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.

Are Mawlids Promoting Wrong Beliefs?

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Assalam’aleykum,

1. At mawlids, people believe that the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) soul will be present. Is this true?

2. In some mawlids, they say some poetry that basically means, “the provider of provision is Muhammad” Is there any truth to this?

3. Can you stand up to give salam to the Prophet (peace be upon him)?

Answer:Walaikum assalam,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and spirits.

#1. The Coming of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)

This is not what is commemorated. Rather, it is a celebration of the “coming of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)” to the world—when his noble birth is mentioned.

Related to this is the spiritual notion of the “presence” of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), which isn’t a physical (rather, a metaphysical/spiritual) presence, well-established by hadiths: Can You Please Explain the Belief of The “Presence” of the Prophet?

#2. When sound, such texts indicate “means of…” — because Allah provides assistance or withholds by His love and favouring of elect servants—and the Beloved Messenger of Allah (peace & blessings be upon him & his folk) is His Most Beloved.

Examples from the Companions:

First Poems of Praise for Prophet Muhammad


#3. Standing up for salams is simply a customary expression of love, respect, and rejoicing. Neither standing nor these emotions are wrong—and there is nothing prohibited about such standing…

This became a norm from the 8th/9th Islamic centuries, and was first performed when the great poet al-Sarsari recited lines of praise of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in the lesson of Imam Taqi al-Din al-Subki (a great Shafi`i jurist, recognized as a mujtahid). Since then, it has been a widely accepted legal position (if not the predominant, historical, position) that such standing is permitted and praiseworthy.

And Allah is the giver of success and facilitation.

Faraz Rabbani

Photo: Touzrimounir

Innovation (Bid`a) and Celebrating the Prophet’s Birthday (Mawlid)

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: What is the concept of a “praiseworthy innovation” (bid`a hasana). How can an innovation be praiseworthy? Is the mawlid (celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad) from this?

Answer: Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and spirits.

The concept of “praiseworthy innovation” (bid`a hasana) is basically a specific form of applying a general sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), in a manner not contrary to the principles of Prophetic guidance.

Thus, for example, having an annual conference or religious event on specific dates (for reasons of practicality, without deeming this specification religiously-expected) is a specific way of applying the general sunna of spreading religious guidance.

The same applies to approved-of forms of group dhikr (which is considered permitted or praiseworthy by a large body of mainstream scholarship): the general sunna of group dhikr (understood from a large number of Prophetic hadiths) is being applied in a specific way.

And so on.

However, the scholars look carefully at the soundness of the basis for such actions; the component parts; and the implications of the action, direct and indirect.

Celebrating the Birth of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)

In terms of the celebrating the Prophet’s birth, the basis of this is of two types:

[1] specific, from the sunna itself: the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) celebrated the day of the week in which he was born by fasting on Mondays–so why would celebrating the date of his birth, in permitted & sound ways, be wrong?

[2] general, from the call in the Qur’an and Sunna to express thankfulness and rejoicing in the blessing and gift from Allah that is our Beloved Messenger of Allah (peace & blessings be upon him & his folk).

Again, if we follow the recourse that Allah Most High has given us: returning matters we’re not clear of to the people of knowledge, then we see that the mawlid, for example, has been carefully considered and generally approved of right across the four schools of mainstream Islamic law.

If someone doesn’t feel comfortable with that, it is fine, but condemning a mainstream action approved by mainstream Islamic scholarship is the basis of division, and contrary to established principles. “There is no condemnation in matters of genuine difference.” (la inkara fi masa’il al-khilaf)

Related Answers:

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

Sunna and Bid`a – Talk & Article by Shaykh Nuh Keller

Excessive Praise of the Prophet? Understanding the Meaning of Praise

Joy at the Birth of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace): The Narration Concerning Abu

Exaggerated Praise of the Prophet of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him)

And Allah alone gives success.

Faraz Rabbani