On the authority of the mother of the faithful, 'Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), who said: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
He who innovates something in this matter of ours [Islam] that is not of it will have it rejected [by Allah].
[Bukhari & Muslim]
In one version by Muslim it reads:
He who does an act which we have not commanded, will have it rejected [by Allah].
Written commentary compiled by volunteers utilizing Sh. Jamaal Diwan's audio commentary above and English translation of Ibn Daqiq Al-Id's commentary on The Forty Hadith of Imam al-Nawawi.
This is one of two hadiths that encompass the entirety of Islam according to scholars. The first is “Verily actions are by intention...” which addresses the internal aspect of practicing Islam. Everything we do should be with the intention of pleasing Allah (swt) and by purifying our intentions we accomplish a great deal in our religion.
Scholars say that the acceptance of actions of Ibadah (worship) is based on the above two conditions:
- The intention - the action should be done with sincerity, for the sake of only Allah.
- It should be done in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet (sas)
Good Intentions Are Not Enough
Good intentions alone are not enough. We must also ensure that our actions are done properly in accordance with the example of the Prophet (sas) and the guidelines of Islam. Sometimes we may think it enough to be sincere, without making the effort to ensure that what we are doing is also correct. This hadith encompasses the second crucial aspect of the practice of Islam, which is ensuring that the outward performance of our actions is right.
Prophet Muhammad (sas) began his sermons with the following words, which are repeated in the opening of khutbahs everywhere, “Verily the most truthful speech is Allah’s Book and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad peace be upon him. And verily the worst affairs are those introduced into the religion without basis.”
Ibn Rajab in his commentary on the 40 Hadith of Nawawi noted, “that which has no basis or that which is not from it,” implies that every single one of our actions and deeds should be aligned with the guidelines of Islam. This does not necessarily mean that the Sunnah of the Prophet (sas) literally addressed every single action, but rather that all we do should fall within the general guidelines laid out in Islam.
Some people think that if they are just following someone else, as long as they themselves did not invent something, then their action is acceptable. This is not true; every person is responsible for being diligent in making sure their actions are correct. Emulating and following the Prophet (sas) is a Qur'anic obligation. Allah, the Almighty says:
Verily, in the apostle of God you have the best example to emulate for everyone who looks forward (with hope and awe) to Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah unceasingly. (Surah Al-Ahzab 33 21).
The Difference between Worship and Daily Life
It is important here to differentiate between worship (ibadaat) and daily life and interactions (mu’amalat). With regard to worship, the rule of thumb is that something is forbidden by default unless there is supporting evidence in the Quran and Sunnah. We cannot make things up; only the acts of worship explicitly laid out by the Quran and Sunnah are acceptable. On the other hand, non-worship actions (mu’amalat) are permissible unless there is textual evidence that prohibits them. The type of clothing we wear, our choices in food, and many other everyday matters are left up to individual choice so long as there is no contradiction in the sources of Islam.
Religious Innovation (Bid’ah)
There is a lot of controversy over the issue of innovation in religion, or bid’ah, and this hadith is quoted frequently in that debate. It is a complicated topic about which many people are either over- or under- zealous. While the topic cannot be addressed in a few sentences, here are a few pointers that give a balanced perspective:
- Imam ash-Shafi’i and others asserted that there is such a thing as a bid’ah hasana, a good innovation. An example used to illustrate this concept is Taraweeh prayer. The Prophet (sas) did not explicitly order the people to gather for Taraweeh prayer, but Umar ibn al-Khattab later established it as a consistent congregational practice.
- The guidelines and general principles of Islam create a broad definition of what is “from it.” Once, the companions were performing prayer in congregation behind the Prophet (sas). When they rose from ruku’, after the customary saying ‘Our Lord to You is praise,’ one companion added on his own, “Good and blessed Praise in multitudes that fill the heavens and fill the earth and fill what is between them.” The Prophet turned to his companions after the prayer was finished and asked who had said those words. No one answered. The Prophet said that he only asked because more than 30 angels raced each other and competed to write down the reward of those words.
- Other examples supporting the above points are Uthman ibn Affan’s decision during his rule to compile the standard copy of the Quran, and the establishment of schools of fiqh (madhahib) by many scholars later on.