Ashgal of Sufiya and Bid’ah


 Allamah Shah Muhammad Isma’il Shahid

Translated by Shaykh Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi

Fourth Issue

  • To engage oneself in ‘ulum aliyyah (auxiliary sciences) like learning the Arabic sciences to a necessary extent which help understand the apparent meaning of the Qur’an and Sunnah;
  • similarly, to engage oneself in Sufi practices and litanies (ashghal wa adhkar) to a necessary extent, for example, causing motion in the six lata’if through silent dhikr, or for example, yad dasht which is also called pas anfas, and always concentrating one’s attention on the heart, which is beneficial in acquiring the reality of ihsan, and this ihsan is established by the outward of the Qur’an and Sunnah;
  • likewise, training with martial weapons like artillery, gun, pistol, etc. which can be used in fighting against the disbelievers;

all these are not from the category of bid‘ah, because although these things are invented and originated, but they are not from the category of religious matters. Thus, if anyone practices them considering them as religious matters, these will certainly be bid’ah with respect to him. Considering them matters of religion means that, instead of considering them a means and path to jihad [and the other objectives], one determines those very things as commendable religious practices.

The explanation of this synopsis is that there are two types of means and paths to religious matters:

  1. The first category are those that are themselves recommended by the Shari‘ah and are commendable acts of religion. For example, although acquiring the quality of purity from wudu and ghusl are from the means and conditions of Salah, but they are themselves acts which the Shari‘ah has praised, as the Lord Almighty says: “Verily, Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean” (2:222) and the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “Purity is half of faith.” Likewise, although the recitation of the Qur’an is a means of deliberation, contemplation (fikr) and pondering (tadabbur), but that itself is a great act of worship. And although engaging in the study of hadith and Prophetic biography is a means to practicing and following the Sunnah, but in and of itself that is a praiseworthy act in the Shari‘ah.  Similarly, although i‘tikaf is a means and path to catching the congregational prayers and dedicating one’s time to the remembrance of Allah, but it is also itself is a type of obedience.
  1. The second type of means are those that are themselves absolutely not from the category of worship, but if performed with the intention of a means to an [established] act of worship, they will be included in worship (‘ibadah) indirectly. For example, traveling for Hajj, going to the market with the intention of going to the mosque, drawing water from a well with the intention of wudu, writing commendatory letters or requests to the rulers on behalf of the needy, and likewise adopting any handicraft ‎ and work to use the income for helping religion or the poor. Thus, traveling and touring cities and countries, walking in markets, drawing water from a well, getting expertise in writing letters and recommendations and other occupations and handicrafts like blacksmithing, dyeing, tailoring, etc, are not themselves worship, rather they are either included in sports and futile play or works for livelihood; that is, putting a lot of effort into them or immersing oneself in it beyond limit makes the hearts hard and the soul heedless and creates estrangement towards the transcendent realm. Thus, all the aforementioned things are contained in the second category and not the first category. So, anyone who counts it among the first kind, these acts will become actual and real bid‘ah (bid‘ah asliyyah haqiqiyyah) with respect to him.

It should also be known that means and paths [to religious matters] are of two kinds:

  1. The means of the first kind are those that if help is taken from them, the objectives are made complete, meaning if the mentioned objectives are achieved through those means, this creates such beauty and perfection in the sight of the lawgiver that would not be created if those means are not utilized. For example, bathing, wearing new clothes, applying perfume for Jum’ah and ‘Id prayers; to climb an elevated place for giving adhan; giving adhan and iqamah and preparing a mosque for congregation; making congregation for Salah and joining the congregation and by straightening the row making it perfect; performing wudu for the remembrance of the divine and reciting the Qur’an; and generating a beautiful voice for the recitation of the Qur’an; and reciting the Qur’an for contemplation; electing an imam (leader) for jihad and obeying him. Like these, there are countless other acts the purpose of which is to perfect original acts of worship, and due to the absence of these means, some deficiency permeates the original acts of worship in the eyes of the lawgiver.
  1. The means of the second kind are those that are used on the basis that its doer is in need of it, or he is deficient in understanding the main objective of the act of worship or he does not have the ability to understand it, and if the objective is achieved without any means or medium, it neither affects the beauty and perfection of the objective nor decreases the grade and status of the doer, i.e. the status and grade of one who performs this worship without using these means and mediums is in no way lesser than one who does so using these means and mediums. For example, drawing water from a well for wudu, as one who performed wudu sitting at the bank of a river, his cleanliness and purity is in no way less than the purity and cleanliness of the one who drew water from a well and performed wudu. The same is the case with one who has a weak eyesight and uses spectacles or one who is uneducated and because of this searches for a Qur’an with vowels. Teaching alphabets to children also falls in the same category. The same applies to the weapons which are used in wars from a distance like arrows, rockets, artilleries, guns and other such weapons which are used to attack an enemy from a distance.

The sign and mark of such means is that once the objective is achieved, it will be considered nonsense and futile to use the means. Or if there arises any other means to achieve the objective, it will be foolish to delay the objective and wait for the means [used previously]. Likewise, upon acquiring the objectives, in the situation where one is praised [for those objectives], mentioning those means which were used as an aid to attain those objectives is a kind of idiocy. It will also be silly if based purely on using those means one is given preference over another. For example a person has excelled in the recitation of the Glorious Qur’an, so now for him to recite by spelling [each letter and vowel] is futile. Similarly, if a Muslim is standing in the row of jihad with an Indian sword while a disbeliever comes within the reach of his sword, it will be mere folly to delay killing the enemy and to wait for an arrow, gun or Isfahani sword.

A similar example is that Zayd and ‘Amr both recite the Glorious Qur’an while looking in the mushaf, but ‘Amr used glasses due to weak eyesight, so it will be outright stupidity to mention his glasses while praising his recitation, e.g. somebody says thusly: “Glory by to Allah! How respectfully ‘Amr recites the Mighty Qur’an that he performs fresh wudu and sitting with complete humility and concentration in the mosque, opening the Glorious Qur’an and wearing his glasses, he recites…” or he explains thusly: “Although Zayd and ‘Amr are equal in the excellence of the recitation of the Qur’an, pronouncing the letters with tajwid, in humility and concentration, and also in penetration and pondering and the sweetness of voice, but ‘Amr is better than Zayd in recitation since he recites after wearing glasses” or he says thusly: “‘Amr recites from the Glorious Qur’an with vowels [and is thus superior].”

Once this introduction has finished, it should be known that the abovementioned acts, i.e. ‘ulum aliyyah (auxiliary sciences), the Sufi practices and litanies and modern invented weapons are all related to the second type because the need for the utilization of these means arises because the people of our time are unable to achieve the real goal without these means. These matters are not related to the first type that they perfect the Qur’anic sciences or by means of them the stages of ihsan are accomplished or that these are the desirable acts of jihad.

If anyone counts the abovementioned acts from amongst the first type and mentions them while describing the merits and virtues of the pious ‘ulama and mujahidin and based on these matters he gives preference to one person over another and to prove greater right of imamate he cites those matters and sciences, then all these matters will turn into real bid‘ah with respect to him.

It should also be known that getting training of weapons and arms used in wars is more important than all the above mentioned means, and it is more appropriate relative to the other abovementioned means to spread and promote, because they are from the means and paths of jihad, and the basis of jihad is spreading and promoting [these weapons].

Next [in importance] are ‘ulum aliyyah (auxiliary sciences).

The Sufi practices remain. It is appropriate to keep them hidden since there are [Sufi] sayings [that impress on this] which state: “The hand is [engaged] in work and the heart in the remembrance of the Beloved,” and: “Seclusion [with the Divine] while in a gathering.” Therefore, making khanqahs for them [i.e. the Sufi practices] and gathering people for them and inviting them is not good and a work worthy of praise. These are low in the levels of preserving religious matters. Rather, what should be done is during the instruction and teaching of the Book and Sunnah, those principles of the objectives of ihsan are poured into the hearts, and they should be taught to the students without considering the specific practices of the Sufis of a tariqah, and without observing a particular formality, and without distinguishing any one tariqah from the other tariqahs, and without calling to this specific tariqah, so that along with occupation in one’s worldly and otherworldly works, those [practices] are also exercised. Thus, if someone does not observe and preserve the abovementioned levels [of the different means], these abovementioned means will be descriptive bid‘ah (bid‘ah wasfiyyah) with respect to him [and not “real bid‘ah”].

It also ought to be known that there should be a certain belief that such-and-such a thing is from the foundational objectives and another is from those acts which complete them and another is from their necessary means. Although this is a hidden matter [since belief is in the heart], and the basis of anything being Sunnah and bid‘ah revolves around this, yet some outward matters also come within the [parameters of] “belief” in this issue. For example, counting the auxiliary sciences amongst the sciences of Shari‘ah, and based on the auxiliary sciences issuing praise, and being happy at the one skilled in these sciences that he will be included in the group of those  scholars whose praise is due to [knowledge of] the Book and Sunnah, or to give good news to another about him being included in the group of those scholars, and to give him that respect and honor which is given to scholars of religion, and to lower and criticize those who are not talented in these [auxiliary sciences] even though by listening to the scholars of religion or by reading the translation of Qur’an and hadith he has acquired knowledge of religious rulings[1]. For example, a person called Zayd has complete skill in the auxiliary sciences [like Sarf, Nahw, etc.] but has no knowledge of the rulings of religion. On the other hand, a second person called ‘Amr, in the abovementioned way [i.e. by listening to scholars and reading translations], has good knowledge of religious laws but is unaware of the auxiliary sciences. Thus, counting Zayd amongst the scholars and ‘Amr amongst the ignorant, meaning in the occasions of respect and honor, or the credibility of the speech [of either of them] on the occasion of commanding good or issuing fatwa, or on the occasion of choosing an imam for Salah, or if Zayd opens his mouth in a debate on religious laws or has a discussion on them it will be considered respectful and courteous and if it was the other way round and ‘Amr discussed religious laws he will be counted amongst the irreverent and disrespectful; these examples regarding the aforementioned matters will be counted amongst effectual bid‘ah (bid‘ah hukmiyyah) The practices of the Sufis should be analogized to this.

Idah al-Haq al-Sarih[2], p.137-146


[1] A hadith states: “Knowledge [‘ilm] is [restricted] to three, and all that is besides them is excess: a decisive verse [i.e. Qur’an], an established Sunnah [i.e. Hadith] and a fair obligation [i.e. Fiqh].” (Abu Dawud)

[2] Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri, praised the work Idah al-Haqq al-Sarih for its academic worth in refuting innovations in his well-known Fayd al-Bari.  He wrote, “Bid‘ah is what its founder invents with a good intention and it becomes mixed up with the Shari‘ah. Refer for this Idah al-Haq al-Sarih by Shah Isma‘il and Kitab al-I‘tisam by Al-Shatibi.”(Fayd al-Bari, 5:540) ‘Allamah Sayyid Yusuf Banuri mentions in the preface of Urdu translation that some parts of this book are superior to Al-I’tisam of Imam Shatibi.

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