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Is there a Bid'ah Hasanah (a good bid'ah)?

The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) 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 Hellfire." [An-Nisa'i]. And, he did not differential between a good innovation or a bad one, he said every bid'ah is misguidance, a going astray, and every misguidance is in Hellfire, leads you into Hellfire.

Some of the evidence used to support bid'ah, innovation, by the innovators themselves are:

  • When 'Umar (رضي الله عنه‎) was the Khalifah, he collected the Muslims to pray in congregation for tarawih prayers, and said, "What a good bid'ah this is." [Bukhari] From this, they derive their belief of a good innovation. The context of this will make the matter clear that reading the Taraweeh in congregation is a Sunnah and not a bid'ah.

    1) When the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) first emigrated to Madinah, the Muslims prayed taraweeh individually, and then for three nights they prayed in congregation behind the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). After this, he stopped them doing so saying, "I feared that it would become obligatory upon you." So after this the Muslims would pray individually or in small congregations throughout the rule of Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه‎), and the beginning of the rule of Umar (رضي الله عنه‎). Then Umar (رضي الله عنه‎) came to the masjid and saw the Muslims praying in small groups behind different Imams, so he collected them together in one congregation behind one Imam and made the aforementioned statement [Bukhari]. So how can this action of Umar (رضي الله عنه‎) be understood to be a new act of worship when the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) did it during his lifetime?

    2) The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) gave the reason why he stopped the congregational prayer, because revelation was still descending, and he feared that praying in congregation might become obligatory upon his nation and hence make the religion hard upon them. After the death of the Prophet of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) revelation ceased so this concern was no longer necessary. Hence Umar (رضي الله عنه‎) reinstated the taraweeh prayer in congregation during his rule because he knew that his action could not be made obligatory upon the Ummah.

    3) All the companions agreed upon this action of 'Umar, thus there was a consensus ('ijma) on it. And the scholars of Usul (fundamental principles) have stated that 'ijma cannot occur except when there is a clear text for it in the Shari'ah. So what is the correct understanding of the words of Umar (رضي الله عنه‎), "a good bid'ah"? The word bid'ah here is to be understood in its linguistic sense, "something new," because taraweeh in one congregation was not present during the rule of Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه‎) and the beginning of the rule of Umar (رضي الله عنه‎), hence in that sense it was something new. The term bid'ah in the Shariah sense cannot be understood here because it does not fulfil the conditions of being a new act of worship. Abu Yusuf said, "I asked Abu Hanifah about the tarawih and what 'Umar did and he said, 'The taraweeh is a stressed Sunnah, and Umar (رضي الله عنه‎) did not do that from his own opinion, nor 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 (صلى الله عليه و سلم).' " [Sharh Mukhtar as quoted from him in al-'Ibda of Shaykh Ali Mahfuz, p80]
  • The collection of the Qur'an into one book after the death of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and the statement of Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه‎), "How can we do that which was not done by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم)?" [Bukhari] The proof, according to them, being that the companions collected the Quran in a book form after the time of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) without him enjoining it - hence it being an innovation which the companions agreed upon as being good. Upon closer examination this is actually an evidence against these people, not for them. When Umar came to Abu Bakr (رضی اللہ عنھم) and said that the Quran had to be collected as a book, he did not argue on the basis of bid'ah hasanah, rather he argued on the basis of necessity - because many of the people who had memorised the Quran by heart were being martyred, and therefore the Quran was in danger of being lost and hence it had to be collected in book form. When Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه‎) replied, he did not say, "Oh yes I agree with you, this is a bid'ah hasanah," rather he argued that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) did not do this, so how could they? It was only after the necessity was made clear to him, having seen many of the companions who were Hafid (those who had memorized  the Quran) killed,  that he agreed.

    Allah (سبحانه و تعالى‎) say: “Verily, We, it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Qur’aan) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption)” [Quran: Surah Al-Hijr 15: Ayah 9]

    The Quran was preserved with Allah (سبحانه و تعالى‎), and He told us that He would preserve it after it had been sent down to us. Part of His preserving it was His enabling the companions of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) to gather it into one volume in the order instructed by the Prophet  (صلى الله عليه و سلم) during his lifetime. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) had scribes to whom he dictated the Quran, so it is clear that the Quran was written down even during the time of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). The guarantee of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى‎) to preserve the Quran did not mean that the ummah (Muslim community) did not have an obligation to do anything. Certainly, if that were the case the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) would not have had the Quran written down after Allah (سبحانه و تعالى‎) had told him of His guarantee to preserve the Quran. It also allowed for an agreed upon Quran with an agreed upon spelling and punctuation using the Makkan dialect, i.e one Quran, one spelling, one punctuation, one dialect. It is also known that one way in which Allah (سبحانه و تعالى‎) has preserved the Quran is by causing us to preserve it and making that easy for us, and showing us how it is to be written down. This very same Quran is with us today over 1400 year later.

    So, in conclusion, the collection of the Quran in to a book was something the companions agreed upon due to necessity, not considering it to a good bid'ah.
  • The hadith, "Whoever starts in Islam a good practice (sunnah), he gets the reward of it and the reward of all those that act on it. And whosoever starts in Islam an evil practice (sunnah), he gets the evil of it and the evil of all those that act on it." [Muslim] The evidence that they derive from this hadeeth is that people can invent new practices in Islam which are either good or bad. Of course, if they were to take the hadeeth in its full context then it is not possible to derive this meaning. The context of the hadeeth states that a group of poor people came to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) 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 Rasulallah, peace be upon him, then one of the companions brought a large quantity and gave as charity. Seeing this others did the same and in this context the Prophet said the above hadith.

    1) The word 'sunnah' which is used in this hadeeth cannot be understood to mean the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) because that would imply that there is something bad in the Sunnah; rather it is to be understood in its linguistic meaning of 'practice'.

    2) This action the companion did was not something new in Islam, since giving charity was already legislated from the very first days of Islam; rather he was simply implementing it, so the statement of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), "a good sunnah" was said at a time when the people were reluctant to give charity, so one man started to give the charity and others followed him in it. Thus, he revived a Sunnah at a time when the people were reluctant to practice it, and this is the meaning of "a good sunnah." Hence, in the early works of 'aqidah, this hadith was included under the chapter headings, "The reward of the one who renews the Sunnah." [For example Sharh Usul I'tiqad, 1/50]. The meaning of "a bad sunnah" is similar. It is renewing or starting a practice that the Shariah has already declared to be bad, and the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) gave the example of the two sons of Adam , one killing the other. So upon the murderer was the sin of the killing and the sin of all those that killed after him, without their sins being reduced.

    3) The hadeeth uses the terms 'good' and 'bad', and the Shariah has already defined in its totality all that is good and all that is bad. This is what is pointed to in the statement of Imam ash-Shafi'i (رحمه الله) in his refutation of Istihsan (declaring something to be good) when he said, "Whoever declares something to be good, he has declared it part of Shariah." [Ar-Risala]

These are some examples that people of innovation have used to justify their deviation from the correct and established way of the Quran and Sunnah. However, every bid'ah is a going astray and every going astray is into the Fire; and there is no good bid'ah or bid'ah hasanah in the religion. The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: " ... so he who follows my Sunnah has been guided, and he who follows the innovation has been destroyed." [Ahmad]. And, Allah (سبحانه و تعالى‎) has said:

"And whosoever contends with the Messenger after guidance has been plainly conveyed to him, and follows a way other than the way of the believers (the Companions), We shall leave him in the path he has chosen and land him in Hell - what an evil destination!" [Al-Qur'an Surah an Nisa 4: Ayah 115].

More in this category: « What is Bid'ah