Meaning of Bid‘ah – Mawlānā Manẓūr Nu‘mānī


In a polemic against a Barelwī writer, Mawlānā Manẓūr Nu‘mānī (1905 – 1997) wrote on the meaning of bid‘ah in Sayf e Yamānī (a work written in 1930, endorsed by leading Deobandī scholars, including Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānawī and ‘Allāmah Shabbīr Aḥmad al-‘Uthmānī):

Linguistically, bid‘ah refers to something new, and in the terminology of the ‘Ulamā’ of Sharī‘ah, the term is used for two meanings: one, every action which came into existence after the time of Janāb Rasūlullāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) and was not present in his time – in which case this action in view of Sharī‘ah can at times be good and at times bad; second, anything that is not from matters of dīn and people begin to regard it as a matter of dīn – this is also called “real bid‘ah” or “legal bid‘ah”, and such bid‘ah is always blameworthy. Our Prophet, the commander and forbidder, upon him and his progeny blessing and peace, said:

من أحدث في أمرنا هذا ما ليس منه فهو رد

“Whoever introduces into this matter of ours what is not from it, it is rejected.”

It should also be understood that the ‘Ulamā’ who divided bid‘ah into two categories of “good” and “bad”, their intent is the first meaning of bid‘ah, about which we have mentioned that in view of Sharī‘ah it can at times be good and at times bad. Those noble ‘Ulamā’ who have unrestricetedly censured bid‘ah and determine all bid‘ahs to be bad, their intent is this latter meaning, and based on this, the Messenger of God (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) said:

كل بدعة ضلالة وكل ضلالة فى النار

“Every bid‘ah is deviance and every deviance is in the Hellfire.”

Thus there is no contradiction between the two statements, and in fact those who regard them to be contradictory and opposing are pure ignoramuses.

Yes, keeping in mind the attitude of the commoners in our time, it is an obligation of the ‘Ulamā’ of the Ummah to adopt this latter methodology and not open the door of deviance by dividing bid‘ah. Thus, possessors of foresight from the earlier scholars adopted this [methodology]. Imām Rabbānī Maḥbūb Subḥānī Ḥaḍrat Sayyid Aḥmad Ṣāḥib Mujaddid Alf Thanī (Allāh have mercy on him) wrote in his Maktūbāt:

“People say that bid‘has are two categories: good and bad. Good refers to the good action that was invented after the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) and the rightly-guided caliphs (Allāh be pleased with them), and does not remove a Sunnah, while bad is what removes a Sunnah. This Faqīr does not see goodness and illumination in these bid‘ahs, and does not sense anything besides darkness and murkiness in them.”

Then he said, and how brilliant is what he said:

“The leader of man (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) has said that one who introduces into dīn what is not from it, it is rejected. How can something rejected be good?”

Further, he said:

“Since every new thing is bid‘ah and every bid‘ah is deviance, what is the meaning to bid‘ah being good? Further, it is realised from ḥadīths that each and every bid‘ah is a cause of removal of a Sunnah. No bid‘ah is exempted from this. Thus, every bid‘ah is deviance.” (Maktūbāt, volume 1, part 3, p 73)

In these holy Maktūbāt (letters), second volume, part 6, page 56, there is a long letter, the subject-matter of which is this [topic]. For the purpose of brevity, I will quote a few sentences of it below:

“However, this Faqīr does not agree with him on this matter and does not recognise any individual bid‘ah as ‘good’, and does not sense anything besides darkness and murkiness within bid‘ah. The Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) said: ‘Every bid‘ah is deviance.’ In this time, of Islām being strange and weak, safety is only in following Sunnah, and corruption comes from perpetrating bid‘ah, whatever bid‘ah it may be. This Faqīr recognises bid‘ah to be like a shovel, which renders the foundation of Islām fallen, and recognises Sunnah to be like bright stars which give guidance in the dark night of deviance. Allāh give direction to the ‘Ulamā of the time to not express with their tongue the word ‘good’ for any bid‘ah, and not give fatwā for the permissibility of any bid‘ah, even if that bid‘ah in their view appears to be like the light of a bright morning because Satanic deception gains great power in anything besides Sunnah.”

It is clearly evident from these statements of Ḥaḍrat Imām Rabbānī that according to him, this division of bid‘ah opens a very wide door to deviance, and at a time of trials, he regarded it as a major calamity for the Muslims particularly, and did not approve of it at all.

Moreover, this is also the methodology of ‘Allāmah Muḥaqqiq Sayyid Sharīf [al-Jurjānī], Khātam al-Ḥuffāẓ Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī, ‘Allāmah Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī (Allāh, Exalted is He, have mercy on them). Thus, Khātam al-Muḥaqqiqīn Ḥaḍrat Mawlānā Muḥammad ‘Abdul Ḥayy Ṣāḥib Firangī Maḥallī (Allāh illuminate his resting place) wrote in his book Tuḥfat al-Akhyār:

والقول الثاني وهو الأصح بالنظر الدقيق: أن حديث كل بدعة ضلالة باق على عمومه، وأن المراد به البدعة الشرعية، وهي ما لم يوجد فى القرون المشهود لها بالخير، ولم يوجد له أصل من الأصول الشرعية، ومن المعلوم أن كل ما كان على هذه الصفة فهو ضلالة قطعا، وإلى هذا القول مال السيد في شرح المشكوة، والحافظ ابن حجر فى الهدى الساري مقدمة فتح الباري، وفي فتح الباري، وابن حجر المكي فى الفتح المبين شرح الأربعين وغيرهم (تحفة الأخيار

“The second view, which is the more authentic upon closer scrutiny, is that the ḥadīth, ‘Every bidah is deviance’, remains on its generality, and the intent of it is legal bid‘ah, which is all that was not present in the eras whose virtue has been attested to, and does not have a basis from the bases of Sharī‘ah. It is obvious that everything with such characteristic is definitely deviance. Sayyid in Sharḥ al-Mishkāt, Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar in al-Huda al-Sārī introduction to Fatḥ al-Bārī and in Fatḥ al-Bārī and Ibn Ḥajar al-Makkī in al-Fatḥ al-Mubīn Sharḥ al-Arba‘īn and others have inclined to this view.”

(Sayf e Yamānī, p. 96-9)

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