What is Bidah (religious innovation)?

ⓘ Supported by Al Medina 313.



Islamic Text

Bidah refers to innovating something, which contradicts the teachings of Islam, into the religion of Allah Most High. It is strictly prohibited.

ثُمَّ قَفَّيْنَا عَلَى آثَارِهِمْ بِرُسُلِنَا وَقَفَّيْنَا بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْإِنْجِيلَ وَجَعَلْنَا فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوهُ رَأْفَةً وَرَحْمَةً وَرَهْبَانِيَّةً ابْتَدَعُوهَا مَا كَتَبْنَاهَا عَلَيْهِمْ إِلَّا ابْتِغَاءَ رِضْوَانِ اللَّهِ فَمَا رَعَوْهَا حَقَّ رِعَايَتِهَا فَآتَيْنَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنْهُمْ أَجْرَهُمْ وَكَثِيرٌ مِنْهُمْ فَاسِقُونَ

Then We caused Our messengers to follow in their footsteps; and We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow, and gave him the Gospel, and placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him. But they innovated monasticism. We ordained it not for them. (They were) seeking Allah’s pleasure, and they did not observe it with right observance. So We give those of them who believe their reward, but many of them are transgressors. (Surah al-Hadeed, 27).

In the Holy verse above not only do we see a rebuke of innovation but we also recognise how this is a trait of the disbelievers. They were guided to the right path by their Prophets (peace be upon them), but they invented new matters into the pure religion of the Prophet and thus went astray and changed the religion. It is such innovation that caused the previous nations to go astray, thus we have a strict prohibition against Bidah in Islam.

There are many definitions of Bid’ah in the classical books of Ahl al-Sunnah. However, they are not sufficient to truly understand the nature and prohibition of Bid’ah, so a more detailed study is necessary.

الْبِدْعَة إِحْدَاث مَا لم يكن فِي عهد رَسُول الله صلى الله عَلَيْهِ وَسلم. (عمدة القاري شرح صحيح البخاري)

Bid’ah is to invent something that did not exist in the era of the Messenger of Allah (Most High) (Imam al-Ayni, Umdatu al-Qari).

بِدْعَةٍ وَهِيَ اعْتِقَادُ خِلَافِ الْمَعْرُوفِ عَنْ الرَّسُولِ
مَا أُحْدِثَ عَلَى خِلَافِ الْحَقِّ الْمُتَلَقَّى عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – مِنْ عِلْمٍ أَوْ عَمَلٍ أَوْ حَالٍ بِنَوْعِ شُبْهَةٍ وَاسْتِحْسَانٍ، وَجُعِلَ دَيْنًا قَوِيمًا وَصِرَاطًا مُسْتَقِيمًا اهـ فَافْهَمْ. (رد المحتار على الدر المختار)

Bid’ah is to believe something that is different to what is known from the Messenger ﷺ.

It is that which people have innovated against the truth that has been received from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. It can relate to belief, action or states, it is (often) based on false evidence and erroneous analogy. It has been presented as the upright religion and the straight path. (Imam al-Haskafi and Ibn Abideen, Radd al-Muhtaar).

Since Bidah is a complex area one must study it thoroughly to understand it correctly, and to safeguard oneself from contemporary extremes. To rely on a basic definition or a brief explanation will not suffice. Rather it can lead to a person actually misunderstanding the issue of Bidah.

عَائِشَةُ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ: مَنْ عَمِلَ عَمَلًا لَيْسَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْرُنَا فَهُوَ رَدٌّ

(Sayidah) Aisha (May Allah Most High be pleased with her) narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, ‘Whoever innovates something in this matter of ours, that is not of it, will have it rejected.’ (Sahih Muslim, 1718 – 18).

As well as numerous verses of the Holy Quran prohibiting Bidah, there is also an abundance of Hadith narrations warning against Bidah. The above narration is just one example. Due to this, many classical scholars wrote entire books on the issue of Bidah, warning against it and clarifying some of the subtleties related to it.

In recent times many people have taken extreme positions regarding Bidah. Some of them will overextend the ruling of Bidah and consider things that are not Bidah to be Bidah. Sometimes they go so far that they declare matters found in the Sunnah to be Bidah. An example of this is found in the answer in the link below (group Dhikr).

The opposite extreme is that of people who refuse to acknowledge anything as Bidah. Whenever they are questioned about dubious practices, that are clearly Bidah, they will argue that the practice is not Bidah, or it is Bidah Hasanah. They will continue to make such claims even in the face of explicit Nusoos (texts) from classical scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah establishing the action as Bidah. Not only does this approach clash with the statements of Imams of Ahl al-Sunnah but also contradicts clear verses of the Holy Quran and Hadith of the blessed Prophet .

It is important to clarify that innovation is prohibited in religious matters. As for innovation in matters related to science and technology, there is no such prohibition. Rather it can be seen as something positive if it helps society.

And Allah Most High Knows Best.

-Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen Rashid (25.04.2022)

See also:
Is every Bidah a good Bidah (Bidah Hasanah)
Is it Bidah to pray Taraweeh in Jamat?

Is it permitted to gather for Dhikr (Majlis Dhikr)?

See also video: