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ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s Categorization of Bidʿa

al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s Categorization of Bidʿa ʿ Izz al-D ī n b. ʿ Abd al-Sal

ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s

Categorization of Bidʿa

ī n b. ʿ Abd al-Sal ā m’s Categorization of Bidʿa • The vastness of the

The vastness of the Arabic language has often been compared to

the ocean. As the ocean is rich in its inhabitants of many

colors and forms, so too are the words of this divine language

that take on a multitude of colors and forms determined by their linguis-

Much of the words used within the context of the Islamic

tradition have a multiple meanings. Words such as “sunna” for example, mean something specific within the contexts of the hadith sciences and mean something separate when used within the context of fiqh (jurisprudence) or uṣūl al-fiqh (legal methodology). Furthermore, the same words such as sunna, bidʿa, fiqh, and of course countless other words have separate mean- ings when used more generally outside of the context of the Islamic sciences.


ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s Categorization of Bidʿa

al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s Categorization of Bidʿa T hus understanding definitions properly is essential to a

T hus understanding definitions properly

is essential to a sound understanding

of various concepts within the sacred

sciences. This is why many texts in the

various Islamic sciences begin by providing a lexical meaning of a term, as commonly used within the Arabic language, before continuing to define a term in the context of the field in which it is used. There has been some confusion in the modern period regarding the term “bidʿa.” This has been in part due to a lack of understanding this foundational princi- ple. The word bidʿa by itself does not have a negative connotation unless used in the context of Islamic law (i.e. the sharʿī definition) that identifies the forbid- den type of bidʿa. It is only when equipped with this understanding that we are able to comprehend the

great and pious ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb’s praise of the gathering of Muslims for twenty units of tarawīḥ as being a “noble bidʿa,” the Qur’an’s reference to this term when discussing prophecy within their proper context, and many other similar references

to the term. While the study of bidʿa is a lengthy one on which many treatises have been composed, this short study will briefly focus on the definition of this word from a lexical and legal perspective, as well as examine the great scholar ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s seminal classification of bidʿa into the five categories which have generally been accepted by the scholars of the Islamic tradition.

The Linguistic Definition of Bid ʿa ( al-bidʿa lughatan)

The active form of this word when used as a verb such as “one who does bidʿa (man badaʿa)” means one who invents or does something new which was not done previously. This word is used based on its more common lexical meaning in the Qur’ān in the following verses:

lexical meaning in the Qur’ān in the following verses: The Originator (Badīʿ) of the heavens and

The Originator (Badīʿ) of the heavens and the earth, when He decrees a matter, He says to it: Be and it is, [al-Baqara, 2:117].

The word Badīʿ here, which is also one of the names of God, is used to indicate that he creates the heav- ens and the earth before any of them ever existed. Another example is found in the following verse:

existed. Another example is found in the following verse: Say: ‘I am not an innovation among

Say: ‘I am not an innovation among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I follow but that which is revealed to me by inspiration, I am but a warner open and clear,’ [al-Aḥqāf, 46:9].

What is meant here is that the Prophet was not

ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s Categorization of Bidʿa

the first to come with a message from God to hu- manity but rather he is a Messenger among a long line of previous messengers. It can also be said in Arabic “ ibtadaʾa fulān bidʿa


includes extending one’s fasts beyond the regular time of breaking fasts and washing one’s limbs more than the prescribed three times during rit- ual ablutions.

which is literally translated as “a person has begun a bidʿa.” The meaning of this phrase is that a person has started a new way or trend of doing something which had never been done in this way before.

The word “badīʿ” is also used as a form of praise when describing the uniqueness and greatness of an entity. It means that that a matter or object is so ex- tra-ordinary in its excellence that it has no compara- ble equal during its time. It is also often implied that nothing similar to it in quality has existed before.

Many of the major Muslim scholars have divided “bidʿa” into categories based on its lexical meaning in the Arabic language. The following is ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s classification of bidʿa into five categories:


al-Muḥarrama (Forbidden Bidʿa): An ex-

ample of this would be to pray the noon prayer before its time has arrived or following the theo- logical views of the libertarians (qadariyya) or the anthropomorphists (al-mujassama).

Thus, the usage of the word “bidʿa” for what is not forbidden would be an example of the usage of this word within its lexical context. An example of this is ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb’s saying regarding the gath- ering of the people to pray twenty units (raka’as) of tarawīḥ during Ramaḍān, “What a noble bidʿa!”

This was considered noble because this new practice did not contradict what the Messenger of God used to practice but rather reinforced what he was already in agreement with. Furthermore, the reason the Messenger of God used to pray tarawīḥ in congregation with the Muslims many nights and sometimes do so alone was out of fear of its becom- ing obligatory upon them. With the passing of the Prophet this was no longer a concern and encour- aging people to gather nightly to pray twenty units would in fact reinforce the Sunna of tarawīḥ for many who may have otherwise abandoned it. Those who were less inclined to follow this Sunna would at least pray a fewer number of units of tarawīḥ while those more motivated to practicing the prophetic example would gain the full reward of doing so.


Wājib (Obligatory Bidʿa): This includes

the study of grammar that enables a proper un- derstanding of the words of God, the compila- tion of the Qur’an into a single volume by Abū Bakr , the development of Islamic sciences such as the collection and classification of had- iths, and contesting unsound theological argu- ments about the nature of God through logical reasoning (i.e. kalām).

2. Mandūb

(Recommended Bidʿa): Such as


the building of schools and facilities of learning or the publication of books.


Imām al-Shāfiʿī said,


Mubāḥ (Permissible Bidʿa) : This includes



new matter that contradicts the Book, the

expanding the types of food one consumes or the style of clothing one wears.

Sunna, consensus (ijmāʿ) of the scholars, or the sayings of the early generations (athar)



a misleading innovation (bidʿa ḍālla). And






whatever is invented that is good and does

ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s Categorization of Bidʿa

not contradict any of these then it is a praise- worthy innovation (al-bidʿa al-maḥmūda).

The Definition of Bidʿa Within the Context of Islamic law (al-bidʿa sharʿan)

When used within the context of Islamic law, it is the fifth category of bidʿa that is referenced. The fol- lowing is the definition of bidʿa from the perspective of Islamic law: “An innovation in the religion that contradicts Islamic law and in it, is intended an exag- geration in worship.”

This is the definition used by those who limit the legal definition of bidʿa solely to matters related to worship. Those who include general actions under the legal definition of bidʿa define it as follows: “A new practice of religion that contradicts Islamic law and through its practice is intended what is intend- ed with the practice of the Islamic law (shariʿā).”

The Prophet said : “Who invents in our affairs something we are not on has rejected.” 1 He also said, “…the best speech is the Book of God, and the best guidance is path of Muḥammad, and the worst

of affairs are the new ones, and every innovation is

a misguidance.” 2

It is based on this understanding, that the word bidʿa

has often been used in opposition to Sunna. Hence, it is said that an individual is “on the Sunna (ʿalā al-sunna)” to mean that they are doing that which is in harmony with the Prophetic teachings while it is said a person is “on bidʿa (ʿalā al-bidʿa)” if their reli- gious practice is done in a manner that contradicts the Prophetic teachings.

1 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī vol.2, Kitāb al-ṣulḥ:Bāb idhā aṣṭalaḥū ʿalā al-ṣulḥ, h. 2550.

2 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī vol.2, Kitāb al-Jumuʿa, Bāb takhfīf al- ṣalāh wa al-khuṭba, h. 867.

The Key Phrase in the Legal Definition of Bidʿa is “Contradicts Islamic Law”

The key phrase in the legal definition of forbidden bidʿa is that the practice contradicts the Islamic law (sharīʿa). Performing prophetically prescribed acts of worship like prayer, fasting, variations in suppli- cations, remembrance (dhikr) etc. at times which the Prophet did not specifically perform or for example reading supplications (duas) that were not specifi- cally recited by the Prophet are not categorized by scholars as “forbidden bidʿa” for two important reasons. First, they are not contradictory to Islamic law, and therefor cannot be categorized as ḥaram or forbidden. Second, and even more importantly, we have several examples of the Companions of the Prophet initiating their own habits of worship and supplications without the Prophet’s prior recommendation and the same evidence indicates his approval upon later learning of this. The had- ith collections are abundant with example of this, such as Bilāl al-Ḥabashī’s keeping a habit of pray- ing two raka’as after making ablutions, Khubayb’s praying two raka’as before execution, the famous Companion who replied to the Prophet’s suppli- cation in the prayer ‘samiʿa Allāhu liman ḥamida’ with his own words ‘Rabbāna laka al-ḥamd,’ or the Companion who used to recite sūrat al-ikhlāṣ in each unit of prayer due to his love for it.

All of these are individual acts of worship that are not contradictory to Islamic law, that were person- ally initiated by the Companions out of their ea- gerness to do good works, and were later approved of by the Messenger of God when he learned of these practices. In approving these actions the Prophet was not just approving the act per se, but was also implicitly approving the more general act of performing an act of worship that was not initi- ated by the Prophet himself; all of which in turn, indicate the permissibility of doing so.

ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s Categorization of Bidʿa

There are numerous additional examples of legal- ly permissible acts of worship (i.e. dua, extra ritu- al prayers etc.) the Companions initiated, however, since these have been outlined in detail in other treatises on the topic of bidʿa, this point will not be delved into further and is only touched upon briefly here as a reminder to the reader.

Making Forbidden What God has Made Permissible

Finally, the word bidʿa as used within the context of Islamic law does not only refer to actual additions to

religious practices but it can also denote abstention from what is required or permissible. For example, during the lifetime of the Prophet one of the Companions vowed to make forbidden for himself sleep at night, another vowed to make forbidden for himself eating during the day, and another made a vow to make forbidden upon himself approaching women. When news of this reached the Prophet he said to them, “By God, I am the most fearful of God and most mindful of Him. However, I fast and I break the fast, I pray and I rest, and I marry women. Whoever turns away from my example (sunnatī) is not from me.”