Abu Hurairah 'Abd al-Rahman bin Sakhr,
radiyallahu 'anhu, reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi
“Avoid that which I forbid you
to do and do that which I command you to do to the best of your capacity. Verily
the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning
and their disagreement with their Prophets.”
[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
Sabab al-wurud (reasons and background
of a hadith) is very important to enable us to understand its meaning. This
hadith can be understood by knowing its background. It was related during
an incident where the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, said: "Allah
has commanded you to perform Hajj. So perform Hajj, O servants of Allah." Then a
man stood up and said: "O Prophet of Allah, do we have to do it every year?" Then
the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, said: "That whatever I forbid you
to do, avoid it and whatever I command you to do, do it as much as you can."
The incident above was at the time
of revelation. Asking too many questions about an obligation may lead to complications
and confusions. The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, was not happy with
the question raised by the man for it could have caused the Hajj to be performed
every year by each Muslim if the answer was yes to that question.
However, asking questions in the
right way is encouraged as understood from the first hadith in this Forty
Hadith collection. In fact, the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, used
questions and answers to educate his Companions. Questions that lead to knowledge
and goodness are encouraged. What is prohibited and discouraged are questions that
will lead to confusion, doubt and chaos in the community, like asking questions
about unnecessary details.
One significant characteristic of
Shariah, i.e. Islamic Law, is its flexibility and practicality. One’s capacity is
regarded and considered in fulfilling obligations.
A Muslim is encouraged to do good actions based on his/her ability and capacity.
Hence Hajj is performed when one
has the ability and facility to do it. However if one is tied-up with loans or with
other clashing obligations, then there is room for delaying it for another time.
This is supported by the Qur’anic verse: “…And Hajj to the House (Kaabah) is a duty
that mankind owes to Allah, those can afford the expenses…” [Surah Al-Imran (3):
In other actions like prayers, the
Prophet’s, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, statement “perform as much as you
can” can also mean to perform it at the preferred time and mode (in congregation).
However due to unavoidable circumstances, they can be performed later within the
specified time. Similarly, a person who is not able to stand in prayer may pray
Flexibility is also attributed to
other obligations like fasting. For example, one may break the fast while traveling
or if he is sick and make it up on other days.
The forbidden must be totally avoided
by the Muslim to the extent that whatever leads to haram (prohibited act)
must be avoided as well, even without intention of indulging in it. By refraining
from acts that lead to a prohibited act, we are actually safeguarding ourselves
from falling into the forbidden.
Another application of the statement
"perform as much as you can" is what Imam al-Shatibi said about a Muslim should
not attach hardship to any good deed or act even if it is an obligation. If there
is an easier option, one should not use the harder option. For example, during cold
weather we should use warm water for wudu' (ablution), if we have the option.
Hardship is not intended by the shari’ah and should be avoided. However when
there is no other choice, then the reward for the person will be higher.
The same principle applies to
mandubat (good actions that are not compulsory but encouraged). We should do
as much as we can. According to Imam al-Shatibi one shouldn’t make any commitment
that he/she must do a certain mandubat following strictly to a certain schedule
but instead he/she should do it with ease at his/her own capacity. For example,
don’t make it a wajib (compulsory) that you will fast every Monday and Thursday
but do it as much as you are able to comfortably and break it from time to time.
If you try to commit yourself in these matters, they may burden you and you may
finally get fed up and abandon them.
On this issue, the Prophet, sallallahu
‘alayhi wasallam, said:
“O people, perform such acts as you are capable of doing, for Allah does not grow
weary but you will get tired.”
In another hadith the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said:
“The acts most pleasing to Allah are those which are done continuously, even if
they are small.” [Recorded by Imam Muslim]
There are some exceptions to the
hadith which can be understood from the Qur’an and Sunnah. When the Prophet,
sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, forbade the haram, the general rule is
to avoid them. However there are exceptions like during necessity or when there
is a clash between a minor and a major harm. For example, in a situation where it
is necessary to eat something which is forbidden or face the risk of losing one’s
life. In this case, a greater harm is avoided by tolerating a minor harm. This principle
is called by the scholars as weighing between benefits and harm.
Understanding and practicing these
principles may lead us to live a better and practical life, and help us fulfill
our obligations in the right way. Applying them will lead us to love, appreciate
and continuously practice Ibadah (good deeds).