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In a famous hadith we have that every innovation is an error.

It was narrated that Jabir bin 'Abdullah said: "In his Khutbah the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to praise Allah as He deserves to be praised, then he would say: 'Whomsoever Allah (SWT) guides, none can lead him astray, and whomsoever Allah sends astray, none can guide. The truest of word is the Book of Allah and best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. The worst of things are those that are newly invented; every newly-invented thing is an innovation and every innovation is going astray, and every going astray is in the Fire.' Then he said: 'The Hour and I have been sent like these two.' Whenever he mentioned the Hour, his cheeks would turn red, and he would raise his voice and become angry, as if he were warning of an approaching army and saying: 'An army is coming to attack you in the morning, or in the evening!' (Then he said): 'Whoever leaves behind wealth, it is for his family, and whoever leaves behind a debt or dependents, then these are my responsibility, and I am the most entitled to take care of the believers.'" Sunan An-Nasai 1578

In another hadith we have the virtue of introduction of good practice in Islam.

Jarir b. Abdullah reported that some desert Arabs clad in woollen clothes came to Allah's Messenger (ﷺ). He saw them in sad plight as they had been hard pressed by need. He (the Holy Prophet) exhorted people to give charity, but they showed some reluctance until (signs) of anger could be seen on his face. Then a person from the Ansar came with a purse containing silver. Then came another person and then other persons followed them in succession until signs of happiness could be seen on his (sacred) face. Thereupon Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said: He who introduced some good practice in Islam which was followed after him (by people) he would be assured of reward like one who followed it, without their rewards being diminished in any respect. And he who introduced some evil practice in Islam which had been followed subsequently (by others), he would be required to bear the burden like that of one who followed this (evil practice) without their's being diminished in any respect. Sahih Muslim 2673

What am I missing? I think it is in the translation of the words "Innovation" and "Introduction", how do I understand this and explain this to a non Arab? Jazak Allah.

  • Innovation is to make something up and say it is part of Islam where as introduction is when there is already something good existing like charity and saying we should do that as it benefits people. – Zohal Oct 21 '15 at 16:52
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The later hadith you are referring to have also been translated like this:

فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ "‏ مَنْ سَنَّ فِي الإِسْلاَمِ سُنَّةً حَسَنَةً فَعُمِلَ بِهَا بَعْدَهُ كُتِبَ لَهُ مِثْلُ أَجْرِ مَنْ عَمِلَ بِهَا وَلاَ يَنْقُصُ مِنْ أُجُورِهِمْ شَىْءٌ وَمَنْ سَنَّ فِي الإِسْلاَمِ سُنَّةً سَيِّئَةً فَعُمِلَ بِهَا بَعْدَهُ كُتِبَ عَلَيْهِ مِثْلُ وِزْرِ مَنْ عَمِلَ بِهَا وَلاَ يَنْقُصُ مِنْ أَوْزَارِهِمْ شَىْءٌ ‏"‏ ‏.‏

"The one who innovates a good innovation in Islam has its reward and a reward similar to those who follow him in it--until the Day of Judgment--without lessening their reward. The one who innovates an innovation of misguidance would be sinful for it and has sins similar to those who follow him in it--until the Day of Judgment--without lessening their sins."

I guess the translation you are using is taken from sunnah.com. They do follow the opinion that there are only bad innovations, so that might be a good reason why they've translated it in that way.

The word "sanna", which is used in the hadith actaully means to innovate, especially in this context, according to the majority of the scholars. An article could be written about this word.

The ones that does classify innovations as only bad, would never agree with this or translate it in this way because it goes against their fundamental understanding of innovations. So in their case they have to interpret it in another way, or they would have to change their views on what a bidah is.

That is one reason why it's not translated as "innovates a good innovation", but rather translated to "introduces a good practice".

Ibn Al-baz (a scholar that only believe in bad innovations) interprets this hadith and say that it means that whoever innovates a good innovation that has been FORGOTTEN, from the prophets (saw) sunnah will have a reward for it.

As I said before, they have to interpret it in another way to get around the issue of good innovations. But also, by interpreting it that way, the interpretation goes against the word innovation. It also would mean that if a person innovate a bad innovation that has been forgotten from prophet (saw) sunnah, that he will be sinful for it. This can not be possible. We do not believe that the prophet had bad innovations or any bad sunnahs, how could it then been forgotten and then re-innovated.

See my full answer here: https://islam.stackexchange.com/a/29232/15201

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