By Abu Amal Sobur and Lan Rey Alhasan Adedokun.
How angry did you get at the last person who said some religious activity you were performing was bid’ah? You could have been angered enough by the negative feel to the word to not even care to know what the word meant. Bid’ah in very simple terms is innovation. Innovations in art and technology can all be referred to as bid’ah. For example, the new breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and robotics count for a whole lot of 21st century bid’ah happening right in front of our eyes. But why does bid’ah suddenly become a word that denotes a negative meaning in religious contexts when artificial intelligence is some amazing bid’ah that holds a lot of hope for the human race? Get on this journey with me!
The essence of religion, at least Islam, is worship. We are Muslims because we believe that Allah is our creator, and that he alone deserves to be worshipped. That is what the shahadah entails; the Arabic word “ilaah” that is present in the shahadah means “the one worthy of worship”. A part of the shahadah announces our belief that Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the messenger of Allah. A messenger comes with a message, and his message is Islam. And Islam is worship.
Islam, in particular, is derived from the root word ‘Aslama’ which means ‘to accept’ or ‘to submit’. The meaning of Islam then is submssion; total submission to the will of Allah;submitting to Allah totally, we affirm that the peak of wisdom is embedded in his words and decrees and that what he has given us suffices us to live by, and as such his decrees would need no tweaking, additions or removal to be meted out on them.
Innovation on the other hand, is born out of need to improve on what we already have at our disposal. If Tomas Edison, iinventor of the light bulb, had deemed the candle perfect and immaculate, he wouldn’t have innovated the light bulb, but he realized that candle lights were not without blemish, and thus, an innovation had to be made in order to improve on it, so he innovated, and how awesome it came out to be.
Now, take a moment and apply the same logic to innovation in Islam.
A certain Abu Muhsinah, apparently the Muslim Tomas Edison, wakes up one beautiful morning feeling the need to draw close to God, so he fumbles through the Quran, God’s word, then through the Hadith, recorded narrations of the Prophet. Unfortunately, all the acts mentioned therein through which he could draw close to God do not seem alluring enough. So, like Tomas Edison, he feels the need to improve on the Quran and Hadith, to innovate something through which one could draw closer to God; something which, due to the imperfection of the Quran and Hadith – like that of the candle – was not mentioned in the two.
Unbelievable, wouldn’t you say? That someone finds the Quran and Hadith incomplete, such that he believes, that some improvements have to be meted out on the two before one could draw close to God?
Now, that is the exact implication of Bid’ah, innovation in Islam?
As awesome and praiseworthy as innovating in worldly matters is, it sounds almost unimaginable that one would view the religion of Allah with the belief that it is incomplete, and hence, some things have to be added to it. But, it is more confusing than it actually looks.
One might ask,
DOES ALLAH WANT US TO ASSUME THAT ISLAM IS COMPLETE ?;
Such that, we can not seek his pleasure by engaging in acts which may not necessarily be mentioned in the two main sources of Islamic legislation – the Qur’an and Hadith – but which, nevertheless appear to us as one he would appreciate? If one of us were to send his child to the market with a sum of money to buy for apples, then the child comes home with six and tells us he was able to haggle and hack the price down such that the sum of money sufficed for six apples, certainly the parent would be pleased. But is it so for Allah too?
Can we decide, that since he ordered us to pray five times a day, he certainly does love the act, then, we could also improve on the two Rak’ah of Subh and make it six, and the four of Zuhr can be eight, while thinking that God, just like the parent, should appreciate it? Can we assume, that since he asked us to sing blessings upon his Prophet, then the Prophet is beloved to him, and hence, we could go a step further by celebrating the Prophet’s birthday even if he did not specify that?
Can we not say, that it is our excessive love for Allah that makes it so, that if he should ask for one, then we would give him more? The Quran has an answer.
Quran 3:31 says “Say (O Muhammad) “If you (mankind) really love Allah, then follow me and Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is oft forgiving, most merciful”
It is being emphasized in the verse, that attaining Allah’s love is by following the Prophet, and as a follower, one is not expected to take steps the leader failed to take. Keen followership of the Prophet, as advocated in the verse, necessitates that one not take an action, except after verifying that the Prophet really stamped the action as one through which Allah’s pleasure may be sought, and not going any step above the Prophet’s orders.
Quran 5:3 says “This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen Islam for you as a religion”
Note the clause: ‘perfected your religion for you’.
Perfection, according to Webster’s is: something having all the qualities you want, completely accurate, or having no flaw.
By innovating in the religion, the attributes of perfection with which Allah himself described Islam has been thrust in the dust.
Then, in the Hadith, Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “ Whoever innovates into this matter of ours that which does not belong to it, it will be rejected.”
In another narration, the Prophet said, “ Whoever performs a deed that is not in accordance with our matter will have it rejected.”
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2550, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1718
This Hadith serves as one of the most severe blows to innovators in religious matters; it states unequivocally, that whoever tries to innovate something into the religion, thereby seeking to ‘make it more perfect’ or ‘complete’, then the innovated act will not be accepted, and such a person, although he seeks Allah’s pleasure by ‘adding’ to the religion what has nor been prescribed by the Prophet, will still be reprimanded.
Another Hadith? Narrated Anas:
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Some of my companions will come to me at my Lake Fount, and after I recognize them, they will then be taken away from me, whereupon I will say, ‘My companions!’ Then it will be said, ‘You do not know what they innovated (new things) in the religion after you.”
Sahih al-Bukhari 6582
In-book : Book 81, Hadith 170
Abu Hazim added:
An-Nu`man bin Abi `Aiyash, on hearing me, said. “Did you hear this from Sahl?” I said, “Yes.” He said, ” I bear witness that I heard Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri saying the same, adding that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: ‘I will say: They are of me (i.e. my followers). It will be said, ‘You do not know what they innovated (new things) in the religion after you left’. I will say, ‘Far removed, far removed (from mercy), those who changed (their religion) after me.”
Sahih al-Bukhari 6584
In-book : Book 81, Hadith 172
The verses from the Quran and narrations of the Prophet prove beyond doubt, that unlike the parent who sent a kid four apples and welcomes the child when he comes back with six, Allah’s religion is perfect, and he would neither welcome an addition or innovation which was not stated by his Prophet as a way of drawing close to Allah.
And finally? The Prophet S.A.W was reported to have said: “I command you to have Taqwa, and to be obedient to those appointed leader over you, even if it be an Abysinnian slave. O my companions, those who live after me will, very soon, see a lot of differences among you. Stick to my path and the path of the Rightly Guided Khalifas. Abstain from innovations, for every kind of innovation is a Bid’ah, and every Bid’ah is misguidance and all misguidance leads to hellfire”