Grazing around the boundaries of haram. Knowing the halal, haram and doubtful
The halal and haram are clear (bayyin)
The Prophet (peace be on him) made it very clear what is halal and haram. Clarity was his trademark. Hence Allah Almighty said:
‘We never sent a messenger but in the language of his own people to clarify the truth for them.’ (14:4)
Clarity is key. As the road map for every Muslim in this life has to be clear, knowing what is halal and haram has been clearly defined for us.
The list of what is haram is not long at all. It is a very short list. In the beginning of Surah Maidah Allah Almighty has listed the 10 prohibitions of what not to eat. The list is finite and we have some additions from the Sunnah. Whatever is not on the haram list is halal. You don’t need to memorise what is halal. It is everything else which is not haram. According to the colloquial proverb, Arabs say even cats know what is halal or haram. When you offer them a piece of meat, they eat it in front of you, but when they steal the meat, they run away with it, because they know it is haram.
Allah Almighty said:
‘O (you) Messengers! Eat of the tayyibat (all kinds of halal (legal) foods), and perform righteous deeds.’ (23:51)
Halal and haram extends beyond food and drink to financial transactions, riba, and adultery.
Many people however shut their eyes and ears to what is haram and just carry on indulging in the haram – whether it is food or business or pleasure. However Allah Almighty taught us to seek the halal.
This is very important because the more haram we are immersed in, the further we move from Allah’s love and mercy. Until we reach a point where our dua is not accepted.
Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
O you who believe! Eat of the lawful things that We have provided you. (2:172)
Then he (ﷺ) mentioned (the case) of a man who, having journeyed far, is dishevelled and dusty, and who spreads out his hands to the sky saying, ‘O Lord! O Lord!’ while his food is haram (unlawful), his drink is haram, his clothing is haram, and he has been nourished with haram, so how can (his supplication) be answered? (Muslim)
The Prophet (peace be on him) picked this particular image of a man in the searing heat of the desert, who has fulfilled all the criteria of a top level dua – he is broken, humble, travelling, his hands outstretched, crying out in desperate and dire need, begging His Lord for support – yet with all the ingredients for an accepted dua in place, Allah rejects his call. He is like a man who runs an off-licence wine shop making dua to Allah, how will Allah accept his dua?
Seek the halal
The revelation was sent to guide to what is beneficial for us. It is our manual.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Allah the Almighty is Tayyib and accepts only that which is Tayyib. And verily Allah has commanded the believers to do that which He has commanded the Messengers. So the Almighty has said: “O (you) Messengers! Eat of the tayyibat [all kinds of halal (legal) foods], and perform righteous deeds.” [23:51] and the Almighty has said: “O you who believe! Eat of the lawful things that We have provided you.” [2:172]”. (Muslim)
Note that He made no distinction between us and messengers, He did not ordain a different diet for them. When He told us to consume what is tayyib this is synonymous with and even a higher classification than halal as it is what is wholesome or beneficial. Indeed one of Allah Almighty’s attributes is At-Tayyib which means free from imperfection.
Every generation has something tayyib they enjoy, whether it is burgers or nihari for us, or the specialities of the past for them. However remember that eating is our means to survive. We are not commanded to eat because we enjoy eating. Rather Allah Almighty created a desire in us to eat so that we would have the instinct to refuel our bodies, which would keep us alive. If we had no desire to eat, we would die. Similarly without the desire to reproduce our species would not exist – it would become extinct. This desire can easily slip beyond its purpose and into indulgence, so the revelation came to put limits on desire. Desire, unchecked, is a recipe for disaster, which is why Allah Almighty sent us mechanisms to control it, and periods of training such as Ramadan.
Avoid the haram
The haram is clear – whatever is not halal is haram. For instance, you can’t say ‘Where does it say fruit is halal?’ By contrast, the haram has been identified in the Quran. Not necessarily by the words ‘haram’ but by similar words such as ‘do not go near’ as Allah Almighty states about alcohol. You cannot claim alcohol is halal because Allah Almighty did not use the word haram about it. It is evident that He prohibited us from consuming it in any quantity, when He said ‘fajtanibuh’ – avoid it:
‘O you who believe! Khamr (intoxicants), maysir (gambling), ansab (idolatory), and azlam (divining arrows) are an abomination of Shaytan’s handiwork. So avoid them in order that you may be successful.’ (5:90)
He says at the end of the ayah that these items are ‘rijz’ an abomination, toxic. And as per the sunnah Allah Almighty cursed anyone who deals with it in any way.
We need to sustain ourselves to survive. And we need to seek the halal. We cannot earn from any source as long it is fulfilling our needs. If we have no boundaries and no revelation, we would be in a situation of jahiliyya (ignorance) or in the wild. The shariah is designed for us to follow the means in the right way. This is why our transactions have to be halal. We were warned of a time when, as the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
A time will come when one will not care how one gains one’s money, legally or illegally. (Bukhari)
When is it permissible to access the haram
In extreme situations Allah Almighty permits us to break His commands. Allah Almighty out of His mercy allowed us to access the haram to survive. As He says in Surah Anam:
But whosoever is constrained to it by necessity – neither desiring to disobey nor exceeding the limit of necessity – your Lord is surely All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate. (6:145)
Therefore if you have a choice between dying of starvation or eating a ham sandwich, Allah Almighty is saying that your life is more important than following the prohibitions. It won’t be a sin to keep yourself alive.
It could have been that Allah said you are not allowed to override the prohibitions, full stop. But in His mercy He allowed us to cross His boundaries when there is no other option. The prohibitions have not been installed to create hardship but for protection and obedience. Allah Almighty lifts the boundary and allowing you to live and lift the prohibition instead.
These occasions have to be exceptions to the norm, they have to be necessity (darura), not luxury. And they have to be genuine cases, where the hardship exists, and is not just feared. An actual threat, not an anticipated threat. For example, if you need to have an operation but can’t afford it and the condition is life threatening, (not cosmetic) then you can take an interest (riba) bearing loan from the bank, after you have exhausted all the halal means. If you want to go on holiday or hold a Lavish wedding party this is not darura. Scholars derived a full theory called Nadhariyyat ad Darura, and the first scholar who composed a book on it was a 300 page book by our late Shaykh Wahba Az-Zuhayli may Allah bless him.
We cannot justify our wrong doings under the banner of ‘I’m doing this to survive.’ In the scenario of darura you need to have taqwa and the right people to ask. If it isn’t your area of expertise, you need to ask the right people. If it is a necessity, then it is a clear situation. If the situation is not clear and you are unsure, then do istikhara. And see what Allah facilitates.
Between the halal and haram is the grey area (shubuhaat)
When a matter is neither patently halal nor haram, it is mutashabih – unclear and mushtabih – doubtful. How do you decide whether it is right or wrong?
Firstly, that fact you suspect it is not good is a positive sign.
I respect the people who when offered a business proposition come to me and ask if it is right or not, because it means they have a conscience. Their hearts are alive and can sense when something is a bit iffy. Moreover, they are not squashing this signal, but listening to it. Wabisah bin Ma’bad (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:
I went to Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and he asked me, ‘Have you come to inquire about piety?’ I replied in the affirmative. Then he said, ‘Ask your heart regarding it. Piety is that which contents the soul and comforts the heart, and sin is that which causes doubts and perturbs the heart, even if people pronounce it lawful and give you verdicts on such matters again and again.’ (Ahmad and Ad- Darmi)
It may be that you are offered a position with bonuses and a high salary and perks but if it creates doubt in your heart, leave it and Allah will replace it with better.
You have to have deep imaan (faith) to be able to leave such an offer, otherwise it will keep bothering you that you did not accept it. Never regret leaving something for Allah’s sake, otherwise He will not replace it with something better. Have full trust in Him.
” You will never leave something for Allah’s sake but Allah will replace something better”. (Musnad Ahmad).
If you have a matter in which the halal and haram is not clear to you, for example a contract which doesn’t have riba in it but some clauses are ambiguous, even though others around you are signing it, wait and double check it. Don’t sign until you are certain it is not haram.
Otherwise you are like the one who is grazing from the around the boundaries of haram. The one who is tarnishing the deen and his honour. An-Nu’man bin Bashir [i] narrated that he heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) saying:
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 honour.
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 he is liable to get in it.
(O people!) Beware! Every king has a Hima and the Hima of Allah on the earth is His illegal (forbidden) things. Beware! There is a piece of flesh in the body if it becomes good (reformed) the whole body becomes good but if it gets spoilt the whole body gets spoilt and that is the heart.
Protect yourself from doubtful matters
If you go to a doubtful place, even if you do not do anything haram, you are tarnishing your reputation because people may talk about you and question your integrity. It is better to avoid such places. You may think you are a strong believer but you will pick up a bad reputation. People will not distinguish between the people in the group they will lump all of the group together. If you are in that group it will reflect badly on your family.
Don’t mingle with the wrong people, though you might not do what is haram, by association you will be tainted. Your reputation is at stake. Once lost it has hard to re-establish it.
Keep your boundaries clear. The last part of the hadith talks about the heart. In order to distinguish between what is right or wrong, you need a pure heart. If your heart is locked because you have committed many sins or been engaged in doubtful matters, you will not be able to tell right from wrong.
Only those who have a pure heart, who sin from time to time but keep repenting and purifying their heart can identify what is right or wrong.
We ask Allah to make us from them Ameen.
Transcribed by A Khan
September 22, 2023
September 21, 2023