Purification of the heart *

Forty Hadith 6 :

Purification of the heart * 

عَنْ أبِي عَبْدِ اللهِ النُّعْمَانِ بْنِ بَشِيْرٍ رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُمَا قَالَ

سَمِعْتُ رَسُوْلَ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ سَلَّمَ يَقُوْلُ

إنَّ الْحَلاَلَ بَيِّنٌ وَ إنَّ الْحَرَامَ بَيِّنٌ وَ بَيْنَهُمَا أُمُوْرٌ مُشْتَبِهَاتٌ لاَ يَعْلَمُهُنَّ كَثِيْرٌ مِنَ النَّاسِ

فَمَنِ اتَّقَى الشُّبُهَاتِ فَقَدِ اسْتَبْرَأَ لِدِيْنِهِ وَ عِرْضِهِ وَ مَنْ وَقَعَ فِيْ الشُّبُهَاتِ وَقَعَ فِيْ الْحَرَامِ كَالرَّاعِيْ يَرْعَى حَوْلَ الْحِمًى يُوْشِكُ أنْ يَرْتَعَ فِيْهِ

أَلاَ وَ إنَّ لِكُلِّ مَلِكٍ حِمًى أَلاَ وَ إنَّ حِمًى اللهِ مُحَارِمُهُ

أَلاَ وَ إنَّ فِيْ الْجَسَدِ مُضْغَةً إذَا صَلَحَتْ صَلَحَ الْجَسَدُ كُلُّهُ وَ إذَا فَسَدَتْ فَسَدَ الْجَسَدُ كُلُّهُ

ألاَ وَ هِيَ الْقَلْبُ

رَوَاهُ الْبُخَارِيُّ وَ مُسْلِمٌ

On the authority of Abu ‘Abdullah al-Nu’man bin Bashir, radiyallahu ‘anhumaa, who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, say:

“Truly, what is lawful is evident, and what is unlawful is evident, and in between the two are matters which are doubtful which many people do not know. He who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honour blameless, and he who indulges in doubtful things indulges in fact in unlawful things, just as a shepherd who pastures his flock round a preserve will soon pasture them in it. Beware, every king has a preserve, and the things Allah has declared unlawful are His preserves. Beware, in the body there is a flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound, and if it is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt, and behold, it is the heart.”

[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]


The first thing to note is that Imam al-Bukhari recorded this hadith in the beginning of the Book of Trading (Kitab al-Buyu’), i.e. the kitab started off with this hadith. Some scholars say that Imam al-Bukhari was not only a muhadith who memorized, collected, recorded and compiled the hadith, but he was also a faqih (jurist) and his fiqh (jurisprudence) can be noted in so many ways. One is the tabwib, or the way that he gave the title for each chapter of his book. He would choose a certain statement which he would then use for the title of the chapter. This title reflects his fiqh. Also the way the hadith is recorded, where it is placed, under which chapter, and the fact that sometimes a hadith is repeated in many chapters – all these reflect the fiqh of Imam al-Bukhari.

But why did Imam al-Bukhari start Kitab al-Buyu’ with this hadith? What does this imply?
There are many implications. One of them is that these doubtful matters are related to the things that we buy and sell, that we trade in. It is also said that his father once mentioned to him that for forty years he never brought anything doubtful into their home.

It can be observed that Imam al-Bukhari was influenced by his father’s attitude in two ways:

  1. His father brought only halal things into the house. Whatever the family ate, drank, wore or used was halal. There were no doubts. This is the environment Imam al-Bukhari was brought and raised up in. It is also said that whenever his father made du’a to Allah subhanallahu ta’ala, Allah answered his du’a because of the fact that he never dealt with anything which was doubtful. This is reflected in the behaviour and attitude of Imam al-Bukhari. Hence like in this hadith where he chose to record it at the beginning of the chapter Kitab al-Buyu’.
  2. Imam al-Bukhari is also known as a great muhadith. One of the things that a muhadith is involved in is al-Jarh wat-Ta`dil, the status of narrators of hadith – whether they can be taken as saadiq, the one who is truthful and trustworthy, or as those who lie and cannot be taken as true narrators of hadith. The muhadithun uses specific terms to indicate the status of a narrator. When it comes to the status of the liars, or those who cannot be relied on, Imam al-Bukhari used a very astonishing style of al-Jarh wat-Ta`dil. He would not use direct terms – rather, he would use indirect ones. This also reflects his piety and righteousness. He would not simply label a narrator a liar. Instead he would say: “He has been labeled a liar”.

Another matter which is related to Imam al-Bukhari is that whenever there was controversial issues or the clashing of views, he would follow the cautious approach. For example, whenever there was conflicting opinions whether something is an obligation or not, such as the recitation of Al-Fatihah in prayers, he would be in favour of the view that treats it as an obligation. Another school of thought has a different approach where some scholars follow whatever the evidence leads them to – provided it is sound and authentic.


The Scholars are of the view that the vast majority of acts fall into one of the first two categories: either it is evidently lawful or unlawful. Only a minority number of acts fall into the third category, that which is doubtful.

It can be noted here that the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, is using a metaphor, or analogy, twice in this hadith. As mentioned before, using metaphors or analogies in communicating ideas is very effective and powerful. From the metaphor and the way it is worded (“just as a shepherd who pastures his flock round a preserve will soon pasture them in it”), we can say that the doubtful things are closer to the unlawful things.

This hadith emphasizes the importance of glorifying Allah subhanallahu ta’ala. If we want to glorify Allah, we have to glorify His injunctions, commandments, whether they are obligations (so we perform them), or whether they are prohibitions (so we don’t perform them). A Salaf once narrated: “Don’t look at how minor the sin is that you committed, but look at the glory of the One you disobeyed, i.e. Allah subhanallahu ta’ala.” A sin, even if it is a minor one, means disobedience to Allah, hence defying the Glorification of Allah. And the glorification of Allah is actually one of the principles of Tawhid.

We mentioned before that the great actions or the principles of Tawhid are done by the heart. That is why the heart is mentioned at the end of this hadith. Looking at the hadith at first glance, we might have asked what the heart has to do with the rest of the hadith. It is in the heart that we glorify Allah. It is the action of heart when we refrain from the unlawful. If the heart is strong, sound, has no weaknesses, and is full of iman (faith), then this would lead us to refrain ourselves from muharramat and makruhah (undesirable acts). Therfore only those with a strong and sound heart, i.e. the heart that is full of love for Allah, fear of Allah and glorification of Allah, will refrain from the doubtful matters. But those whose hearts are diseased and whose iman is weak, may go around the doubtful matters. Little by little they will indulge in the makruhah, delaying things and eventually getting into the muharram or delaying or even negating the wajib. It has to do with the status of the heart. That is why the scholars talk about the life of the heart. For example, when you see Muslims praying in the masjid (mosque), you see hundreds of people praying together. But what distinguishes them is the status of their hearts, whether it is devoted to Allah or not. How strong and pure is the heart? How sound is the heart? That’s where people differ. This is what we should concern ourselves with, and compete – taking care of our hearts, purifying them, taking away any diseases from our hearts, to activate iman in the heart in order to make it alive.

The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, mentioned about Abu Bakr as-Sidiq where he said that If you put the iman of all the Muslim ummah on one scale and the iman of Abu Bakr as-Sidiq on the other scale, the iman of Abu Bakr as-Sidiq would outweigh the iman of the whole ummah. The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, also said that there is something in the heart of Abu Bakr as-Sidiq that distinguished it from others, and as it is known he was called as-Sidiq. The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, once said about Abu Bakr: “When I call someone to Islam, he will have some hesitation…except Abu Bakr as-Sidiq. The minute I talked to him about Islam, straight away he believed in me, he believed in Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah.” So it has to do with the heart that distinguished Abu Bakr as-Sidiq to be al-Khalifatul-Awal, and to be the first Sahabi (Companion). From this, it can be said that every Muslim should care about his/her heart, purify it and activate iman in the heart, and practise the great principles of Tawhid, such as to love Allah, to fear Him, to rely on Him, to have hope in Him, to seek help from Him and to seek refuge in Him so that the heart is alive, activated and full of iman. And at the same time we have to make sure that there should be no diseases or anything bad within our hearts, e.g. greediness, envy, arrogance, etc. Only then will the heart be sound.

In another related hadith the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, mentioned that: “The heart will be exposed to fitan (trials) again and again. The heart which is influenced by fitnah will have a black spot placed on it. And if the heart avoids the fitnah, there will be a white spot on it.” The heart then is either a pure one, or a heart that has been sealed after being affected by fitan or prohibited or doubtful matters again and again. Even though the heart pumps out blood and the person is alive, the heart in reality is not alive, because the iman is weak, making the heart unsound. Hence avoiding and getting away from the fitan is important in order to have a pure heart, especially in these contemporary times where it is full of evil that attracts the heart.

The evil doers promote evil and impose it on others. So if a Muslim is not careful, his/her heart might be stolen. As mentioned by the great contemporary scholar, Sheikh Abdur Rahman ad-Dusari, there are many thieves today who steal the hearts, sometimes without the owner even being aware of it.

If you read any hadith of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, it talks about a matter, whether it is something good that we should do, or something bad that we should not do. And then in the hadith the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, will mention a principle. Usually, the principle, which is the main point of the hadith, is the last words or sentence. The hadith above mentions about the lawful and unlawful being evident, and then there is the doubtful matter. And then there is the last sentence of the hadith. This is the bottom-line of the hadith, the main thing, the main issue. If we want to get away from the muharramat (unlawful), and also from the doubtful matters, we have to care about our heart. We have to purify our heart and make sure it is sound and alive, and it is not lost from us.

One wisdom we can learn from the hadith is from the way the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, tells us about something: he will discuss a concept and then give us the principle. This principle helps us not only with the concept mentioned in the hadith, but it actually helps us, if we use it in the right way with the right understanding, in other similar matters and situations. If we care about our heart, not only will we be able to avoid the doubtful matters, we can apply the same principle to other similar concepts or issues, e.g. in avoiding bad manners for there are also doubtful matters in the concept of akhlaq (values).

It was mentioned earlier that Imam al-Bukhari recorded this hadith in Kitab ul-Buyu’ (Trading). When it comes to trading there are many matters that are doubtful, matters which existed then and even now, e.g. where cheating is done professionally. Therefore we have to be careful if the matter related to trading is clear and evident, permissible or not permissible, or if it is doubtful, in which case we have to avoid it.

Related to the above issue is the issue of al-ma’kulat (food) where there are many doubtful matters about what we eat. If we check the ingredients that are used in many manufactured food today, e.g. biscuits, canned food and preserved food, there are ingredients that might raise the question of doubtfulness of what we eat. For example, lecithin is used in the manufacture of foodstuff especially in the west and Muslim countries import a lot of food from the west. If it is not specified otherwise then there is a high probability that the lecithin is derived from khanzir (pig) because it is cheaper to produce. Otherwise, it should be mentioned whether it is derived from soya or plants or from halal production.

Another ingredient is emulsifier. Emulsifiers are labelled as the letter ‘E’ followed by a series of numbers. Some emulsifers contain things that are not permissible. There are efforts done by some Muslim scientists where they try to identify such ingredients. This can then be used as a checklist to check against when we buy food for our family. We should be very careful when we read the ingredients of foodstuff if we want to ensure that what we eat is halal. It is mentioned in a hadith that if what we eat is haram, even our du’a / supplication is not accepted by Allah.

We should take care of our health. A lot of what we eat today or what is in the market is not fresh. There are so many preservatives, coloring and chemicals which, if used excessively, might affect our health. We have to be careful in the sense that although it is in general permissible, if it is used excessively it will affect our health – then we are not doing good for our health as a Muslim.

Some of the interpreters of the collection of the Forty Hadiths try to identify or pinpoint some matters that are doubtful in general. Sometimes they mention matters or controversial issues where the related evidences from the Qur’an and Sunnah are conflicting and there is no apparent way to resolve the conflict. They mention general matters where views of scholars may also be conflicting. Some permissible matters might lead a person to do what is forbidden or lead him to fail to do what is obligatory. For example, the issue of staying up late. According to the view of some scholars, it is makrooh to stay up late for no valid reason, just chatting or doing nothing or just wasting time. Even though in general it is permissible, this might lead to other consequences where it might cause the delaying or failing to do the wajib or it might lead us into doing muharram. The scholars also say that there are matters which were inferred or concluded based on certain hadiths where the authenticity of the hadith is questionable. They say this can also be treated as doubtful matters.

The main key to the issue that the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, gave us, again, is the heart. If we care about our heart, we will be more sensible. If the heart is sound, strong, full of iman (faith), we will be more responsible, and we will care more about what we do and what we don’t do. This becomes the measure to those matters which are doubtful.

Even though some interpreters gave some principles by which we can distinguish those doubtful matters, it can still be debated or questioned. But if the heart is good, strong and full of iman, the person will be able to distinguish between the doubtful matters and other clear evident matters, where he would also be able to refrain from the doubtful matters. Sometimes people may know something is haram and not just doubtful, but yet they still get involved in it because of the weak status of their hearts.

So here again we would like to emphasize the main key to dealing with the problem of doubtful matters is the heart. If we all care about the heart, make sure it is in a good status, then insha-Allah we will be able to be saved by the help of Allah. We will be guided by Allah, because the heart will be full of light. When we say the heart is full of light or guided by light, there are things that we can do that help us to identify and avoid doubtful matters:

  • Al-Muhasabah – self accountability
  • Al-Muraqabah – self reckoning
  • Dzikrullah – the remembrance of Allah. Imam Nawawi himself compiled another book, the Book of Azkar, where he recorded the hadith about azkar. It is mentioned by the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, that remembering Allah will purify the heart. However, we have to do it regularly and on a continuous basis. We should do the azkar after prayers.

Another thing is as-Salatu ‘ala an-Nabi (the sending of prayers and blessings to the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam). This is also an important matter. We don’t train ourselves to practice this Salatu ‘ala an-Nabi, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam. We just write SAW or an alphabet after mentioning the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam. We even abbreviate the phrase “subhanahu wata’ala”. These are mistakes because du’a cannot be abbreviated. This is commonsense. Why do we abbreviate? Is it to save our time? Or to save ink? We have to practice saying/writing “sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam” in full because we are encouraged to do so. The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said: “Do you know the greedy? The one whom my name is mentioned in front of him or her, and he does not say “sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam“.

In another hadith the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said that if we practice as-Salatu ‘ala an-Nabi, Allah will send His “prayers” and blessings upon us (yusalli ‘alaih). What does this mean? The scholars explain this by saying that Allah will guide the person who practices as-Salatu ‘ala an-Nabi and gives him the light by which to distinguish between the good and the bad. It is a light that will be in the heart. This is termed as as-solatu minallah ‘ala al-‘abd. Moreover each time we say “sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam” we will be rewarded ten times. Hence we should strive to not lose out on obtaining all these good things. We should love the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, more than ourselves, our families, our parents or our children.


There are doubtful matters that a Muslim might face in his/her everyday dealings and activities. This hadith helps the Muslim in dealing with such matters. There is an early ongoing preparation which is needed in such a case – to purify one’s heart. There are some actions that can help us achieve this task, like: hayya’ (modesty), murakabah (self reckoning), muhasabah (self accountability), dzikr (remembrance of Allah), and as-Salatu ‘ala an-Nabi, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam. These are things that, insha Allah, can help us and enlighten and purify our heart, and also help us to identify and avoid the doubtful matters – this is the main point, the key, the principle of the hadith.

“Beware; in the body there is a flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound, and if it is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt, and behold, it is the heart.”

* This is one a a series of forty hadith (of An-Nawawi), which I found at the website http://fortyhadith.iiu.edu.my/hadith06.htm. Unfortunately the information can no longer be found at the web address I copied when I found these hadith.

I am sure many are familiar with these hadith, but (as I) may not be aware of the accompanying background information provided; as I immediately copied it for my own use. I now want to share it with whom ever may see its usefulness. But, I unfortunately cannot provide a link to the source from which these hadith were derived. I ask Allah to please forgive me any mistakes I have made. The English text is exactly as I found it, but the Arabic portion was hand typed by me because the original website used photos of the Arabic text which I am not able to format in order to share on my page Living Islam. I pray that Allah Most High guide us all on the straight path of Al-Islam.

Mr. Harun Jihad Bilal  ||  Living Islam 101

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