Will you explain the hadith about avoiding doubtful things? " Both legal and illegal things are evident but in between them there are doubtful (suspicious) things and most of the people have no knowledge about them.

The Details of the Question

Will you explain the hadith about avoiding doubtful things? " Both legal and illegal things are evident but in between them there are doubtful (suspicious) things and most of the people have no knowledge about them. So whoever saves himself from these suspicious things saves his religion and his honor. And whoever indulges in these suspicious things..."

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

3. (5163)- Nu'man Ibnu Bashir narrates: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,

"Both legal (halal) and illegal (haram) things are evident but in between them there are doubtful (suspicious) things and most of the people have no knowledge about them. So whoever saves himself from these suspicious things saves his religion and his honor. And whoever indulges in these suspicious things is like a shepherd who grazes (his animals) near the Hima (private pasture) of someone else and at any moment he is liable to get in it. (O people!) Beware! Every king has a Hima and the Hima of Allah on the earth is His illegal (forbidden) things. Beware! There is a piece of flesh in the body if it becomes good (reformed) the whole body becomes good but if it gets spoilt the whole body gets spoilt and that is the heart." [Bukhari, Iman 39, Buyu 2; Muslim, Musaqat 107, (1599); Abu Dawud, Buyu 3, (3329, 3330); Tirmidhi, Buyu 1, (1205); Nasai, Buyu 2, (7, 241).]


1. The hadith informs us about the existence of three decrees of our religion related to things:

    a) If it is decreed that something be done and if people are warned not to abandon it, it is clearly legitimate.  

    b) If it is decreed that something be abandoned and if people are warned not to do it, it is clearly haram.

    c) If neither of them is decreed about something, it is doubtful.   

The statement "Both legal and illegal things are evident" means "there is no need to explain them; everybody knows about them with their names, attributes and apparent evidences."  

The third part is doubtful because it is not evident; it is not known whether it is haram or halal. According to the statement of the hadith, it is necessary to avoid such doubtful things because if it is haram, a person who avoids it is saved from committing it. If it is halal, he will have abandoned it with the intention of taqwa (abandoning something halal does not harm a person). For, things can be haram or halal. Sometimes the decrees of both "halal" and "haram" are rejected together. If one of them does not overweigh, the decree about it is included in the third part (it becomes doubtful).

2. The statement "most of the people have no knowledge about them" in the hadith means "some people know whether doubtful things are haram or halal". However, they are few in number (the scholars whom we call mujtahid). Then, they are doubtful for those who are not mujtahids. However, in case of not being able to prefer either of the evidences, it will be doubtful for mujtahids too.

3. The hadith tells us that those avoid doubtful things will protect their religion from incompleteness and their honor from defamation. The hadith also tells us that those who do not avoid doubtful things will be exposed to some defamation. Thus, it is stated that it is necessary to fulfill the orders of the religion.

4. Scholars disagree about the decree related to doubtful things.  

* Some scholars say "Haram" but this view is rejected.

* Some scholars say "Makruh".

* Some scholars say "No decree is given".

5. The interpretations of scholars about doubtful things are divided into four. Accordingly, the following views are in question related to doubtful things:

     1) They emerge with the contradiction of evidences.

     2) They emerge with the disagreement of scholars. It originates from the previous case.

     3) What is meant by it is what is meant by "makruh" because "makruh" is something "done" or "abandoned".

     4) "Mubah (permissible)" is meant by it.

 Ibn Hajar states that each one of those interpretations is right based on individuals and conditions.

 Some scholars state the following: "Makruh is a step between a slave and haram; a person who commits makruh deeds a lot will commit harams. Mubah (permissible) is a step between a slave and makruh; a person who commits mubah deeds a lot will commit makruh." The following hadith supports this view:

اِجْعَلُوا بَيْنَكُمْ وَبيْنَ الْحَرَامِ سُتْرَةً مِنَ الْحََلِ مَنْ فَعَلَ ذلِكَ اِسْتَبْرأ لِعِرْضِهِ وَدِينهِ وَمَنِ ارْتَع فيهِ كَانَ كَالْمَرْتَعِ الى جَنْبِ الْحِمَى يُوشَكُ اَنْ يَقَعَ فيهِ 

"Place a sutrah (barrier) between haram and you. He who does so will purify his religion and honor. He who wanders without a sutrah will be like a sheep that grazes very close to a forbidden area and that can enter it any time."

Ibn Hajar states the following: "The meaning of it is as follows: If there exists a concern that doing a halal deed might lead a person to a makruh or haram, it is necessary to avoid that halal. For instance, the consumption of clean things excessively is like that. Excessive consumption makes a person makes need to earn more money. This may cause a person to buy something that he does not deserve; or, excessive consumption may cause a person to be heedless and uncomprehending. Even if excessive consumption does not harm a person, it will prevent him from worshipping by keeping him busy. That is something that is known by everybody."

Ibn Hajar states the following about the importance of avoiding makruh things:

"It is clear that a person who commits makruh deeds a lot will dare to commit forbidden things. Or, his habit of committing a forbidden deed that is not haram will cause him to commit a forbidden deed that is haram or doubtful. This causes the heart of the person who commits a forbidden deed to blacken. This will lead him to haram things easily even if he does not prefer haram things intentionally. As a matter of fact, the Prophet (pbuh) states the following in a version of the same hadith that we deal with included in Bukhari: "...If a person abandons something that he feels to be doubtful, he will abandon the things that are clearly haram. If a person dares to do something that he feels to be doubtful, he will soon fall into haram things."

We will quote a persuasive analysis by Badiuzzaman Said Nursi about how minor sins eventually blacken the heart of a person, leading to unbelief. He makes this analysis when he narrates the famous story of Hz. Ayyub (Job):

"Corresponding to the outer wounds and sicknesses of Job (Upon whom be peace), we have inner sicknesses of the spirit and heart. If our inner being were to be turned outward, and our outer being turned inward, we would appear more wounded and diseased than Job. For each sin that we commit and each doubt that enters our mind, inflicts wounds on our heart and our spirit. The wounds of Job (Upon whom be peace) were of such a nature as to threaten his brief worldly life, but our inner wounds threaten our infinitely long everlasting life.

We need the supplication of Job thousands of times more than he did himself. Just as the worms that arose from his wounds penetrated to his heart and tongue, so too the wounds that sin inflicts upon us and the temptations and doubts that arise from those wounds will – may God protect us! – penetrate our inner heart, the seat of belief, and thus wound belief. Penetrating too the spiritual joy of the tongue, the interpreter of belief, they cause it to shun in revulsion the remembrance of God, and reduce it to silence.

Sin, penetrating to the heart, will blacken and darken it until it extinguishes the light of belief. Within each sin is a path leading to unbelief. Unless that sin is swiftly obliterated by seeking God’s pardon, it will grow from a worm into a snake that gnaws on the heart. For example, a man who secretly commits a shameful sin will fear the disgrace that results if others become aware of it. Thus, the existence of angels and spirit beings will be hard for him to endure, and he will long to deny it, even on the strength of the slightest indication.

Similarly, one who commits a major sin deserving of the torment of Hell, will desire the non-existence of Hell wholeheartedly, and whenever he hears of the threat of Hell-fire, he will dare to deny it on the strength of a slight indication and doubt, unless he takes up in protection the shield of repentance and seeking forgiveness.

Similarly, one who does not perform the obligatory prayer and fulfil his duty of worship will be affected by distress, just as he would be in case of the neglect of a minor duty toward some petty ruler. Thus, his laziness in fulfilling his obligation, despite the repeated commands of the Sovereign of Pre-Eternity, will distress him greatly, and on account of that distress will desire and say to himself: “Would that there were no such duty of worship!” In turn, there will arise from this desire a desire to deny God, and bear enmity toward Him. If some doubt concerning the existence of the Divine Being comes to his heart, he will be inclined to embrace it like a conclusive proof. A wide gate to destruction will be opened in front of him. The wretch does not know that although he is delivered by denial from the slight trouble of duty of worship, he has made himself, by that same denial, the target for millions of troubles that are far more awesome. Fleeing from the bite of a gnat, he welcomes the bite of the snake. There are many other examples, which may be understood with reference to these three, so that the sense of, بَلْ رَانَ عَلى قُلُوبِهِمْ will become apparent. (2)"

7. We should also state the following regarding the issue: Islamic scholars gave great importance to the hadith in question and regarded it one of the four basic narrations on which Islam was based. The scholars that explain hadiths include the following two couplets, which express those four basic principles, from Abu Dawud:  

عُمْدَةُ الدّينِ عِنْدَنَا كَلِمَاتٌمُسْنَدَاتٌ مِنْ قَوْلِ خَيْرِ الْبَرِيّةِاُتْرُكِ الْمُشَبِّهَاتِ وَازْهَدْ وَدَعْ مَالَيْسَ يَعْنِيكَ وَاعْمَلَنْ بِنِيّة 

"In our opinion, the principles of the religion are a few words based on the statement of the Prophet Muhammad Mustafa (pbuh), who is the best person among people: "Abandon what is doubtful!", "Act ascetically toward (worldly things)", "Abandon what does not interest you (unnecessary things)", "Do deeds with intention!"

The scholars who explained hadiths made long analyses that fit the importance of the hadith in question. We regard the explanations we have made so far sufficient.  


(1) “We take refuge in Allah” means “May Allah protect us!"

(2) The meaning of the verse is as follows: "(Nay but their hearts are stained)" (al-Mutaffifin, 14).

(Prof. Dr. İbrahim Canan, Kütüb-ü Sitte Tercüme ve Şerhi)

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