What is Bid a (Innovation) and what is it not?

Sometimes, some new applications concerning the religion are stated as to be contrary to Islam and called as bid a (innovation). In this point of view, the true nature of innovation must be known in order not to disaffirm every new application because it is regarded as to be contrary to Islam.

For example:

Wearing collarless shirts is Sunnah (a practice of the Prophet (PBUH)), but wearing one with a collar is innovation;

Eating on the floor table is Sunnah, but eating at the table is innovation;

Sitting on the floor cushion is Sunnah, but sitting on the sofa is innovation;

Reciting the azan without using a microphone is Sunnah, but reciting it by means of a microphone is innovation;

Wearing a cap and turban is Sunnah, but being bareheaded is innovation.

Such sorts of opinions are put forward by some people. In this way, supposedly, innovations and Sunnah are to be defined

Actually, there is an intention of inducing people to imitate Sunnah through those words. The one who claims the opposite are accused by being in favor of innovations. Then, arguments and disagreements start and this discussion ends in pique and animosity.

Those sorts of matters are discussed between wife-husband, father-son and brothers; it is often a discussion subject among people who are in the service of Islam; it is discussed, argued and finally unwanted results occur.
This matter was debated, commented in different ways by the Islamic scholars who had searched the life, the practices and the commands of the Allahs Messenger (PBUH). Eventually, some definitions were made and the issue of innovation was classified.

The issue of innovation was dealt with in two ways by Islamic scholars: in a narrow and broad scope. Ibn Âbidin and suchlike scholars who searched bida in a broad scope, particularly Imam Shafii and Imam Nawawi defined it briefly as follows: Innovation is everything that appeared after the death of the Allahs Messenger (PBUH).

According to that definition, religion oriented conducts and behaviors as well as the opinions, conducts and fashions, which appeared later, and which concern social life are regarded as innovations.

Those sorts of scholars point to this command of the Prophet (PBUH) as evidence: Whoever conduce people to imitate my sunnah, through reviving one of my sunnah, he will acquire onefold of merits, which those people gain, without any decrease in those peoples gains. And whoever conduces people to carry out a bida through adopting it in the religion, he will acquire onefold of sins, which those people commit, without any decrease in those peoples sins. (Ibn Majah, Muqaddima, 15)

Apart from that definition, those scholars categorize innovations in two forms as good and evil innovation. They say good innovations (bid a hasana) are the ones which are convenient to carry out; evil innovations (bid a sayyia) are the ones which are inconvenient to carry out. Building minarets and schools are good innovations; lighting candles in the tombs is an evil innovation. Therefore, the rejected innovations by Hadiths, by the commands of the Prophet (PBUH), are evil innovations.

When Hazrat Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) saw people who performed tarawih prayer in congregation, he encouraged them by saying what a beautiful innovation it is and qualified it as a good innovation. (Bukhari, Tarawih, 1)

Avni, Bayhaqi, Ibn Hajar el-Asqalani and Haytami, Imam Birghiwi and Ibn Taymiyya and suchlike scholars who dealt with the issue in narrow scope, particularly Imam Malik introduce this definition: Innovation is everything, which appeared after the Allahs Messenger (PBUH), related to the religion, and that has the nature of adding something to the religion or diminishing from it.

According to those scholars, new applications which are not related to religion and do not possess a religious meaning are not regarded as innovations. From this point of view, conducts in the form of manners and customs are regarded beyond this innovation concept.

The evidence of that perspective depends on these following Hadiths:

The worst of the deeds are the ones produced afterwards. (Muslim, Jumua, 43)

Anything produced afterwards is innovation.(Ibn Majah, Muqaddima, 7)

All innovations are misguidance (Muslim, Jumua, 43)

Avoid what is introduced later in the name of religion. Verily, anything produced afterwards is innovation and all innovations are misguidance. What you should do then is to embrace my sunnah and the sunnah of my caliphs who are the guides of the truth. (Abu Dawud, Sunnah, 5)

Embracing the same perspective, ash-Shatibi, who is an authority on Islamic law methods, defines innovation as the religion related way which is produced later. Then, he elucidates the issue as follows:

The aims of the people, who embrace any innovation by finding it as a religion related way, are to worship Allah more. Besides, the conducts which are not related to religion and are not regarded as religious are not considered as innovations. For instance; the manner of someone, who prohibits himself from something which is lawful, is not an innovation. But if he does this prohibition act with the thought of religion, then it becomes an innovation.

According to Shatibi, categorizing the innovations as good innovations and evil innovations is not convenient. (Ibrahim bin al-Musa ash-Shatibi, al-Itisam; DIA, Bid a section)

Demanding the careful protection of Sunnah, Imam Rabbani, who lived in the year one thousand after Hijrah, states the following, while expressing the struggle against innovations:

The most fortunate person is the one who revives one of the sunnahs which is forgotten and disregarded at such a time that Islam and Muslims are weakened and neglected and who eliminates one of the widespread innovations. Now, we live in such a time, over a thousand a year passed after the sending of the Noble Messenger (PBUH), that the signs of the Doomsday have started to appear one by one. As we moved away from the Prophets Era of Bliss, the sunnahs have been concealed, and innovations have increased because of the spread of the lying disease. Now, we need a mujahid that will brighten Sunnah and eliminate the innovations. The spread of innovations yields the destruction of the religion. (Mektubat, 1:34-35)

Arguing drastically against categorizing the innovations as good innovations and evil innovations like Shatibi, Imam Rabbani expresses his opposition as follows:

Previous scholars may have seen some favorable aspects of innovations; therefore they may have called them as good innovations. However, I do not agree with them about the issue. I cannot say good for any of innovations. I cannot see anything but darkness and elusiveness on the face of innovations. The Noble Messenger (PBUH) uttered All innovations are misguidance. At a time that Islam and Muslims are weakened and neglected, the salvation is only reached through the imitation of Sunnah; and the destruction is through the embracement of innovations.

If anything that emerged afterwards is innovation and if all innovations are misguidance, then how can there be any goodness in the innovations. As it is commanded in the Glorious Hadiths, each produced innovation cancels a sunnah. The issue is not limited to some innovations; all innovations are evil.

The Noble Messenger (PBUH) uttered: Each community who adopted new applications for their religion after their prophets will ruin as many sunnahs as their adopted innovations. (at-Targhib wat-Tarhib Translation, 1:109)

This Hadith was narrated by Hassan bin Sâbit: If a community invents a new application in their religion, God Almighty takes away a sunnah from them like that innovation and throws it away; he never restores it until the Doomsday. (Mektubat, 1:160)

As it is seen, Imam Rabbani never tolerates an innovation that will give the slightest damage to a sunnah but he never uses the word innovation for the behaviors which are based on Sunnah in his exegesis Mektubat (The Letters); instead, he says sunnah hasana (good sunnah) in the meaning of favorable custom. (M. Paksu, Sünnet ve Aile (Sunnah and Family), p. 19)

Badiuzzaman Said Nursî who is labeled as the wonder of the age, an Islamic scholar who had spent his life on the way of fighting against innovations and on the way of brightening the Glorious Sunnah, in his treatise Mirkatüs-Sünne ve Tiryaku Marazil-Bida( The Stairway of Sunnah and Antidote for the Sickness of Innovation),embraces the opinions of the Islamic scholars who had described the innovation in narrow-scoped descriptions and says: New creations in the ordinances concerning worship are innovation, Not to care for the rules of the Illustrious Shari'a and principles of the Practices of the Prophet (PBUH) after they have been completed and perfected, and adopt new creations, or God forbid, create innovations, which infers considering them to be deficient, is misguidance, it is the Fire. Through those comments, he states that the innovation concept concerns only the matters related to religion and worship.

In his view: The Hadith of The Noble Prophet: "All innovations are misguidance, and all misguidance leads to Hell."; and, according to the verse: This day have I perfected, for you your religion (The Table Spread, (Al-Máída) 3). Not to care for the rules of the Illustrious Shari'a and principles of Sunnah after they have been completed and perfected, and adopt new creations, or God forbid, create innovations, which infers considering them to be deficient, is misguidance, it is the Fire. (RNK Publishing, Lemalar (The Flashes), p. 609)

Again referring to Badiuzzaman, to change the decrees and commands concerning worship is innovation and is prohibited in Islam. Some sunnahs concern worship. They are described in the books of the Shari'a; to change them is innovation and is prohibited in Islam. Some sunnahs are called "conduct" (Adab), and are mentioned in the books of the Prophet's biography. Acting opposite to them cannot be called innovation, but it is disobedience to the Prophet's conduct; it means not benefiting from his light and true courtesy. Those sunnahs are following the Noble Prophet's (pbuh) actions in customary and natural acts and in dealings, which are known through unanimous reports. These sunnahs are related to the conduct of speaking, eating, drinking, sleeping, and good manners. (RNK Publishing, Lemalar (The Flashes), p. 609)

Badiuzzaman classifies the Noble Prophet's sunnah into three categories: his words, his acts, and his conduct; he also classifies these three categories into three sections: obligatory, voluntary, and laudable.

It is imperative to follow those that The Prophet (PBUH) himself performed such as prayers – performing daily prayers- and hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Everyone is responsible to do them.

As for the prayers which are categorized as voluntary and laudable, believers obtain great rewards by carrying out those sunnahs, but there is no penalty or punishment for giving them up. However, there is great merit in acting in accordance with them and following them. To change them is innovation, misguidance, and a great error.

To follow and imitate the Prophet's customary actions is extremely laudable. These are connected with both personal life and social life. The ones, who follow those practices of the Prophet (PBUH), convert their conducts and actions into worship. (RNK Publishing, Lemalar (The Flashes), p. 610)

In addition to those expressions, Badiuzzaman sometimes use the statement The people of innovation in his treatises. He makes statements in the manner of defending Islam by addressing those people. We understand the qualities of those people of innovation by means of his statements as follows: I wonder, what advantages do these innovators, or more accurately, deviants or heretics, find in irreligiousness? (RNK Publishing, (Mektubat) The Letters, p. 558)
The people of innovation adopted such an evil opinion from the foreign scholars. A revolution like that came about in the Christian religion:

Therefore there should be such a religious revolution in Islam (RNK Publishing, Mektubat (The Letters), p. 557). The people of innovation who changed the marks of Islam say: Religious bigotry made us backward. Living in this age is only possible if one gives up bigotry.

From those statements, we could understand that the people of the innovations are the groups who live in Islamic countries and who aim to change some fundamentals and bases of Islam and even strive to eliminate Islam completely by the guidance of their mischievous ideas.

Giving explanations which invalidate the attempts of the ones with deviant ideas, and who are regarded as the people of innovations and which refute completely their assertions and plans they strive to show as truth in his treatise Mektubat (The Letters), Badiuzzaman classifies these destructive people of the innovations into two groups:

The first group is the people who introduce themselves as the supporters of religion and, so to say, in the name of religion, on account of faithfulness to Islam, supposedly, on account of supporting religion by means of nationalism; they want to bury the luminous tree of religion into the soil of racialism. Regarding such movements as attempts on behalf of innovation, Badiuzzaman, by calling such scholars ulamâ-i sû evil commanded scholars, mad, irrational, unilluminated Sufis. explains their genuine identities.

As for the second sort of the people of the innovation, they adopt new innovations through saying We want to strengthen people by means of religion by virtue of the idea of supporting racialism on behalf of the community and on account of nationalism. (RNK Publishing, Mektubat (The Letters), p. 559)

In his treatise, The Barla Addendum, Badiuzzaman mentions to support the innovations which would harm religion among the seven greatest sins. (RNK Publishing, Barla Lahikası (The Barla Addendum), p. 1547) He also regards innovation in two types as good innovations and evil innovations and gives two examples regarding the issue:

The First: Sufis have prayers, recitations and glorifications in different forms and manners. As long as their origins are in the Book and Sunnah and they are not contrary to Sunnah or do not change them, they are not innovations. Some scholars classified a number of them as innovations, but called them "good innovations." (RNK Publishing, Lemalar (The Flashes), p. 610)

The second: Blessed hairs and beards of the Prophet (PBUH) are kept in some mosques and those are visited in some periods. Some pious people object to such matters on grounds of fear of God (taqwâ), caution, or resolution; they do so in particular cases. Even if they say it is an innovation, it is included among the, good innovations, because it is the means of reciting benedictions for the Prophet (PBUH). (RNK Publishing, Lemalar (The Flashes), p. 637)

The general inference from the definitions and explanations is that new inventions, thoughts and conducts directed to change, to eliminate and to cause people to forget the fundamentals of belief, the signs of Islam and the conducts concerning worship are considered as innovation in literal meaning. As a matter fact, innovation is to eliminate a fundamental about religious conducts and to adopt a humane and worldly invention, instead. Otherwise, giving up imitating the practices of the Prophet (PBUH) concerning his beautiful humane behaviors which are called "conduct" (Adab), means not benefiting from their merits. By the way, prayers, recitations and glorifications related to ones daily life that are not contrary to the fundamentals of the Book and Sunnah, and by attributing the principle: What Muslims consider as beautiful is beautiful; are considered as good innovations or good conducts.

In addition, if we see a strange behavior or a conduct in the person we are talking to, we should try to correct it by means of kindness and soft words.

Consequently:

Whoever adheres to my sunnah during the time of invasion of superstitions and corruptions shall receive the reward of a hundred martyrs. (At-Targhib wat-Tarhib, 1:41)

"How fortunate is the person whose share in following Sunnah is great! And woe on the person who does not appreciate Sunnah and embarks on innovations!"
(RNK Publishing, Lemalar (The Flashes), p. 609)

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