Since childhood I have seen the involvement and importance of culture in our lives. I have seen the outcomes of culture and how influential it can be. I have viewed people celebrating Urs, celebrating Shab-e-Braat and Shab-e-Miraj, sacrificing animals in the name of saints, bowing to the graves, visiting the shrines of the saints, supplicating to the dead, wearing lucky charms, going to fortune tellers, believing that only a black sheep can be given as sadqa, and promoting the concept of talqeed. All these acts are mainly found in the South Asian culture. However, when it comes to religion we need to clearly define the boundaries between culture and religion.

Dictionary defines “culture” as the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a people and society, and “religion” as a system of faith and worship. Nevertheless, these two are often said to be somehow related to each other. Many famous sociologists and anthropologists have made attempts to link them and define their relation. The reality is that culture and religion can never be the same. It is important to distinguish them and not confuse the two, especially in an age of globalization and increasing contexts of plurality. Religion is a two-way relationship between an individual and the society. The society influence is not arguable, and the dissent is not always tolerated. The culture is mainly an influence from a society towards the individual, and it does not always include religion. Many Asian societies with the corresponding cultures are not tied to any religion. Perhaps one can say that culture incorporates religion when it is present. However, religion is not necessarily a component of culture. Adding things into religion which are derived from culture is not an acceptable act. For instance, the culture of celebrating Urs cannot be linked to religion in anyway but once a person starts defining their acts in terms of religion, it takes the shape of Bid’at.

In Islam, bid’at (Arabic: ?????; English: innovation) refers to innovation in religious matters. Linguistically the term means “innovation, novelty, heretical doctrine, heresy.” There are several different definitions of Bid’at.

Good and bad innovation:

  • Bid’ah Say’iah, “a new thing” which “opposes the Quran and Sunnah” or is “against Islam” (Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya) and is forbidden.
  • Bid’ah Hasana, a new thing that is not against the Sharia (according to scholars such as Muhammad ash-Shawkani,Al-Nawawi,Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Ibn Manzur, Al-Raghib al-Isfahani and Badr al-Din al-Ayni). An example of Bid’ah Hasana is the development of the study of Hadith, Fiqh, Tafsir, which did not exist at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). (Al-Nawawi)

carrying out actions which displease Allah SWT and His messenger Muhammad (PBUH). (Muhammad ibn Isa at-Tirmidhi)

“new things that have no basis in the Qur’an or Sunnah.” (Ibn Rajab)

Bid’ah is always bad but if a new thing has origins in the Qur’an and Sunnah it is to be called Bid’ah Logaviyya (verbal innovation). (Ibn Taymiyyah)

The best thing is to avoid incidents and acts which can lead to bid’at and refer to Quran and the Sunnah of our Holy Prophet (SAW). Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) says in this respect: “He who innovates something that is not in agreement with our matter (religion), will have it rejected” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. Allah says in the interpretation of the meaning of the Quran that, “This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion” [Noble Quran 5:4]. Also, Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “…Verily he among you who lives [long] will see great controversy, so you must keep to my Sunnah and to the Sunnah of the rightly-guided Khalifahs – cling to them stubbornly. Beware of newly invented matters, for every invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is going astray, and every going astray is in Hell-fire.” [Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi].

Hence, the most favorable method is to promote Bid’ah Hasna and avoid Bid’ah Say’iah. The primary thing is to focus on the compulsory and the basics. Islam is a very clear and simple religion and we should avoid complicating it. Also, whenever one feels any sort of confusion, one should refer to the hadith: “Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I have left behind me two things, if you cling to them you will never go astray. They are the Book of Allah and my Sunnah” [al-Hakim] and “…so cling to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly guided caliphs after me, even if it be with your teeth” [Bukhari].

By Hajra Bilal

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