Refuting the Notion of Bid'ah Hasanah (Good Innovation) in Worship: Part 1 - Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani on the Usage of the Word Bid'ah in Its Linguistic Sense
Posted by Abu.Iyaad on Tuesday, July, 12 2011 and filed under Bidah Hasanah
Key topics: Ibn Hajar Bidah Hasanah Good Innovation


It is known that the innovators, and in particular the Sufi grave-worshippers of our times, rely upon the statements of some Scholars who applied the five rulings (wajib, mustahabb, mubah, makrooh, haram) to the topic of bid'ah, or who may have spoken of innovation (bid'ah) as being both good and bad. What they do not reveal though is that these scholars are simply using the word "bid'ah" in its broader linguistic sense, and not strictly in its Shari'ah sense. If we consider this, then we can say that the differences between them and between those who say that all innovation is evil (meaning by that the Shari'ah definition only), is largely a difference of wording only, and that the former scholars are simply including other matters into the broader linguistic definition of bidah.At the same time, we can see clearly in their other speech (and their fatwas and rulings) that they warn against innovation (in worship) and opposing the guidance of the Messenger and performing worship in a manner other than that known in the Sunnah or adding to it or changing it.

Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani Explains the Usage of the Word Bidah in the Language of the Scholars

Ibn Hajar said in Fath al-Bari (Maktabah Salafiyyah print, 13/278) in the book Holding Fast to the Book and Sunnah, in the chapter "What is disliked of delving and disputing in knowledge, exaggeration in the religion and innovations," the following:

وأما " البدع " فهو جمع بدعة وهي كل شيء ليس له مثال تقدم فيشمل لغة ما يحمد ويذم ، ويختص في عرف أهل الشرع بما يذم وإن وردت في المحمود فعلى معناها اللغوي

As for innovations (البدع), it is the plural of innovation (بدعة) and it is everything which does not have any prior example. Linguistically, [the word] encompasses what is both praiseworthy and blameworthy. In the usage of the people of the legislation (i.e. Scholars) it is specifically for what is blameworthy and if it is used in connection to what is praiseworthy, then it is upon its linguistic meaning.

And Ibn Hajar also said (13/253):

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.

The point is made very clearly in that where the word "bid'ah" is used for praiseworthy matters, it is being used with its (broader) linguistic meaning, and Ibn Hajar makes a clear differentiation between its use in the legislative sense (as meant by the Shari'ah) and its use upon a purely linguistic meaning. The following diagram will help us to understand what is going on here and where we are leading towards:

These two statements from Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (rahimahullaah) allow us to develop a context by which we can understand the true and real intent of those who have spoken of "good bid'ah". It is this context that the dishonest innovators and deviants wish to conceal and remove as part of their ploy to deceive the common folk in order to justify their multitude of relative innovations (bidah idafiyyah - see this article) which are censured in the Shariah and which they try to justify by confusing them with matters which have been entered into the linguistic application of this term by a number of scholars.

We will address the sayings of Imam al-Shafi'ee, al-Izz bin Abd al-Salam, al-Nawawi, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali and others in due course inshaa'Allah.

The Saying of Ibn Kathir

In support of the above, we find Ibn Kathir said in explanation of the verse (2:117):

والبدعة على قسمين تارة تكون بدعة شرعية كقوله فإن كل محدثة بدعة وكل بدعة ضلالة وتارة تكون بدعة لغوية كقول أمير المؤمنين عمر بن الخطاب عن جمعه إياهم على صلاة التراويح واستمرارهم نعمت البدعة هذه

And bidah is of two types. Sometimes it is a bidah shar'iyyah (with its Shariah meaning), such as his saying, "For every newly-invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is misguidance..." and sometimes it is a bidah lughawiyyah (with its linguistic meaning), such as the saying of Amir al-Mu'minin Umar bin al-Khattaab regarding his uniting them together for the Tarawih prayer and making them maintain this practice, "What an excellent innovation this is..."

This indicates that there is no such thing as "good bidah" in the Shariah, and where bidah is spoken of in a praiseworthy sense, it is only being spoken of with its linguistic meaning. To distinguish between these two makes it much easier for us to grasp the nature of the perception of some of the Shafi'ite jurists in their classifiation of bidah. This we will investigate in the following articles in this series.