Being Cautious of the Doubtful
On the authority of Abu Muhammad al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn Abee Talib (may Allah be pleased with him), the grandson of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and the one much loved by him, who said: I memorized from the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him):
“Leave what makes you doubtful for what does not.”
Related by Tirmidhi & Nasai
عن أبي محمد الحسن بن على بن أبي طالب سبط رسول الله وريحانته رضي الله عـنهـما، قـال:
حـفـظـت مـن رســول الله : دع ما يـريـبـك إلى ما لا يـريـبـك.
رواه الترمذي:2520، والنسائي:5711، وقال الترمذي: حديث حسن صحيح.
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 part of a longer hadith, and tells us that heart of a believer can be an indicator for him or her. However, this is only so when the heart is clean. The believer who is truly seeking the pleasure of Allah (swt) and is engaging in a process of purification for Allah (swt)’s pleasure can use their heart to help separate doubtful matters from what is certain.
Heightened Awareness of Allah (swt)
When your heart is sensitive and connected to Allah, it may happen that you come across situations that don’t feel right. This hadith tells us that in these cases, the individual should leave what is unclear and causes discomfort for that which does not. Ar-Rayb, the word used in the hadith to refer to doubt, can refer to discomfort or instability. It is the opposite of tranquility; it upsets the person at some level. Many of the early scholars, from the angle of wara’a or heightened awareness of God, would be very careful about things that caused discomfort and doubt. For example, one of the scholars, Yazid ibn Zariya, did not take 500,000 dinars of inheritance from his father because his father used to work for rulers whom were corrupt.
Differences in Opinion
One issue that arises is that we may start to think it is better across the board to take the more difficult opinion when there is a difference of opinion. This is not necessarily the case. Ibn Rajab (ra) said about this “It’s possible that someone would derive from this that it is better to stay away from the difference of opinion between the scholars, because it is farther from the grey area, but the true and strong amongst the scholars are of the opinion that this is not in all cases.”
For example, there is a difference among the scholars regarding someone who knows that he made wudu but is not sure if he broke his wudu. Some of the scholars say it would be better if that person re-made their wudu, since there is doubt. But Ibn Rajab (ra) comments on this and says that this actually is not true, because it’s established that the Prophet (sas) said that the person should not make their wudu until they hear a sound or find a smell. The point is that there could be two differing opinions and one of them may be harder, but both could have a very strong foundation in the example of the Prophet (sas). If that is the case then it is not necessary to take the harder one.
Check Your Priorities
Sometimes a person may be committing major sins and suddenly have God-consciousness (wara’a) in small matters. Such a person is misplacing their attention and priorities. An example of this is a group of people who came to Makkah to ask ibn Umar (ra) if it was permissible to kill a mosquito in the state of ihram. Ibn Umar (ra)’s response was that they came from Iraq, where the grandsons of the Prophet (sas) had been killed, and yet they asked about the blood of a mosquito. He asked them to recheck their priorities. In another case, Bashir ibn al-Harith (ra) was asked if one should divorce his wife if his mom commanded him to do so. Bashir ibn al-Harith (ra) responded that if you are following the command of your mother in every other issue, then follow her in this issue as well. But if you don’t respect your mother and give her full regards in every other issue, or if you don’t treat your mother well, then don’t divorce your wife. This means that it’s not a sign of piety to pay attention to small things while letting the big matters slide.
Imam Ahmed also used to be very strict in these issues. For example, one time he asked someone to buy him some fat, and when it was brought it came on a piece of paper. He didn’t pay for the paper, only for the fat, so he commanded the person to return the piece of paper out of the heightened awareness of Allah (swt). It’s also said that he would never borrow ink from his companions and would always use his own ink.
How to Determine What is Doubtful
In some other narrations of the hadith, the addition to the end is “Verily good is what settles in one’s heart and evil is that which is doubtful.” This will be discussed in some of the ahadith coming up later in the 40 Hadith. The last thing to mention is that one of the ways to know what is doubtful is to look at things as opposites. If you’re trying to figure out if something is doubtful or permissible, you can look at its opposite. When you see the opposite sometimes it’s easier and clearer to understand the nature of that thing.