On the authority of Abu ‘Abdullah al-Nu’man bin Bashir, radiyallahu ‘anhu, who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, 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 will soon pasture them in it. Beware, every king has a preserve, and the things Allah 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.”
[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
The first thing to note is that Imam al-Bukhari recorded this hadith in the beginning of the Book of Trading (Kitab al-Buyu’), i.e. the kitab started off with this hadith. Some scholars say that Imam al-Bukhari was not only a muhadith who memorized, collected, recorded and compiled the hadith, but he was also a faqih (jurist) and his fiqh (jurisprudence) can be noted in so many ways. One is the tabwib, or the way that he gave the title for each chapter of his book. He would choose a certain statement which he would then use for the title of the chapter. This title reflects his fiqh. Also the way the hadith is recorded, where it is placed, under which chapter, and the fact that sometimes a hadith is repeated in many chapters – all these reflect the fiqh of Imam al-Bukhari.
But why did Imam al-Bukhari start Kitab al-Buyu’ with this hadith? What does this imply?
There are many implications. One of them is that these doubtful matters are related to the things that we buy and sell, that we trade in. It is also said that his father once mentioned to him that for forty years he never brought anything doubtful into their home.
It can be observed that Imam al-Bukhari was influenced by his father’s attitude in two ways:
- His father brought only halal things into the house. Whatever the family ate, drank, wore or used was halal. There were no doubts. This is the environment Imam al-Bukhari was brought and raised up in. It is also said that whenever his father made du’a to Allah subhanallahu ta’ala, Allah answered his du’a because of the fact that he never dealt with anything which was doubtful. This is reflected in the behaviour and attitude of Imam al-Bukhari. Hence like in this hadith where he chose to record it at the beginning of the chapter Kitab al-Buyu’.
- Imam al-Bukhari is also known as a great muhadith. One of the things that a muhadith is involved in is al-Jarh wat-Ta`dil, the status of narrators of hadith – whether they can be taken
as saadiq, the one who is truthful and trustworthy, or as those who lie and cannot be taken as true narrators of hadith. The muhadithun uses specific terms to indicate the status of a narrator. When it comes to the status of the liars, or those who cannot be relied on, Imam al-Bukhari used a very astonishing style of al-Jarh wat-Ta`dil. He would not use direct terms – rather, he would use indirect ones. This also reflects his piety and righteousness. He would not simply label a narrator a liar. Instead he would say: “He has been labelled a liar”.
Another matter which is related to Imam al-Bukhari is that whenever there was controversial issues or the clashing of views, he would follow the cautious approach. For example, whenever there was conflicting opinions whether something is an obligation or not, such as the recitation of Al-Fatihah in prayers, he would be in favour of the view that treats it as an obligation. Another school of thought has a different approach where some scholars follow whatever the evidence leads them to – provided it is sound and authentic.
The Scholars are of the view that the vast majority of acts fall into one of the first two categories: either it is evidently lawful or unlawful. Only a minority number of acts fall into the third category, that which is doubtful.
There are doubtful matters that a Muslim might face in his/her everyday dealings and activities. This hadith helps the Muslim in dealing with such matters. There is an early ongoing preparation which is needed in such a case – to purify one’s heart. There are some actions that can help us achieve this task, like: hayya’ (modesty), murakabah (self reckoning), muhasabah (self accountability), dzikr (remembrance of Allah), and as-Salatu ‘ala an-Nabi, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam. These are things that, insha Allah, can help us and enlighten and purify our heart, and also help us to identify and avoid the doubtful matters – this is the main point, the key, the principle of the hadith.
“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.”
Dr. Jamal Ahmed Badi