Hadith 09: The Ordered and the Forbidden

“On the authority of Abu Huraira Abdul Rahman ibn Sakhr (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saying, ‘What I have forbidden you, stay away from. What I have ordered you [to do], do as much of it as you can. Verily, the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning and their disagreeing with their Prophets.” (Recorded in al-Bukhari and Muslim)

The Narrator

Abu Huaira (r) embraced Islam in the seventh year after hijrah, and was well known for his piety. Abu Huraira (r) was his kunya or nickname and it means the father of cats, after the pets that he (r) so loved. His given name was Abdul Rahmaan ibn Sakhr ibn al-Dausi. He (r) was a constant companion of the Prophet (s), and lived in the Prophet’s (s) mosque as one of the people known as ahl al-Suffa, or the people of the verandah, due to his living there. His (r) close proximity to the Prophet (s) meant that he was able to relate more hadith than any other companion, 5374 in total. The Prophet (s) guided Abu Huraira (r) to an act that would ensure that he never forgot any of the hadith that he learnt, which was that at night, along with praying the late night prayer, he (r) would study and memorise hadith. He was very cautious when narrating them.

“What I have forbidden you stay away from”

The Arabic word ‘nahi‘ is translated here as ‘forbidden’, although it has two implications. There is the strict or complete prohibition of an act which makes something forbidden orharam, and then there is the recommendation to avoid something which makes an act discouraged or disliked, in Arabic makrooh.

The most apparent meaning in this particular hadith is that it is referring to haram or completely forbidden things, which would include adultery, fornication, drinking alcohol, stealing, murder and dealing in interest etc. We should do our best to avoid these things under all circumstances.

Disliked or makrooh acts are also to be avoided, but there is no sin upon the person who performs them on an irregular basis. This would include acts like, for example, eating raw onion or garlic before attending the congregational prayer. The person who wants to attain a purer level of taqwa or consciousness of Allah (swt) and closeness to Him (swt) should do their best to avoid both haram and makrooh acts out of fear of displeasing Allah (swt).

“On the authority of Abu Huraira Abdul Rahman ibn Sakhr (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saying, ‘What I have forbidden you, stay away from. What I have ordered you [to do], do as much of it as you can. Verily, the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning and their disagreeing with their Prophets.” (Recorded in al-Bukhari and Muslim)

“What I have ordered you [to do], do as much of it as you can.”

Similarly to the term ‘forbidden‘ or prohibition, the term ‘order’ also has two levels to it.

The first level is an order that is obligatory on the believer and, under normal circumstances, they are not excused from performing these acts. These are also known in Arabic as wajib and include prayerszakatfastingpilgrimage if one has the means, fulfilling one’s oaths and promises etc.  If a person fails to do these things and they are within one’s ability, then in general, they are considered to have committed a sin.

The second level of order refers to the mustahabb or recommended acts, which include the sunnah prayers and spending in charity etc. If a person does these acts, Allah will be pleased with them and will reward them. But if they fail to perform these acts, then there is no sin upon them. These acts serve to draw us closer to Allah (swt) and make us more beloved to Him (swt). As the Prophet (s) said in a hadith Qudsi (hadith containing the direct words of Allah):

“Surely, Allah, The Exalted, said, “Whoever shows enmity to an ally of Mine, I have waged war upon him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more beloved to Me than what I have obligated upon him. My servant continues to draw near to Me with the voluntary acts until I love him. Once I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he grasps, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask of Me, I would surely grant it to him. If he were to seek refuge with Me, I would surely protect him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

SubhanAllah look at the Mercy of Allah (swt), He (swt) actually shows us the acts that will make Him love us. Our obligatory acts, performed with the correct intention and mindfulness,  draw us near to Allah, but the recommended acts performed with the same mindset, make us LOVED by Him (swt). When we have reached this stage, He (swt) will guide us in everything that we do, and if we ask Him (swt) for refuge, protection or otherwise, He (swt) will grant that to us.

We should therefore ask ourselves whether we are indeed striving to perform the obligatory and after that the recommended acts such as sunnah prayers, giving in charity, extra fasting, making Umrah (the lesser pilgrimage) etc. How much effort are we investing in these important acts, when the reward is so great?

“On the authority of Abu Huraira Abdul Rahman ibn Sakhr (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saying, ‘What I have forbidden you, stay away from. What I have ordered you [to do], do as much of it as you can. Verily, the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning and their disagreeing with their Prophets.” (Recorded in al-Bukhari and Muslim)

“Verily, the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning”

As we saw illustrated in the hadith of Jibreel, when the angel came to the Prophet (s) to ask him (s) important questions about the religion of al-Islam, some types of questioning can be very beneficial. Indeed, the questions that one must ask as they seek to understand their religion are actually considered obligatory upon us. We should seek knowledge and we must ask questions to do this.

So what then is excessive questioning and how can we avoid it? To assist us in understanding this we should first turn to the Qur’an, where Allah (swt) says:

“O believers! Ask not about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble. But if you ask about them while the Qur’an is being revealed they will be made plain to you. Allah has forgiven that, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Forebearing.” (Surah al-Maidah:101)

The reference here is to questions for which answers are not in fact needed, they are more hypothetical, or seeking ridicule. These kinds of questions are not allowed. They are the type of questions that were put forward by the hypocrites and disbelievers. During the time of the Prophet (s) in particular it was disliked to ask too many questions about permissible and impermissible acts, because it was feared that due to someone’s excessive questioning an act may become forbidden. We should therefore preoccupy ourselves with questions relating to the understanding and application of the religion, and not hypothetical situations that may occur. It is reported that if one of the companions was asked about a hypothetical situation, they would say ‘Has it happened?’ and if the answer was negative they would say, ‘Leave it until it happens’.

We can see here that the key lies in having the right intention in our seeking understanding and in our use of questions. We should have the intention of getting closer to Allah (swt) through a deeper understanding and practice of His (swt) religion. If we do that, Allah (swt) will guide us and show us the Straight Path.

Let’s make dua that we become of those truly knowledgable people who Allah (swt) spoke of in the Qur’an:

“It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that truly fear Allah.” (Surah al-Faatir:28)

“On the authority of Abu Huraira Abdul Rahman ibn Sakhr (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saying, ‘What I have forbidden you, stay away from. What I have ordered you [to do], do as much of it as you can. Verily, the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning and their disagreeing with their Prophets.” (Recorded in al-Bukhari and Muslim)

“…and their disagreeing with their Prophets”

Differences and disagreements are one of the greatest means by which a people become weakened. People turn in anger towards one another and may even disagree with their leader, as is the case with the past people who disagreed with their Prophets. This can clearly be understood as a lack of submission.

One of the clearest examples of people disagreeing with their Prophet is found in the account of the Tribes of Israel in the Qur’an. Allah says:

“And  (remember) when Moses said to his people, ‘Verily, Allah commands you that you slaughter a cow.’ They said, ‘Do you make fun of us?’ He said, ‘I seek refuge in Allah from being among the ignorant.’ They said, ‘Call upon your Lord for us that He may make plain to us what it is.’ He [Moses] said, ‘He [Allah]says, “Verily, it is a cow neither too old nor too young, but [it is] between the two conditions. So do what your have been commanded.’ They said, ‘ Call upon your Lord to make plain to us its colour.’ He said, ‘He says, ‘It is a yellow cow, bright in color, pleasing the beholders.’ They said, ‘Call upon your Lord for us to make plain to us what it is. Verily, to us all cows are alike. Surely if Allah wills, we will be guided.’ He [Moses] said, ‘Verily He says, ‘It is a cow neither trained to till the soil nor water the fields, sound, having no other color except bright yellow’. They said, ‘Now you have brought the truth.’ So they slaughtered it though they were near not to do it” (Surah al-Baqarah: 67-71)

These verses clearly illustrate obstinate and disagreeable behaviour towards the commands of a Prophet, and thus Allah (swt). Instead of fulfilling what Allah (swt) had commanded them they began questioning.

We can find the same thing prevalent today. Many people question the wisdom of the teachings of Allah (swt) and His Prophet Muhammad (s). Even when a ruling is clear they seek to question. Some will say, ‘Oh it is only a Sunnah‘ or ‘That was only for that time in Arabia’ as if the Sunnah does not form an integral part of the complete practice of Islam, and the example of the life of the Prophet Muhammad was not the best example for all people for all time. This is in contrast to Allah’s description of the true believers:

“The only saying of the faithful believers when they are called to Allah and His Messenger to judge between them is that they say, ‘We hear and we obey,’ And such indeed are successful. Whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, fears Allah and keeps his duty [to Him], such are the successful.” (Surah al-Noor:51-52)

May Allah make us of those who ‘hear and obey’ and are successful. Ameen.

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