Al-Shafi`i On Innovation, Being Good Or Bad*
by Sh. G. F. Haddad

Al-Shâfi`î's Definition of bid`a
as Either “Good” or “Bad”

A major contribution of Imâm al-Shâfi`î (ra) in the Foundations of Jurisprudence (us.ûl al-fiqh) is his division of innovation (al-bid`a) and innovated matters (al-muh.dathât) into “good” and “bad” depending on their conformity or non-conformity to the guidelines of the Religion. This is authentically narrated from al-Shâfi`î from two of his most prestigious students in the latter period of his life, the Egyptian h.adîth Masters H.armala ibn Yah.yâ al-Tujaybî and al-Rabî` ibn Sulaymân al-Murâdî:

H.armala said, “I heard al-Shâfi`î (ra) say:

'Innovation is two types (al-bid`atu bid`atân):
- approved innovation (bid`a mah.mûda) and
- disapproved innovation (bid`a madhmûma).
Whatever conforms to the Sunna is approved (mah.mûd) and whatever opposes it is abominable (madhmûm).'

He used as his proof the statement of `Umar ibn al-Khat.t.âb (ra) about the [congregational] supererogatory night prayers in the month of Ramad.ân: “What a fine innovation this is!”[1] This shows that al-Shâfi`î never interpreted `Umar's words figuratively the way the "Salafi" over-interpreters (mu`attila) do.

Al-Rabî` said, “Al-Shâfi`î said to us:
'Innovated matters are of two kinds (al-muh.dathâtu min al-umûri d.arbân):

→ One is an innovation that contravenes (mâ uh.ditha yukhâlifu) something in the Qur'ân or the Sunna or a Companion-report (athar) or the Consensus (ijmâ`): that innovation is misguidance (fahâdhihi al-bid`atu d.alâla).

→ The other kind is the innovation of any and all good things (mâ uh.ditha min al-khayr) contravening none of the above, and this is a blameless innovation (wahâdhihi muh.dathatun ghayru madhmûma).

`Umar (ra) said, concerning the prayers of Ramad.ân: What a fine bid`a this is! meaning that it was innovated without having existed before and, even so, there was nothing in it that contradicted the above.'”[2]

Thus al-Shâfi`î set forth the essential, indispensable criterion for the determination of true bid`a, as defined, among others, by Imâm al-Haytamî, Qâd.î Abû Bakr Ibn al-`Arabî, and Imâm al-Lacknawî respectively:

Bid`a in terms of the Law is everything innovated in contravention of the Lawgiver's command and the latter's specific and general proof.”[3]

“Only the bid`a that contradicts the Sunna is blameworthy.”[4]

Bid`a is all that did not exist in the first three centuries and for which there is no basis among the four sources of Islâm” i.e. Qur'ân, Sunna, Ijmâ`, and Qiyâs.[5]

Consequently, it is not enough for something merely to be novel to be a bid`a; it must also contradict the Religion.

Al-Bayhaqî commented on al-Rabî`s report thus:

“Similarly, debating with the people of innovations - when they make public their innovations or bring up their insinuations - to refute them and expose their fallacies: even if this is an innovation, nevertheless, it is a praiseworthy one because it consists in refuting what we just mentioned.
The Prophet was asked about Divine foreordainment (al-qadar) and so were some of the Companions, and they replied with the answers that were narrated to us from them. At that time, they contented themselves with the words of the Prophet and, thereafter, with the reports to that effect.
However, in our time, the innovators do not content themselves with such reports nor do they accept them. Therefore, it is necessary to refute their insinuations - when they make them public - with what they themselves consider proofs. And success is through Allâh.”[6]

This is a clear-cut defense of the necessity and Sunna character of kalâm in the defense against innovators on the part of Imâm al-Bayhaqî. Something similar is reported from Ibn `Asâkir, Ibn al-S.alâh., al-Nawawî, Ibn al-Subkî, Ibn `âbidîn, and others of the great Imâms we cited.


* This text is part of the longer exposition: The Sunni Definition of Bid`a (As Either Good or Bad) by Sh. G. F. Haddad

[1] Narrated from H.armala by Abû Nu`aym with his chain through Abû Bakr al-âjurrî in H.ilyat al-Awliyâ' (9:121 #13315=1985 ed. 9:113) and cited by Abû Shâma in al-Bâ`ith `alâ Inkâr al-Bida` wal-H.awâdith (Ryadh 1990 ed. p. 93), Ibn Rajab in Jâmi` al-`Ulûm wal-H.ikam (p. 267=Zuh.aylî ed. 2:52= Arna'ût. ed. 2:131 s.ah.îh.), Ibn H.ajar in Fath. al-Bârî (1959 ed. 13:253), al-Turt.ûshî in al-H.awâdith wa al-Bida` (p. 158-159), and al-Shawkânî, al-Qawl al-Mufîd fî Adillat al-Ijtihâd wa al-Taqlîd (1347/1929 ed. p. 36). `Umar's report is narrated by Mâlik in al-Muwat.t.a' and al-Bukhârî in his S.ah.îh..

[2] Narrated from al-Rabî` by al-Bayhaqî in his Madkhal and Manâqib al-Shâfi`î (1:469) with a sound chain as stated by Ibn Taymiyya in his Dâr' Ta`ârud. al-`Aql wa al-Naql (p. 171) and through al-Bayhaqî by Ibn `Asâkir in Tabyîn Kadhib al-Muftarî (Kawtharî ed. p. 97). Cited by al-Dhahabî in the Siyar (8:408), Ibn Rajab in Jâmi` al-`Ulûm wal-H.ikam (p. 267=Zuh.aylî ed. 2:52-53=Arna'ût. ed. 2:131 s.ah.îh.), and Ibn H.ajar in Fath. al-Bârî (1959 ed. 13:253).

[3] Al-Haytamî, al-Tabyîn fî Sharh. al-Arba`în (p. 32).

[4] Ibn al-`Arabî, `â al-Ah.wadhî (10:147).

[5] Cf. al-Lacknawî, Iqâmat al-H.ujja (p. 12).

[6] Al-Bayhaqî, Manâqib al-Shâfi`î (1:469).

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