I have heard that it is wrong to regularly practice something that is Mandub, is this true?
Elevating the status of a specific act or deed from its actual position is considered to be offensive (makruh) and a form of innovation (bid’a) according to the majority of classical Ulama and Fuqaha. Considering something that is merely permissible (mubah) as recommended (mandub) or necessary (wajib), something recommended as Sunnah or necessary, or something Sunnah as necessary is one of the forms of reprehensible innovation.
Many acts and practices are recommended in Shariah and a means of gaining great reward; hence one will be rewarded for carrying them out. However, if one considers such acts to be necessary (wajib), or one gives them importance and significance to the point that those who choose not to practice them are looked down upon and considered to be in the wrong, then this would be blameworthy and a form of innovation. The jurists (fuqaha) and other classical scholars term this practice as Israr (insistence) or Iltizam (considering something unnecessary to be necessary).
For example, writing a book for the benefit of other Muslims is a great act of merit and reward. However, if one considers writing a book to be necessary or restricts the duty of preaching (tabligh) to book-writing, then instead of gaining a reward, one will be committing a sin by writing a book. Similarly, if one was to give a discourse (dars) every day after Maghrib prayer, and considered this specific method to be established through the Sunnah, then this would be wrong and a form of innovation.
Another example is the practice of group Dhikr. Making the Dhikr of Allah Most High, both individually or collectively, holds great merit and rewards, and is a means of strengthening one’s relationship with Allah Almighty. However, if a particular method of Dhikr was considered to be necessary to the exclusion of others, then this would become a blameworthy practice.
Hence, there are many recommended and Sunnah practices that hold great virtues and rewards, and one should aspire to implement them in one’s life as much as possible. However, one should always refrain from considering these recommended acts to be necessary to the point that someone who does not carry them out is thought to be sinful.
Some evidences in this regard:
1) It was a regular practice of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) to fast on Fridays due to the auspiciousness of this day. It has been narrated that very rarely would the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) not fast on a Friday. (Sunan Tirmidhi, no: 742)
However, upon seeing the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) fasting regularly on a Friday, many companions also began fasting on this day to the point that fasting on Fridays became somewhat the norm, and people began to regard fasting on this day to hold some specific merit and reward. Due to this, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) prevented the companions from fasting on Fridays alone.
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “None amongst you should observe fast on Friday, but only that he observes a fast before it or after it.” (Sahih Muslim, no: 1144)
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Do not single out the night (preceding) Friday among the nights for prayer, and do not single out Friday amongst the days for fasting but only when one of you is accustomed to fast (on dates) which coincides with this day (Friday).” (Sahih Muslim, no: 1144)
Imam al-Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) mentions that one of the reasons for the prohibition of observing a fast only on Fridays was so that people do not consider fasting on Fridays to be necessary. (See: al-Minhaj sharh Muslim, p: 858)
The fact is that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) himself observed a fast on Fridays due to the special merits attached to this day. However, when the Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) began to regularly fast on Fridays, he feared that people may begin to consider fasting on Fridays to be necessary, hence he prevented others from fasting on Friday alone.
2) The great Hadith master (hafidh), Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (Allah have mercy on him) states in his monumental commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari, Fath al-Bari, whilst commentating on the following Hadith:
Sayyiduna al-Aswad narrates that Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) said: “You should not give away a part of your prayer to Shaytan by thinking that it is necessary to turn (after finishing the prayer) towards one’s right side only. Indeed I have seen the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) often turning towards his left side.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 814)
Imam Ibn Hajar (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“Ibn al-Munir said: This Hadith indicates that recommended acts may become disliked (makruh) if they are elevated from their position (of being recommended). Right-sidedness (tayamun) is recommended (mustahab) in all acts of worship, but when Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud feared that people will begin to consider this recommended act as necessary, he pointed out to its offensiveness.” (Fath al-Bari, 2/437, Dar al-Salam edition)
3) Similarly, we see the jurists (fuqaha) disliking the idea of fixing a particular Surah for recitation in prayer to the exclusion of other Surahs. It is stated in the renowned Hanafi Fiqh masterpiece, al-Hidaya:
“It is disliked (makruh) to fix a portion of the Qur’an for recitation in any of the prayers, for in doing so one will be deserting the other parts of the Qur’an, and it will also indicate that the portion fixed for recitation is preferred over other parts of the Qur’an.”
The commentator of al-Hidaya, Imam Kamal ibn al-Humam (Allah have mercy on him) whilst commentating on the above text states that the recitation of Surah al-Sajdah and Surah al-Dahr in the Fajr prayer of Friday and the recitation of Surah al-Munafiqun in the Jumu’ah prayer is Sunnah. However, if one fixes these Surahs to the exclusion of others, it will be Makruh. He (Ibn al-Humam) then quotes Imam al-Tahtawi and al-Istijabi as saying that this is when one considers the recitation of these Surahs to be necessary, hence if one continuously recited them with the intention of gaining Barakah and following the Sunnah, there would be nothing wrong in doing so. However, one should occasionally recite other Surahs, so that an ignorant person does not regard their recitation to be necessary. (See: Fath al-Qadir with al-Hidaya, 1/337, Dar al-Fikr edition)
4) Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) also gives the same message whilst discussing the Surahs whose recitation is considered Sunnah in Witr prayer. He says:
“(Imam al-Haskafi’s statement: “It is a Sunnah to recite the three Surahs”) meaning Surah al-A’la, al-Kafirun and al-Ikhlas. However, it is mentioned in al-Nihaya that fixing them and reciting them regularly may lead some people to regard their recitation to be necessary (wajib) which is not permissible, hence their inconstant recitation would be better.” (Radd al-Muhtar, 2/6, Bab al-Witr wa al-Nawafil)
5) Imam Abd al-Hay al-Lakhnawi (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“Many permitted acts and practices become disliked (makruh) due to regarding them necessary similar to other necessary actions, as has been mentioned by Mulla Ali al-Qari in his Sharh al-Mishkat (Mirqat al-Mafatih) and Imam al-Haskafi in his Durr al-Mukhtar.” (Sibahat al-Fikr fi al-Jahr bi al-Zikr, P: 62)
The meaning of all of the forgoing is that if an act or practice is recommended (mandub) in Shariah, then one must ensure that it remains on the level of recommendation and not be elevated to it being legally necessary, otherwise it become offensive and a form of innovation. Similarly, it is improper to firmly insist (israr) on others to practice or take part in this act of recommendation. If insistence takes place or those who do not take part are considered to be sinful and in the wrong, then this insistence will fall into the category of innovation (bid’a).
Difference between continuous practicing and insisting:
Finally, one must remember that there are two separate things here and it is important to understand the difference between the two. One is to firmly insist on others to practice (or take part in) a recommended act to the point that one who wishes not to practice it is considered to be in the wrong. This is known as Israr (insistence). However, there is another thing, which is to continuously and regularly practice an act of recommendation, known as Mudawama or Muwazabah. This is permitted and not considered offensive in any way.
For example, a Shaykh regularly gives a discourse every day after Fajr prayers. Now, the giving of a discourse regularly every day after Fajr prayers does not make this practice offensive or a Bid’a, for there is nothing wrong in regular practice (mudawama). However, if the giving and attending of this discourse is considered to be necessary to the point that those who wish to go home and not attend the discourse are rebuked, then this will become an act of innovation.
When we read some Fuqaha mentioning that it is better to leave out a Sunnah or Mustahab act occasionally, it is for this very reason, in that if a Sunnah or Mustahab act is practiced regularly, there is a fear that people may regard it to be necessary. However, if it is made clear to the people (or it is commonly known) that this act is not necessary as such, it will not be necessary to occasionally abstain from practicing it.
The above is a very fine line between something being recommended (mustahab) and being disliked (makruh), or something being Sunnah and Bid’a. If the above principle is clearly understood, then many of our arguments in matters of controversy would be solved, Insha Allah.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK