(Vol 1) Letter 186 to Khwajah ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Mufti al-Kabuli in Encouraging Adherence to Sunnah and Avoidance of Bid‘ah and that every Bid‘ah is Misguidance
I ask Allah – glorified and exalted is He – with humbleness and contrition, helplessness and poverty, humility and brokenness, in secret and in openness, to not try this feeble one with those who unite near Him or rely on Him in performing every innovated practice of bid‘ah in the religion, of that which was not present in the time of the best of humanity and the time of the rightly guided caliphs (upon him and upon them blessings and peace), even if that act is like the breaking of dawn in clarity, and [I ask Allah] that He does not try us with approving of that innovator, [and I ask this] through the sanctity of the select master and his righteous progeny (upon him and upon them blessing and peace).
Some people say bid‘ah is of two types: good and bad. Thus, good bid‘ah is every righteous deed which arose after the time of our Prophet and the time of the rightly guided caliphs (upon him and upon them blessings and peace) and does not eliminate a Sunnah practice; while bad bid‘ah does eliminate a Sunnah practice.
This needy one has not seen any goodness or light in any bid‘ah, and he has not sensed in them anything besides darkness and dirt. Whoever, in the present time, supposedly finds praise and light in an innovated matter due to a weak insight, he will learn tomorrow after gaining sharpness in vision, that it has no advantage at all besides in regret and loss.
[poetry not translated]
The master of men (upon him blessing and peace) said: “Whoever innovates in this matter of ours what is not of it, it is rejected.” So when a thing is rejected, from where will goodness come to it? He (upon him blessing and peace) said: “To proceed. Verily the best speech is the Book of Allah, and the best conduct is the conduct of Muhammad. The worst of affairs are their innovations, and every innovation is bid‘ah, and every bid‘ah is misguidance.” He (upon him blessing and peace) said: “I enjoin unto you the fear of Allah, and listening and obedience, even if an Ethiopian slave [is your leader]; for indeed those of you who live after me will see much conflict. Incumbent on you is my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly guided caliphs. Remain steadfast on that, and bite on it with the molar teeth. And beware of innovated matters, for indeed every innovation is bid‘ah, and every bid‘ah is misguidance.”
Since every innovation is bid‘ah, and every bid‘ah is misguidance, what is the meaning of goodness in bid‘ah? Furthermore, the purport of the hadiths is that every bid‘ah eliminates a Sunnah, and eliminating [Sunnah] is not restricted to some [bid‘ahs]. Hence, every bid‘ah is bad. He (upon him blessing and peace) said: “No group innovates a bid‘ah except the like of it from the Sunnah is lifted.” Thus, adhering to the Sunnah is better than inventing a bid‘ah. It was narrated from Hassan [ibn Thabit] that he said: “No group innovated a bid‘ah in their religion except Allah removed the like of it from their Sunnahs, and then He will not return it to them till the Day of Resurrection.”
It should be known that some bid‘ahs which the ‘ulama and mashayikh counted amongst good bid‘ah, when carefully considered, it will be realised that it eliminates a Sunnah practice. An example of this is that they consider putting a turban on the dead a good bid‘ah, although it eliminates a Sunnah because it is an addition on the Sunnah number [of garments] for shrouding, which is three garments, and [according to the principles of jurisprudence] an addition is abrogation, and abrogation is the very essence of elimination. Similarly some mashayikh have considered releasing the tail of the turban to the left to be good although the Sunnah is to release it between the shoulders, and this bid‘ah eliminating that Sunnah is manifest containing no obscurity.
Likewise some scholars have considered it good to articulate with the tongue the intention of Salah along with the intention of the heart even though articulating the intention on the tongue has not been established from the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), nor his noble companions, nor the great successors, neither in an authentic transmission nor in a weak transmission. Rather they would do the initial takbir after standing. Thus, articulating [the intention] is bid‘ah. And they say that it is a good bid‘ah. This needy one says that this bid‘ah eliminates an obligation let alone a Sunnah, because most people suffice with this degree, of expressing the intention with the tongue, meaning without bringing the intention in the heart, and without care for the heedlessness of the heart from this matter, and thus an obligation from the obligations of Salah, that is the intention [of the heart], is completely abandoned, and leads to the corruption of Salah.
And likewise all bid‘ahs and innovations follow on this pattern* because they are additions to the Sunnah, even if only in one aspect, and an addition is abrogation, and abrogation is elimination. Thus, you must restrict yourself to following the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and suffice with imitating the noble companions for they are like stars: whichever of them you imitate, you will be guided. As for analogy (qiyas) and exercising scholarly opinion (ijtihad) it is not bid‘ah at all, because it is a clarifier of the meaning of the texts, and it does not establish an additional matter. So take heed O possessors of intelligence! Peace be on those who follow guidance, and adhere to the practice of the Chosen One – upon him and upon his progeny the best of blessings and the most complete of salutations.
*Translator: Apply this to the many instances of “Bid’ah Hasanah” present today. For example, the formal mawlid celebration, which supposedly expresses love for the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) and commemorates the blessing of his birth, de-emphasises the methods prescribed in the Sunnah for this, of fasting on Mondays – one of the reasons given for which is he was born on that day – and sending abundant salawat and salam on him; hence, this bid‘ah eliminates or de-emphasises these Sunnahs, just as the Mujaddid wrote that the bid‘ah of articulating the intention of Salah compromises the true and obligatory intention of the heart.