Bid'a according to Islamic legal definition is an innovation, which is an error and a misguidance. It must be shunned and people warned against it. Since the blessed prophet (saw) said: " Whoever innovates in this affair of ours (religion) that which is not from it, it is rejected." (Agreed upon)
In another Hadith he (saw) says: " The best speech is the book of Allah and the best path to follow is the path of Mohammed (saw) and the worst things are the innovations and every innovation is an error" (Muslim)
Ibn A'lan whilst explaining, " The worst things are innovations, " says: " These are things which are not found in the books of Allah or in the Sunnah or in the consensus and nor do they have a basis in these sources." and "All innovations are an error " this literally means new thing which doesn't have a precedent and in the Shariah it refers to something invented against any command of Allah, "Error" because truth is in what the Shariah is indeed an error so by error here is meant anything that doesn't have a basis in Shariah whilst an innovation can have a basis either by an analogy or even without that if it is good it could be the way of the rightly guided Caliphs or the Imams. The reason for condemning an innovation is not that it is a new thing but that it is associated with violation of Sunnah.
The following extract from Faith al-Bari the most authentic commentary on Bukhari further clarifies the concept of Bid'a.
" Innovation is that which does not have its origin in the Shariah and anything that does not have an origin in Shariah is an innovation."
As-shafi says, " Bid'a is of two types: Praiseworthy (good) and blameworthy (bad), that which is agreeable with Sunnah that is good and that which is disagreeable with it is bad."
Bahaqi quotes Shafi as saying, "innovations are of two types - an innovation that opposes the book or Sunnah, or opinions of the Sahaba or consensus this is misguided innovation and a good innovation is that which does oppose any of these such innovation is not blameworthy..."
Ibn- Abdul Salam says in "Al-Qawaid " that Bid'a is of five types:
1. Wajiba (necessary); Like learning Syntax and Grammar through which the word of Allah and his messenger can be understood.
2. Manduba (Recommended); All good acts that were not established in the time of the Messenger (saw) like the congregation of Taraweeh, like the funding of schools, Tasawuff, holding debates.
3. Mubaha (Permissible); Like shaking hand after Fajr and Asr prayer and enjoying worldly pleasures like good food & drink, clothes & houses.
4. Makruh (offensive)
5. Khilaf al ula (offensive)
This is why the scholars say that we shouldn't take the literal meaning of Bid'a but its specific and technical meaning. Otherwise every new thing that did not exist at the time of the blessed Prophet will be called Bid'a, yet we know that human society is constantly changing, it is in flux.
Every day new things are appearing and others disappearing, life style is affected and undergoes a change. The early Muslims society went through major changes within a short span of a single generation. The Muslims who were once persecuted and living paupers in Makka were in the time of Caliph Ali ruling half of the known world and even moved their capital of their empire from Madina to Kufa. Based on this universal principal that human society will always be changing. Muslim scholars have decided: "The basic principal in all things is that they are permissible."
The Hanafi jurists have gone a step further and even accept customs (Urf) as a possible source of legislating. Therefore we should not take the literal meaning of Bid'a but rather its specific technical meaning. No Muslim scholar has ever taken this strange literal meaning of the word.
Imam Shatbie in his book "Al-Ithisam" has defined Bid'a as follows: " A way invented in religion that resembles the Shariah yet the purpose of following it contradicts the purpose of Shariah." So it is a way, which is not in consonance and agreement with the Shariah but against its spirit. This is why the Prophet (saw) so strongly condemned Bid'a. The Innovator is thrusting something new in the religion yet it violates the spirit of religion.
Dr Muhammed Saeed Ramadan Al-Boothi (Prof. Shariah in Damascus University) comments on shatibee's definition as follows "Then Bid'a means including something new into the deen as a part of it yet it is not infact it is against it and that is the nature of Bid'a and the reason why the law giver warned against it as is apparent from 'its' being called Bid'a an innovation. This view is further supported by the Prophet saying, "Who innovates in this affair of ours that which is not from it..." (Muslim).
The obvious meaning of "this affairs of ours" is deen as is clear from the Hadith cited by Tahawi, " Six persons are cursed by Allah and the prophets:
1. Who adds to the deen of Allah.
2. One who rejects predestination.
3. An overpowering person who degrades those Allah has honoured and honours the degraded.
4. The one who gives up my Sunna.
5. The one who makes permissible what Allah has forbidden.
6. The one who makes permissible from my honour that which Allah has forbidden."
From this it is clear that the reason for rejecting Bid'a is that the innovator is introducing into the deen that which is not from it. Since the only lawgiver is Allah there is no room left for addition or change to this Shariah. As far as all other deeds whether secular or religious it is incorrect to call them Bid'a they will fall under what the Prophet (saw) called Sunna hassana or Siyya."
Abdullah Ibn Abbas narrates the messenger (saw) said, "Whatever Allah has made permissible is halal and whatever he has forbidden is Haram and anything else not mentioned is excused." (Abu Dawad).
An innovation, which is evil, leads to evil or opposes a Sunna will be bidatun-Dallala a misleading innovation and will therefore be rejected by the umma. However, if it does not have any of these characteristics it will fall under the category 'excused'.
Mulla Ali Qari (d.1014 AH) writes about the above mentioned five categories of Bid'a and concludes his discussion by saying, " Abdullah Ibn Masud narrated that the messenger (saw) said, "What the Muslims consider good is also considered good by Allah" another Hadith says "My umma will not agree upon anything which is misleading."
The words opening Hadith of Mishkat are "Verily actions depend on intentions and man will get whatever he intends"
All other human activities that do not actually form part of religion or religious commandments whatever their nature will not be considered as Bid'a; if they are against the details of Shariah then they will be called violations of Shariah. However if they are in conformity with the laws thus they will be called "Sunnah Hassanah " in the words of the Prophet (saw), "Whoever starts a good practice in Islam he will be rewarded for it and whoever starts evil practice in Islam he will be burdened with it." (Muslim)
A contemporary scholar Sh.N.H. Keller makes this pertinent comment on the above clarification of Bid'a: "One might support the denial of his classification by clinging to the Hadith, "Every innovation is misguidance", because the only form of innovation that is without exception misguidance is that which concerns tenets of faith, like the innovation of the Mutazilites, Qadarites, Murji'ites and so on that contradicted the belief of the early Muslims.
This is the 'innovation of misguidance' because it is harmful and devoid of benefit. As for innovation in works, meaning the occurrence of an act connected with worship or something else that did not exist in the first century of Islam, it must be necessarily be judged according to the five categories mentioned by al- Izz ibn Abd al-Salam.
To claim that such innovation is misguidance without further qualification is simply not applicable to it, for new things are among the exigencies brought into being by the passage of time and generations, and nothing that is new lacks a ruling of Allah Most High that is applicable to it, whether explicitly mentioned in primary texts, or inferable from them in some way.
In conclusion we can say that every new thing is not Bid'a! If it contradicts a principal of religion as though it is part of it then it becomes a misguided innovation. Otherwise if it conforms to the spirit of Shariah it is good Bid'a. As Imam Shafi said Bid'a is either "Praiseworthy "(Msahmoodah) or "Blameworthy" (Mazmoomah) (From Ibn Hajar in Fath0. Hence those people who call every new thing Bid'a have failed to grasp the full meaning of prophetic saying, "Kullu Bidatin Dallalah" (Every Innovation is an error).
May Allah protect us from blameworthy innovation and give strength courage and ingenuity to start Sunnah-Hassanah- Amin.
Understanding Bid'a from Principle of Fiqh
The following principles of fiqh can help us to judge what is good and bad innovations and what is permitted and what is not permitted.
1. " The basic principal in all things is that they are permissible ". In other words apart from those things that have been specifically mentioned as haram all else is permissible. ' Halal is what Allah has permitted in His book and all else that has not been mentioned is excused.
2. To declare something haram or Makruh evidence is required therefore as cautionary measure it is best to accept something as permissible since that's the principle.
3. If the Shariah is declared something good than it remains so. For example the Shariah has praised Zikr all the time and at all places. Therefore there is no need to prove the permissibility of any particular type of Zikr, Silent loud, alone or in a group sitting or standing etc.
4. If we accept the principle that for any action to be permissible or forbidden it has to be mentioned by name in the texts then it will be objector's responsibility to prove that is forbidden by name in the texts.
5. The main fact that something is new and modern is not a sufficient reason for disapproving it until it opposes any principle of Shariah.
6. There is clear distinction between ' not doing something' and ' forbidding something'. The fact that something has not been done in the past does not mean it is forbidden.
7. An innovation that becomes a means of achieving any one of the objections of Shariah not only permissible but may become a necessity for example 'learning deen' is an obligation therefore innovation like looks, computers, Magazines, Correspondence courses, schools etc are necessary Bid'a.
1. Mohammed Ibn A'lan As Shafi (d: 1057 AH) Daleel al-falheen Vol. 1 P436- Dar al Kutb al Ilmiyya Cairo. Commentary of Riyadh ul Salheen
2. Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani (d.852 AH) IN Fath al Bari Commentry of Bukhari vol. 13 P266. Pub. Maktaba As Salfiya Cairo.
3. Imam Shatibee (d.600AH) in Al-I'tisaam vol.1 p231.
4. Dr. M.S.R. Boothi in Al Ithtifaal bi-Zikr an na'am wajib. Maktaba Al- Muthe'e Cairo (1991)
5. Mulla Ali Qari in Mirqat commentary on Mishkat al Masabih.
6. Shaikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller ' The concept of Bid'a in the Islamic Shariah' Pub. The Muslim Acadamic Trust. Cambridge.