“But he who falls into the doubtful matters falls into that which is unlawful, like the shepherd who pastures around a sanctuary, all but grazing therein. Verily every king has a sanctuary and Allah’s sanctuary is His prohibitions”
The Prophet Muhammad (s) has furthered illustrated why we should avoid doubtful matters in this hadith. He (s) stated that if we fall into doing things that are doubtful, or unclear as to their permissibility, this may lead us towards that which is unlawful or forbidden.
To illustrate this point the Prophet (s) used the parable of the shepherd. It was a custom among the Arabs that the most noble amongst them would have land that only his own animals were allowed to graze on. If a shepherd were to come close to the boundary of this land, it would easy for his sheep to stray into the man’s pasture. In the same way, if we are in the grey area of performing acts of uncertain permissibility, we are more likely to stray towards the dark area of what Allah (swt) has forbidden. The safest place to be is far away from the boundary of what is forbidden. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“Those are the limits of Allah and do not come near to them.” (Surah al-Baqarah:187)
This part of the hadith also reminds us of one of the important principles in Islam which is sadd al-dharaai or ‘blocking the means’. This is the concept of forbidding something because it may lead to something else. An example of this would be forbidding a man and a woman to be alone together. Although there may not be any harm in the act in itself, the act is prohibited because it may lead to something forbidden.
We can see then that the only way to be sure of avoiding what Allah has prohibited, is to avoid going near anything that is doubtful. Staying away from these things is the best way to protect our religion and our honour.