His Sensitivity About What is Lawful and Unlawful


What is his sensitivity about what is lawful and unlawful?

“…These are the limits imposed by Allah, so approach them not…”(al-Baqara 2; 187)

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was very sensitive about observing what was lawful and unlawful. Aisha (r.a.), mother of the believers, expresses this characteristic of the Prophet (pbuh) as follows:

“Whenever Allah’s Apostle was given the choice of one of two matters he would choose the easier of the two as long as it was not sinful to do so, but if it was sinful, he would not approach it.” (Bukhari, Manaqib, 23)

One of the significant points in this narration is that the Prophet (pbuh) would choose the easier one of his options if it was not a sin. Another point is that he was the most sensitive person about staying away from sins. For instance, unlawful gain comes at the head of the things which the Prophet (pbuh) wanted the believers to stay away from. This is expressed in the following saying of the Prophet (pbuh):

“The inmates of Paradise are three: One who yields to authority and is just and fair, one who is truthful and has been endowed with power to do good deeds. And the person who is merciful and kind hearted towards his relatives and to every pious Muslim, and one who does not stretch his hand to unlawful in spite of having a large family to support.” (Muslim, Jannah, 63)

Two characteristics of the third group in Paradise are mentioned in this hadith. One of the characteristics is to earn one’s own livelihood and to not ask for help from others. The other characteristic is to abstain from sins and from anything leading to commit sins. People should not forget that the most important thing to do in this world is to get ready for the eternal life of the Hereafter. In order to achieve this, one must earn his/her livelihood through lawful ways, should not resort to illicit ways, and should not beg to anyone. If a human being protects the dignity of being a servant of Allah and continues to work by believing that Allah will give him the means to earn his/her livelihood through licit ways Allah the Almighty will bestow him/her the infinite blessings of the Hereafter. Our beloved Prophet (pbuh) lived according to these measures and advised his followers to do the same.

The Prophet (pbuh) warned the believers saying, “A time will come when one will not care how he/she gains his/her livelihood, legally or illegally.” (Bukhari, Buyu, 7, 23) He paid extra attention to discipline children. He did everything to raise children to be sensitive about the matter of “lawful and unlawful.” In fact he gives the following advice to the believers:

“Do not oblige a child to earn money. If he does not find a way to earn it, he may steal. Do not oblige a slave-girl to earn money unless she has a skill. If you oblige her to do that, she may earn money by doing unchaste things. Pardon them since Allah will pardon you, and you must feed them good food.” (Malik, Muwatta, Isti’dhan, 42)

Unlawful food makes its owner not only disgraced among people, but also worthless in the presence of Allah the Almighty. Allah does not accept his/her supplications. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) expressed many times in his sayings that paying attention to what is lawful and unlawful is necessary for the acceptance of prayers. One of his sayings, in this regard, is as follows:

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) as saying: O people, Allah is Good and He therefore, accepts only that which is good. And Allah commanded the believers as He commanded the Messengers by saying: “O Messengers, eat of the good things, and do good deeds; verily I am aware of what you do” (Mu’minun 23; 51). And He said: “O those who believe, eat of the good things that We gave you” (al-Baqarah 2; 172) A person travels widely . He lifts his hand towards the sky, his hair disheveled and covered with dust, and begs his Lord saying: “O Lord, O Lord,” whereas his diet is unlawful, his drink is unlawful, and his clothes are unlawful and his nourishment is unlawful. How can then his supplication be accepted?” (Muslim, Zakat, 65)

The measures of the Prophet (pbuh) are very clear. Even if someone puts his/her life at risk for his/her religion and makes long journeys, if he/she is fed by unlawful food, his/her sacrifices will be worthless. Faith, nourishing with lawful food, and observing the orders of Islam are the things that make a Muslim the purest person in the world. This way he/she purifies not just his/her body but also his/her soul.

The Prophet’s (pbuh) sensitivity about what is lawful and unlawful can be clearly seen in the following hadith:

“If one of you loans money to his brother, and if the borrower would like to give him a present in return, he should not accept it. If the borrower would like to give him his ride, he should not get on; unless such things have been a custom between them.” (Ibn Majah, Sadaqat, 19)

Someone owed money to Imam Abu Hanifah, who strictly observed the above mentioned principles in his life. One day, one of the disciples of the Imam from the same neighborhood of the borrower passed away. Abu Hanifah went to the funeral. It was a very hot day, but he did not rest under the shadow of the wall of the borrower because he considered that this would be usury for his loan. (Attar, p. 243)

Below is a narration by Abu Ruhm al-Ghifari about the sensitivity of the Messenger of Allah in this matter.

“We reached Khaibar and besieged them, and (we continued the siege) until extreme hunger afflicted us. During the siege about twenty or thirty domestic donkeys went out of the fortress. Jews could not take them in. Believers caught the donkeys and slaughtered them. When it was evening of the day on which the city was conquered, Muslims lit many fires and began to cook their meat. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) asked:

“What are these fires? And what are they cooking?”

 They said:

“They are cooking meat.”

He asked again:“Which meat?”

They said:

“That of domestic asses.”

He said:

“Let them throw the meat away and break the pots (in which it is being cooked).”

A man said:

“What would you say if we throw it away and wash the pots?

 He said:Okay, you may do that.” (Bukhari, Maghazi, 38; Muslim, Jihad, 123)

Here, the most remarkable point is that this incident happened on a very hot day and when the believer’s hunger was unbearable. Even under such circumstances, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) did not let his companions eat unlawful food and immediately stopped them.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) showed similar sensitivity in all aspects of life. For instance, he always walked looking down so that he protected his eyes from seeing unlawful or suspicious things. He also advised his companions to do the same. When Jarir (r.a.) asked the Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) about the sudden glance at an unlawful thing, he commanded him to turn away his eyes. (Muslim, Adab, 45)

The following incident narrated by Umm Salamah is more interesting:

“I was with the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) while Maymunah was with him. Then Ibn Umm Maktum came. This happened when we were ordered to observe covering our bodies and hair. The Prophet (pbuh) said: Cover yourselves from him. We asked: Apostle of Allah! is he not blind? He can neither see us nor recognize us. The Prophet (pbuh) said: Are both of you blind? Do you not see him?” (Abu Dawud, Libas, 34)

In the above mentioned incidents, we see that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) kept his friends and family members away from unlawful things just like he did himself.

Another significant point about paying attention to what is lawful and unlawful is the danger to confuse them. In other words, someone may accept something that is lawful as being unlawful and vice versa. The Prophet (pbuh) warned believers in this matter. Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them) narrates the following incident in this respect:

“A man came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and told him:

“When I eat meat, I feel a strong desire for women. Because of that I forbade myself to eat meat.” Upon this the following verse was revealed:

“O you who believe! Forbid not the good things which Allah has made lawful for you, but transgress not: for Allah loves not those given to excess. Eat of the things which Allah hath provided for you, lawful and good; but fear Allah, in whom you believe.” (al-Maidah, 5; 87-88) (Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 5; 14)

When this incident is examined, at first the companion’s behavior seems innocent and logical, but in reality it was so wrong that a verse was revealed to correct it. The verse clearly manifests that something permitted by Allah should not be prohibited by anybody’s personal desires. Fakhr al-Din Razi states that six different prohibitions exist in the verse: “…Forbid not the good things which Allah has made lawful for you…”:

  1. Do not believe that something permitted by Allah can be prohibited, because this means disbelief.
  2. Do not say that something permitted by Allah is forbidden.
  3. Do not stay away from things which are permitted by Allah like you stay away from things forbidden by Allah.
  4. Do not issue fatwas (legal opinions) and make permitted things prohibited for other people.
  5. Do not take a vow about forbidding the permitted things to yourself
  6. Do not mix your property with stolen items in a way which they cannot be separated again; because, mixing lawful property with unlawful gains makes the entire property unlawful.

The statement of “but transgress not” presents “turning a permitted thing into something prohibited” as transgression of the limits of servitude and oppression. At the same time, this statement warns about wasting lawful things while permitting their consumption. We can also infer from this verse that Allah permits the consumption of clean things and warns to stay away from the impure and unlawful.

The following verse at the beginning of sixty sixth chapter of the Qur’an discusses the same objective, “O Prophet! why do you forbid (yourself) that which Allah has made lawful for you; you seek to please your wives; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (al-Tahrim 66; 1)

After the Age of Happiness, the friends of Allah, who closely followed the footsteps of the Messenger of Allah, stayed away from unlawful nourishment. Here is an exemplary story from Ibrahim b. Adham’s life. He narrates:

“One day I wrapped myself in a straw mat and was lying in the mosque of Bayt al-Maqdis. At midnight the mosques’ door opened and an old saint came in. He performed a two rak’ah prayer and then he turned and sat down. After that forty more men came in. One of them said:

“Someone is lying here.”

The old saint said smiling:“He is Ibrahim b. Adham. He could not feel the taste of his prayers for the last forty days.” When I heard his final words, I went to him. After greeting him, I asked:

“For the sake of Allah, tell me the reason of my state.”

He replied:

“One day you purchased some dates from a market in Basra. A date fell down from your bag; you thought it was yours and you picked it up; however it was not yours. This is why you lost the spiritual taste.

I immediately went to the market and asked the forgiveness of the date seller. This situation affected the date seller as well so much that he became one of the pious believers from that day on spending his wealth in charity. (Attar, p. 122-23)

In short, the issue of lawful and unlawful constitutes the essence of our religious life and the happiness in the Hereafter. Being sensitive about other people’s rights is also an important part of this.

Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş,  Erkam Publications

The Human Reality