What is doubtful avoidance? What is suspicious things?
“Leave the suspicious (doubtful) things for the things that are not suspicious.” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 60)
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was very careful about staying away from suspicious things in order to protect himself from committing unlawful deeds. In this regard, he (pbuh) gave his followers the following advice:
“Both legal and illegal things are evident but in between them there are doubtful (suspicious) things and most of the people have no knowledge about them. So whoever saves himself from these suspicious things saves his religion and his honor. And whoever indulges in these suspicious things is like a shepherd who grazes his animals near the Hima (private pasture) of someone else and at any moment there is a risk to get in it. O people! Beware! Every king has a Hima and the Hima of Allah on the earth are the things forbidden by Him…” (Bukhari, Iman, 39; Muslim, Musaqat, 107)
At first glance, some matters cannot be known whether they are lawful or unlawful due to lack of clear regulations about them. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) states that many people do not know the rulings about them. Muslim scholars have revealed them by comparing them to similar cases. Therefore, we need to stay away from questionable things; because, if it is something unlawful, we protect ourselves from committing something unlawful; if it is something lawful, there is no harm staying away from it because of piety.
Doubtful matters appear either as a result of contradiction of the religious evidences or due to the disagreement of Muslim scholars. They might be “abominable (makruh)” or “permissible (mubah).” Abominable things are like a step between a servant and unlawful things. Those who allow abominable things too much in their lives face the danger of falling into unlawfulness. Permissible things, on the other hand, are like steps between servants and abominable things. If servants allow them too much in their lives, they may commit the abominable. Therefore, we should avoid things which may lead us to abominable or unlawful things even if they are permissible. Growing a habit to perform detestable things (makruh) may lead the person to do the unlawful similar to them. In fact this is expressed in the following saying of the Prophet (pbuh):
“Both legal and illegal things are obvious, and in between them are (suspicious) doubtful matters. So who-ever forsakes those doubtful things lest he may commit a sin, will definitely avoid what is clearly illegal; and who-ever indulges in these (suspicious) doubtful things bravely, is likely to commit what is clearly illegal…” (Bukhari, Buyu’, 2)
Through shepherd and pasture metaphor, the Prophet (pbuh) eloquently depicts the danger of committing unlawful deeds because of getting too close to them. There are very nice examples about the Prophet’s avoidance the suspicious things in his own life. Once he found a fallen date on the road and said, “Were it not for my doubt that this might have been given in charity, I would have eaten it.” (Bukhari, Buyu’, 4; Muslim, Zakat, 164)
One of the special characteristics of the Prophet (pbuh) was that he would not accept charity and alms; because they were forbidden to him and his family.
We see that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) did not eat the date he found on a road, thinking that it might have been one of the dates reserved for charity. This incident clearly shows that he meticulously stayed away from questionable things and personally lived according to the principles which he wanted to establish in his society. Another subtle point here is that our Prophet (pbuh) did not feel comfortable with wasting even a single date.
Lawful blessings of Allah the Almighty are endless. Not to be satisfied with them and tend towards the things which have the possibility to be unlawful is a behavior that does not fit with servitude to Allah.
On the other hand, trying to stay away from suspicious things should not lead to an unnecessary hesitation about its lawfulness. Such an attitude may cause hardship among believers.
A believer’s sound conscious can distinguish what is right and wrong, and what is doubtful and what is not. A believer should listen to the divine voice within himself/herself. The following incident is very significant in this regard:
Wabitha b. Ma’bad (r.a.) narrated:
“One day I was visiting the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He told me that:
“Have you come to ask what goodness is?” After I answered affirmatively, he continued:
“Consult your heart. Goodness is what your heart sees appropriate and approves you to perform. Sin, on the other hand, is something which disturbs your heart and raises doubts in you even people give you fatwas٭ and tell you to do it.” (Ibn Hanbal, IV, 227-228; Darimi, Buyu’, 2)
If a deed rouses unrest and if the doer of the deed does not want anybody to hear about it, it certainly is a questionable and ugly deed, which should be avoided. Indeed, many people would like their good deeds to be known and they would like that other people envy them. This is a measure which cannot be mistaken. Therefore, even the feeling of doubt about a deed, whether it is a sin or not, is enough reason to stay away from it. By using this measure a believer should give up the things which create inner discomfort.
By advising his companion to consult his heart, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) showed him that a heart, which is not blemished by sins and greed, can distinguish between right and wrong. This reality is also supported by the verse (Qur’an al-Zumar 39; 22) which states that one who has love for Islam in his/her chest carries a divine light bestowed by Allah the Almighty. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) persistently touched Wabitha’s chest and said “Consult your heart! Ask your heart!” Thus, he points out the fact that everyone knows their own problem better and he also tells us that if we have doubts about something, then we should immediately leave it.
The following incident experienced by ‘Uqba bin Al-Harith (r.a.) clearly shows us the Prophet’s attitude towards doubtful matters.
‘Uqba had married the daughter of Abi Ihab bin ‘Aziz. Later on a woman came to him and said, “I have nursed ‘Uqba and the woman whom he married at my breast.” ‘Uqba said to her, “Neither I knew that you have nursed me nor did you tell this to me before.” Then he went to see Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) in Medina, and asked him about it. Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) said,
“How can you keep her as your wife, after you have been told that she is your milk-sister?”
Then ‘Uqba divorced her, and she married another man. (Bukhari, ‘Ilm, 26)
Islam prohibits the marriage of milk-brothers and sisters just like the marriage of real brothers and sisters. This is why couples who would like to get married should be careful and do research about it before getting married. They should stay away from suspicious situations. The Prophet’s saying points out that being in continuous doubt would make people uneasy and it would be better to end such marriage and ease the heart. In this respect, the Prophet (pbuh) advises his followers and tries to keep them away from the unlawful saying:
“Leave the suspicious (doubtful) things for the things that are not suspicious.” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 60)
The next hadith is also very important about showing the spiritual effects of staying away from doubtful things:
“A servant cannot attain the level of God-fearing believers unless he/she stays away from doubtful things because of the fear of committing unlawful deeds.” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 60)
A Muslim’s goal should be to be a God-fearing believer. In other words, he/she should try to reach the level of those who deeply revere Allah the Almighty, fear of losing His content, and leave this world after gaining His contentment. In order to reach this goal a Muslim must be very meticulous and careful in his/her actions. As it was stated by the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) that a believer sometimes needs to stay away from things which may not look wrong at first glance because of the worry of falling into sins. Abu Bakr (r.a.) was one of the most careful companions of the Prophet (pbuh) in this regard. Aisha (r.a.) narrates that:
“Abu Bakr had a slave who used to give him some of his earnings. Abu Bakr used to eat from it. One day he brought something and Abu Bakr ate from it. The slave said to him,
“Do you know what this is?”
Abu Bakr then asked,
“What is it?” The slave said,
“Once, in the pre-Islamic period of ignorance I foretold somebody’s future though I did not have the knowledge of foretelling but I, cheated him, and when he met me, he gave me something for that service, and that is what you have eaten from.”
Then Abu Bakr put his hand in his mouth and vomited whatever was present in his stomach. (Bukhari, Manaqib al-Anṣar, 26)
A believer vehemently avoids committing unlawful deeds. He/she knows that putting unlawful food in his/her stomach or feeding his/her family with something unlawful is one of the greatest sins. He/she stays away from things which might be unlawful just like Abu Bakr (r.a.) did; because, he/she know very well that prayers and supplications, which are performed by the energy produced by unlawful food, will not be accepted.
Umar b. al-Khattab’s (r.a.) following behavior is a wonderful example of this. He fixed a grant of 4000 (Dirhams) for every Early Emigrant (i.e. Muhajir) and fixed a grant of 3500 (Dirhams) only for his son Abdullah b. Umar (may Allah be pleased with them). Somebody said to Umar, “Ibn Umar is also one of the Early Emigrants; why do you give him less than four-thousand?” ‘Umar replied, “His parents took him with them when they migrated, so he was not like the one who had migrated by himself. (Bukhari, Manaqib al-Anṣar, 45)
Here, we see how meticulous Umar was about the distribution of government property. Even though his son was one of the early emigrants, because he was with his parents during his migration, Umar assigned five hundred dirhams less to his son than he had assigned to the other early emigrants. In actuality, he could have treated him like the other emigrants because among them, too, there were those who migrated with their parents as well. However, Umar treated his son differently and gave him less than normal just because of his intention to stay away from doubtful things.
This kind of sensitivity towards doubtful things has continued to live through the friends of Allah. These eminent believers left wonderful memories for the following generations. Abu Hanifah, the Imam of Hanafi school, is one of them.
Abu Hanifah was a rich man, who gained his livelihood by trade. Because he was busy with Islamic sciences, he had an agent for his business while he only controlled the lawfulness of his business. He was so meticulous, in this respect, that one day he sent his partner Hafs b. Abdurrahman to sell goods and told him:
“O Hafs! There are such and such defects in these goods. Do not forget to tell these defects to the buyers and sell them cheaper.”
Hafs sold the goods cheaper but he forgot to tell the defects. When Abu Hanifah learned this, he asked Hafs b. Abdurrahman:
“Do you know the buyer?” When Hafs replied negatively, he gave the entire thirty thousand dirham profit as charity because of his fear of mixing his lawful possessions with unlawful gains and broke his partnership.  His piety brought both material and spiritual blessings to his business.
In order to understand someone’s piety, sincerity, and purity of heart, we should look at the level of his/her soul and his/her meticulousness and efforts to stay away from questionable things.
٭ A Legal Opinion
 Heytemî, Şehâbettin Ahmed Bin Hacer, Imâm-I Âzam’ın Menkıbeleri, Trans. Abdulvehhâb Öztürk, Ankara 1978, P. 82.
Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş, Erkam Publications