The Position of the Salaf (35)Regarding Innovation in Religion
Al-Darami relates an account of Abu Musa al-Ashari, who came across some people in the mosque doing something he did not like. So he went to Ibn Mas’ud and told him,
“I saw some people in the mosque sitting in circles waiting for the prayer to start. Every circle had a leader and the people had pebbles in their hands. The leader would say, ‘Say Allahu Akbar one hundred times, and they would do it. Then he would say, ‘Say La ilaha ila Allah a hundred times, and they would do it. Then he would say, ‘Say Subhan Allah a hundred times, and they would do it.”
Ibn Mas’ud asked, “What did you tell them?” Abu Musa said, “I didn’t say anything. I wanted to see what you thought about it.” Ibn Mas’ud said, “Didn’t you tell them to count their sins and I guarantee that nothing of their good deeds would be lost?”
Then Ibn Mas’ud went to one of these circles and said, “What is it the thing I see you doing” They said, “We are using pebbles to count the times we remember Allah (such as Allahu Akbar, La ilaha ila Allah, and Subhan Allah).”
He said, “Why don’t you count your sins, then make sure that none of your good deeds will be lost. O people of Muhammad, how swiftly you bring yourselves to destruction. The companions of your Prophet are still among you, his garments are not frayed and his cup is not broken.
By He in Whose Hand is my soul, you are people who are either more rightly guided than the people of Muhammad, or you have opened a door rushing headlong to manifest error.”
They said, “By Allah, we only had good intentions.” Ibn Mas’ud said, “How many are those who seek the good, but do not reach it? For I heard the Prophet saying, ‘There will be a people who recite the Qur’an and it will not pass beyond their throats.’ Allah knows whether most of them are among you.” Then he left them. Amr ibn Salama said, “We saw many of them fighting us on the day of the battle of Al-Nahrawan, with the Al-Khawarij.”(36) Conclusion
1. The One who has set forth for us aspects of worship – such as here dhikr
(remembrance) did not forget to ordain for us the way it is to be done,
that is to count on the knucklebones of the right hand such as the
Prophet taught us to do.
2. Innovation negates the Sunnah and leads people to abandon it. Whence they innovate anything in their religion they will be distracted from following the Sunnah.
3. Satan tries to convince people to accept small innovations. If they do this he pushes them to do something more, like he did with the people whom Ibn Mas’ud reprimanded. They started reciting tasbih (praising) and counting with stones, and ended by taking up arms against the companions of the Prophet and making their blood lawful.
(35) Meaning: predessesors (i.e the companions of the prophet Muhammad).
(36) al-Darami, 1/68.