Halal and Haram: Not just food!
The following article has been published in the As-Salaam Newsletter Issue 2 published in January 2009
Nu'man b. Bashir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: I heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as having said : What is lawful is evident and what is unlawful is evident, and in between them are the things doubtful which many people do not know. So 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 animals round a preserve will soon pasture them in it. Beware, every king has a preserve and the things God has declared unlawful are His preserves. Beware, in the body there is a piece of flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound and if it is corrupt the whole body is corrupt, and hearken it is the heart.
Narrated in Sahih-Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim
The aforementioned saying of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) touches on the concept of lawful (halal) vs. the unlawful (haram) matters (in light of shari’ah), the doubtful (ambivalent) matters and the biology of the heart.
The scholars of Islam differ in the precise definition of halal and haram. Abu Hanifah, the leader of the Hanafi School of Jurisprudence, has said, “The halal is that for which there is a proof which shows that it is halal.” While the leader of the Shafi’i school, Ash-Shafi’i said, “The haram is that for which there is a proof which shows that it is haram.” Thus, irrespective of whichever school we follow, it is safe to suggest that if one finds lack of evidence to support otherwise, then the matter is left where it is. Having said that, those ambiguous matters that have characteristics of both the halal and the haram, are the matters that are unclear. These matters distinguish oneself from others in terms of religion and honour. Where the ambivalence is absent, then disapproval of that matter is absent and to ask further about it is an innovation (bidah).
It is further suggested that one may have sought to have his religion free from any blame and safe from any uncertainty. As for the freedom of his honour from blame, if he does not give up the ambivalent matter, ignorant people would show arrogance towards him by backbiting. They would attribute to him that he consumed the haram and it would then be the decisive factor in their falling into wrong actions.
At another instance the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h.) has been reported to have said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him not take a stance that causes suspicion.” In Sahih at-Tirmizi it has been reported that the Holy Messenger of Allah once said, “When any of you break wind in the prayer, let him take hold of his nose and then leave.” That is so that it will not be said about him, “He broke wind.”
The aspect of falling into the “ambivalent matters” that it may “lead to haram,” may mean two things, one of which is that he will fall into the haram, thinking that it is not haram. The second meaning would be that he would almost fall into the haram, as is said, “Acts of disobedience are the postal service of disbelief.” Because when a person falls into infringements, he will advance step by step from one corruption to another greater than it.
This has been indicated by the words of our Lord, in the Holy Qur’an in chapter 3, verse 112, “and the (Children of Isra’il) killed the Prophets without any right to do so. That was because they disobeyed and went beyond their limits,” meaning that they went gradually from acts of disobedience to killing the prophets. The mention of the shepherd and his flock is analogous to the ambivalent matters leading to haram, whereby the flock wandering near the boundaries of it's owner's land (pasturage), may encroach into forbidden pasture.
Know that every forbidden thing has its protected pasturage surrounding it. The private parts are forbidden and the two things are their protected pasturage because they are a sanctum (harem) for that which is forbidden. Similarly, seclusion with a woman [other than wives, slave-women or family] is the protected zone around that which is forbidden, so that a person must avoid both that which is forbidden and the protected zone around it.
The body has a morsel of flesh, which, when in humility then the limbs have humility, and when it is corrupt then the limbs are corrupt. The scholars have said that the body is the kingdom of the self and its city. The heart is in the middle of the kingdom. The members are like servants and the inner faculties are like landed estates in the city. The intellect is like a concerned minister (wazir) who advises him (the king). Appetite is a seeker of the servants’ provisions. Anger is a policeman and a foul cunning slave who assumed the aspect of a counsellor but whose advice is deadly poison, and whose untiring habit is always to quarrel with the counselling minister (i.e. the intellect).
The faculty of imagination is at the front of the brain like a treasurer, the faculty of thought is in the middle of the brain and the faculty of memory is in the rear of the brain. The tongue is an interpreter. The five senses are spies. Each one of them has been entrusted with making one of the arts, so the eye has been entrusted with the worlds of colours, hearing with the worlds of voices, and so on for all the others, for they are means of information.
Then it is said that they are doorkeepers which bring that which they have grasped to the self. It has been said that the hearing, sight and the faculty of smell are like capabilities from which the self looks. The heart is the king, so that if the shepherd is sound, the flock will be sound and if he is corrupt, the flock will be corrupt. His soundness is only obtained by his safety from inner sicknesses such as malice, spite, greed, miserliness, pride, ridicule, showing off, seeking reputation, deceit, covetousness, ambition and discontent with the decree.
There are many illnesses of the heart amounting to almost forty. May our Lord heal us of them and make us of those who come to Him with a sound healthy heart.