Understanding the concept of Innovation in the Shar’iah and the legality of the Mawlid
In the Name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful
All Praise belongs to Allah Sustainer of the Worlds
Peace and Blessings be upon our beloved Master, the beloved of Allah Muhammad the Chosen One and upon his blessed household, family and companions, all of them.</B>
There was once a time when the coming of the month of Rabi ul Awwal was a time of unmitigated joy for the Muslim Ummah, when Muslims would rejoice remembering the birth of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) reading his biography, gathering to send prayers upon him(peace and blessings be upon him), read poems in his praise (peace and blessings be upon him) and listen to speeches which extolled the prophetic virtues and characteristics. Sadly now a group of Muslims now spends this time attacking and abusing anyone who takes part in these blessed gatherings claiming to be the sole defenders of Islam and decrying the Mawlid as bid’ah- innovation. They continually repeat the following hadith in support of their claims:
“The worst of matters are the newly invented matters and every innovation is misguidance.” (Sahih Muslim)
They then make the following accusatory remarks:
“The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions (May Allah be pleased with them all) never celebrated Mawlid, so what you are doing is an innovation and is misguidance.”
“Isn’t Islam perfect? Do you know better than the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions (May Allah be pleased with them). Are you trying to improve the religion?”
In such a manner they seek to intimidate Muslims into accepting their understanding of the above hadith. However upon challenging these same individuals about their interpretation of this hadith it becomes quite clear that they don’t actually believe in it in the rigid literalistic way they would have you believe. In fact they will end up making not one, not two but three whole categories of new matters exempt from the condemnation of the above hadith.
Firstly when asked why it is that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never used the television, radio, internet, microphones and other modern technology to convey the religion, they will say: “The hadith we quoted only relates to matters of deen . As for worldly matters then we are free to innovate in them.”
Secondly when asked why it is that the Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) made a number of innovations in matters of deen after the passing away of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), they say: “Oh that’s ok because the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said “Follow my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Rightly Guided Caliphs.”
Thirdly when asked why it is that they themselves hold gatherings which were not held by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) or his companions (May Allah be pleased with them) such as Da’wah Conferences, Peace and Unity Conferences and establish educational institutes and daw’ah organisations which again never existed at that time, they respond “Well spreading knowledge is a Sunnah, all we are doing is using a new way of spreading that knowledge so that is not Bid’ah.”
So it is manifestly clear that whereas they would want us to believe EVERY new matter is misguidance they clearly don’t believe that themselves. Rather they believe it is a general statement which is subject to exceptions. However the reality is the exceptions they have stipulated are poorly defined and subject to a lot of contradiction and inconsistency in their application.
Firstly the claim that the only innovations that are prohibited are matters relating to deen and not to the dunya doesn’t find support from any hadith. There is no hadith which says every innovation relating to the deen is misguidance but every innovation relating to the dunya is permissible. Moreover teaching people the deen and inviting them to Islam by means of internet, television, CDS etc is not a worldly matter, nor is fighting Jihad with guns and tanks, nor is building Masjid with concrete and steel and nor is travelling to the Masjid by car or going to Hajj by Plane and Bus. These are all matters of deen pure and simple. Even included in these matters will be the adding of domes and minarets to Masajid which was never done during the time of the Companions (May Allah be pleased with them).
Secondly the claim that it is permissible for the Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) to make innovations in the religion because of the saying of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “Follow my Sunnah and the Sunnah of my rightly guided Caliphs,” then it should be noted in which context this was said:
Those of you who live after me will see great disagreement. You must then follow my Sunnah and that of the Rightly Guided Caliphs Hold to it, and stick fast to it. Avoid new matters for every new matter is an innovation, and every innovation is an error. (Abu Dawud)
So at the same time as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) telling his companions (May Allah be pleased with them) that they must follow his sunnah and the sunnah of his rightly guided Caliphs, he is warning them against all new matters. So how is this a justification for the sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) to invent new matters? The reality is that the Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) embarked on many matters which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never ordered or did himself- such as compiling the Qur’an, limiting it’s reading to the dialect of Quraysh, adding harakats to it’s text, adding a second adhan to the Jummah prayer and gathering the people in a regular congregational Tarawih prayer in the nights of Ramadhan to mention just a few. These were all new things, yet the Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) started them and were pleased with them.
Thirdly the claim that it is permissible to invent new ways of carrying out the Sunnah which includes adding dots to the Arabic script which again happened after the time of the Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) also doesn’t find any support from the above hadith or from the other hadith they use to make this claim:
“Whoever innovates into this affair what is not from it, it will be rejected.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Where in this hadith or any other does it say it is permissible to invent new ways of carrying out the Sunnah? Again the opponants of the Mawlid are guilty of making exceptions without any legitimate basis.
Correct Understanding of Bid’ah as being of two types- Good and Bad
So having surveyed these three exceptions and found them to be unsupported by the texts they quote to make them, let us turn to the correct understanding of bid’ah as it has been defined by the overwhelming majority of Ahl-us-Sunnah scholars throughout history- that is the division of newly invented matters into two types- Good Innovations and Bad Innovations. This view was upheld by such giants of the Ahl-us-Sunnah as Imam Ash-Shafi, Imam As-Suyuti, Imam An-Nawawi, Imam Ibn Hajr Asqalani, Imam Dhahhabi, Imam Ibn Kathir, Imam Ibn Al Jawzi and many many others.
Basis of this Division from Qur’an:
“Monasticism they innovated- We did not prescribe it for them- only seeking the pleasure of Allah, and they did not observe it with a proper observance.” (57:27)
It is noteworthy here that Allah Almighty does not take to task the earlier nations for inventing monasticism seeking His pleasure but rather He takes them to task for not fulfilling it’s conditions. One of the Salaf Sayyidina Abu Ummama Al-Bahili (May Allah be pleased with him) mentioned the regular congregational prayer of Tarawih as being similar to this:“Truly Allah Almighty prescribed for you the fast of Ramadan but he did not prescribe for you its standing in prayer. Its standing in prayer is something you innovated so persist in it and do not abandon it, for certain people amongst the Children of Israel innovated something in pursuit of the good pleasure of Allah and then He reproached them for abandoning it:
“Monasticism they innovated- We did not prescribe it for them- only seeking the pleasure of Allah, and they did not observe it with a proper observance.” (57:27) (As-Suyuti Masabih)
Basis of this Division from Hadith
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Whoever introduces a new sunnah then he will get the reward of it and the reward of whoever follows him in it.” (Sahih Muslim)
This is a clear cut text showing it is permissible to introduce new practices into Islam as long as they are good- that is they do not contradict the principles of Islam. At this juncture it is worth noting that although this will justify the third exception made by our Mawlid-bashers above, they cannot use it as evidence as they claim that it doesn’t mean what it clearly says. They make the baseless claim that it means “Whoever revives a good sunnah will get the reward of it.” This is wrong on two counts, firstly the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) didn’t use the word for revive but the word for introduce and he is the most eloquent of Allah’s creation. Secondly if we take this interpretation to it’s logical conclusion then we have to assume our Mawlid-basing friends believe that some of the Sunnah is bad because the hadith continues:
“Whoever introduces a bad sunnah, then we will get the sin of it and the sin of whoever follows him in it.” (Sahih Muslim)
Accordingly this should also read “Whoever revives a bad sunnah,” and this is obviously not the case.
Now having understood this hadith we can better understand the hadith used earlier by the opponants of the Mawlid:
Those of you who live after me will see great disagreement. You must then follow my Sunnah and that of the Rightly Guided Caliphs Hold to it, and stick fast to it. Avoid novelties [in matters of religion], for every novelty is an innovation, and every innovation is an error. (Abu Dawud)
So now we can understand that the Sunnah of the Rightly Guided Caliphs means those matters which did not contradict the principles of the religion but helped to achieve its aims. But again our Mawlid bashers cannot explain this hadith in this way, because they have said that it is not allowed to introduce new sunnah but only to revive them.
Basis of this Division from the companions (May Allah be pleased with them)
It is also clear that the companions (May Allah be pleased with them) recognised there were two types of innovation- good and bad, this is why when Sayyidina Umar ibn Al Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) introduced the practice of getting all the people to read tarawih in jamaat on a REGULAR basis- something never done before he said “What a fine innovation is this,” (Sahih Al Bukhari) and when Sayyidina Abdullah ibn Masud (May Allah be pleased with him) heard someone say something contradicting the principles of the Islamic religion he said: “You have innovated an innovation of misguidance,” (Tabarani) if every innovation were misguidance he would have had no need to qualify the term innovation with the adjective- misguidance.
Basis of this Division from Imam Ash-Shafi
One of the great Imams of the Salaf and the head of the one of the four schools of Sunni Jurisprudence therefore defined innovation as having two kinds: “Innovated matters are of two kinds: one is an innovation that contravenes something in the Qur’an, Sunnah, Companion-report or consensus: that innovation is misguidance.
The other kind is the innovation of all good things contravening none of the above and is a blameless innovation. Umar said of the prayer in Ramadan “What a fine bid’ah this is!”, meaning that it was innovated without having existed before and, even so it didn’t contradict the above.”
reported by Ibn Hajr in Fath-ul-Bari with a sound chain according to Ibn Taymiyyah in Dar’ Ta’rud al Aql wal Naql
In summary it can be seen that innovation has two types- one which contradicts the principles of the Islamic creed or law and is rejected and one which does not contradict them and is acceptable.
Then what does the celebration of the Mawlid consist of except remembering the details of the seerah, reading qasidahs and nasheeds and sending salawat upon our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and feeding people in gatherings especially organised for that purpose? Nothing and as none of these matters contradicts the principles of the religion- rather the gathering promotes these good actions and facilitates them for people- what legitimate objection can be made?
However the opponents of Mawlid still have a few objections up their sleeves. Firstly that remembering the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) birth has no basis in the Sunnah. Even if this were true it would still not be an innovation of misguidance as it doesn’t contradict any principle of the Islamic religion, but as it goes the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did use to remember his birthday:
“I fast on a Monday because I was born on a Monday.” (Sahih Muslim)
The meaning of this hadith cannot be negated as some imagine by pointing to other hadith which mention the gates of Jannah being open on Mondays and Thursdays, rather this is an additional reason not a substitute, it is not possible and is indeed blameworthy to try and negate the hadith with each other without any solid basis. If anything this can be cited as evidence that the gates of Paradise are open because the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) was born on a Monday!
The second objection is that Mawlid is performed on a specific date every year and has therefore been taken as an act of worship in its’ own right. Again this is a baseless objection, it is perfectly permissible to specify regular times to do recommended actions. We have already seen that to be the case with regards to Sayyidina Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) gathering the Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them all) to regularly pray Tarawih in congregation whilst it is well known this congregation was never regularly held before that. Secondly we have the example of Sayyidina Bilal (May Allah be pleased with him) who used to read two rakahs nawafil after every wudhu despite no order or example coming from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), yet it is this regular specifying of a time to do good actions which led to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asking him “Oh Bilal which action do you do that has caused me to hear your footsteps ahead of mine in Paradise.” (Bukhari) It is useless for the Mawlid opponent to say “Well that was during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) because bid’ah was prohibited to the Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) first and foremost.
The third objection is claiming that it is part of the Sunnah to not do those acts of worship that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not do. Apart from the fact that the Mawlid does not comprise of any acts of worship he (peace and blessings be upon him) did not do, to use this logic would mean we would also have to reject all the additional acts of worship introduced by the Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) which the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) never did. It is noteworthy that the only Imam who ever claimed this: Imam Shatibi was the first to do so after hundreds of years of no-one else let alone any of the Salaf ever having said this- so it in itself is an innovation as the Sunnah by the consensus of both Hadith and Fiqh scholars also includes matters the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) recommended but never did himself and matters he saw others doing but did not object to.
The fourth objection is that there is no consensus on the 12th Rabi ul Awwal being the day when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was born but there is consensus this was the day he passed away. It is not clear how this invalidates the practice of the Mawlid, perhaps these people think we should violate the Shariah and be mourning on this day? It is of no consequence anyway as no-one ever said that the Mawlid MUST be done on the 12th Rabbi ul Awwal and NOT on any other date, indeed Mawlids are held on many days throughout the year. Many Ulema do regard the 12th as the correct date so should it be avoided just because there is difference about this? Rather let’s have Mawlid on all the dates the scholars have suggested and invite the opponents of Mawlid to come on the days they think is correct. But they will never come, because they mention this only out of spite, not because it is a serious objection.
The fifth objection is that it was the Ismaili Fatimids who were the first to introduce the gatherings of Mawlid, even if it were to be historically proven that this was the case, then guilt by association is not a proof in this religion and it is to be noted that many of the hadith narrators even in Sahih Bukhari were Shi’ah and no Hadith scholar can deny this, so the Mawlid must be weighed in the principles taught to us by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) not upon the aqidah of those who started it otherwise we would have to throw out many of the ahadith and knock down Al-Azhar university (which also was built by the Fatimid Ismailis) amongst many other things.
The sixth objection is that it is imitation of the Christians and we are forbidden from imitating the Christians. This last claim is also clearly false- the Christians celebrate the birth of “The Son of God” a concept of Shirk which we do not imitate- we rather celebrate the birth of the Mercy to the Worlds- the Final Prophet Muhammad the Chosen (peace and blessings be upon him). It is also clear from the hadith that not every imitation of the People of the Book is forbidden but only those which are specific to their religion and contradict our beliefs, hence the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said about the Day of Ashura- a day of fasting and repentence for the Jews due to it being a time of blessing upon Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) and the Children of Israel: “We have more right to Musa than them” (Bukhari) and ordered his Sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) also to fast on this day.
The seventh objection is that this is to praise the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) too much which he prohibited when he said “ Do not exaggerate in your praise of me as the Christians did about Isa son of Maryam. Rather say I am the Messenger of Allah and his Worshipper.” (Bukhari) This final objection is at the heart of all their objections- their concealed enmity towards praising the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and stubborn pride to having anyone above them and between them and Allah Almighty. The hadith is quite clear that the people should not ascribe Divinity or Divine Sonship to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as they did to Prophet Isa (Peace be upon him) and nothing else. Otherwise the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “None of you believe until you love me more than your parents, children and all gathered humanity.” (Bukhari) So without committing shirk all praises of love are allowed and encouraged so as to achieve true faith.
May Allah Exalted and Glorified is He open our hearts to have correct understanding of this religion and overwhelming love of His Final Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and to be free of the extremism of those obsessed with labelling Muslims as disbelievers and heretics and peace and blessings be upon our Noble Master Prophet Muhammad, his family, companions and followers. Ameen
We finish by quoting a poem by Sayyidina Hasan ibn Thabit (May Allah be pleased with him) the poet laureate of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who used to stand on the mimbar in Masjid un Nabawi (peace and blessings be upon him) and recite these praises with no-one objecting:
By Allah, no woman has conceived and GIVEN BIRTH To one like the Messenger, the Prophet and guide of his people. Nor has Allah created among his creatures One more faithful to his sojourner or his promise Than he who was the source of our light. (Seerah Ibn Hisham)
Maulana Ismaeel de Silva 19th Safar 1431/ 3rd February 2009, Hijaz College, Nuneaton