Lessons from the Hadith on Bidah

There are a few extremely important hadiths of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that mention general principles (qawa`id) regarding actions and their validity. From the Mother of the believers, `A’isha (Allah be well pleased with her) who said that the Messenger of Allah said:

« من أحدث في أمرنا هذا ما ليس منه فهو ردٌّ»

“Whoever innovates something in this command of ours that is not of it, it will be rejected”.[1]

« وَمَنْ عَمِلَ عَمَلًا لَيْسَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْرُنَا فَهُوَ رَدٌّ »

Whoever does an action not based on our commands, it will be rejected”.[2]

The linguistic parts of the hadith important for assessment are:

[1] man/ من: ‘whoever’, ‘anyone’; this applies to any person, man or woman, as it denotes generality.

[2] ahdatha/ أحدث: ‘to inaugurate’, ‘to innovate’, ‘to commence without precedence’; here referring to anyone who invents something based on h/her own desire and initiative without a basis.

[3] `amila/ عَمِلَ: ‘commits an action’, ‘does something’; meaning performing an action in any sphere because the word ‘`amalan’ (‘action’, ‘deed’, ‘work’) is in the indefinite form (nakira) and hence general form. Therefore, this includes both `ibadat (‘devotional actions’) and mu`amalat (‘all transactions’) actions.

[4] amruna/ أمرنا: ‘our commands’, , our laws’ ‘our affairs’, ‘our matters’; meaning the Religion of Islam, its laws and what is indicates and allows which excludes other traditions, religions, ways of life, systems and laws.

[5] radd/ ردٌّ: ‘rejected’, ‘not accepted’; ‘unlawful’; therefore any action that is not based on the Religion of Islam and its commands and laws is not acceptable.

The importance of this hadith:

Imam Najm al-Dun al-Tufi al-Hanbali in his al-Ta`yin fi Sharh al-Arba`in[3] comments on the significance of thishadith:

أما معناه من حيث الجملة فهو أن ما خرج عن الشرع فهو باطل، لا صيور له، ولا عبرة بهوأما من حيث التفصيل فهذا الحديث على إيجازه واختصاره من أعظم قواعد الشرع وأعمها نفعا من جهة منطوقه ومفهومهأما من جهة منطوقه فلأنه مقدمة كلية في كل دليل نافٍ لحكموأما من جهة مفهومه فهو مقدمة كلية في كل دليل مثبت للحكم، لأن مفهوم قوله: «من عمل عملاً ليس عليه أمرنا فهو رد» أن من عمل عملا عليه أمرنا فليس مردودا، فيكون صحيحا،  وكل ما دل عليه أمر الشرع فهو صحيح

 “As far as the statement in its generality goes, anything that is outside of the Law is rejected and no consideration is given to it. As far as the details of this hadith go, it is one of the brief and concise statements that lay down one of the most important principles of the law and one of the most beneficial ones in both its wording and meaning. In terms of its wording (mantuq), it is in how this hadith is a general proposition or principle for any evidence that negates an Islamic ruling (hukm)…as for in terms of its meaning (mafhum), it offers a general proposition or principle for affirming a ruling because the meaning (mafhum) of the Prophet’s saying: ‘Whoever does an action not based on our commands, it will be rejected’ implies that any action which is based on our commands is accepted and not rejected and hence will be a correct action…thus anything that a command of the Law establishes will be correct and valid…”[4]


Thus, from both hadiths of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace), there are warnings regarding two separate actions: [1] innovating something in the religion that is not warranted because it has no known precedence and cannot be justified this is known as bid`a and [2] performing an action that opposes or is contrary to the stipulations of the Law (al-shar`) and this is known as a haram (‘unlawful’, ‘impermissible’) action if it in the area of mu`amalat. Both these types of actions are rejected and hence not acceptable.

[A] Bid`a: The meaning of the term “bid`a” has been given by many of the classical scholars for example:

[1] Ibn Taymiyya states bid`a means:

وما خالف النصوص فهو بدعة باتفاق المسلمين، وما لم يعلم أنه خالفها فقد لا يسمى بدعة…

 “Whatever contradicts the text is considered bid`a according to the Muslims although if anyone does this unknowingly it will not be considered bid`a…”[5]

[2] Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali defines it as:

والمراد بالبدعة : ما أُحدث مما لا أصل له في الشريعة يدل عليه ، أما ما كان له أصل من الشرع يدل عليه، فليس ببدعة شرعاً، وإن كان بدعة لغة

 “What is meant by bid`a is anything that is newly contrived where nothing indicates it within the Law. Whatever does have a basis and an indication for it in the Law, then it will not be considered bid`a in the legal sense even if it does so in the linguistic sense… ”[6]

  • Shaykh `Ata’ Ibn Khalil (Allah protect him) comments succinctly that:

مخالفة أمر الشارع الذي وردت له كيفية أداء تسمى اصطلاحاً بدعة لأنها ليست على الكيفية التي بينها الشارع، فالبدعة لغة كما في لسان العرب: المبتدع الّذي يأتي أمراً على شبهٍ لم يكن…، وأبدعت الشّيء: اخترعته لا على مثالٍ

“The word ‘bid`a’ is technically (istilahan) applied when a command of the Legislator that has a specific manner in which it is implemented is contravened. This is because it is not implemented according to the manner in which the Legislator clarified it to be. The word ‘bid`a’ linguistically (lughatan) as mentioned in the Lisan al-`Arab[7] is: ‘The one who commits bid`a (mubtadi`) is one who comes brings a new matter that was never known previously’…thus, the phrase ‘abda`at al-shay’’ (‘to newly bring something’) means: ‘inventing something without precedent’ (ikhtara`at-hu la `ala mithal)…”[8]

To be more specific then, the term bid`a will be applied to a matter or some action/affair when:

وهي في الاصطلاح كذلك، أي مخالفة كيفية شرعية بيَّنها الشرع لأداء أمر شرعي…

“…it contravenes the legal manner (shar`i kayfiyya) clarified and explained by the Legislator in order to correctly fulfill a legal command…”[9]

Thus, whoever contravenes the designated modality by which a command – in the acts of devotion (`ibadat) – is to be fulfilled by restricting, generalizing, augmenting (adding), altering, (changing), etc. would be committing abid`a (i.e. ihdath [‘inaugurating unwarranted additions or accretions in worship’]). Thus:

وهكذا فإن من سجد ثلاثاً في صلاته بدل اثنتين فقد جاء ببدعة، ومن رمى ثماني حصيات بدلاً من سبع على جمرات منى فقد جاء ببدعة… وكل بدعة ضلالة، وكل ضلالة في النار، أي أنه يأثم بفعلته تلك.

“If one performs three [separate acts] of prostration instead of two has committed a bid`a; if someone throws 8 stones instead of 7 when at Jamarat has committed bid`a…and every bid`a is misguidance and every misguidance leads to the Hellfire, i.e. the person doing the act will be punished for it.”[10]

However, and importantly, when it comes to actions that do not have a specific modality for its implementation, the term bid`a is not applied:

مخالفة أمر الشارع الذي لم ترد له كيفية أداء، فهي تقع في الأحكام الشرعية، فيقال عنها حرام، أو مكروه، أو مباح إن كان خطاب تكليف، أو يقال باطل أو فاسد… إن كان خطاب وضع، وذلك حسب القرينة المصاحبة للأمر من حيث الجزم أو الترجيح أو التخيير…

“Contravening a command of the Legislator that does not have a specified manner in which to fulfill it, falls under the area of ahkam shar`iyya (‘legal rulings’) which can be haram or makruh or mubah if it is a khitab taklifi(‘prescriptive legal communications’) or batil or fasid if it is a khitab wad`i (‘descriptive legal communications’) This depends on the contextual indications (qara’in) whether in the form of a decisive command (jazm), preferential command (tarjih) or optional command (takhyir)…”[11]


ففي مثالنا الأول من أسلف “أي عقد عقد السلم”، بخلاف أمر الشارع أي دون كيل معلوم ووزن معلوم وأجل معلوم، فلا يقال إنه جاء ببدعة، وإنما يقال إن هذا العقد المخالف لأمر الشارع هو باطل أو فاسد وفق نوع المخالفة… وهكذا بالنسبة لمخالفة جميع الأوامر التي لم يأت الشارع لها بكيفية تفصيلية للأداء…

“In our first example, if someone sells something on credit, i.e. he actually completes the contract of sale contravening the command of the Legislator, i.e. without knowing the measure, weight, or the time, it cannot be said that he has committed a bid`a, rather it is said that this contract contravenes the command of the Legislator and is either batil or fasid depending on the type of contravention […] and this is the case with contraventions made in all commands that have not come with a detailed manner in which they are to be fulfilled…”[12]

Thus, from the above outlines, where the term bid`a applies is in areas of `ibadat where a specific method of practically implementing a command is given and then that method is explicitly contravened.

[B] Misapplications:

However, some argue that if there is only bid`a in `ibadat and not – technically – within the mu`amalat then we can carry out actions defined by stipulations, policies and permissions from the prevailing norms, systems and laws or even from direct non-Islamic sources without fear of being labelled as heretical. In other words, a justification is made for appropriating methods and models from non-Islamic sources for defining an Islamic action. This understanding – or more correctly – misunderstanding has real observable consequences as will be discussed shortly. The point here to note is that a distinction between bid`a in `ibadat and non-existence of bid`a inmu`amalat in effect does not help this argument in any way because as mentioned from the noble hadith above,any action not based on the Islamic criterion will be rejected. All it is is that in certain areas, the manner of the action is defined in detail whereas in many other areas, the manner is not defined exclusively.

A recent case in point is the parliamentary election stage in Egypt after the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolved the Mubarak regime in order to enable a new civil government. Here a number of issues arise that relate to the rulings (ahkam) pertaining to the means of appointing a ruler (tariqat nasb al-imam). At present the mechanism for transition to power proceeds through protracted stages of regional elections through political parties competing for individual votes with a combination of first past the post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR) electoral systems with run-offs for seats in the Lower House (Peoples’ Assembly) and the Upper House (The Shura Council) within a Parliament. With formation of Parliament, a constitution will be drafted by a selected Parliament committee who will then propose the constitution to a referendum. At present, the Muslim Brotherhood and its electoral representative party Hizb al-Hurriyya wa ’l-`Adala (‘The Freedom and Justice Party’ = FJP) has won a 36% first phase election result announced on the 4th December 2011 for seats in the Lower House with the next phase to commence in mid December.

This process clearly highlights the contrary actions of electing a ruler (in this case a president) because the Shari`a has already stipulated the method to appoint a ruler which is through the bay`a (‘pledge of allegiance’) process as defined by the classical scholars in their works on Islamic constitutional law.[13] This contractual process is premised on an explicit transfer of consent from the Muslim umma and so it cannot be by force or imposition.[14]In the case of the Egyptian electoral process, this cannot be substantiated from legal evidences (adilla shar`iyya) not to mention the later impermissible actions such as legislating within a parliament.

Therefore, it is imperative to assess all actions whether performed individually or collectively or whether they are singular performances or those that form part of a process with the criteria of actions as laid down by the Prophet in the above noble hadith. And unless the Law has not delineated a specific manner in which to implement a particular command it would not be permitted to deviate from that manner for any reason otherwisw it will be rejected.



[1] Bukhari, Sahih (#2550).

[2] Muslim, Sahih (#1718).

[3] al-Tufi, al-Ta`yin, pp.91-95 for a full discussion of the hadith.

[4] al-Tufi, al-Ta`yin, pp.91-92.

[5] Ibn Taymiyya, al-Majmu` al-Fatawa, 20:163.

[6] Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Jami` al-`Ulum wa’l-Hikam, 1:266-267.

[7] See Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-`Arab, 2:8 s.v. and Ibn Faris, Mu`jam Maqayis al-Lugha, 1:209 and al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 4:253 where he writes:

البدعة أصلها ما أحدث على غير مثال سابق…

“And bid`a [s: linguistically] means, in its origin, something that was invented (ma uhditha) without a precedent.”

[8] `Ata’ b. Khalil, Waqi` al-Bid`a, 18 September 2009.

[9] `Ata’ b. Khalil, Waqi` al-Bid`a.

[10] `Ata’ b. Khalil, Waqi` al-Bid`a.

[11] `Ata’ b. Khalil, Waqi` al-Bid`a.

[12] `Ata’ b. Khalil, Waqi` al-Bid`a.

[13] For discussions on the history and development of Islamic constitutional laws and the Caliphate, see O. Anjum, Reason and Politics in Medieval Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment (PhD. Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2008), pp.46-136.

[14] See al-Nabhani, Nizam al-Hukm, pp.69-84 for the method to appoint an Imam and the textual evidences.

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