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A Concise Explanation of the Shariah Definition of Bidah and Its Proofs From the Prophetic Sunnah
Posted by Abu.Iyaad, Editor in Foundations

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Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaa'ah, the followers of the Righteous Salaf, follow the Messenger (alayhis salaam) in all of their beliefs and understandings. Hence, all of their conceptions, thoughts and understandings are founded upon what is related in his Sunnah, because they believe that final authority rests with him, and they are the greatest of people in loving, respecting and giving precedence to him. This is opposed to the way of the people of innovation who raise other authorities above and over him and prefer their sayings over and above his, despite their lip service in the claim of love and obedience to him. There is nothing which illustrates this more clearly than in the issue of the understanding of bidah (البدعة). In this article we will present the Prophetic definition of bidah. Before proceeding into the main subject of the article, we will quickly mention the linguistic definition of bidah.

The Linguistic Definition of Bidah

The linguistic definition of bidah is provided by (الشيء المخترع على غير مثال سابق), "Something invented without having any prior example." This is based upon its usage in the Qur'an in the saying of Allaah, (قُلْ مَا كُنتُ بِدْعًا مِّنْ الرُّسُلِ), "Say: "I am not a new thing amongst the Messengers" (46:9), meaning Muhammad is not a new thing amongst the Messengers, as he has precedents and prior examples before him (Eesaa, Musa, Ibrahim and so on). Also the saying of Allaah, (بَدِيعُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ), "The originator of the heavens and the earth" (2:117), meaning the one who originated them without them having any prior example. This definition of bidah incorporates all new things, religious or otherwise, since its general meaning extends to all things without restriction, be they praiseworthy or blameworthy, be they from the religion or not from the religion, as the general underlying concept behind the word bidah is "anything which has no prior example for it." And there are from the Salaf those who used the word bidah specifically upon its linguistic meaning (not its Shariah meaning) within certain contexts and situations (and this is what has allowed the Innovators to confuse and deceive others about the true nature of innovation intended by the Shariah).

Shariah definitions of words differ from linguistic meanings because the Shariah may restrict, qualify, expand, or attach conditions (to the linguistic meaning) to give a new conceptual meaning which is employed by the Shariah to address the people. Examples include, prayer (الصلاة), belief, faith (الإيمان), charity (الزكاة) amongst others, all of which have intended Shariah meanings which are different to the original linguistic meaning afforded by the root words in the language. Thus, anyone who claims the Qur'an can be understood purely through the language, or primarily through language will go astray no doubt.

The Shariah Definition of Bidah is Founded Upon Five Statements of the Messenger (alayhis salaam)

The conception of the word bidah (البدعة) as intended by the Shariah and as conveyed by the Messenger (alayhis salaam) to his Ummah, and upon which warnings have been made is found completely in five ahaadeeth of the Messenger (alayhis salaam), and we will address them here one by one.

1. The First Hadeeth of Aa'ishah

Both al-Bukhari and Muslim relate the hadeeth of Aa'ishah (radiallaahu anhaa), which is the foundation of the definition of bidah in the Shariah:

عن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: مَنْ أَحْدَثَ فِي أَمْرِنَا هَذَا مَا لَيْسَ مِنْهُ فَهُوَ رَدٌ

Whoever introduces into this affair of ours that which does not belong to it, will have it rejected.

Al-Shatibi's definition of bidah (see article here) is in fact founded upon this hadeeth, since this hadeeth has provided three very important conditions or restrictions which have made the meaning of bidah intended by the Shariah to be something unique. As such, nothing is considered a bidah in the Shariah sense except when these conditions are met.

These three conditions are:

  • (الإحداث) - Introducing something new
  • (الإضافة) - Ascribing it to the religion
  • (عدم الدليل الشرعي) - Absence of Shariah evidence [for this newly-introduced matter] in either a general way or a specific way

These three qualifications are found in the hadeeth itself:

First, he (alayhis salaam) said, (مَنْ أَحْدَثَ), and this refers to bringing anything new without any prior example. At this point, this could refer to all newly-invented things, praiseworthy or blameworthy, religious, or otherwise. Second, he (alayhis salaam) then qualified and restricted this by saying (فِي أَمْرِنَا هَذَ), which has now made it specific to the religion, so this newly-invented thing must be ascribed to the Shariah and to the religion. This now excludes all worldly matters and customs which have no connection to the religion, and likewise all matters of sin and disobedience which are unlawful in the Shariah (like stealing, fornicating gambling and so on), since no one takes them as being from the religion when falling into them. Third, it could be the case that this newly-invented thing may have a basis in the Shariah, so he (alayhis salaam) further qualified the affair and said (مَا لَيْسَ مِنْهُ), which means, as explained by the Scholars, that it has no support from the Shariah, neither in a general sense (a general evidence) or in a specific sense (a specific evidence). An example of a general, non-specific evidence would be in the case of the compilation of the Qur'an into a single book (mushaf), since this comes under a general foundation in the Shariah which is the preservation of the religion (as one of the five essential matters it came to protect, religion, life, intellect, wealth, honour). So the compilation of the Qur'an exits from the Shariah definition of bidah. And an example of specific evidence would be that of the Tarawih prayer being prayed in congregation that was initiated by Umar bin al-Khattaab. This has a direct, specific evidence (the Prophet led the people in congregational Tarawih prayer for three nights in Ramadan in the mosque), and thus it exits from being a bidah in the Shariah sense. The same would apply to all legislated matters which have been forgotten or abandoned, and which are revived, they do not come under bidah with its Shariah meaning. And some scholars may refer to these matters as "good innovations" purely from a linguistic point of view, but what they really mean is revival of a forgotten Sunnah, and this is the meaning of the saying of Umar bin al-Khattaab (نعمة البدعة هذه), "What an excellent innovation this is" about his re-instituting the Tarawih prayer in congregation in the mosque.

This is the same understanding of bidah that is found in the explanations of the overwhelming majority of Scholars such as Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani and others. And everything that comes under this definition is what is intended by the Messenger (alayhis salaam) in his saying (وَكُلَّ بِدْعَةٍ ضَلاَلَةٌ), "Every innovation is misguidance." Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said:

فقوله صلى الله عليه وسلم كل بدعة ضلالة من جوامع الكلم لا يخرج عنه شيء وهو أصل عظيم من أصول الدين وهو شبيه بقوله صلى الله عليه وسلم من أحدث في أمرنا ما ليس منه فهو رد فكل من أحدث شيئا ونسبه إلى الدين ولم يكن له أصل من الدين يرجع إليه فهو ضلالة والدين بريء منه وسواء في ذلك مسائل الاعتقادات أو الأعمال أو الأقوال الظاهرة والباطنة وأما ما وقع في كلام السلف من استحسان بعض البدع فإنما ذلك في البدع اللغوية لا الشرعية فمن ذلك قول عمر رضي الله عنه لما جمع الناس في قيام رمضان على إمام واحد في المسجد

So his saying (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) that "every innovation is misguidance" is from the comprehensive, concise words from which no matter (of innovation) [introduced in the religion] escapes from, and it is a mighty foundation from the foundations of the religion. It resembles his saying (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), "Whoever introduced into this affair of ours that which does not belong to it will have it rejected." Hence, everyone who introduced something and ascribed it to the religion and it does not have any foundation in the religion to which it returns back to, then it is misguidance and the religion is free of it, irrespective of whether it is in the matters of belief, or actions or outward and inward statements. As for what occurs in the speech of some of the Salaf of considering some of the innovations to be good, then that is with respect to innovations with the linguistic meaning, not the Shariah meaning and from [the examples of that] is the saying of Umar (radiallaahu anhu) when he gathered the people together for praying in Ramadan behind a single imaam in the mosque. Jami' al-Ulum al-Hikam of Ibn Rajab in explanation of the hadeeth of al-Irbaad bin Saariyah (2/128).

And Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said:

والمراد بقوله كل بدعة ضلالة ما أحدث ولا دليل له من الشرع بطريق خاص ولا عام

And what is intended by his saying "Every innnovation is misguidance" is whatever is newly-introduced and has no evidence in the Shariah in neither a general way nor a specific way. Fath al-Bari (13/253).

And he also said:

و " المحدثات " بفتح الدال جمع محدثة والمراد بها ما أحدث ، وليس له أصل في الشرع ويسمى في عرف الشرع " بدعة " وما كان له أصل يدل عليه الشرع فليس ببدعة ، فالبدعة في عرف الشرع مذمومة بخلاف اللغة فإن كل شيء أحدث على غير مثال يسمى بدعة سواء كان محمودا أو مذموما ،

And "the newly invented matters" (المحدثات), with the fathah on the daal, is the plural of novelty (محدثة) and what is intended by it is what has been newly-introduced and does not have any basis in the legislation. It is referred to in the usage of the Shari'ah as innovation (بدعة). As for what has a basis indicated by the Shari'ah then it is not an innovation. For "innovation" in the usage of the Shari'ah is blameworthy as opposed to its usage (with its) linguistic (meaning), for everything that has been newly-invented without any prior example is named "bid'ah" irrespective of whether it is praiseworthy, or blameworthy. Fath al-Bari (13/253).

2. The Second Hadeeth of Aa'ishah

Muslim relates the hadeeth of Aa'ishah (radiallaahu anhaa) with his wording, in addition to the one above, that the Prophet (alayhis salaam) said:

مَنْ عَمِلَ عَمَلاً لَيْسَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْرُنَا فَهُوَ رَدٌّ

Whoever did an action which is not upon our affair will have it rejected.

3. The Third Hadeeth of Ai'shah (through Ibn Isa)

And Abu Dawud relates in his Sunan, from Ibn Isa, that the Prophet (alayhis salaam) said:

مَنْ صَنَعَ أَمْرًا عَلَى غَيْر أَمْرنَا فَهُوَ رَدٌ

Whoever worked an affair in discrepancy with ours will have it rejected. Sahih. See Sahih al-Jami al-Saghir (no. 6369)

The second and third hadeeths both add further meaning to what has preceded in that whoever works an affair or does an action which is not in agreement with the Shariah in its details and particulars will have it rejected. Together with the first hadeeth, these three ahaadeeth cover a) what is newly-invented having no basis whatsoever and b) what may have a basis but which in its details and particulars deviates and differs from what is in the Shariah. Thus, both the bidah haqiqiyyah (proper innovation) and bidah idafiyyah (relative innovation) - [see this article] - are both clarified in the Sunnah, warned against, and rejected.

4. The Hadeeth of al-Irbaad bin Saariyah

There occurs in the well known hadeeth of al-Irbaad bin Saariyah (radiallahu anhu) about the Prophet's farewell sermon:

وَإِيَّاكُمْ وَمُحْدَثَاتِ الأُمُورِ؛ فَإِنَّ كُلَّ مُحْدَثَةٍ بِدْعَةٌ , وَكُلَّ بِدْعَةٍ ضَلاَلَةٌ

And beware of the newly-introduced affairs, for every newly-introduced affair is an innovation, and every innovation is misguidance. Reported by Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah and al-Tirmidhi.

This hadeeth establishes that everything which falls under the confines of the first three ahaadeeth - bidah haqiqiyyah, bidah idafiyyah and which meet the three conditions of a) introducing, b) ascribing and c) absence of general or specific evidence -is a misguided innovation (بِدْعَةٌ ضَلاَلَةٌ). There are no exceptions to this because the precise nature of the bidah intended has already been qualified by the Messenger (alayhis salaam) in what has preceded. Thus, the word (كُلَّ) has already been qualified, it does not mean every innovation absolutely and unrestrictedly (with its linguistic meaning), but rather every innovation qualified as such by the Shariah and as intended by the Shariah, which has narrowed down, restricted and qualified the linguistic meaning.

The Hadeeth of Jabir bin Abdullaah

Al-Nasaa'ee relates with his wording, from Jaabir bin Abdullaah (radiallaahu anhu) the following:

عن جابر بن عبد الله رضي الله عنهما قال: كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا خطب يقول: أَمَّا بَعْدُ، فَإِنَّ أََحْسَنَ الحَدِيثِ كِتَابُ اللهِ، وَأََحْسَنَ الهَدْيِ هَدْيُ مُحَمَّدٍ، وَشَرَّ الأُمُورِ مُحْدَثَاتُهَا، وَكُلَّ مُحْدَثَةٍ بِدْعَةٌ ، وَكُلَّ بِدْعَةٍ ضَلَالَةٌ ، وَكُلَّ ضَلالَةٍ فِي النَّار

The Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) used to say when delivering a sermon:
To proceed: Indeed, the best speech is the Book of Allaah and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad and the worst of affairs are the newly-invented matters, every newly-invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is misguidance, and every (instance of) misguidance is in the Fire.
Sahih. Reported by al-Nasa'i, al-Bayhaqi, al-Aajurree and others.

This hadeeth establishes that every innovation (as qualified and defined by whatever has preceded) which is misguidance is in the Hellfire, and this completes the understanding of bidah in the Shariah, upon the Prophetic Sunnah. This also connects with the other Prophetic statements such as the hadeeth of the seventy-two sects that are threatened with the Hellfire (all of whom split away from the Sunnah and Jamaa'ah and become sects due to innovations), and the hadeeth of the straight line and the lines to the right and left at the end of which there are devils, calling the people to these divergent paths.

Refer to:

  • al-I'tisam of al-Shatibee
  • Qawa'id Ma'rifat al-Bida' of Muhammad al-Jizani.

Further related reading:

  • Imaam al-Shatibee Explaining bidah haqiqiyyah and bidah idafiyyah - (see here)
  • Innovation Is of Two Types, Haqeeqiyyah (Essential, Proper) and Idaafiyyah (Relative) - (see here)
  • Imam al-Shatibi's Comprehensive and Definitive Definition of Bid'ah - (see here)
  • The Completion and Perfection of the Shari'ah - (see here)


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