“On the authority of Abu Abdullah al-Nu’maan ibn Basheer (may Allah be pleased with them both) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) say, ‘That which is lawful is clear, and that which is unlawful is clear, and between the two of them are doubtful [or ambiguous] matters about which not many people are knowledgeable. Thus, he who avoids these doubtful matters certainly clears himself in regard to his religion and honour. But he who falls into the doubtful matters falls into that which is unlawful, like a shepherd who pastures around a sanctuary, all but grazing therein. Verily every king has a sanctuary and Allah’s sanctuary is His prohibitions. In the body there is a morsel of flesh which, if it be sound, all of the body is sound and which, if it be diseased, all of the body is diseased. This part of the body is the heart.” (Recorded in Bukhari and Muslim)
Abu Abdullah al-Nu’maan ibn Basjeer al-Ansaari al-Khazraji was one of the first Muslims born to the Ansar of Madinah. He was around 10 years of age when the Prophet (s) passed away. Although the scholars of hadith agree that hadith cannot be taken from a child, if someone memorised the hadith when they were a child and narrated it when they were an adult, then it is acceptable, as is the case with this hadith. Al-Nu’maan narrated more than 120 hadith, 6 of which are in Sahih al-Bukhari.
“That which is lawful is clear, and that which is unlawful is clear…”
There are innumerable acts which are clearly permissible and sanctioned in theShareeah. In some cases these are explicitly mentioned as being permissible, whilst in other cases, it is clear that they fall under the general guidelines laid out in the Qur’an and Sunnah. For example, Allah says in the Qur’an:
“This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them.” (Surah al-Maaidah:5)
In other cases expressions like “there is no sin upon you…” appear in the Qur’an, making it clear to us that something is permissible. In the same way, acts that are forbidden are very clearly stated. For example, Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Forbidden for you are only carrion and blood and swine-flesh and that which has been slaughtered in the name of other than Allah and that which has been killed by strangling, or by violent blow or by a headlong fall or by the goring of horns and that which has been [partly] eaten by a wild animal, unless you are able to slaughter it [before its death] and that which is sacrificed on altars. [Forbidden] also is to use arrows for seeking luck. All that is disobedience to Allah and sin.” (Surah al-Maaidah:3)
Also included in this category of clearly unlawful acts, is every act for which Allah (swt) and His Messenger (s) have prescribed a punishment, including adultery, fornication and murder. It is from the grace and mercy of Allah (swt) that He sent this religion and message in a way that is clear and easy to understand. There can be no doubt about matters which are either lawful or unlawful. A minority of acts fall into the category of ‘doubtful matters’, and these will be discussed in detail in the next post InshaAllah.
“between the two of them are doubtful [or ambiguous] matters…”
After stating that lawful and unlawful matters in Islam are clear, the Prophet (s) mentioned in this hadith, that there are also ‘doubtful matters’. It is only a minority of acts that fall into this category, and there are different factors that may lead people to be uncertain about a particular act and whether or not it is permissible.
Firstly, we may find that there are differences of opinion amongst the scholars about different topics. Often, the reasons for differences can be explained very simply. For instance, one scholar may have made a decision based on his own personal reasoning, whilst another may have made a ruling whilst being unaware of another hadith on the subject. This aspect has been a common cause for differences amongst the scholars in different madhabs or schools of thought.
There are also occasions when the evidence related to an act appears to be contradictory. For example, one hadith from the Prophet (s) states that one should not drink whilst standing up, and another hadith states that he (s) drank whilst standing. Both of these hadith are authentic, and the scholars have come to different conclusions about how to reconcile them.
Further, there are acts that may technically be permissible, but they may become doubtful because they may lead someone towards that which is forbidden. An example given here is ‘enjoying one’s wife’ without intercourse whilst she is menstruating. It’s permissible, but if he does not have strong self-control, it may lead him towards that which is forbidden.
There are also matters that may become impermissible due to the circumstances surrounding them, or acts which are disapproved of (makroohaat) but not forbidden, which some scholars have classed as falling into this ‘doubtful’ category.
The example of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and how he conducted his affairs, shows us that he would avoid doubtful matters. He (s) would also advise those that came to him with problems towards conduct that left nothing to doubt or uncertainty. He (s) said:
“Verily, the permissible things are clear and the forbidden things are clear. And between them are some matter which are doubtful. Therefore, leave that which makes you doubt for what does not make you doubt.” (Recorded in al-Nisaai)
“…about which not many people are knowledgeable.”
After explaining that lawful and unlawful matters are clear, and that there also existdoubtful matters, the Prophet (s) went on to explain that not many people are knowledgeable about these doubtful matters. In essence, this shows us that there is a clear ruling to be made about permissibility or impermissibly of every act, but there are not many people who have enough knowledge to make these rulings.
“Thus, he who avoids these doubtful matters certainly clears himself in regard to his religion and honour.”
The one who avoids these doubtful matters will be free of any criticism with regards to their religion and honour. Conversely, the one who participates in doubtful acts, leaves themselves open to criticism and blame. The Prophet (s) said in a narration in Sahih al-Bukhari:
“If one leaves that concerning which he has only doubt [and not certainty] that it is sinful, then he is more avoiding of what is clear to him [as being a sin]. The one who is bold enough to take part in what is doubtful to him as sinful, soon he may fall into what is clearly [a sin to him]. The sinful acts are Allah’s private pasture. Whoever grazes around the private pasture is soon to fall into it.”
We can see here that if we are unsure about something, and whether or not an act will be pleasing to Allah (swt) it is better to avoid that act if at all possible. Exercising this type of caution will be better for us, and will stop us from straying towards things which are clearly forbidden.
“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.
“In the body is a morsel of flesh which, if it be sound, all the body is sound and which, if it be diseased, all of it is diseased. This part of the body is the heart.”
We now come to the last part of this hadith concerning doubtful matters, which you can find posted in full here. At the end of this hadith the Prophet Muhammad (s) reminded us about the importance of the state of our hearts. Our heart is so important that if it contains a disease, it will affect our whole being. We should realise that it is not cardiovascular fitness that is being referred to here, rather it is the spiritual state of the heart.
In many ways, our heart is the commander of our limbs. If our heart is inclined towards doing good then the limbs will do good also. But if our heart is inclined towards doubtful or forbidden things, then it will become hardened, less inclined to remember Allah (swt) and more likely to commit evil deeds. The state of our heart is therefore our defining characteristic, and Allah (swt) distinguishes the human being from the rest of creation due to the heart and the intellect. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Have they not travelled in the land, and have they hearts wherewith to feel and ears wherewith to hear? Verily, it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts which are in the breasts that grow blind.” (Surah al-Hajj:46)
SubhanAllah. How many of us are blind in the heart? How many hearts are so shrouded in darkness they are unable to see the light? Know that the heart cannot be pure and sound until it remembers Allah (swt), glorifies Him, loves Him, fears Him, has hope in Him and trusts Him. This is the true realisation of ‘There is no God except Allah’.
The only heart that will aid a person in Allah’s sight is the sound, wholesome, submitting heart. As Allah says,
“The day when wealth and sons avail not (any man) save him who brings unto Allah a sound heart.” (Surah al-Shuaraa 88-89)
What are the signs of a sound heart?
They have been outlined by ibn al-Qayyim as follows:
1) A person considers themselves to be belonging to the next world and not this one. They feel a stranger in this world and cannot wait to reach the Hereafter.
2) A person continues to be upset with themselves anytime they commit a sin until they repent to Allah.
3) If a person misses their daily recitation of Qur’an or dhikr, they are more upset than if they lost their wealth.
4) The person finds more pleasure in worshipping Allah than in eating or drinking.
5) When they begin their prayer, their worries and concerns about the world leave them.
6) Their only concern and worry is about Allah and acting for His sake.
7) They are careful to use all their spare time in worshipping Allah.
8) The person is more concerned with the correctness of the deed than with the performance of the deed itself.
You only need to read these points and you will instantly know what you need to work on to improve the state of your own heart.
May Allah purify our hearts and intentions. Ameen.
Extracted from Commentary on the Forty Hadith of Al-Nawawi (Vol 1) by Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo Pages 451-476