The 41st Call: Prohibition of Asking about what does not Concern us

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The 41st Call: Prohibition of Asking about what does not Concern us

 

 

Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): “O you who have believed, do not ask about things which, if they are shown to you, will distress you. But if you ask about them while the Qur'an is being revealed, they will be shown to you. Allah has pardoned that which is past; and Allah is Forgiving and Forbearing. A people asked such [questions] before you; then they became thereby disbelievers.” (Al-Ma’idah: 101-102)

 

 

Almighty Allah disciplines His believing servants and He forbids them from asking about things of no benefit to them and from digging into the unknown because if they are to be revealed now, they might become distressed upon hearing them.

 

It was narrated that the reason for revealing this verse is that the Messenger, Peace Be upon Him, was asked about things which he did not like, but when the questioners insisted, the Prophet got angry and his face turned red and he sat on the pulpit. A man stood up and asked: where is my father? The Prophet, Peace Be upon Him, said: In the hellfire. Another stood up and asked: who is my father? The Prophet said: Your father is Hudhafah. This is why the verse was revealed (Narrated by al-Bukhari).

 

Almighty Allah says to the believers that if they ask about the matters they were prohibited from asking about earlier then they can ask about them while the Qur’an is being revealed about the rulings of these matters, and they will be shown to them, or they can ask about what is revealed to them to understand it. Almighty Allah will explain it to them through the Messenger (Peace Be upon Him).

 

It was mentioned in a hadith: “….Leave me with what I have left to you (i.e. adhere to the teachings I left to you). Those who came before you were destroyed because they asked too many questions and differed with their Prophets.” (Narrated by al-Awfi from Ibn Abbas

 

It is said that the meaning of the verse: “…do not ask about things which, if they are shown to you, will distress you…” is do not ask about things you would not tolerate as a verse might be revealed due to your question to obligate you with a difficult or restraining ruling to fulfill.

 

It was mentioned in another a hadith: “….the Muslim who offends most against the Muslims is he who enquires about something which has not been forbidden to men, and it is declared forbidden because of his enquiry.”

 

 

Some people before you asked about these forbidden things and they were answered then they did not believe in them and they became disbelievers because of that, because they were explained and revealed to them due to their questions but they did not get the benefit of the revelation and they did not follow them.

 

Some peo­ple used to ask nu­mer­ous ques­tions to the Prophet (Peace Be up­on Him) asking him about mat­ters on which no or­der or pro­hi­bi­tion had been giv­en. Some were al­ways ask­ing about the de­tails of mat­ters that the Qur’an gave in gen­er­al terms, to make them eas­ier for peo­ple. Some asked about mat­ters which need not be ex­posed, be­cause ex­po­sure would cause a prob­lem ei­ther to the per­son putting the ques­tion or to oth­ers. It is re­port­ed, for ex­am­ple, that when the verse es­tab­lish­ing the du­ty of pilgrim­age was re­vealed, a man asked the Prophet whether pil­grim­age was a du­ty ev­ery year. The Prophet dis­liked the ques­tion be­cause the Qur’anic verse left the mat­ter Unspec­ified: “And [due] to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House - for whoever is able to find thereto a way.” (Al-Imran: 97) To of­fer the pil­grim­age once is suf­fi­cient for this du­ty to be ful­filled. To ask whether it is a du­ty re­quired ev­ery year is to give the text a much hard­er in­ter­pre­ta­tion and one which Allah has not im­posed.

 

A hadith at­tribut­ed to Ali, with­out quot­ing the Prophet, says: “When the verse stat­ing that pil­grim­age is a du­ty owed to Allah by all peo­ple who are able to un­der­take it, was re­vealed, some peo­ple asked the Prophet: `Is it ev­ery year?’ He did not an­swer. They repeat­ed the ques­tion and he said: ‘No.’ Had I said, ‘yes,’ it would have be­come an obliga­tion.” Then Allah re­vealed the verse stat­ing: “O you who have believed, do not ask about things which, if they are shown to you, will distress you.” (Verse 101) (Re­lat­ed by al-​Tir­mid­hi and al-​Daraqutni) Al-​Daraqutni re­lates a sim­ilar hadith on the au­thor­ity of Abu Hu­rayrah who says: “The Prophet said: ‘Mankind, Pil­grim­age has been made a du­ty of yours.’ A man stood up and asked, ‘Is it ev­ery year, Mes­sen­ger of Allah?’ The Prophet did not an­swer him, so the man re­peat­ed the ques­tion. The Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) asked who the man was putting the ques­tion. When he was told his name, he said: ‘By Him who holds my soul in His hand, had I said, “Yes”, it would have be­come bind­ing. Had it been made bind­ing, you would not be able to ful­fill it, and if you were not able to ful­fill it, you would be guilty of dis­be­lief.” Then Allah re­vealed the verse stat­ing: “O you who have believed, do not ask about things which, if they are shown to you, will distress you.” (Verse 101)

 

Ac­cord­ing to al-​Ţabari, on one oc­ca­sion peo­ple asked the Prophet (PBUH) many questions. In ref­er­ence to that oc­ca­sion Imam Mus­lim re­lates in his Sahih on the authority of Anas that “the Prophet (PBUH) said: ‘By Allah I will an­swer any ques­tion you put to me, as long as I am in this po­si­tion.’ A man stood up and asked: ‘Which will be my place of en­try?’ The Prophet said, ‘The Fire.’ Ab­dul­lah ibn Hud­ha­fah asked: ‘Who is my fa­ther, Mes­sen­ger of Allah?’ The Prophet (PBUH) said to him, `Your fa­ther is Hud­hafah.’ His moth­er said to him (Abdullah): ‘I have nev­er heard of a more un­du­ti­ful son. How could you be sure that your moth­er might not have done some­thing which wom­en pri­or to Is­lam did? You would have, then, ex­posed her in front of all peo­ple.’ He said: ‘Had he said that I be­longed to a black slave, I would have af­fil­iat­ed my­self to him.” Ibn Abdel Barr said that Ab­dul­lah ibn Hud­ha­fah, was among the ear­ly Mus­lims in Makkah. He went to Abyssinia with the sec­ond group of em­igrants and took part in the Bat­tle of Badr. He was known for his sense of hu­mor.

 

An­oth­er re­port by al-​Ţabari on the au­thor­ity of Abu Hu­rayrah states: “The Prophet came out an­gry, with his face red, and sat on the pul­pit. A man rose and asked him: ‘Where will I be?’ He said, `In the Fire.’ An­oth­er man asked him: `Who is my fa­ther?’ The Prophet said: `Your fa­ther is Hud­ha­fah.’ Umar ibn al-​Khaţţab stood up and said: ‘We acknowl­edge Allah as our Lord, Is­lam as our faith, and Muham­mad (Peace Be up­on Him) as Allah’s Prophet, and the Qur’an as our con­sti­tu­tion. Mes­sen­ger of Allah, we on­ly recent­ly aban­doned idol­atry, and Allah knows best who our fa­thers were.’ The Prophet’s anger cooled down. Then the verse was re­vealed stat­ing: “O you who have believed, do not ask about things which, if they are shown to you, will distress you.” (Verse 101)

 

Mu­jahid quotes Ibn Ab­bas as say­ing that this verse was re­vealed in an­swer to peo­ple who asked about cer­tain su­per­sti­tious prac­tices in­volv­ing an­imals. He quotes an­oth­er schol­ar, Sa’id ibn Jubayr, as cit­ing in sup­port the verse that fol­lows, stat­ing: “Allah has not appointed [such innovations as] bahirah or sa'ibah or wasilah or ham. But those who disbelieve invent falsehood about Allah, and most of them do not reason.” (Verse 103) All these re­ports and sim­ilar ones give us a clear pic­ture of the type of ques­tions which be­liev­ers have been or­dered not to ask.

 

The Qur’an was re­vealed from on high not mere­ly to es­tab­lish a faith or out­line a le­gal code, but al­so to ed­ucate a com­mu­ni­ty and es­tab­lish a so­ci­ety. It al­so aims to re­form the at­ti­tudes of in­di­vid­uals and to set for them a log­ical and moral sys­tem. Here the Qur’an is teach­ing Mus­lims how and when to put their ques­tions, de­mar­cat­ing the bound­aries of in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the sys­tem through which to ac­quire knowl­edge. Since Allah is the source of the Is­lam­ic code and the One who re­veals what is un­known, it is on­ly good man­ners that His ser­vants should leave it to His wis­dom whether to pro­vide de­tails of the le­gal pro­vi­sions or to state them in gen­er­al terms on­ly, and whether to in­form them of what is un­known to them or keep it hid­den away from them. It be­haves them well to stop at the lim­its de­ter­mined by Allah whose knowl­edge en­com­pass­es all things. It is not in their in­ter­est to set for them­selves stricter lim­its, through the pur­suit of dif­fer­ent possi­bil­ities. It is wrong that they should try to seek to know things that lie be­yond the reach of their pow­ers of per­cep­tion when Allah has de­ter­mined not to re­veal these to them. Their at­tempts are bound to be fruit­less, for Allah knows well the lim­its of hu­man pow­er and po­ten­tial. He gives them the law that suits them, re­veal­ing on­ly that mea­sure of knowl­edge with which they are able to cope.

 

 

Allah has kept cer­tain mat­ters un­known to man, or He might have ex­pressed cer­tain mat­ters in gen­er­al terms. It does not harm peo­ple to leave such mat­ters in the form Allah has left them. To ques­tion these at the time of the Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) might have pro­vid­ed them with dis­tress­ing an­swers, or might have over­bur­dened both them and fu­ture gen­er­ations.

 

Hence, Allah tells the be­liev­ers not to ask about cer­tain mat­ters which if re­vealed might be harm­ful. He al­so warns them that should they ask about these dur­ing the Prophet’s life­time, when the Qur’an was be­ing re­vealed, for then they would have their an­swers, but these would im­pose on them obli­ga­tions that Allah did not orig­inal­ly make bind­ing: “O you who have believed, do not ask about things which, if they are shown to you, will distress you. But if you ask about them while the Qur'an is being revealed, they will be shown to you. Allah has pardoned that which is past; and Allah is Forgiving and Forbearing.” (Verse 101) The verse car­ries a clear in­struc­tion not to in­quire about matters which Allah has left out or stat­ed with­out de­tails in or­der to keep du­ties lighter, as in the case of pil­grim­age. Allah then gives the ex­am­ple of for­mer com­mu­ni­ties that were giv­en rev­ela­tions. Some of them made things hard­er for them­selves by nu­mer­ous ques­tions about rul­ings and du­ties. When, as a re­sult, Allah made new obli­ga­tions binding on them, they failed to per­form these, thus re­ject­ing them. Had they left matters as Allah stat­ed them orig­inal­ly, they would have been able to ben­efit by the eas­ier tasks Allah want­ed to as­sign to them. They would not have had to cope with their fail­ure to ful­fill their re­spon­si­bil­ities.

 

We have seen how the Jews asked too many ques­tions when they were or­dered to slaugh­ter a cow. They were not giv­en any con­di­tions ini­tial­ly, and as such, slaugh­ter­ing any cow would have been good enough. How­ev­er, they asked for a de­scrip­tion, and then de­tails of that de­scrip­tion. With ev­ery ques­tion, the choice be­fore them was narrowed down and the task be­came hard­er. Had they re­frained from putting these ques­tions, the mat­ter would have re­mained much eas­ier. The same was the case when they asked for the Sab­bath. When it was grant­ed to them, at their re­quest, they could not cope with its obli­ga­tions. They fol­lowed the same pat­tern time and time again, un­til Allahfor­bade them many things ei­ther for ed­uca­tion­al pur­pos­es or as a pun­ish­ment. An au­then­tic hadith quotes the Prophet as say­ing: “….Leave me with what I have left to you (i.e. adhere to the teachings I left to you). Those who came before you were destroyed because they asked too many questions and differed with their Prophets.” (Narrated by al-Awfi from Ibn Abbas

 

In an­oth­er au­then­tic hadīth the Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) states: “Allah has im­posed cer­tain obli­ga­tions; so do not ne­glect them. He set cer­tain bound­aries; so do not transgress them. Fur­ther­more, He has for­bid­den cer­tain things; so do not vi­olate these. And He has left out cer­tain mat­ters as an act of grace, for­get­ting none of them; so do not ask about these.” In his au­then­tic col­lec­tion of ahadith Imam Mus­lim re­lates that the Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) said: “….the Muslim who offends most against the Muslims is he who enquires about something which has not been forbidden to men, and it is declared forbidden because of his enquiry.”

 

Per­haps these ahadith we have quot­ed, to­geth­er with state­ments in the Qur’an, delineate the Is­lam­ic sys­tem of pur­su­ing knowl­edge. The first point to make clear is that, from the Is­lam­ic point of view, knowl­edge is sought to face a re­al need and to sat­is­fy that need. Hu­man pow­ers and fac­ul­ties are too pre­cious to ex­pend in pur­su­ing de­tailed mat­ters of what Is­lam calls ‘ghayb,’ a term which refers to what lies be­yond the reach of hu­man per­cep­tion. That is be­cause such knowl­edge is not sought to meet any re­al or prac­ti­cal need in hu­man life. It is suf­fi­cient for the hu­man mind to be­lieve in that ghayb as de­scribed by the One who has de­scribed it. When the hu­man mind goes be­yond that be­lief in or­der to in­ves­ti­gate its na­ture and de­tails, it will not at­tain any true re­sults, because it is sim­ply not equipped with the nec­es­sary fac­ul­ties to achieve that knowledge. Allah has giv­en us all that we need to know about it. Any fur­ther pur­suit is a waste of ef­fort; it is no more than try­ing to walk in the desert with­out a guide. It is bound to end in to­tal loss.

 

 

As for Is­lam­ic rul­ings, these are sought when need­ed, to face prac­ti­cal sit­ua­tions as and when these take place. This is the prop­er Is­lam­ic ap­proach.

 

Through­out the Makkan pe­ri­od of Is­lam­ic rev­ela­tions, not a sin­gle ad­min­is­tra­tive rul­ing was out­lined, al­though or­ders were giv­en to do cer­tain things and to re­frain from others. De­tailed rul­ings, such as manda­to­ry and dis­cre­tionary pun­ish­ments, atone­ments and the like were on­ly re­vealed af­ter the es­tab­lish­ment of the Is­lam­ic state in Mad­inah, be­cause that state was able to car­ry out these de­tails and put them in­to prac­tice.

 

The first gen­er­ation of Mus­lims was ful­ly abreast of this ap­proach. Hence, they would not give a judg­ment on any ques­tion un­less it had tak­en place. Even then, they would on­ly give a judg­ment with­in the con­text of the ques­tion, and with­out try­ing to ap­ply texts to as­sumed events that had not tak­en place. They want­ed to main­tain se­ri­ous­ness in both ques­tions and rul­ings. Al-​Darimi, a lead­ing schol­ar of Hadīth, re­ports that Omar ibn al-​Khaţţab used to re­buke any­one who asked about things that had not tak­en place. He al­so men­tions that Zaid ibn Thabit, a learned schol­ar among the Prophet’s Companions, used to say when a ques­tion was put to him: “Has this tak­en place yet?” If he was told that it had, he would give an an­swer on the ba­sis of his knowl­edge. If he was told that it had not tak­en place, he would say: “Leave it, then, un­til it takes place.” Anoth­er re­port by al-​Darimi men­tions that Am­mar ibn Yasir, a Com­pan­ion of the Prophet (Peace Be upon Him), was asked about a par­tic­ular mat­ter. He said: “Has it taken place?” They an­swered, “No.” He said: “Do not trou­ble us with it, then. Should it take place, we will look in­to it for you.”

 

 

Al-​Darimi al­so men­tions a re­port by Ibn Ab­bas, stat­ing: “I have nev­er seen a com­mu­ni­ty bet­ter than the Prophet’s Com­pan­ions. They asked him on­ly about 13 mat­ters, the answers for them all are giv­en in the Qur’an. Among these are, ‘They ask you about the sacred month - about fighting therein…’ (Al-Baqarah: 217), and, ‘And they ask you about menstruation....’ (Al-Bqarah: 222), and the like. They on­ly asked about what would benefit them.” Imām Ma­lik says: “I have lived in this city, [mean­ing Mad­inah], and the on­ly knowl­edge avail­able to its peo­ple is the Qur’an and the Sun­nah. Should some­thing un­usu­al take place, the Gov­er­nor would call in all schol­ars avail­able. What­ev­er view they ap­proved, he would im­ple­ment. But you ask too many ques­tions, a habit the Prophet (PBUH) dis­ap­proved of.”

 

Al-​Qurtubi, a com­men­ta­tor on the Qur’an, says in his ex­pla­na­tion of this verse [i.e. Verse 101] that the Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) says: “Allah has for­bid­den you to be undutiful to your moth­ers, bury­ing your daugh­ters alive, stingi­ness and greed. He al­so dis­likes three qual­ities: idle speech, ask­ing too many ques­tions and wast­ing mon­ey.” Many schol­ars are of the view that “ask­ing too many ques­tions” refers to ask­ing many hy­po­thet­ical ques­tions about Is­lam­ic rul­ings on the­oret­ical and imag­inary mat­ters and try­ing to de­duce un­nec­es­sary rul­ings for them. The ear­ly Mus­lims dis­liked this ex­er­cise, con­sid­er­ing it to be a pur­suit lead­ing to noth­ing ben­efi­cial. They would say that should some­thing take place, a schol­ar would be guid­ed to its rul­ing.

 

 

This shows the Is­lam­ic sys­tem to be se­ri­ous and prac­ti­cal. It pro­vides prac­ti­cal rul­ings de­duced from the prin­ci­ples of Di­vine law for prac­ti­cal prob­lems in life. In its ap­proach to these prob­lems, it stud­ies each one ac­cord­ing to its cir­cum­stances and con­di­tions in or­der to give for it a rul­ing that cov­ers all its as­pects and ap­plies to it ful­ly. To ask for rulings on hy­po­thet­ical ques­tions is nei­ther use­ful nor nec­es­sary. Since a mat­ter has not tak­en place, it is im­pos­si­ble to mea­sure it prop­er­ly. To is­sue a rul­ing for it is not suit­able, be­cause it can­not cov­er its as­pects which re­main un­known. In fact, both ques­tion and an­swer in this case im­ply a loose at­ti­tude to Is­lam­ic law and are in breach of the prop­er Is­lam­ic ap­proach.

 

The same ap­plies to ques­tions ask­ing for Is­lam­ic rul­ings in coun­tries which do not implement Is­lam­ic law, and to the an­swers giv­en to such ques­tions. Di­vine law is asked for rul­ings on­ly when these are meant for im­ple­men­ta­tion. There­fore, when both the one who asks the ques­tion and the one who an­swers it are aware that they live in a coun­try where Allah’s au­thor­ity over hu­man life is de­nied, then what is the pur­pose of the whole pro­cess of seek­ing an Is­lam­ic rul­ing? Such a coun­try does not recog­nize submis­sion to Allah, His law and au­thor­ity in this life. So, in such a sit­ua­tion, the two parties to the pro­cess of de­duc­ing an Is­lam­ic rul­ing on a par­tic­ular ques­tion are in­volved in de­grad­ing Is­lam­ic law, whether they are aware of the fact or not.

 

We may say the same con­cern­ing pure­ly the­oret­ical stud­ies of de­tails of Is­lam­ic law concern­ing as­pects that re­main unim­ple­ment­ed. Such stud­ies are no more than an idle pur­suit, aim­ing to give a false im­pres­sion that Is­lam­ic law oc­cu­pies a place in the land where it is stud­ied in aca­dem­ic in­sti­tutes, al­though it re­mains unim­ple­ment­ed in the courts. Any­one who is par­ty to giv­ing such a false im­pres­sion may be guilty of sin­ful action.

 

This re­li­gion of Is­lam is se­ri­ous in­deed. It has been re­vealed so that it gov­erns hu­man life. Its aim is to help peo­ple so that they sub­mit to Allah alone and to de­prive those who usurp Allah’s au­thor­ity of what they claim to be theirs so that all au­thor­ity is giv­en to the law of Allah. It must be re­mem­bered that Is­lam­ic law is de­vised to gov­ern all aspects of hu­man life. It is­sues its rul­ings to deal with prac­ti­cal ques­tions and re­al needs. Hence, it gives a rul­ing on­ly for ques­tions that ac­tu­al­ly take place and on­ly when they do take place. Its rul­ings take in­to ac­count all the as­pects and cir­cum­stances of ev­ery problem.

 

 

This re­li­gion of Is­lam has not been re­vealed so that it be­comes a mere slo­gan, or that its law be­comes a sub­ject for aca­dem­ic, the­oret­ical study that has no bear­ing on prac­ti­cal life. It does not in­dulge in solv­ing hy­pothe­ses and pro­vid­ing hy­po­thet­ical an­swers to them. That is the prac­ti­cal mean­ing of the se­ri­ous­ness of Is­lam. Any Is­lam­ic schol­ar, who wish­es to fol­low its sys­tem, with such se­ri­ous­ness, should work hard for the implementa­tion of Is­lam­ic law in prac­ti­cal life. Oth­er­wise, he should at least re­frain from is­su­ing the­oret­ical rul­ings that have no place in re­al­ity.

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