If you have read the first two parts of these series, you would know by now that your intention really makes the difference between success and failure. Success by winning Paradise in the hereafter or failure by entering into the Hell fire. Your intention, your sincerity towards Allah in your deed will decide whether it is an acceptable deed or not, as the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam relates to us:
“Allah does not accept any deed except that which is done only for Him and to seek His pleasure.”
Narrated by al-Nasaa’i, 3140; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, 52
But now we are going to answer an important question in this article:
Is a sincere intention to please Allah enough to make a deed permissible?
To answer this, we must first understand that the intention is always one of two players in a deed. The other player that accompanies an intention almost all the time is the action itself. We know what the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam has said about the intention. Now what has the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said about the action? He said:
“Whoever does any action that is not in accordance with this matter of ours (that is Islam), will have it rejected.”
Narrated by Muslim, al-Aqdiyyah, 3243
From this we understand that although the intention is an important component of the deed, it is NOT enough to make a deed permissible. It has to be accompanied by an action that is within the guidelines of the matters taught to us by Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala and His Messenger Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam.
The hadeeth above is so profound that the scholars of Islam have many things to say about it:
Ahmad ibn Hanbal said: “The principles of Islam are covered by three hadeeth”:
- The hadeeth related by `Umar that actions are but by intentions,
- The hadeeth related by `Aishah that states whoever innovates a matter in this matter of ours will have it rejected, and
- The hadeeth related by al-Nu`man ibn Bashir which states that what is lawful is clear and what is unlawful is clear.
Al-Hakim relates that Imam Ahmad said: “It would be appropriate to mention these three hadeeth at the beginning of every book on the subject, since they are the foundations of the hadeeth”:
- The one stating that the actions are by intentions,
- The one stating that the creation of one of you is brought together in the womb for forty days, and
- The one stating that whoever innovates something in this religion of ours will have it rejected
So from the matter above we can conclude that for any deed to be accepted, you have to bring two things with it. If even one of these is missing, Allah will not accept your deed:
- The intention of worship should be to sincerely please Allah alone.
- The action of worship should be in accordance with the Law of Allah and His Messenger.
The two conditions for the acceptability of any deed
The two conditions above have been mentioned by numerous scholars of Islam:
1) Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “Allah has made devotion of worship to Him alone and following the Sunnah the means of deeds being accepted; if these conditions are not met, then deeds are unacceptable.”
2) On this Aayah:
“So whoever hopes for the Meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord.”
[Surat Al-Kahf: Aayah 110]
Ibn Katheer comments saying: “These two factors form the basis for an acceptable deed: it must be done sincerely for the sake of Allah alone, and it must be correct and in accordance with the Shari’ah (law) of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).’
And on this Ayah:
“And who can be better in religion than one who submits his face to Allah and he is Muhsin.”
[Surat An Nisa: Ayah 125]
Ibn Kathir explains the meaning saying: “Meaning, performs the good actions in sincerity for his Lord with faith and awaiting the reward with Allah, following the correct guidance that Allah legislated in the religion of truth which He sent His Messenger with. These are the two conditions, in the absence of which no deed will be accepted from anyone:
a) Sincerity and
The work is sincere when it is performed for Allah alone and it becomes correct when it conforms to the Shari`ah. So, the deed becomes outwardly correct with following the Sunnah and inwardly correct with sincerity. When any deed lacks either of these two conditions, the deed becomes null and void. For instance, when one lacks the pillar of sincerity in his work, he becomes a hypocrite who shows off for people. Whoever does not follow the Shari`ah, he becomes an ignorant, wicked person. When one combines both pillars, his actions will be the deeds of the faithful believers whose best deeds are accepted from them and their errors erased.
[Tafseer lbn Katheer]
3) On this hadeeth:
‘Actions are only judged by intentions’ [Saheeh al-Bukhaari #1]
Sheikh al-Albani, May Allah be pleased with him, explained: “Many people know this hadeeth in wording but don’t understand its meaning. Why? Because oftentimes we turn (to some people) and say: ‘Ya akhee, this action that you are doing, or this statement that you are uttering, is not a righteous action.’ What is the answer? ‘Ya akhee, the Messenger (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: ‘Actions are only judged by intentions’ and my intention is good! My intention is righteous!’
If one’s actions are not righteous but intention is righteous – this is not enough. Likewise it is also not enough if it is vice versa: i.e. if one’s actions are righteous but intention is not righteous. So either one is not enough without the other.”
4) Ibn Rajab (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “This hadeeth (“Whoever does any action that is not in accordance…..”) forms one of the most important principles of Islam. It is like a scale for weighing up deeds according to their outward appearance, just as the hadeeth ‘The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions’ is the means of weighing up the inner nature of deeds. Just as every action which is not intended for the sake of Allah brings no reward to the one who does it, so too every deed which is not in accordance with the command of Allah and His Messenger will also be rejected and thrown back at the one who does it. Everyone who innovates in Islam something for which Allah and His Messenger have not granted permission, that thing has nothing to do with Islam.
[Jami’ al-‘Uloom wa’l-Hikam, part 1, p.176]
Incorrect actions are widespread in the Muslim ummah, where a person might think the intention is good but the action itself is an innovation in Islam. Again, repeating what was said by Ibn Rajab above about innovations:
Everyone who innovates in Islam, something for which Allah and His Messenger have not granted permission, that thing has nothing to do with Islam.
Innovations in Islam and the warning against them
Some common actions of worship that some Muslims do with a good intention but are innovations in Islam because the action itself is incorrect are as follows:
- Asking for help from a righteous dead person in a graveyard or shrine thinking that he/she has special virtues to provide sustenance, health and protection.
- Religious festivals and birthday celebrations like celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam.
- Wearing amulets and hanging special ornaments in the house seeking protection through it from evil.
- Religious music such as qawwalis that is done in remembrance of Allah and His Messenger.
- Reciting Surat Al-Fatihah on special occasions such as on the meal that is offered upon the death of a person, which is an innovation also.
- Reciting dhikr (remembering Allah) in a manner and in a number not prescribed by authentic teachings from Allah and His Messenger.
- Isolating certain nights to stand in worship reciting Surahs in an innovated manner and number, such as on the night of 15th of Sha’ban (known as Shab-e-Baraat in the Indian subcontinent) and 27th of Rajab (Shab-e-Mi’raj).
- Supplicating to Allah in unison with the imam after every Salah except in acceptable forms prescribed by the laws of Allah and His Messenger such as in Witr salah in Taraweeh.
- Uttering the intention out allowed such as the intention to pray.
The above are just a handful of the the great number of innovations plaguing the Muslim ummah today. These innovations arise when Muslims do not bring the two conditions for the permissibility of a deed of worship together.
Imaam ash-Shaatibee (rahima-hullaah) mentions:
“Linguistically bid’ah (innovation) means ‘a newly invented matter’. The Shari’ah definition of bid’ah as: ‘A newly invented way [beliefs or action] in the religion, in imitation of the Shari’ah (prescribed law), by which nearness to Allah is sought, [but] not being supported by any authentic proof – neither in its foundations, nor in the manner in which it is performed’.”
[Al-I’tisaam of ash-Shaatibee, 1/37]
The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam was very severe in warning us against any innovation in Islam. He Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said:
“Beware of newly-invented matters, for every newly- invented matter is a going astray.”
Classed as saheeh (authentic) by al-Albani in Saheeh Sunan al-Tirmidhi, no. 2157
The warning against innovation in the religion of Islam is given to us every Friday using the words of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa Sallam, reminding us of the need to be aware of it and avoid it:
إِنَّ أَصْدَقَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابُ اللَّهِ وَأَحْسَنَ الْهَدْيِ هَدْيُ مُحَمَّدٍ وَشَرُّ الْأُمُورِ مُحْدَثَاتُهَا وَكُلُّ مُحْدَثَةٍ بِدْعَةٌ وَكُلُّ بِدْعَةٍ ضَلَالَةٌ وَكُلُّ ضَلَالَةٍ فِي النَّارِ
“The truest word is the Book of Allah and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. The most evil matters are those that are newly invented (in the religion), for every newly invented matter is an innovation. Every innovation is misguidance and every misguidance is in the Hellfire.”
Source: Sunan al-Nasā’ī 1578
Grade: Sahih (authentic) according to Al-Albani
Note that the kind of innovation that is prohibited are those that are introduced in the matters of the religion of Islam, as is clearly stated in the hadeeth discussed earlier where the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said: “Whoever does any action that is not in accordance with this matter of ours (that is Islam), will have it rejected.”. This is not innovation in the matters of this world such as innovation of cars for example for the ease of the people.
Innovation in Islam stems from differing from the Qur’an and Sunnah. And differing from the Qur’an and Sunnah is what destroyed the Jews and the Christians. In the beautiful Surat Al-Bayyinah, Allah subhanu wa Ta’ala describes exactly that.
He Subhanahu wa Ta’ala says:
And the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) differed not until after there came to them clear evidence. (i.e. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and whatever was revealed to him).
[Surat Al-Bayyinah: Aayah 4]
Ibn Kathir explains the Ayah above in his Tafseer by saying:
“This refers to the people of those divinely revealed Scriptures that were sent down to the nations that were before us. After Allah established the proofs and evidences against them, they divided and differed concerning that which Allah had intended in their Scriptures, and they had many differences. This is like what has been reported in a hadeeth that has many routes of transmission:
The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa sallam said:
“Verily, the Jews differed until they became seventy-one sects. And verily, the Christians differed until they became seventy-two sects. And this Ummah will divide into seventy-three sects, and all of them will be in the Fire except one. They (the sahabah) said, “Who are they, O Messenger of Allah? ” He replied, “Those who are upon what I and my Companions are upon.”
It was narrated from Mu’aawiyah ibn Abi Sufyaan (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) stood among us and said: “Those who came before you of the people of the Book split into seventy-two sects, and this ummah will split into seventy-three: seventy-two in Hell and one in Paradise, and that is the jamaa’ah (main body of Muslims).”
Narrated by Abu Dawood (4597) and others; classed as saheeh by al-Haakim (1/128),
Sheikh ul Islam ibn Tamiyyah said in Majmoo’ al-Fataawa (4/155) (3/346): “The sign of these groups – i.e., the seventy-two groups that go against Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah – is that they forsake the Qur’aan, Sunnah and scholarly consensus. The one who follows the Qur’aan, Sunnah and scholarly consensus is one of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah.”
Sheikh Saalih Al-Munajjid has published on islamqa.info: “The cause of difference and division among these groups mentioned in the hadeeth has to do with fundamental matters of religion and basic issues of ‘aqeedah, not differences of opinion regarding fiqh.” 
Aqeedah refers to: what a Muslim believes in his heart about the matters which are known from the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah, in acknowledgement of the truth of Allah and His Messenger. 
That’s why Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) says:
“The saved group is described as Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah, and they are the greater majority and the vast multitude. As for the other groups, they are followers of weird ideas, division, innovation and whims and desires, and none of these groups reached anywhere close to the size of the saved group, let alone being equal to them, rather some of these groups are very small in number. The sign of these groups is that they go against the Qur’aan, Sunnah and scholarly consensus. The one who follows the Qur’aan, Sunnah and scholarly consensus is one of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah.”
[Majmoo’ al-Fataawa (3/346).]
Keep in mind that the widely known 4 imams viz. Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi’i and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and their madhabs are not one of the sects.
The Imams of the four madhab knew the seriousness of introducing innovations in Islam by moving away and differing from the Qur’an and Sunnah. All of them are famously known to have said,
“If I say something then compare it with the book of Allah and the Sunnah of his messenger and if it agrees with them then accept it and that which goes against them then reject it and throw my saying against the wall!”
[An Nawawee, al Majmoo (1/63) and Ibn ul Qayyim, A’laam ul Muwaqqi’een (2/361)]
What is important to be kept in mind from the matter above is that not all deeds done with a good intention are righteous. There are many innovative practices that were introduced and will continue to be introduced by the sects that differ from the Qur’an and Sunnah. You need to be aware of these sects and innovative practices with knowledge to protect yourself and guide those who don’t know. And more importantly, you need to make sure that your deed meets the two conditions for it to be acceptable by Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala. Which is that, it must be performed with a sincere intention to please Allah alone and the action of worship performed must be from the guidelines given to us by Allah and His Messenger and not an innovation in Islam that differs from the law of Allah and His Messenger.
Some important pieces of advice
Before his death, the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam gave this ummah some very important pieces of advice in order to safeguard themselves from innovative sects and religious practices and to ensure that the two conditions for the permissibility of a deed are met. Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala let the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam know that the Muslim ummah will be split into multiple sects and that there will come a time when there will be a lot of differences, which is the time we live in today. In such a time, this is the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam’s advice to you:
Advice number 1:
“Indeed, whoever among you lives (for a long time) he will see much difference. Beware of the newly invented matters, for indeed they are astray. Whoever among you sees that, then he must stick to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly guided caliphs. “
Jami At tirmidhi 2676, Book 41, Hadith 32
Advice number 2:
“I have left behind two things, you will never go astray as long as you hold fast onto them, the Qur’an and Sunnah.”
Muwatta Imam Malik, 1601
Advice number 3:
“You have to follow my Sunnah (way) and the way of my rightly-guided successors (al-khulafa’ al-rashidoon); bite onto it with your eyeteeth (i.e., cling firmly to it).”
Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, al-‘Ilm, 2600
Advice number 4:
“You must adhere to my Sunnah and the way of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs who come after me. Adhere to it and cling to it strongly, and beware of newly-invented matters, for every newly-invented matter is an innovation (bid’ah) and every innovation is a going astray.”
Narrated by Abu Dawood (4607) and classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood
If we had to summarize the advises of the Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam above into a single statement, it would be:
Stick to the Qur’an and Sunnah upon the understanding and implementation of the rightly guided Salaf as-Saalih.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“The sign of the people of bid’ah (innovation) is that they do not follow the salaf.”
End quote from Majmoo’ al-Fataawa (4/155).
Who are the Salaf as-Saalih?
Muhammad Nasir- Deen Al-Albaani (d.1420A.H) -rahimahullah-said:
“The Salaf as-Saalih (Pious predecessors) includes the three generations about whom the Messenger SallAllahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam testified regarding their goodness in a Hadeeth whose authenticity is agreed upon. Rather this Hadeeth has reached the level of Mutawwatir due its many chains in the Saheeh of Muslim and other than them from a great deal of the Companions, that the Prophet SallAllahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said:
“خير الناس قرني ثم الذين يلونهم ثم الذين يلونهم ثم الذين يلونهم”
“The best people are my generation then those who will come after them and then those after them…”
Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6065, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2533
Sheikh al-Albani continues, “So the three generations whose goodness has been testified are the ones who are intended by being the Salaf as-Saalih.”
The narration above is a command from the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam, his command to follow the Salaf as-Saalih and his affirmation that their path is the only correct path.
Where is the command of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala to follow the Salaf as-Saalih and his affirmation that their path is the only correct path? It is in the Qur’an as follows:
And the first to embrace Islam of the Muhajirun (those who migrated from Makkah to Al-Madinah) and the Ansar (the citizens of Al-Madinah who helped and gave aid to the Muhajiroon) and also those who followed them exactly (in Faith). Allah is well pleased with them, as they are well pleased with Him.
He has prepared for them Gardens under which rivers flow (Paradise), to dwell therein forever. That is the supreme success.
[Surat At-Tawbah: Aayah 100]
On this Aayah Sheikh al-Albani comments:
“Indeed this noble Aayah is the foundation from where it is necessary for every Muslim to spring forward from to get to know the Da’wah which some of the scholars, in the past and present have defined as the ‘Da’watus–Salafiyyah’.
Whoever truly wants to return to the Book and the Sunnah then it is necessary for that person to return to what the Companions of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam were upon, and the Tabi’een (the successors of the Companions) and the successors of the Ta’abeen.”
[Taken from a tape entitled ‘Dawatus-Salafiyyah’]
So in summary the Salaf as-Saalih are the first three generations whom Allah and His Messenger Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam have commanded us to follow, imitate and understand the Qur’an and Sunnah like the way they understood it. They are:
1st generation – The Sahabah (Those who met the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam as believers and died in a state of believing in him as Muslims).
2nd generation – Tabi’een (Those who came after the period of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam, who did not meet the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam, but met the Sahabah as believers and followed the teachings of the Sahabah and died as Muslims.)
3rd generation – Atba at Tabi’een (Those who came after the period of the Tabi’een, who did not meet the Sahabah, but met the Tabi’een as believers and followed the teachings of the Tabi’een and died as Muslims.)
Some practical steps in order for us to ensure that the action in our deed is from the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah:
1. Obtain knowledge of the religion of Islam from true scholars so that your action is based upon clear evidence from the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah. If someone comes with something new that you do not know of, ask for evidence.
Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala commands ask to verify some new piece of knowledge that comes to us with clear evidences:
O you who believe! If a rebellious evil person comes to you with a news, verify it, lest you harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful to what you have done.
[Surat Al Hujurat: Aayah 6]
Say, “Produce your proof, if you should be truthful.”
[Surat Al Baqarah: Aayah 111]
If we don’t know whether an action is a permissible form of worship, then Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala tells us to:
“Ask the people of the knowledge if you do not know.”
[Surat Al-Anbiya: Aayah 7]
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said,
“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.”
[Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 224
Grade: Sahih (authentic) according to Al-Albani]
He Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam also warned us to take knowledge from the true scholars before it is taken away:
“Allah does not take away the knowledge by taking it away from the hearts of the people, but He takes it away by the death of the Scholars till no Scholar remains. Then people will take as their leaders the ignorant who when asked will give their verdict (fatwa) without knowledge. So they will go astray themselves and will lead the people astray.”
[Reported by Al-Bukhārī, no. 100]
In a wording, he said, “There will remain the ignorant from whom verdicts (fatwas) will be sought. They will give verdicts based upon their own opinions, so they will go astray and will lead the people astray.”
[Al-Bukhāri no. 7307]
Ibn Mas’ūd said,
“Learn knowledge before it is taken away, and it is taken away by the death of the scholars. Beware of going extremes and delving too deeply, and beware of innovations. Upon you is to adhere to the ancient affair.”
[See Ad-Dārimī with the explanation, Fathul-Mannān 2/115, Al-Musannaf of Abdur-Razzāq 11/252, Jāmi’ Bayān Al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi 1/152, Al-‘Amr bil-Ittibā’ p. 59)
Mu’aadh ibn Jabal (Radhi Allah ‘Anhu) said:
“O’ people, you must seek knowledge before it is taken away, for indeed when its people (the scholars) die, it will be taken away. And beware of bid’ah, innovation and sophistication, and adhere to the ancient way [i.e., the way of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)].”
[Al-Bidaayah wan-Nahy ‘anha by Ibn Waddaah]
And always, always ask for evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah with regards to the act of worship that you are about to perform:
The author, (Imām al-Barbahārī) may Allah have mercy upon him said; “Examine! May Allah have mercy upon you, the speech of every person that you hear, practically in your day and age. Do not act in haste and do not enter into anything from it until you ask and see – Did any of the companions of the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam speak concerning it or any of the scholars? For if you find a narration from them concerning it then hold tightly onto it and do not exchange it for anything nor give anything precedence over it and consequently fall into the Hell-Fire.” 
Sheikh Saalih Al-Fawzaan says:
“Beware and do not rush into accepting speech upon false value even if you are impressed and carried away by his eloquent speech, ability to manipulate words and lectures, do not hasten to it until you have looked into it and examined it against the Qurʾān and Sunnah. Look to see who said (this speech), is he a person of understanding or not? Ask the people of knowledge about him and examine to see if any of the salaf had preceded him in his speech. I have warned against this on many occasions, do not introduce opinions, views, statements that have not been mentioned before (from any of the salaf).” 
[Ithāf al-Qāriī fī Sharh us-Sunnah of Al-Barbahārī, 1/102-109 of Shaykh Ṣāliḥ ibn Fawzān al-Fawzān]
2. Ensure that the action is something which the Salaf as-Saalih have known to have done and it is not something newly introduced. Stop where they stopped.
It is easy to understand this point when we realize that Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala perfected and completed the religion of Islam during the time of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam. All the rules and regulations of worship were sent through revelation during the time of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam. The revelation also stopped during the time of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam. Then how can someone come after and introduce something new to a religion that Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala said is perfect and complete?
This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.
[Surat Al-Maidah: Aayah 3]
Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala perfected the religion to the extent that He taught us through His Messenger Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam how to clean ourselves after excretion and urination, to a level of perfection that someone was very amazed at this and said to Salman Al-Farsi RadhiAllahu ‘Anhu:
“Your Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam teaches you about everything, even about excrement.”
To which Salman Al-Farsi RadhiAllahu ‘Anhu responded:
“Yes, he has forbidden us to face the Qibla at the time of excretion or urination, or cleansing with right hand or with less than three pebbles, or with dung or bone.”
[Sahih Muslim: Book 2, Hadith 73]
The companions of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam practiced the perfect religion. It is enough for us to follow them.
Hudhayfah ibn al-Yamaan (RadhiAllahu ‘Anhu) said:
“Do not perform any act of worship that was not practiced by the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, for the earlier generation did not leave any room for the latter to add anything (to the religion). Fear Allah, O’ readers, seekers of knowledge, and follow the path of those who came before you.”
[Narrated by Ibn Battah in Al-Ibaanah]
Imaam Al-Awzaa’ee (d.157) said:
“Make yourself patient upon the Sunnah, stop where the people stopped, speak with what they spoke with, and refrain from what they refrained from. And follow the path of your Righteous Predecessors (Salaf-as-Saaliheen) for verily, sufficient for you is that which was sufficient for them.”
[Related in Ash-Shari’ah, by Al-Aajurree, p. 58]
‘Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood (RadhiAllahu ‘Anhu) said:
“Whoever wants to follow an example, let him follow the example of those who have passed away, the Companions of Muhammad (sallalahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). They were the best of this ummah, the purest in heart, the deepest in knowledge, the least in sophistication. They were people whom Allah chose to be the Companions of His Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam and to convey His religion, so imitate their ways and behavior, for they were following the Straight Path.”
[Al-Baghawi in Sharh as-Sunnah]
‘Abdulaah Ibn Mas’ood (RadhiAllahu ‘Anhu) said:
“Follow and do not innovate, for everything has been taken care of, and you must follow the ancient way (i.e., of the Salaf).”
[Ad-Daarimi in his Sunan]
‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Umar (RadhiAllahu ‘Anhu) said:
“People will continue to adhere to the correct way so long as they follow the footsteps [of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam)].”
[Al-Laalkaa’i in Sharh Usool I’tiqaad Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah]
Ibn ‘Abbaas RadhiAllahu ‘Anhu said:
“Indeed the most detestable of things to Allah are the innovations.”
[As-Sunan al-Kubraa, 4/316]
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said:
“The basic principles of Sunnah in our view are: adherence to the way of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, following their example and forsaking bid’ah (innovation), for every bid’ah is going astray.”
[Al-Laalkaa’i in Sharh Usool Ahl as-Sunnah]
The author, (Imām al-Barbahārī) may Allah have mercy upon him said: “Safe yourselves from the small innovations, cause verily the small/minor innovations go to an extent and become major. Likewise every innovation in this ummah was minor in the beginning, seemed similar to the haqq (the truth). Everyone who performed it got deluded by it, to an extent that it became unavoidable. It later turned into a deen that is practiced. So the person who followed it left the Sirat al-Mustaqeem (the straight path).”
3) Do not decide whether an act of worship is acceptable or not based upon its good or bad appearance, logic or on weak opinion. Its permissibility depends only upon whether it is found in the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah or not.
‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Umr said:
“Every bid’ah (innovation) is misguidance, even if people think it is good.”
[Al-Laalkaa’i in Sharh Usool I’tiqaad Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah]
About the act of mas’aa (wiping over socks to complete the ablution) the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam taught us to wipe the top of the socks even though it is logically more sound to wipe the bottom of the socks because you find more dirt there. About this ‘Ali Ibn Abi Taalib (Radhi Allah ‘Anhu) commented:
“If religion were based on opinion (what people think is common sense), then we should wipe the bottom of the khuff (leather slippers) rather than the top, but I saw the Messenger of Allah wiping the top of them.”
[Ibn Abi Shaybah in Al-Musannaf]
Imam Al-Awzaa’i said:
“You must follow the footsteps of those who came before, even if the people reject you. Beware of personal opinions even if people make them attractive. The clear way is that of the Straight Path.”
[Al-Khateeb in Sharaf Ashaab al-Hadeeth]
Imaam Maalik said:
“Truly I am only a mortal: I make mistakes (sometimes) and I am correct (sometimes). Therefore, look into my opinions: all that agrees with the Book and the Sunnah, accept it; and all that does not agree with the Book and the Sunnah, ignore it.”
[Ibn ‘Abdul Barr in Jaami’ Bayaan al-’Ilm, 2/32]
Imaam Abu Haneefah said:
“When I say something contradicting the Book of Allah the Exalted or what is narrated from the Messenger (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), then ignore my saying.”
[Al-Fulaani in Eeqaaz Al-Himam, p. 50]
Imaam Ash-Shaafi’ee said:
“The Muslims are unanimously agreed that if a sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) is made clear to someone, it is not permitted for him to leave it for the saying of anyone else.”
[I’laam , 2/361]
Imaam Ahmad said:
“Do not follow my opinion; neither follow the opinion of Maalik, nor Shaafi’i, nor Awzaa’i, nor Thawri, but take from where they took (i.e. from the Salaf as-Sallih)”
[Ibn al-Qayyim in I’laam, 2/302]
Your intention makes the difference, but your sincere intention is useless if the action you perform is not according to the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah upon the understanding of the Salaf as-Saalih.
We will end this series with an incident that took place after the death of the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam, that shows to us how important it was for the Sahabah to ensure that both their intention and their action is according to what Allah and His Messenger had left them with in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Here is the incident:
Amr ibn Yahya said: “I heard my father narrating from his father who said:
“We were at the door of ‘Abd-Allah ibn Mas‘ood before the early morning prayer. When he came out we walked with him to the mosque. Abu Moosa al-Ash’ari came up to us and said, “Did Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan come out to you yet?” We said, “No.” He sat down with us until [Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan] came out. When he came out, we all stood up to greet him, and Abu Moosa said to him: “O Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan, earlier I saw in the mosque something that I have never seen before, but it seems good, al-hamdu Lillaah.” He said, “And what was it?” He said, “if you live, you will see it. I saw people in the mosque sitting in circles waiting for the prayer. In every circle there was a man, and they had pebbles in their hands. He would say, ‘Say Allahu akbar one hundred times,’ and they would say Allahu akbar one hundred times; then he would say, ‘Say Laa ilaaha ill-Allah one hundred times,’ and they would say Laa ilaaha ill-Allah one hundred times; then he would say, ‘Say Subhaan Allah one hundred times,’ and they would say Subhaan Allah one hundred times.’ He asked, ‘What did you say to them?’ He said, ‘I did not say anything to them; I was waiting to see what your opinion would be and what you would tell me to do.’ He said, ‘Why did you not tell them to count their bad deeds and guarantee them that nothing of their good deeds would be wasted?’ Then he left, and we went with him, until he reached one of those circles. He stood over them and said, ‘What is this I see you doing?’ They said, ‘O Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan, these are pebbles we are using to count our takbeer, tahleel and tasbeeh.’ He said, ‘Count your bad deeds, and I guarantee that nothing of your good deeds will be wasted. Woe to you, O ummah of Muhammad, how quickly you are getting destroyed! The Companions of your Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) are still alive, his garment is not yet worn out and his vessels are not yet broken. By the One in Whose hand is my soul, either you are following a way that is more guided than that of Muhammad or you have opened the door of misguidance!’ They said, ‘By Allah, O Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan, we only wanted to do good.’ He said, ‘How many of those who wanted to do good failed to achieve it! The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told us that people recite Qur`an and it does not go any further than their throats. By Allah, I do not know, maybe most of them are people like you.’ Then he turned away from them. ‘Amr ibn Salamah said, ‘I saw most of the members of those circles fighting alongside the Khawaarij on the day of Nahrawaan.’ ”
[Reported by al-Daarimi, al-Sunan, no. , ed. by ‘Abd-Allah Haashim al-Yamaani. Al-Albaani classed its isnaad as saheeh in al-Silsilat al-Saheehah under hadeeth no. See Majma’ al-Zawaa’id by alHaythami ]
The point to understand from the hadeeth above is:
Even though the act of worship that the people in the masjid were performing by saying takbeer, tahleel and tasbeeh is an act that looked good in appearance and sincere in intention as they were praising Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’la, the sahabah still scolded them for doing it because it was an action done in a manner that was not prescribed by the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam and warned them to stop because they knew it will not be accepted by Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala.
The incident above is a lesson for us to ensure that our deeds with sincere intentions are always accompanied by correct action. It warns us against becoming like those who try to change a religion that is already perfect by introducing new practices which will never be accepted by Allah, about whom the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said:
“I will reach the Cistern ahead of you. He who comes to me will drink, and whoever drinks will never thirst again. There will come to me some people whom I will recognize and they will recognize me, then they will be prevented from reaching me. I shall say: ‘They are of me,’ but it will be said: ‘You do not know what they introduced after you were gone.’ So I shall say: ‘Away, away with those who changed (the religion) after I was gone.’”
[Narrated by al-Bukhaari (6212) and Muslim (2290)]
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