Linguistic vs. Shar’i: The Categorisation of “Bid’ah” into ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’.

Bid’ah is introducing an act of worship for which there is no basis in Islam. Something that has been introduced into the religion which has no general or specific basis for it – “No Salaf for it”. An unfounded practice that is not from the practice of the Messenger of Allaah ﷺ, nor the companions and their students.

Sects defined by their iniquities and excesses often justify their strange unfounded practices and aberrations by expressively appealing to a misrepresentation of an incident that took place where the words “good bi’dah” were stated, their stance towards bid’ah is defined by this general precept, raising, what they believe is an incontrovertible dictum, high above any discussion.

Bid’ah is a word that means “innovation”, the term is used broadly in the linguistic (lughawi) sense to refer to praiseworthy matters that do not clash with the Shari’ah. If employed strictly in the linguistic sense they do not intend by this matters that clash with the Shari’ah. That is the point Imam al-Shafi’i made.

Linguistic usage of the term Bid’ah:

  • Implication can be both praiseworthy/blameworthy [as it does not relate to the Shari’ah] – Matters of public interest, sought as a means to an end.
  • Revival and reintroduction of a practice that has a precedent in the Shariah. Example: ‘Umar and the congregational Tarawih prayers, thus not a bid’ah in the Shar’i sense, but rather the initiative of reintroducing an action practiced by the Prophet. The Prophet ﷺ did briefly pray the prayer, but he made it clear that he feared that it would be made obligatory on the people if he joined them. So the implication here refers to the unprecedented initiative to revive the prayer.

Shari’ usage of the term Bid’ah: 

  • Indefinitely negative. Blameworthy. Extremely reprehensible.
  • Concerns matters of worship.
  • No Precedent from the Salaf.

At this point in the discussion, they would then plead to authority and state that Imam al-Shafi’i used the words “good bid’ah” in a positive shari’ connotation, as if he would condone a bid’ah and not condemn it.

It is a clear misrepresentation of the context in which this statement appears. Imam al-Shafi’i’s discussion relates to Umar b. al-Khattab’s usage of the terms “Good Bid’ah”, and it’s connotation limited to being linguistic and that it does NOT clash with the Shari’ah or any rulings, and that it is not something averse to the guidance of the Messenger. A clear principle being whoever innovates anything into this religion of ours, that was not from it will have it rejected.

Imam al-Bayhaqi in “as-Sunan al-Kubra” states that it is a contrast between the technical application of the term bid’ah; the legislative [shari’] sense and the linguistic [lughawi] sense.

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Ibn Kathir ad-Dimashqi further explains these two points in the first volume of his Tafsir, defining the technical [shari’] usage of the term “bid’ah” from the linguistic [lughawi] and how it relates to the remark of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab regarding the revival of Tarawih.

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Imam ash-Shafi’i was very strict in his compliance with the authentic narrations of the Messenger of Allaah ﷺ, and he was certainly very stern with those who promoted bid’ah that were averse to the pristine guidance of the Messenger of Allaah ﷺ – I would advise the reader to consult Imam al-Bayhaqi’s disquisition “Manaqib ash-Shafi’i” 1/471 to learn more about Imam Shafi’i’s disgust for bid’ah and his sternness in following the Sunnah, and his view on Bid’ah.



→  Written by: Abu Dawūd [Mustafa b. Saalih] al-Hushayshi


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