Learning our Deen (Islam)

July 2, 2007

Ibadah (Worship) and Bid’ah (Innovation)

Filed under: Bidah (Innovation), Ibadah - worship, Intermediate — Um Abdullah M. @ 6:12 pm

By Dr Jamal Ahmed Badi
(Professor at International Islamic University Malaysia)

Hadith 5 Arabic text


It is narrated on the authority of the Mother of the Believers, Umm ‘Abdullah ‘Aishah, radiyallahu ‘anha, that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said:

“Whosoever introduces into this affair of ours (i.e. into Islam) something that does not belong to it, it is to be rejected.”

[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]

According to the version in Muslim, (it reads): “Whosoever works a work which has for it no
command of ours is to be rejected


Like Hadith 1, this hadith is one of the most important hadiths.
Imam Nawawi said it should be memorised by every Muslim.


This hadith is used as a criterion for judging external actions or performance of Ibadah. If an action is not done in accordance with the Shariah or the Sunnah of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, it will be rejected and not accepted by Allah based on text of this hadith.
This hadith complements Hadith 1, which was a criterion for judging the intentions or the internal actions of the heart. The Scholars say that the
acceptance of actions of Ibadah is based on the above two conditions:

  1. The intention – the action should be done with sincerity, for the sake of only Allah.
  2. It should be done in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi

Apart from Hadith 1 and Hadith 5, the acceptance of actions can also be found in Surah Al-Kahf
(18): ayat 110:

Whoever looks forward to meeting his Sustainer (on Day of Judgement), let him do righteous
deeds, and let him not ascribe unto anyone or anything a share in the worship due to his Sustainer

Emulating and following the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, is a Qur’anic obligation.
Allah, the Almighty says:

Verily, in the apostle of God you have the best example to emulate for everyone who looks forward (with hope and awe) to Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah unceasingly. [Surah Al-Ahzab (33): ayat 21].

Say (O Prophet):
If you love Allah, follow me, (and) Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.

This hadith is related to a very important concept which is following the Sunnah and violating this concept will lead to bida’ah [which will be discussed in detail, insha Allah, in Hadith 28].Scholars classify actions of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, into actions done for the purpose of Ibadah (worshiping Allah) and actions which are not done for that purpose (i.e. customs, actions done haphazardly, etc.).
There are clear indicators for actions done for the purpose of Ibadah such as commands to do or not to do something, warnings for not doing something, etc.
Muslims are only obliged to follow the first kind of Sunnah.


Looking at it in a positive way, the actions (i.e.forms of ibadah) that we do should be done in accordance with the Shariah or the Sunnah of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, and to ensure this there is a criterion consisting
of five aspects that will keep our actions in check:

  1. Time
    Any ibadah that we do has to be done in it’s designated or specified time.
    E.g. There are fixed times in the day for the five prayers. For fasting,
    the month for fasting is Ramadhan. The period that we can fast is from
    fajr to sunset. Similarly, there is a specific time in the year
    when we can perform the Hajj – from the 8 to the 12 Zulhijjah.
  2. Place
    The Shariah has specified that certain ibadahs have to be performed
    in designated places. E.g. The places for performing the Hajj, I’tikaf,
    doing Ihram for Hajj have been fixed by the Shariah and this is something
    which is sometimes violated by Muslims, e.g. doing the Ihram (starting
    talbiyyah and niyyah for Hajj) in Jeddah is incorrect.
  3. Quantity
    For most of the ibadahs the Shariah has specified a certain number
    of times that the ibadahs or their components need to be performed.
    E.g. For prayers, there are specified number of rakaahs and sujud
    and for Tawaf there is a fixed number of rounds (7), etc. We should
    not violate these rules intentionally. To violate intentionally may
    make the ibadah subject to be rejected.

  4. Way
    Every ibadah was described or shown to us by the Prophet, sallallahu
    ‘alayhi wasallam
    – being our best model to follow and emulate. The
    way that the ibadahs are performed by him have to be followed
    – it should not be violated. E.g. There are different ways of performing
    different prayers – Salat ul-Janazah has no ruku’ or sujud.
    Even the size of the stones used for throwing at the Jamrat has been
    specified by the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, as not
    to be too big.Before we perform any ibadah, we should know and learn the way
    the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, performed it and we
    should do it in the right way as he did it. The Prophet,
    ‘alayhi wasallam
    , said, “Pray as you have seen me praying.”
    Many Muslims today violate the way ibadahs are performed, because
    of ignorance or because they do not bother to learn, and they end up
    doing the ibadah in the wrong way.
  5. Type
    If the Shariah has specified a type of ibadah, then we should
    stick to that type. E.g. Al-Udhiah (sacrifice) – the type of animal
    to be sacrificed has been specified by the Shariah and this should not
    be violated. Recently a Sheikh in one of the Muslim countries made a
    fatwa that Muslims can use chicken as sacrifice – this is a violation
    of the type. If a Muslim cannot afford to offer a sacrifice, then they
    don’t have to do it as it is not a wajib (i.e. an obligation).
    In certain years, some of the Sahabahs (companions) purposely did not
    perform the sacrifice so that the people did not think that it was a


A clear distinction should be made about the actions of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam – whether they were done only from time to time or whether they were done continuously on a regular basis. For example, some of the nawafil (extra prayers) are things which he, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, would do from time to time. We should observe this. E.g. Certain Surahs being recited on certain days – it is narrated that the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, would sometimes recite Surah As-Sajdah (32) and Surah Al-Insan (76) on Fridays. But some Muslims would recite these two Surahs every Friday. We should be aware of this because if we do something regularly people will think that it is wajib even though it is not.If the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, did something only from time to time, then we too should do it from time to time, especially when we do it in congregation.


As it has been mentioned above, the actions of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, were done for different purposes. There were actions which he, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, would do haphazardly. There are things he, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, would do because of the custom of that time. These actions were not done by the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, for the purpose of ibadah. We too should not do these actions for
ibadah – our intentions should match the intentions of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam. The following are some examples:

  • At the time of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, the men used to have
    long hair – it was not done for the purpose of ibadah. So if anyone wants to keep long hair today, it should not be done for ibadah.
  • The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, used to open the top buttons of his shirt – this was because it was hot and not because for the purpose of ibadah.
  • The turban, at the time of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, was worn because it was the custom then.
  • Some hadiths mention the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, using a stick. Again this was not done for the purpose of ibadah.

We should not follow these examples of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, for the purpose of ibadah. How do we differentiate between the actions of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, which were done for the purpose of ibadah and those which were not? The Scholars say if the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, commanded us to do an action or commanded us not to do something, then this is considered an ibadah. Or if the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, mentioned that the doer will receive certain rewards if an action is done, then it is an ibadah. Or if the failure for doing a certain action would result in punishment, then the action is an ibadah.


This issue of introducing something which doesn’t belong to the Shariah is associated with the concept that Islam is a complete religion [Surah Al-Ma’idah (5): ayat 3]:

Today have I perfected your religion for you, and have bestowed upon you the full measure of
My blessings, and willed that Islam shall be your Religion

Since it is complete, there is no need for additions or deletions to the religion.
Therefore to introduce some new matter into Islam or to delete/omit something from it is an affront to Allah and the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam.




Al-Imam al-Shatibi mentions that if certain actions are taken as ibadah where in reality they are not, this will lead to bid’ah. There is a hadith which tells the story of three men who only wanted to do ‘good deeds’ all the time – one said he will not get married, the second one said he will pray all night and not sleep, and the third said he will fast every
day. When the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, heard this, he said that he, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, was the most pious and righteous amongst the people and yet he did not do the things the way the men wanted to do them. This shows that the actions that the three men thought were ibadah would have resulted in bid’ah as
they weren’t practiced by the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam.



Al-Shatibi also mentions that avoiding eating certain types of food for the purpose of ibadah should not be done. We can avoid these foods for health or other good reasons but not for the purpose of ibadah.




He also says that if there are two ways of fulfilling an obligation, we should follow the easier way. E.g. If the weather is cold and if we have the choice of using warm or cold water (for wudu’), we should use warm water. We shouldn’t
use cold water and inflict discomfort on ourselves, trying to show that we are stronger Muslims and hoping for extra rewards. Or if there is choice of going to two masjids (mosques) of different distances, we should go to the nearer one.
The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, was passing through a place when he noticed someone standing in the middle of the street in the sun. The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, asked the Sahabahs what this man was doing. They said that he made a commitment to fast while standing in the sun. The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, told them to tell the man to continue his fasting (because this was a good thing to do anyway and
fulfilling a commitment is an obligation) but to get out of the sun.

Scholars deduce that we should not attach any hardship to our ibadah hoping that it will make it more rewardable. Shariah is based on ease. Therefore we should always choose the easier way when performing an ibadah because
this will enable us to do it properly – if we were to choose the difficult route then we may, after a while, find difficulty in keeping to our commitment in performing this ibadah. An attached hardship to an ibadah, which has not been specified by the Shariah, should be avoided – we should not place any hardship in performing any ibadah.



The Scholars say if someone violates the Shariah by adding something new to an ibadah, the ibadah is rejected depending on what kind of violation has been done. For example, in prayer if someone violates its conditions,
then his ibadah will definitely not be accepted.
If an action is any kind of bid’ah, then it is subject to being rejected and the person who performed that action will be asked about it and might be subject to be punished. But if there is a valid excuse for doing that action,
the action will not be rewarded but the person may be excused and not punished by Allah.
In worldly dealings and transactions (e.g. Al-Mu’amalat), if someone changes/modifies the principles of the dealings and this violates the Shariah law, then that dealing or transaction is rejected. E.g. changing trading based on haram principles, etc.


1 Comment »

  1. thank u 4 this info :)

    Comment by Anonymous — March 5, 2012 @ 12:50 am

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