December 30, 2021

Bidah – How Islam Becomes non-Islam

How Islam Becomes non-Islam

Adam peace be upon him was a Muslim. He believed in Allaah SWT and never worshipped any idols. He taught the same to his children and grandchildren. At that time, any idea or concept of idol worship did not exist. Many scores of generations later, when Nooh (‘AS) was born, his whole community was worshipping idols. How did it happen? How did the worshippers of Allaah end up inventing idols to be worshipped instead?

Nooh tried very hard for a very long time, but only a small part of the community listened to him, accepting Islam and worshipping Allaah SWT alone. After Nooh had exhausted all his efforts, Allaah SWT destroyed the remaining disbelievers through flood, saving all Muslims. So, once again, his society consisted exclusively of Muslims. Many generations later, when Ibraheem was born, the descendants of the society of purely Muslims was once again worshipping idols, stars, the moon and the sun. Once again, the questions are: How did it happen? How did the worshippers of Allaah end up worshipping idols and celestial bodies instead? How does Islam become non-Islam?

It happens through a gradual process. Islam remains pure during the life of a messenger. After the departure of the messenger, people make some tiny changes in the practice of Deen, with good intentions, considering their changes to be innocuous, thinking that they mean only good, and not realizing that they are in fact deviating a little from the path of the messenger. They pass on their slightly changed version of Islam to the next generation, which considers the inherited package as if it was the real Islamic way. The people of the next generation also make some tiny changes in the practice of Deen, with good intentions, considering them to be innocuous, thinking that they mean only good, and not realizing that they are in fact deviating a little from the path of their fathers. Some changes are made thinking it should not matter “If we do a little this way”. Other are made to better fulfil their religious purpose, as if the successors know better than the messengers and the first generation of Muslims. When people’s priorities change more towards materialistic matters, important matters of Deen are abandoned, and adjustments are made to align the religious practice to the ground realities. Generation after generation, these changes add up and over time, the original Islamic practice takes a totally different shape that is completely different from the original. This drastic change occurs over so many generations without people realizing what has happened. They continue to believe that they are following the path of their forefathers, although in reality they have deviated far away from their forefathers who followed the messenger truly. These tiny changes that well-intentioned people think “do not matter” overtime destroy the Deen. They are actually incited by Shaytaan who beguiles them to think that they are good changes, but in fact they are his footsteps. One step at a time, he removes them from the straight path completely, without letting them realize what had happened. Otherwise, no one adopts misguidance intentionally. That is why Allaah SWT continues to warn people not to follow footsteps of Shaytaan, because he is people’s sworn enemy who comes in the guise of a friend inciting to make a well-intentioned change for the “better”:

O you who have believed! Enter into Islam completely and do not follow the footsteps of the devil; he definitely is your open enemy. But if you slip after clear pronouncements have come to you, then know that Allaah is All-Mighty, Most Wise. (Al-Baqarah 2: 208-209)

Take the example of a driver who is travelling on a multi-lane highway at night in the dark. His vehicle is drifting slightly toward the right without him realizing the drift. Slowly he moved into the extremely right lane and from there to an exit lane taking him away from his path on to another highway while he thinks that he is on the original highway.

In the past, whenever people had slowly drifted away so much that they were committing blatant Shirk, Allaah SWT sent a new messenger to bring people back to the pure Islam. Ironically, the biggest argument they used for disbelieving in the new messenger was always that they were following the path of their forefathers and that they would not like to deviate from the path of their forefathers on his bidding. The messenger would try to convince them that the path of their real forefathers was Islam, to which he is calling them, but they would not believe in him. That is exactly what happened after Adam and that is how people responded to Nooh; and exactly the same happened after Nooh and to Ibraheem (‘AS). After Ibraheem and Isma‘eel, the same thing happened to the Arabs. And when the Prophet ŜA‘WS would try to remind them that Ibraheem and Isma‘eel were Muslims who preached Islam, the Arabs responded the same way to the Prophet ŜA‘WS.

In exactly the same manner, the Islam taught by Moosa and Eesa became Judaism and Christianity. In fact, all religions in the world are badly deformed versions of Islam. Had people practised strictly, exactly and precisely as they were taught by their messengers, they would not have deviated from the path of Islam. Steadfastly and strictly sticking with the original practices of the messenger is called ‘Awaazimul-umoor. The changes that people make to the teachings of Deen after their messengers’ departure are called innovations, heresies or Bid‘ah. Unfortunately, it is the Bid‘ah that become popular among the masses and replaces the original Deen over time.

Thus, Bid‘ah is an extremely serious problem because it gradually changes and destroys Deen. Bid‘ah was the main factor that caused the followers of every messenger to deviate from Islam so much so that, over time, the Islam taught by the messengers was forgotten and replaced by a new religion made up of multiple Bid‘aaat (Plural of Bid‘ah – heresies). However, the important point to realize is that the followers of the Prophet ŜA‘WS are also people like their predecessors. They are as prone to destroy their Deen through Bid‘ah in the same way as their predecessors did. Therefore, the Prophet Ŝall-Allaahu ‘Alayhi Wa Sallam had strongly warned Muslims about this dangerous human tendency. He warned:

The Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) used to say when delivering a sermon: “Indeed, the best of the statements is the Book of Allaah (the Qur-aan) and the best guidance is Muhammad’s guidance (Sunnah) and the most evil of the practices are those that are innovated, (not based on the Qur-aan and Sunnah), every innovated practice is a heresy (Bid‘ah) and every heresy is misguidance, and every misguidance will take one to the Fire.” (Reported from Jaabir ibn ‘Abdullaah by An-Nasaa’i 1578, Muslim 7:55; Ibn Maajah Book 1, Hadith 47; al-Bayhaqi, and others)

The Prophet ŜA‘WS also said: 

“Whoever respects or honours someone who practices Bid‘ah, he has surely aided in the destruction of Islam.” (Mishkaah reported from Ibraheem ibn Maisarah)

‘Ali ibn Aboo Taalib reported that the Prophet told him: 

“He who innovates (a religious practice) or accommodates an innovator, there will be a curse of Allaah and that of His angels and that of the whole humanity upon him; and none of his compulsory, or optional good deeds will be accepted on the Day of Resurrection.” (Saheeh Muslim, 20:24 and 35:62; Al-Bukhari, 6755; Tirmidzi, 2127)

Some Muslims from the time of the Prophet would come towards the Prophet to drink from the Pond (Al-Kawthar) on the Day of Judgment, but they will be stopped from proceeding. The Prophet will recognize them and tell the angels to let them come; but the angels will inform him that they are those who invented new religious practices after him. On hearing this, the Prophet would exclaim,

“Away with them! Away with those who made changes to the Deen after me!” (Bukhari, 6582, 6584; and Muslim 43:56, 43:39; reported from Sahl ibn Sa‘d and Anas ibn Maalik)

It was narrated from ‘Abdullaah ibn Mas‘ood that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:

“Soon those who become in charge of your affairs after me will be men who will extinguish the Sunnah and will practice heresies, and will delay Salaah from its proper time.” I said, “O Messenger of Allaah, if I live to see them, what should I do?” He said, “You ask me, O Ibn Ummi ‘Abd, what you should do? There must be no obedience to one who disobeys Allaah.” (Ibn Maajah Book 24, Hadith 2975)

In fact, this was one of his greatest concerns about which he repeatedly warned people in his last days:

“Al-‘Irbaadh ibn Saariyah narrated: One day the Messenger of Allaah (ﷺ) led us in Salaah, then faced us and gave us a lengthy exhortation at which the eyes shed tears and the hearts trembled. A man said, “O Messenger of Allaah! It seems as if it were a farewell exhortation, so what do you enjoin us?” He then said, “I enjoin you to live by Taqwa of Allaah, and to listen and obey, even if (your leader) is an African slave. For, those of you who live after me will see many disagreements. You must then follow my Sunnah and that of the rightly-guided caliphs. Hold fast to it and cling stubbornly to it; and avoid novel practices, for every innovated practice is Bid‘ah (Heresy), and every Bid‘ah (Heresy) is misguidance.” (Sunan Abee Dawood 4607; similar report in Ibn Maajah, Book 1, Hadith 44)

It was narrated that ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ood said: “The Messenger of Allaah (ﷺ) said, when he was atop his camel with the clipped ears in ‘Arafaat, ‘Do you know what day this is, what month this is and what city this is?’ They said, ‘This is the holy city, the holy month and the holy day.’ He said, ‘Take note! For, your wealth and your blood are as holy for you as this month of yours, in this land of yours, on this day of yours. I will reach the Reservoir (Hawdh) before you, and I will be proud of your great numbers before the nations, so do not blacken my face (i.e., cause me to be ashamed). Be warned! I will rescue some people, and some people will be taken away from me. I will say, ‘O Lord, my companions!’ and He will say, “You do not know what innovations they introduced after you.’" (Ibn Maajah Book 25, Hadith 3173)

But what is Bid‘ah really?

Bid‘ah

Bid‘ah means innovation, heresy or something new added to the Islamic teachings that was not practised, taught or approved by the Prophet. Bid‘ah takes many forms:

1. An abandonment of an important element of Deen

Islam is a system of life. Like any system or machine, it has many components that interact with each other like the parts of a machine or modules of a system. If any component is taken out or if the interrelationship of the parts or their balance is disturbed, it stops producing the desired results or stops working altogether. One of the most serious forms of Bid‘ah is that a significant component of Deen is abandoned, and Muslims continue to assume that they are practising the Deen of Islam. For example, establishment of Qist (justice, fairness, equilibrium, moderation) was the goal for which the messengers were sent. Our Prophet was not only sent to achieve that goal but also to make the Islamic system of justice, peace and excellence the prevailing and dominant way of life. He and his companions accomplished their goals but soon after them, this goal was abandoned. Now, no one even thinks of it as a part of their Islamic duty. This is an example of Bid‘ah in the form of abandoning a key element of Deen.

2. Tampering with the Islamic system - a change in the way a certain matter of Deen was practiced during the Prophet’s time.

Tampering happens in two ways:

  • The system is damaged and its balance is destroyed when an important matter is reduced in importance to the extent of being ignored, while high importance is given to something not so important. This includes elevating matters of Sharee’ah to the level of Deen; or reducing matters of Deen to the level of Sharee’ah; or treating tools/techniques into matters of Deen/Sharee’ah. For example, Jihaad (the competitive efforts to establish Deen in one’s life and one’s society) is a critical component of Deen, but is given least attention even by religiously-dedicated Muslims. Instead of Jihaad, monkery or monasticism is adopted or Nawafil are given too much attention. Also, the Islamic system is structured on the establishment of Salaah so that the community is organized, united and built into a cohesive team through congregational Salaah whereby the community elects its most suitable person who has the Taqwa, knowledge, organizational capabilities and strategic visions to lead them as Imam and whereby the rest of the community follows the Imam like a team follows a captain. Currently, the majority of Muslims have reduced the Salaah in congregation to a ritual matter in such a way that it does not fulfil its goals and objectives, and hardly anyone cares to think about them. On the other hand, people put so much emphasis on Fiqh matters of Salaah that they fight with each other over valid differences of opinions in their practice. Another example is making a certain kind of head-covering or style of dress as an essential uniform for Muslims, as if it is a matter of Deen. An extreme example that we have observed whereby the head-cover is given so much importance for performing Salaah that some people miss the obligatory Salaah because a headcover is not handy.
  • The change may be in the applicability of the command such as making some general command of Islam to be specific or to make a specific command to be general. For example, Allaah SWT has declared Riba as haram in general so that all forms of Riba are avoided; but some people insist on making its prohibition applicable only to specific forms of Riba such as consumer loans. Or, Allaah SWT has prohibited consumption of any substance that negatively impacts one’s mental faculties. This is a general command that encompasses any alcoholic drink and drugs, so it will be a Bid‘ah to make it specific for any kind of substance creating any exceptions. On the other hand, Allaah SWT has specifically disallowed only the consumption of swine’s flesh, but people generalize this prohibition by avoiding even wearing swine-leather shoes, and some have taken it to such an extreme that they avoid uttering the word pig or swine lest it breaks their Wudhu.

3. A new practice that was non-existent in the Qur-aan or the practices of the Prophet

This consists of starting some new activity or practice as a spiritual, religious or blessed practice while it was never performed, or practised by the Messenger of Allaah, nor was it taught by him to his companions. Every such activity is Bid‘ah and must be avoided, regardless of the good intentions, appealing rationale, or any perception of benefit behind it. Some examples of such new practices include celebration of Israa and Mi’raaj, celebration of the birthday of the Prophet, reading Qur-aan for blessing a new house, etc. The list of these Bid‘aat (plural of Bid‘ah) is very long. In fact, other than the pillars of Islam, most of the religious rituals of the Muslims currently consist of Bid‘aat. 

1  For details about Deen and Sharee’ah, read the appendix titled “Deen, Religion and Sharee’ah”.

In short, Bid‘ah is:

  1. Any addition, deletion or change to matters of Deen is Bid‘ah

    Islam is a system of life. Like any system or machine, it has many components that interact with each other like the parts of a machine or modules of a system. If any component is taken out or if the interrelationship of the parts or their balance is disturbed, it stops producing the desired results or stops working altogether. One of the most serious forms of Bid‘ah is that a significant component of Deen is abandoned, and Muslims continue to assume that they are practising the Deen of Islam. For example, establishment of Qist (justice, fairness, equilibrium, moderation) was the goal for which the messengers were sent. Our Prophet was not only sent to achieve that goal but also to make the Islamic system of justice, peace and excellence the prevailing and dominant way of life. He and his companions accomplished their goals but soon after them, this goal was abandoned. Now, no one even thinks of it as a part of their Islamic duty. This is an example of Bid‘ah in the form of abandoning a key element of Deen.

  2. Adoption of any rule as Sharee‘ah, while that rule is not based on the Qur-aan or Sunnah

    The rules to be followed under the Deen of Islam must be based on the Qur-aan and/or Sunnah -- such as Fiqh of Salaah, Fiqh of Islamic penal code, Fiqh of marriage, etc. Anything that is adopted as a religious practice or Sharee‘ah, or something earning rewards or blessings from Allaah is Bid‘ah unless it is based on some valid evidence from the Qur-aan and/or Sunnah. (2)

2  Keep in mind that this should not be confused with variations in the rules that are derived through valid interpretations of the Qur-aan and Sunnah. As explained in our article on Deen and Sharee‘ah, such variations are acceptable as long as they are derived properly by knowledgeable scholars from the Qur-aan and Sunnah. Muslims must respect all differences of opinions in these rules and should not argue or quarrel about them at all. The rules can evolve and change through Ijtihad according to the changing circumstances of the Ummah, as long as they remain based validly on the Qur-aan and Sunnah. Adoption of only those rules and practices will be characterized as Bid‘ah, that are at variance with the established evidence from the Qur-aan and Sunnah.

What is not Bid‘ah:

Rare Actions of Individuals

If someone commits any of the aforementioned deviations individually and sporadically, without being copied by others, it remains a deviant, sinful activity of that individual person, but has not taken the form of a Bid‘ah yet. When any of these deviations are customarily adopted or subscribed to by a group of people, it falls into the category of Bid‘ah.

Use of new Means, Tools and Technology

The adoption of new tools, methods, resources and means to practice and to act upon the Deen and Sharee‘ah is not Bid‘ah at all. The concept of Bid‘ah is applicable only to teachings of Deen and rules of Sharee‘ah, and not to the tools and technology used to practice them.

Adherence to the Islamic teachings, commands and rules is carried out using tools and resources. Those tools and resources can change with time, technology and conditions or the society. Adoption of new technology is not wrong or Bid‘ah. For example, Ĥajj is a pillar of Deen and it has its own rules; but the means of travelling for Ĥajj have nothing to do with Islam. People can use whatever means of transportation are available to them for travel. The rules of Qitaal and its obligation when the circumstances require it and the government declares it are matters of Deen that do not change, but tools change from swords and arrows to tanks, jets and missiles. The times of Salaah are rules of Deen that cannot changes, but to determine the time of Salaah we can look out for the natural signs or look at our watches for the time of Salaah calculated on the based of those natural signs. In short, the use of tools and means is dependent on available resources and technologies and are not governed by Deen. More examples are: what tools do we use to go to the Masjid for Salaah – feet, donkey, camel, bicycle, car, etc.; what technology do we use to establish the times of fasting; what tools, materials or designs we use to make our clothes to cover our bodies in accordance with the Islamic teachings, etc.

Thus, it should be remembered that the tools and means are not governed by Deen; therefore, there is no concept of Bid‘ah in using any new tools that people may find useful, convenient, effective and efficient in practising the established matters of Deen and Sharee‘ah.

Many confusions arise when this basic concept is not understood. Consequently, some people characterize even a change in tools or resources as Bid‘ah; while others accept even a radical shift in the matters of Deen as acceptable. Scholars who do not understand this basic concept give wrong Fatwas. For example, learning and teaching knowledge is an obligation in Islam, for which books can be written by hand or printed using a modern press. Those who did not have this understanding declared the use of the press Haraam in their ignorance, which overtime was then reversed. The rule of Sharee‘ah is that the musalleen should follow the Imam in Salaah on hearing his takbeerat. His takbeerat can be conveyed by his loud voice or by repeaters or by a sound system. Not understanding the difference between the rule and the tool, the first fatwa was the use of sound system in Salaah invalidates Salaah; but then it had to be overruled.

On the other hand, those practitioners of Bid‘ah who do not understand this difference try to justify their innovations by citing the use of innovations in tools and technology. They foolishly argue that if we can use cars instead of camels why not use new practices in religious matters.

Bid‘ah vs. Ijtihaad

Ijtihaad is to apply the established teachings of the Qur-aan and Sunnah to a new situation encountered that was not encountered at the time of the Prophet ŜA‘WS. In this case, the scholar doing Ijtihaad is not inventing a new teaching, rather he is looking at the facts of the new situation and finding the most fitting teachings for it from the original teachings of the Qur-aan and Sunnah. Those who do not understand the difference usually confuse the two concepts. Reciting the whole Qur-aan at night in Salaah was already an established practice during the time of the Prophet. Prophet encouraged people for it through pronouncements such as that reported by Aboo Hurayrah, “Whoever did Qiyaam (recited the Qur-aan standing up in Salaah) at night the whole month of Ramadhaan out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allaah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” The Prophet and his companions used to do it regularly. Twice the Prophet himself led such Salaah of his companions; but then he stopped so that people may not take it as a must-do activity. After his death, there was no chance for the people to consider this highly rewarding optional act to be compulsory so, ‘Umar re-established the practice of doing it in Jamaa’ah instead of many people doing it individually in the Masjid and causing confusion. This was an ijtihaad, not an innovation. (3) It would have been an innovation if it had never happened at the time of the Prophet or it was never considered a highly virtuous act in his time. The virtue of finishing the Qur-aan while standing in Salaah was already established and nothing changed in the teachings about it after ‘Umar made it an organized activity. However, it will become a Bid‘ah if the general population starts considering it as a must activity at the cost of other Islamic obligations.

3 The reader should remember that words of the Islamic terminology have their literal meaning and the conceptual meaning given to them by the Islamic teachings. While action of ‘Umar (RA) can literally be called Bid‘ah (innovation), conceptually it is not Bid‘ah, according to the definition of Bid‘ah that we have given – change, innovation or heresy in the Islamic teachings.

Good Bid‘ah

Many people insist that some Bid‘aat are good; but this is an oxymoron – like a “healthy poison”. A Bid‘ah is always in contravention of Sunnah and always displaces the important elements of Deen. Some scholars characterize the development of the Islamic knowledge in the form of Tafseer, Hadeeth and Fiqh as good Bid‘aat; but these are not even Bid‘ah according to our definition because they are the tools and means used to convey the Islamic teachings, not innovations in the teachings of Islam.

The mistaken notion of “good” Bid‘ah is, in fact, the crux of the problem because no Bid‘ah was ever started as an evil; even the most evil Bid‘ah started as “good”. It was through all those “good” changes that the Deen of Moosa and ‘Eesa became the Judaism and Christianity of today. Do you think any of the generation of the past thought that they were doing anything bad? Think of some terrible practices among the contemporary Muslims and ask yourself, which of them was started while people thought that it was bad? That is why the Prophet and the scholars of the past declared the following:

‘Aaishah (RA) reported that the Messenger of Allaah said “He who innovates something in this matter (Deen) of ours that is not from it (its established practices) will be rejected.” (Bukhari 2697, Muslim 30:23, Nawavi 5, Ibn Maajah, 1:14)

‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Umar said, “Every innovation is misguidance, even if the people see it as something good.” (Aboo Shaamah, no. 39)

‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Abbaas also said, “Indeed the most detestable of things to Allaah are the religious innovations.” (Al-Bayhaqee in As-Sunan-ul-Kubraa, 4/316)

Bid‘ah displaces the True Deen

The biggest problem with Bid‘ah is that it always displaces the real and important matters of Deen. People abandon Deen while focusing on Bid‘ah. For them, Islam becomes just a set of those Bid‘ah actions. It becomes the essence of their religiosity and they feel that they have done their duty as Muslims once they have performed those Bid‘ah actions.

Summary

  1. Even a slight change in the teachings of Deen or Sharee‘ah is dangerous.
  2. Many changes start with the attitude, “It should not make any difference if I do it a little this way”, and the motive is either “the better fulfillment of religious purposes” or “accommodating the ground realities”.
  3. A change becomes Bid‘ah when it is routinely adopted by many people.
  4. It is always initiated as a good change and is adopted with good intentions.
  5. Soon the small changes add up, distorting the religious practice drastically.
  6. Those who practice Bid‘ah assume that they are following the true Islam handed down to them by their forefathers;
  7. When their error is pointed out to them, they are not prepared to accept that their fathers were wrong.
  8. Bid‘ah destroys Deen by displacing its important components.
  9. Over centuries, many Bid‘aat accumulate converting Islam into non-Islam.
Posted in Clarifications on December 30, 2021 by Ayub Hamid

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