The term ‘innovation’ means to invent or make something up. To understand the concept of innovation in Islam, one can imagine a glass of crystal clear water that is meant to quench thirst. Someone adds some colour to it with the intention of making it appear more appealing to the thirsty. Then, another person further adds some sugar to make it tastier. Would you still consider it to be a glass of pure water? Not quite. Now, what you have is an adulterated version of what was formerly water. This is the saga of Islam today.
Muhammad Iqbal Kailani in his book “Following the Prophet’s Path” states:
Innovations have done greatest damage to the religion of Islam. Since innovations are practiced by way of virtue and in the hope of rewards, an innovator seldom thinks of leaving them, whereas in the case of other sins, the sinner is conscious that he is doing a wrong thing. It can be assumed that at some later stage he would be ashamed of his sins and turn to Allah (swt) with repentance.
The root causes behind innovations have been identified as follows:
Presuming good rewards
Some people consider innovated practices of worship a means to bring them closer to Allah (swt) to such an extent that they decide on the rewards as a result of following it. They claim sincere intentions and devotion towards Deen and confidently advocate self-made practices, which do not hurt anyone. But as Allah’s Messenger (sa) clearly stated: “All kinds of innovations lead astray.” (Bukhari)
One may argue that instead of four Rakahs for Zuhr prayer, I want to offer five, so that I may earn extra merit and pleasure of Allah (swt). Do you seriously think this will be a cause of pleasure for Allah (swt), when His prescribed Deen is being changed, especially after His final revelation through His last Messenger (saw)?
Most commonly a large number of uneducated, illiterate or ignorant masses follow customs and practices observed by teachers, ancestors, tribe, rulers, etc. They never feel the need to verify a certain ritual, let alone to question it. To them blind reverence is sufficient.
When one tries to appeal to their logic in the hope that they discontinue innovated practices never propagated by our Prophet (sa), they falsely accuse: “This is a new religion you are trying to invent. We found our ancestors following the same rituals you are preventing us from.”
Allah (swt) responds to them: “They said: ‘(Nay) but we found our fathers doing so.’” (Ash-Shuara 26:74)
Exaggeration in devotion to holy men
To seek the company of virtuous teachers and role models is always desirable; but excessive, un-natural and blind devotion to holy men has harmed Islam, too. After all, these religious scholars, in spite of their sincere and great contributions towards Islam, were human beings who did not have the authority to introduce anything new to the religion.
Some followers in their excessive devotion started to grant a supernatural colour to the dreams, personal observations and minor experiences of these holy men. This provided a whole new concept of intercession, grave worship, saint following, etc.
Muhammad Iqbal Kailani writes: “It is said, when the Sufis first came to India on the mission of propagating Islam, they found the local people (the Hindus) were fond of music. So, to attract them to Islam, the Sufis invented Sama or Qawwali. Thus, was set a precedent for a new innovation. To argue that it was considered expedient in the remote past is no reason to stick to it now.”
Difference of opinion
Ill informed and incompetent religious preachers treat innovations lightly. They claim that due to difference in interpretations and judgments there is a difference of opinion among different schools of thought.
One can claim this in cases where both parties have substantial evidence in the form of Sahih (authentic) Hadeeth. But in cases where one party has a Daeef (weak) Hadeeth, by no means should it be encouraged.
This disintegrates societies, confuses the followers and becomes a major source of trial when the supposed experts seem to be at war with each other claiming supremacy one over another.
The Prophet (sa) stated: “I will be the first person at the fountain of Kauthar. Whoever comes there will drink from it, and whoever drinks once will never feel thirst again. There will be some persons who will also come there, whom I will recognize and consider them to be my followers and they also will recognize me. But the angels will stop them from coming near me. I will say: ‘They are my followers.’ But I will be informed: ‘Oh Muhammad (sa), you do not know what innovations these people have invented after you.’ Then, I will say: ‘Be gone! It is better to be at a distance from such people who changed my religion after me.’” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Ignorance of the true Sunnah
Many times, in true devotion, Muslims quickly accept anything known to be associated with the Prophet (sa) and do not inquire into its authenticity. Since ignorance in relation to our Deen is rife today, fabricators find this situation to be to their advantage.
On the other hand, some pseudo-intellectuals or self-appointed preachers attribute matters so carelessly to our Messenger (saw), often misquoting or narrating Ahadeeth incorrectly and thus altering its meaning altogether.
The Messenger (sa) warned: “He who intentionally attributes a false thing to me should seek his abode in Hell.” (Muslim)
Allah’s Messenger (sa) also stated: “Whoever has resurrected one Sunnah of mine and people acted upon it, that person will be entitled to the reward of all people, who have enacted it, and the reward of people will not be diminished. And the person who started an innovation, and people started acting upon it, the sins of all those people will be dumped upon who initiated it, and the sins of the people will not be diminished.” (Ibn Majah)
In some Muslim countries, religious clergy have an apologetic attitude. They dare not state right from wrong in case it brings them defame or loss of public support. Their first loyalty belongs to the religious group they are from, even if it means supporting a certain innovation to win public response, thereby compromising the Shariah.
Ali (rta) narrated that the Prophet (sa) said: “Allah has cursed the person who sacrifices an animal in the name of other than Allah, who changes the boundary stones, who curses his own father and who protects an innovator.” (Muslim)
Anas Ibn Malik (rta) narrated that the Prophet (sa) warned: “Allah does not accept the repentance of an innovator, until he forgoes the innovation.” (Tabarani)
In conclusion, if a Muslim can honestly offer Huqooq Allah and Huqooq-Al-Ibad, as prescribed by Allah (swt) and His Prophet (sa), it should suffice to take him to Paradise by Allah’s (swt) mercy. There is no need to create new and novel ways to win Allah’s (swt) approval. Besides, innovations liquidate the true essence of our Deen. The pillars of Islam should be observed staunchly, articles of faith should be distinctly clear, the Quran should be read with understanding and the Sunnah should be followed meticulously. This will bring back the lost glory, Insha’Allah!
Common Biddats practiced today
We find no authentic sources from the Quran or the Sunnah for any of the following acts of worship, festivities or celebrations; hence, they fall under the category of Biddats:
- Ayat-e-Kareema in congregation,
- Chilla Kashi (sitting for 40 days at the tomb of a saint),
- Darood recitation in congregation,
- Darga (tomb of a saint),
- Giarween Shareef,
- Institution of Peer – Mureedi,
- Niyaz Shareef,
- Quran Khwani in congregation,
- Urs Shareef, etc.