Ash-Shaikh Saalih Al-Fawzaan (may Allaah preserve him) said in o ne of his verdicts:
Question 181: Indeed there has appeared between the students of knowledge differing regarding the definition of the innovator. So some of them said: he (the innovator) is whoever said or did an innovation, even if the proof was not presented to him. And from among them are those who said: the proof must be established for him. And from among them are those who made a difference between the Mujtahid scholar, and others besides him from those who established their principles that are in opposition to the methodology of the People of the Sunnah and the Jamaa’ah. And there has appeared from amongst some of these statements the declaration of Ibn Hajr and An-Nawawee as innovators, and refusing to pray for mercy upon them. We seek from your eminence a clarification regarding this issue, which the discussion about it has increased. May Allaah reward you with good.
Firstly, it is not appropriate for the beginning students of knowledge, and others besides them from the common folk, to busy themselves with declaring people innovators (Tabdee’) and declaring people to be immoral sinners (Tafseeq). This is because it is a matter that is dangerous, and they do not have the knowledge and comprehension in this matter. Also, this causes hatred and enmity between them. Therefore, it is obligatory upon them to busy themselves with seeking knowledge, and restraining their tongues from that which contains no benefit – rather it contains harm for them, and for others besides them as well.
Secondly, innovation (Al-Bid’ah) is what has been introduced into the religion from what was not from it. This is due to the statement of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam – may prayers of blessing and peace be upon him), “Whoever introduces into this matter of ours what is not from it, then it is rejected.” [Reported by Al-Imaam Al-Bukhaaree in his Saheeh (3/167) from a narration o n the authority of ‘Aa’ishah – may Allaah be pleased with her].
And if a person did something that is in opposition to the religion due to his ignorance (he simply did not know), then verily he is to be excused because of his ignorance, and he is not to be ruled an innovator (Mubtadi’). However, his action is (still) considered an innovation.
Thirdly, whoever has some mistakes in matters of Ijtihaad (scholarly deduction), which some others besides him made interpretation concerning – like Ibn Hajr and An-Nawawee, and what occurred from them of interpreting some of the Attributes of Allaah – then that person is not to be ruled as an innovator. Rather, it should be said: This which occurred from them is a mistake, and it is hoped that they will be forgiven due to what they brought forth of tremendous service for the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam – may prayers of blessing and peace be upon him). So they are two great Imaams, who are reliable according to the people of knowledge.
Source: Al-Muntaqaa min Fataawaa Al-Fawzaan, Volume 2
Conveyed from Sahab net.
Posted o n 2/21/07
Translated by Aqeel Walker