In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
The word Bid’a (innovation) has two aspects to it, one being the linguistic definition, and the other, it’s meaning from a Shariah perspective.
Linguistically Bid’a means introducing something new, regardless of whether it is connected to religious affairs or other worldly matters, and regardless of whether one practices it considering it to be part of Deen or otherwise.
In the Shariah terminology, Bid’a means to introduce something in religion that was not done in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), the rightly guided Khulafa (Allah be pleased with them all) and the early generations with the intention of gaining more reward, and despite being a need for it in the time of the Messenger of Allah and his Companions, it was not implemented verbally, practically, explicitly or implicitly. (Taken from Imam al-Barkawi’s al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya, Imam Shatibi’s al-I’tisam and Imam al-Lakhnawi’s Iqamat al-Hujjah).
From the above definition of Bid’a, it becomes clear that new practices that are not considered to be part of Deen, rather they concern our worldly affairs, such as modern technology, cars, planes, etc… can not be considered as Bid’a, for the fact that they are not introduced with the intention of worship and gaining more reward. Innovations with regards to worldly matters do not fall into the category of reprehensible and sinful innovation, thus they are totally permissible as long as they don’t contradict any other ruling of Shariah.
Similarly, acts and practices that were carried out (verbally, practically, explicitly or implicitly) in the time of the blessed Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give peace), his Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) and the early generation can also not be called an innovation.
Also, an act for which there was no apparent need in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), his companions and the early generations, but later in order to attain a religious objective there rose a need to implement it, then this will also not fall within the definition of Bid’a. Examples of which are: building religious institutions, recording the research of Islamic schools of legal thought, writing books on beneficial subjects, establishing sciences in order to understand the Qur’an and Sunnah, using of modern weapons for Jihad, etc...
With the above definition of Bid’a, it also becomes clear that to innovate something in religion that had the same need in the early times, but was not carried out will be considered a Bid’a, thus unlawful.
Another aspect to remember with regards to Bid’a is that there are certain acts of worship which the Shariah has declared to be recommended (mandub) or highly encouraged (sunnah), but without specifying a particular procedure or method for it. Rewards have been promised for various types of worship, but the actual method of implementation has not been prescribed. This method of worship has been left to the convenience of the individual.
In such acts of worship, it is necessary to leave the general permission given by the Shariah. If a particular method is fixed or considered to be superior to other methods, then this will be impermissible and classed as Bid’a.
(This has been explained in a previous answer with examples. See the archives on this website.
Classification of Bid’a
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is innovation and every innovation is misguidance.” (recorded by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad 4/126-127, Imam Abu Dawud, Imam Tirmidhi & Imam Ibn Majah in their respective Sunan collections with an authentic chain of narrators).
Due to the above Hadith, scholars say that from a perspective of the Shariah definition of Bid’a, every type of Bid’a is reprehensible and sinful. When an act is determined to fall into the abovementioned Shariah definition of Bid’a, then it can never be termed as good or lawful. All innovations are reprehensible and misguidance, thus unlawful.
Imam Malik (Allah be pleased with him) said:
“Whosoever innovates an innovation believing it to be good (hasana) has indeed claimed that the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) breached the trust of Prophethood, because Allah Almighty says: “This day I have perfected your religion for you”. Anything that was not part of religion on that day, can not be a part of religion today.” (al-I’tisam, 1/48).
However, Bid’a can be divided into various categories when considering the linguistic definition. As mentioned earlier, linguistically, Bid’a means to introduce something, thus any thing that is introduced will (from a linguistic point of view) be termed as Bid’a.
These innovations may be obligatory, recommended and unlawful. When scholars categorize innovations, this is the aspect they are referring to.
Therefore, innovations such as the study of the disciplines of Arabic that are necessary to understand the Qur’an and sunnah (grammar, syntax, etc), Hadith classification to distinguish between genuine and spurious prophetic traditions, modern technology like electricity, car, plain, light, building of Islamic schools, etc… despite being considered a Bid’a linguistically, will not be considered a Bid’a with regards to the Shariah definition, thus they are lawful.
Imam al-Lakhnawi explains this by quoting from al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya of Imam al-Barkawi:
“If it is said that how can we reconcile between the Messenger of Allah’s statement “Every innovation is misguidance” and the Fuqaha’s classification of Bid’a into the lawful, recommended and the obligatory?
We will say: Bid’a has a linguistic meaning that is general, which is to introduce, regardless of whether it is considered worship or is related to personal habits. It (Bid’a) also has a Shariah definition that is more specific, which is to add or remove in religion in a way that it was not done in the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) and his Companions, verbally, practically, explicitly or implicitly. Therefore, (the Shar’i Bid’a) does not include habits (worldly matters), rather it is restricted to certain beliefs and practices” (Iqamat al-Hujjah, P. 21-22).
Therefore, the classification of Bid’a in various categories is from a linguistic point of view that does not include the Shar’i definition of Bid’a. It is from this, Sayyiduna Umar al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) said regarding the performance of Tarawih prayer in congregation “This is a good innovation.”
Also, practices that do not fall into the Shariah definition of Bid’a such as building of religious schools will still be considered a Bid’a linguistically, but not all linguistic innovations are reprehensible.
Finally, it should also be remembered that practices carried out in the time of the rightly guided Khalifas, other Companions and their followers (Allah be plesed with all) can not be considered a Bid’a. The great Hanafi jurist and Hadith scholar, Imam Abd al-Hay al-Lakhnawi dedicated a whole chapter in support of this in his famous treatise titled ‘Iqamat al-hujjah ala an al-ikthar fi al-ta’abbud laysa bid’a’.
“Practices that were carried out with the approval of the Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) but were not done in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), such as the introducing of the first Adhan for Jumu’ah prayer, twenty Rak’ats of Tarawih prayer, etc…can not be considered a Shar’i Bid’a.
There are many evidences for this, just to mention a few:
1) The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Hold fast on to my ways and the ways of the rightly guided Caliphs.” (Abu Dawud, Ahmad, Tirmidhi and others with an authentic chain of narrators).
2) The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “follow in the footsteps of the two after me, Abu Bakr and Umar.” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah with a sound chain of narrators).
(See for more details: Iqamat al-Hujjah by Imam al-Lakhnawi with notes by Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda, P.25-58).
And Allah Knows Best
Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK