Is there such a thing as good innovation?

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

مَنْ يَهْدِهِ اللَّهُ فَلاَ مُضِلَّ لَهُ وَمَنْ يُضْلِلْهُ فَلاَ هَادِيَ لَهُ إِنَّ أَصْدَقَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابُ اللَّهِ وَأَحْسَنَ الْهَدْىِ هَدْىُ مُحَمَّدٍ وَشَرَّ الأُمُورِ مُحْدَثَاتُهَا وَكُلَّ مُحْدَثَةٍ بِدْعَةٌ وَكُلَّ بِدْعَةٍ ضَلاَلَةٌ وَكُلَّ ضَلاَلَةٍ فِي النَّارِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ ‏”‏ بُعِثْتُ أَنَا وَالسَّاعَةُ كَهَاتَيْنِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ وَكَانَ إِذَا ذَكَرَ السَّاعَةَ احْمَرَّتْ وَجْنَتَاهُ وَعَلاَ صَوْتُهُ وَاشْتَدَّ غَضَبُهُ كَأَنَّهُ نَذِيرُ جَيْشٍ يَقُولُ ‏”‏ صَبَّحَكُمْ مَسَّاكُمْ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏”‏ مَنْ تَرَكَ مَالاً فَلأَهْلِهِ وَمَنْ تَرَكَ دَيْنًا أَوْ ضِيَاعًا فَإِلَىَّ أَوْ عَلَىَّ وَأَنَا أَوْلَى بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ

Whomsoever Allah guides, none can lead him astray, and whomsoever Allah sends astray, none can guide. The truest of word is the Book of Allah and best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. The worst of things are those that are newly invented; every newly-invented thing is an innovation and every innovation is going astray, and every going astray is in the Fire.’ Then he said: ‘The Hour and I have been sent like these two.’ Whenever he mentioned the Hour, his cheeks would turn red, and he would raise his voice and become angry, as if he were warning of an approaching army and saying: ‘An army is coming to attack you in the morning, or in the evening!’ (Then he said): ‘Whoever leaves behind wealth, it is for his family, and whoever leaves behind a debt or dependents, then these are my responsibility, and I am the most entitled to take care of the believers. [Sunan an-Nasa’i 1578]

There are plenty of Hadiths along similar lines. The seriousness of innovation must be pondered over by everyone; it is like claiming that the Prophet (ﷺ) did not provide the complete religion to us or what we have introduced is better than what he (ﷺ) gave to us.

Apparently contradicting statements by Umar and Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنهم) praising some innovations as good are quoted by those in favour of introducing good innovations in Islam.

  • Umar (رضي الله عنه): What a good innovation this is! (In reference to Taraweeh prayer)
  • Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنه): Bid’ah (innovation) and what a good bid’ah (In reference to Duhaa prayer)

Does this mean that there is an exception to the Hadith quoted earlier and some innovations are indeed good? The two statements by Umar and Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنهم) do not approve of innovations at all. Before going into these two statements, we must understand some of the types of Sunnah:

  1. Direct actions, orders, recommendations, and instructions of the Prophet (ﷺ)
  2. Actions of the Prophet (ﷺ) but not ordered or instructed to others
  3. Actions of the people not disapproved, disliked, or rejected by the Prophet (ﷺ)

Now coming to the two statements:

First statement) Taraweeh was prayed by the Prophet (ﷺ) at home. He came to the Masjid for three nights and did not do so afterwards as he had concerns that it would become mandatory rather than Sunnah.[1]

When Taraweeh was revived as a congregational prayer, Umar (رضي الله عنه) was definitely aware of the practice and statement of the Prophet (ﷺ) when he said ‘What a good bidah this is!’ Had it been an innovation in his view, he would have not used such words. Therefore, he said this in a linguistic term and not in religious term and meant that it was a revival which had a basis in the Sunnah. To sum it up, a good bid’ah, according to the Sahaba, is a revived Sunnah.

Second statement) Some people were praying Duhaa prayer and Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنه) said to them ‘what a good bid’ah’. Some facts need to be mentioned here:

  • Duhaa prayer is Sunnah.[2]
  • Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنه) himself used to offer this prayer as well.[3]
  • Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنه) did not know whether the Prophet (ﷺ) prayed Duhaa or not.[4]

If Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنه) himself occasionally prayed Duhaa and he did not know whether the Prophet (ﷺ) prayed or not; this means one of the following:

  • The Hadith of Duhaa prayer did not reach him but he saw that people perform it and the Prophet (ﷺ) did not disapprove of it. Hence, Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنه) considered it a Sunnah of category 3 stated above (i.e. actions of the people not disapproved, disliked, or rejected by the Prophet (ﷺ)); or
  • The Hadith of Duhaa prayer did reach him and he knew that it was allowed by the Prophet (ﷺ) but did not know whether the Prophet (ﷺ) himself prayed it. This means that Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنه) considered it a Sunnah of category 1 stated above (i.e. direct actions, orders, recommendations and instructions of the Prophet (ﷺ)).

Among the three types of Sunnah identified above, Duhaa prayer would fall under both 1 and 3.

So when Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنه) called this prayer as a good Bid’ah, he referred to it the same way Umar (رضي الله عنه) referred to the Taraweeh prayers i.e. a good revival of a forgotten Sunnah. This is further confirmed by Aisha (رضي الله عنها) when she said:

مَا رَأَيْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم سَبَّحَ سُبْحَةَ الضُّحَى، وَإِنِّي لأُسَبِّحُهَا‏

I never saw the Prophet (ﷺ) offering the Duha prayer but I always offer it. [Saheeh Bukhari 1177]

This goes to show that even if people originally started this prayer themselves, it was not disapproved, disliked, or rejected by the Prophet (ﷺ) and hence is not an innovation.

What is open to discussion is the type of Sunnah the Duhaa prayer falls into and not whether it was considered a Bid’ah by the Sahaba because the claim that Ibn Umar (رضي الله عنه) considered some innovations as good is refuted by himself as he said:

كل بدعة ضلالة وإن رآها الناس حسنة

Every innovation is misguidance, even if the people see it as something good.

This goes to show that he viewed Duhaa as a Sunnah and not as a Bid’ah.

Indeed, Allah knows best.

References and footnotes:

[1] The Hadith is as follows:

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يُرَغِّبُ فِي قِيَامِ رَمَضَانَ مِنْ غَيْرِ أَنْ يَأْمُرَهُمْ فِيهِ بِعَزِيمَةٍ فَيَقُولُ ‏ “‏ مَنْ قَامَ رَمَضَانَ إِيمَانًا وَاحْتِسَابًا غُفِرَ لَهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبِهِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ فَتُوُفِّيَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَالأَمْرُ عَلَى ذَلِكَ ثُمَّ كَانَ الأَمْرُ عَلَى ذَلِكَ فِي خِلاَفَةِ أَبِي بَكْرٍ وَصَدْرًا مِنْ خِلاَفَةِ عُمَرَ عَلَى ذَلِكَ

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to exhort (his Companions) to pray (at night) during Ramadan without commanding them to observe it as an obligatory act, and say: He who observed the night prayer in Ramadan because of faith and seeking his reward (from Allah), all his previous sins would be forgiven. When Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) died, this was the practice, and it continued thus during Abu Bakr’s caliphate and the early part of ‘Umar’s caliphate.

[2] The Hadith is as follows:

عَنْ زَيْدِ بْنِ أَرْقَمَ، قَالَ خَرَجَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَلَى أَهْلِ قُبَاءٍ وَهُمْ يُصَلُّونَ فَقَالَ ‏ “‏ صَلاَةُ الأَوَّابِينَ إِذَا رَمِضَتِ الْفِصَالُ ‏”

Zaid b. Arqam reported that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) went out to the people of Quba’ and saw them observing prayer; upon this he said: The prayer of the penitent should be observed when the young weaned camels feel heat of the sun. [Sahih Muslim 748 b]

There is a Hadith Qudsi that states:

يَقُولُ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ لاَ تُعْجِزْنِي مِنْ أَرْبَعِ رَكَعَاتٍ فِي أَوَّلِ نَهَارِكَ أَكْفِكَ آخِرَهُ

Allah, the Exalted, says: Son of Adam, do not be helpless in performing four rak’ahs for Me at the beginning of the day: I will supply what you need till the end of it. [Sunan Abi Dawud 1289]

[3] The Hadith is as follows:

عَنْ نَافِعٍ، أَنَّ ابْنَ عُمَرَ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ كَانَ لاَ يُصَلِّي مِنَ الضُّحَى إِلاَّ فِي يَوْمَيْنِ يَوْمَ يَقْدَمُ بِمَكَّةَ، فَإِنَّهُ كَانَ يَقْدَمُهَا ضُحًى، فَيَطُوفُ بِالْبَيْتِ، ثُمَّ يُصَلِّي رَكْعَتَيْنِ خَلْفَ الْمَقَامِ، وَيَوْمَ يَأْتِي مَسْجِدَ قُبَاءٍ، فَإِنَّهُ كَانَ يَأْتِيهِ كُلَّ سَبْتٍ، فَإِذَا دَخَلَ الْمَسْجِدَ كَرِهَ أَنْ يَخْرُجَ مِنْهُ حَتَّى يُصَلِّيَ فِيهِ‏

Narrated Nafi`: Ibn `Umar never offered the Duha prayer except on two occasions: (1) Whenever he reached Mecca; and he always used to reach Mecca in the forenoon. He would perform Tawaf round the Ka`ba and then offer two rak`at at the rear of Maqam Ibrahim. (2) Whenever he visited Quba, for he used to visit it every Saturday. When he entered the Mosque, he disliked to leave it without offering a prayer. [Sahih al-Bukhari 1191, 1192]

[4] The Hadith is as follows:

عَنْ مُوَرِّقٍ، قَالَ قُلْتُ لاِبْنِ عُمَرَ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ أَتُصَلِّي الضُّحَى قَالَ لاَ‏.‏ قُلْتُ فَعُمَرُ‏.‏ قَالَ لاَ‏.‏ قُلْتُ فَأَبُو بَكْرٍ‏.‏ قَالَ لاَ‏.‏ قُلْتُ فَالنَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ لاَ إِخَالُهُ

Narrated Muwarriq: I asked Ibn `Umar “Do you offer the Duha prayer?” He replied in the negative. I further asked, “Did `Umar use to pray it?” He (Ibn `Umar) replied in the negative. I again asked, “Did Abu Bakr use to pray it?” He replied in the negative. I again asked, “Did the Prophet (ﷺ) use to pray it?” Ibn `Umar replied, “I don’t think he did.” [Sahih al-Bukhari 1175]

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