On the authority of Abu ‘Abdullaah an-Nu’maan the son of Basheer (ra), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allaah (sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam) say:
“That which is Halaal is clear and that which is Haraam is clear, and between the two of them are ambiguous (mutashabihat) matters about which many people do not know. Thus he who avoids ambiguous matters clears himself in regard to his religion and his honour, but he who falls into ambiguous matters (eventually) falls into that which is Haraam, like the shepherd who pastures around a sanctuary, all but grazing therein. Truly every king has a sanctuary, and truly Allaah’s sanctuary is His prohibitions. Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh, which, if it be whole, all the body is whole, and which, if it is diseased, all of (the body) is diseased. Truly, it is the heart.” [Related by al-Bukhaari and Muslim.]
Explanation of Hadeeth
The statement of the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam “That which is Halaal is clear and that which is Haraam is clear, and between the two of them are ambiguous matters” implies that matters are of three types.
Whatever Allaah has established to be permissible in a text, then it is the ‘clear’ Halaal, such as the statement of Allaah ta’ala:
“This day [all] good foods have been made Halaal, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is Halaal for you and your food is Halaal for them.” [al-Maa’idah 5:5]
And whatever Allaah has established to be forbidden in a text, then that is the ‘clear’ Haraam, such as the statement of Allaah ta’ala:
“Forbidden to you (for marriage) are: your mothers, your daughters, your sisters …” [an-Nisaa 4:23]
And also such as the forbiddance of fawaahish (evil lusts and desires), that which is apparent of it and also that which is hidden of it. And every matter concerning which Allaah has established upon it a limit or associated with it a punishment or a threat, then that matter is also included amongst the ‘clear’ haraam.
As for the the ‘ambiguous matters’ then they are those issues in which there appears (to the layman) to be opposing evidences from the Book and the Sunnah, and so in this case restraint from them is from piety.
And the scholars have differed regarding the ruling upon the ambiguous matters mentioned by the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam in this hadeeth.
So one opinion is that they are all Haraam, due the saying of the Messenger sallAllaahu alayhi wa salaam “[he] clears himself in regard to his religion and his honour”, as whoever does safeguard his religion and his honour has definitely fallen into the Haraam.
Another opinion is that they are Halaal, due the statement of the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam “like the shepherd who pastures around a sanctuary”, so 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 ambiguous matters, and do not say that they are Halaal nor that they are Haraam, as the Prophet sallAllaahu alayi wa salaam placed them between the clear Halaal and the clear Haraam. Hence it is required that we refrain from passing judgement and this too is from piety.
And in the hadeeth from ‘Adiyy ibn Haatim that he said to the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa salaam:
“O Messenger of Allaah! [Sometimes] I send my hunting dog after game, after pronouncing ‘bismillaah’ upon it, but when I reach the catch I find another dog there too (upon which I had not pronounced the name of Allaah).” So the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam replied: “Do not eat from it (the catch), for verily you pronounced the name of Allaah upon your dog, but not upon the other dog.”
So the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam gave a verdict based upon a doubt, fearing that the dog which killed the game was the other dog upon which the name of Allaah had not been pronounced, hence making the kill slaughtered for other than Allaah. And Allaah has said about this:
“Eat not of that (meat) on which Allaah’s Name has not been pronounced, for surely it is Fisq.” [al-An’aam 6:121]
So this verdict contains evidence for taking care regarding those actions or events that involve some judgment regarding what is Halaal or Haraam, due to the similarity between the different situations. And this is encompassed in the meaning of the statement of the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam: “Leave that which causes you doubt, for that which does not cause you doubt.” [narrated by an-Nasaa’ee]
And some of the scholars have said the ambiguous matters can be divided into three types:
1) That affair which a person knows to be Haraam, but which he then doubts as to whether its forbiddance still continues or not. For example, a person cannot eat from an animal until he is sure that is has been slaughtered Islaamically, and so if he has doubts about this then the forbiddance to eat continues until certainty of the correct slaughtering is achieved. And the origin of this is in the hadeeth of ‘Adiyy mentioned above.
2) The opposite of this, where the affair is originally Halaal, and the person has doubts regarding whether it has become Haraam. And whatever is of this type then it is considered permissible until its forbiddance is clearly established. And the origin of this is the hadeeth of Abdullaah bin Zayd, regarding the doubt in ones wudoo’ if one is sure that previously he had made wudoo’. [i.e. one continues upon the assumption of being with wudoo’ until it becomes clear that the wudoo’ has broken]
3) The third type is where one has doubts about a matter and one does not know whether it is Halaal or Haraam, and the matter could be of either of the two, and there is no clear evidence to establish either ruling. Then in this situation the best course of action is restraint. For example, once the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam found a date in his house, but did not eat it for he feared that it may have been from that given as sadaqah (as the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam was forbidden from taking of sadaqah).
However, if a person chooses the opposite of what is clearly apparent due to an imaginary doubt which has no evidence, then restraint in such a situation is foolishness, and is from the whisperings of shaytaan. For example, a person may restrain from praying in a place which has no visible traces of filth, simply out of a fear that maybe some urine had fallen there and since dried. Or a person may wash a dress simply out of a fear that some filth (najaasah) came upon it but which he did not actually see upon it. So in all such situations where there is no ‘real’ doubt then it is required that one does not leave the action.
And the statement of the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam “about which many people do not know” means that many people do not know the shar’ee ruling upon these matters. However, the People of Knowledge may be able to associate such matters with other principles that they must follow, and thus achieve a ruling upon them as to whether they are Halaal or Haraam, and thus they cease to be ambiguous matters.
As for the statement “but he who falls into ambiguous matters [eventually] falls into that which is Haraam” then this is from two angles:
1) The one who does not fear Allaah and indulges in ambiguous matters, eventually begins to practise the Forbidden actions too, and becomes lenient in these affairs. And this is as some of the ‘ulemaa have said that minor sins lead to major sins and major sins lead to kufr.
2) The one who often indulges in ambiguous matters oppresses himself as his heart is deprived of the Light of Knowledge and the Light of Piety, so he ends up falling into the Haraam and does not realise it.
And just as a King has a sanctuary, which the shepherds must keep their sheep away from, so too has Allaah specified certain things as Forbidden for his slaves, which they must refrain from – such as murder, interest (ribaa), theft, drinking alcohol, backbiting and tale-carrying, and other such things, all of which we should keep well away from for fear of falling into them.
As for the statement of the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam “Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh, which, if it be whole, all the body is whole … “:
Allaah ta’ala has blessed only man and the animals with this special organ – the heart – and through it we find that even the animals recognize that which benefits them and that which harms them. Then, Allaah has singled out al-Insaan from amongst all the animals with the faculty of the intellect, and additional faculties within the heart. Allah says:
“Have they not travelled through the land, and have they hearts wherewith to understand and ears wherewith to hear?” [al-Hajj 22:46]
And the various limbs of the body are subservient to the heart, so whatever the heart decides upon, that action appears upon the limbs. So if the heart is good then the actions of the limbs are good, and if the heart is corrupt then the actions of the limbs are also corrupt. And if this fact is understood then the statement of the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam “if it be whole, all the body is whole, and if it is diseased, all of [the body] is diseased” becomes clear.
We ask Allaah the Majestic to cleanse the corruption of our hearts. O Changer of Hearts, establish our hearts upon Your Deen! O Controller of Hearts, turn our hearts towards Your obedience!
* That those things which are Haraam are clear and need clear evidence.
* That one who does ambiguous things may well be doing what is Haraam.
* That it is difficult to live honorably when doing the ambiguous.
* That Allaah is the King; The King of kings.
* That it is understandable that Allaah should have things prohibited for us.
* That the sanctuary of Allaah which we must not enter is all those things which He has made Haraam for us. Thus we must know what is Haraam and definitely avoid them.
* That doing the ambiguous or what is forbidden adversely affects the heart.
* That it is important to make and keep the heart pure, since it affects the rest of us. Thus we should look for ways to purify and preserve our hearts from being stained.