Hadith 5: The ‘Ibadah and Bida’ah (Innovation)
By Al-Imam An-Nawawi
In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-‘ālameen. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam, is His Messenger
It is narrated on the authority of ‘Aishah, (radiyallāhu’anha), that the Messenger of Allāh, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), said:
“Whosoever introduces into this affair of ours (i.e. into Islam) something that does not belong to it, it is to be rejected.”
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
According to the version in Sahih Muslim, (it reads): “Whosoever works a work which has for it no command of ours is to be rejected.”
Like Hadith No: 1, this hadith is one of the most important hadiths. Imam Nawawi (rahimahullāh) said it should be held by every Muslim.
This hadith is used as a criterion for judging external actions or performance of ‘Ibadah. If an action is not done in accordance with the Shari’ah or the Sunnah of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), it will be rejected and not accepted by Allāh based on text of this hadith. This hadith complements Hadith No: 1, which was a criterion for judging the intentions or the internal actions of the heart.
The Scholars say that the acceptance of actions of ‘Ibadah is based on the above two conditions:
1. The intention: the action should be done with sincerity, for the sake of Allāh only.
2. It should be done in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam).
Apart from Hadith No: 1 and Hadith No: 5, the acceptance of actions can also be found in Surah Al-Kahf, 18:110:
Allāh Subhānahu wata‘ala says: “Whoever looks forward to meeting his Sustainer (on Day of Judgement), let him do righteous deeds, and let him not ascribe unto anyone or anything a share in the worship due to his Sustainer.”
Emulating and following the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), is a Qur'anic obligation.
Allāh Subhānahu wata‘ala says:
“Verily, in the apostle of God you have the best example to emulate for everyone who looks forward (with hope and awe) to Allāh and the Last Day, and remembers Allāh unceasingly.”
[Surah Al-Ahzab, 33: 21].
Allāh Subhānahu wata‘ala also says:
“Say: ‘O people! I am sent unto you all, as the Messenger of Allāh, to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth: there is no god but He: it is He that gives both life and death. So believe in Allāh and His Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, who believed in Allāh and His Words: follow him that (so) you may be guided.”
(Al-A`raf 7: 158)
And yet another verse states:
“Say (O Muhammad to mankind); if you (really) love Allāh then follow me. Allāh will love you and forgive you of your sins.”
This hadith is related to a very important concept which is following the Sunnah and violating this concept will lead to bida’ah [which will be discussed in detail, In sha Allāh, in Hadith No.28].
Scholars classify actions of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), into actions done for the purpose of ‘Ibadah (worshiping Allāh) and actions which are not done for that purpose (i.e. customs, actions done haphazardly, etc.). There are clear indicators for actions done for the purpose of Ibadah such as commands to do or not to do something, warnings for not doing something, etc.
Muslims are only obliged to follow the first kind of Sunnah.
Looking at it in a positive way, the actions (i.e.forms of ‘ibadah) that we do should be done in accordance with the Shari’ah or the Sunnah of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and to ensure this there is a criterion consisting of five aspects that will keep our actions in check:
Any ‘ibadah that we do has to be done in its designated or specified time. E.g. There are fixed times in the day for the five prayers. For fasting, the month for fasting is Ramadhān. The period that we can fast is from fajr to sunset. Similarly, there is a specific time in the year when we can perform the Hajj - from the 8 to the 12 Zulhijjah.
The Shari’ah has specified that certain ibadahs have to be performed in designated places. E.g. The places for performing the Hajj, I'tikaf, doing Ihram for Hajj have been fixed by the Shari’ah and this is something which is sometimes violated by Muslims, e.g. doing the Ihram (starting talbiyyah and niyyah for Hajj) in Jeddah is incorrect.
For most of the ‘ibadahs the Shari’ah has specified a certain number of times that the ibadahs or their components need to be performed. E.g. For prayers, there are specified number of raka’ahs and sujud and for Tawaf there is a fixed number of rounds (7), etc. We should not violate these rules intentionally. To violate intentionally may make the ibadah subject to be rejected.
Every ‘ibadah was described or shown to us by the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) - being our best model to follow and emulate. The way that the ibadahs are performed by him has to be followed - it should not be violated. E.g. There are different ways of performing different prayers - Solat ul-Janazah has no ruku' or sujud. Even the size of the stones used for throwing at the Jamrat has been specified by the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), as not to be too big.
Before we perform any ‘ibadah, we should know and learn the way the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), performed it and we should do it in the right way as he did it. The Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), said: "Pray as you have seen me praying."[Bukhāri and Ahmad] Many Muslims today violate the way ‘ibadahs are performed, because of ignorance or because they do not bother to learn, and they end up doing the ‘ibadah in the wrong way.
If the Shari’ah has specified a type of ibadah, then we should stick to that type. E.g. Al-Udhiah (sacrifice) - the type of animal to be sacrificed has been specified by the Shari’ah and this should not be violated. Recently a Sheikh in one of the Muslim countries made a fatwa that Muslims can use chicken as sacrifice - this is a violation of the type. If a Muslim cannot afford to offer a sacrifice, then they don't have to do it as it is not a wajib (i.e. an obligation). In certain years, some of the Sahabahs (companions) (radiyallāhu’anhum) purposely did not perform the sacrifice so that the people did not think that it was a wajib.
A clear distinction should be made about the actions of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) - whether they were done only from time to time or whether they were done continuously on a regular basis. For example, some of the nawafil are things which he, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), would do from time to time. We should observe this. E.g. Certain Surahs being recited on certain days - it is narrated that the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi was allam), would sometimes recite Surah As-Sajdah (32) and Surah Al-Insan (76) on Fridays. But some Muslims would recite these two Surahs every Friday. We should be aware of this because if we do something regularly people will think that it is wajib even though it is not.
If the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), did something only from time to time, then we too should do it from time to time, especially when we do it in congregation.
As it has been mentioned above, the actions of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), were done for different purposes. There were actions which he, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), would do haphazardly. There are things he, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), would do because of the custom of that time. These actions were not done by the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), for the purpose of ‘ibadah. We too should not do these actions for ‘ibadah - our intentions should match the intentions of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam).
The following are some examples:
1. At the time of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), the men used to have long hair - it was not done for the purpose of ‘ibadah. So if anyone wants to keep long hair today, it should not be done for ‘ibadah.
2. The Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), used to open the top buttons of his shirt - this was because it was hot and not because for the purpose of ‘ibadah.
3. The turban, at the time of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), was worn because it was the custom then.
4. Some hadiths mention the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), using a stick. Again this was not done for the purpose of ‘ibadah.
We should not follow these examples of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), for the purpose of ‘ibadah.
How do we differentiate between the actions of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), which were done for the purpose of ‘ibadah and those which were not? The Scholars say if the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), commanded us to do an action or commanded us not to do something, then this is considered an ‘ibadah. Or if the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), mentioned that the doer will receive certain rewards if an action is done, then it is an ibadah. Or if the failure for doing a certain action would result in punishment, then the action is an ‘ibadah.
This issue of introducing something which doesn't belong to the Shari’ah is associated with the concept that Islam is a complete religion:
“Today have I perfected your religion for you, and have bestowed upon you the full measure of My blessings, and willed that Islam shall be your Religion”. [Surah Al-Ma'idah, 5: 3]
Since it is complete, there is no need for additions or deletions to the religion. Therefore to introduce some new matter into Islam or to delete or omit something from it is an affront to Allāh and the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam).
Al-Imam al-Shatibi (rahimahullāh) mentions that if certain actions are taken as ‘ibadah where in reality they are not, this will lead to bid'ah. There is ahadith which tells the story of three men who only wanted to do 'good deeds' all the time - one said he will not get married, the second one said he will pray all night and not sleep, and the third said he will fast every day. When the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), heard this, he said that he, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), was the most pious and righteous amongst the people and yet he did not do the things the way the men wanted to do them. This shows that the actions that the three men thought were ‘ibadah would have resulted in bid'ah as they weren't practiced by the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) .
Al-Shatibi (rahimahullāh) also mentions that avoiding eating certain types of food for the purpose of ‘ibadah should not be done. We can avoid these foods for health or other good reasons but not for the purpose of ‘ibadah.
He also says that if there are two ways of fulfilling an obligation, we should follow the easier way. E.g. If the weather is cold and if we have the choice of using warm or cold water (for wudhu'), we should use warm water. We shouldn't use cold water and inflict discomfort on ourselves, trying to show that we are stronger Muslims and hoping for extra rewards. Or if there is choice of going to two masjids (mosques) of different distances, we should go to the nearer one.
The Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), was passing through a place when he noticed someone standing in the middle of the street in the sun. The Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), asked the Sahabahs (radiyallāhu’anhum) what this man was doing. They said that he made a commitment to fast while standing in the sun. The Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), told them to tell the man to continue his fasting (because this was a good thing to do anyway and fulfilling a commitment is an obligation) but to get out of the sun.
Scholars deduce that we should not attach any hardship to our ‘ibadah hoping that it will make it more rewardable. Shari’ah is based on ease. Therefore we should always choose the easier way when performing an ‘ibadah because this will enable us to do it properly - if we were to choose the difficult route then we may, after a while, find difficulty in keeping to our commitment in performing this ‘ibadah. An attached hardship to an ‘ibadah, which has not been specified by the Shari’ah, should be avoided - we should not place any hardship in performing any ‘ibadah.
The Scholars say if someone violates the Shari’ah by adding something new to an ‘Ibadah, the ‘ibadah is rejected depending on what kind of violation has been done. For example, in prayer if someone violates its conditions, then his ‘ibadah will definitely not be accepted.
If an action is any kind of bid'ah, then it is subject to being rejected and the person who performed that action will be asked about it and might be subject to be punished. But if there is a valid excuse for doing that action, the action will not be rewarded but the person may be excused and not punished by Allāh.
In worldly dealings and transactions (e.g. Al-Mu'amalat), if someone changes or modifies the principles of the dealings and this violates the Shari’ah law, then that dealing or transaction is rejected. E.g. changing trading based on harām principles, etc.
Ibnu Rajab (rahimahullāh) mentions that there are certain actions, which violate the Shari’ah, but the Scholars have differing views about them. For example, if a man wears natural silk while performing his solah, is his solah acceptable? Or if someone solat in a house which is stolen, taken by force from the owner. Most Scholars say the action is acceptable but the person will be asked about his wrongdoing (wearing silk, praying in a stolen place).
These hadiths selected by Al-Imam Al-Nawawi (rahimahullāh) are more of principles and criteria that help the Muslim practice easily and fulfil his or her daily religious obligations.
Hadith No: 5 set a criterion for the Muslim by which he can assess and evaluate his actions to ensure their rightness and acceptability.
And Allāh Almighty Knows best.
[Excerpted from “Hadith 5: “Ibadah and Bida'ah (Innovation)”, 40 Hadiths Of Imam Nawawi, Via IC truth]