In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all creation. May the salutations of Allah, His peace and blessings be upon our Prophet, his family, his companions and his true followers until the Last Day – then to proceed:
Dear brothers and sisters, the Hadith have been reported on the authority of Abu Abdullah Nu’man Bin Bashir (RA), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) say:
“Truly, what is lawful is clear, and what is unlawful is clear, and in between the two are matters which are doubtful, which many people do not know. He who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honour blameless, and he who indulges in doubtful things indulges in fact in unlawful things, just as a shepherd who pastures his flock round a preserve, will soon pasture them in it. Beware, every king has a preserve, and the things Allah has declared unlawful are His preserves. Beware, in the body there is a flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound, and if it is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt, and behold, it is the heart.” [Bukhari and Muslim reported it]
Respected brothers and sisters, the first thing to note is that Imam Bukhari recorded this Hadith in the beginning of the Book of Trading (Kitabul Buyu), i.e. the kitab started off with this Hadith. Some scholars say that Imam Bukhari was not only a muhadith who memorised, collected, recorded and compiled the Hadith, but he was also a faqih (jurist) and his fiqh (jurisprudence) can be noted in so many ways. One is the tabwib, or the way that he gave the title for each chapter of his book. He would choose a certain statement which he would then use for the title of the chapter. This title reflects his fiqh. Also the way the Hadith is recorded, where it is placed, under which chapter, and the fact that sometimes a Hadith is repeated in many chapters – all these reflect the fiqh of Imam Bukhari.
But why did Imam Bukhari start Kitabul Buyu with this Hadith?What does this imply?
There are many implications. One of them is that these doubtful matters are related to the things that we buy and sell, that we trade in. It is also said that his father once mentioned to him that for forty years he never brought anything doubtful into their home.
It can be observed that Imam Bukhari was influenced by his father’s attitude in two ways:
1. His father brought only lawful (halal) things into the house. Whatever the family ate, drank, wore or used was lawful (halal). There were no doubts. This is the environment Imam Bukhari was brought and raised up in. It is also said that whenever his father made Du’a (supplication) to Allah Almighty, Allah answered his Du’a because of the fact that he never dealt with anything which was doubtful. This is reflected in the behaviour and attitude of Imam Bukhari. Hence like in this Hadith where he chose to record it at the beginning of the chapter Kitabul Buyu.
2. Imam Bukhari is also known as a great muhadith. One of the things that a muhadith is involved in is al-Jarh wat-Ta’dil, the status of narrators of Hadith – whether they can be taken as saadiq, the one who is truthful and trustworthy, or as those who lie and cannot be taken as true narrators of Hadith. The muhadithun uses specific terms to indicate the status of a narrator. When it comes to the status of the liars, or those who cannot be relied on, Imam Bukhari used a very astonishing style of al-Jarh wat-Ta’dil. He would not use
direct terms – rather, he would use indirect ones. This also reflects his piety and righteousness. He would not simply label a narrator a liar. Instead he would say: “He has been labelled a liar.”
Another matter which is related to Imam Bukhari is that, whenever there was controversial issues or the clashing of views, he would follow the cautious approach. For example, whenever there was conflicting opinions whether something is an obligation or not, such as the recitation of Al-Fatihah in prayers, he would be in favour of the view that treats it as an obligation.
Another school of thought has a different approach where some scholars follow whatever the evidence leads them to – provided it is sound and authentic.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Scholars are of the view that the vast majority of acts fall into one of the first two categories: either it is evidently lawful or unlawful. Only a minority number of acts fall into the third category, that which is doubtful.
It can be noted here that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is using a metaphor, or analogy, twice in this Hadith. Using metaphors or analogies in communicating ideas is very effective and powerful. From the metaphor and the way it is worded “just as a shepherd who pastures his flock round a preserve will soon pasture them in it”, we can say that the doubtful things are closer to the unlawful things. This Hadith emphasizes the importance of glorifying Allah Almighty. If we want to glorify Allah, we have to glorify His injunctions, commandments, whether they are obligations (so we perform them), or whether they are prohibitions (so we don’t perform them). A Salaf (predecessor) once narrated:
“Don’t look at how minor the sin is that you committed, but look at the glory of the One you disobeyed, i.e. Allah Almighty.”
A sin, even if it is a minor one, means disobedience to Allah, hence defying the Glorification of Allah. And the glorification of Allah is actually one of the principles of Tawhid.
I mentioned somewhere that the great actions or the principles of Tawhid are done by the heart. That is why the heart is mentioned at the end of this Hadith. Looking at the Hadith at first glance, we might have asked what the heart has to do with the rest of the Hadith. It is in the heart that we glorify Allah. It is the action of heart when we refrain from the unlawful. If the heart is strong, sound, sincere, has no weaknesses, and is full of iman (faith), then this would lead us to refrain ourselves from muharramat (prohibited things) and makruhah (undesirable acts). Therefore only those with a strong and sound heart, i.e. the heart that is full of love for Allah, fear of Allah and glorification of Allah, will refrain from the doubtful matters. But those whose hearts are diseased and whose iman (faith) is weak, may go around the doubtful matters. Little by little they will indulge in the makruhah (undesirable acts), delaying things and eventually getting into the muharram (prohibited) or delaying or even negating the wajib (obligatory). It has to do with the status of the heart. That is why the scholars talk about the life of the heart. For example, when you see Muslims praying in the Masjid (Mosque), you see hundreds of people praying together. But what distinguishes them is the status of their hearts, whether it is devoted to Allah or not. How strong and pure is the heart?How sound is the heart? That’s where people differ. This is what we should concern ourselves with, and compete – taking care of our hearts, purifying them, taking away any diseases from our hearts, to activate iman (faith) in the heart in order to make it alive.
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), mentioned about Abu Bakr as-Sidiq where he said that If you put the iman (faith) of all the entire Muslim Ummah on one scale and the iman (faith) of Abu Bakr as-Sidiq on the other scale, the iman (faith) of Abu Bakr as-Sidiq would outweigh the iman (faith) of the whole Ummah. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), also said that there is something in the heart of Abu Bakr as-Sidiq that distinguished it from others, and as it is known he was called as-Sidiq. The Prophet (Peace be upon him), once said about Abu Bakr:
“When I call someone to Islam, he will have some hesitation…except Abu Bakr as-Sidiq. The minute I talked to him about Islam, straight away he believed in me, he believed in Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah.”
So it has to do with the heart that distinguished Abu Bakr as-Sidiq to be Khalifatul-Awwal, and to be the first Sahabi (Companion). From this, it can be said that every Muslim should care about his/her heart, purify it and activate iman (faith) in the heart, and practise the great principles of Tawhid, such as to love Allah, to fear Him, to rely on Him, to have hope in Him, to seek help from Him and to seek refuge in Him so that the heart is alive, activated and full of iman (faith). And at the same time we have to make sure that there should be no diseases or anything bad within our hearts, e.g. greediness, selfishness, envy, arrogance, etc. Only then will the heart be sound.
In another related Hadith the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), mentioned that:
“The heart will be exposed to fitan (trials) again and again. The heart which is influenced by fitnah will have a black spot placed on it. And if the heart avoids the fitnah, there will be a white spot on it.”
The heart then is either a pure one, or a heart that has been sealed after being affected by fitan or prohibited or doubtful matters again and again. Even though the heart pumps out blood and the person is alive, the heart in reality is not alive, because the iman (faith) is weak, making the heart unsound. Hence avoiding and getting away from the fitan is important in order to have a pure heart, especially in these contemporary times where it is full of evil that attracts the heart.
The evil doers promote evil and impose it on others. So if a Muslim is not careful, his/her heart might be stolen. As mentioned by the great contemporary scholar, Sheikh Abdur-Rahman ad-Dusari, that there are many thieves today who steal the hearts, sometimes without the owner even being aware of it.
Beloved brothers and sisters, if you read any Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), it talks about a matter, whether it is something good that we should do, or something bad that we should not do. And then in the Hadith the Prophet (Peace be upon him), will mention a principle. Usually, the principle, which is the main point of the Hadith, is the last words or sentence. The Hadith above mentions about the lawful and unlawful being clear, and then there is the doubtful matter. And then there is the last sentence of the Hadith. This is the bottom-line of the Hadith, the main thing, the main issue. If we want to get away from the muharramat (unlawful), and also from the doubtful matters, we have to care about our heart. We have to purify our heart and make sure it is sound and alive, and it is not lost from us.
One wisdom we can learn from the Hadith is from the way the Prophet (Peace be upon him) tells us about something: he will discuss a concept and then give us the principle. This principle helps us not only with the concept mentioned in the Hadith, but it actually helps us, if we use it in the right way with the right understanding, in other similar matters and situations. If we care about our heart, not only will we be able to avoid the doubtful matters, we can apply the same principle to other similar concepts or issues, e.g. in avoiding bad manners for there are also doubtful matters in the concept of akhlaq (characters/behaviours/values). It was mentioned earlier that Imam Bukhari recorded this Hadith in Kitabul-Buyu (Trading).
When it comes to trading there are many matters that are doubtful, matters which existed then and even now, e.g. where cheating is done professionally. Therefore we have to be careful if the matter related to trading is clear and open, permissible or not permissible, or if it is doubtful, in which case we have to avoid it.
Related to the above issue is the issue of food, where there are many doubtful matters about what we eat. If we check the ingredients that are used in many manufactured food today, e.g. biscuits, maggi, medicine, canned food and preserved food, there are ingredients that might raise the question of doubtfulness of what we eat. For example, lecithin is used in the manufacture of foodstuff especially in the west, and Muslims import a lot of food from the west. If it is not specified otherwise then there is a high probability that the lecithin is derived from the pig (al-hanzir) because it is cheaper to produce. Otherwise, it should be mentioned whether it is derived from soya or plants or from halal production.
Another ingredient is emulsifier. Emulsifiers are labelled as the letter ‘E’ followed by a series of numbers. Some emulsifiers contain things that are not permissible (haram). There are efforts done by some Muslim scientists where they try to identify such ingredients. This can then be used as a checklist to check against when we buy food for our family. We should be very careful when we read the ingredients of foodstuff if we want to ensure that what we eat is not prohibited (halal). It is mentioned in a Hadith that if what we eat is prohibited (haram), even our Du’a/supplication is not accepted by Allah.
We should take care of our health. A lot of what we eat today or what is in the market is not fresh. There are so many preservatives, colouring and chemicals which, if used excessively, might affect our health. We have to be careful in the sense that although it is in general permissible, if it is used excessively it will affect our health – then we are not doing good for our health as Muslims.
Some of the interpreters of the collection of the An-Nawawi forty Hadiths try to identify or pinpoint some matters that are doubtful in general. Sometimes they mention matters or controversial issues where the related evidences from the Qur’an and Sunnah are conflicting and there is no apparent way to resolve the conflict. They mention general matters where views of scholars may also be conflicting. Some permissible matters might lead a person to do what is forbidden or lead him to fail to do what is obligatory. For example, the issue of staying up late. According to the view of some scholars, it is makruh (disliked) to stay up late for no valid reason, just chatting or doing nothing or just wasting time. Even though in general it is permissible, this might lead to other consequences where it might cause the delaying or failing to do the wajib (obligatory), or it might lead us into doing muharram (prohibited). The scholars also say that there are matters which were inferred or concluded based on certain Hadiths where the authenticity of the Hadith is questionable. They say this can also be treated as doubtful matters.
The main key to the issue that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) gave us, again, is the heart. If we care about our heart, we will be more sensible. If the heart is sound, strong, sincere and full of iman (faith), we will be more responsible, and we will care more about what we do and what we don’t do. This becomes the measure to those matters which are doubtful. Even though some interpreters gave some principles by which we can distinguish those doubtful matters, it can still be debated or questioned. But if the heart is good, strong, sincere and full of iman, the person will be able to distinguish between the doubtful matters and other clear evident matters, where he would also be able to refrain from the doubtful matters. Sometimes people may know something is prohibited (haram) and not just doubtful, but yet they still get involved in it because of the weak status of their hearts. So here again I would like to emphasise the main key to dealing with the problem of doubtful matters is the heart. If we all care about the heart, make sure it is in a good status, then In Shaa Allah we will be able to be saved by the help of Allah. We will be guided by Allah, because the heart will be full of light. When I say the heart is full of light or guided by light, I mean there are things that we can do that help us to identify and avoid doubtful matters as follows:
1. Al-Muhasabah – self accountability
2. Al-Muraqabah – self reckoning
3. Zikrullah – the remembrance of Allah.
Imam An-Nawawi himself compiled another book, the Book of Azkar, where he recorded the Hadiths about azkar. It is mentioned by the Prophet (Peace be upon him), that remembering Allah will purify the heart. However, we have to do it regularly and on a continuous basis. We should also do the azkar after prayers.
Another thing is as-Salatu Alan-Nabi (the sending of prayers and blessings to the Prophet, Peace be upon him). This is also an important matter. We don’t train ourselves to practice this Salatu Alan-Nabi (Peace be upon him). We just write SAW or an alphabet after mentioning the Prophet (Peace be upon him). We even abbreviate the phrase “Subhanahu wa ta’ala.” These are mistakes because Du’a cannot be abbreviated. This is commonsense. Why do we abbreviate? Is it to save our time? Or to save ink? We have to practice saying/writing “sallallahu Alaihi wasallam” in full because we are encouraged to do so. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Do you know the greedy and miser? The one whom my name is mentioned in front of him or her, and he does not say sallallahu alaihi wa sallam.”
In another Hadith the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said that if we practice as-Salatu Alan Nabi, Allah will send His prayers and blessings upon us (yusalli alaih). What does this mean? The scholars explain this by saying that Allah will guide the person who practices as-Salatu alan-Nabi and gives him the light by which to distinguish between the good and the bad. It is a light that will be in the heart. This is termed as as-salatu minallahi alal-abd. Moreover each time we say “sallallahu alaihi wasallam” we will be rewarded ten times. Hence we should strive to not lose out on obtaining all these good things. We should love the Prophet (Peace be upon him) more than ourselves, our families, our parents or our children.
Dear brothers and sisters, know that there are doubtful matters that a Muslim might face in his/her everyday dealings and activities. This Hadith helps the Muslim in dealing with such matters. There is an early ongoing preparation which is needed in such a case – to purify one’s heart. There are some actions that can help us achieve this task, like: haya (modesty), murakabah (self reckoning), muhasabah (self accountability), zikr (remembrance of Allah), and as-Salatu alan-Nabi (Peace be upon him). These are things that, In Shaa Allah, can help us and enlighten and purify our heart, and also help us to identify and avoid the doubtful matters – this is the main point, the key, the principle of the Hadith.
“Beware; in the body there is a flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound, and if it is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt, and behold, it is the heart.”
I ask Allah for peace and good health, and to protect us and all the brothers and sisters, ameen.
May Allah send His Salah and Salam upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
And all praises and thanks are due to Allah alone, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348038289761.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Jimada Thani 01, 1442 AH (January 15, 2021).