DEFINITION OF BIDAH (INNOVATION) IN ISLAMIC JURISPRUDENCE

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The following is summarized from notes taken on a course on Usool al Fiqh taught by Sheikh Mokhtar Magraoui, Istanbul, Turkiye.

The comments in italics are mine, and so are the mistakes if any: May Allah forgive!

INTRODUCTION

Nowhere in the history of Islam is a word which is like a loaded gun bringing much conflict, and schism between brothers and sisters of the Ummah as the word “ Bidah” or “Innovation”

DEFINITION

In order to understand the ramifications of the use of this word one has to see and or experience the desert of the spirit of Islam, particularly in the western world which is unprotected by the knowledge of Islamic scholars who  are well versed in Islamic jurisprudence and does not have access to international scholars or knowledgeable and experienced guides who can interpret the onslaught of online fatwas given on demand.

 LINGUISTIC MEANING OF BIDAH

The word Bidah is derived in the Arabic Dictionary from “AL ibtida” or a beginning with no such action done by a predecessor.

In non-religious, scientific and medical matters Bidah would be a welcome word opening paths to new and innovative methods of discovery of cures and lead to an understanding of the world that we live in.

‘However, in religious matters Bidah has been used like a cannon ball in most Islamic societies where the people do not have a recourse to sound scholarship and are deprived of it because of lack of resources, interest or time, or a combination of these.

EXAMPLES IN THE QURAN OF THE WORD BIDAH

  1. بَدِيعُالسَّمَاوَاتِوَالْأَرْضِۖوَإِذَاقَضَىٰأَمْرًافَإِنَّمَايَقُولُلَهُكُنفَيَكُونُ﴿١١٧

[2:117] Asad

The Originator is He of the heavens and the earth: and when He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, “Be” -and it is.

  1. قُلْ مَا كُنتُبِدْعًامِّنَ الرُّسُلِ وَمَا أَدْرِي مَا يُفْعَلُ بِي وَلَا بِكُمْۖإِنْ أَتَّبِعُ إِلَّا مَا يُوحَىٰ إِلَيَّ وَمَا أَنَا إِلَّا نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ ﴿٩

[46:9] Asad Surah Ahqaf

Say: “I am not the first of [God’s] apostles; and [like all of them,] I do not know what will be done with me or with you: for I am nothing but a plain warner.”

  1. ثُمَّ قَفَّيْنَا عَلَىٰ آثَارِهِم بِرُسُلِنَا وَقَفَّيْنَا بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْإِنجِيلَ وَجَعَلْنَا فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوهُ رَأْفَةً وَرَحْمَةً وَرَهْبَانِيَّةً ابْتَدَعُوهَامَا كَتَبْنَاهَا عَلَيْهِمْ إِلَّا ابْتِغَاءَ رِضْوَانِ اللَّـهِ فَمَا رَعَوْهَا حَقَّ رِعَايَتِهَاۖفَآتَيْنَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنْهُمْ أَجْرَهُمْۖوَكَثِيرٌ مِّنْهُمْ فَاسِقُونَ ﴿٢٧

[57:27] Asad Surah Hadid

And thereupon We caused [other of] Our apostles to follow in their footsteps; and [in the course of time] We caused them to be followed by Jesus, the son of Mary, upon whom We bestowed the Gospel; and in the hearts of those who [truly] followed him We engendered compassion and mercy. But as for monastic asceticism – We did not enjoin it upon them: they invented it themselves out of a desire for God’s goodly acceptance. But then, they did not [always] observe it as it ought to have been observed: and so, we granted their recompense unto such of them as had [truly] attained to faith, whereas many of them became iniquitous.

TEXTS IN THE SUNNAH REGARDING BIDAH

The current popular texts on line illustrate a sweeping general statement i.e. that “All Bidah is bad and is punishable by Fire” What is being missed is what surfaces when the meaning and context of the word “Bidah” is examined under the legal lens of the experts in Islamic Jurisprudence. One finds that when examined carefully these texts further elaborate on the types of Bidah which can be:

  1. Virtuous (Bidah Hasana)
  2. Despicable ( Bidah Siyah punishable by The FIRE)

What categorizes them is based on the juristic principles of the Shariah.

Every text has a literal meaning and an implied meaning and both have to be taken into account to evaluate the characteristics of the “Bidah”.

The Sheikh gave examples of each from the texts, which included:

The bidah hasanas included the initiation of “the Taraweeh” in Ramadan by Umar RA and the compilation of the Quran between two covers done by Abu Bakr Siddiq RA at the recommendation of Umar RA.

Other Bidah Hasana include the method of joining Salah when the Imam has already started the congregational salah, this was initiated by Muadh ibn Jabl, and also includes the unusual but accepted practice of the performance of two rakah before being executed by another Sahabi who was executed by the pagans.

Thus, the statement that “All Bidah is Dalala or a sin or misguidance and punishable by Fire” needs to be tempered with the fact that Bidah is a composite word with many categories and classifications and thus All Bidah is not necessarily Dalala or misguided.

Which bidahs are and which are not misguided are to be decided by scholars in the field of Islamic Jurisprudence who are appropriately and broadly trained in this field and are not pressured by societal and political influences.

Comment:

As a layperson i have observed that the field of Bidah is scattered with landmines. For the uninitiated or someone who does not have deep knowledge of Usool al Fiqh and can thus be blown away by an internet site that provides fatwa on demand.

On one hand Fatwas on line are  a very easy and much used method to resolve issues but on the other hand the qualifications of the one making the judgement is unclear.It is here where the anonymous google Imam fails to deliver because the demographics and the intent of the questioner seeking a fatwa are unknown to him.

Here is where tradition comes in as a help in most instances and we can fall back to its  anchoring position in the life of an average Muslim. However, in the west there are so many traditions from so many cultural backgrounds that it becomes almost impossible to tease out what is culture and what is Islam.

Thus, as students of Knowledge it behooves us to clarify the true meaning of Bidah and then study up as to what bidahs have a precedence of hasana versus bidah Dalala (those that earn the FIRE.

The western Muslim becomes almost a non-practicing Muslim for fear of being punished for doing something as a religious practice that may be a bidah thus the centuries of traditions of reviving sunnah, of remembering Allah in so many different ways, of reciting the Quran in a group Khatm and to revive the life of the Prophet pbuh through an entire month with Mawloods (celebration of the birth of the Prophet pbuh) have all been laid to rest after being labeled as Bidah thus leaving an unfilled spiritual void in the life of a western Muslim.

The children of these Muslims grow in Islamically and spiritually sterile environments and thus seek answers elsewhere and some are attracted towards the call of Atheism which further endorses that most of the islamic practices are bidah thus throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The solution as I see it, is that since not everyone can become an expert in the field of Usool, it is important to identify for each family and individual a single teacher/guide to show us the path and keep our Nafs in check by avoiding fatwa shopping on line, particularly when our lazy Nafs doesn’t like the answer it has received from a legal jurist.

More thought and research needs to go into understanding Bidah as all the work is done and available. One should not  allow the spirit of the faith to be placed on the chopping block by a kneejerk reaction to the word Bidah which due to lack of in-depth scholarship has automatically become coupled with “Sin” that earns FIRE.

DUA: May Allah show us the truth as truth and falsehood as falsehood………

 

2 thoughts on “DEFINITION OF BIDAH (INNOVATION) IN ISLAMIC JURISPRUDENCE

  1. Assalamualaikum sister,
    It has been a long time since I read your observations. Thank you for this piece. Hope you are doing well. Please remember me in your prayers.
    Regards
    Anisur Rahman

    Like

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