[Hadith Commentary] Purification of the Heart


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Eman Al Obaid conducts classes on Quranic exegesis (Tafseer), Hadeeth, Fiqh and other Islamic themes at AlHuda Sisters, Dubai.

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Adapted for Hiba Magazine by Tasneem Vali

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On the authority of Abu Abdullah al-Numan bin Bashir (rta) who said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (swt) say: “Truly, what is lawful is evident and what is unlawful is evident. 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, he will soon pasture them in it. Beware; every king has a preserve, and the things Allah (swt) 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)

This Hadeeth is recorded by Imam Bukhari, as the first Hadeeth, in the Book of Trading (Kitab al-Buyu). It is not a coincidence; the order of Ahadeeth recorded in Saheeh Bukhari have a logic behind them. There are two major consequences of this choice.

In our high-paced, terahertz life of today, we are convinced that everything falls into the grey area; there are very few black and white answers to our problems. Most Ulema (scholars) agree that life has not become more complicated; we just do not know how to peel the layers to get to the heart of the problem. A marginal number of actions belong in the doubtful area; the maximum number is still clearly lawful or unlawful.

The first part of the Hadeeth is used as an analogy to convey that doubtful actions/things are closer to unlawful actions/things. This can be demonstrated by a few everyday examples.

Most Ulema (scholars) agree that life has not become more complicated; we just do not know how to peel the layers to get to the heart of the problem. A marginal number of actions belong in the doubtful area; the maximum number is still clearly lawful or unlawful.

1. Smoking cigarettes is doubtful. That is the view. However, it is closer to unlawful as smoking is injurious to one’s health and the Quran clearly states that we should not destroy ourselves. Drugs, alcohol, etc. are not specifically mentioned in the Quran, but follow the principle above; they do more harm than good, and hence, they are unlawful.
2. Selling grapes is lawful. If your grapes are used to make an unlawful drink, will you be held responsible? This is a doubtful area in business, so stay away from it.
3. A person, who stitches clothes, is earning his wage lawfully. However, if they sew clothes that do not cover Awrah, or are revealing or immodest, they have moved into doubtful territory.
4. Teaching is related to the Prophet (sa). It is the noblest of all professions and the most respected. When teachers accept gifts from students, it enters into the doubtful territory; no matter how impartial you are, the gift will affect your judgement.

He who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honour intact. Those who indulge in doubtful things indulge in unlawful things. Just as a shepherd, who allows his flock to graze near a neighbour’s pasture; the flock will soon move over to unlawful territory. Everything we do or say must be clear and evident; there should be no doubt about it.

Allah (swt) is our Rabb (Lord); we are obligated to stay away from everything He has confirmed as unlawful. The Quran reminds us that grey areas are Khutuwat as-Shaitan (the devil’s footsteps).
“O you who believe! Follow not the footsteps of Shaitan (Satan). And whosoever follows the footsteps of Shaitan (Satan), then, verily he commands Al-Fahsha (i.e. to commit indecency), and Al-Munkar (disbelief and polytheism (i.e. to do evil and wicked deeds; to speak or to do what is forbidden in Islam, etc.)). And, had it not been for the Grace of Allah (swt) and His Mercy on you, not one of you would ever have been pure from sins. But Allah (swt) purifies (guides to Islam) whom He wills, and Allah (swt) is All-Hearer, All-Knower.” (An-Nur 24:21)

Doubtful matters are due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the root issue. More importantly, we make light indulging in doubtful matters because our heart is not free. Each of us must have on-going strategies to purify our hearts and fill it with Iman and Taqwa. Some things certain to protect us and keep us far away from the doubtful are:

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