Islamic Thought

Understanding the difference between innovation in Islam v innovation in worldly matters

Innovations. Bid’ah. It’s a term when Muslims use can be a source of controversy between two groups – those who stay away from innovations in the worship aspect in Islam and those who say there’s nothing wrong in doing new acts of worship. Allah says in the Qur’ān (5:3):

“…This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion…”

One of the things those who innovate in religion put forward to the group who are against innovations is: “Did the Prophet (ﷺ) have phones, cars, internet etc” Or an even more hilarious one: “You’re an innovation, you weren’t around at the time of the Messenger (ﷺ).”

There is a very simple principle that we must understand. Everything in the religion of Islam is haram until we have an evidence and everything in the dunya (the worldly affair sense) is halal until we have an evidence. Let’s divide this into 2 parts with some examples:

1) If you want to worship Allah then you must have evidence before you do anything, otherwise it will be rejected. It doesn’t work the other way around like some people say: “show me an evidence to say I can’t celebrate milad” etc. In reality this is silly because it would lead to a complete transformation in the religion away from its original state.

So someone would come and say: ” I will pray 7 rakahs for Fajr, show me an evidence that says I can’t.” Or a person will come and say “I will make 9 circuits around the Ka’bah in tawaf instead of 7.” Or “show me an evidence to say I can’t do the 40-day khatam?”

Of course, this will lead to the religion being upon the whims and desires of men and every man will do what he wants. Rather, every path to Allah is closed unless it was the path taken by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and his companions.

The Messenger (ﷺ) said

“Whoever innovates something in this matter of ours (i.e. Islam) that is not part of it, will have it rejected.”

This is conclusive evidence that anything new in the religion is automatically rejected. No questions asked. No proof = rejected.

Now, there are those who then bring the concept of bid’ah hasanah (good innovation) to counter those who are against all types of innovations in Islam. They say the Prophet (ﷺ) permitted good innovations as per a hadith where he (ﷺ) said:

“Whoever starts a good thing and is followed by others, will have his own reward and a reward equal to that of those who follow him, without it detracting from their reward in any way…”

What they and many don’t know is that there is a story behind this hadith and when we evaluate the context of why the Prophet (ﷺ) said this, then we will realise that this saying did not open the doors to innovations in the deen. On the contrary, the Prophet (ﷺ) clearly said regarding innovations, every single innovation that:

Every newly-invented thing is a bid’ah (innovation), every bid’ah is a going astray, and every going astray will be in the Fire.”

Moreover, he (ﷺ) said on many occasions that he (ﷺ) is leaving behind a religion which is clear and complete.

“…By Allah, I am leaving you upon something like Bayda (i.e. white, bright, clear path) the night and day of which are the same.”

For a layman to understand which act of worship will be accepted in Islam, it has to meet at least the following 3 points of the checklist, and if any one of them is missing then the deed has a high chance of being rejected, no matter how good the intention was:

a) It must have been ordained by Allah;
b) It has to be performed exactly the way our beloved Prophet (ﷺ) authentically did it and how his companions implemented it;
c) It must be performed solely for the sake and pleasure of Allah.

2) On the other side, in the dunya, everything is permissible until proven otherwise by a text. For example, I will drive a car until you give me proof that I can’t. Or I will use a mobile until you give me proof that I can’t and so on.

Everything that isn’t ritualistic worship is permissible until proven otherwise. This includes aeroplanes, internet, mobiles, etc. If we just remember this simple principle everything becomes so easy alhamdulillah. Of course what we do have to keep in mind is that any of the worldly innovations should be used in a good way, a benefiting way to gain ajr.

Nonetheless, you don’t drive a car or use a mobile and expect ajr (reward) from Allah. Whereas what ever you do in deen, if you expect ajr for it, then it’s naturally a religious act. Hence when bidah is done, it is considered a religious act and reward is expected. If you expect reward for it and its not in the Sunnah – that’s bidah.

To sum up, if it wasn’t religion 1400 years ago, then it isn’t religion today.

Deen = must have proof otherwise haram
Dunya = halal until proven otherwise with text

And super-finally, here is a reminder to everyone, including myself, what one of the things our Prophet (ﷺ) said in his final days:

“…So hold fast to my Sunnah and the examples of the Rightly- Guided Caliphs who will come after me. Adhere to them and hold to it fast. Beware of new things (in Deen) because every Bid’ah is a misguidance.”

Sources: Adapted from IslamQA, Br. Abu Ibraheem Facebook post and Sunnah.com

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