The importance of understanding the definition of bid'ah

Bid'ah is divided into 2 categories i.e. bid'ah hasanah (good innovation) and bid'ah dhalalah (bad innovation). Bid'ah dhalalah are innovations which do not comply with Quran, Sunnah and Ijma'. It is important for us to understand the correct definition of bid'ah in Islam so that we can ignore any intimidation by ignorant people. 

Definition of Bid'ah by Imam Shafi'i

A great contribution of Imam Shafi'i in usul al-fiqh is the division of bid'ah (innovation) and al-muhdathat (newly invented matters) i.e. whether it is good or bad according to the shari'ah. Imam Shafi'i said: 

"Bid'ah are of two types. Bid'ah that is praised (mahmudah) and bid'ah that is despicable (mazmumah). What is in compliance with Sunnah is good (mahmudah) and what is in contradiction to Sunnah is despicable (mazmumah).

He based his argument on the approval of Sayyidina Umar al-Khattab (ra) on those who did their tarawih prayer in congregation with the words "What a wonderful bid'ah" (نِعْمَتِ الْبِدْعَةُ هَذِهِ).

Imam Shafi'i also said "Newly invented matter are of two types".

Firstly, newly invented matters which are in contradiction with the Quran and Sunnah or the athar of the Companions or the ijma' (consensus) or the ulama' (scholars) are bid'ah that are misguided.

Secondly, newly invented matters that are good that are not in contradiction with any of the above, these are not bid'ah that are misguided.  Umar (ra) said about praying tarawih in congregation in the month of Ramadan: "What a wonderful bid'ah", meaning it is something new that has never been done before but is not in contradiction with the Auran, Sunnah, athar of the Companions and ijma'.

Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi said that only bid'ah that is in contradiction with the Sunnah are despicable.

To summarise, newly invented matters are only considered to be misguided bid'ah not just simply because they are new but they must also be in contradiction with Islam.

Definition by Imam al-Ghazali

Hujjatul Islam Imam al-Ghazali when commenting on the addition of signs to the Quranic writings said:

"Newly invented matters that are introduced (muhdath) does not prohibit this. There are many things which have been introduced but good. e.g. praying tarawih in congregation. This is amongst the bid'ah of Sayyidina Umar (ra) but this is a good bid'ah (bid'ah hasanah). Bid'ah that is despicable are those that are in contradiction to the Sunnah of Rasulullah ﷺ or that which can change the Sunnah".

Definition by Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi al-Maliki

 Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi said:

"Know that Allah has give you knowledge, that bid'ah are of two types (al-muhdathatu darban):

  1. Newly invented matters that have no basis (in religion) but the result of evil desire. This is wrong.
  2. Newly invented matters that are in accordance with what have been agreed upon e.g. the sunnah of the Khulafa' and grand imams. Newly invented matterss and bid'ah are not despicable because they are "new" (muhdath) or because it is called "bid'ah" and also not because of the meaning. Allah said :
    مَا يَأۡتِيهِم مِّن ذِڪۡرٍ۬ مِّن رَّبِّهِم مُّحۡدَثٍ إِلَّا ٱسۡتَمَعُوهُ وَهُمۡ يَلۡعَبُونَ
    (Never cometh there unto them a new reminder from their Lord but they listen to it while they play)
    and Saiyidina Umar (ra) said "What a wonderful bid'ah". On the other hand, bid'ah that are in contradiction to the Sunnah are the ones that are despicable or newly invented matters that lead to misguidance.

Classification by Imam al-Izz al-Din Abdul Salam

Shaykhul Islam Sultan al-ulama' Imam al-Izz ad-Din ibn Abd al-Salam said:

There are several types of bid'ah. The first, they are what were practised in the early Islam but considered by the shari'ah as noble or mandatory. The second are those that were not practised in the early Islam but are considered as despicable or prohibited by the syari'ah. The third, are those that were practised during early Islam and allowable according to shari'ah.

He also said that there are 5 types of bid'ah, similar to the classification of deeds by a person i.e. wajib, haram, mandub, makruh and mubah.

Approval by Imam Nawawi

Imam an-Nawawi said:

Bid'ah according to shari'ah are those that never existed in the time of the Prophet ﷺ and there are divided into "good" (hasanah) and "bad" (qabihah). He approved Imam al-Izz ad-Din Abd al-Salam classification of bid'ah into wajib,  haram, mandub, makruh and mubah. The method to evaluate a bid'ah is to use the principles of shari'ah (qawaid al-shar'iah). If i falls in the category of wajib, then it is wajib. If it falls in the category of haram, then it is haram. If it is recommended, then it is mandub. If it is offensive, then it is makruh and so on. The rest are permissible (mubah).

Approval by Ibn Hajar

Hafiz Ibn Hajar is also in agreement with Imam Izz ad-Din Abd al-Salam. He said:

The root word of "bid'ah" is something that is created without any precedence. It is used in shari'ah as the opposite of "sunnah" and therefore is despicable. If when scrutinised it is what has been enjoined by the shari'ah, then it is considered bid'ah hasanah (good bid'ah). If it is a despicable act, then it is considered bid'ah mustaqbahah (bad bid'ah). Other than that is permissible (mubah). It can also be divided into 5 categories. 







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