By: Dar Al-Ifta Al-Missriyyah
Source: Dar Al-Ifta Al-Missriyyah
The term ‘bid’ah’ is derived from the root ‘bada’a’, which means to ‘invent’, ‘produce something new’, etc… In its linguistic usage, the word carries commendable connotations. From the same root, the term ‘badee’ ‘ is derived, which means ‘fine’, ‘excellent’, and ‘originator’. When the word ‘badee’’ is used in reference to God, it means the ‘Originator’ or ‘Creator’. Accordingly, God the Almighty describes Himself in the Quran as ‘badee’ al-samawat wal-ard’ which means “the Creator of the heavens and the earth.”
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) spoke about bid’ah and distinguished between what is good and what is offensive of it. Where no specific guidance is given, we have complete freedom of choice. The examples you mentioned in the question provide good examples.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not specify what food we should eat and what clothes we should wear except to indicate what is forbidden in either. This means that whatever we choose is acceptable as long as we follow the values and morals outlined by Islam.
Some people may think that it is a Sunnah to imitate the way the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) dressed. But the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) dressed as his people dressed. There was no difference between the unbelievers and the Muslims in the way they dressed except for what Islam prohibited. Thus, no male Muslim wore a robe made of silk, and no Muslim, whether male or female, wore anything that revealed the area that must remain covered.
Normally, the environment the people live in affects what they eat and how they dress. This is perfectly acceptable and does not involve any bid’ah because the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not say anything to prevent this. Nor did he prescribe certain types of clothes for Muslims anywhere and at any time.
Where bid’ah clearly applies is in devotional acts. It is here that the word acquires negative connotations. Generally speaking, the word is translated as ‘innovation’ but, unlike the Arabic word, the English word has positive connotations. Hence, it is better to translate it as “deviation.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) gave us a complete package of devotional acts that admits no change or modifications. Nothing can be added to Islamic worship (ritual worship) or it will be considered a bid’ah or deviation. There is no such thing as good bid’ah in this sphere.
Umar’s action and words on the taraweeh prayer are often cited with reference to bid’ah. These have to be put in context. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) first offered the taraweeh prayer in congregation. On the first night he offered it with a number of his Companions. On the second night, a much larger group followed him in prayer. The third night, before coming out of his home he looked at the people gathering in the mosque for this prayer and found the mosque full with hardly any room left for any newcomer. He did not come out to lead the prayer and when he was later asked why he remained at home, he said: “I feared lest this prayer become obligatory for you.”
Once during his reign, Umar went out at night to find out how people were faring as was his habit. He noticed that there were many people in the mosque but there were several congregational prayers in progress at the same time. He did not like what he saw because it gave an impression of disunity in the Muslim community. He interfered to make all these groups join one congregation, led by Ubayy Ibn Ka’ab, a Companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who was known for his impeccable recitation of the Quran. The next night, when Umar went to the mosque he found that all the people were offering the prayer in one congregation. He commented on this with the words: “What a good bid’ah this is!”
From this, we realize that Umar did not inaugurate anything new. Nor did he initiate something that was not done before. It was the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who, in practice, recommended that the prayer of night worship in Ramadan which is known as taraweeh, be offered in congregation. It was for a specific reason that he later absented himself from it. Umar’s bid’ah was to restore the practice initiated by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This was certainly praiseworthy.
To use Umar’s words to justify something we inaugurate is to quote them out of context. There can simply be no good bid’ah in matters of ritual worship. No one has ever been a more devoted worshipper of God than the Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). If he did not do a particular act of worship, then it is not part of Islamic worship and can never be so. Anything new is a bid’ah, or deviation, and deviation can never be good.