Sunnah or Bid’ah – How Can We Tell? Dr. Bilal Philips


960176_237940536364026_529236347_nHow can we tell if a certain worship is innovated in Islam? what is the way to distinguish between a Sunnah and a Bid’ah?

When we come back to Tawhid and Ibadah, worshipping Allah by maintaining His unity in that worship, we do so in the way that the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) did.

We do not invent or introduce new ways of worship, as some people for example; they want to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him). So they say, “this is something good”. They may even bring a verse from the Quran. They will say, “Allah said in the Quran, ‘Indeed, Allah confers blessing upon the Prophet, and His angels [ask Him to do so]. O you who have believed, ask [Allah to confer] blessing upon him and ask [Allah to grant him] peace.'” [Noble Quran 33:56] They bring this verse out.

And you say, “Well, where does it say celebrate the Prophet’s (Peace and blessings be upon him) birthday there?” They say, “It’s there, it’s there, that’s what it means.” It’s their interpretation.

The point is that the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) didn’t understand that verse that way. And that’s why they never celebrated his birthday. And he himself didn’t understand that verse that way, and he didn’t celebrate his birthday. And the early generations didn’t celebrate his birthday, it wasn’t until some 400 years after the time of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him), that his birthday began to be celebrated in Egypt, in the Fatimid Shiite rule. So, we say this is not legitimate.

Some people say, “Well, ok leave that aside. Just the idea of celebrating his birthday, what are we doing in the celebration? We are only remembering Rasulu Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him), we’re asking Allah to bless him, we remember his Sirah, his life, and all this. These are all good things; you say this is not good in Islam?”

Yes, these things are good things, but to combine them on that day, every year, you have now created something new in the religion. This is Bid’ah.

You have to understand, Bid’ah, sometimes it involves something completely new, like the idea of the birthday celebration, because we don’t really have any precedence for it at all in Islam. But Bid’ah may actually have precedence in the religion itself, like for example, raising your hands in Du’a after prayer. People say, “Well, what’s wrong with that? Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Allah is shy, that anyone would raise their hands in Du’a, that they would put their hands down, without fulfilling their wish.’ Isn’t that implying that we should raise our hands in Du’a? Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) raised his hands in the Du’a of Istisqa’, the prayer to seek rain. He raised his hands so high, that they could see his armpits.” They say, “Here is the evidence.”

But the point is, we do not find any narration indicating that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him), after every prayer, raised his hands in Du’a. People say, “This is picky, why are you going to get so picky? If it said, that you raise your hands, Allah is shy enough to give you. It said, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) raised his hands in Istisqa’, why can’t we just do it after every prayer then, what’s the problem here?”

We say, the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) is not just what he did, but also what he didn’t do. You have Sunnah Fi’liyyah, the Sunnah of actions which he did, and Sunnah Tarkiyyah, or Sunnah of actions which he didn’t do. Which are things dealing with the religion, of course there are many things which he didn’t do which he didn’t like personally, we’re not talking about those, we’re talking about things connected with the religion. The things he didn’t do, it is Sunnah not to do.

Because, if one opens this door, that as long as ‘he said this, he said that’ we can put it all together and come up with something which he didn’t do, then the religion becomes innovated, you can now change the religion at will.

Because I can bring something to you, I say, “Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Prayer in Jama’ah is worth twenty seven times prayer by yourself.’ He also said, ‘Whenever you enter the Masjid, you should pray two Rak’ahs (units of prayer) before sitting down.’ Let us put the two together, we come into the Masjid, I now suggest to you, let us make Tahiyyatul-Masjid in Jama’ah.”

If I suggest that, what do people say? They say, “No, you can’t do that.” I say, “Why not? Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘The prayer in Jama’ah is worth more than the prayer by yourself’, he also said, ‘Whenever you come in you should do these two Rak’ahs’. Why can’t we put we put them together and do it?” They will say, “Well the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) didn’t do it.”

That’s why! Yes, he didn’t do it, so we cannot do it. He made Tahajjud in Jama’ah, this is also Sunnah, and he did it in Jama’ah. We can do it because he did it. But to do Tahiyyatul-Masjid in Jama’ah, or to do the Sunnah before Dthuhr or the Sunnah after Dthuhr in Jama’ah, you can’t do it, because the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) didn’t do it.

And that’s emphasized by his well known statement, “I didn’t leave anything which would bring you closer to Allah without instructing you to do it.” That’s the bottom line. If it’s going to bring you closer to Allah, Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) told us to do it. If he didn’t tell us to do it, it will not bring you closer to Allah no matter how good you think this is, how much reasoning you give behind it, it will not bring you closer to Allah. It will take you farther away from Allah.

This is the basic principle, based on the statement of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him), “Whoever introduces anything new in this religion of ours (not approved by Allah, and by the messenger of Allah), it is rejected.” This is to protect the religion in its pristine purity from change, deviation, etc., like what happened to the other messages, which were of Islam, but became distorted in time, like that of Christianity, Judaism, etc.

Dr. Bilal Philips

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About AbdulJabarAzimi

Analytical & Creative. --- I'm not a Sheikh or a scholar, I'm just a regular guy in love with this Deen. Don't praise me for practicing my Deen. But pray for me, for the errors, that you haven't seen.

Posted on October 29, 2013, in Articles, Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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