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Refuting the Notion of Bid'ah Hasanah (Good Innovation) in Worship: Part 2 - Understanding Matters of Public Interest (Al-Masalih Al-Mursalah)
Posted by Abu.Iyaad, Editor in Bidah Hasanah
Topics: Public Interest Al-masalih Al-mursalah Bidah Hasanah Good Innovation

It is essential to understand the point made in Part 1 through the speech of Ibn Hajar before proceeding, which is that when the term bid'ah is used for praiseworthy matters, it is being used in its linguistic sense and not the Shariah sense. Here we wish to tie the noose a bit more tightly around those who take isolated and vague statements of the Scholars and thrust them upon the common-folk upon other than what those Scholars actually intended and meant. This will be done by discussing the issue of al-masalih al-mursalah (matters of public interest). It is important to grasp the difference between the bid'ah condemned in the Shariah and between what enters into matters of public interest and to which a purely linguistic application of the word bid'ah has been applied by some scholars (such as al-Shafi'i, al-Nawawi and others). Imam al-Shatibee has addressed this matter in detail in his book al-I'tisam. We will try to present things as concisely as possible here. As a reminder, try to keep this diagram in your mind as you proceed through these articles:

What is public interest (Maslahah Mursalah)?

To understand this we need a few background principles. From them is that there is a necessary binding relationship between the Shariah and matters of personal and public beneficial interest because this is what the Shariah has come to actualize. This is embodied in the fact that a) The Shariah is founded upon actualizing all beneficial interests for the servants and repelling all harmful matters from them in worldly and religious matters, and b) That this Shariah has not omitted any beneficial matter of interest at all, ever (see this article), meaning that it has either specifically mentioned it, or it has mentioned broad principles that encompass it in a non-specified way. The Shariah has come to protect the five necessities, which the preservation of 1) religion, 2) life, 3) reason, intellect, 4) lineage and 5) wealth and it is with respect to these five areas that the masaalih mursalah relate to.

As a result there may arise issues that would become issues of public interest (as defined by the preservation and protection of life, religion, intellect, property and honour), and they may be legislated to protect that interest as long as certain conditions are fulfilled, which are generally specified as follows:

  1. That it must not clash with the Shariah texts or with an ijmaa' (consensus)
  2. That it returns back to the goals and objectives of the Shariah with the aim of protection of a beneficial interest indicated by the Shariah (life, religion, intellect, honour, wealth)
  3. That is is not in relation to any rulings that are already established in the Shariah, which have been legislated specifically for that particular interest.
  4. That it is verified that it is an actual, true and real beneficial interest and not a presumed or suspected one, in other words it must be verified that legislating it will bring about good or repel a harm.
  5. That it is a matter of public interest and is not for any personal benefit for any particular individual or group of individuals.

So the maslahah mursalah is:

Making consideration of matters which are of public interest (acquisition of good or removal of harm) for which there is no specific evidence or basis (in relation to it specifically) in the Shariah, but which in a general sense would agree with universal Shariah principles and goals. Consideration is made of them in order to help protect and preserve the five necessities (life, religion, intellect, wealth and honour).

At this point it would be useful to give an example or two to illustrate the above points and considerations.

There are many accidents happening and people are being injured or killed due to reckless driving. So legislation is enacted to impose fines for speed violations. Is there are public interest involved? Does this serve a public interest that the Shariah aims to protect. Is there any conflict with any Shariah text? Will the benefit be realized? So after consideration of these matters a ruler will implement legislation, and this legislation is not sought in and of itself but rather it is simply a means to attain an objective that the Shariah itself mentions, in other words it is from the wasaa'il (means to and end) and not the maqaasid (actual goals, objectives sought in themselves). Now this legislation is down to purely circumstantial reasons. Let's say in another country, public transport is excellent and most people don't use cars, or that everyone is sensible and drives carefully. Here there is no need for such legislation.

A small town has rapidly expanded to such a degree that many people are not able to hear the call to prayer. So loudspeakers are used to tackle this issue. Does this relate to an objective the Shariah seeks? Does it clash with any Shariah text? Will the beneficial interest definitely be realized? After these considerations, loudspeakers will be used, and again, this policy is not sought in and of itself, it is a means (waseelah) to an end, and the actual use of the speakers is not considered religion or worship, but simply a facilatating means for an already existing Shariah objective.

Here, one can understand the rulings that the rightly-guided caliphs made such as Umar treating three pronouncements of divorces as one, that is not treated as innovation (bid'ah) in the Shariah sense, but as a matter of public interest. Likewise the gathering of the Qur'an into a single book (mushaf), this was a means to an end to serve a Shariah objective, it is an innovation from a linguistic sense, but not from a Shariah sense, and it is a simply a waseelah (means) by which a Shariah objective (preserving the religion) is fulfilled. Al-Shatibee gives this example in al-I'tisam.

So this helps to explain what is a matter of beneficial public interest, and one can clearly see the difference between this and between the bid'ah which is condemned in the Shariah and which relates to matters of worship by which a person seeks nearness to Allaah, taking it as a path to be followed in religion. One should also note that these issues of al-masaalih al-mursalah are not be to considered as Shariah rulings (haram, wajib etc.), but they are considered additional and new legislations which serve the goals (maqaasid) of the Shariah. If they are issued by a ruler, then one must obey the ruler in those matters. One must also follow these rules if not doing so leads to harm.

Differences Between al-maslahah al-mursalah and Bid'ah

There are some common grounds between al-maslahah al-mursalah and al-bidah. Firstly, they are both new, and invented, linguistically speaking, not being present in the time of Prophethood and secondly, they both do not have any specific evidence from the Shariah and as such it is only generalized texts or principles that are used as evidence for them, or in the case of bid'ah, doubts which appear to be evidences but are not.

As for the differences then:

Firstly, the maslahah mursalah is aimed at bringing about or preserving a benefit or protecting from or removing a harm. This means it is a means to an end (waseelah) and not an end in and of itself, and it is used to reach and acquire Shariah defined objectives (which are preservation of life, religion, intellect, wealth, honour). As for bidah, it is sought in and of itself as a goal, as it is believed that it brings about nearness to Allaah, in its own right and is from the religion.

Secondly, bidah is related uniquely to matters of worship and the matters of the religion associated with them, as opposed to the maslahah mursalah.

Thirdly, the maslahah mursalah has a rationally understood meaning behind it, which is unlike the affairs of worship to which bid'ah is related. What is meant here is that affairs of worship cannot be fathomed through reason and rational answers cannot be given as to why there are five prayers, and why they are at specific times, or why a person's wudhu is invalidated by relieving himself and why he must wash his hands, face, arms and feet (for wudhu), despite the fact that no impure thing touched them, yet if any impure thing touched his body, it would not invalidate his wudhu, all he has to do is to remove the impurity. So how does that make sense from a rational perspective? So affairs of worship do not follow reason. As for the maslahah mursalah, since it relates to the acquisition or preservation of a benefit or repulsion of harm, it has a rational meaning behind it that can be understood and fathomed. Al-Shatibee gives ten examples to illustrate the difference between the maslahah mursalah and what is bidah, wherein he clarifies this point and from the examples he gives of the maslahah mursalah is the compilation of the Qur'an into a single book (for the preservation of the deen), and the Companions agreeing upon eighty lashes for the one drinks alcohol (for the preservation of intellect, wealth etc.), and likewise killing a group of people as retribution for their collusion in killing a single individual (for the protection of life). All of these can be understood and have a rational meaning behind them.

Fourthly, bidah imposes a further burden upon the people in terms of something above and beyond what is in the Shariah, and as for the maslahah mursalah, that actually facilitates the affairs for the people, by protecting from harm or removal of hardship or protecting a beneficial interest.

Fifthly, bidah essentially clashes with the objectives of the Shariah (it takes people away from ittibaa'), whereas the maslahah mursalah supports and comes under the objectives of the Shariah (of the preservation of the five essentials).

Sixthly, the maslahah mursalah is unique in the sense that the reason why it did not take place in the time of the Prophet (alayhis salaam) or the Companions is because of the absence of what may have required or necessitated it, or the cause that may have required it was present but there was something preventing from it being considered. This is unlike bidah, because bidah was never acted upon or introduced despite the fact that every reason, cause and motive was present, without any preventative barriers, for it to take place, and yet it did not take place. To illustrate, every reason was present to commence celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (alayhis salaam) after his death, because of his absence, and there was nothing to prevent that. However, it was never done by the Salaf at all. This makes it a bidah. Another illustration, there was no reason to add a second athaan for Jumu'ah in the time of the Prophet (alayhis salaam), however, Uthmaan added a second aadhaan because of reasons that required it, which is the increase in people and expansion of the city. Thus, he added an already existing act of worship (aadhaan), without changing anything from it or adding to it, in order to fulfil a Shariah goal, which is preservation of the religion, and by which the people were notified that the time for Jumu'ah has entered such that they should make preparations and not be late. So this does not enter into a bidah because such reason was not present in the time of the Messenger (alayhis salaam), and had it been, revelation may have been sent legislating this aadhaan. However, as the Messenger (alayhis salaam) ordered the Ummah to follow the Sunnah of the rightly-guided caliphs, then whatever affairs they instituted are treated to be from the Sunnah, and not from the blameworthy bidah.

Once all of this is clear, when we see the word bid'ah used for that which is praiseworthy in the speech of some of the Scholars (like al-Shafi'ee for example), then either it is not an blameworthy innovation (from a Shariah point of view) because it has a precedent (like the revival of the tarawih prayer), or it is simply a matter of beneficial public interest which does not clash with the Shariah texts but agrees with the goals of the Shariah, and it being labelled as bidah is from a linguistic sense only, in which case it is a "good bidah" in the terminology of those scholars who use this terminology. All of this has absolutely no connection to innovations in worship, which all of the Scholars are united about, that there is no such thing as "good innovation" in matters of worship, be they haqeeqiyyah (proper, in every sense of the word) or idaafiyyah (relative, where they have a basis from one aspect but depart from the Sunnah in their details). This is clear even in the speech of those like al-Izz bin Abd al-Salam when one takes a much wider perspective and view when looking at many of his fatawas that relate to affairs of worship. So the deception that is really taking place is that the innovators have simply pounced upon the fact that there is to be found in the speech of these Scholars a classification (by which they intended one thing) and have twisted it and used it for another thing (which those scholars themselves did not actually intend it for).

Refer to:

  • al-I'tisaam of al-Shatibee
  • al-Ibdaa' Fee Madaarr al-Ibtidaa' of Alee Mahfoodh
  • Usool Fil-Bida' wal-Sunan of Muhammad al-Adawee
  • al-Mawsu'ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah (8/21)
  • Qawa'id Ma'rifat al-Bida' of Muhammad al-Jizani.

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