Looking at the way our community uses the term “Haram”, we cannot ignore that there is a sort of abuse in the use of the term. The abuse comes in two forms. One is that some people throw this term at anything they consider improper in their own personal, cultural or religious understanding. The second is that some people fail to label certain things clearly prohibited in Islam as Haram. I hope this article will bring a better understanding of this term and what it means.

The meaning of the term linguistically is “the opposite of permissible[1] and in Islamic reference is: “that which is punished upon doing it.”[2] Allah (SW) used the term in many verses like: {Indeed, He has but forbidden you [to eat] carrion, and blood, and the flesh of swine} 2:173; {God has made selling lawful and has prohibited usury} 2:275; and {yet forbidden for you [still] is [hunting] the game of the land- as long as you remain in the [state of] pilgrim sanctity.} 5:96. The Prophet (SAAW) also used the term in the Sunnah. Ali Ibn Abi Taleb (RAA) narrated the Prophet (SAAW) held (pure) silk in his right (hand) and gold in his left (hand) and said, “These two are forbidden for males from my Ummah.”[3] Below are some rules that are well known to be part of our understanding of religion or Fiqh.[4]:

“The origin of all matters is permissible”

In support of this understanding, we can site the verse: {Do you not see, [O humanity,] that God has subjugated for you all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth and has showered you with His blessings- manifest and hidden?}31:20. Also, the Prophet (SAAW) said: “That which God made in His Book as lawful is (the) lawful and that which He made forbidden is (the forbidden) and that which He was quiet about it is (aafou) pardoned.”[5]

This means that to declare something prohibited there must be a text of revelation with two conditions: authenticity and clarity. If quoting from the Quran, the matter of authenticity is secure but we need to consider the language and its meaning as it is of clear prohibition not (Makrooh) or preferred not. If quoting from the Sunnah we need to consider both authenticity and language interpretation because many of the Hadith are fake or weak that scholars do not permit the use in matters of prohibition or “Haram.” As a community, in many cases we call something that is not preferred (Makrooh) or something that is improper as Haram, but that is not acceptable. This doesn’t mean people are to engage in things which are improper or not preferred, but rather to provide a clarification for understanding the term and its implications in relation to liability in this life and in the Hereafter.

“Declaring what is lawful or forbidden is the right of God only”

In support of this understanding we can site the verse: {Or is it that they have associate-gods who have laid down for them [tenets] of religion, for which God has not given permission?}42:21. Since the Prophet (SAAW) speaks from revelation, he (SAAW) can also declare matters as lawful or prohibited.

The role of scholars is not to create rulings on their own but rather to quote what Allah (SW) or His messenger (SAAW) said in relation to matters presented or to relate matters in (Qiyas) or analogy. This is how we can understand what Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal answered when asked about a matter in which he couldn’t find a quote from Quran or Sunnah “I don’t like it” or “I don’t see it fit.” We also read in many occasions that scholars would rather avoid stating a ruling (Fatwa) and refer to other scholars in fear of declaring something lawful or not preferred as forbidden, or vice versa. Imam Shafie, in his book (Al-Umm), narrated to the great judge Abu Yusuf who was a student of Abu Hanifa: “I met (witnessing) our scholars of knowledge hate making rulings (Fatwas) of Halal and Haram only that which was in the Book of Allah clear without (personal) interpretation.”

“Forbidding the lawful or making the lawful forbidden is equivalent to shirk”

That means if someone gave himself or herself the authority to declare things opposite to that which God has declared, he or she has fallen into associating someone else in worship with God. This raises their declarations to a level of the worst of all major sins; Al-Shirk.

We can see that God the Almighty is protecting people from those who would enslave them into their own world of what is allowed and what is not! Remember when some companions in Madinah wanted to prohibit for themselves certain things that were lawful such as marrying women or eating meat, Allah (SW) revealed this verse: {O you who believe! You shall not prohibit the wholesome things that God has made lawful for you. And you shall not transgress [His ordained limits]. Indeed, God does not love the transgressors. Thus eat from whatever God has provided for you, lawful and wholesome. And you shall fear God, in whom you are believers} 5:87/88.

“Prohibition in relation to harm and filth”  

We can read many verses in the Quran that relate to this fact: {[He PBUH] who enjoins them with what is right and forbids them from what is wrong., making lawful for them wholesome things, and prohibiting for them impure things}7:157; {They ask you, [O Prophet, for further clarification] about what [food] is lawful for them. Say [to them]: lawful for you are all wholesome foods} 5:4.

We believe that God, the Creator of humans, has the supreme knowledge that guides us into keeping away from things because of its harm. We trust Allah (SW) for that, and we look into the general reasons mentioned like the previous verse, and for the specific reasons like in the following verse which gives us a great rule to imply whether a matter has more harm than benefit then it should be avoided: {They ask you, [O Prophet,] about intoxicants and gambling. Say: In both of them, there is great sinfulness- and some benefit for people. Yet their sinfulness is [far] greater than their benefit} 2:219. We all know that both were clearly prohibited later in another verse.

“Lawful is sufficient”

In lawful matters there is enough to substitute for unlawful ones. This is a concept that should rest in the heart of every believer. Anything that God declared unlawful was substituted by the presence of something which is healthy, lawful and beneficial.

The prohibition of usury, which is based on using the vulnerability of a person to burden him with more debt, was substituted by normal trade and ethical loans that are meant to help your fellow brother. The prohibition of gambling, which loses one’s wealth in games or chance, was substituted by honorable means of earning money like working. The prohibition of adultery and homosexuality was substituted by responsible relations that protect the continuity of our race as humans in a responsible way toward spouses and children. The prohibition of intoxicants, which disrupt your intellect, was substituted by water and all types of juices. With all that in mind, let no one complain about missing something in life. God is fair, and all the guidance He (SW) brings to us was meant to protect us and our well-being.

“That which leads to unlawful is unlawful”

In Islam, sins are in levels. One category is that there are major sins and minor sins. In many cases, the declaration of minor sins is seen as a guard to protect people from falling into major ones. Take for example when Islam prohibited adultery, it was also prohibited for a male (non-mahram) to be alone with a female in a non-public place or to look at a female (or vice versa) in a lustful way for the very simple reason of protecting one from falling into the major sin of adultery. Or when Islam prohibited drinking liquor as a major sin it was also prohibited to sell it or serve it to protect one from falling into drinking it. This concept in Sharia is called, in some cases, (Sadd Al-Zari’a), or preventive measures.  Scholars agree on general rules that summarize major concepts in Islam. One of these general rules says that which leads to Haram is Haram.

“Good intentions do not exempt Haram actions”

Although in Islam intentions are the base of our deeds, but good intentions do not legitimize what is prohibited. If normal actions of daily life are associated with good intentions, it will bring honor to them, raising those actions to a level of worship. For example, if one showers for cleanliness this is a neutral action, but if one showers prior to Friday noon prayer with the intention of practicing the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH), this raises the level of the action to a rewardable act of worship. However, this does not apply to prohibited matters because prohibited matters shall always remain unlawful except for extreme necessities. Therefore, gambling with the intention of donating to the poor is forbidden, as is selling wine with the intention of creating jobs or stealing with the intention to feed the poor. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Allah is pure and will only accept pure things.”[6]

Check your heart

Every person has a natural inclination (Fitra), which if not altered with habits of sinning, will always hint in one’s conscience what is lawful or unlawful. Two guidelines were brought to check things as the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Consult your heart. Righteousness is that about which the soul feels at ease and the heart feels tranquil. And wrongdoing is that which wavers in the soul and causes uneasiness in the chest, even though people have repeatedly given their legal opinion [in its favor].”[7] In other words if you do not feel at ease with something, and you hate people to see you doing it, then watch out, it might be something Haram coming to you!

In another Hadith the Prophet PBUH said: “That which is lawful is clear and that which is unlawful is clear, and between the two of them are doubtful matters about which many people do not know. Thus, he who avoids doubtful matters clears himself in regard to his religion and his honor, but he who falls into doubtful matters [eventually] falls into that which is unlawful.”[8]

“Extreme necessities exempt Haram”

The general purpose for Sharia in its rulings is to insure the (Maslahah) benefit for people by securing their extreme necessities and providing their normal needs and improving their additional needs.

Extreme necessities are what people’s lives depend on and what is needed to maintain their Maslahah. If these necessities not found, life would be disrupted and chaos would occur. These extreme necessities are related to five protected areas in Islam: Protection of religion, self, the mind, lineage, and wealth.

That is why if any of these necessities are disrupted, and the preservation of the human is dependent, then some acts of Haram would be allowed under dire circumstances with a condition; Allah (SW) said: {But whoever is compelled [by circumstances] without being rebellious and without being a willful transgressor- then no [penalty of] sin shall there be upon him} 2:173.

An example of dire circumstances would be if someone was lost in a desert, near death from dehydration but finds no liquid other than wine, he would be allowed to drink an amount that keeps him alive.

Other areas where Islam lifts hardships on people, especially in areas of worship are: Travel, illness, duress, being unaware, and general unpreventable measures.

By Sh Kifah Mustapha

[1] Lisan Al-Arab for Ibn Manthoor

[2] Al-Mustasfa for Ghazali volume 1 page 65

[3] Hadith narrated by Imam Aby Daoud

[4] Summary of Qaradawi rules in his Book: Halal & Haram in Islam

[5] Hadith narrated by Imam Alhakem

[6] Hadith narrated by Imam Muslim

[7] Hadith by Ahmad

[8] Bukhari