Answered by Ustadh Sharif Rosen

Question: Assalam alaykum

I have recently become the student of a Scholar, and as students we were assigned to a series of daily Dhikr, that we are to do a certain number of times. Some individuals have mentioned that this is something wrong. As a result I am very conflicted now. What should I do?

Answer: as-Salamu ‘alaykum.

Jazakum Allah khayran for your question.

Without doubt, following the Quran and sunna provide the definitive basis for the validity of one’s Islamic practice. Yet, understanding how one follows the Quran and the way of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, has never returned to the mere opinions of the untrained. Such explanations are the domain of specialists, namely the Islamic jurists, as established by the verse, “Ask those of who recall if you know not” (Quran 16:43).

In practical terms, we are commanded to take our operative understandings from the elite jurists, also known as the mujtahid Imams whose mastery of the Islamic sacred texts comes by way of, (1) their command of all the primary and ancillary fields required to comprehend and practice upon the Quran and prophetic sunna, and (2) their being connected in learning a given religious discipline through unbroken chains of transmission to the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings. It cannot be understated that great care should be taken to assure that one’s own Islamic learning comes by way of scholars who fulfill both conditions, or at minimum, the second criteria of scholar and teachers, who by obligation, transmit their knowledge from scholars and Imams of the first category.

Individuals who criticize or condemn the inauguration of practices not explicitly taught by the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, often cite the hadith related by Sayyida ‘Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, who said, “Whoever initiates in this matter of ours what is not from it, will have it rejected” (Bukhari, Muslim).

What critics may fail to realize is that the words crucial to understanding this authenticated hadith turn on the phrase “what is not from it” [ma laysa minhu] as it qualifies the types of initiated or “innovated” actions intended here, namely those without any basis in the foundational precepts and objectives of the Quran and sunna (Al-‘Arfaj, Mafhum al-Bid’a, 89). Moreover, the inauguration of a new practice [bid’a] in Islam cannot be categorically condemned since a bid’a will fall into one of the five classifications of Islamic legal rulings; those that are impermissible [haram] and thus misguidance and punishable “refer to matters that are not good innovations with a basis in Sacred Law” (Al-Jurdani, al-Jawahir al-lu’lu’iyya fi shahr al-Arba’in al-Nawawiyya).

We know there are both praiseworthy and blameworthy inaugurated practices based on the hadith related on the authority of Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him, who said, “Whoever initiates in Islam a commendable innovation has its reward and the reward of those who act on it after one without any diminishing of one’s reward. And whoever initiates in Islam a reprehensible innovation has upon them its [awful] burden and the burden of those who act on it without any diminishing of one’s burden” (Muslim).

From this starting point, the following passage enhances further our knowledge of what following the sunna actually means, with attention to the evidentiary basis for practicing adhkar apart from those related in the Quran or hadith.

The Prophet himself (Allah bless him and give him peace) taught us that the sunna does not discourage other prayers and supplications, but rather they are part of the sunna, as is attested to by the rigorously authenticated hadith that Burayda (Allah be well pleased with him) said, ‘I entered the mosque of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) where a man was at prayer supplicating: “O Allah, I ask You by the fact that I testify You are Allah, there is no god but You, the One, the Ultimate, who did not beget and was not begotten, and to whom none is equal,” and the Prophet said (Allah bless him and give him peace), “By Him in whose hand is my soul, he has asked Allah by His greatest name, which if He is asked by it He gives, and if supplicated He answers” (Ibn Hibban [53], 3.174:892. S).

This hadith shows that when the prophetic Companions made up their own supplications without previous instruction from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), he did not merely tolerate it, but rather encouraged it with the highest degree of approbation and acceptance — thereby legislating in our shari’a until the end of time that supplications other than those explicitly taught are recommended in a general sense as part of the sunna. Secondly, he intended (Allah bless him and give him peace) that they should be remembered and transmitted to others, as his emphatically praising the Companion’s supplication above ensured that this supplication would be.

This is why the Companions, their students (tabi’in) and the Imams of both the outward (such as Shafi’i, Tabarani and Sakhawi) and the inward (such as ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Abu Hasan al-Shadhili, and Ahmad al-Rifa’i) composed their own supplications and litanies of dhikr and passed them on to Muslims after them, who have recited them from that day to this.

Imam Nawawi, who compiled his much-beloved collection of 1,212 Prophetic hadiths of prayer and dhikr in Kitab al-Adhkar, also composed and recited his own daily litany known today as Hizb al-Imam al-Nawawi. As a scholar and a Muslim, he found it superior to do both…

Ulema such as ‘Abdullah Mahfudh al-Haddad tell us that making a supplication or dhikr at a certain time at one’s own initiative does not become a bid’a or reprehensible innovation unless it competes against a specific sunna legislated for that time and place (al-Sunna wa al-bid’a [9], 197). For example, saying Subhana Llah forty times immediately after the last word of every call to prayer (adhan) would be a blameworthy bid’a because the Sacred Law calls for the Blessings on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) at that time instead, after which one may say what one wishes.” [Keller, Sea Without Shore, 174-175]

Finally, these links should provide added depth into the subject of innovation as the ‘ulema have understood and expressed its reality. And through them alone are we obliged to take our knowledge of the Quran and sunna, and thereby our religion entirely — from its law and theology to its spirituality.

Defining the Concept of Bid’a in the Islamic Shari’a

Are Weekly Group Dhikr Gatherings a Reprehensible Innovation (Bid’a Sayyia)?

And Allah knows best.

[Ustadh] Sharif Rosen

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Sharif Rosen is the Muslim Chaplain at Williams College (in the Northeastern United States).  His formative Islamic studies in Amman, Jordan for five years, and ongoing, have been at the hands of scholars connected through unbroken transmission to the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)