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Islam.SE often gets questions of the kind "is X halal?", where "X" may be quite specific and the permissiveness of which is very clear. Examples include can I bathe with my wife, can I marry two women at the same time, can a wife accompany her husband in public, is eating mushrooms halal.

Basically the principle of "everything is halal until proven otherwise", together with the pragmatic rule of thumb "do your best, and relax" should solve almost all of these issues. However, a slightly more involved answer might be more satisfying to have. Therefore, these questions:

  • What is the default ruling for any action?
  • When is a Muslim required to check whether an action might be impermissible? (*)
  • What effort is a Muslim expected to put into determining whether an action that falls under (*) is haram?
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    This should really be posted on meta as it relates to the site. You may want to use this meta post on mechanics.SE as a reference – Zaid Dec 17 '16 at 17:55
  • @Zaid This question is in the spirit of this one. – G. Bach Dec 17 '16 at 18:34
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    I do not think this should be posted on meta. I think it is a great question which deserves a great answer as well. – Kilise Dec 17 '16 at 18:44
  • See also this hadith. – servant-of-Wiser Dec 29 '16 at 19:17
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+25

• What is the default ruling for any action?

There are two types of actions:

  • Worship actions: the default rule here is the forbid, and the allowed ones are the ones Mohammad (PBUH) taught us.
  • Non-worship actions and things: the default rule is all are allowed unless proven otherwise.

• When is a Muslim required to check whether an action might be impermissible? (*)

This is relative to the amount of knowledge the person has, so for example a newly converted or person who never learned about Islam need to check for everything he/she does until he reaches a level of understanding to the main rules, by time he will build a knowledge base and a conscious alerts him to ask when he is about to do something new.

At this point I want to comment that this is a bit too abstract, because a Muslim life forces him to learn, Jumaa prayer every week, reading Quraan, reading Sunnah and attending scholars sessions are covering more than 90% if not all of the life parts one needs to know about Halal and haram. The remaining part is special cases that requires asking scholars (Fatwa) which is common in a Muslim’s life.

• What effort is a Muslim expected to put into determining whether an action that falls under (*) is haram?

Again the effort is relative to the amount one ignores about Islam, Muslims who did not make effort learn about Quran and Sunnah will need to make more effort in checking if action/thing is impermissible. A useful guideline here might be this, if one never learned anything related to specific subject then he better start learn about the subject and find what is allowed and what is not, because Islam covered all life parts, and if one subject you never heard about in Islam that is a sign that you missed that part, for example, you decided to start a jewelry business, it is the right time to ask what is allowed and what is not when you have that business if you never heard anything about jewelry (there are some transactions not allowed in gold).

  • Could you elaborate (in particular by adding specific guidelines and/or examples, if possible) on and add references for the second and third question? – G. Bach Dec 29 '16 at 22:05
  • If you need more details the answer will be huge, because we need to cover different aspects, in this context I chose to make the answer simple, one reference I will add Allah says: "So ask the people of the message if you do not know." (16:43) – M.M Dec 29 '16 at 23:25
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    A huge answer would be welcome, seeing how these questions pop up all the time. – G. Bach Dec 29 '16 at 23:27
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    I'm not aware if you or someone else who marked down the answer, but this is a shame people Markdown without useful discussions/comments. – M.M Dec 29 '16 at 23:30
  • I did not downvote your answer. – G. Bach Dec 29 '16 at 23:43
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What is the default ruling for any action?

Everything is halal until

  • someone points you that it is haram (or)

  • You feel there could be something wrong based on your wisdom.

When is a Muslim required to check whether an action might be impermissible?

  • If you are unsure if what your friend told was haram is actually haram (or)

  • You feel there could be something wrong based on your wisdom.

What effort is a Muslim expected to put into determining whether an action that falls under is haram?

  • Ask the ones who have knowledge.

Now let me talk about what possibly made you ask this question. You might have thought that the questions asked were silly and they had straight forward answers and what's the big deal in it.

You need to bear with the questioner as he could be a new Muslim and everything might seem new to him as a consequence of him having been encountered so many restrictive rulings. Tell me if you can find a question like "Is drinking water Haram?" No. But, you can find a question like "Can I drink water after I wake up in the morning?" and if you ask "What made you ask this question?" then he might reply "Because Qur'an 52:48 says pray after you wake up. So can I drink some water and then pray? Is that OK?"

The example I gave might be bad, but this is the reason after all behind every question. Isn't it? Because, the questioner could just be afraid to do something that which he thinks could be wrong and ends up asking a question (which others sometimes think is silly).

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The Guiding Principle

As mentioned by @M.M, a well-known principle from the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (Usool al-Fiqh) distinguishes between acts of worship ('Ibaadah), and acts that are from worldly matters which include things like eating, drinking, clothing, earning livelihood and financial transactions ('Aadaat - literally translated as "customs and habits", but really refers to worldly matters):

  • The basic principle concerning acts of worship is prohibition unless proven otherwise
  • The basic principle regarding worldly matters is permissibility unless proven otherwise

An alternative expression of the same concept:

  • The original ruling regarding acts of worship is abstention/withholding (Tawqeef)
  • The original ruling regarding worldly matters is permissibility

Explanation & Evidence

Restating the first point, if the action under scrutiny is considered to be from worship, it needs to have an established evidence for its permissibility in order for a person to perform it.

This article highlights the Hadeeth of 'A'ishah as a proof for this aspect of the principle, in which Muhammad ﷺ said:

من أحدث في أمرنا هذا ما ليس منه فهو رد
“He who innovates something in this matter of ours (i.e., Islam) that is not of it will have it rejected (by Allah).”


In contrast, the second point says that if the action under scrutiny is classified to be from the worldly matters, it is permissible by default unless there is a proof establishing its prohibition.

This principle is highlighted in the following Qur'anic verse, where all foods are permissible with a few noticeable exceptions (the list of prohibited foods is not exhaustive):

قُل لَّا أَجِدُ فِي مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيَّ مُحَرَّمًا عَلَىٰ طَاعِمٍ يَطْعَمُهُ إِلَّا أَن يَكُونَ مَيْتَةً أَوْ دَمًا مَّسْفُوحًا أَوْ لَحْمَ خِنزِيرٍ فَإِنَّهُ رِجْسٌ أَوْ فِسْقًا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّـهِ بِهِ  فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ غَيْرَ بَاغٍ وَلَا عَادٍ فَإِنَّ رَبَّكَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
Say (O Muhammad ﷺ): "I find not in that which has been inspired to me anything forbidden to be eaten by one who wishes to eat it, unless it be Maytah (a dead animal) or blood poured forth (by slaughtering or the like), or the flesh of swine (pork, etc.) for that surely is impure, or impious (unlawful) meat (of an animal) which is slaughtered as a sacrifice for others than Allah (or has been slaughtered for idols, etc., or on which Allah's Name has not been mentioned while slaughtering). But whosoever is forced by necessity without wilful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits, (for him) certainly, your Lord is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." Surah Al-An'aam, Verse 145

And this Hadeeth of 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbaas mentions the same verse:

قَالَ كَانَ أَهْلُ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ يَأْكُلُونَ أَشْيَاءَ وَيَتْرُكُونَ أَشْيَاءَ تَقَذُّرًا فَبَعَثَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى نَبِيَّهُ وَأَنْزَلَ كِتَابَهُ وَأَحَلَّ حَلاَلَهُ وَحَرَّمَ حَرَامَهُ فَمَا أَحَلَّ فَهُوَ حَلاَلٌ وَمَا حَرَّمَ فَهُوَ حَرَامٌ وَمَا سَكَتَ عَنْهُ فَهُوَ عَفْوٌ وَتَلاَ ‏{‏ قُلْ لاَ أَجِدُ فِيمَا أُوحِيَ إِلَىَّ مُحَرَّمًا ‏}‏ إِلَى آخِرِ الآيَةِ
The people of pre-Islamic times used to eat some things and leave others alone, considering them unclean. Then Allah sent His Prophet (ﷺ) and sent down His Book, marking some things lawful and others unlawful; so what He made lawful is lawful, what he made unlawful is unlawful, and what he said nothing about is allowable. And he recited: "Say: I find not in the message received by me by inspiration any (meat) forbidden to be eaten by one who wishes to eat it...." up to the end of the verse.
Sunan Abu Dawood, graded authentic by Ibn Katheer and others


What is expected of an individual in determining the legality of X

The principle mentioned above should serve as a starting point:

  • Is the action in question from the religious matters? If no authentic evidence is established for it, the action itself is impermissible.

  • Is the action in question from the worldly matters, such as eating, drinking and financial transactions? Is there any Shar'ee basis for objection to the matter? If no basis for its prevention is authentically established, the action itself is permissible.

If the individual is not at the level of a Mujtahid (one who can derive rulings based on Shar'ee texts), the matter should be referred to the scholars.

If the matter is still doubtful, it is safer to avoid the matter altogether in light of the Hadeeth of the Prophet ﷺ, reported on the authority of Nu'maan ibn Basheer:

إن الحلال بين، وإن الحرام بين، وبينهما مشتبهات لا يعلمهن كثير من الناس، فمن اتقى الشبهات، استبرأ لدينه وعرضه، ومن وقع فى الشبهات، وقع فى الحرام
What is lawful is clear and what is unlawful is clear, but between them are certain doubtful things which many people do not know. So he who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and his honour blameless. But he who falls into doubtful things falls into that which is unlawful
Saheeh al-Bukhari & Saheeh Muslim

  • I need to add more to this answer... namely examples and address the final question about how much effort a Muslim is expected to exert in determining the permissibility/impermissibility of an action – Zaid Apr 21 '17 at 3:58
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The default is everything is Halal. Yet does one need a prophet to tell him killing your mother is Haraam? No! Why? Your own God-given wisdom speaks to you.

Our wisdom is always aware of the trajectory of right and wrong as referring to the questions you linked. Our wisdom knows eating garbage isn't good. It knows eating ants is generally despised. It knows it should eat meat, but doesn't know what kind of meat it should eat.
Our wisdom knows sex is good, necessary. At the same time it knows modesty is good, yet it doesn't know how to keep it balanced. It may come up with some rules, but not sure if those rules are perfect it would be more of a try and error. Their knowledge is limited to only what the correct parts of what they know.

So 2 notes:

  • You have never been in such a situation ie it's the first time you have question X, Islam encourages you to do nothing. قف عند الشبه . meaning stop when in doubt. Yet if you are in great need to make a decision (and have no access to a book, scholar) then follow your wisdom.
  • At the same time Islam encourages you to learn about your religion so you can process things on your own. It shouldn't be that you have never studied anything of religion but then you process everything with your own wisdom. <-- by processing I mean applying Islam with your own intelligence to your daily life. I don't mean just processing as in parallel or independent of the books.

So an example would be if you suddenly got to China and you saw a sea food that you weren't sure to eat, Islam recommend you to just eat something vegetarian until you get to know the answer.
Or you you are young you want to find yourself a wife(s) and suddenly you do, but you don't know how to legalize things...and knowing such matter is usually or possibly almost never urgent you just wait till you can ask someone.

Having that said on a daily basis we make a gazillion decisions using our wisdom and only a few using our religion.

One doesn't eat breakfast, sleep with his wife, have kids, go to work, socialize with his neighbors because his religion tells him to. He simply does it because his wisdom sets him onto this path. He uses religion to just polish his own wisdom. Islam tells it's best to eat this and that at breakfast, it's best to treat your wife like this and that, it's best to treat your kids this way, socialize with your neighbors that way.

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