Saturday, 18 March 2017

What is the meaning of bidʿa?

The republishing of this translation
Question: What is the meaning of bidʿa (innovation) and is it permissible or forbidden?

Answer (Imam Wahbah az-Zuaylī): Bidʿa, as Al-ʿIzz ibn ʿAbdassalām said, is an action that did not exist in the time of the Prophet, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him, and it carries five rulings. The means of knowing this is to subject bidʿa to the rules of the Sharīʿah, so whatever ruling it falls under then that’s what it is. An example of obligatory bidʿa is to learn the grammar with which the Qurʾān and Sunnah can be understood. An example of impermissible bidʿa is to study the doctrines of the people of disbelief (kufr) and misguidance (ḍalāl) such as the Qadariyyah and the Shīʿah and the ways of heresy. An example of recommended bidʿa is the founding of schools and praying tarāwīh in congregation. An example of a permissible bidʿa is shaking hands after the prayer (ṣalat). An example of discouraged bidʿa is decorating masjids and muṣḥafs with other than gold, while decorating them with gold is impermissible. The ḥadīth: ‘Every bidʿa is misguidance and every misguidance is in the Fire’[1] only applies to the impermissible bidʿa and nothing else.

A mubtadiʿ (innovator) is someone who invents something in Islām that the Sharīʿah does not see as good, such as oppressive taxes and acts of injustice.

Some people have explained bidʿa to be that which has no legal (sharʿī) proof for it being obligatory or recommended, whether it was done in his, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him, time or wasn’t done, such as expelling the Jews and the Christians from the Arabian Peninsula. This isn’t bidʿa, even though it wasn’t done in his time. The same goes for gathering the Qurʾān in muṣḥafs and praying night prayers in Ramaḍān in congregation and other examples which are affirmed as being obligatory or recommended based on a legal proof.

When ʿUmar, may Allah be pleased with him, said regarding tarāwīḥ: ‘What a good bidʿa this is’, he meant bidʿa in the linguistic sense, which is something that is done without a precedent, and not in the legal sense, because bidʿa in the legal sense is misguidance.

Those of the scholars who divide bidʿa into ḥasanah (good) and ghayru ḥasanah (not good) do so with the understanding of bidʿa in the linguistic sense. As for those who say: ‘Every bidʿa is misguidance’, their understanding is in the legal sense.

There is no objection whatsoever to bidʿa in the linguistic sense or according to custom, because ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, used to say: ‘Such and such rained a storm upon us’ and what he meant was that Allah had made the celestial body a sign for such and such according to what had been affirmed by custom. This is not impermissible. If one were to say such a thing believing that the celestial body has some intrinsic effect on its own, or alongside Allah the Exalted, such a person would be a kāfir. This is what Imam Ash-Shāfiʿī, may Allah be pleased with him, mentioned.[2]

In summary, we have what can be understood from the words of Al-Shāṭibī: ‘Bidʿa in the true sense is that which has no foundation in the Sharīʿah, and it is the bidʿa of misguidance. When the word bidʿa applies to something that does have a foundation in the Sharīʿah it is only meant figuratively, such as gathering the Qurʾān in muṣḥafs, writing down the ḥadīth and the sciences of Arabic, and writing down account books for the treasury in the time of ʿUmar, may Allah be pleased with him.’

[Translated from Fatāwā Muʿāṣirah by Imam Wahbah Az-Zuḥaylī (Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 2003), p.264-266]

[1] The first sentence is narrated by Muslim, Al-Bayhaqī and others. Translator’s note: As for the second sentence, i.e. ‘every misguidance is in the Fire’ (كل ضلالة في النار), it is not found in most narrations of the ḥadīth, i.e. not in Muslim (see Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim bi Sharḥ Al-Nawawī v.6 p.134 Bāb Takhfīf al-Ṣalāt wa Al-Khuṭba from Kitāb Al-Jumuʿah, for example), the Musnad of Imām Aḥmad, the Sunan  of Abū Dawūd, the Sunan of At-Tirmidhī, the Mustadrak of Al-Ḥākim,  or the Muʿjam of Al-Ṭabarānī,  and so forth. Furthermore, Imam al-Nawawī does not mention this line in Al-Majmūʿ Sharḥ Al-Muhadhdhib, Bāb Ṣalāt al-Jumuʿah (v.5 p.275-278). I mention this because members of the Salafī cult tend to insist that this line be said in the Friday khubah.
[2] Al-Fatāwā Al-Ḥadīthiyyah by Imām Ibn Ḥajar Al-Haytamī, p.205

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