of Sīrah programs with a specific date, time and venue to teach about the life of the Prophet k which incidentally commences at his birth. To make posters, pamphlets, announcements and spend in this endeavour was not commanded in the Qur’ān and Sunnah.
  4. Mawlid Programs: commemorating the birth of the Prophet k throughout the year in which his life and times are revisited in order to derive the inferences therefrom.
  • There is no Shar’ī Dalīl to prove any of the current methods of the above, yet it has numerous merits from which millions have benefitted from.
  • Alas, members from points 1-3 only have a problem with point 4 but fail to provide any of the same proofs for their own gatherings.

Thus it is imperative for the reader to now understand that these matters can become divisive if the people objecting continue to focus on subsidiary matters which are benefiting Muslims, instead of focusing on matters which are directly harmful to the Ummah from the enmity of the Kuffār!

May Allāh Y grant the courage to be true to His Dīn and to remove extremism from our hearts and minds and protect the integrity of the Prophet k, the Qur’ān and the Sunnah from the enemies of Islām!

[1] Surah Maa’idah, 5:3

[2] Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim

[3] Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim

[4] Surah Ahqaaf, 46:9

[5] Sahih Bukhari

[6]Sahih Muslim, MusnadImām Ahmad

[7]Mustadrak of ImāmHaakim

[8]Sahih Ibn Hibban

[9] Sahih Muslim

[10] Sahih Bukhari

[11]Sahih Bukhari, Book of Salaatut Taraaweeh

[12] Fathul Bari.

[13]SharhuSahih Muslim of ImāmNawawi

[14] Sahih Bukhari, Book 66, Chapter on the Compilation of the Qur’ān

[15]The Fundamentals of Tauheed, Page 18, by Dr.Abu Ameenah Bilal Phillips.

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