Bid’ah: A Fountainhead Of Problems

One of the worthwhile tests of oneself is to think of what a bad innovation would be. Within the cultural mindset of the West, innovation and creativity are so highly praised and valued that one seldom thinks of there being bad innovation, because one does not have a ready word for it that one has in other languages and other contexts. As it often happens, I was led to think about this subject because I was talking to a conservative Saudi friend of mine about some of the writings I had done in the past about bad innovation, and I remembered a post I had written more than a decade ago about the festival of Mawlid Al-Nabi [1], which celebrates the birthday of Muhammad, which was being viewed by the Muslim author of a Somaliland blog site as being an example of bad innovation, in that the custom of celebrating the birth of the prophet began centuries after his death and was contrary to his own wishes not to have his birth celebrated. The example had struck me as a similarity with Christmas, in that the Bible itself is rather cool on the subject of birthdays [2] and nowhere advocates them being celebrated for Jesus Christ or anyone else, for that matter. This reminded my friend that he had just written a paper for one of his university classes about the subject of bid’ah, which made my bringing it up all the more interesting as it was already a subject on his mind.

What is the underlying problem of bad innovation? When something is as beloved as novelty and innovation is in the West, it can be hard to understand how this tendency is problematic. Let us note two aspects of even good innovation that are problematic. One is that a focus on novelty and innovation leads people to view as comparatively unimportant what remains true and valuable for the long-term by priming people to be interested in only those things that strike one as novel and not familiar. This downgrading of the familiar leads us to view as unimportant those things that last, which are in fact the most valuable and worthwhile of things to be concerned about, thus showing a misguided set of priorities to what is least important and most ephemeral. Secondly, even good innovation tends to want to push people to change what they are doing, and to lead to knowledge as well as products becoming obsolete before they have finished their useful life, which leads to a great deal of frustration in even the best case scenario, when there is genuine worth to the innovations being developed, which is not always the case.

If even good innovation is at least somewhat problematic because it can lead to mistaken priorities when it comes to valuing the novel over what is of lasting worth and in frustrating people through often needless and frustrating and undesired change, then bad innovation is an even more serious problem because it has these and other negative repercussions without the positive aspects in the ledger that good innovation can provide. Frequently, bad innovation gives the illusion of novelty when it often presents old error in merely new packaging, and it leads people to think of themselves as being on the cutting edge when they are really only departing the trunk of the tree to get into every smaller and twiggier concerns of less and less worth thinking about, to say nothing of the divisiveness of such matters because things that have not been properly tested cannot be relied upon, and may have more serious consequences than are often recognized to be the case until some time has passed.

If resistance to change and innovation is viewed as a negative in contemporary Western society, such resistance is socially beneficial in a variety of ways. Forcing changes and innovations to prove themselves as being worthwhile before they become widely accepted in society weeds out a great many innovations that are all hype but no performance, which is a great many of the innovations that are promoted. The search for side effects and negative repercussions of innovations helps people think of more serious matters and value the vetting and testing process that separates what is useful and valuable from that which is only fashionable. And when people are focused less on creating novel heresies and more on exploring the joy of orthodoxy, our world becomes a vastly less alienating and far more sane place. One can hope, at least, that some people will celebrating becoming more critical of innovation, and far more demanding that it demonstrate worth before it is to be praised and adopted.



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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