Hadith 6: The Lawful and Unlawful are Clear
By Imam Nawawi
In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-‘ālameen. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam is His Messenger.
On the authority of Abu Abdullah al-Nu’mān ibn Basheer (radiyallāhu’anhu) who said:
“I heard the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) 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 Allāh’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’mān Ibn Basjeer Al-Ansaari Al-Khazraji (radiyallāhu’anhu) was one of the first Muslims born to the Ansar of Madinah. He was around 10 years of age when the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) 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’mān narrated more than 120 hadiths, 6 of which are in Sahih al-Bukhari.
1. “That which is lawful is clear, and that which is unlawful is clear…”
In the first part of the hadith the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), has set a criterion by which Muslims must decide whether something is permissible or not. The hadith lays down an extreme importance principle that can be applied in all aspects of one’s life. It also shows the way to truth and righteousness.
This hadith indicates that one should only perform an act or deed which is permissible and proper if he is positive or certain of it. Performing this act will lead to some kind of tranquility or happiness in this life and in the Hereafter – this is one of the benefits of applying the hadith.
There are innumerable acts which are clearly permissible and sanctioned in the Shari’ah. 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.
Allāh 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.”
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.
Allāh 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 Allāh 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 Allāh and sin.”
Also included in this category of clearly unlawful acts, is every act for which Allāh (subhanahu wa ta’ala) and His Messenger (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) have prescribed a punishment, including adultery, fornication and murder. It is from the grace and mercy of Allāh (subhanahu wa ta’ala) 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.
2. Avoid Doubtful Matters
“between the two of them are doubtful [or ambiguous] matters…”
After stating that lawful and unlawful matters in Islam are clear, the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) 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 madzabs 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 (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) states that one should not drink whilst standing up, and another hadith states that he (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) 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 (disliked) of (makroohaat) but not forbidden, which some scholars have classed as falling into this ‘doubtful’ category.
The example of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and how he conducted his affairs, shows us that he would avoid doubtful matters. Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) would also advise those that came to him with problems towards conduct that left nothing to doubt or uncertainty.
Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) 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 An-Nasā’ie)
On the authority of Abu Muhammad al-Hasan bin ‘Ali bin Abi Taib, (radiyallāhu’anhu) the grandson of the Messenger of Allah, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and who is dearest to him, who said: “I committed to memory from the Messenger of Allah, (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam), (the following words):
“Leave that about which you are in doubt for that about which you are in no doubt.”
[Recorded by At-Tirmidzi and An-Nasā’ie; and At-Tirmidzi said: It is a good and genuine Hadith]
“Leave that which makes you doubt for that which does not make you doubt.”
This hadith illustrates a very important general principle that can be applied in all aspects of one’s life - avoid doubtful matters. If we only carry out acts that we are certain are permissible then our hearts will be free from doubt. The one who gets involved in doubtful matters on the other hand, will never find their heart to be completely at ease. If the true believer finds that something troubles their heart and makes it doubt, then they should avoid that matter.
This hadith is especially important in these times when people highlights differences amongst the scholars, and espouse different opinions. There are many new and complex things such as business practices, which may have some good and some bad in them. Even if they have not been discussed by the scholars yet, people will still voice an opinion about them. How can we save ourselves from all this confusion? How can we know which path to follow that will lead us away from confusion towards Allah’s pleasure? For this, we need to turn to this hadith of the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam).
The key to true piety and peace of mind is to avoid all doubtful matters. If a person truly applies this hadith they should, Allah willing, find psychological well-being and inner peace.
3.The Sound Heart
“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. At the end of this hadith the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) 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 Allāh (subhanahu wa ta’ala) and more likely to commit evil deeds. The state of our heart is therefore our defining characteristic, and Allāh (subhanahu wa ta’ala) distinguishes the human being from the rest of creation due to the heart and the intellect.
Allāh 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.”
Subhanallāh! 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 Allāh (subhanahu wa ta’ala), glorifies Him, loves Him, fears Him, has hope in Him and trusts Him. This is the true realisation of ‘There is no God except Allāh’.
The only heart that will aid a person in Allāh’s sight is the sound, wholesome, submitting heart.
“The day when wealth and sons avail not (any man) save him who brings unto Allāh a sound heart.”
(Surah Al-Shu’arā, 22:88-89)
3.1.What Are The Signs Of A Sound Heart?
They have been outlined by Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullah) 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 Allāh.
3. If a person misses their daily recitation of Qur’an or dzikir, they are more upset than if they lost their wealth.
4. The person finds more pleasure in worshipping Allāh 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 Allāh and acting for His sake.
7. They are careful to use all their spare time in worshipping Allāh.
8. The person is more concerned with the correctness of the deed than with the performance of the deed itself.
May Allāh purify our hearts and intentions. Ameen.
“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 Allāh’s sanctuary is His prohibitions”
The Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) has furthered illustrated why we should avoid doubtful matters in this hadith. The Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) 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 (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) 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 Allāh (subhanahu wa ta’ala) has forbidden. The safest place to be is far away from the boundary of what is forbidden.
Allāh (subhanahu wa ta’ala) says in the Qur’an:
“Those are the limits of Allāh and do not come near to them.”
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 Allāh 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.
And Allāh Almighty knows best.
[ Excerpted from A commentary on Hadith 6: “The Lawful and Unlawful are Clear” , 40 Hadiths Of Imam Nawawi, By Dr. Jamal Ahmed Badi, via IC Truth]