Bismillah. This is a continuation of hadith #6 in our An-Nawawi series. The hadith begins with this:
“That which is lawful is clear and that which is unlawful is clear and between the two of them are doubtful [or ambiguous] matters about which not many people are knowledgeable.”
For scholars and knowledgeable people, most acts fall into the clearly cut categories of permissible or haraam. The minority of acts are doubtful matters. To add to that, the more important a matter is, the more the evidences for that and the clearer the evidences are.
Clearly Permissible and Clearly Forbidden
There are countless acts which are clearly permissible in Islam. Sometimes they are explicitly mentioned as being permissble, other times they just fall under the general guidelines of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Clearly forbidden acts are stated similarly. For example, Allah says in the beginning of Surah Al-Ma’idah: “Prohibited to you are dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah , and [those animals] killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a head-long fall or by the goring of horns, and those from which a wild animal has eaten, except what you [are able to] slaughter [before its death], and those which are sacrificed on stone altars, and [prohibited is] that you seek decision through divining arrows. That is grave disobedience. This day those who disbelieve have despaired of [defeating] your religion; so fear them not, but fear Me. This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. But whoever is forced by severe hunger with no inclination to sin – then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
Clearly forbidden acts also include those for which Allah prescribed a punishment or made thread of a punishment.
So Which One is Doubtful?
How do we consider an act to be “doubtful”? Al Shaukaani categorizes doubtful matters into three:
- The acts whicih have conflicting reports in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
- A matter in which the scholars differ (this point applies to non-scholars!)
- Permissble matter which lead a person to do what is forbidden or lead him to fail to perform what is obligatory.
- Disapproved matters or makroohaat.
- Matters which are doubtful due to the matters surrouding them.
- Matters which are proven to be forbidden from weark hadith.
Many scholars note that if a person is involved in diapproved matters a lot, then that will lead him to forbidden matters. Disapproved matters darken the heart and make one lose imaan.
Umm…Is It Legit?
Now that we know which matters are doubtful – what is the ruling on them? Are they forbidden or are they permissible?
Some scholars say that since you will not have “cleared yourself in regards to your religion”, then you must be involved in a forbidden matter. Ibn Hajr, however, unequivocally rejects this view.
Other scholars say that they are permissble, but avoiding them is piety.
Others say that these acts are somewhere between permissible and impermissible. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa salaam stated such and Muslims should treat them as such.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) set an example for us in the sunnah with regards to the doubtful matters. In a hadith, Adi ibn Thaabit asked about when he is hunting and sends his dog after the prey. Upon finding the prey, he finds another dog there and he does not know which dog actually killed the prey. The Prophet (peace be upon him) told him, “Do not eat [that prey], for you have mentionedthe name of Allah over your dog, but you did not mention it in the case of the other dog.” (Bukhari and Muslim) The Prophet (S) decided the matter over the doubt that was present.
In another hadith, which is actually one of An-Nawawi’s 🙂 the Prophet (S) says: “Leave that which makes you doubt for what does not make you doubt.”
So the Scholars Differ….
That’s nice for them, but what do I do as someone who is not a scholar?
The first plan of action would be to see why they differ. Remember, knowledge safeguards 🙂 The scholars differ for various reasons. If you study how fiqh evolved and how laws were made, fataawa were given, you’ll find that different scholars used different methods to deduce their answers. Some scholars may have had access to more hadith; other scholars may have had to resort to reasoning moore often because of lack of hadith; some scholars may have been unaware of certain hadith because of the region they lived in, etc.
We will look at the various cases of doubt and how to deal with them.
Scenario 1: Has the forbidden aspect been removed?
For example, with meat. Say there is some meat a Muslim wants to eat, but he has no idea how it was slaughtered. He does not know or has no reason to believe that it was slaughtered.
Rule of Thumb in this case: AVOID!
Scenario 2: Permissible act, but the doubt is if the permissible aspect was removed.
For example, a sahabi had ablution but wasn’t sure if he invalidated it. He was told to consider it valid, unless he was sure he had invalidated it.
Rule of Thumb (and actually a legal maxim): What is known for certain cannot be removed by something doubtful.
Scenario 3: I have doubts, but don’t know if it’s halal or haram.
Rule of thumb: Better to avoid it! 🙂
However, an important point should be made here.
Suspicions with no base should not be acted upon.
For example, someone should not avoid praying in a certain area that has no marks of impurities just because there may be impurities present. This is not doubt. These are the whisperings from shaytaan (satan).
The next post in our an-Nawawi series will basically be about the dangers of tinkering in doubtful matters.