The forty ḥadīth of al-Imām an-Nawawi , The Ninth Hadith ( Topic 9 )


On the authority of Abū Hurayrah, `Abdur-Raḥmān bin Ṣakhr, who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) say:
“What I have forbidden to you, avoid; what I have ordered you [to do], do of it what you are able. For it was only their excessive questioning and their contradiction of their prophets that destroyed those before you.”(Narrated by al-Bukhāri and Muslim)Another of the main principles of the religion is defined in these concise words of Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم). Upon them are based many fiqh rulings concerning different aspects of worship and obedience in general.First is the avoidance of all which is prohibited (ḥarām)50 without exception. What is normally ḥarām but permitted out of dire necessity is not mentioned in this statement since in such a case it is no longer prohibited but has become permissible, at least temporarily. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) has forbidden to his ummah all that is forbidden by Allah,and his order to avoid it is absolute.In contrast, the order to obey is limited by the extent of one’s ability to do so, as Allah has said in the Qur’ān:َ“Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.”51“Fear Allah as much as you are able.”52The reason is that there is no inability involved in refraining from something53 while there could be when intending to perform a duty. Many scholars are of the opinion that because there is no exception to avoidance of the prohibited, it is therefore moreimportant and more virtuous than performing acts of obedience and should take priority. Some have noted also that it is the more difficult of the two because certain temptations might be very strong while the person’s natural resistance is weak,requiring him to exert himself forcefully in jihād (struggle) against his own soul and to practice the utmost patience and forbearing in avoiding a particular sin; yet, there is no allowance for him in this respect as there is for hardship encountered in carrying out the 50 What is discouraged or disliked (makrūh) is not included here, although refraining from it is definitely preferable whenever possible.51 Sūrah al-Baqarah, 2:286.52 Sūrah at-Taghābun, 64:16.53 There could be difficulty, however, such as in cases of addiction. Even so, there is no license to continue in ḥarām, and abstinence is enjoined as a positive deed. Avoidance from the outset prevents such conditions from developing.

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