“Whatever I have forbidden for you, avoid it…”: Ibn Rajab

In part of his famous collection of comprehensive statements of the Prophet (ﷺ), Imam al-Nawawi mentioned the hadeeth:

مَا نَهَيْتُكُمْ عَنْهُ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ، وَمَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِهِ فَأْتُوا مِنْهُ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ، فَإِنَّمَا أَهْلَكَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ كَثْرَةُ مَسَائِلِهِمْ وَاخْتِلَافُهُمْ عَلَى أَنْبِيَائِهِمْ

Whatever I have forbidden for you, avoid it. And whatever I have commanded you, do as much of it as you can. For verily, it was only their excessive questioning and disagreeing with their Prophets that destroyed [the nations] who were before you.”

[Arba’een al-Nawawi #9. Recorded by both al-Bukhari (#7288) and Muslim (#1337), with the wording of Muslim here.]

In one section of his commentary on this hadeeth, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali wrote:

وقوله صلى الله عليه وسلم ” إذا نهيتكم عن شيء ، فاجتنبوه ، وإذا أمرتكم بأمر ، فأتوا منه ما استطعتم ” قال بعض العلماء : هذا يؤخذ منه أن النهي أشد من الأمر ، لأن النهي لم يرخص في ارتكاب شيء منه ، والأمر قيد بحسب الاستطاعة ، وروي هذا عن الإمام أحمد . ويشبه هذا قول بعضهم : أعمال البر يعملها البر والفاجر ، وأما المعاصي ، فلا يتركها إلا صديق . ـ

The statement of the Prophet (ﷺ), “Whatever I have forbidden for you, avoid it. And whatever I have commanded you, do as much of it as you can”.

Some of the scholars have said: It is derived from this that prohibitions are more severe than commands, because the prohibitions offer no concessions for committing them at all while the commands are specified according to one’s ability. And this is narrated from Imam Ahmad, and it resembles the statement of some that, “The deeds of righteousness are done by both the righteous and wicked, but as for the acts of disobedience, then no one abandons them except for a siddeeq (truthful one).”

وروي عن أبي هريرة ، عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال له : اتق المحارم ، تكن أعبد [ ص: 253 ] الناس وقالت عائشة رضي الله عنها : من سره أن يسبق الدائب المجتهد فليكف عن الذنوب ، وروي مرفوعا . وقال الحسن : ما عبد العابدون بشيء أفضل من ترك ما نهاهم الله عنه . ـ

And it is narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (ﷺ) said to him, “Exercise taqwa of the forbidden matters – you will be the most worshipful of people.” And ‘Aa’ishah said, “Whoever would be pleased to outmatch the diligent efforts of the striving one, then let him refrain from sins,” and it is (also) narrated as marfoo’. And al-Hasan said, “The worshipers do not worship with anything more virtuous than leaving off what Allah has forbidden for them.”

والظاهر أن ما ورد من تفضيل ترك المحرمات على فعل الطاعات ، إنما أريد به على نوافل الطاعات ، وإلا فجنس الأعمال الواجبات أفضل من جنس ترك المحرمات ، لأن الأعمال مقصودة لذاتها ، والمحارم المطلوب عدمها ، ولذلك لا تحتاج إلى نية بخلاف الأعمال ، ولذلك كان جنس ترك الأعمال قد تكون كفرا كترك التوحيد ، وكترك أركان الإسلام أو بعضها على ما سبق ، بخلاف ارتكاب المنهيات فإنه لا يقتضي الكفر بنفسه ، ويشهد لذلك قول ابن عمر : لرد دانق من حرام أفضل من مائة ألف تنفق في سبيل الله . ـ

And what is apparent is that what is narrated about the superiority of abandoning the forbidden matters over the merits of performing acts of obedience only applies to the voluntary acts of obedience. Otherwise, the category of performing the obligatory actions is superior to the category of abandoning the forbidden matters because actions are intended for their own sake while what is sought regarding forbidden actions is their absence, and because of that they do not require any intention, contrary to the case regarding actions. And for that reason the category of abandoning (good) actions could be kufr such as abandoning al-Tawheed or abandoning all of the pillars of Islam or some of them according to what has been mentioned previously [in the explanation of a previous hadeeth]. This is in contrast to committing prohibited matters, for these do not entail kufr in and of themselves, and the statement of ibn Umar bears witness to this, “To reject a small coin which is haraam is more virtuous than one hundred thousand which you spend in the path of Allah.”

وعن بعض السلف قال : ترك دانق مما يكرهه الله أحب إلي من خمسمائة حجة . وقال ميمون بن مهران : ذكر الله باللسان حسن وأفضل منه أن يذكر الله العبد [ ص: 254 ] عند المعصية فيمسك عنها . وقال ابن المبارك : لأن أرد درهما من شبهة أحب إلي من أن أتصدق بمائة ألف ومائة ألف ، حتى بلغ ستمائة ألف . ـ

And one of the salaf said, “Giving up a small coin which is displeasing to Allah is more beloved to me than performing 500 hajjs.” Maymoon ibn Mihran said, “Remembering Allah with the tongue is good, but better than that is for the slave to remember Allah when on the verge of disobedience and to then withhold himself from that.” And ibn al-Mubaarak said, “That I should reject a dirham which is doubtful is more beloved to me than to spend one hundred thousand and another one hundred thousand up until I reach six hundred thousand.”

وقال عمر بن عبد العزيز : ليست التقوى قيام الليل ، وصيام النهار ، والتخليط فيما بين ذلك ، ولكن التقوى أداء ما افترض الله ، وترك ما حرم الله ، فإن كان مع ذلك عمل ، فهو خير إلى خير ، أو كما قال . ـ

‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azeez said, “al-Taqwa is not standing during the night and fasting the day and then confusion between the two; rather al-taqwa is carrying out what Allah has made obligatory and leaving off what Allah has forbidden. Then if there are (extra) deeds along with that, then that is good upon good,” or something to that effect.

وقال أيضا : وددت أني لا أصلي غير الصلوات الخمس سوى الوتر ، وأن أؤدي الزكاة ، ولا أتصدق بعدها بدرهم ، وأن أصوم رمضان ولا أصوم بعده يوما أبدا ، وأن أحج حجة الإسلام ثم لا أحج بعدها أبدا ، ثم أعمد إلى فضل قوتي ، فأجعله فيما حرم الله علي ، فأمسك عنه . ـ

And he also said, “I would love to pray nothing other than the five salawaat and witr, and to pay the zakaah and not given a single dirham in charity after that, and to fast Ramadan and not fast a single day after that, and to perform the Hajj of Islam and then never perform a Hajj after that, but then to devote the rest of my strength and energy to restraining myself from whatever Allah has made forbidden for me.”

وحاصل كلامهم يدل على اجتناب المحرمات – وإن قلت – أفضل من الإكثار من نوافل الطاعات فإن ذلك فرض ، وهذا نفل . ـ

In sum, their statements demonstrate that avoiding the forbidden matters – even if they are few – is more virtuous than performing an abundance of optional acts of obedience, because the former is obligatory while the latter is optional.

وقالت طائفة من المتأخرين : إنما قال صلى الله عليه وسلم : إذا نهيتكم عن شيء فاجتنبوه ، وإذا أمرتكم بأمر ، فأتوا منه ما استطعتم ، لأن امتثال الأمر لا يحصل إلا بعمل ، والعمل يتوقف وجوده على شروط وأسباب ، وبعضها قد لا يستطاع ، فلذلك قيده بالاستطاعة ، كما قيد الله الأمر بالتقوى بالاستطاعة ، قال تعالى : فاتقوا الله ما استطعتم ( التغابن : 16 ) وقال في الحج : ولله على الناس حج البيت من استطاع إليه سبيلا ( آل عمران : 97 ) . ـ

And a group of the latter-day people said: The Prophet (ﷺ) only said, “Whatever I have forbidden for you, avoid it. And whatever I have commanded you, do as much of it as you can” because complying with a command is not achieved through anything other than an action, and an occurrence of an action is predicated upon conditions and causal factors, some of which one may not be able to do. So for that reason he stipulated them upon one’s ability, just as Allah stipulated the command to have taqwa according to one’s ability, He said:

فَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ 

So have taqwa of Allah as much as you are able [64:16]

And He said in respect to the Hajj:

وَلِلَّـهِ عَلَى النَّاسِ حِجُّ الْبَيْتِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا

And Hajj to the House is a duty owed to Allah by mankind for whoever is able to find a way [3:97]

وأما النهي : فالمطلوب عدمه ، وذلك هو الأصل ، فالمقصود استمرار العدم الأصلي ، وذلك ممكن ، وليس فيه ما لا يستطاع ، وهذا فيه أيضا نظر ، فإن الداعي إلى فعل المعاصي قد يكون قويا ، لا صبر معه للعبد على الامتناع مع فعل المعصية مع القدرة عليها ، فيحتاج الكف عنها حينئذ إلى مجاهدة شديدة ، [ ص: 255 ] ربما كانت أشق على النفوس من مجرد مجاهدة النفس على فعل الطاعة ، ولهذا يوجد كثيرا من يجتهد فيفعل الطاعات ، ولا يقوى على ترك المحرمات . وقد سئل عمر عن قوم يشتهون المعصية ولا يعملون بها ، فقال : أولئك قوم امتحن الله قلوبهم للتقوى ، لهم مغفرة وأجر عظيم . ـ

But as for prohibitions, what is sought is their absence [i.e. the absence of the prohibited thing], and that is their basis, so what is intended is the continuance of that original state of absence [of what is prohibited], and that is possible and there is nothing of that which one is not able to do. But on this point there is also another perspective, because the urge to commit an act of disobedience might be very strong and the slave may not have the sabr in him to prevent himself from committing this act of disobedience even though he has the capacity to abstain from it. Thus restraining himself from it in this situation requires a great deal of effort, and this may be more arduous upon the soul than merely struggling with oneself to carry out acts of obedience. So for this reason, one often finds those who exert themselves in acts of obedience but do not have the strength to abandon the forbidden things. Once ‘Umar was asked about the people who strongly desire to do some act of disobedience but do not act on that, so He said:

أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ امْتَحَنَ اللَّـهُ قُلُوبَهُمْ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۚ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَ‌ةٌ وَأَجْرٌ‌ عَظِيمٌ

Those are the ones whose hearts Allah has tested for al-taqwa. For them is forgiveness and a great reward [49:3]

وقال يزيد بن ميسرة : يقول الله في بعض الكتب : أيها الشاب التارك شهوته ، المتبذل في شبابه لأجلي ، أنت عندي كبعض ملائكتي . وقال : ما أشد الشهوة في الجسد ، إنها مثل حريق النار ، وكيف ينجو منها الحصوريون ؟ . ـ

And Yazeed ibn Maysurah said, “Allah said in one of the Scriptures: O youth who abandons his lowly desires and who spends his youth for My sake, to Me you are like one of My angels.” And he (also) said, “How powerful are the lowly desires in the flesh – indeed they are like the burning of a fire. So how can the chaste ones be saved from it?!”

والتحقيق في هذا أن الله لا يكلف العباد من الأعمال ما لا طاقة لهم به ، وقد أسقط عنهم كثيرا من الأعمال بمجرد المشقة رخصة عليهم ، ورحمة لهم ، وأما المناهي ، فلم يعذر أحد بارتكابها بقوة الداعي والشهوات ، بل كلفهم تركها على كل حال ، وأن ما أباح أن يتناول من المطاعم المحرمة عند الضرورة ما تبقى معه الحياة ، لا لأجل التلذذ والشهوة ، ومن هنا يعلم صحة ما قاله الإمام أحمد : إن النهي أشد من الأمر . ـ

And what is gathered from all this is that Allah does not charge the slaves with actions which they do not have the ability to do. He waives many of the deeds from them simply due to the difficulty involved as a concession and mercy towards them. But as for the prohibitions, then no one is excused to committing them on the grounds of the strength of his urges or lowly desires; rather Allah charged them with abandoning them in every circumstance, and what he permits of the consumption of forbidden foods in the case of necessity is only in order to preserve their lives – not for the purpose of enjoyment and the fulfillment of desires. So from this we know the veracity of the statement of Imam Ahmad, “Indeed, prohibitions are more stressed than commands.”

وقد روي عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم من حديث ثوبان وغيره أنه قال : استقيموا ولن تحصوا يعني : لن تقدروا على الاستقامة كلها . [ ص: 256 ] وروى الحكم بن حزن الكلفي ، قال : وفدت إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فشهدت معه الجمعة ، فقام رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم متوكئا على عصا أو قوس ، فحمد الله ، وأثنى عليه بكلمات خفيفات طيبات مباركات ، ثم قال : ” أيها الناس إنكم لن تطيقوا ، ولن تفعلوا كل ما أمرتكم به ، ولكن سددوا وأبشروا ” أخرجه الإمام أحمد وأبو داود . ـ

And is have been narrated in the hadeeth of Thawbaan and others that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Be upright! And you will never grasp that” – meaning, you will never be able to achieve uprightness completely. And al-Hakam ibn Hazn al-Kulafi said, “I went in a delegation to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and I prayed jumu’ah with him. Then the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) stood, leaning on his staff or bow, then he praised and extolled Allah some some blessed, brief and good words. Then he said, ‘O people! Indeed you will never be able to do nor will you do everything with which you have been commanded to do. However do what is good and have glad tidings.'” This was recorded by Imam Ahmad and Abu Dawood.

[Jaami’ al-‘Uloom w’al-Hikam 1/252-257]

See also: The fast is not perfected until one abandons the forbidden actions: Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali

See also: “Say, ‘If you love Allah, then follow me,'”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: “And whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, abstain”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: “And whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, abstain”: Tafsir al-Qurtubi

See also: Beware of Opposing the Prophet’s Command: Tafsir ibn Kathir

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6 thoughts on ““Whatever I have forbidden for you, avoid it…”: Ibn Rajab

  1. Pingback: “And whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, abstain”: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: “And whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, abstain”: Tafsir al-Qurtubi | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: The fast is not perfected until one abandons the forbidden actions: Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali | Tulayhah

  4. Pingback: “Say, ‘If you love Allah, then follow me’”: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  5. Pingback: Beware of Opposing the Prophet’s Command: Tafsir ibn Kathir | Tulayhah

  6. Pingback: The Forbidden Foods in Surah al-Nahl: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

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