Commentary On A Hadith Pertaining To The Consumption Of That Which Is Doubtful

Translated into English by Moulana Dr Ismail Jaffer, Senior Lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of South Africa

Halaal and Haraam have been clearly defined by the Holy Qur’aan as well as the Ahadith of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam.

It is mentioned in the Holy Qur’aan:

“It is He who created for you all that is in the Earth.” (Surah 2: Verse 29)

This verse refers to the general permissibility of all natural products of the earth. These things have also been created for the benefit of man.

It is also stated:

“O you who believe! Eat from the good things, which We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah if it is (indeed) Him that you worship.” (Surah 2: Verse 172)

In another verse it is stated:

“He has only forbidden these to you, carrion, blood and the flesh of swine and the flesh of animals slaughtered by invoking a name other than Allah. But whoever is forced to eat (by necessity) neither desiring (it) nor transgressing (its limits), there is no sin upon him. Indeed Allah is the Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful.”(Surah 2: Verse 173)

Similarly there are numerous other Aayaat that guide us in terms of what is permissible for consumption. However, we live in a world where numerous advances have been made with regards to food technology and hitherto unknown ingredients are being used in food manufacture. The Ummah is now faced with a dilemma and much guidance is sought in terms of what is permissible or prohibited for consumption. Doubt has arisen regarding the validity of certain foods and food ingredients and the following Hadith is extremely pertinent to the discussion

Al-Nu’man Ibn Bashir (RA) narrates:  I heard the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) saying:  “The Lawful (Halaal) is explicit and the Unlawful (Haraam) is explicit, between these is the doubtful which many persons do not know.  Therefore be cautious of the doubtful.”  It absolves him of his Deen (Religion) and dignity.  One, who indulges in doubtful matters, has certainly indulged in the unlawful (Haraam).  It is like a shepherd who guards his flock within the surroundings and urges it to graze within it.  Alas, for every ruler there is a sanctuary and the sanctuary of Allah is His inviolable.  Alas, in the body is a piece of flesh, when it is sound then the entire body is sound.  When it is impaired then the entire body is unsound.  Be cautious, it is the heart. (Agreed upon)

Muhammad ibn Allaan Bakri in his book Daleelul Faliheen gives the interpretation of this Hadith as follows:

(On the authority of Al-Nu’man ibn Bashir) In the section on compliance of the Tradition (Sunnah). [He narrates, I heard the Messenger of Allah (SAW): “The lawful (halaal) is explicit”] meaning: What He made lawful (Halaal), its lawfulness is evident; as the text mentions its lawfulness or the source of its origin may be deduced from a part of it.  As mentioned by the Almighty: “He has created for you all that is on the earth” (Q2:29).  The “Law” is for advantage / benefit.  We learnt from it, the basis of its permissibility other than the evidence to the contrary. (And unlawful is explicit) meaning: What is apparent of the unlawful by its prohibition.  The text mentions about its unlawfulness (prohibition), like abomination, the forbidden, what has restriction or punishment; or from the source of the origin it may be deduced from a part of it.  As mentioned by the Almighty: “He has created for you all that is on the earth” (Q2:29).      We learnt from it, the basis of its permissibility other than evidence to the contrary. (And unlawful is explicit) meaning: What is made apparent of the unlawful by its prohibition.  The text mentions about its unlawfulness (prohibition] like abomination, the forbidden, what has restriction or punishment; or the source of the origin from which it may be deduced. The Prophet (SAW) stated: “All intoxicants are unlawful” (haraam).

(And between them) meaning: ‘Between both alternatives’ (Doubtful), for it, occurring between the two sources and its alliance to one of them.  For them both to be on the same grounds, it is not permissible to execute the evidence of anyone of them.

(Many persons do not know) to contradict the two injunctions.  The sentence is an obscure relative clause.  It does not say “all the people”, as for research scholars this will not be obscure for them.  If there is indecision between lawful (halaal) and unlawful (haraam) or there is no textual evidence and consensus, then a legist formulates an independent legal interpretation.  He affiliates it to the one according to legal evidence. If there is no confirmation, it is righteousness to renounce it.  The scholars differ in opinion about the obscure referred to in this Hadith (Tradition).

It is assumed to be unlawful (haraam) based on His saying: “Whosoever is cautious of the obscure, etc”.  They said: “He who does not free himself due to his honour and religion has indulged into unlawful (haraam)’.

It is assumed to be lawful (halaal) with evidence from his saying:  “It is like the shepherd grazing within his sanctuary.”  It implies that it is closely associated with the designated unlawful by its forbiddance.  And abstaining is pretty dependent on the group.

(Then be cautious of the doubtful) means: One who guards and restrains himself from it.  (To absolve) means: Desiring innocence or attaining it (for his religion ….) due to His legal conscience. (His distinction) of the people ‘falling’ into it due to reservation of its prohibitive nature, and if in fact it being ‘doubtful’.  It is alleged that the meaning of dignity is the body:  that is, the purity of his religion and body.

It is alleged to mean the position of praise and criticism among human being, whether it is himself or his predecessors, when it came to his own position in applying to the appropriate situation, and free himself from exonerating of religion and blemish. Then applying knowledge by realization; he means the achieving or desiring his innocence.  The sin in it is for emphasis on the first and not for application, then the application does not necessitate the realization.  The second is for application.

(Whosoever indulges in the doubtful, has indulged in the forbidden (haraam)).  It is easier upon oneself to indulge in the doubtful gradually to the point of indulging in the determined forbidden (haraam) by its prohibition, or indulging in the forbidden (haraam), for what he indulges in may be forbidden on the same basis and he indulges in it.

(It is like a shepherd grazing within his sanctuary), is what they protect of the land due to the animals and he prevents others from entering. This is not permissible except from Allah and His Messenger, as mentioned in the Hadith (Tradition): “There is no sanctuary but for Allah and His Messenger”. (His urging), the Damma (vowel…) on the first letter (below) and the kasra on the consonant (shin), it means to urge.  (……it graze within it) i.e., within this sanctuary on the basis of his negligence in guarding and his risk of protecting it.

Then it cautions him by the word “Ala” (desist / refrain), on important issues in law in three circumstances.  A directive that includes the word of caution on all issues, has to do with aptness to caution the listener and recommence words due to it.

He said (Ala) consists of the ‘Hamza’ of interrogation and the letter of negation.  The caution helps to assert what comes after it, but for the article of assertion, where no sentence occurs after it except the infinitive, which takes the oath.

(For every ruler there is a sanctuary) is to prohibit persons from it and punish him.  The ‘waw’ (and) is a conjunction on ‘Anbahu’ (he cautioned him) a proposition indicative of the article of caution.

Al-Kazaruni said: ‘It is a conjunction to the word of caution’.  He said: “On his understanding that the word ‘Ala’, cautions him”.  By his saying: “Surely, for every ruler there is a sanctuary’. By this explication, the conjunction is correct if it conjuncts the sentence by a single (word), it is not sound except considering that it contains a single (word), meaning a verb, e.g. “The breaking of dawn and bringing about of night”.  Firstly, it could be said that the “waw” (and) recommences proves the disjunction of what comes after it with what precedes it.

(Alas, the sanctuary for Allah is His inviolable).  It is disobedience and whosoever mistakenly indulges in any of it, deserves punishment. The forbidden resembles it due to the fact that it prevents expansion beyond the sanctuary of the ruler.

When abstaining and dishonour is followed by soundness of heart and its impairment, he warns him of this, by saying: (Alas, in the body is a piece of flesh) i.e., a piece of flesh, as much as, can be chewed.

(When it is sound) with the Fatha on the Lam is correct.  It encompasses belief, knowledge and cognition. (Then the entire body is sound) with action, moral and circumstances.

How excellent is the saying of a narrator:

“When Divine providence occurs (in the) heart, the limbs embark briskly in devotional service (Ibadah)”.

(When it is impaired) The account of the first: that is, that piece (of flesh) with unbelief, doubts and blasphemy. (The entire body is unsound), immoral and disobedient.  (Beware, it is), the described piece of flesh is mentioned as (the Heart).  It is the master and the parts are the herd.

This hadith is significant basis from the legal principles.

Abu Dawud Al-Sajastani said: “Islam revolves around four Ahadith (Traditions) and this hadith is mentioned among them.  The scholars agree on its unique position and its many benefits.

(Agree upon - its narrators) i.e., the position of its authenticity. (From chain), plural of tariq (chain / path); It refers to the persons of authority. (With equivalent words) that is, some of them are close from others in meaning and some from the aspect of content.

Al Bukhari reports it in ‘Belief’, on the authority of Abu Na’im, (from) Zakariyah ibn Abu Za’idah, (from) Al-Sha’bi, (from) al-Nu’man, with the words cited by the author.  It was narrated in “Sale”, on the authority of ‘Ali ibn Abd-Allah and Abd-Allah ibn Muhammad (both of them – from) Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah.  On the authority of Muhammad ibn Al-Muthanna, from Ibn Abu Adiy, (from) Abd-Allah ibn Awn, both from Al’Sha’bi, (from) Al-Nu’man, with the words:

“The lawful is explicit and the unlawful is explicit, and between them are doubtful matters.  One who refrains from what resembles sinful (acts), and when it is evident abstain.  And who ventures upon what is doubtful of sinful (acts) or indulge in what is evident.  Disobedience who grazes in the sanctuary of Allah urges him to graze around the sanctuary so that he may indulge in it.”

Muslim reports in the ‘Sale’, on the authority of Muhammad ibn Abd-allah ibn Numayr, (from) Waki’.  On the authority of Ishaq ibn Ishaq ibn Ibrahim, (from) Jarir, (from) Matraf and Abu Farwah.  On the authority of Abd-Allah ibn Shu’ayb ibn Al-Layth, (from) his father, (from) his grandfather, (from) Khalid ibn Yazid, (from) Ma’bad ibn Abu Hilal, (from) Awn ibn Abd-Allah ibn Utbah.  On the authority of Qutaybah, (from) Ya’qub ibn Abd-al-Rahman, (from) Muhammad ibn Aslan, (from)Abd-al-Rahman ibn Sa’id, four of them from Al-Sha’bi, (from) Al-Nu’man.  Likewise found in ‘section of merits’.

There is yet another Hadith which is commentated upon by the same scholar which sheds more light on the subject gives another perspective on the issue:

On the authority of Anas (R.A.) that the Prophet (S.A.W.) found a date on the road and said: “If I did not fear that it was from charity (Sadaqah), I would have ate it.”

(On the authority of Anas (R.A.) that the Prophet (S.A.W.) found a date on the road) i.e. whatever it was. (He said: “If not) refraining. (I did not fear that it was from charity (sadaqah), I would have ate it.”) i.e., I fear of its being from the dates of charity, I would have ate it. By charity is meant that which is not prohibited by its object.

In the story of Barma Barirah, who presented sheep to them, his saying (S.A.W.): ‘It is charity for them but a gift to us”. The Prophet (S.A.W.) specified the acceptance of mandatory charity and for us recommended. The wisdom is that it informs about the ignominy of taking and the dignity of the spender.

He (S.A.W.) said: “The upper hand” meaning the giver, “is better than the lower hand” meaning the receiver. This is taken from a Hadith.

It is permissible to own and eat what a person finds on the ground from the paltry, which most of them reject. If the rich possessed evident knowledge of its beneficial condition, he will be in favour of something similar to it; if the owner discards and allows anyone to take it. Thereupon, ‘Umar (R.A.) saw persons gathering to collect to pick up the grapes and he struck it with a whip. He said: “It is piety in what is repugnant for him by Allah” meaning that it is most probably the perpetrators state, referring to ostentation, reputation and display of piety and virtuous.

It may be deduced from the Hadith, that it is appropriate for a person when he is in doubt of the permissibility of a thing, he should refrain from it. However, the question which arises here is will refraining from it be obligatory or recommended. There is a difference of opinion in the Hadith of al-Nu’man. The views of the Imams (leaders) are clear and points to the second option (recommended), because a thing is initially assumed to be permissible and fundamentally not blameworthy as long as some prior reason for considering it unlawful is not known about it that ones doubts have been removed. For example, when one doubts that one of the conditions for valid slaughtering has been met, conditions, which make (a piece of meat) lawful, the assumption is that it remains unlawful, so the meat does not become lawful except through certainty. In case of doubt, only likely possibilities are taken into consideration, since it appears probable that dates for charity (in the above Hadith) were present at the time. As for remote possibilities, taking them into consideration only leads to a blameworthy extremism and departure from how the early Muslims were, for the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam was given cheese and a Jubba (by members of a Non-Muslim Arab tribe) and he ate the one and wore the other without considering whether the cheese was contaminated with pork or whether the wool came from an un-slaughtered animal. Were one to take such possibilities in to consideration, one would not find anything lawful on the face of the earth. This is why our colleagues say, “Complete certainty that something is lawful is only conceivable about rainwater falling from the sky into one’s hand.” (Daleelul Faaliheen Li Turruq Riyaadus Saliheen)

Indeed one has to consider Ahadith such as these in this era where so much doubt exists and is also caused by misguided individuals and organizations.  The commentator of the above Hadith and author of Daleelul Faliheen was Muhammad ibn Allan Bakri, a Shafi’ee scholar born in 996/1588. He was called the Suyuti of his time and was named the Mufti of Makkah at the age of 24. His comments are indeed pertinent in our time as well.