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Bid’ah and the Salaf’s Worship

By Imam Abu ‘l-Hasanat ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Laknawi

“Bid‘ah and the Salaf’s Worship” by Imam Abu ’l-Hasanat ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Laknawi (d.1504 AH). Edited and revised with explanatory notes by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah

Chapter 1

The practices of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), Successors, and their Successors or those who followed them during their era without being objected to shall not be classified as a reprehensible innovation.

The eminent scholar Sa‘ad al-Din al-Taftazani (Mas‘ud ibn ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd Allah, an imam of great esteem) states:

The muhaqqiqun (scholars of deep insight) from amongst the Maturidis and Ash‘aris refrained from slandering on another with accusations of innovations or misguidance. This is in sharp contrast to those deviant fanatics who accuse others of deviation and misguidance even in differences regarding subsidiary rulings (furu‘), like disputing in regards to whether the slaughtered animal is halal despite omitting the recitation of Allah’s name upon it intentionally, or (fanatically disputing) whether ablution remains intact even though impurity may exit from any part of the body besides the front and rear passages of the private parts. Similarly, the permissibility of nikah without a guardian (wali) and the abstention of reciting (the Quranic chapter of) al-Fatihah behind the imam.

These fanatics are blatantly incognizant of the fact that a reprehensible bid‘ah is an innovation in the din which did not exist in the time of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and Successors (may Allah be pleased with them) and is not in conformity with the principles of the Shari‘ah.

Some people, due to their ignorance, make every matter which was not in existence during the time of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) a bid‘ah even though there may be no proof upon its revulsion. Deriving their erroneous concept from the following words of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace), “Beware of innovations.”(which is a portion of the hadith of ‘Irbad ibn Sariyah al-Sulami, may Allah be pleased with him, which Imam Ahmad has related in his Musnad (4:126-127) and been also related by Abu Dawud (4:201) and Tirmidhi (10:143) who rigorously authenticated it. Ibn Majah (1:15) also narrates it and it is the twentieth hadith from the compilation of Imam Nawawi’s 40 hadith. They are incognizant of the fact that this hadith is referring to inserting something into the Din which has no relation to it.

It is stated in Majalis al-Abrar (according to Kashf al-Zanun, the author (of the book) is Shaykh Ahmad Rumi, may Allah have mercy on him, and his Majalis al-Abrar is an extremely valuable book which is strongly relied upon) that the word bid‘ah comprises of two meanings:

1) The linguistic meaning of bid‘ah, which is applicable to issues of general and cultural habits which can also encompass matters of worship.

2) To insert anything into the Din or to diminish from it after the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), without the commandment or permission of the Legislator, whether it be verbal or in the form of an action, explicit or implicit. The bid‘ah stated in the hadith, “Beware of Bid‘ahs” refers to this bid‘ah shar‘i (the second definition).

To further substantiate this, it is mentioned in Majalis al-Abrar that one should not be deceived by the general agreement of the masses that whatever was introduced after the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) is a bid‘ah. Rather one should be enthusiastic in exploring the state of the Successors and their conduct. The most knowledgeable (regarding the Din) and closest to Allah were the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and it was through them that the Din has been acquired. As a result, the Successors became the most acquainted with the methodology of understanding the Din adhered to by the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), who were the primary source in the transmission of the Shari‘ah from the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace).

It is also mentioned in Shir‘at al-Islam (p.9) (whose author is Rukn al-Islam Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr) that, “The meaning of Sunnah is that to which adherence is necessary and was embraced by the inhabitants of the golden epochs, for which the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) gave guarantee for its virtue, piety, and guidance. This is the epoch of the Rightly Guided Caliphs (may Allah be pleased with them) and those who accompanied the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace), and that of the Successors and the Successors of the Successors. Whatever was innovated after this era contrary to their methodology shall be considered as a reprehensible bid‘ah, and every such bid‘ah is misguidance, because the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) were the most robust in the repudiation of any bid‘ah which had no precedence from the time of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace), be it meager or excessive, small or large.”

Ya‘qub ibn ‘Ali al-Rumi (a teacher in the Byzantine Universities d.931 AH) has stated in Mafatih al-Jinan which is a commentary on Shir‘at al-Islam “that the meaning of the hadith, “Every bid‘ah is misguidance” refers to that bid‘ah which is contrary to the minhaj (methodology) of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them). Otherwise, it has been established that certain bid‘ahs are accepted, such as indulging in the science of Shari‘ah and its preservation, whilst others are reprehensible, like those bid‘ahs which were initiated after the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and contrary to their methodology and had they been prevalent in their era they would surely have rejected them.”

Thus, it is mentioned in al-Tariqat al-Muhammadiyyah by Muhammad Afandi al-Birkili al-Rumi (may Allah have mercy on him), “that if the question is posed as to how it is possible to reach conformity between the hadith that ‘Every bid‘ah is misguidance’ and the opinion of the scholars that certain forms of bid‘ah are mubah (permissible) like the usage of a sieve and the perpetuity of eating the wheat kernel to satisfy one’s appetite, and at times mustahabb (appreciable) like the erecting of Islamic institutes, minarets, and also the compiling of literary works. Thus in some circumstances it is wajib (obligatory) like the furnishing of proofs and evidences for the repulsion of the doubts of the heretics and others.

The truth in the confusion is that bid‘ahs are of two types:

1) Bid‘ah in its general, linguist meaning, irrespective of the fact that it be related to religion or with any other worldly factor. The reason being that the word bid‘ah is a noun from ibtida‘ which has the same meaning as ihdath (innovation), like the word rif‘ah is from irtifa‘ (elevation) or khilfah is from ikhtilaf (disparity). This is the categorization in the vernacular of the fuqaha’. However, anything introduced after the first generation shall be termed a bid‘ah in the terminology of the fuqaha’. (Not necessarily meaning a reprehensible bid‘ah)

2) The legal (shar‘i) meaning of bid‘ah (which is reprehensible), which is to increase or decrease something in the Din after the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) without the permission of the Legislator. This is irrespective of whether it is verbal or by action, explicit or implicit. However, if one was to increase or decrease in his habitual or customary actions, this would not be categorized as a reprehensible bid‘ah. Rather, a reprehensible bid‘ah is related to matters of belief and forms of worship.

Thus, an elucidation of these forms of bid‘ah can be found in the following words of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace): “Follow my Sunnah and that of the Rightly Guided Caliphs’ (the description of a Sunnah).

“You are more knowledgeable about your worldly matters.’(Sahih Muslim) (regarding innovations in mundane and customary actions).

And in another hadith, “Whosoever innovates anything into our religion, (his innovation) shall be rejected.’ (Bukhari 5:221), Muslim (12:16) on the authority of ‘A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her). The meaning of “is rejected” is that any action which is contrary to the law of Allah and His Messenger (upon him blessings and peace) shall be in vain. (regarding a reprehensible bid‘ah)

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