A very interesting and balanced analysis of the situation from one of the greatest (neutral) scholars of our times…
Also, see Sidi Hanif Kamal’s insightful and clear explanation:
I pray everyone is well.
I was informed recently that shaykhul hadith Muhammad Sufi Sarwar (May Allah grant him all good and well being) i.e. my murshid’s shaykh, has suffered complete bodily paralysis.
I would kindly request everyone to make sincere du`a for his recovery. He is one of the great spiritual teachers in our times, a leading scholar of hadith, and one of our akabirin.
Update: I just spoke to my murshid (Allah continue to benefit us through him) who said that Hazrat Sufi Sahib is better now although still somewhat weak. Please continue to make du`a for him.
There has always been confusion regarding the stance of the Deobandi scholars on the issue of “good bida`” (i.e. bida` hasana). Do the Deobandi scholars reject this concept? Is there really a difference between them and other traditional scholars on the issue? How do they explain the new acts that they themselves do?
Point 1: There Is No Real Difference Except In Usage
In reality, there is no essential difference between the definition of the scholars who named a particular practice as bida` hasana and the Deobandis. Nor do the Deobandi scholars reject such a concept. If anything, the only difference is in wording (lafdh) and the rule has always been “there is no argumentation when it comes to usage.” Maulana Ashraf `Ali Thanawi explicitly states this in his Imdad al Fatawa. He says:
“The establishment or negation of innovation being divided into “good” (hasana) and “bad” (sa’iyya) is disputed merely due to (difference) in usage… and there is no arguing when it comes to usage (istilah). After realizing and understanding this principle all subsequent and prior doubts are removed.”
(vol 5, Pg: 283. Maktaba Dar al `Ulum Khi Ed.)
Maulana Gangohi states in his fatawa :
“This is a difference in usage. Everyone means the same thing.”
(Pg: 155 Dar al Isha`at Ed. 2003)
This principle is something one should actively take note of since it is common for people to descend into petty quarrels due to differences in how they express certain points of the religion – even though both methods of expression are sound in meaning-.
Point 2: The Deobandi Definition & Explanation
Both the Deobandi scholars and others consider new practices that arise as permissible on the condition that they conform with the general dictates of Sunni methodology. As such, the Deobandis only argue that these matters are in *reality* not innovation because they conform to the general purport of the sunna and what it points (ishara) to. Due to this, such new acts will be considered sunna or mustahab and so forth, altough they may “appear” to look like innovations.
This was explained in detail by Hakimul Ummah Maulana Ashraf `Ali Thanawi (Allah be well-pleased with him) in his Imdad al Fatawa (Ibid). He clearly differentiates between:
 haqiqi bida` (intrinsic/real), and
 suri bida` (extrinsic/appearingly)
He states regarding the latter (Vol 5, Pg: 293):
“[The meaning of bida` surriyya] is that which is in itself not found in the sunna (explicitly) but is infered from the general principles (of the Law).”
Then Maulana states:
“[Regarding whether bida` suriyya and hasana are two seperate thing] (bida`) Sa’iyya (bad innovation) and (bida`) haqiqiyya are one; (bida`) hasana (good innovation) and suriyya are one.”
He elaborates further on the narration “All innovation is misgudiance” (kul bida` dhalala) by stating that if “innovation” is defined solely as haqiqi (intrinsic/real) then the narration is non-exclusionary, meaning that it includes every “real” innovation. Since, “real” innovation is by default considered “bad”, and that which does not conform to Sunni methodology, then there is no problem in accepting “all” (kul) in the narration to actually mean “every innovation” without specification.
However, if innovation is defined generally as including both the haqiqi and the suri then the latter will not enter into this narration, and the narration will be considered `aam makhsus i.e. a general expression used to indicate something specific. “All” (kul) will therefore only include in it haqiqi bida` and not suri. Thus, it does not mean “every innovation” but “every real (haqiqi) innovation”.(Ibid, Pg: 292)
Similarly, Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri stated in his Faydh al Bari:
والبدعة عندي ما لا تكون مستندةً إلى الشرع، وتكون ملتبسةً بالدين
“And innovation according to me is that which has no support in the shari`ah…”
And the shari`ah here refers to the basic sources of Sunni methodology, as he makes clear in his `Urf al Shadhi when he states:
واعلم أن البدعة ما لا يكون أصله في الأصول الأربعة
“Know that innovation is that which does not have any basis in the four fundamental principles (qur’an, sunna, ijma`, and qiyas).”
This is also what Maulana Idris Kandihlawi states in his commentary on Mishkat al Masabih.
Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (Allah be well-pleased with him) says in his fatawa (Pg: 155):
“There is no such thing as “good innovation” (bida` hasana) and whatever is called bida` hasana is in reality a sunna (s: confirmed, derived, or indicated by the sunna). However, this is a difference in usage. Everyone means the same thing.”
Point 3: The Hanafi Scholars Who Divided Innovation Into “Good” Or “Bad”
Others, however, labelled the above as “good innovation” – whether by using the term or actually explaining it in detail. So it is in actuality merely khilaf lafdhi as has been mentioned before.
The muhaqiq of the Hanafi school, Allamah Ibn `Abidin stated in his Rad al Muhtar that innovation is of five types, as did many other scholars before him. He stated:
مطلب البدعة خمسة أقسام ( قوله أي صاحب بدعة ) أي محرمة ، وإلا فقد تكون واجبة ، كنصب الأدلة للرد على أهل الفرق الضالة ، وتعلم النحو المفهم للكتاب والسنة ومندوبة كإحداث نحو رباط ومدرسة وكل إحسان لم يكن في الصدر الأول ، ومكروهة كزخرفة المساجد . ومباحة كالتوسع بلذيذ المآكل والمشارب والثياب كما في شرح الجامع الصغير للمناوي عن تهذيب النووي ، وبمثله في الطريقة المحمدية للبركلي
Among the other scholars in the Hanafi school who explicitly accepted (or used) the division of innovation into hasana and sa’iyyah were:
 Ibn Nujaym in his Bahr al Ra’iq sharh `ala Kanz al Daqa’iq,
 Al Birgivi in his Tariqa al Muhammadiyya, and its commentators such as Imam Khadimi,
 Imam Tahtawi in his Hashiya,
 `Ala al Din Haskafi in his Durr al Mukhtar,
 The authors of Fatawa al Hindiyya,
 The great Indian commentary on the Durr entitled Ghayat al Awtaar by Maulana Muhammad Nantowi,
 `Allama Shabbir Ahmad `Uthmani, the Deobandi scholar, in his Fath al Mulhim, and so forth.
Point 4: Conclusion
In conclusion: Deobandis do not reject new practices, but they do not label them as “good innovations” since the phrase “innovation” is haqiqatan signifying something bad according to them. Rather, new acts that conform to the general methodology of Sunni Islam, even if not explicitly found in the sunna, are referred to as sunna. Apparently, they seem to look like innovation but in reality are not.
Others, differing in terminology, labelled such things as bida` hasana and found no qualms in using sucha phrase. To them bida` hasana is no different than sunna hasana as in the prophetic narration “whoever starts a good sunna will have the reward of it.”
The most important thing to note is that both opinions strictly stipulate that any new action that does not conform to Sunni methodology, or is not derived from the general indication of the sunna, is rejected since “that which is not from this way of ours will be rejected”, as the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said. However, that which does conform and has some basis will be accepted. Whether one wishes to refer to it as “good innovation” or as a “sunna” that only “appears” to look like an innovation is ultimately inconsequential.
And Allah Knows Best
Update: Please also see Mufti Muhammad’s answer.
Mufti Taqi `Uthmani (Allah continue to benefit us through him) mentions in his Isrshadat Akabir (Pg: 33):
“Dr. `Abd Al Hayy (Allah have mercy on him) states that, ‘I personally saw Maulana Ashraf `Ali Thanawi (May Allah santify his secret) during his final illness, after the doctors and physicians had told him not to talk too much or meet people, one day lying down on his bed with his eyes closed. Suddenly, he opened his eyes and said ‘Call Maulvi Muhammad Shafi`i.’ He was called and Maulana Thanawi said, ‘You are writing Ahkam al Qur’an. I have just realized that so and so issue is gleaned from this verse of the Qur’an, and I have never seen it mentioned anywhere else. When you reach that specific verse then write down this issue as well.’ Stating this, he closed his eyes again and lied down. After a while he opened his eyes again and said, ‘Call so and so’. He came and was told to do a specific task. When this sequence was repeated over and over, Maulana Shabbir `Ali, who was the rector of Maulana Thanawi’s khanqah and quite open with Maulana, said, ‘Hazrat, the doctors and physicians have forbidden you from talking but you keep calling and conversing with people. For God’s sake, have some mercy on us.’ (s: they were afraid of Maulana’s illness becoming more aggravated) Maulana Thanawi replied, ‘What you say is true, but I ponder: what is the benefit and use of those moments of life passed not assisting others. If one’s life passes in assisting someone then this is Allah’s blessing.””
Even in their last day they never gave up benefitting this ummah of ours…
Shaykh Farid (Allah have mercy on him) said:
گر ہواے ایں سفر داری ولا ** دامن رہبر بگیر وپس برآ
بار باید راہ را تنہا مرد ** بے قلاؤز اندریں صحر امرو
The above basically states that if one wishes and yearns to walk this path of love (to Allah) then grab onto a guide and follow him. If you walk this path without a guide then you will fall into confusion and bewilderment, and you will never be able to complete the journey.
After this Hakimul Ummah mentions Shaykh Farid writing about those who completed the journey without a guide. However, this to was only achievable due to the influence of guides, those one is not aware of. (Islaah A`amal Pg: 236)
I will detail this aspect later someday.
Hakimul Ummah Maulana Ashraf `Ali Thanawi (May Allah sanctify his secret) said:
“For the fulfillment of all your needs and goals one should read the following verse of poetry after prayer 7 times:
” فسہل یا الہی صعب ** بحرمة سید الابرار سہل
(Anfaase `Isa, Pg: 80)
Hakimul Ummah stated:
“When one attains the perfection of knowledge then at this juncture does one realize that he is ignorant. Maulana Mahmud Hasan (Allah have mercy on him) would say that studying our whole lives resulted in going from a state of compound ignorance (jahl murakkab) to that of simple ignorance (jahl basit).”
(Anfaase `Isa, Pg: 278)
“Compound Ignorance” (jahl murakkab) is mainly characterised by the refusal of the claimant to admit to his own ignorance, his own lack of insight regarding specifics, and his constant pummeling of “I know! I know! I know!” when in reality such a person does not know anything. This is opposed to jahl basit (simple ignorance). The latter is characterised by a sense of not knowing i.e. the person knows that he does not know. It is “basic unawareness”. Rather, we learn from the narrations of the companions that saying “I dont know” is in actuality a type of “knowing” as the person knows that he does not know and can thus easily be remedied and taught.
It is narrated by Ibn `Abd al Barr in his Jami` Bayan al `Ilm:
قال عبد الملك بن أبي سليمان :[ سئل سعيد بن جبير عن شيء فقال : لا أعلم ثم قال : ويل للذي يقول لما لا يعلم : إني أعلم
“`Abd al Malik ibn Abi Sufyan said: Sa`id ibn Jubayr was asked about something and he said, ‘I do not know’. He then said, ‘Woe to the one who says about what he does not know ‘I know’.'”
Similarly, it is stated that `Abdullah ibn `Umar would consider it a blessing to be asked of something he did not know and state “I have no knowledge of it” as Ibn `Abd al Barr also relates:
فلما ولى الرجل قال : نعما قال عبد الله بن عمر سئل عما لا يعلم فقال : لا علم لي به
As John Templeton said: “If we become increasingly humble about how little we know, we may be more eager to search.” Search, ofcourse, for true and beneficial knowledge…