Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali writes under hadeeth no. 28 of his Jam’i:
Regarding the Holy Prophet’s ﷺ saying:
“Beware of newly introduced matters, for every innovation is a straying”
It is a warning to the community against following innovated new matters. He emphasised that with his words, “every innovation is a straying.” What is meant by innovation are those things which are newly introduced having no source in the Sharee’ah to proof them. As for whatever has a source in the Sharee’ah thereby proving it, then it is not an innovation in the Sharee’ah, even though it might linguistically be an innovation.
There is in Saheeh Muslim from Jaabir that the Prophet ﷺ used to say in his khutbah:
“The best discourse is the Book of Allah, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad, and the worst of affairs are those which are newly introduced, for every innovation is an error”
So his saying , “Every innovation is a straying,” is one of the examples of concise and yet comprehensive speech which omits nothing, and it is one of the tremendous principles of the deen, closely resembling, “Whoever introduces into this affair of ours that which is not of it, then it is rejected.”
Every person who introduces something and ascribes it to the deen without having any source in the deen to refer back to, then that is an error, and the deen is free of it, whether it is in the articles of Imaan (creed), deeds or words, outward or inward. As for those things in the sayings of the right-acting first generations where they regard some innovations as good, that is only with respect to what are innovations in the linguistic sense, but not in the Sharee’ah.
An example of that is the saying of ‘Umar when he had united people to stand in prayer (taraaweeh) in Ramadaan behind a single imam in the mosque, and then he came in behind them while they were praying and said:
“What an excellent innovation this is!”
It is also narrated that he said:
“If this is an innovation, then what an excellent innovation!”
It is narrated that Ubayy ibn Kaab said to him, “This did not use to happen,” and Umar said, “I know, but it is good,” meaning that this action was not done in this way before that time, but it has sources in the Sharee’ah from which it is derived, for example that the Prophet ﷺ used to urge people to stand in prayer in Ramadaan, and stimulate people’s desire to do it, and people, in his time, used to stand in prayer in the mosque in different groups and individually, and he prayed with his companions in Ramadaan more than one night, and then stopped doing that, giving as the reason that he feared that it would be made obligatory for them and that they would be incapable of undertaking it, but there was no fear of this [that it would be regarded as an obligation] after him.
It has also been narrated of him that he used to stand in prayer with his companions in the uneven nights among the last ten. Another source is that he commanded us to follow the Sunnah of the Khulafaa’ who took the right way, and this has become the Sunnah of his Khulafaa’ who took the right way since people unanimously agreed about it in the times of ‘Umar, ‘Uthmaan and ‘Ali.
Another example of that is the first call to prayer on the Jum’ah which ‘Uthmaan added because of people’s need of it and which ‘Ali affirmed, and which has become the continued practice of the Muslims. It has been narrated that Ibn ‘Umar said, “It is an innovation,” but it is very likely that he meant the same as his father meant about standing for prayer in Ramadaan [in jamaa’ah].
There is similarly, the compilation of the mushaf [written copy of the Qur’an] in one book about which Zayd ibn Thaabit was hesitant, saying to Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, “How can the two of you do something which the Prophet [sal Allahu alayhi wasallam] did not do?” Then he came to realise that it was a matter of benefit (maslahah), and he agreed to compile it. The Prophet ﷺ had commanded that the revelation should be written down, and there is no difference in writing it down separately [in different places] or collectedly [in one book], and on the contrary, gathering it all together in one is more expedient and useful.
Similar to that is ‘Uthmaan’s having united the community on one mushaf copy of the Qur’an and his ordering the destruction of whatever disagreed with it from fear of the community’s division into groups. ‘Ali and most of the Companions regarded it as a good act, and that was truly a matter of benefit.
Similarly there is the fight against the people who refused to pay the Zakaah. ‘Umar and others were hesitant and in doubt about it until Abu Bakr explained to him the source in the Sharee’ah from which it is derived, and so the people agreed with him about that.
Similarly, there is giving discourses, and we have seen previously the saying of Ghadif ibn al-Haarith that it is an innovation, but al-Hasan said, “Discoursing is an innovation, and an excellent innovation. How many a supplication is answered, need fulfilled, and brother benefitted.” These people only meant that it was an innovation in the form of gathering people together for it at a specific time, because the Prophet ﷺ did not have a specific time to discourse to his companions other than the regular khutbahs during the Jum’ah and Eid prayers, and otherwise he would only remind them occasionally or when something happened which necessitated that he should remind them.
Then later the Companions reached a consensus that a specific time should be fixed for it, as we have seen previously that Ibn Masud used to remind his people every Thursday. There is in Saheeh al-Bukhaari that Ibn ‘Abbas said, “Give discourse to people once a week, but if you refuse [to do so little] then twice, and if you do more, then three times, but do not tire people.” There is in the Musnad that Aisha advised the discoursers of the people of Madinah in a similar fashion. It is narrated that she said to ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Umayr, “Give discourse to the people one day, and leave them alone one day; do not tire them.” It is narrated that ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azeez told the man who gave discourse to do so once every three days. It is narrated that he said, “Give people some rest and do not make it too heavy for them, and avoid discourse on Saturday and Tuesday.”
Abu Nu’aym narrated with his chain of transmission from Ibraheem ibn al-Junayd that he said, “I heard ash-Shaafi’ saying:
“There are two types of innovation: praiseworthy and blameworthy innovations. That which accords with the Sunnah is praiseworthy. That which contradicts the Sunnah is blameworthy”
And he sought to prove it by the saying of ‘Umar, ‘What an excellent innovation it is! What ash-Shaafi’ meant is that which we have mentioned before, that blameworthy innovation is that which has no source in the Sharee’ah from which it is derived, and it is unqualified innovation in the Sharee’ah.
As for praiseworthy innovation it is that which is in accordance with the Sunnah, meaning that which has a source in the Sunnah from which it is derived, and it is only an innovation in the linguistic sense rather than in the sense of the Sharee’ah since it accords with the Sunnah. Other words have been narrated from ash-Shaafi’ in explanation of this, that he said:
“There are two types of newly introduced matters: that which is introduced which is contrary to the Book and the Sunnah, or to a tradition [from someone among the right-acting first generations] or something on which there is consensus, then this innovation is an error. That which is newly introduced of good actions and which does not contradict any of the above, then this newly introduced matter is not blameworthy.”
Many of the matters which were newly introduced and had not previously existed, the people of knowledge disagreed as to whether or not they were good innovations until they referred back to the Sunnah, for example, writing down hadith, which ‘Umar and a group of the Companions forbade, but for which the majority gave licence seeking proof for that from hadeeth from the Sunnah.
Another example is writing the explanation of the hadeeth and of the Qur’an, of which some people among the people of knowledge disapprove and for which many allowed licence.
Another example is the recording of views concerning what is halaal and haraam and the like, and in going to lengths in discussing behaviour and acts of the hearts, which have not been narrated of any of the Companions and Followers, and the majority of which Imam Ahmad disapproved. In these times in which we are so far away from the knowledge’s and sciences of the right-acting first generations, it is called for specifically that we should detail everything of that that has been transmitted from them so that we can distinguish what science and knowledge existed in their time from that which was originated after them, so that the Sunnah can be clearly known from innovation.
It is authentically transmitted that Ibn Mas’ud said,
“You have got up this morning in the natural condition (fitrah), and you will introduce matters and matters will be introduced for you. Whenever you see a newly introduced matter you must take to the original guidance.”
Ibn Mas’ud said this in the time of the Khulafaa ur-Raashideen. Ibn Mahdi narrated that Maalik said, “There were none of these erroneous opinions in the time of the Prophet , Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthmaan,” as if Maalik was indicating by ‘erroneous opinions’ the divisions that originated in the source matters of the deen such as the Khawaarij, the Shi’a, the Murji’ah and the likes, of those who spoke declaring some of the Muslims to be kuffar, and regarded it as permissible to shed their blood and seize their property, or thinking that they would be eternally in the Fire, or regarded the elite of this community as deviants, or on the contrary claiming that acts of disobedience don’t harm their doers, or that none of the people of tawheed would enter the Fire.
Worse than that is what has been introduced of speaking concerning the acts of Allah, exalted is He, such as His Universal and Specific Decree, which those [Qadariyyah proponents of free will] who deny do so, claiming that by that he is purifying Allah from [the ascription of] tyrannical injustice. Worse than that is that which has been introduced of speaking about the essence of Allah and His attributes, of those matters about which the Prophet ﷺ his companions and their followers in good actions were silent.
Some people negated and denied a great deal of that which is in the Book and the Sunnah about that, and they claimed that they do that in order to purify Allah of those things which intellects require Him to be purified. They claimed that the necessary consequences of that are impossible for Allah.
There are also people who were not contented with establishing Him firmly until they established firmly by establishing Him that which is thought that it is inseparable from Him with respect to created beings, and on these inseparable items, both in negation and affirmation, the first of this community followed the course of remaining silent about them. One of the things which was introduced into this community after the age of the Companions and the Followers was discussion about halaal and haraam purely from personal opinion, and rejection of a great deal of that which is in the Sunnah concerning that because it contradicts thinking and intellectual analogical reasoning.
One of the things which originated after that was discussion of the reality (aqeedah) concerning tasting (dhawq) and unveiling (kashf), and the claim that the aqeedah negates the Sharee’ah, and that gnosis (ma’rifah) alone is sufficient along with love, and that there is no need for deeds which are a veil, or that only the common people need the Sharee’ah, all of which is often connected to discussion of the essence and the attributes in a way which is known absolutely to contradict the Book and the Sunnah and the consensus of the right-acting first generations of the community, and Allah guides whomever He wills to a straight path.
And Allah and His Messenger know best.
The Compendium Of Knowledge And Wisdom | Jami’al-‘Ulum wal-Hikam
[Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali ,HB, 870pp, Commentary, Sharh, Nawawi’s Forty 40+8 AHadith, Tr:A Clarke, Turath]