Use of the word Bid’a by Umar (r.a.).


Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 3 Book 32, Number 227:

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said: “Whoever prayed at night the whole month of Ramadan out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” Ibn Shihab (a sub. narrator) said, “Allah Apostle died and the people continued observing that (i.e. Nawafil offered individually, not in congregation), and it remained as it was during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the early days of ‘Umar’s Caliphate.” ‘Abdur Rahman bin ‘Abdul Qari said, “I went out in the company of ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab one night in Ramadan to the mosque 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 (Reciter) (i.e. let them pray in congregation!)’ So he made up his mind to congregate them behind Ubai bin Ka’b. Then on another night I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their reciter. On that, ‘Umar remarked, ‘What an excellent Bid’a (i.e innovation in religion) this is but the prayer which they do not perform, but sleep at its time is better than the one they are offering.’ He meant the prayer in the last part of the night. (In those days) people used to pray in the early part of the night.”

I am very confused about the last part of the above hadith, please explain it to me.


In the last part of this tradition two things are mentioned. First of all it states that Umar (R.A.) remarked, ‘What a good innovation this is’. This was a statement which he made when he saw that all the people were performing Salatut Taraweeh behind one Imam.

Secondly he said, ‘but the prayer which they do not perform but sleep at its time is better than the one they are offering’. By this he meant that the Tahajjud Salah was more virtuous than the Taraweeh Salah.

With respect to Umar’s statement, ‘What an excellent innovation this is he simply meant that this is something which the Prophet (S.A.S.) did not do, however it was a good thing which was not condemned, hence he called it a good innovation. Had it been a condemned action in Islam, then all the other companions (sahabahs) living at that time would have openly condemned this action of his, but instead, all of them including the blessed wives of the Prophet and all the other great sahabahs like Uthman, Ali, Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar, Ibn Masood, all of whom were known as the ‘lamps of learning’, fully agreed with Umar and did not see this action as reprehensible in Islam.

It must also be noted that this action of Umar (R.A.) was on account of the fact that he knew that the Messenger of Allah (S.A.S.) had already sanctioned and endorsed the practice of Taraweeh being read in Jamaat. This is evident from the following narrations:

The tradition narrated that Abu Zarr (R.A said. ‘We fasted with the Messenger of Allah (S.A) in the month of Ramadhan and he did not stand with us (in performing any optional salaah) until there remained seven nights (for the month to complete). He then stood with us in salaah until one third of the night passed. When it was the sixth (remaining) night. He did not stand with us. When it was the fifth (remaining) night, he stood with us until a half of the night had passed. I then said, ‘0 Messenger of Allah, it will be good if you had continued to perform optional salaah for us for the rest of the night’. Upon this, he (the Prophet (S.A) said, ‘Certainly when a person performs salaah with the Imam until he (the Imam) comes to a completion and finishes, then he (the person) receives the rewards of standing for the entire night’. Abu Zarr continues by saying, ‘so when it was the fourth night (remaining), he (the Prophet (S.A) did not stand (with us). When it was the third night (remaining), he gathered his family members and the ladies and other people and then stood with us (in salaah) until we feared that A1-Falaah will miss us. The narrator from Abu Zarr asked, ‘What is Al-Falaah?’ He (Abu Zarr) said, ‘Suhoor’ (i.e. Sehri). Abu Zarr continued by saying ‘that the Prophet of Allah did not stand with them for the remaining nights of the month’. (Recorded by Abu Dawood, Tirmizi, Nasaa’i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad. Imam Tirmizi said that the Hadith is good and sound).’

Another tradition states that Tha’laba bin Abi Malik Al-Qurazi said, the Messenger of Allah (S.A) came out one night in the month of Ramadhan and saw some people performing salaah in a corner of the masjid. Upon this, he asked, What are these people doing?’ Someone replied, ‘O Messenger of Allah! These people do not know the Quraan and Ubai bin Ka’ab is reciting Quraan (in salaah) and they are performing salaah with him’. The Prophet (S.A) then said, ‘They have done good and they have done the right thing’. And he did not dislike this for them. (Recorded by Baihaqi with a good sanad).

Both the above traditions show that the performance of Taraweeh salaah was indeed a Sunnah (practice) of the Messenger of Allah (S.A) himself and was not a sunnah (practice) of Umar (R.A). The act which was established by Umar (R.A) was that he gathered the people under one Imam. Before this, they used to perform the Taraweeh in separate groups and the people would be inclined to the reciter who had the best voice. Seeing this, Umar said, ‘I see that the people have taken the Quran as songs and melodies. By Allah, if have the ability, I shall certainly change it’. Having said this, only a short time passed that Umar (R.A) ordered Ubai (R.A) to lead the people in salaah’ (i.e. Taraweeh (Recorded by Imam Bukhari in the chapter KhaIq Af’aalil Ibaad’).

With respect to Umar’s usage of the word Bid’a, it must be understood that the word ‘Bid’ a’ in Arabic means ‘that which is new’ ‘invented’ ‘innovated’. In other words it is used to refer to something which did not exist before. With respect to its literal meaning and usage, there is no implication of sin or wrongdoing. Hence, Umar’s use of this word simply reflected the fact that this was not done by the Prophet (S.A.S.). However, seeing and understanding that is was a very good and beneficial act he said, ‘what a good innovation this is’. This statement did not reflect any sinful, wrongful or Haraam act in Islam. It is for it for this reason no one from among the great scholars of hadith, tafseer or fiqh has ever spoken or written against Umar’s (R.A.) statement.

In fact, while commenting on this statement of Umar (R.A.) (as recorded in Sahih Al Bukhari), the great commentator of Sahih Al Bukhari, Hafiz Al Allama Ibn Hajr Al Asqalani writes, ‘Bida’ literally and in its origin means that which has come about without having a like of it before, and in the shariah it is used for that which opposes the Sunnah, hence in that case it is bad. The truth is that if it is used for something which falls under goodness or a good action in the shariah then it is good. And if it is used for something which falls under a bad action in the shariah then it is bad. And if it does not fall under any of these then it is Mubah (allowed), and it has been divided into five different rulings. (Fathul Bari -commentary of Sahih Al Bukhari) Vol. 4 – Pg. 317)

Similarly, the other great commentator of Sahih Al Bukhari As Sheikh Al Imam Al Allama Hafiz Badrudeen Al Aini, while commenting on the words of Umar (R.A.) wrote, ‘The word Ni’ma (translated as ‘What a good’) which was used by Umar, is an Arabic word which, when used, refers to a thing which encompasses all that which is good and the word Bi’sa (‘what a bad’) is an Arabic word which, when used, refers to a thing which encompasses all bad. The reason that Umar referred to this act using the word Bid’ a to describe it is due to the fact that the Prophet (S.A.S.) did not practice it in this way nor was it done by Abu Bakr (R.A.), however he (Umar) knew that the Prophet (S.A.S.) had encouraged them towards this act, hence he said, ‘Ni’ma’ ‘What a good’ ( that is ‘what a good innovation this is’.) (Umdatul Qaari-comentary of Sahih Al Bukhari vol. 11 pg. 126).

‘As for Bid’ a, literally, it means to bring about a new affair which was not present during the time of the Prophet (S.A.S.). and this is of two types. First, if it is included under that which is approved, commendable and agreeable in the shariah then it is ‘Bid’ a Al Hasanah’ a good innovation. And if it is included under that which is disapproved and disliked in the shariah, then it is Bid’ a Mustaqbiha a bad and disapproved innovation’. (Umdatul Qaari-commentary of Sahih Al Bukhari vol. 11 pg. 126).

It is also noteworthy to mention that the great scholar Al Izz ibn Abdis Salaam has written that innovations fall under five headings of the sacred law according to their benefit, harm or indifference. He says that the five headings are: obligatory, unlawful, recommended, offensive and permissible. (Al Jawahir Al Luluiyya fi Sharh Al Arbain – An – Nawawiyya).

Due to the fact that his classification was established on a firm basis in Islamic Jurisprudence and legal principles, it was confirmed by Imam Nawawi, Ibn Hajar Asqalani and the Vast majority of Islamic Scholars.

And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan