Avoid Asking me until I teach you

Adapted from Ibn Rajab’s Jaami‘ ul-‘Uloomi wal-Hikam

Texts about Excessive Questioning
Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that Allaah’s Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) gave a speech in which he said: O people! Hajj is obligatory for you, so perform hajj.
Someone asked, “Every year, O Messenger of Allaah?” He ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) was silent until asked a third time. Then he said:If I say “Yes,” it would become obligatory (every year); but you would not be capable of it.
Then he ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) said:
Avoid (asking) me as long as I leave you; surely those before you were destroyed for their numerous questions and disobedience to their prophets. When I command you with something, do as much of it as you are able; and when I forbid you from something, stay away from it.(Al- Bukhaaree and Muslim)
Qataadah reported from Anas that Allaah’s Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) was being questioned excessively about various matters, until he became very angry one day, and ascended the minbar (steps) to say,No one asks me about anything today but I will explain it for him.A man, who had doubt as to whether the man to whom he was attributed was his true father, said, “O Messenger of Allaah! Who is my father?” He ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) replied,Huthaafah is your father.‘Umar, realizing the Prophet’s ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) anger for these questions, stood and said: “We are satisfied with Allaah as our Lord, with Islaam as our religion, and with Muhammad as our Messenger. We seek refuge in Allaah from the fitnah!” Upon mentioning this hadeeth, Qataadah would also mention the aayah:
«O you who believe! Do not ask about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble. But if you ask about them while the Qur’aan is being revealed, they will be made plain to you. Allaah has pardoned that; and Allaah is pardoning, forbearing. Before you, a community asked such questions; then on that account they became disbelievers .» [ Al-Maa’idah 101-102]
Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, also mentioned that the man’s questioning about his father prompted the revelation of the above aayah. [1]
The Prohibition of Asking Questions Excessively
Thus the companions were forbidden from asking unnecessary questions, as indicated in the above aayah. This provides proof for the prohibition of asking about that which the questioner has no real need, like asking if someone is in Hell or Paradise, or if his true father is the one to whom he is attributed. It is also prohibited to ask questions in a harassing, joking or mocking manner, as the hypocrites and deviants do. Related to this is asking about that which Allaah has kept hidden from his servants, like the actual time of the Final Hour, or the nature of the soul.
Furthermore, this prohibited the Muslims (at the time of the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم )) from asking excessive questions about the lawful and unlawful, out of fear that some restrictions would be revealed about it, like questioning about hajj, whether it is obligatory every year or not. Sa‘d, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) said:
“Surely the worst in crime among the Muslim is he who asks about a thing that is not prohibited, but it becomes prohibited due to his asking.”(Al-Bukhaaree and Muslim)
Thus the Muhaajiroon (emigrants) and Ansaar (helpers) who lived in al-Madeenah, and whose hearts were firm in faith, they were prohibited from asking (unnecessarily).
Permissible Questions
The Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) permitted the bedouins’ delegations to ask questions (in order to learn the basics of the Deen). An-Nawaas bin Sam‘aan reported: “I stayed with Allaah’s Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) in al-Madeenah for a year. Nothing prevented me from (permanent) hijrah except the (permission to ask) questions. For when one of us would made hijrah, he would not ask Allaah’s Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) about anything.” (Muslim)
Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “We were prohibited from asking Allaah’s Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) about things. So we were excited when an intelligent man from among the bedouins came. He asked him questions, and we listened.” (Muslim)
Yet, the companions of the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) would ask about some issues of importance, such as the ruling on a matter about to occur, so that they would know what to do then. For example, they asked: “We will meet our enemy tomorrow; and we have no knives with us. Should we slaughter (our animals for food) with reeds [2] ?” (Al- Bukhaaree and Muslim)
They also asked whether to obey or fight those deviant leaders that he ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) informed them would come after him; Huthayfah asked about the future fitan (tribulations) and what to do during them [3]; and so on.
Reasons for the Prohibition In this hadeeth, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said
“Avoid asking me as long as I leave you: surely those before you were destroyed for their numerous questions and disobedience to their prophets.”
This indicates that unnecessary questioning is disliked and censured.
Some people think that this applies specifically to the Prophet’s ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) time. They argue that, with the revelation continuing to descend upon the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ), it would have been possible for something that was not prohibited to become prohibited, or something difficult to implement to become obligatory. This is no longer the case after his ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) passing.
However, there is another reason for the prohibition: They should not be hasty, but should rather await the revelation of the Qur’aan, which will provide a clarification for all things that they might ask about. All that the Muslims need to know about their religion is clarified by Allaah in His Great Book; and the Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) has conveyed it. So there is no need for questioning beyond this; Allaah best knows which issues are most helpful for His servants, which of them will give them guidance, and which will give them benefit. Certainly Allaah would give clarification for these, even if they do not ask about it, as He, Most High, said:«( Thus) Allaah clarifies for you, lest you go astray.» [ An-Nisaa’ 4:176]
Therefore, there is no need to ask about a thing before a real need for it arises. In such situation, one is required to understand that of which Allaah and His Messenger have informed, and then follow that and act upon it.
Questioning versus Obeying Allaah and His Messenger
The Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) says in this hadeeth
“When I command you with something, do as much of it as you are able; and when I forbid you from something, stay away from it.”
With this, Allaah’s Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) indicates that engaging oneself in following his commands, and staying away from his prohibitions, will keep one too busy to ask questions.
Muslims should concern themselves only with the issues discussed by Allaah and His Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ), struggle to understand them and realize their meanings, believe deeply in them, submit to them, struggle to fulfill the commands as much as possible, and to struggle to avoid what is prohibited. This was the practice of the Prophet’s ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) companions and those who followed them with ihsaan (in a good way) in seeking beneficial knowledge from the Book and the Sunnah.
When hearing a command or prohibition, the listener must not make assumptions regarding matters which may or may not occur. If he did, he would be liable to the prohibition in the hadeeth, and would reflect an insincerity in following the command.
A man asked Ibn ‘Umar about kissing the Black stone. He, may Allah be pleased with him, replied, “I saw the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) kissing it and touching it. The man said, “What if I am forced away from it? What if I am overpowered (by the mass of people)?” Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, responded: “Leave ‘What if’ in Yemen. I saw Allaah’s Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) kissing it and touching it.” (Al- Bukhaaree )
Ibn ‘Umar meant that your concern should only be to follow the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ); there is no need to presume difficulty or incapability before an event’s occurrence, because it weakens the determination to reach the goal. Surely, fiqh (understanding) of the Deen and questioning about knowledge are only praised when done for the sake of acting upon them, not for the sake of debates and arguments. Ibn Mas‘ood, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “What will you do when a fitnah (tribulation) prevails over you, causing an adult to grow old, and a child to become an adult? People will adopt it as sunnah; and if it is done differently one day, it will be said, ‘This is munkar (disgusting)’.”
He was asked, “When will this happen?” He replied: “When you have few trustworthy people, but may leaders; you will have few fuqahaa ‘ (people of understanding) but many reciters ; fiqh will be sought for other than the religion; and the world will be sought by deeds of the Hereafter.” [4]
Similarly, many of the companions and their followers disliked being asked questions about events before they ever occur; and they would not answer such questions. [5]
Whoever treads the path in search of knowledge in the manner that we have mentioned, he will understand the answer to most new events, because they are based on these basics. And treading on this path must be done following the imaams (great scholars) whom the Ummah agrees as to their guidance and insight, like ash-Shaaf‘ee, Ahmad, Ishaaq, Abu‘ Ubayd, and whoever follows their path. Anyone who takes a path other than this will suffer defeat and ruin, taking what is not permissible for him, and avoiding what he is obliged to act upon.
The root of the matter is that, by questioning, one’s intention be Allaah’s  Face, drawing closer to Him by knowing what He revealed to His Messenger, treading upon his ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) path, acting in accordance with it, and inviting the created beings to this. Whoever does this, Allaah grants him fiqh, guides him, inspires his faith, and teaches him what he did not otherwise know. He would then be one of those who have been praised in the Book for their knowledge. He, Glorious is He, says:«It is only the knowledgeable among His servants who fear Allaah .» [ Faatir 35:28]
Similar to this is the saying of some of the salaf: “Fear of Allaah is sufficient proof of one’s knowledge, and recklessness before Allaah is sufficient proof of one’s ignorance.”
Summary Regarding Obeying Allaah and His Messenger
We conclude that one should direct his efforts to understanding Allaah’s words and those of His Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ), instead of occupying himself with many issues that are not discussed in the Book of Allaah nor the Sunnah of His Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ). Whoever does this, seeking by it to comply with the commands and avoid the prohibitions, will be among those fulfilling the Messenger’s ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) command in this hadeeth.
On the other hand, anyone who, instead of being concerned with understanding what Allaah revealed to His Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ), directs his efforts to raising issues which may or may not occur, expecting answers based on mere opinion, is in danger of being opposed this hadeeth, committing what it prohibits, and avoiding what it commands.
You should know that most new events, which have no foundation in the Book and the Sunnah, only occur due to one’s lack of compliance with the commands of Allaah and His Messenger ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ). If, in any situation, one asks about what Allaah legislated concerning it and complies with it, and what He forbade regarding it and avoids it, then this event occurs within the limits of the Book and the Sunnah.
But, if one acts in accordance with his opinion and desires, then most of the events that take place will contradict what Allaah has legislated. It may even be sometimes difficult for one to find the ruling for these events in the Book or the Sunnah, because of their being so far from them.
In summary, one must comply with what the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) has commanded in this hadeeth, and avoids what he ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) has prohibited. Anyone occupying himself with this, instead of other things, will be saved in this life and the Hereafter. And anyone who follows his whims instead of this is liable to the warning of the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ): that he would be acting like the people of the Book, who were destroyed because of their excessive questioning and disobedience to their prophets.
Emphasis on Avoiding Prohibitions
In the above hadeeth, the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) said:When I command you with something, do as much of it as you are able; and when I forbid you from something, stay away from it.
Some scholars conclude from this that the prohibition is more stern than the command, because there is no concession left for the prohibition, whereas the command is limited to capability. This is reported from Imaam Ahmad. Others say similarly: “Righteous acts are done by both the righteous and the sinful; but sin is not avoided except by the siddeeq(most truthful).”
Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) said:Guard yourself against the prohibitions; you are then a most true worshipper among the people.(Ahmad, At-Tirmidthee, Ibn Maajah and others) [6]
It is apparent that what has been said about the virtue of avoiding prohibitions over performing acts of obedience refers only to voluntary acts of obedience. Performing an obligatory act of obedience is more important than avoiding a prohibition; the earlier is a positive action sought for itself, whereas the latter is a negative action that should be avoided and, therefore, does not need a niyyah (intention) like the obligations. Furthermore, refraining from certain actions can lead to kufr, such as refraining from saying the Shahaadah or from performing the pillars of Islaam. The same is not true in the case of committing a prohibition, for by itself it does not necessitate kufr.
In conclusion, avoiding the prohibitions – even if they are small, is better than doing voluntary acts of obedience in plenty, for the first is obligatory, whereas the latter is voluntary.
In regard to the same part of the hadeeth (of Abu Hurayrah), some of the later scholars indicate that the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) said this because complying with a command cannot occur except with a (positive) action, which depends upon conditions and certain causes without which one cannot perform it. Thus it is limited to capability, in the same way as is Allaah’s commands for taqwaa:«So have taqwaa of Allaah as much as you are capable .» [ At- Taghaabun 64:16]
And He, Glorious is He, said about hajj:«…And hajj to the House is a duty that people owe to Allaah, for those who are able to bear the journey…» [ Aal ‘ Imraan 3:97]
As for the prohibitions, what is expected is that they are not performed, and that is their origin (that they are not done). So the goal of non-performance remains the rule, and this is possible, for it does not depend upon capability.
Yet there is some problem in this argument. If the call to an act of disobedience is extremely strong for a person, and he does not have the patience necessary to avoid committing it if he had the means, it becomes necessary for him to struggle his utmost to avoid it. For some people, this (avoiding the sin) is more difficult on oneself than doing acts of obedience. For this reason there are many people who achieve many acts of obedience, but they lack the strength to avoid some of the prohibitions.
The reality of all this is that Allaah does not hold a person responsible for that of which he is not capable; and He has exempted the people of many obligations only because of the hardship they would present for them, granting them a concession out of mercy for them.
As for the prohibitions, one may not justify doing them by the strength of temptation or the desire for it. Rather, the one is required to avoid them in all situations. And whatever He allowed of the prohibited food is only in necessity conditions, in order to preserve the life, and not for the sake of enjoyment or fulfilling the desires. Here one becomes aware of the correctness of what Imaam Ahmad, may Allah have mercy with him, said, that the prohibition is more severe than the command.
When One Cannot Completely Fulfill a Command
This hadeeth further provides proof that whoever experiences difficulty in doing all that he has been commanded, but he is able to do some of it, then he does of it what is possible for him. This is consistent in various specific cases, like physical purification for example. When one is able to do some of it but unable to the rest due to lack of water or a problem with some of his limbs, he does what he is able, and performs tayammum for the rest. It is the same whether the case is for wudhoo ‘ or ghusl (according to the majority of scholars). The same with prayer, for whoever finds it too difficult to perform the obligatory elements of the prayer while standing, then he prays sitting. If that is too difficult, then he prays lying down. In Saheeh al- Bukhaaree ‘Imraan bin Husayn, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) said:
“Pray standing, if you are not able, then sitting, if you are not able, then lying on your side.”
If all of this is too difficult yet, or if one cannot use his limbs at all, then he prays with his eyes and intention; he is not exempt from praying …
This is hadeeth number nine from Ibn Rajab’s work from Jaami‘ ul-‘Uloomi wal-Hikam, on 40 hadith  translated and adapted by Abu Khaliyl.
[1] All of the above was compiled by both al- Bukhaaree and Muslim.
[2] This refers to using the sharp edge that results from splitting large hollow reeds. The Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) allowed the usage of any tool that would cut (see the remainder of thehadeeth inSaheeh al-Bukhaari), including shards of flint or other types of sharp rocks. Ibn Hajar mentioned that the companions did not like to use their knives or swords for slaughtering, fearing to damage the blades, making them less effective for battle, etc. SeeFath ul -Baari.
[3] Recorded by al- Bukhaaree and Muslim.
[4] It is ahasan report recorded by ad- Daarimee and others. See The Night Prayers:QiyamandTarawih where Shaykh al-Albaani says about a similar version (pg.1 ) ; “This report, although it ismawquf (from a companion), holds the status ofmarfu‘(from the Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم )) because it mentions matters of theghayb that cannot be known except through revelation.”
[5] What follows, although omitted in our article, is a number of sayings from the salaf. Among them a report from Maalik about theaayah;«And they ask you about the soul… » [Al- Israa ‘ 17:85] that Allaah did not give an answer to that question.
[6] It is hasan according to al-Albaani. SeeSilsilat al- Ahaadeeth as- Saheehah no. 930.
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