What is the meaning of Bid'ah?

Question:

What is the meaning of Bid’ah? We want you to define this term clearly. Indeed, there are some people who say that everything that was not practiced during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet) is a Bid`ah. How should we reply to them?

Answer:

The word Bid’ah (innovation in religion) is literally taken from Al-Bid` which is initiating something without any precedent, as Allah (Exalted be He) says: “The Originator of the heavens and the earth.” [Al-Baqarah: 117] This means that it is Allah Who created them in the most beautiful and splendid way without any precedent.

He (Exalted be He) further says: “Say (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم): “I am not a new thing among the Messengers (of Allâh i.e. I am not the first Messenger)” [Al-Ahqaf: 9] i.e. I am not the first Prophet to receive Revelation from Allah; rather Allah sent Messengers before me to bring glad tidings of Jannah (Paradise) to those who believed and the warning of Hell to those who disbelieved and I am following their way.

There are two kinds of innovation:

  1. The first has to do with customs, such as the invention of modern machinery and this is permissible, because the basic principle with regard to customs is that they are permissible.
  2. The second type has to do with newly-introduced innovations in religion. This is haram, because all the rulings of Din (religion) are subjected to Tawqif (a religious text and not personal opinion), and as such, are only taken from the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (peace be upon him).

The innovations that pertain to the Din could also be grouped into two types:

The first is doctrinal Bid’ah, such as that of the misguided sects of Al-Jahmiyyah (a deviant Islamic sect denying some Attributes of Allah, claiming they are ascribed to people and cannot be ascribed to Allah), and Al-Mu’tazilah (a deviant Islamic sect claiming that those who commit major sins are in a state between belief and disbelief), and other misguided sects.

The second kind of Bid’ah is the one that pertains to worship, such as when a person performs ‘Ibadah (worship) in a manner that was not ordained by Allah (Exalted be He), but the innovator increased or decreased or performed it in a manner that was not prescribed. Any Bid’ah in religion is Haram, for the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Anyone who introduces anything into this matter of ours (Islam) that is not part of it will have it rejected.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim from the Hadith narrated by ‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her)) 1.

It is also narrated in Sahih Muslim that he (peace be upon him) said: “He who did any act for which there is no sanction from our behalf, that is to be rejected.2

Imam Muslim also narrated that Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Whenever the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) delivered a Khutbah, his eyes would become red and his tone loud. He used to show anger as if he were warning us against an army. He (peace be upon him) would say, “The enemy is about to attack you in the morning and is advancing against you in the evening.3

And he (peace be upon him) used to say: “I have been sent before the Hour as these two (fingers)4; he would join his forefinger and middle finger; and would further say: “The best of speech is embodied in the Book of Allah, and the best of guidance is that given by Muhammad (peace be upon him). The most evil affairs are novelties; and every Bid;ah leads to misguidance.5 Then, he would say: “I should be dearer to Muslims than themselves. If a person leaves behind property, it will be for their families. If a person dies while in debt or leaves children (in need), the responsibility (of paying their debt and bringing up their children) lies on me.6

This impermissibility varies in degrees, as some innovations might amount to Kufr, such as circumambulating the graves as a kind of worship to its occupants as well as slaughtering and vowing for them. Other innovations are means leading to Kufr, such as building on graves, and performing Salah (Prayer) and supplicating to Allah (Exalted be He) by them. Others pertain to corrupt doctrines as we mentioned, and others are considered sins such as celibacy/abstinence (from intercourse) and castrating oneself to avoid sexual desire.


  1. Al-Bukhari, Sahih, Book on reconciliation, no. 2697; Muslim, Sahih, Book on judicial decisions, no. 1718; Abu Dawud, Sunan, Book on Al-Sunnah, no. 4606; Ibn Majah, Sunan, Introduction, no. 14; and Ahmad, Musnad, vol. 6, p. 240. 

  2. Muslim, Sahih, Book on judicial decisions, no. 1718; and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, vol. 6, p. 180. 

  3. Muslim, Sahih, Book on Friday, no. 867; Al-Nasa’i, Sunan, Book on the two ‘Eid Prayers, no. 1578; Ibn Majah, Sunan, Introduction, no. 45; and Ahmad, Musnad, vol. 3, p. 371. 

  4. Muslim, Sahih, Book on Friday, no. 867; Al-Nasa’i, Sunan, Book on the two ‘Eid Prayers, no. 1578; and Ibn Majah, Sunan, Introduction, no. 45. 

  5. Muslim, Sahih, Book on Friday, no. 867; Al-Nasa’i, Sunan, Book on the two ‘Eid Prayers, no. 1578; Ahmad, Musnad, vol. 3, p. 371; and Al-Darimy, Sunan, Introduction, no. 206. 

  6. Ahmad, vol. 3, pp. 310-311, 319, 338, and 371; Muslim, vol. 2, p. 592, no. 867; Al-Nasa’i, vol. 3, pp. 188-189, no. 1578; Ibn Majah, vol. 1, p. 17, no. 45; Ibn Khuzaymah, vol. 3, p. 143, no. 1785; Ibn Hibban, vol. 1, p. 186, vol. 7, p. 332, no. 10 and 3062. 

May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet, his family and Companions