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This article is about the Arabic term. For the city, see Bida, Nigeria.

Part of a series on Islam
Usul al-fiqh

(The Roots of Jurisprudence)

Scholarly titles

In Islam, Bid‘ah (Arabic: بدعة‎) refers to any innovations in religious matters. Linguistically the term means "innovation, novelty, heretical doctrine, heresy".[1] In contrast to the English term "innovation", the word bid'ah in Arabic generally carries a negative connotation, however it can also have positive implications. It has also been used in classical Arabic literature (adab) as a form of praise for outstanding compositions of prose and poetry.[2]

Any innovations in worldly matters – such as science, medicine and technology – are generally acceptable and encouraged; but bid'ah within the religious practice is generally considered a sin.

According to Sunni Islam

In early Islamic history, bid'ah referred primarily heterodox doctrines (as evidenced below). However, in Islamic law, when used without qualification, bid'ah denotes anything newly invented matter that is without precedent and is in opposition to the Qur'an and Sunna.[3]

Scholars generally have divided bid'ah into two types: innovations in worldly matters and innovations in religious matters.[4] Some have additionally divided bid'ah into lawful and unlawful innovations, the details of which are discussed below.[5]

Introducing and acting upon a bid‘ah in religious matters is a sin and considered one of the enormities in Islam that is obligatory to immediately desist and repent from.[6]

In worldly matters

Some Sunni Muslim scholars have divided bid‘ah in worldly matters into two types .

  1. Innovations that are purely good - these are permissible under Islamic law. This can include anything from inventions such as watches, to customs and culture, given they don't violate Sharia.
  2. Innovations that are purely evil - these are forbidden under Islamic law. Examples of this type of bid'ah include alcohol,[7] or, in modern times, the discovery and synthesis of new intoxicants.

In religious matters

Traditional view

Religious innovation means inventing a new way of worshipping God that was not originally included in the message revealed to and propagated by Prophet Muhammad, and that opposes established forms. There is much criticism of bid'ah in the Quran and Sunnah, according to Sunni Islam.

Ali ibn Abu Talib said; "He who innovates or gives protection to an innovator, there is a curse of Allah and that of His angels and that of the whole humanity upon him."[8][9] `Abd Allah ibn `Umar said: "Every innovation is misguidance, even if the people see it as something good.[10]"

Ibn Abbas also said: "Indeed the most detestable of things to Allaah are the innovations."[11] Sufyan Al-Thawri mentions: "Innovation is more beloved to Iblees than sin, since a sin may be repented for but innovation is not repented for[12]". He also said, "Whoever listens to an innovator has left the protection of Allaah and is entrusted with the innovation[13]".

Al-Fudayl bin 'Iyaad mentions: "I met the best of people, all of them people of the Sunnah and they used to forbid from accompanying the people of innovation[14]". Hasan al-Basri mentions: "Do not sit with the people of innovation and desires, nor argue with them, nor listen to them".[15] Ibraaheem ibn Maysarah mentions: "Whoever honours an innovator has aided in the destruction of Islam."[16]

Al-Hasan ibn 'Ali al-Barbahari mentions: "The innovators are like scorpions. They bury their heads and bodies in the sand and leave their tails out. When they get the chance they sting; the same with the innovators who conceal themselves amongst the people, when they are able, they do what they desire."[17] Abu Haatim said: "A sign of the people of innovation is their battling against the people of Narrations."[18] Abu 'Uthmaan as-Saaboonee said: "The signs of the people of innovation are clear and obvious. The most apparent of their signs is their severe enmity for those who carry the reports of the Prophet."[19] nnMuhammad ibn al Uthaymeen, a prominent modern-day scholar, wrote: "And there is no such thing in Islam as bid’ah hasanah (good innovation)."[20]

When a religious innovation is implemented, it is generally felt that the innovator is assuming that the Sunnah is not good enough, that he must resort to something "better." Even though this statement would be an admission of disbelief [21] - there are some innovations that contain shirk and there are some which allow someone to remain a Muslim, while his action is rejected (regardless of any sincerity it might have had).[22]

Modern discourse

The criterion that qualifies a particular action as a bid`ah in the religion is a debate amongst Sunni scholars. There are some who argue for a definition that entails anything not specifically performed or confirmed by Muhammad. Arguing for this position, Muhammad ibn Salih al-Munajjid, a famous Saudi Arabia scholar declares:

[H]ow can there be any such thing as bid’ah hasanah (“good innovation”) when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Every bid’ah is a going astray and every going astray is in Hell-fire”. So, if anyone says that there is such a thing as bid’ah hasanah, he can only be insisting on going against the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).... It (referring to a spontaneous form of dhikr in the prayer by a Companion recorded in the hadith literature) was not even considered to have been a correct action until after the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) had approved it, and not before. But how on earth could this innovator obtain the approval of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) after he has passed away?"
—Muhammad ibn Salih al-Munajjid, Islam-QA: "There is no such thing as bid'ah hasana in Islam"[23]

Calls within Sunni Islam in the modern era have been made for a reassessment of the traditional view, especially by practitioners of Sufism. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah writes:

[B]id‘a could take on various shades of meaning. When used without qualifying adjectives, it tended to be condemnatory, as, for example, in the statement, “bid‘a must be avoided.” Nevertheless, bid‘a was not always something bad. In certain contexts, especially when qualified by adjectives, bid‘a could cover a wide range of meanings from what was praiseworthy to what was completely wrong, as, for example, in the caliph ‘Umar’s statement below, “what an excellent bid‘a is this!”
—Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, Innovation and Creativity in Islam, 2

Despite the general understanding of standing scholarly disagreements (ikhtilaf), the notion of lawful innovation is a polarizing issue in the Islamic world. A practical example of this is the debate over the permissibility of the mawlid or commemoration of Muhammad's birthday. All scholars agree that such celebrations did not exist in the early period of Islamic history, and yet mawalid commemorations are a common element in Muslim societies around the world. Even so, Sunnis scholars are divided between emphatic unconditional condemnation[24] and conditional acceptance[25] of the celebration with the former insisting it is a bid'ah and thus automatically unlawful, while the latter argues it nonetheless is contextually permissible.

According to Shia Islam

According to Shia Islam the definition of bid'ah is anything that is introduced to Islam as either being fard, mustahabb, makruh or haram that contradicts the Qur'an or hadith. Any new good practice introduced that does not contradict the Qur'an or hadith is permissible. However, it is not permissible to say that a new good practice (that does not contradict the Qur'an or hadith) is obligatory, highly recommended or "sunnah" proper. Hence, the Shi`a stance mirrors the body of Sunni scholars who proffer the idea of "bid'ah hasana". As a general rule in Shi'a jurisprudence, anything is permissible except whatever is prohibited through divine revelation (i.e. the Qur'an or hadith).[26]


External links

Sunni View

  • The Perfection of the Sharia and an Exposition of the Reprehensible Innovations That Have Crept Into Islam
  • Innovation in Light of the Perfection of the Shari'ah
  • Shaykh ‘Uthaymeen on innovations
  • Expounding Bid'ah
  • Bid’ah: a Detailed Explanation from Living Islam
  • Innovation and Creativity in Islam by Dr. Umar Fard Abd-Allah

Shi'a View

  • Introduction to Bid'ah from the Shia website Answering Ansar
  • Detailed Explanation of the Shi'a view on Bid'ah
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