From the types of deeds there is a very special and dangerous kind that must be discussed separately due to its importance. The special or dangerous aspect of this deed is that the person who does this deed is thinking that he is doing a good / reward worthy action whereas he is actually earning nothing but sins due to it. The deeds that I am talking about here are generally referred to as Bidah. Bidah literally means an innovation and there is nothing wrong with that in the worldly matters, but when talking about bidah in the Islamic context, it specifically means innovating in the religion of Allah, and that carries with it the promise of hell fire.
Approximately 1400 years ago when Allah sent to us His final messenger and His final Sharia (law), He ordained that only the things prescribed by Him through his Prophet (Peace be upon him) are to be followed and no other actions are to be inserted into or taken out of this religion of Islam. Allah said, “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion” (Quran 5:3) and we know that when something is perfect, adding or deleting from it will only cause it to lose its perfection.
The demise of the earlier nations started because of this very problem; the problem of innovating in the religion. As times progressed, the so-called ‘righteous scholars’ added to or deleted from their religious scriptures in order to gain some worldly benefits. As a result of such changes, the true message of their religion was lost. The following hadith shows the gravity of this sin of changing aspects from the religion.
Adi Ibn Hatim (ra) said that he came to the Prophet (PBUH) wearing a gold cross around his neck. The Prophet (PBUH) said:
”O ‘Adi! Throw away this idol from yourself.”
Then the Prophet recited the verse:
”They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah” (9:31)
He (the Prophet) then said:
”It was not that they worshipped these people, but rather whatever they made permissible
for them, they believed it to be permissible and whatever they forbade, they believed to be
unlawful. ” (Tirmidhi)
Look how the prophet described the concept of worship. He is saying if some one other than Allah makes a thing halal or haram for you and you accept that and follow him, then you are in fact worshipping that person and not Allah. From this we see that none but Allah has the right to decree for us in regards to what is allowed and what is prohibited. No other being in this universe has the right to make that judgment, not even the Prophets. The rulings that we received from the Prophet were not from his own self, but were a message from Allah that he delivered to us. The proof for this is the verse of Surah Najm which states; “Nor does he (the Prophet (Peace be upon him) speak of his own desire. It is only an inspiration that is inspired” (Verse 3-4)
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Since Allah created you, He has the right that you worship Him alone. Furthermore, He has the right that you worship Him in a manner that He would be pleased with. How do we know which forms of worship Allah loves and which forms of worship he hates? The answer to this question is very simple; Allah loves all the forms of worship which he explained to his Prophet and which the Prophet performed/or ordered to perform during his life time and He hates all forms of worship which he did not ordain and which the Prophet did not perform nor ordered others to perform them.
For example, you cannot come up and say that you love Allah and that you want to please him by your worship and then as a form of worshipping Allah you start kissing the rats and bowing to them because they are His creation. No! this is not the kind of worship Allah is pleased with. Similarly, you cannot claim to be worshipping Allah while doing something that He has not asked you to do as worship. That is, you can only please Allah through the forms of worship he has ordained. Nothing else.
There is a very important rule in Islam and it is so important that it is undoubtedly one of the golden rules in Islamic law.
- All forms of worship are prohibited except that which have been ordained by Allah through the Quran or the Sunnah. This means that I cannot come up with my own way of worshipping Allah or practicing Islam. The Quran or the authentic Sunnah must validating source for all the religious actions that a person does. For example, a person cannot worship Allah by prostrating to a statue because the Quran does not allow this form of worship. Similarly, a person cannot pray four raka’s for Magrib because he will not be able to find any proof for this action in the authentic sources. In other words, Bidah (innovation) in worship is not allowed.
- 2. All forms of worldly deeds are allowed except those that have been prohibited by Allah through the Quran or Sunnah. That is, I can do whatever I want to in terms of non-religious acts, as long as Allah has not prohibited those acts through the Quran or the Sunnah. For example, I can trade, and eat whatever I want, and wear whatever I want but I cannot trade in alcohol or eat pork or wear silk (for men) because Allah has specifically prohibited these actions. In other words, Bidah (innovation) in worldly matters is allowed. This is why Sharia has no problems when people ride on planes or use cell phones as these matters fall into the ‘worldly matter’ categories within the sharia.
Remember the above rule (divided into two points) as it will help you recognize what deeds are halal or haram in Islamic law. From the haram, the bidah (innovated actions) are such a big threat to the religion that a separate warning needs to be given in regards to them. That is why the typical sermon of our Prophet (Peace be upon him) almost always started with words something like “…the best speech is the Book of Allah, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad, and the worst of matters are the newly invented matters and every bid’ah is a misguidance and every misguidance is in the hell fire…” As previously mentioned, Bidah literally means ‘innovation’ but in the sense of Islamic Sharia (law) it means innovations in religion that are not warranted by the Quran and Sunnah
So what exactly is innovating in the religion?
Innovation in the religion means that some one comes up and says that we should do this action because it is good and is therefore a part of Islam, whereas in reality there is no proof of that action being validated by Allah through his Prophet. For example, a widely spreading innovation of these days is celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). This act of celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) is an innovation because this action was not validated by Allah in the Quran, neither did the Prophet did such an action, nor did he ask others to do this action. The people who celebrate his birthday claim that it is a reward worthy action and a way of showing love to the prophet and a way of sending blessings upon him. No matter what excuse or reason they give, this action of celebrating the birthday will be considered an innovated matter because the order to do this ‘good’ action is not found in quran or the Sunnah, so it is not really a good action no matter how good it seems. Remember the golden rule? All forms of worship are prohibited except those that have been allowed through the Quran or Sunnah. And in the case of celebrating the Prophet (Peace be upon him) birthday, this form of worship and love is not validated from either of those sources and will thus be considered a bidah; an innovation in the religion.
Besides, do you think that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) will hide away a source of good deeds from his ummah? No! By Allah, Our Prophet (Peace be upon him) did not leave behind any good without motivating us to achieve it, and he did not leave behind any sin without warning us about it. That is the perfection of his message and the trustworthiness of a Nabi.
The prophet warned extensively about bidah as is evident through the following narrations
The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “Whoever innovates or accommodates an innovator then upon him is the curse of Allah, His Angels and the whole of mankind.” (Sahih Bukhari 12/41)
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “He who innovates something in this matter of ours [i.e., Islam] that is not of it will have it rejected [by Allah].” (Sahih Bukhari)
On the authority of Abu Najeeh al-’Irbaad ibn Saariyah (may Allah be pleased with him) who said:
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) gave us a sermon by which our hearts were filled with fear and tears came to our eyes. So we said, “O Messenger of Allah! It is as though this is a farewell sermon, so counsel us.” He (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “I counsel you to have taqwa (fear) of Allah, and to listen and obey [your leader], even if a slave were to become your ameer. Verily he among you who lives long will see great controversy, so you must keep to my Sunnah and to the Sunnah of the Khulafa ar-Rashideen (the rightly guided caliphs), those who guide to the right way. Cling to it stubbornly [literally: with your molar teeth]. Beware of newly invented matters [in the religion], for verily every bidah (innovation) is misguidance.” (Abu Dawud and at-Tirmidhi).
The quran warns about bidah and the importance of sticking with the Sunnah by saying; ‘and whatsoever the messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain from it.’ (v.59:7) and ‘indeed in the messenger of allah you have a good example to follow for him who hopes in Allah and the last day and remembers Allah much” (v.33:21)
Why is Bidah Started?
Some bidah are started because the one who introduces them believes them to be good for the religion of Islam. These bidah are almost always started with a good and pure intention; an intention to please Allah Subhano Watalah and are usually initiated and followed upon by those who are sincere to the religion but have little or no knowledge of Islamic Sharia. Such people do not consider their innovated action as bidah simply because their understanding of the deen is very low. An example of such people would be of those who celebrate the birthday of the Prophet out of their ‘love’ for him. These same people might not be so adamant in following the Sunnah of the Prophet in their daily lives because their understanding of love is borrowed from non-muslims and/or their culture. The Quran gives us the true test of love through the verse; ‘say, if you love Allah, then follow me, Allah will love you.’ In this verse, we have a criterion for judging love, that is, if you love some one, you will try to follow all his commands to the best you can.
People who want to create problems within the society and malign the religion of Islam are the source of some bidah. Such people may be aware of the gravity of the issue of bidah but due to personal or national reasons may initiate the bidah in order to acquire some worldly benefit. For example, when some righteous scholar passes away, those behind him might make a tomb over his grave and invite people to come and visit his grave and promote grave worshipping because doing so would give them the attention and financial support they desire.
Some bidah is introduced while the initiator himself is unaware that he has introduced something new into the religion of Islam. For example, he might view his deviation from the Sunnah as very minor and not important but as time progresses that minor deviation tends to widen and widen so much so in a short period of time it looks like a completely separate religion. For better understanding of this kind of bidah, read the following hadith;
Narrated Abdullah bin Mas‘ud : Allah’s Messenger saw a straight line (for our comprehension) saying that it is the way to Allâh. Then he drew oblique lines on both the left and right of the straight line, saying that Satan prompts you to follow these. He recited part of the Quranic verse: “This is My way, the straight one. So follow it..” (Ahmad, Nasa’i and Dârimi)
And in another narration,
Jabir Narrated, “We were sitting in the company of the Prophet . He drew a straight line and two others on its each side. Placing his hand on the straight one he remarked: “This is Allâh’s way; all others are not His.” (Ibn Mâjah)
The people who are involved in bidah may be thinking that they are gaining rewards through their actions but are actually gaining nothing. Allah takes about a type of people who will be the biggest losers in the hereafter by saying, “Say (O Muhammad ): Shall We tell you the greatest losers in respect of (their) deeds? Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought that they were acquiring good by their deeds! They are those who deny the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of their Lord and the Meeting with Him (in the Hereafter). So their works are in vain, and on the Day of Resurrection, We shall not give them any weight.” (Surah Kahf Verse 103-105)
Everybody who has ever started a bidah has started it by saying that this is only a good and beneficial matter. In fact, this is exactly what the definition of Bidah and this is exactly what the prophet warned us about. What is good or bad is a matter to be decreed by the one who is the most knowledgeable (Allah). The threshold, understanding and insight of every person is different and thus what may be good to one person may be bad to another. Besides, the religion belongs to Allah, only He has the right to initiate a decree or demand an action.
Consequences of Bidah
When some one is involved in Bidah he is basically saying that this is a good action or a good form of worship that the Quran or Sunnah did not tell us about. In fact, he is saying that he is more knowledgeable than Allah and his messenger as he has found this new form or worship whereas the Islamic Sharia forgot to tell us about it. And we seek refuge with Allah from such arrogance.
The prophet came to show us all the good things and warn us from all the bad ones. If a person believes this to be true, (and without a doubt this is the case) then he is basically saying that the Prophet hid something from us that would have been beneficial for us. We seek refuge with Allah from saying that. On the other hand, the Quran testifies to the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Prophet by saying ;
“And if the apostle were to invent any sayings in Our name. We should certainly seize him by his right hand, And We should certainly then cut off the artery of his heart: Nor could any of you withhold him (from Our wrath).” Quran 69:44-47)
Common excuses for bidah
- It is not a bidah
Many times these people don’t understand the meaning of the word Bidah. These people are usually thinking that bidah is what other sects do, and that they are followers of the pure sunnah. They think that bidah is something ‘bad’ or a ‘bad practice’ that some people add to the religion but are unaware that bidah is actually the so-called ‘good practices’ that people add by themselves to the religion of Islam.
- It is a good practice (or more specifically they say), it is a good bidah.
There is no such thing as a good bidah. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) specifically said, ‘kulu bidaadtin dalala’ all innovations are misguidance.’ Some of the people who name their bidah, the good bidah refer to the hadith of Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) where he established the qayamul lail (night prayers) of Ramadan and said that this is a good bidah. To understand the meaning of Umar’s (May Allah be pleased with him) words, it is necessary to understand the whole scenario.
Umar bin al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased withi him) succeeded in achieving something good when he ordered Ubayy ibn Ka’b and Tameem ad-Daaree to lead the people in prayer during Ramadaan. Hence he left having united the people behind a (single) Imaam whereas earlier there were multiple groups of people praying in the masjid, and so he said, “I am happy with this innovation, but the part of the night they used to sleep through is better than the part they use to pray in.” (Bukhari)
Notice that Umar only reinitiated the practice that was not only existent at the time of the prophet but was also performed by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) himself. An action that the Prophet performed cannot be considered Bidah. The prophet did not do this action with regularity because he was afraid that Allah might make it compulsory and that his Ummah will not be able to handle it. But once this fear of compulsory night prayer was over (after the death of Prophet (Peace be upon him) Umar revived a Sunnah of the Prophet and called it good bidah. He (umar) used the word Bidah in the linguistic meaning of the word and not the shariee meaning.
- There is no harm in it, or, whats wrong with doing it?
This statement is is based on ignorance. I have already quoted the hadith which says that all innovations are misguidance (irrespective of how good they might seem on the outside) and misguidance is in the fire.
- We have been doing ‘this’ for so many years. We found our fathers doing this
This is perhaps the one of the top excuses I have heard form people who claim to be following the Sunnah but are actually deeply involved with bidah. All thanks is due to Allah who has provided the response to this excuse in his Quran. Allah says, “And nothing has prevented the people from believing when guidance came to them and from asking forgiveness of their Lord except that there [must] befall them the [accustomed] precedent of the former peoples or that the punishment should come [directly] before them. (Quran 18:55)
- Everyone does it
This is also one of the top excuses given by people of bidah. They automatically assume that it everyone (or a great majority) of the people are doing this, then this must be right. But according to this logic, if all the people start worshipping sun, this would not mean that doing so is ok for you too. The religion is from Allah and we are supposed to follow his guidance and the example of the prophet, not the guidance of the so-called scholars and the example of the blind followers who follow them.
- Some misquoted, mis-referenced or misunderstood or fabricated hadith.
This can be easily corrected if the listener makes a habit of checking the authenticity of what he hears. The Hadith of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) is well preserved and we do not need to rely on unauthentic of unclear hadith in matters of worship. Similarly, we have with us the interpretation of Quran by the companions and early scholars of the ummah, which is sufficient for us to guide us in these issues.
- I am not a scholar and only follow what my teacher taught us.
This excuse relies on our contentment with being ignorant. When we handle one of our worldly affairs we do all the research along with taking opinions of our experienced personnel, but when it comes it religion we have a laid back and passive attitude. Such unfair treatment with the religion of Allah can only add to our misfortune in the hereafter.
Test for Bidah
To check if something is bidah (newly invented matter) in islam, you can follow the general guidelines listed below.
- See if there is proof for the action in the Quran or the sciences relating to Quran (For example, Tafseer). If there is no proof in the Quran for the action, then proceed to check the action from the authentic sources of Sunnah. Be careful when taking interpretations of scholars who are involved in any sort of Bidah, because such scholars can craft an interpretation to misguide the common person. Rely on the interpertations of the salaf if in doubt.
- Check the Sunnah to find any hadith, example or approval of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) for that action. Did the Prophet command it? Did he do it Himself? Did he mention a reward or benefit for some one who does this action? If the answer to any of this is yes, then the action is not a Bidah.
- See what the righteous caliphs say about this matter. That is, did they do this action? This is because Prophet (Peace be upon him) ordered us to stick to his Sunnah and the Sunnah of the righteous caliphs after him.
In the end, I will narrate an incident from one of the great companions of the Prophet (Peace be upon him).
From ’Amr Ibn Salamah: “We used to sit at the door of ’Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood before the Morning Prayer, so that when he came out, we would be able to walk with him to the mosque. So Aboo Moosaa al-Ash’aree came to us, so he said, ‘Has Aboo ’Abdur-Rahmaan come out yet?’ So we said, ‘No.’ So he sat with us until he came out. So when he came out, all of us stood up with him.
So Aboo Moosaa said to him, ‘O Abaa ’Abdur-Rahmaan, verily I saw in the mosque a detestable action that I hated – but I did not see – and the praise is for Allaah – anything except good.’ He said, ‘So what was it?’ He said, ‘If you live, you will see it. I saw in the mosque, a people sitting in circles, waiting for the Prayer. There was a man in every circle, and in their hands were pebbles, so he would say: ‘So Allaahu Akbar (Allaah is Greater) one hundred times,’ so they would say it one hundred times. So he would say: ‘Say al-hamdulillaah (the praise is for Allaah) one hundred times,” so they would say it one hundred times. And he would say: ‘Say subhaanallaah (Free is Allaah from all imperfection) one hundred times,’ so they would say it one hundred times.’ He said, ‘So what did you say to them?’ He said, ‘I did not say to them anything, I waited for your command.’ He said, ‘Would that you had ordered them to count up their evil deeds, and assured them that nothing from their evil deeds would be lost!’ Then he went, and we went with him, until he came upon the circles of these people.
So he stood over them and said, ‘What is this that I see you doing?!’ They said, ‘O Abaa ’Abdur-Rahmaan, these are pebbles upon which we count the takbeer, tahleel, and tasbeeh.’ He said, ‘Then count up your evil deeds, and I assure you that nothing from your evil deeds will be lost. Woe to you O Ummah of Muhammad! How quickly you rush to destruction! These are the Companions of your Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) who are abundant. And these are his clothes that have not yet decayed, and his bowl that is still unbroken. By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, either you are upon the religion better guided than the Ummah of Muhammad, or you are opening the door to misguidance.’
They said, ‘By Allaah O Abaa ’Abdur-Rahmaan, we did not intend anything except good.’ He said, ‘And how many people intend good yet do not achieve it? Verily the Messenger (PBUH) informed us: “Verily there will be a people reciting the Quran, yet it will not pass beyond their throats.” By Allaah I do not know, perhaps most of them are from amongst you.’ Then he left them. So ’Amr Ibn Salamah said: We saw the great majority of these people fight against us upon the day of an-Nahrawaan along with the Khawaarij.”
Note: If there is any mistake in the above, then it is from me and the shaytaan, and if there is any good then it is from Allah. Please point out any mistakes so I may correct them accordingly. Jazakallahu Khairun (in advance)