Moral Teachings of Islam- The Lawful & Unlawful

Summary of 6.5 “Characteristics of Islamic Moral Code”
We basically coved four points.’ The first point was the objectives and goals of the Islamic moral code. ‘We indicated that the main purpose of the moral code is to build up an Islamic personality which lives by faith in God which is nourished with divine love which accepts its responsibility as trustee of God on earth.’ The result would be to have a community of believers who ordain the good and forbid the evil.

The second point was a discussion of the relationship between the Islamic moral code and faith.’ We said that the Quran makes it clear that one can not pay lip service to faith or simply say that they believe.’ The Quran says that there is always correlation between belief and performing good deeds.’ The ultimate test of faith is whether it is translated into reality and concrete actions that follow the moral code.

The third point was the relationship between the moral code and worship.’ Again we said that these are not contradictory points and should go hand in hand but neither can replace the other.’ In other words a person can not claim to posses good moral qualities while neglecting their duties towards God in terms of acts of worship.’ On the other hand one can not claim to posses good moral properties while neglecting their duties towards God (acts of worship).’ Also, one can not busy themselves with the ritualistic performance of acts of worship while forgetting about their moral behavior.’ Both moral code and worship should go hand in hand.

The fourth and last point we discussed last time was the extent of stability of the Islamic moral code.’ We said that if what is meant by moral code covers the foundations, objectives, basics and general principals then they are not subject to any change by any human being.’ These principals are not time bound and are broad principals that are always applicable.’ God out of His infinite wisdom of the past, present and future has prescribed these things so we have no right to claim to have more expertise than God.’ In details or extensions of applications we can expand on them without violating those principals.

6.6′ The Lawful and Unlawful
Host:’ Which aspects does the moral code emphasize?

Jamal Badawi:

The moral code in Islam is not the type of code that is confined to personal behavior, spiritual aspects or limited compartments of human life but it rather encompasses the entirety of human life.’ The best way to describe moral life in Islam is that is fused into all aspects of life whether it’s on a personal, social, economic or political level.’ For a Muslim it doesn’t make sense to pray for a couple of hours per day or week and then prey on God’s creatures for the rest of the time.’ If a person really expresses faith in God and is committed to the moral code then they don’t leave their morals at the place of worship but carry it with them everywhere they go.

The moral code in Islam covers everybody; there is no particular group or class of people who may be exempt from the implementation or obligation to follow the moral law.’ To illustrate this I will tell a brief story that took place during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad.’ The Prophet was in debt and his creditor was a fellow who was a little rough and impolite and he came to the Prophet (PBUH) and he started talking to him very harshly.’ So one of the companions of the Prophet got very angry at this rude treatment of the Prophet and was getting ready to punish him.’ So the Prophet said wait both of us need something better than what you intended on doing (which was to attach the creditor).’ We both need your advice, you should advise him to ask politely and you should advise me to be patient and to pay him his due right.’ So the moral code doesn’t only cover all aspects of life but it also covers all individuals who claim to belong to the community of believers.

Host:’ It is suggested that in general moral codes are vague, how does Islam address this issue?

Jamal Badawi:

Fortunately this is not the case in the moral code of Islam.’ This is based on a clear reason, prophet hood basically carried the same message and Islam as completed by Prophet Muhammad really culminated, specified and made more concrete so that it provides clear guidance to humanity.’ With this basis we find that the moral code of Islam has lots of examples and illustrations both in the Quran, the word of God, and the sayings, deeds and approval of Prophet Muhammad which shows how the moral code is applied.’ In Islam it does not simply say to the follower be good, be virtuous, and be moral it rather says be good and shows one how to be good, be virtuous and these are acts that could help one become more virtuous.

Islamic jurisprudence clarifies this aspect in a unique way.’ There are five degrees of lawfulness.’ The first degree is called Mubah, translated as permissible.’ Permissible is the baseline and contains things that are neither mandatory nor required nor are they regarded as detestable or forbidden.’ For example a person likes a particular type of food, gardening or carpentry we can not say that it is a religious requirement or forbidden to do these things.

If we go up one degree from Mubah we come to Mustahab or commendable.’ This is an act which is not obligatory on every Muslim but it is highly recommended.’ An example is that it is commendable to fast beyond the minimum required fasting of Ramadan or to pray extra prayers beyond the five daily prayers.

The highest is the Fard which is mandatory acts, which are the bare minimum obligations of anyone who claims to be a sincere and true Muslim.’ An example would be to perform the minimum five daily prayers, fasting the month of Ramadan, the duty on a Muslim to support his family financially, emotionally and otherwise, and the duty of the ruler (covering a variety of aspects of life).

Below the baseline of permissible is Makrooh which means detestable.’ This is something in Islamic law which is not absolutely forbidden and does not constituted a major moral sin but it is highly discouraged.’ For example smoking is not as unlawful as drinking or other intoxicants but it is a detestable act.

Below this comes the Haram which are forbidden or unlawful acts.’ This includes things which are regarded in Islamic jurisprudence as absolutely prohibited including things such as killing, adultery, drinking and other intoxicants.

This is a beautiful example that the does and don’ts are not black and white.’ There are degrees, for example if one moves above the permissible there are things which hare commendable, highly commendable and then it becomes very close to becoming an absolute requirement.’ For things that are detestable there are degrees again as we keep going down till we get to the point of highly detestable and then it merges with the unlawful acts.’ In this sense Islamic jurisprudence is quite rich with more specific examples.

Host:’ What is the philosophy behind regarding things to be unlawful?

Jamal Badawi:

In Islam nothing is regarded as unlawful or forbidden by way of depriving mankind from something that is enjoyable.’ As I mentioned before that God made the entire earth and the heavens subservient to mankind.’ The notion that the unlawful is simply made so to deprive mankind is not true.’ Second of all nothing is considered unlawful or forbidden in Islam simply because taboo without good reasons.’ Thirdly, nothing is made unlawful in order to punish us after the advent of Prophet Muhammad.’ The Quran indicates that in the past in divine law that was revealed prior to the advent of Prophet Muhammad, given to other Prophets, there were cases where certain wholesome and lawful things were forbidden by way of punishment.’ For example in the Quran in (6:146) it talks about the fact that God punished some of the people before Islam for their infraction by forbidding them good things.’ When the prohibition is not on the basis of deprivation, taboo or punishment why are things prohibited?

The Quran answers this in (7:157) ‘Those who follow the apostle, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honor him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him, -it is they who will prosper.” The key in this citation is that the basic rule is that if something is good and pure it is lawful if not it is forbidden.’ One interpretation of the yoke that the verse mentions is that if there was any punishment prior to Islam that forbade lawful and pure things it has been removed as everything that is good is permissible and everything that is evil is not.’ Of course it may take us an awful long time before we discover what is impure and bad about certain types of food which is prohibited or other things like drinking or smoking.’ Even then a true believer would not have the attitude that they will not accept it till it is proven to be wrong.’ A true believer would have full confidence and trust in God and would readily accept the rule and know for a fact that if they are forbidden from something it is because it is bad and not a punishment.

Host:’ How can person identify things which are lawful or unlawful?

Jamal Badawi:

There is a book we can refer to which is called ‘Al-Halal wa Al-Haram fi al Islam’ by Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi which means the lawful and unlawful in Islam, and he summarizes in the first few pages of the book very beautifully some of the basic rules in terms of the of determining the lawful and the unlawful.’ I will just give some of those rules which are relevant to our topic.

The first general rule is that everything is regarded as permissible (lawful) unless there is clear evidence that it is not.’ An example of this is found in the Quran in (2:168) ‘O ye people! Eat of what is on earth, Lawful and good.” The basic rule is to start from things being permissible rather than the other way around.’ It doesn’t say that everything is not permissible unless something is specified to be permissible.’ Also, in (5:119) it talks about how God has already specified certain things which are unlawful.

There are two primary sources and one secondary source of knowing when something is lawful or unlawful.’ The most important and primary source is the word of God, Quran, which was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.’ Since the Quran is the word of God and God is the creator and sustainer and lord of the universe then He alone has the right to determine what is lawful and what is not.’ This is why we find in the Quran in (42:21) that it addresses people who follow codes of life other than what is prescribed by God ‘What! have they partners (in godhead), who have established for them some religion without the permission of Allah.” Thus, the ultimate right for legislation whether it be in the moral code or otherwise belongs to God alone.

A second primary source is called, Sunnah, which are the deeds, sayings and approval of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).’ According to the Quran whoever obeys the messenger of God is obeying God because the prophet was not speaking out of his own whims or ideas.’ The only difference between the Sunnah and the Quran is that the Quran was revealed to him word for word, where as for the Sunnah the meaning was revealed to him and he used his own words.

The secondary source is based on both the Quran and Sunnah.’ With the passage of time, centuries after the Quran and Sunnah were revealed, new questions arise like euthanasia or new drugs etc. and in this case one can not decide on these subjects without any foundation if these things are lawful or unlawful.’ An example is that the Quran specifically mansions intoxicants or what people interpret to be wine, but now we have new things such as hashish or LSD and it is quite possible for a Muslim jurist who understands these rules to say that these substances are analogous to wine because they have the same effect and harm as the scripture mentions and so it becomes Haram by analogy.

We should also notice that anything that is likely to lead to something that is unlawful is also unlawful.’ If adultery is regarded in Islam as unlawful then pornography for example which is likely to encourage adultery is also unlawful.’ Also, regarding points which are not clear in their relation to unlawful things and there is doubt it is better for the person to keep away from doubtful situations.’ There is a beautiful hadith on this point where the Prophet (PBUH) says that Allah has prescribed things as clearly lawful or unlawful, but in-between there is a gray area and whom-ever wants to protect his faith will stay away from it and those who fall into the gray area may fall into the un-permissible.

The other thing is not to play any legalistic tricks or to claim that because of one’s good intention they have done wrong.’ Good intentions do not justify wrong doings and Muslims doesn’t accept the Robin Hood approach of robbing the rich to pay the poor.’ If theft is wrong it is wrong both ways whether you have good intentions or not.’ There are exceptions in absolute cases of necessity which we will cover at a later time.

Host:’ What is the Islamic view about making things that are lawful unlawful?

Jamal Badawi:

This is case is just as bad as trying to make the unlawful lawful.’ It is understandable to see how making something unlawful lawful would be infringement on the power of God.’ In the matter of making something lawful that is unlawful no one has the right whether they are individual scholars, groups of scholars, religious institutions, king or ruler to contradict the things that are clearly specified in Islam.’ These are not matters that are based on relativism because once one starts tampering with this nothing will be left.

The same principle applies to making things which hare lawful unlawful, to forbid things that God made available to people.’ To clarify this we refer to Quran in (10:59) where it rebukes people who make things lawful or unlawful without scriptural evidence.’ The same thing is repeated in (6:138) and another citation which is even more direct is in (5:87) ‘. O ye who believe! make not unlawful the good things which Allah hath made lawful for you, but commit no excess: for Allah loveth not those given to excess.” So as we are forbidden to loosen the moral codes we are also forbidden from unduly restricting ourselves from what God has made available.’ There is one exception to this, for example if a just government determines that a species of moose or wheals are endangered and they say not to hunt this type of animal.’ However, they can not say that it is a moral sine to eat them because it can not be forbidden from a religious sense.

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