Tomorrow is the 9th of Rabi’al Awwal, the approximated birthday of Prophet Muhammad (S), hence, the Mawlid debates have probably commenced. Most of the articles being circulated usually favor one side or the other, some saying it’s a bidah dhalaalah (misguided innovation) and others saying it’s a bidah hasanah (beneficial innovation) This article aims to show both sides of the coin fairly.
As a preface, it’s essential to stress that the Mawlid and many other practices like it – for example, group dhikr and group dua after salah – are matters of ikhtilaaf (valid difference of opinion) among the scholars. Great leading scholars are for it and great leading scholars are against it. There’s a legal maxim in Fiqh which says “la inkara fi masa’il al-khilaf“ meaning “There is no condemnation in matters of genuine difference.” So we as laymen have to take a step back, respect the difference of opinion and tolerate others’ who hold different views as us. We can cordially discuss the merits of each view with wisdom and good words, however shaming, blaming and mocking others for something with a valid difference of opinion has ABSOLUTLELY no part in our religion.
Let’s get to the root of the issue. BIDAH. What does it actually mean?
Bidah linguistically is an innovation, something new introduced without precedence. The Prophet (S) said “Whoever invents something in our matter which is not from it, is not from us” (Bukhari and Muslim). But “bidah” in Shariah terms actually only has to deal with innovations in the “religion” itself – and more specifically actions of ibadah and getting closer to Allaah.
All other things like driving cars, using the internet, etc. come under the banner of “muamalaat” which comprise of practical every day actions that are not related to ibadah. Scholarly consensus is that innovations in this category are allowed without any precedence from Quran and Sunnah, as long as they don’t contradict Shariah. The legal maxim here is “Al Aslu fil muamalaat al ibaha” meaning the default in matters of muamalaat is allowance.
However, in the realm of Ibadah, you HAVE to have established precedence from the Quran and Sunnah before you can act. The legal maxim here is “Al Aslu fil ibadat at-tawaquf”meaning the default in matters of worship is STOP, don’t do it unless you have established precedence.
For example, you can’t decide you want to add a 6th compulsory prayer to the 5 daily prayers, you can’t decide that 5% is a more suitable amount for zakah than 2.5%, you can’t say I did yoga this morning to the sunrise and that was my Fajr. The ibadah have been outlined with great detail in the Quran and Sunnah, and we don’t deviate from that.
Two Understandings of Bidah
Two Main Scholarly Opinions on Bidah:
The first group says: There are 2 types of bidah – bidah hasanah (good innovation) and bidah sayyiah (bad innovation). This is the opinion of Ibn Hajar, As-Souyouti, and as-Sakhawi among others. This group of scholars say bidah hasanah is a new yet beneficial addition to the religion which, although instituted in a particular way that has no precedence, does goes back to some general asl (foundation) in the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah. For example ayah 56 in Surah Ahzab, “O you who believe! Send blessings on him and greet him (with) greetings” is used as the general foundation that gives allowance to certain specific acts like Mawlid, group dhikr, reciting the burdah, etc.
The second group says: There is only one type of bidah – that’s bidah dhalalah, misguided innovation. This is the opinion of Ibn Taymiyyah, Ash-Shatibi and others. This groups says that a general foundation found in a verse of the Quran or Sunnah is not sufficient to institute a new specific practice. So whatever the Prophet (S) didn’t do in his worship, we can’t either. That forbids group dhikr, the Mawlid, and similar acts.
Evidence of those who Permit Bidah Hasanah
The group that permits bidah hasanah take evidence from the Sahabah. Historically, we actually have instances of Sahabah who performed acts of Ibadah without precedence from the Prophet (S).
For example, Bilal (R) would pray two rakah nafl prayer after every wudhu, something the Prophet (S) hadn’t done himself. Yet the Prophet (S) was thrilled about it saying he heard Bilal’s footsteps in Jannah for this act! (Bukhari)
Taraweeh – did you know the Prophet (S) himself did not pray taraweeh the way we do? Meaning, he didn’t spend all 30 nights in Ramadan in congregational prayer trying to finish the whole Quran. Rather, he prayed 3 nights in congregational prayer, and completed the rest of his Ramadan Qiyam on his own. It was Umar who after the Prophet’s death decided to establish the congregational Qiyam every night of Ramadan that we call Taraweeh. Umar even said, when seeing the people gathered for taraweeh, “What a good innovation (bidah hasanah) this is!” (Bukhari)
During Uthman’s caliphate, he introduced an extra adhaan for Jumah prayer, one that came a while before the adhaan for the khutbah, just to alert people that the time is short, so they can pack up shop and start heading to the masjid. The Prophet (S) never did this before.
Did you know the Quran wasn’t in a bound book until after Abu Bakr decided to compile it together? At the time of the Prophet (S) the ayahs of the Quran were on leaves, papers, and animal bones. It wasn’t the Prophet (S) who compiled it into one mushaf, rather it was Abu Bakr (R) who did it after the Prophet (S)’s death.
So for those who allow bidah hasanah, these are evidences from the Sahabah’s lives themselves. These were new unprecedented acts that they deemed permissible in the deen, while the Prophet (S) never did them.
Refutation of Those Who Reject Bidah Hasanah
As for those who reject bidah hasanah, they say, The Prophet (S) said “every bidah is dhalalah (misguidance), every dhalalah is in the fire,” (Muslim). Additionally, they say that the religion is in no need of additions, as Allah says in the Quran in ayah 3 of Surah al-Maaidah “…This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion…”
As for the examples of the Sahabah, Bilal’s Salat of Wudhu was approved by Rasulallah (S) while he was still alive – that’s what makes it okay. Anything that the Prophet (S) approved of comes under the category of Sunnah. The problem is with what came after his death.
As for Umar’s taraweeh, Uthman’s extra adhan and Abu Bakr’s compiling the Quran – this group doesn’t consider them “bidah hasanah” but rather they are more suitably called “Sunnah” according to them. The evidence for that is that the Prophet (S) said, “Adhere to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Khulafaa ar-Rashideen (rightly guided caliphs),”(Abu Dawood and others). Ibn Taimiyyah said, “the Khulafa ar-Rashidoon followed the Sunnah, therefore their way is called the way of the Prophet.” So this group accepts the new actions from the Khulafaa ar-Rashidin (namely Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali) – not calling it bidah hasanah, since all bidahs are impermissible – but rather calling it “Sunnah”. The new actions of those after the Khulafaa ar-Rashideen, however high in scholarship, cannot be accepted according to their view.
The first group still stays firm in their stance that BidahHasanah is allowed, and it is not limited to the KhulafaarRashideen. One example is Imam Shafi`I’s opinion that it is recommended to recite durood (AllahumaSali) after saying the basmalah while slaughtering an animal. Again, this is deduced from the asl (foundation) in the Quran to send blessings on the Prophet. While the Prophet (S) did not do this, Imam al-Shafi`i permitted it in this specific case based on a general asl found in the Quran.
The Effect of the Opinions of Bidah on Practicing the Mawlid
Now, back to the Mawlid, and other acts like group dhikr and such. The group who accepts bidah hasanah say celebrating the Prophet’s life comes under that category, it is a good innovation. The mawlid celebrations are full of praise and love for the messenger, and the general asl (foundation) that it goes back to from the Quran is that same ayah from Surah al-Ahzab telling us to send blessings upon the Prophet (S). Granted, there may be ways in which it is celebrated that are not correct, but the general concept of celebrating of his life and birthday is what the scholars of this group accepted.
Those who reject the Mawlid and related actions stick to their stance that all bidah is misguidance, and there’s no room for it in our religion. Whatever the Prophet didn’t do in terms of Ibadah and getting closer to Allah, we can’t either. So staying away from acts like the Mawlid is safer and commendable to this group because it is keeping the religion free from unwanted innovation.
In the End, it’s a Matter of Ikhtilaaf
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of ikhtilaaf, with hundreds of years of scholarship and valid ijtihad on both sides. We have no right to disqualify either side, mock them, or worse, pronounce takfir upon them. If we do feel strongly about the topic, we can advise others about our opinion with kind words and wisdom, but if they reject, then to them is their choice.
I think it’s important to end with the advice that Allah gives us in the Quran “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided,” (Surah Ale Imran: 103).
May Allah forgive us for anything we have said incorrectly.
And Allah knows best.