It was narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayrah ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Sakhr (may Allah be pleased with him) who said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) saying,
“What I have forbidden you, stay away from. What I have ordered you (to do), do as much of it as you can. Verily, the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning and their disagreeing with their Prophets. ”
[Bukhary – Kitab Al-I’tisaam (Book on Holding Fast to the Qur’an and Sunnah), hadith 7288; Muslim – Kitab Al-Fada’il (Book on Fada’il), hadith 1337/120]
Guidance of the hadith
This hadith indicates the abhorrence of asking too many questions and the sin which it incurs, in order that it not become a cause of greater strictness in the revelation.
It was related on the authority of Sa‘ad that the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “The Muslim with the greatest sin with respect to other Muslims is the one who asked about something which was not forbidden but became forbidden due to his questioning.” [Muslim – Kitab Al-Fad’il, hadith 2358/132,133]
The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) prohibited qil and qal (sinful and useless talk, like backbiting etc., or that you talk too much or talk about others), asking too many questions (on disputed religious maters, etc.) or asking others for something (except in great need), and the wasting of wealth (by extravagance with lack of wisdom and thinking, etc). [See: Bukhari – Kitab Az-Zakah, hadith 1477]
He (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) prohibited the asking of such questions, fearing that lawful matters would be made unlawful, or that difficult matters be made obligatory.
This is not the only reason behind the abhorrence of such questioning. Rather, there is still another reason which is indicated by the statement of Ibn ‘Abbas, “(Don’t ask), rather, wait … (to see) if the Qur’an is revealed; for you won’t ask about anything that you will not find its clarification.”
The meaning of this is that everything which Muslims need with regard to their religion must be clarified by Allah in His Book, and His Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) informed of it. Thus, there is then no need for anyone to ask a question, for Allah the Exalted is more knowledgeable with regard to the benefit of His slaves than they are, and whatever is for their guidance or benefit, Allah must clarify it for them before they ask. This is as He says,
“… (Thus) does Allah make clear to you (His Law) lest you go astray…” (Surah An-Nisa, 4 : 176)
The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) used to be asked about matters and they would be addressed in the Qur’an, such as when ‘Umar asked him about Al-Kalalah (one who dies in war and leaves no dependents).The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) answered, “The verse of Sayf is sufficient for you.” In this hadith, the Prophet of Allah (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) indicated that occupying oneself with carrying out Allah’s orders, and avoiding His prohibitions distracts one from asking questions. Then he said, “If I prohibited something to you, then stay away from it; and if I ordered of you a matter, then do of it what you are able.”
Thus it is incumbent upon each Muslim to seek out whatever came from Allah and His Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) and make an effort to understand it, while stopping to ponder its meanings. If it is a factual matter, then the Muslim is required to occupy himself with believing and submitting thereto. If however, it is a matter requiring some action, he must make his utmost effort to fulfill what he is able to from what is ordered, and to avoid what is prohibited. Thus, his attention will be completely directed to that and not to anything else.
This was the condition of the Companions of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) as well as that of the two generations after them, with beneficience in their pursuit of beneficial knowledge from the Qur’an and Sunnah.
If the intenion of the listener was distracted from listening to the orders and prohibitions by hypothetical matters, he might fall short. Also focusing on hypothetical matters falls under what is prohibited and prevents seriousness in following what is ordered.
It is reported that a man asked Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) about the touching of the Black Stone. Ibn ‘Umar said, “I saw Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) touching and kissing it.” The questioner said, “But if there were a throng (much rush) round the Ka’bah and the people overpowered me, (what would I do)?” He replied angrily, “Stay in Yemen (as that man was from Yemen). I saw Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) touching and kissing it.” [Bukhari – Kitab Al-Hajj (Book on Hajj), hadith 1611; Tirmidhi – Kitab Al-Hajj (Book on Hajj), hadith 861]
What Ibn ‘Umar meant was that you should not worry about anything except following the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam). There is no need for hypothetical inabilities or difficulties before the matter actually happens, because this causes one’s determination to follow the order to become lax.
Being knowledgeable in religion and questioning can either be praised if it is for the sake of acting on it., condemned if it is merely for the sake of arguing and debate.
It was narrated that ‘Ali bin Abi talib (may Allah be pleased with him) mentioned a tribulation which would appear towards the end of time (before the Day of Judgement). ‘Umar asked him, “When is that, O Ali?” He answered, “If he became knowledgeable in matters other than religion, and learned for other than the sake of acting upon that knowledge, and performed religious acts for some benefit (wealth, position, etc) in this life.”
For this reason, many of the Companions and their followers hated being asked about events before they occurred, and would not answer such questions.
‘Amr bin Marrah related that ‘Umar bin Al- Khattab appeared before the people and said, “Are you not ashamed to ask about events which have not yet happened? Verily, we are already occupied with what has happened.”
Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Don’t ask about what has not yet come to pass, or I heard ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) curse one who asked about what has not yet happened.”
Seeking beneficial knowledge
In this section, people have been divided into various categories:
One group composed people who followed the scholars of hadith in closing the door on questioning to the limit of only what Allah revealed to His Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam), even if it lessened his understanding and knowledge. Thus, they carried the knowledge of fiqh, though they were not knowledgeable.
Some of the scholars of opinion in fiqh branched out, creating issues before they happened, whether they were related to what happened ordinarily or not. They busied themselves with the task of answering these issues, and the debates and arguments with regard to them increased. This continued until it caused division among the hearts of the Muslims and left them filled with desire, hatred, and animosity as a result. There were many such scholars who did this with the intention of defeating others, or seeking high positions, or showing off to get the attention of people. This is what was condemned by the Rabbaniyyun (learned men of religion who practice what they know and also preach to others), and the ugliness and abhorrence of which was indicated by the Sunnah.
The concern of most of the scholars of hadith in Fiqh, who acted upon their knowledge, was to research meanings of the Book of Allah (the Qur’an) and its explanations from the authentic Sunnah and the statements of the Companions and those who followed them in beneficience. They also focused on the Sunnah of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) to know what is authentic from what is not. After which they worked to derive the rulings and understandings therefrom, while stopping to ponder its meanings. Similarly, they studied the words of the Companions and those who followed them in beneficience with regard to the various sciences, such as Qur’anic Exegesis, Hadith, issues of the lawful and the unlawful, and the fundamentals of Sunnah and asthetecism, and heart softeners, etc. This is the way of Imam Ahmad and those who agreed with him from the scholars of the Rabbaniyun.
Knowing this, whoever is engrossed in his work will be too preoccupied with it to consider such newly introduced opinions which are neither beneficial, nor do they happen. Debating such issues, however, only leads to quarrels and arguments and increasing qil and qal. (Sinful and useless talk, like backbiting etc., or that you talk too much or talk about others).
Imam Ahmad, when asked something about newly created issues which did not happen, would often reply, “Leave us from these newly innovated matters.”
The crux of the entire matter is to intend, by asking questions for the sake of Allah, and to draw close to him with the knowledge of what was revealed to His Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) and the manners of his way, and to act accordingly, and to call all of creation to it. Whoever did so, Allah supported, strenghtened, inspired, guided and taught him what he did not know. He became from the scholars whom Allah Praised in His Book by saying,
“It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah.” (Surah Fajr, 35 : 28)
For they and the men of understanding are those who fear Allah.
Commentary on the hadith
Returning to the hadith of Abu Hurayrah we say that whoever follows the example of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) in this hadith, and ends with what it resulted in, and is too preoccupied with that for anything else, will be successful in this life and in the Hereafter. Similarly, whoever contradicts that, and busies himself with his thoughts and what he admires will fall into the same condition as the People of the Book who were destroyed because of their incessant questioning and differing with their Prophets, and lack of submission and obedience to their Messengers, just as the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) warned.
“What I have forbidden you, stay away from. What I have ordered you (to do), do as much of it as you can.”
Some scholars have said that prohibitions are stronger than orders, because the prohibition did not allow for anything to be committed, whereas the order was limited, according to one’s ability.
Ibn ‘Umar said, “Returning one Daniq (Daniq: An ancient coin equal to 1/6 of a dirham) which is illegally gained is better than spending one hundred thousand in the way of Allah.”
Ibn Al-Mubarak said, “To return one dirham (gained by doubtful means) is more beloved to me than giving charity of one hundred thousand after one hundred thousand until it reaches six hundred thousand.”
‘Umar bin ‘Abdul-‘Aziz said, “I would prefer to pray only the five prayers and leave the witr, and to give zakah and not pay even one dirham charity, and to fast the month of Ramadan and never fast another day after it, and to make the obligatory Hajj and never perform it again, than to intend to eat from the bounty of my food which I made from what Allah has prohibited, and then stop myself from eating it.”
The previous words indicate that avoiding the unlawful even if only very slight, is preferred to increasing one’s supererogatory deeds as the former is obligatory, and the latter is not.
The truth of the matter is that Allah does not burden His slaves with what is beyond their ability. Out of His mercy for them, Allah has made allowances, lifting the obligation of many deeds due to mere difficulty. However, there is no excuse for anyone with regard to commiting the unlawful due to being invited to them or through his desires. Rather, Allah ordered them to leave them under all conditions, and only permitted them to partake of prohibited foods in cases of necessity in order to preserve his life, not to enjoy or satisfy his desires.
The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam)’s words, “Go straight and you will not be able” 1 mean that you will not be able to follow it perfectly.
Al-Hakam bin Hazan Al-Kalafi said, “I reached the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) and witnessed the Friday prayer with him (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam). Then the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) stood, leaning on a stick or a bow. He (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) praised Allah and glorified Him with a few blessed, good, short words, and then said, ‘O you people, verily you cannot bear, and you will not do all which I have ordered you. However, aim at your target and be informed of good news.” [Abu Dawud – Kitab As-Salah (Book on Prayer), hadith 1096; Musnad Ahmad – hadith 4/212; Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah – hadith 1452]
“What I have ordered you (to do), do as much of it as you can.” – This indicates that the one is incapable of doing what is ordered completely, but is able to do part of it, must do what he can of it.
For example, in prayer; the one who is not able to perform the obligatory prayers standing, should sit. If he cannot sit, then he should perform them lying down.
It is related on the authoirty of ‘Umaran bin Hussayn that the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “Pray standing, and if you are not able, then sitting, and if you are not able, then on your side.” [Bukhari – Kitab At-Tafsir fi As-salah (Book on Shortening the Prayer), hadith 1117]
If he is unable to do any of these, then he should motion with his eyelids and pray by means of his intention, since the obligation of the prayer is not removed from him (according to the most well known opinions).
(1) Ibn Majah – Kitab At-Taharah (Book on Purification), hadith 277; Musnad Ahmad – hadith 5/276, 277, 180, and 182
By: Imam Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali , From the book: Jami’ al Ulum wal Hikam.