Indeed all praises are due to Allah, we praise Him, we seek His help, we ask for His forgiveness, and we rely solely on Him. We seek His refuge from the evil in our souls and from our wicked deeds. Whoever Allah guides, no one can misguide. And whomever Allah misguides, no one can guide. I bear witness that there is no one worthy of worship except Allah, He is One, with no partners, and I testify that Mohammad (ﷺ) is His Messenger and His slave.
Difference between Biddah (Innovation in Religion), Public Interest (المصلحة المرسلة) and Sunnah
View this video from Dr Tahir ul Qadri, who defines "Biddah" to justify innovative practices that has no root in the religion. Watch how he twists the simple mind to call everything "Biddah" including the collection of Quran, or documentation of hadith, or construction of mosque with bricks etc. This is an incredibly silly reasoning as he mixes different things in same speech. This is not the definition of Biddah reported by any scholar. For a simpleton, it can confuse them easily leading them into performing innovative practice.
Link to his video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqGxRD2VODM
Let me make an attempt to refute explanation of Biddah based on what I have learned from my teacher, and separate out various issues to distinguish between what is Biddah and what is Sunnah, and what is Public Interest.
Discussion here will include understanding two concepts of Usool al-fiqh and subsequently making a comparison between them. These namely are:
- Innovation in religion - Biddah (بِدْعَة)
- Public Interest - Al-Masliha al-Mursila (المصلحة المرسلة)
Before reading further, please quickly glance through the graphical image showing the flow chart to distinguish between Bidda, Sunnah, and Public Interest.
Definition of Biddah (بِدْعَة)
The most comprehensive and well recognized definition of Bidaa is the one that Imam Al-Shatibi الشاطبي provided in his unique Book about Bidaa; titled “Al-I’etisam” الإعتصام:
“A Method in “Religion”, that is “Innovated”, and Similar to the “Authentic Method” intended to make the innovator “closer” to Allah (swt).
طريقة في الدين مخترعة تشابه الطريقة الشرعية، يقصد بالسلوك عليها التقرب إلى الله سبحانه (وفي التعريف الآخر له: يقصد بالسلوك عليها ما يقصد بالطريقة الشرعية).
This has been explained by many scholars, however Mohammad Abu Zahra noted that al-Shatibi has reached a level that is not reachable by others in his two books, i.e. in Al-I’etesam and Al-Muwafaqat.
Prohibition of an act is either:
- Because it’s a sin (hence is Dhalaalah ضلالة), or
- Because it has no origin in Shariah at all. This what we call Bidaa as it is merely copying Shariah (or act in Shariah) in specifying or giving a special status to specific “Time” or “Person”, “Place” or “Format of religious Act”.
Allah (swt), is the only "One" who has the right to make such a declaration of Ibadah.
- It is only Allah alone who chooses to alleviate a status of a human being over others, as He (swt) choose who he wished as His Messenger).
- It is Allah alone who chooses a time over other time for an Ibadah. For example he choose Ramadan over the rest of the months of the year for fasting month.
- It is Allah alone who chooses the place over other locations. For example He choose Makkah over other locations to be our Qibla.
- It is Allah alone who chooses the format of an Ibadah. For example He choose how we perform as-Salat in specific way with Qiyam or Rukku or Sujood.
Now those individual who feels that they can interfere in this and innovate an Ibadah, which is purely a right of Allah (swt), then they are merely trying to take this Status of Illah (إله) from Allah, and constituting their own authority over people in Allah's place. Understanding these concepts is in the heart of understanding Tawheed.
Lets explain each of the underlined word in this statement to get a better understanding of what al-Shatibi stated:
1. A Method in “Religion":
This means matter pertaining to religion, and thus this excludes the matters related to Dunya (أمور الدنيا). For example, time and ways to plant crops, or how to eat; on the floor or on a table…etc. Or those matters which are covered by “Public Interest” Maslaha Mursalah, such as writing the Quran in one document, and collecting the hadith of the Prophet (pbuh).
This means it (act) has no specific (خاص) proof in shariat, i.e. no order was given by Prophet (pbuh) to do such a thing. This by default excludes what have general proof and categorized under the Maslaha Mursalah (Public interest) it.
3. Similar to (or simulates) the “Authentic Method”:
This is the heart of the matter. That this matter (that was innovated) has similarities with another authentic (Sunnah) methods which is covered by a general text (in Shariah). e.g. Making a supplication (dua)
This similarity is in specifying a time, place or format of an Ibadah, which is the sole right of Allah (swt), as we explained earlier.
4. "Closer" to Allah (swt):
The intention of the innovator is always to be closer to Allah (swt). This is how the devil presents it to him. On the contrary, as our good predecessors said: "The more the innovator performs the Biddah, the more the innovator becomes even further away from Allah".
Definition of Public Interest (المصلحة المرسلة)
Now we have to distinguish between the concept of Bida'a and the concept of what is known as "Public Interest" (المصلحة المرسلة). This subject is very important; and it need a background in Usool Al-fiqh to understand three distinguishable concepts: Bida'a, Maslaha al-Mursalah (المصلحة المرسلة) and Blocking the means (سـدّ الذريعة).
The interests’ المصالح that Shariah brings about to people are of three types:
- Interest that the Shariah specifically considered: These are without a doubt acceptable to follow. For example punishment to preserve lives.
- Interest that the Shariah specifically did NOT consider: This is without a doubt NOT acceptable to follow. Such as the enjoyment of intercourse through adultery.
- Interests that were not specifically mentioned in Shariah: This type has two sections:
- Interests that are proven to have no evidence in Shariah that they were being considered under any general principle, which was observed in other incidents. An example of this is the case of a relative who kills a person to get his share of the will (inheritance), then the killer is denied any access to the inheritance. The principle here is to treat him against what he wished for. However, this principle of treating against the aim of the action was never considered in Shariah except in this hadith. That is why scholars limited it to this ruling and never used it in other rulings
- Interests that evidences in Shariah have shown that they are considered under a general principle, which was observed in many other incidents and rulings of Shariah. This is what is known as "Maslaha Mursalah" or 'Public Interest' (although the translation is not quite reflective of the Arabic meaning).
The definition of Maslaha Mursalah then is "a matter that is not an Ibadah “ritual” عمل عادي لا عبادي which Shariah neither approve nor reject in a specific text, and was found to be considered under a general principle of Shariah that is very widely used in other rulings".
Examples of that are:
1. Collection of the Quran: the principle of "Preservation of Shariah" is proven throughout Quran and Sunnah in countless quranic verses and hadiths. So, although there is no specific ayah or hadith that approves or rejects such an action, it can be approved as it comes under the general umbrella of the aforementioned principle.
2. Killing the group for the individual: In this matter, Umar and the companions upheld the principle of "Al-Qasaas" or punishment to kill the killer. If a group collaborated to kill one person and they got away with it, then the principle of Saving Lives would not be observed:
This means that the principle of preserving life is also not observed. So, if people know that they would get away with murder, it would then encourage group murder.
The verse of Quran "freeman for a freemen, and slave for a slave and female for a female" does not constitute killing one for one. It merely corrects what was in Jahiliyah, where a freeman would not be killed for a slave, and a man would not be killed for a woman. So, in this ayah, Allah (swt) decreed that all souls are equal.
There are many examples of the Maslaha Mursalah that can be analyzed as was done by scholars of Ahlul Sunnah (refer to قواعد الأحكام للعز بن عبد السلام، الإعتصام للشاطبي، الفروق للقرافي المالكي وغيرها كثير من كتب أصول الشريعة).
Now, we have discuss two additional points: the conditions and limitations of Maslahah Mursalah, and the difference between Maslahah Mursalah and Bida'a since it's always a source of confusion.
A. Limitation and Conditions for Maslahah Mursalah :
1. Maslaha (Interest) should be real not imaginary
2. Maslaha (Interest) should not contradict a text of Quran or Sunnah
As in the definition of the Maslaha Mursala that no text suggests its acceptance or rejection. Some ignorant people think that the ruling of Umar to stop carrying out the punishment of theft during the starvation period is a Maslaha (interest) that is being considered against the text. This is totally wrong!
The understanding of this ruling is as follows:
- The "Hadd or punishment" of theft is set in Shariah to be carried out with many conditions attached to it; such as the amount of the property, the place, access to it, etc. So, it is a general rule which allows for specifying terms and condition; as oppose to an absolute general rule (refer to the chapter on General and Specific of Usool Al-fiqh).
- The hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) "Put off punishments for doubts" makes it very clear that in such circumstances, doubts are paramount. So it is just following Sunnah to stop applying a punishment in such an environment. It is the absolutely fine understanding of the companions of the Shariah that we have to follow.
3. Maslaha (Interest) should not prevent a bigger Maslaha or allows for a harm that is even bigger than that interest: That is why Imam Malik gave the fatwa to the kahlifa Abu Jafar Al-Mansour Al-Abassi not to force all Muslims to follow the book of Muwata (الموطأ) that he put together in Hadith, since it will cause chaos and spread differences and divide Muslims. Imam Malik considered that the interest of having Muslims follow a united book of Fiqh is of the level of "Need" (حاجة) and preserving Muslims from being divided is an interest of the level "Necessity" (ضرورة) to preserve Deen. His judgment was to neglect the need for the necessity. This point can be expanded to compare between the different levels of interest. However, this is beyond the scope of this article.
B. The difference between Maslaha and Bida'a:
The difference between Bidaa and Maslaha Mursalah covers:
- The Intention المقاصد of Bidaa as opposed to Maslaha Mursalah
- The consequence النتائج of the Bidaa as opposed to Maslaha Mursalah
- The Means الوسائل of the Bidaa as opposed to Maslaha Mursalah
1. First Difference
Maslaha Mursalah: Applicable in Mu’amalat معاملات as transaction.
However, Bidaa is applied in Ibadat; such as The Bidaa Zikr of Sufis and the Crazy Sufi dancing.
2. Second Difference
Maslaha Mursalah: Applies in Means الوسائل such as collection of Quran (this is not a ritual; it is a mean to preserve Deen, and can be compared to saving Quran on a CD in our time..).
Bidaa is relevant to Intentions المقاصد; such as the intention to make more Zikr of Allah by falsified Tasbeeh.
3. Third Difference
Maslaha Mursala is relevant to and supported by the aims of Shariah; as in the definition, and considered under the umbrella of an acceptable Principle
Bida'a is not substantiated by any aim مقاصد of Shariah. On the contrary, it actually works against the aims of Shariah; such as intentionally torturing the body in seeking reward, or entering desert without food and water, with the false claim that this makes one closer to Allah! although the aim of
Shariah is to bring ease on Human beings, Allah swt said in Quran:
Such torture is merely superficial as Ahlul Bida'a actually neglects Sunnah and make such claims of being hard on themselves to delude the common Muslim
(explained from research paper of Dr Abdel Halim 1984 egypt, on this topic)
وآخر دعوانا أن الحمد لله رب العالمين