Clarifying Innovations in Islam

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch

Question: What is blameworthy innovation? Did the Messenger of Allah distinguish between a praiseworthy and blameworthy innovation? What is the proof for reciting specific surahs at the grave, a specific amount of times?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

May Allah bless you for your inquiry and your desire to know the sunnah of our beloved Prophet [Allah bless him and give him peace]

Blameworthy innovation is that which is newly introduced to the religion and goes against the Qur’an, Sunnah of the Prophet [may Allah bless him and give him peace], and the consensus of the scholars. This is the innovation of misguidance mentioned by the Prophet. It is considered strictly prohibited (Haram) and one of the grave sins.

This understanding is explained below.

What is Innovation?

The word for innovation in the Arabic language is (بدعة – Bid’ah). Bid’ah, lexically means something newly introduced not based on any previous example. This meaning can be seen in the verse:

(Allah is the) the originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is. [al-Baqarah – 117]
But when we discuss the word Bid’ah in the context of the Sacred Law, the Scholars have defined it in the following ways:

Imam al-Shafi’ [may Allah be pleased with him] said, “Bid’ah is two. The praiseworthy bid’ah and the blameworthy bid’ah. Thus that which coincides with the Sunnah is praiseworthy and that which goes against the Sunnah is blameworthy.

Imam al-Bayhaqi relates that Imam al-Shafi’ [may Allah be pleased with them both] also said, “Newly introduced matters are two types: that which was introduced and goes against the Book (i.e. the Qur’an), or the Sunnah, or the consensus of the scholars, then it is an innovation of misguidance; and that which was newly introduced of good which does not go against any of that, then it is not blameworthy

Types of Innovation

This distinguishment between blameworthy and praiseworthy innovations can be clearly understood from the statement of the Prophet [may Allah bless him and give him peace],

The Messenger of Allah [may Allah bless him and give him peace] said, “Whoever initiates, in Islam, a good sunnah (practice), then for him is its reward and the reward of all who practice upon it, after him, without decreasing from their rewards, anything. And whoever initiates, in Islam, an evil sunnah, then for him is its sin and the sin of all who practice, after him, without decreasing from their sins, anything.” [Muslim]

In this context we now can understand what the Prophet [may Allah bless him and give him peace] meant when he said:

Every newly introduce matter is an innovation (bid’ah) and every innovation is misguidance and every misguidance is in the fire. [Ahmad; Tirmidhi]

If we take this narration to its fullest apparent meaning then many aspects of our worldly and religious lives would also be considered innovation (bid’ah). We would have to discard our telephones and computers, remove the lights and carpets from the masjid, no longer drive cars, etc… And if one were to claim that it only refers to innovation in the religion, then they have not taken the apparent meaning of ‘every’.

How to understand primary texts:

Regarding verses of the Qur’an and the body of Prophetic Narrations, we must examine them as a whole. We cannot use one narration and disregard others. All of the aforementioned narrations, when observed together, indicate a distinction between the two types of innovation. That which is blameworthy is, therefore ‘in the fire’. And that which is not blameworthy which would be considered (sunnah hasanah) a good practice, for which one will be rewarded, as mentioned by the Prophet [may Allah bless him].

Examples of praiseworthy innovations

The Companions [may Allah be pleased with them all] introduced matters, both in and after the time of the Prophet. For example:

It is narrated that ‘Umar [may Allah be pleased with him] said, “A man came while the people were in prayer. Once he reached the rows (of prayer) he said, “Allah is most certainly the greatest, much abundant praise is due to Allah, and glory be to Allah morning and evening.’ When the Prophet [may Allah bless him and give him peace] finished the prayer, He said, ‘Who is the one who said those words?’ The man replied, ‘I am, O’ Messenger of Allah, I swear by Allah, I only intended good by them.’ He said, ‘I surely have seen the doors of the heavens open for them.’” Ibn ‘Umar [may Allah be pleased with them] said, “Since the day I heard them, I haven’t left them.” [Sahih Muslim]

It is narrated the Rifa’ah bin Raaf’i [may Allah be pleased with him] said, “We were once praying behind the Prophet [may Allah bless him and give him peace] and when he raised his head from the bowing position (ruk’u), he said, ‘Allah hears the one who praises Him.’ A man from behind us said, ‘O’ our Lord for You is all praise, abundant, blessed, and pure praise.’ When finishing the prayer He (i.e. the Prophet) said, ‘Who is the one who spoke?’ He (the man) said, ‘I did.’ He said, ‘I have seen some thirty angels racing to see which of them can write it down.’” [al-Bukhari]

In these two of many, many examples, it is clear how the Companions [may Allah be pleased with them] understood innovation. Other examples are:

Gathering the Qur’an into one book
Taraweeh Prayer behind an Imam
Islamic Seminaries
Recordings of Qur’anic Recitation
Books of Islamic Law
The Science of Hadith

And this list goes on…

Allah, Most High, says in the Qur’an:

…and whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he prohibits you from, then desist. And fear Allah. Verily Allah is severe in punishment. [Qur’an: 59.7]

Allah, Most High, never said, ‘whatever the Messenger did not do, then refrain.’ Our Mother ‘Aisha [may Allah be pleased with her] relates that the Messenger of Allah [may Allah bless him and give him peace] said, “Whoever introduces into this affair of ours (i.e. Islam) that which is not of it, then it is rejected.’

This narration clearly indicates that there will be matters introduced that are of the religion and thus not rejected.

Qur’anic Recitation at the Cemetery

Reciting Qur’an at the grave of the deceased is a practice rooted in the Prophetic Sunnah and practiced by the righteous since the time of the Companions [may Allah be pleased with them] till present-day.

Specifying amounts of recitation

As for stipulating a specific amount of any particular surah or verse other than what is narrated in the Prophetic Hadith, then there is nothing wrong with this. As long as one doesn’t deem such an amount to be obligatory or force others to do that amount, no more, no less, it is permissible and not an innovation.

It is narrated by M’aqil bin Yasaar [may Allah be pleased with him] that the Prophet said, “YaSeen is the heart of the Qur’an, no one recites it, seeking Allah and the final abode, except that Allah forgives him. Recite it over your deceased.” [Abu Dawud]

Note: The word deceased here is literal. The metaphorical meaning of ‘those on the verge of death’ is not taken. This is because to leave the literal meaning for a metaphorical interpretation would necessitate a legal reason to do so, which is not found.

Al-Hafiz al-Suyuti [may Allah be pleased with them] mentioned, “Whoever enters the cemetery, then recites al-Fatihah, al-Takaathur, and al-Ikhlaas, then says, ‘I give the reward of what I recited of Your speech to the people of the graves, from the believing men and women, they will be intercessors for him on the Day of Rising.” [al-Qawaa’id]

Al-Nasaai narrates, as well as al-Raaf’i in his (Tarikh) and Abu Muhammad al-Samaqandi in his (Fada’il of Surah al-Ikhlas), the narration of ‘Ali [may Allah be pleased with him], that he said, “Whoever passes by a graveyard and recites ‘Say! He Allah is one.’ 11 times then gifts the reward of it to the deceased, he is rewarded according to the number of the deceased.”

Lastly, it must be noted, that even though some of the narrations related to this topic are of weaker transmission than others, that does not mean they cannot be acted upon. Many scholars have considered it permissible to act upon weak transmissions. Some have said that the permissibility is absolute and others have stipulated conditions. Either way, it falls under a matter of difference of opinion amongst authentic scholarship, and differences of opinion when they come from the authorized scholarship are respected.

May Allah bless you and Allah Knows Best

[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a graduate from Tarim; a student of Habib Umar and other luminaries; and authorized teachers of the Qur’an and the Islamic sciences.