On the authority of Abu 'Abdullah al-Nu'man bin Bashir (ra) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah(sas) say:
"The halal is clear and the haram is clear, and between them are matters unclear that are unknown to most people. Whoever is wary of these unclear matters has absolved his religion and honor. And whoever indulges in them has indulged in the haram. It is like a shepherd who herds his sheep too close to preserved sanctuary, and they will eventually graze in it. Every king has a sanctuary, and the sanctuary of Allah is what He has made haram. There lies within the body a piece of flesh. If it is sound, the whole body is sound; and if it is corrupted, the whole body is corrupted. Verily this piece is the heart."
[Bukhari & Muslim]
Written commentary compiled by volunteers utilizing Sh. Jamaal Diwan's audio commentary above and English translation of Ibn Daqiq Al-Id's commentary on The Forty Hadith of Imam al-Nawawi.
This hadith is very comprehensive. It covers so many areas of the Sharee'ah, Islamic law. Imam al-Nawawi and many scholars consider this Hadith as one of four of five ahadith around which the entire religion of Islam is understood. This Hadith indicates that all matters are one of three types: halal, haram and doubtful.
The Halal is Clear
Whatever Allah has established to be permissible in a text, then it is the 'clear' Halal.
This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. [al-Maa'idah 5:5]
Halal is what we seek when dealing with our relationship with Allah (swt), when we are dealing with understanding Islam and when we are dealing with how to build and improve our community. The halal is clear. It is what is clearly allowed, and there is no doubt about it.
The Haram is Clear
The 'clear' haram is whatever is clearly established in the Islamic sources, such as the statement of Allah (swt),
Prohibited to you [for marriage] are your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your father's sisters... [an-Nisaa 4:23]
The clear haram is what is clearly prohibited and everybody knows that it is prohibited; there is no difference in opinion. Drugs, alcohol, oppression, and stealing are haram. Haram also includes the fawaahish (evil lusts and desires), that which is apparent and that which is hidden. Every matter that Allah (swt) associated with a punishment or a threat is also included amongst the 'clear' haram.
The Doubtful Matters
Most people don’t understand what doubtful matters are and what their ruling is. There are two things scholars have said about doubtful matters. The first opinion is that doubtful matters are those that scholars disagree about their permissibility: music, for example. The second opinion is that doubtful matters are those that mix between halal and haram. The general rule regarding doubtful matters is whoever stays away from them has purified their deen and honor.
The scholars differ on whether doubtful matters are halal or haram.
- One opinion is that all doubtful matters are haram, due the saying of the Messenger (sas) in this hadith "[he] clears himself in regard to his religion and his honor."
- Another opinion is that all doubtful matters are halal, due the statement of the Prophet (sas) "like the shepherd who pastures around a sanctuary.” This indicates that these actions are permissible, but leaving them is from piety.
- And a third opinion is that we make no ruling regarding the doubtful matters, and do not say that they are halal or haram, as the Prophet (sas) placed them between the clear halal and the clear haram. Hence we should refrain from passing judgment, and this, too, is from piety.
The Prophet (sas) follows the statement, “between the two of them are doubtful matters” by saying, “most people do not know them.” This means that some people do. It is the job of scholars to put forth their best effort in looking at all of the evidence and reaching their opinion. If they are correct, they receive two rewards and if they are wrong they are still rewarded. For those of us who are following opinions of the scholars, that is all that is required from us. But we should keep in mind that staying away from doubtful matters purifies our deen and honor.
Blocking of the Means (Sad al-Zarai')
This hadith is actually a corroborating evidence for a concept in Usul Al-Fiqh called “Sadd al-Dhara’i” (Blocking of the Means). This means that you have to block any action which might lead to haram. The Prophet (sas) gives the example of a person who has a flock, and the flock is going towards some land that is off-limits. That person keeps getting closer and closer to that land, eventually the sheep are going to stray into the prohibited property. Just as a King has a sanctuary, which the shepherds must keep their sheep away from, so too has Allah specified certain things as forbidden for his slaves. We should avoid the disliked, and sometimes even refrain from the permissible in order to avoid falling into the prohibited.
The Morsel of Flesh
As the Prophet said, we all have a morsel of flesh in our bodies. If it is good, our whole is good and if it is not, then our whole body is spoiled. This hadith outlines a whole process of strengthening and purifying our hearts on the path to Allah: being alert to the halal and haram and avoiding the doubtful. The Prophet says in another hadith,
A person’s iman will not be upright until their heart is upright and strong. The heart will not be upright and strong until the tongue is upright and strong.
The Prophet is laying out the path to purifying and strengthening the heart, which leads to the completion of one’s faith.