It is with much thought and debate amongst ourselves that we write this article. We understand the hostile reaction that it may cause, but we feel that there are sufficient, and important reasons for putting pen to paper about this subject. Over the past year or so we have been continually criticised by the local hierarchy, who have accused us of being "Wahhabis", "followers of Arabs", "modernist Muslims" and of misleading the youth. It is with this constant criticism in mind that we write this article, in order to set the record straight. We ask all of you to keep an open mind; do not approach this subject from an emotional point of view, but rather an Islamic one. We ask the brothers and sisters to look for the 'clear argument', to consider the evidence that is provided herein. Do not let this article be a cause for creating more fitna (trial), but instead an opportunity to see a way forward for some reconciliation. If you do disagree with this article, then let this be a chance to start a dialogue between us and you rather than a war of words. You know our evidence, please show us yours and let us approach the issue with the scholastic behaviour of our predecessors.
[Remember that at times, due its inherent power the truth can be somewhat painful at first, but acceptance and submission to it is ultimately the objective of every sincere student of knowledge. As Allah, the Truth, says:
"Nay, we fling down the truth against falsehood so it smashes through its mind, and behold, it vanishes."
Finally we praise Allah, and ask for His forgiveness; we witness that there is only one Allah, and that Muhammad, peace be upon him, is His last Messenger and slave. May Allah always guide us closer to the truth, amin.
Many people today are unaware of the many innovations (bid'ah) that have entered the religion, nor the importance of staying away from them. It is now common to see the people who speak out against innovations, being abused and vilified, and accused of being backed by Saudi Arabia etc. So we felt it our duty, as part of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, to clarify the position of Ahlus-Sunnah wa'l-Jama'ah regarding this important subject.
We shall begin by examining the proofs that the din (religion) is complete, and is therefore in no need of being added to. Next we illustrate the importance of sufficing with and submersing oneself in the Sunnah, along with some strikingly relevant prophecies regarding its abandonment, and a definition of the term bid'ah. In case that is not enough to convince you, we then provide statements of the Sahabah and scholars from the following two generations to reinforce these principles. With the ammunition in place, we then apply it to refute modern-day justifications for bid'at.
The Din is Complete
"This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion."
This ayah embodies a clear statement that the din has been completed and thus has no need of addition or deletion. Also the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "There is nothing that Allah ordered you with except that I have ordered you with it, and there is nothing that Allah forbade you from except that I have forbidden you from it." [Bayhaqi] So the Prophet, peace be upon him, fulfilled the trust placed upon him by Allah completely, explaining the religion to the people in its outward and inward form, making clear the lawful from the prohibited, the encouraged from the discouraged, to the extent that he taught us the manners of using the toilet, having sex with our spouses, etc.
Allah says in His Book:
"And We have revealed to you a Book explaining everything."
"We have neglected nothing in the Book."
So in the Qur'an are explained the principles of the religion, tawhid in all its categories, and even the manners of sitting in circles, visiting other people's houses, correct clothing and much more.
The Importance of Sticking to the Sunnah
"Indeed you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent example for the one who hopes in Allah and looks to the Last Day."
He also says:
"So if you obey him then you will be guided."
Also the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "I have left behind me two things: as long as you cling to them you will never go astray. They are the Book of Allah and my Sunnah (life example)." [Al-Hakim] And he also said, " ... and you will live to see great differing, so cling to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly-guided Khulafah after me, even if it be with your molar teeth ... " [Bukhari]
The tabi'i [2nd generation Muslim] Imam Az-Zuhri commented, "Clinging to the Sunnah is to be saved, as Imam Malik said, 'like the Ark of Nuh,' he who embarked upon it was saved, whereas he who did not was destroyed." [Ad-Darimi, one of the main collections of hadith that deals mainly with the sayings of the Sahabah and those after them]
In these narrations are clear evidence that the way of salvation and safety is to closely follow the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and not to deviate from his path; not accepting the guidance of another individual, nor a corrupted form of the Sunnah. Yet, we are taught that there will come a time when the Sunnah will become so corrupted that this corruption will become accepted as the norm by the general people, and those that call to reviving and purifying the Sunnah will be regarded as strangers and slandered. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, "Islam began as something strange and it will return as something strange, the way it began. So Tuba (a tree in Paradise) is for the strangers." He was asked, "Who are the strangers?" To which he replied, "Those that purify and correct what the people have corrupted of my Sunnah." [At-Tabarani in Al-Kabir 6/202]
And what is this corruption of the Sunnah? It is innovation, introducing into the pure religion of Allah, the Most High, new ways of worshipping Him which He has not taught us, blemishing His religion with our whims and desires, something which Allah Himself condemns when He says:
" ... or do they have partners that legislate some religion which Allah has not given permission for?"
And the Companion Abdullah ibn Mas'ud lamented, "How will it be when the trials overcome you, in which the old grow senile and the young grow up. And the people take the bid'ah as the Sunnah, and when it changes they say the Sunnah has changed." It was then said, "When will that be O Abu Abdur-Rahman?" He replied, "When your speakers are many and your scholars are few, and your wealthy ones are plenty and trustworthy ones are few." [Ad-Darimi]
How true this statement is today, when the innovations have become so widespread in the religion that the people have taken them as the Sunnah. And when the true scholars speak out against the innovations they are looked down upon and called abusive names like 'Wahhabi', because to the common folk it seems that the scholars are changing the Sunnah. To Allah we complain of the ignorance of our time!
Only Allah has the Right to Tell Us How to Worship Him
"Follow that which has been revealed from your Lord and do not follow as Friends and Protectors other than Him."
Ibn Kathir says that in this verse is a categorical statement that the privilege to tell people how to worship Allah belongs to Allah alone [paraphrased from his tafsir 2/208].
And how could it be otherwise when the true meaning of ibadah (worship) is to worship Allah in a way which He is pleased with - not according to our desires:
" ... and who is more astray than the one who follows his own whims and desires, devoid of Revelation?"
In this regard Rasulallah, peace be upon him, 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]
He also used to say at the beginning of his lectures, " ... and the best speech is the speech of Allah, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and the worst of all affairs are the newly-invented matters (in the religion)." [Muslim]
And he commanded us, "Whosoever does an action which we have not commanded then it will be rejected," [Muslim] and also, "Whosoever introduces into this religion of ours that which is not part of it then it must be rejected." [Ahmad]
"And in this hadith is clear evidence that every action which is not legislated in the Shari'ah (Islamic law) must be rejected" [Jamia al-Usul 1/120 of Ibn Rajab, the eighth century Hanbali scholar well-known for his extensive knowledge and great piety]. So every bid'ah that is introduced in the religion has to be rejected because only Allah and His Messenger, peace be upon him, have the right to legislate in the Shari'ah of Islam. So in the light of these hadith what is the complete Islamic definition of a bid'ah? "A newly- invented way (in beliefs or actions) in the religion, in imitation of the Shari'ah, by which nearness to Allah is sought, not being supported by any authentic proof - neither in its foundations nor in the manner in which it is performed" [As defined in Al-I'tisam 1/231 of Ash- Shatibi, the sixth century Maliki scholar of Usul].
And in what has preceded is ample evidence for any fair-minded Muslim that all bid'ah is blameworthy and in fact a major sin.
The Claims of the Misguided People
Unfortunately however, the Muslims are in such a state today that the words of Allah and His Messenger, peace be upon him, are no longer enough to convince them. Certain groups of Muslims have come up with a new belief - the belief of bid'ah hasanah. They claim that a scholar can introduce a new action of worship in Islam, as long as it does not contradict any of the principles of Islam, a belief which has absolutely no foundation in Islam at all. So we are now forced to resort to the statements of the great Imams of guidance after the Prophet in response.
The Sayings of the Companions
'Abdullah bin 'Umar said, "Every innovation is misguidance, even if the people regard it as good." [Ad-Darimi] This narration is sufficient to demolish the idea of a 'good bid'ah', for you have the like of this Companion from amongst the most knowledgeable Companions of Rasulallah, upon whom be peace, saying the exact opposite. So who do you choose to follow, Ibn 'Umar or these modern day shaykhs and mullahs who are Imams of their own whims and desires?
'Abdullah ibn Abbas said, "Do not sit with the people of innovation, for surely their sittings are a sickness for the hearts." [Ash-Shari'ah of Al-Ajuri, p.65]
Whenever he sat in a circle of knowledge, Mu'adh ibn Jabal used to say, " ... and I warn you of what is innovated, for all that is innovated is misguidance." [Ash-Shari'ah, p.55 and Abu Dawud with similar wording]
'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud said, "Follow the Sunnah of Muhammad and do not innovate, for what you have been commanded is enough for you." [Ad-Darimi]
Hudhayfah ibn Al-Yaman said, "Every act of worship which the Companions did not do, do not do it." [Abu Dawud]
'Amr ibn Salmah said, "We used to sit by the door of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud before the morning prayer, so that when he came out we would walk with him to the masjid. One day Abu Musa al-Ash'ari came to us and said, 'Has Abu 'Abdur-Rahman come out yet?' We replied, 'No.' So he sat down with us until he came out. When he came out we all stood along with him, so Abu Musa said to him, 'O Abu Abdur-Rahman! I have just seen something in the masjid which I deemed to be evil, but all praise is for Allah, I did not see anything except good.' He enquired, 'Then what is it?' Abu Musa replied, 'If you live you will see it. I saw in the masjid people sitting in circles awaiting the prayer. In each circle they had pebbles in their hands and a man would say, 'Repeat Allahu Akbar a hundred times.' So they would repeat it a hundred times. Then he would say, 'Say la ilaha illallah a hundred times.' So they would say it a hundred times. Then he would say, 'Say subhanallah a hundred times.' So they would say it a hundred times.' Ibn Mas'ud asked, 'What did you say to them?' Abu Musa said, 'I did not say anything to them. Instead I waited to hear your view or what you declared.' Ibn Mas'ud replied, 'If only you had ordered them to count up the evil deeds they acquired and assured them that their good deeds would not be lost!' Then we went along with him until they came to one of these circles and stood and said, 'What is this which I see you doing?' They replied, 'O Abu Abdur-Rahman! These are pebbles upon which we are counting takbir, tahlil and tasbih.' He said, 'Count up your evil deeds. I assure you that none of your good deeds will be lost. Woe to you, O Ummah of Muhammad, peace be upon him! How quickly you go to destruction! These are the Companions of your Prophet, upon whom be peace, and who are widespread. There are his clothes which have not yet decayed and his bowl which is unbroken. By Him in Whose Hand is my soul! Either you are upon a religion better guided than the religion of Muhammad, peace be upon him, or you are opening the door of misguidance.' They said, 'O Abu Abdur-Rahman! By Allah, we only intended good.' He said, 'How many there are who intend good but do not achieve it. Indeed Allah's Messenger, peace be upon him, said to us, "A people will recite the Qur'an but it will not pass beyond their throats." By Allah! I do not know, perhaps most of them are from you.' Then he left them."
Umar ibn Salmah (the sub-narrator) said, "We saw most of those people fighting against us on the day of Nahrawan, along with the Khawarij." [Ad-Darimi in his Sunan, 1/79]
Isn't this enough? The companions tell us to follow the way of Rasulallah, peace be upon him, and not invent new ways worship? "Whomsoever Allah guides to the truth, none can misguide, and whomsoever Allah misguides, none can guide." [Muslim]
The Sayings from the Second and Third Generations
Al-Hasan al-Basri said, "Do not sit with the people of innovation. Do not debate with them or listen to them." [Ad-Darimi, 1/121]
Abu'l-'Aliyah said, "Learn Islam. Then when you have learned Islam, do not turn away from it to the right or to the left, but be upon the Straight Path and be upon the Sunnah of your Prophet and that which his Companions were upon ... and beware of these innovations because they cause enmity and hatred amongst you, but stick to the original state of affairs that was there before they divided." [Al-Hilya of Abu Nuaym, 2/218]
Sufyan ath-Thawri said, "Innovations are more beloved to Shaytan than sin, since a sin may be repented from but an innovation is not repented from." [Sharh Usul I'tiqad of al-Lalika'i (d. 414H) no.238, the great 4th century Imam who wrote on the belief of Ahlus-Sunnah] This is because the innovator believes he is doing something good and therefore sees no need to repent. He also said, " ... so cling to the original state of affairs," [Al-Hilya, 6/376] meaning the way of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his companions.
Imam Al-Awza'i said, "Patiently restrict yourselves to the Sunnah, and pause where the people paused, say what they said, and avoid what they avoided. Take to the path of the Salaf (predecessors), for indeed, what was sufficient for them is sufficient for you." [Ash-Shari'ah, p.58]
Ibrahim al-Masayrah said, "He who honours an innovator has assisted in the demolition of Islam." [Sharh Usul I'tiqad, 1/139]
The Sayings of the Four Imams
Imam Abu Hanifah said, "Stick to the narrations and the way of the Salaf, and beware of newly-invented matters for all of it is innovation." [Sawn ul-Mantaq of As-Suyuti, p.32]
Imam Malik said, "He who innovates an innovation in Islam regarding it as something good, has claimed that Muhammad has betrayed his trust to deliver the message as Allah says, "This day I have perfected for you your religion." And whatsoever was not part of the religion then, is not part of the religion today." [Al-I'tisam] He also said, "How evil are the people of innovation, we do not give them salam." [Al-Ibanah of Ibn Battah (d. 387H), no. 441]
Imam Ash-Shafi'i said, "Whosoever considers an innovation to be good has corrected the Prophet." [Bulugh al-Maram of Ibn Hajar (available in English), p190 footnote 2] And all that has been related from him that contradicts this statement, regarding innovation as being of two types is either weak or baseless as al-Hafidh adh-Dhahabi and others from the scholars of hadith state.
Imam Ahmad said, "The fundmental principles of the Sunnah with us are: ... avoiding innovation and every innovation is misguidance." [Usul us-Sunnah (available in English), p.1]
Imam Al-Bukhari said, "I have met more than a thousand scholars ... (then he named the more prominent in each of the lands he visited) and I found that they all agreed on the following points: ... they all used to prohibit bid'ah - that which the Prophet and his Companions were not upon, because of the saying of Allah, '...and hold fast to the rope of Allah and do not separate.' " [From his article on belief, quoted in Sharh Usul I'tiqad, 1/170. Amongst the scholars he met were Ahmad bin Hanbal, Abu Ubayd al-Qasim, Ibn Ma'in, Ibn Asim, Ibn Abi Shaybah, and Abu Salih the scribe of Layth ibn Sa'ad]
What we have narrated to you here is a small number of narrations from amongst literally hundreds from the early scholars of Islam with regard to the sin of innovation. It is unfortunate that the later generations of Muslims have lost contact with our Salaf, for it is through them that we gain the true understanding of the religion, and they were prolific in speaking out against and writing about innovation - even today we have whole volumes of works from them dealing with this topic alone. If only we would turn our attention to the legacy of our Salaf!
The Arguments of the Innovators
This is a time when everyone is satisfied with his opinion, hence the multitude of innovations commonly witnessed today, despite the plethora of proofs presented above. Know that every example which the ignorant ones bring, from the actions of the Companions, to support their belief in 'good innovations', is misunderstood and manifests their lack of knowledge and concern for the Sunnah. All of the following examples either have a clear basis in the Shari'ah, or occurred due to necessity, or from the ijtihad of the Companion in question - none of them being an innovation. Insha'Allah we shall mention a few of the more common excuses:
- When 'Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, 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. Firstly, it becomes necessary to explain the context of what happened. When the Prophet, peace be upon him, first emigrated to Madinah, the Muslims prayed tarawih individually, and then for three nights they prayed in congregation behind the Prophet, peace be upon him. 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, and the beginning of 'Umar's rule. Then 'Umar 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 be understood to be a new act of worship when the Prophet, peace be upon him, did it during his lifetime? Secondly, the Prophet 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 Rasulallah, peace be upon him, revelation ceased so this concern was no longer necessary. Hence 'Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, reinstated the tarawih prayer in congregation during his rule because he knew that his action could not be made obligatory upon the Ummah. Thirdly, 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 'Umar's words, "a good bid'ah"? The word bid'ah here is to be understood in its linguistic sense, "something new," because tarawih in one congregation was not present during the rule of Abu Bakr and the beginning of 'Umar's rule, hence in that sense it was something new. The Shari'ah sense (defined earlier) 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 tarawih is a stressed Sunnah, and 'Umar 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, upon whom be peace.' " [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 Rasulallah, peace be upon him, and the statement of Abu Bakr, "How can we do that which was not done by the Prophet, peace be upon him?" [Bukhari] The proof, according to them, being that the companions collected the Qur'an in a book form after the time of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, 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 and said that the Qur'an 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 Qur'an by heart were being martyred, and therefore the Qur'an was in danger of being lost and hence it had to be collected in book form. When Abu Bakr replied, he did not say, "Oh yes I agree with you, this is a bid'ah hasanah," rather he argued that the Prophet, peace be upon him, did not do this, so how could they? It was only after the necessity was made clear to him that he agreed. So, in conclusion, the collection of the Qur'an as 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 hadith is that people can invent new practices in Islam which are either good or bad. Of course, if they were to take the hadith in its full context then it is not possible to derive this meaning. The context of the hadith states that a group of poor people came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, 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, so one of the companions stepped forward and gave charity, so the Prophet said the above hadith. Firstly, the word 'sunnah' which is used in this hadith cannot be understood to mean the Sunnah of Rasulallah, upon whom be peace, because that would imply that there is something bad in the Sunnah; rather it is to be understood in its linguistic meaning of 'practice'. Secondly, 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, peace be upon him, "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 something that the Shari'ah has already declared to be bad, and the Prophet gave the example of the two sons of 'Adam, peace be upon him and all the Prophets, 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. Thirdly, the hadith uses the terms 'good' and 'bad', and the Shari'ah 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 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 Shari'ah." [Ar-Risala]
These are just a few of many of the feeble examples that these misguided people bring to support their belief, and it should now be clear that none of them hold any weight, so let us learn from this the great importance of studying the Qur'an and Sunnah in its context, with the explanation of the Companions - after that, we leave them floundering in the abyss of misguidance that they have dug for themselves, whilst asking Allah to guide them!
So once this basic subject becomes clear, a subject which no one can deny, then know that all these innovations in the deen such as kissing the thumbs when the name of Muhammad, peace be upon him, is mentioned, doing dhikr in congregation with one voice, doing dhikr with excessive bodily movements such as swinging the head from left to right or dancing in circles, invoking salam upon the Prophet before the adhan is called, seeking intercession and blessings at the graves of dead 'saints', raising graves and building memorials over them, the 'Eid of the Prophet's birthday and hundreds of others; all of them are a clear denial of the above ayat, ahadith and narrations of the Salaf, for none of them were practised by the Companions.
We leave you with this hadith, " ... so he who follows my Sunnah has been guided, and he who follows the innovation has been destroyed." [Ahmad]
And the Saying of Allah, the Most Wise:
"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!"
And Allah Knows Best.