Sunnah and Bidah

The Spirit Of Islam

Khalid Baig

Once some Jewish scholars said to Sayyidna Umar bin Khattab (RA), “The Quran contains a verse that if it had been revealed to us, we would have designated a day to celebrate its revelation.” Upon inquiry they mentioned the verse: “This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” [Al-Maida 5:3] “Yes, I know, the time and place when it was revealed,” he replied. Indeed it was a historic day.
It was the day of Arafat during the farewell Haj of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). This verse announced the completion of a historic process that had started with the coming to earth of Sayyidna Adam (AS). Allah sent His guidance with him and informed him that in the generations to come there would be additional messengers. The process continued through the 124,000 prophets who were sent to different lands at different times. It culminated with the coming of the Last Messenger, the Holy Prophet (PBUH). He received revelations over a twenty-three year period. Then during the Farewell Haj, on the plain of Arafat, in the presence of nearly 150,000 companions, this verse announced that it was all done!
The full significance of this message must never escape us. Islam is unlike all previous revealed religions in one crucial respect. All of them came with expiration dates. Islam has none. The Guidance from Allah had been completed. The religion had been perfected. There would be no new message, no new prophet, no new Shariah, and no new command until Last Day! The Straight Path has been laid out. Our job is only to follow it, not to try to discover new paths. In Jumuah khutbahs this Ummah has been repeating the hadith: “I warn you of newly invented matters (in religion), and every newly invented matter is bidah, and every bidah is misguidance, and every misguidance is in Hellfire.” (Nasaaee)
In Islamic terminology, Sunnah and Bidah are antonyms. Sunnah literally means path, and it is the path shown to us by the Holy Prophet (PBUH). This includes the Shariah teachings derived from Quran, Hadith, the consensus of the companions, and the ijtehad of the qualified imams. Bidah means adding or changing articles of faith or religious practices. It can take many forms. One may change the occasion of a prescribed act, thereby extending it to occasions for which it was not meant. One may add restrictions on a desired act that the Shariah had not imposed. One may change the style or form of such an act. One may start doing something collectively that was to be performed individually. Or one may change the Shariah status of an act from permissible to mandatory. Of course, one may also add a ritual where none existed. These are all forms of bidah. They are all forbidden.
Bidah is like fake currency that tries to drive out the good currency. By design it has the appearance of a virtuous religious act. But it lies outside the Shariah. So do its sources, which, in a great number of cases can be traced to non-Islamic influence from surrounding communities with which Muslim communities historically came into contact. Hence the telltale signs that set it apart from Sunnah. First, bidahs normally vary from region to region— and over time— revealing their local, non-Islamic source. This is unlike the genuine religious practices that maintain the same form everywhere.
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