Innovations in Islam

Al-Shāfi‘ī (r) said, “Innovations are of two types, praiseworthy innovations and reprehensible innovations.

Firstly, those which oppose the Quran, the Sunnah or the consensus. This form of innovation is misguidance.

Secondly, the acts of goodness that are innovated which do not oppose one of the previous categories. This sort of innovation is not dispraised.”

Dividing bid‘ah into good and bad has been the standard position of the scholars in every century. There have been fringe ultraconservative positions always as well, but the mainstream is as described by al-Imam al-Shāf‘ī. The word “every” in the tradition which says “every innovation is misguidance,” can’t be taken literally for many reasons. And it’s not unusual in Arabic to use the word “every” and mean “many”. This is found in the Quran as well in other contexts. For instance, “It destroyed everything by the command of it’s Lord, so they became such that nothing but their dwellings could be seen.” [al-Ahqāf:25] If their dwellings were still around, it didn’t destroy everything.

And the proofs of this are too many to list in a Facebook post. Unfortunately, many overzealous brothers who feel otherwise are largely unaware of the fact that the view that they zealously oppose has been the view of most “intelligent scholars” over history, as Ibn ‘Āshūr puts it. Whilst I do respect those who hold either view, the view which divides innovations into multiple categories and that which doesn’t, I do not extend that respect to someone who becomes a fanatical zealot without exploring everything said about a subject of this gravity.

Shqykh Abdul Wahab Saleem

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