The following is the text of a talk given by Shaikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller at Nottingham and Trent University on Wednesday 25th January 1995.
Bid'a according to Islamic legal definition is an innovation, which is an error and a misguidance. It must be shunned and people warned against it. Since the blessed prophet (saw) said: " Whoever innovates in this affair of ours (religion) that which is not from it, it is rejected." (Agreed upon) In another Hadith he (saw) says: " The best speech is the book of Allah and the best path to follow is the path of Mohammed (saw) and the worst things are the innovations and every innovation is an error" (Muslim)
For some time now a lot has been said about the term 'Bid'at'. It is a word commonly heard among the people. But, unfortunately very few know its true meaning and its definition. In the following pages we have defined Bid'at and given answers to the objections raised on its definition.
Two of the best works to date on the precise definition of bid'a are 'Abd al-Hayy al-Lucknawi's Tuhfa al-Akhyar - with its commentary by his student Shaykh 'Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda - and Sayyid 'Abd Allah Mahfuz al-Haddad's al-Sunna wa al-Bid'a in which the latter adduces more than three hundred and fifty narrations of the Prophet and the Companions -- Allah be well-pleased with them -- in refutation of the "Salafi" author Muhammad al-Shuqayri and his book entitled al-Sunna wa al-Mubtada'at. In the latter book al-Shuqayri displays blind fanaticism and attacks the scholars of the Community as innovators on the misconceived basis of the hadith of the Prophet :
This article is in two parts:
I.. Al-Shâfi`î's definition of bid`a as either good or bad;
II. The division of Bid’a into good and bad among Ahl al-Sunna and others.
I would respond by looking to see how traditional ulama or Islamic scholars have viewed it. For the longest period of Islamic history--from Umayyad times to Abbasid, to Mameluke, to the end of the six-hundred-year Ottoman period--Sufism has been taught and understood as an Islamic discipline, like Qur'anic exegesis (tafsir), hadith, Qur'an recital (tajwid), tenets of faith (ilm al-tawhid) or any other, each of which preserved some particular aspect of the din or religion of Islam. While the details and terminology of these shari'a disciplines were unknown to the first generation of Muslims, when they did come into being, they were not considered bid'a or "reprehensible innovation" by the ulema of shari'a because for them, bid'a did not pertain to means, but rather to ends, or more specifically, those ends that nothing in Islam attested to the validity of.
The one who innovates a good innovation in Islam has its reward and the reward of those who would practice with it until the Day of Judgementwithout lessening the rewards of those who practice with it. The one who innovates the innovation of misguidance, would take the sin for it and the sin of those who practice with it until the Day of Judgementwithout lessening the sin of those who practice with it.