Reality of Bidah

What are bidah? It’s important that before any sort of analysis is done, we first define the word itself. Essentially it is defined as an invention in the religion that is meant to draw a person closer to Allah (swt). What this refers to is stuff that is not defined in the Shariah and for which there is no evidence (daleel) in the Qur’an or Sunnah. In addition bidah are customs and traditions that were not around during the time of the Prophet (saw) or his companions. Of course, this definition does not include worldly innovations such as cars, computers, airplanes, etc.

There is a lot of confusion that has to do with an apparent contradiction between a hadith that was narrated by Abu Hurayrah (ra) and a hadith narrated by Jareer ibn Abdullah (ra). So for starters, lets first take a dive and analyze the hadith of Jareer ibn Abdullah (ra).

Jareer ibn Abdullah al-Bajali (ra) said,

“The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: ‘Whoever starts a good thing and is followed by others, will have his own reward and a reward equal to that of those who follow him, without it detracting from their reward in any way. Whoever starts a bad thing and is followed by others, will bear the burden of his own sin and a burden equal to that of those who follow him, without it detracting from their burden in any way.'”

At-Tirmidhi, 2675

In Islam, it is important that as believers we realize the context information is given in. Many times, those without knowledge will try and justify their actions by backing them up with claims in hadith or Qur’an without realizing the context of the evidence. For this specific hadith, let’s first examine what “whoever starts a good thing” means. Imam Muslim reported this story from Jareer ibn Abdullah, who also narrated the hadith itself. He said, “Some people from the Bedouin came to the Messenger of Allah (saw), wearing woolen garments. He saw that they were in bad shape and in desperate need, so he urged the people to give them charity. They people were very slow to respond, and it could be seen in his face (that he was upset). Then a man of the Ansar brought a package of silver, then another came, and another and another, and his face was filled with joy. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “Whoever starts a good thing in Islam, and others do likewise after him, there will be written for him a reward like that of those who followed him, without it detracting in the least from their reward. Whoever starts a bad thing in Islam, and others do likewise after him, there will be written for him a burden of sin like that of those who followed him, without it detracting in the least from their burden.””

Another hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah (ra) indicates this same point. He narrates “A man came to the Prophet (saw), and he urged the people to give him charity. A man said: ‘I have such-and-such,’ and there was no person left in the gathering who did not give something in charity to him, whether it was a large amount or a little. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: ‘Whoever starts something good, and others follow his lead, will have a complete reward and a reward like that of those who followed him, without it detracting in the least from their reward. Whoever starts something bad, and others follow his lead, will bear a complete burden of sin, and a burden like that of those who followed him, without it detracting in the least from their burden.

So from analyzing the context of these hadith, it’s clear that “whoever starts a good thing (sunnah hasanah) in Islam” means, whoever revives a part of the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw), or teaches it to others, or commands others to follow it, or acts according to it so that others see him or hear about it and follow his/her example.

Therefore, it should be vividly clear from the above contexts that undoubtedly the Prophet (saw) was not permitting innovation in matters of worship, nor was he opening the doors of what some people call bidah hasanah (good bidah) for the following reasons.

  1. The Prophet (saw) stated repeatedly that: “Every newly-invented thing is a bidah (innovation), every bidah is a going astray, and everything going astray will be in the Fire.” (Reported by al-Nisaa’i).
  2. The Prophet (saw) used to say, when beginning a khutbah (sermon): ” The best of speech is the Book of Allah and the best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. The worst of things are those which are newly-invented, and every innovation is a going astray” (Muslim, no. 867)
    1. If every bidah is a going astray, how can some people then say that there is such a thing in Islam as “bidah hasanah”? Just knowledge of simple Arabic in the beginning of the Jumu’ah khutbah is enough evidence for those who are trying to justify so called, “good bidah.”
  3. When a person innovates something and adds to the deen something that does not belong to it, he is implying a number of bad things, each worse than the last, for example:
    1. Unknowingly or without realizing, the person doing the innovation may be implying that the deen is lacking. That Allah (saw) did not complete and perfect it and that there is room for improvement. Once again, this contradicts the evidence in the Qur’an where in Surah al-Maidah, Allah (swt) says, “This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion”
    2. That the religion remained imperfect from the time of the Prophet (saw) until the time when this innovator came along and completed it with his own ideas.
    3. That the Prophet (saw) was “guilty” of either of two things: either he was ignorant of this “good bidah,” or he knew about it but concealed it, thus letting his ummah down by not conveying it
    4. Opening the door to bidah leads to changing the deen and opens the way for personal opinions, because every innovator implies that what he is introducing is something good, so whose opinion are we supposed to follow, and which of them should we take as a leader?
    5. Following bidah leads to the cancelling out of sunnah. Real life bears witness that whenever a bidah is followed, a sunnah practice dies out; the reverse is also true.

May Allah (swt) guide us all and save us from the misguidance of personal whims and desires. Ameen. And Allah (swt) knows best.

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