Truly, an accepted principle of Shari’ah (Islamic law) is that although an act by the Beloved Messenger or his Companions is proof of its Jawaaz (permissibility), it is NOT proof that an act is prohibited if they did not perform it.
Now in regards to Bid’ah, the Beloved Messenger of Allah has said, “Beware of innovations, for every innovation (kullu bid`ah) is misguidance.”[Mishkat] However, here the scholars have agreed that the term ‘kullu’ is not meant in a universal sense; therefore it does not apply to every innovation.
Proving this point, in the same book, the Beloved Messenger himself elaborates on the types of innovation. He says, “He who initiates a good practice in Islam, receives its reward, as well as the reward of those who act upon it subsequently, without any deduction from their reward. And he who initiates a bad practice in Islam accumulates its sin and the sin of those who act upon it subsequently, without any deduction from their burdens.”[Mishkat]
Imam Nawawi explains, “The Prophet’s saying ‘every innovation’ is a general-particular and it is a reference to most innovations [not all].”[Imam Nawawi’s Commentary on Sahih Bukhari, Vol.6, page 21]
There is indeed a difference between good innovation (bidat-e-hasanah) and evil innovation (bidat-e-sayyia).
Imam al-Shafi explains this clearly in his Manaqib al-Shafi: “Newly-invented matters (innovations) are of two types. The first of them is what opposes [something from] the Book, or [something from] the Sunnah, or a narration [from the Companions], or [a matter of] consensus, this is the misguided innovation. And the second is what has been introduced of goodness [that does not oppose any of these] and there is not a single scholar who opposes it. This is newly-introduced yet not blameworthy – and Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) had said about the Qiyam (al-Layl) in the month of Ramadan, ‘What an excellent innovation this is,’ meaning, that it is newly-introduced and was not previously done.”
Imam Bayhaqi has also been narrated in Manaqib al-Shafi’i to have said, “Innovations are of two types: that which contradicts the Qur’an, the Sunnah, or unanimous agreement of the Muslims is an innovation of deception, while a good innovation does not contradict any of these things.”
Therefore, the celebration of mawlid is clearly a good innovation (bidat-e-hasanah), which promotes and encourages Zikr and strengthens faith and love for Allah and His Beloved Messenger, upon him be Allah’s peace and blessings.
Although it was not practiced during the Beloved Messenger’s time, it is without a doubt a beneficial and praiseworthy virtue. As Imam Hajar al-Asqalani, the commentator on Sahih al-Bukhari, said, “Anything that did not exist during the Prophet’s time is called innovation, but some are good while others are not.”
To clarify the above observations, our master Sayyidina Umar bin al-Khattab was himself one of the first to implement several bidat-e-hasanah during his lifetime – Sayyidina Umar, the same Comapnion whom the Beloved Messenger named ‘al-Farooq’ i.e. the Distinguisher between truth and falsehood. It was he who gathered and compiled the Qur’an in a book format which we ourselves read today1. It was he who moved the Maqaam-e-Ibrahim close to the Ka’bah, then built an enclosure around it, which all the Companions approved of unanimously 2. It was also he who implemented the rule of praying Taraweeh prayers in congregation during the month of Ramadan, and even expressed, “What an excellent Bid’ah this is!” 3
Surely, that is proof enough of the validity of bidat-e-hasanah. Yet, furthermore there are several reports of other Companions implementing good innovations. Sahih Bukhari reports that Sayyidina Usman, during his caliphate, added an extra call to prayer for Fridays 4, and that Sayyidina Abdullah ibn Umar would recite an addition to the original tashahhud 5, and Imam Tabaranireports the same about Sayyidina Abdullah bin Masud 6.
Addiitonally, there is also a beautiful report that there was a Companion who the Beloved Messenger sent to lead the believers in battle. When he lead the prayers, he would, out of his own accord, finish it with Surah Ikhlas – something not taught nor practiced by the Beloved Messenger of Allah. When the believers returned, they reported this to the Beloved Messenger of Allah. What was his response, peace and blessings be upon him? Did he reprimand that Companion for implementing a newly-innovated matter, something which he himself had not taught? Not at all; rather, he said to believers, “Tell him that Allah loves him.” 7
This report teaches us two fundamental points: that firstly, a bidat-e-hasanah could be so beneficial that it brings forth Allah’s love for His servant, and secondly, the niyyah/intention of a person implementing such an innovation is of utmost importance.
Since mawlid is a bid’ah which encourages virtue and goodness, not contradicting the Qur’an or Sunnah in any way, and its main intention is the remembrance of our beloved Master Muhammad, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, we can see the clear validity and benefit in partaking and promoting such an auspicious commemoration.
1Sayyidina Zaid b. Thabit related, “The Prophet passed away and the Qur’an had not been compiled anywhere. Then Umar suggested to Abu Bakr to compile the Qur’an in one book, after a large number of Companions were killed in the battle of Yamama. Abu Bakr wondered, ‘How could we do something that the Prophet did not do?’ Umar said, ‘By Allah, it is good.’ Umar persisted in asking Abu Bakr until Allah expanded his chest for it (Allah made him agree and accept these suggestions) and he sent for Zaid b. Thabit and assigned him to compile the Qur’an…” [Bukhari]
2Imam ibn Hajr’s al-Fathul Bari
3Sayyidina Abdur Rahman bin Abdul Qari reports, “I went out in the company of Umar bin Al-Khattab one night in Ramadan to the Masjid, and found the people praying in different groups; a man praying alone or a man praying with a little group behind him. So, Umar said, ‘In my opinion, I would better collect these (people) under the leadership of one Qari (recitor) [i.e. let them pray in congregation].’ So, he made up his mind to congregate them behind Ubayy bin Kaab. Then on another night, I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their Qari. On that, Umar remarked, ‘What an excellent Bid’ah (i.e. innovation in religion) this is…’” [Bukhari, Vol. 3, Book 32, Hadith no. 227]
4Sayyidina Sa’ib bin Yazid related, “During the time of the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar, the call to Friday prayer used to occur when the Imam sat on the pulpit. When it was Usman’s time, he added the third call (considered third in relation to the first azaan and the iqama. But it is named first because it proceeds the call to the Friday prayer.)”
5Sayyidina Abdullah ibn Umar added the bismillah at the beginning of the tashahhud. He also made an addition to the talbia, “labbaika wa sa’daika wal khayru bi yadayka wal raghba’u ilayika wal amalu.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
6After “wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,” (and the Mercy of Allah and His Blessings), Sayyidina Abdullah bin Masud used to say, “assalamu alayna min Rabbina,” (peace upon us from our Lord). [Narrated by Imam Tabarani in al-Kabir]
7Sayyida Aisha reports that the Beloved Messenger sent an army unit under the command of a man who used to lead his companions in prayers and would finish his recitation with Surah Ikhlas. When they returned from the battle, they (the companions) mentioned that to the Beloved Messenger, and the Beloved Messenger asked them to question the man regarding why he does that. The companions asked the man, and he replied, “I do so because it mentions the qualities of the Most Gracious and I love to recite it in my prayer.” The Beloved Messenger said, “Tell him that Allah loves him.” [Bukhari]