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

Al-Shāfiʿī's Definition of bidʿa
as Either “Good” or “Bad”

A major contribution of Imām al-Shāfiʿī (ra) in the Foundations of Jurisprudence (us.ūl al-fiqh) is his division of innovation (al-bidʿa) and innovated matters (al-muh.dathāt) into “good” and “bad” depending on their conformity or non-conformity to the guidelines of the Religion. This is authentically narrated from al-Shāfiʿī from two of his most prestigious students in the latter period of his life, the Egyptian h.adīth Masters H.armala ibn Yah.yā al-Tujaybī and al-Rabīʿ ibn Sulaymān al-Murādī:

H.armala said, “I heard al-Shāfiʿī (ra) say:

'Innovation is two types (al-bidʿatu bidʿatān):
- approved innovation (bidʿa mah.mūda) and
- disapproved innovation (bidʿa madhmūma).
Whatever conforms to the Sunna is approved (mah.mūd) and whatever opposes it is abominable (madhmūm).'

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

Al-Rabīʿ said, “Al-Shāfiʿī said to us:
'Innovated matters are of two kinds (al-muh.dathātu min al-umūri d.arbān):

→ One is an innovation that contravenes (mā uh.ditha yukhālifu) something in the Qur'ān or the Sunna or a Companion-report (athar) or the Consensus (ijmāʿ): that innovation is misguidance (fahādhihi al-bidʿatu d.alāla).

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

ʿUmar (ra) said, concerning the prayers of Ramad.ān: What a fine bidʿa 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-Shāfiʿī set forth the essential, indispensable criterion for the determination of true bidʿa, as defined, among others, by Imām al-Haytamī, Qād.ī Abū Bakr Ibn al-ʿArabī, and Imām al-Lacknawī respectively:

Bidʿa 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 bidʿa that contradicts the Sunna is blameworthy.”[4]

Bidʿa is all that did not exist in the first three centuries and for which there is no basis among the four sources of Islām” i.e. Qur'ān, Sunna, Ijmāʿ, and Qiyās.[5]

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

Al-Bayhaqī commented on al-Rabīʿs 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 ﷺ 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 ﷺ 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 Allāh.”[6]

This is a clear-cut defense of the necessity and Sunna character of kalām in the defense against innovators on the part of Imām al-Bayhaqī. Something similar is reported from Ibn ʿAsākir, Ibn al-S.alāh., al-Nawawī, Ibn al-Subkī, Ibn ʿābidīn, and others of the great Imāms 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 Abū Nuʿaym with his chain through Abū Bakr al-ājurrī in H.ilyat al-Awliyā' (9:121 #13315=1985 ed. 9:113) and cited by Abū Shāma in al-Bāʿith ʿalā Inkār al-Bidaʿ wal-H.awādith (Ryadh 1990 ed. p. 93), Ibn Rajab in Jāmiʿ al-ʿUlūm wal-H.ikam (p. 267=Zuh.aylī ed. 2:52= Arna'ūt. ed. 2:131 s.ah.īh.), Ibn H.ajar in Fath. al-Bārī (1959 ed. 13:253), al-Turt.ūshī in al-H.awādith wa al-Bidaʿ (p. 158-159), and al-Shawkānī, al-Qawl al-Mufīd fī Adillat al-Ijtihād wa al-Taqlīd (1347/1929 ed. p. 36). ʿUmar's report is narrated by Mālik in al-Muwat.t.a' and al-Bukhārī in his S.ah.īh..

[2] Narrated from al-Rabīʿ by al-Bayhaqī in his Madkhal and Manāqib al-Shāfiʿī (1:469) with a sound chain as stated by Ibn Taymiyya in his Dār' Taʿārud. al-ʿAql wa al-Naql (p. 171) and through al-Bayhaqī by Ibn ʿAsākir in Tabyīn Kadhib al-Muftarī (Kawtharī ed. p. 97). Cited by al-Dhahabī in the Siyar (8:408), Ibn Rajab in Jāmiʿ al-ʿUlūm wal-H.ikam (p. 267=Zuh.aylī ed. 2:52-53=Arna'ūt. ed. 2:131 s.ah.īh.), and Ibn H.ajar in Fath. al-Bārī (1959 ed. 13:253).

[3] Al-Haytamī, al-Tabyīn fī Sharh. al-Arbaʿīn (p. 32).

[4] Ibn al-ʿArabī, ʿārid.at al-Ah.wadhī (10:147).

[5] Cf. al-Lacknawī, Iqāmat al-H.ujja (p. 12).

[6] Al-Bayhaqī, Manāqib al-Shāfiʿī (1:469).

next page





latest update: 2016-10-31
page from 2014-06-22

* living Islam – Islamic Tradition *