The Prophet’s Last Advice
The Prophet bade farewell to his companions in a sermon that caused them to weep and made their hearts tremble. This was just before he died. Al-’Irbaad Ibn Saariyah said, “The Messenger of Allah gave us a sermon that brought tears to our eyes and made our hearts tremble. We said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, this sounds as if it were a farewell sermon that you are giving us.’ He said, ‘I have left you on a safe path, it is by day as it is by night. No one strays from it after me but he is perishing. Those of you who survive will see much dissension. You must follow what you have learned from my Sunnah, and the Sunnah of my rightly-guided successors. Hold fast to it by your teeth, and beware of innovations. For every
innovation is bid’a and every bid’a is misguidance.”(27)
The Prophet said that every innovation is misguidance, This is a proof that innovation is absolutely blameworthy in religion. It is wrong to view any kind of innovation in religion as a positive thing, or to say that some kinds of innovation are good, bid’a hasana (good innovation), as opposed to bad innovations. If this were the case, then the Prophet would have made this distinction. But in fact, he never mentioned bid’a without saying that it was a blameworthy thing. Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani said, “Innovation is blameworthy according to the Shariah (law).
This is different from the linguistic meaning of the word: an innovation is something that is new and has not been done before, good or bad.”(28) The meaning of innovation in Islamic law is restricted to religion to be always blameworthy.(29) The companions of the Prophet and those who came after them in the first generations of Muslims all understood that his words “all bid’a is error manifest” meant that all innovations in religion were absolutely blameworthy.
Thus we hear Ibn Omar saying, “All bid’a (innovation) is error manifest even though some people may see good in it.”(30) Ibn Majishun said, “I heard Malik say ‘Whoever has introduced an innovation into Islam and sees that it is a good thing has asserted that Muhammad betrayed the Message. Allah said, “Today I have perfected for you your religion, and completed My favor upon you, and approved for you Islam as religion.” (5:3), What was not taken religion on that day is not considered religion today, and nothing will reform the last of this nation other than what reformed the first of them.”(31)
It is true that innovation can be divided into good innovations and bad innovations. This is its meaning in language. But with regard to the Shariah, such a distinction is not permitted.(32) Language has its own dimension of meaning.
You can see that the Arabic word salah (prayer) means the same as du’aa (supplication), but according to the Shariah there is a distinction. Salat is a combination of actions of worship that follows a particular form: a recitation accompanied by specific gestures and physical movement. It begins with takbir and ends with taslim. Iman bears the meaning of confirmation. According to the Shariah, iman is a confirmation, a word and a deed, while with respect to language, iman is only a matter of confirming something. Those who restrict its meaning in Shariah according to its common meaning in language will make the same error as the Murj’ia (33) sect did.
Innovators or inventors of worldly affairs are many. We see many different kinds of innovation and invention. Some of it is beneficial to people, such as the invention of automobiles and airplanes, and some of it is detrimental to us, such as the invention of atomic bombs and of novel forms of depravity. But whoever adds anything to Allah’s Shariah has usurped Allah’s right to establish His Shariah.
Allah said, “ “Or do they have partners [other deities] who have allowed (matters in) religion that Allah did not allow?” (42:21).
Any addition to religion is in fact modification and an amendment to what Allah and His Messenger have given us. What is more, it is a clear contradiction of Allah’s words, “We have completed” and “We have perfected.” Allah, Most High, is not to be worshipped according to whim and according to custom. Rather, He is to be worshipped according to what He revealed to us. Allah will not accept the worship of anyone who approaches Him with an innovation. He will only accept worship performed according to what He has ordained, not according to what someone may think is nice.
Finally, innovation in religion leads to the neglect of the Sunnah. Hassan bin Atiya said, “No people who innovate anything in their religion but Allah removes from them something of the Sunnah like it, and He will not return it to them until the Day of Resurrection.”(34) The fundamental principle of bid’a is rejected, whether it is large or small. Satan decorates small innovations and trains people to accept them. Once they have accepted a small innovation and the principle of innovating becomes acceptable to them, then they become able to accept a bigger one after Satan has brought them gradually to it. They are then on the road to the largest innovations.
Allah said, “O believers, follow not the steps of Satan.” (24:21). The unacceptability of bid’a is not a matter of its size, rather it is rejected because of its nature, for false is false whether big or small.
(27)Tirmidhi, 1/22; al-Hakim, 1/96; Ahmad, 4/126.
(28) al-Asqalani, Fath al-bari, 13/252.
(29) ibid. 12/278.
(30) al-Ilkani, Sharh usul i’tiqad ahl al-sunnah, 126.
(31) al-Shatibi, al-I’tisam, 1/39.
(32) The “good innovation,” the bid’a hassana, is a fantasy of the innovators who hope to add to
(33) Those who separate actions from faith claiming that faith can be established even without actions.
(34) Al-Darami, 1/45.