I think we take a lot for granted when we caution people to stay away from what *we* view as haraam or doubtful in Islam when there are other permissible views on the issue. In such discussions, the concept of practicing Islam properly often becomes an intellectual exercise in logistics—or even an entertaining topic for debate—as opposed to an intimate, personally lived experience for the person we’re talking to. As such, we assume what looks logically right or spiritually “safe” on paper is obviously right or spiritually safe in real life. And that’s simply not the case.
I’m not talking about foundational concepts, clear issues, or matters for which religious disagreement is not allowed.
I’m talking about issues that, either due to their worldly nature or to scholarly debate in Islamic history, are not considered matters of ijmaa’ (complete scholarly agreement since the time of the Companions and early Muslims) in Islam.
I don’t have the words to explain how dangerous this simplistic view is, not only to the spiritual lives of believers, but also to the souls of those who use their tongues to spread their personal views as representative of what is always “right” or “safest” according to Allah Himself. And given that the terms “right” and “safest” have become synonymous with whatever is the absolute strictest view, this widespread simplistic view of Islam becomes even more of a concern.
“But the issues of ijmaa’ are so few!” many Muslims have responded when I brought up the phenomenon of teaching non-ijmaa’ issues as if they’re inflexible Islamic requirements instead of matters that have been subject to scholarly disagreement for centuries.
This response always puzzles me because I don’t understand what the problem is. It’s as if we’re saying, “No fair! If I’m stuck with telling Muslims they’re wrong only when they definitely are, how will I fill the rest of my time when telling them what to do?”
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m not saying it’s not allowed to advise Muslims about right and wrong on issues that are not foundational, clear or ijmaa’. What I’m saying is, when we know an issue is not as black-and-white as we’re personally convinced it is (due to our research or conclusion on the topic), it is dishonest to present it as if no other point of view is allowed in Islam, thereby implying that a person is definitely falling into clear sin or kufr (disbelief) if they disagree with us.
What’s so hard about saying, “I believe xyz because, from my studies, it’s most strongly supported by Islamic evidences. However, historically, the scholars of the Sunnah have disagreed on this”?
In other words, what’s so hard about telling the truth?
Today I shudder when I hear people teach Islam in this simplistic, inflexible way, implying or stating outright that the strictest view is always “safest” because it allegedly allows you to *always* stay away from sin or “doubtful matters” in Islam.
Even if we forget for a moment that “doubtful matters” (mushtabihaat) do not represent a definitive category of topics or rulings in Islam—or that spiritual safety isn’t found in external scholarly rulings so much as in the internal workings of the human soul—when we teach Islam in this manner, what does it do to a person’s mind, spirit, and heart? And if the person believes us—as most who sincerely fear Allah would, because who wants to risk going to Hell?—what will their spiritual practice of Islam look like in the long run, if it exists at all?
Or do we even care?
This may sound like a question of existential philosophy, but I’m asking it sincerely in hopes that we will pause and reflect. Let us consider sincerely—bearing in mind that Allah is watching, the angels are writing, and we’ll be held accountable for everything we teach in Allah’s Name—what we’re doing to each other when we use the name of The Most Merciful to inflict spiritual wounds.
And I am not speaking in theory here. I was one of those sincere Muslims trying to stay away from everything that could even possibly be wrong or doubtful in Islam, only to find myself scrambling to hold on to my emaan, my faith itself.
I’ve also been tested with being an advisor to Muslims facing spiritual crisis, to men and women on the verge of leaving Islam, to people who’ve already left Islam, to youth fed up with a religion that feels impossible to practice, and to Muslim women who genuinely believe that Islam is a religion that requires their suffering so that men will be happy.
As I often say during interviews or talks, “If you work in the withdrawal office at a school, what you see as important is going to be quite different from those who work in the office of admissions.”
And I know of no Islamic evidences—or even convincing logic—to justify telling a person who wants to be a good, practicing Muslim that they cannot be, simply because they do not adhere to the absolute strictest view of every matter of disagreement.
Religious Safety in Your Life Specifically
With a topic like this, I think it’s helpful to give real life examples of what following the allegedly “safest” view looks like in real life. For this reason, I’ve compiled a list (below) of matters that during my more than fifteen years of studying Islam in America and abroad, I’ve heard attributed to Islamic scholars or Islam itself as being haraam, or at the very least blameworthy or “doubtful” in Islam. Sometimes I heard these things directly from Islamic teachers while sitting in their classes, sometimes in an Islamic book I was reading, sometimes from an Islamic Q&A website run by one or more Muslim teachers and scholars, sometimes from an Islamic teacher’s video or audio lecture downloaded or accessed online, sometimes from a friend or family member who attended an Islamic class or lecture and shared what they learned, and sometimes from a fellow Muslim (most often one who viewed it as their religious obligation to “warn” or advise other Muslims, saying we’re obligated to follow what their favored scholar or Islamic understanding has concluded on the matter).
As you read this list, bear in mind that I am not listing these things to suggest that none of these are matters better left alone for the safety of your soul. You know your life, circumstances, and weaknesses better than anyone else. As such, it is fully within your Islamic right—and is in fact your Islamic obligation—to stay away from ANYTHING that Allah has shown you is harmful to YOUR soul.
Furthermore, as I strive to consistently advise, no matter what proofs exist for or against any point of view, we should ALWAYS do what we sincerely believe Allah requires of us, no matter what anyone else says for or against it.
Sometimes this will be the strictest view, and sometimes the more lenient. But this does NOT mean everyone’s protection of their soul will look exactly like yours. Nor does it mean that what YOU view as doubtful or uncertain is automatically doubtful or unclear in Islam.
What the “Safest” (Strictest) View Looks Like in Real Life
In addition to the well-known permissible disagreement on the strict requirement for a woman to cover her face and the not so well-known permissible disagreement surrounding the strict prohibition against *all* music (even the daff outside of Eid and weddings), below is a list of things that I’ve personally encountered as being labeled as haraam (prohibited) or blameworthy in Islam.
If a person disagreed with the haraam label, they were often told, “It’s better to stay away from doubtful matters,” hence implying that even IF the issue isn’t haraam, they are displeasing Allah by delving into something that is considered “doubtful,” thus disobeying the instructions of the Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, to stay away from doubtful for the safety of our faith.
As you read the list, imagine two scenarios (and yes, these two scenarios DO EXIST in real life):
- A person is seeking to follow the strictest opinion on ALL Islamic disagreement because they sincerely believe this is what it means to be safe with regards to their religion in front of Allah.
- A person who disagrees with ANY of these is told that they are following their desires and are evil, misguided, and spiritually corrupt for insisting on delving into matters that are “at best” left alone Islam.
Here is an incomplete list of the allegedly haraam and blameworthy matters that have been attributed to Islam and/or Muslim scholars of the past and present:
- Polygyny in modern times
- Polygyny in the West
- Divorcing a “good Muslim man”
- Divorcing a “good Muslim woman”
- Oral sex
- Having sex while naked (without clothes or without a blanket or sheet covering the husband and wife)
- Voice-only beats and compilations (if they sound like instruments)
- Listening to a cappella nasheeds (because today Muslim artists allegedly harmonize their voices like Christians do in church)
- Any nasheeds (because the nasheeds of today aren’t like the nasheeds of the past)
- Using a nice voice while singing a nasheed (because this is extravagance and imitation of the kuffaar)
- Supporting anyone who does nasheeds (because this is supporting the culture of the kuffaar)
- A woman listening to a man sing a nasheed (because it can make her think about him sexually)
- A man singing a nasheed (because he’s like a homosexual)
- A man playing the daff (because it’s imitating women)
- Singing songs at home to your children (because singing itself is “disliked” or haraam)
- All rap, even without music (imitation of the kuffaar)
- Hip Hop, even without music (because it is evil and an imitation of the kuffaar)—but non-American Muslim cultural music is fine, even *with* instruments
- American songs, even without music or bad lyrics (imitation of the kuffaar)
- Afros (imitation of the kuffaar)
- Braids (imitation of the kuffaar)
- Locs (imitation of the kuffaar)
- Slang (imitation of the kuffaar)
- A woman not unbraiding her hair before performing ghusl (after menses or due to sexual relations with her husband)
- American clothes (imitation of the kuffaar)
- Buying American brands/products (supporting the killing of Muslims)
- Buying from any Jewish-owned business (because allegedly *all* Jews donate their money to support killing Palestinians)
- Reading any novels (wasting time)
- Writing novels (lying, wasting time, and misguiding people away from Allah)
- Having a photo of any living thing on the cover of a book, even if only partial or the face isn’t showing
- Reading ANY book that isn’t inherently religious (because it takes you away from the remembrance of Allah)
- Men playing sports (waste of time)
- Martial arts (because it allegedly requires shirk practices and beliefs)
- Yoga (because it allegedly requires shirk practices and beliefs)
- Women playing sports (makes men imagine them sexually)
- A woman running or exercising in public (because the quick movement makes her covered body parts move, or she becomes a fitnah for men)
- Women laughing in the presence of men (this is intermingling, flirting, or bad character)
- Girls playing with dolls (because the dolls are like idols or tasweer, forbidden images)
- Coloring books for children (because this is tasweer)
- Taking pictures (because this is creating tasweer)
- Living in the West
- Studying in the West
- Attending a co-ed school
- Speaking to a non-mahram person of the opposite sex about ANYTHING unless it’s absolutely necessary (i.e. life and death)
- A woman initiating salaams to a man
- A woman SPEAKING AT ALL in the presence of a man
- A woman reciting Qur’an if there’s even a CHANCE a man can hear her
- A woman riding a bike (because the shape of her sitting body is immodest and a sexual fitnah for men)
- A woman driving a car (because this leads to fitnah)
- A woman appearing on TV, even if she’s fully covered (leads to fitnah and allegedly *forces* men to look at her without lowering their gazes)
- A woman allowing her husband to go to sleep while he’s upset with her, even if he wronged her
- Saying “I love you” to non-Muslim parents (because we’re not allowed to love disbelievers)
- A woman wearing pants, even in the privacy of her own home (imitation of men)
- Jean fabric (imitation of the kuffaar)
- Suit and tie (imitation of the kuffaar)
- Having a Facebook account (leads to evil, social corruption and haraam interactions between men and women)
- Having Internet in your house (leads to evil, social corruption, and access to lots of haraam)
- Having and using the TV (because the images are tasweer and therefore haraam)
- A woman speaking in public, even in full hijab (makes men imagine her sexually)
- A woman having short hair (imitation of men)
- Men having long hair (imitation of women)
- A woman praying in public (because her rukoo’ and sujood are immodest and these positions can be a fitnah for men)
- A woman wearing a coat over her abaya (it shows the shape of her body)
- A woman wearing colorful shoes (it’s considered zeenah and attracts the attention of men)
- Gold buckles and zippers on a woman’s purse or shoes (it’s zeenah and attracts the attention of men)
- Women wearing gold jewelry, even if unseen (because there’s a scholarly opinion that it’s haraam for *anyone* to wear gold)
- Giving your children spankings (except when they refuse to pray)
- Women wearing rings or facial jewelry that can be seen in public (because this is a sexual fitnah for men)
- Women wearing bras (because it accents the shape of her breasts, even if she’s covered)
- Women wearing kohl when her eyes are uncovered (because it’s a sexual fitnah for men)
- A woman joking with men (this is inappropriate and indicates lack of adab)
- Reading and reflecting on the Qur’an alone (because you’re not a scholar and you don’t have this right)
- Discussing the Qur’an with others (because you’re not a scholar and you don’t have this right)
- Teaching about Islam if you’re not a scholar (because you could be misguiding people, even if you’re not saying anything wrong)
- Brushing your teeth while fasting
- Hugging or kissing your husband or wife while fasting
- Using rubbing alcohol to sanitize your skin (because alcohol is haraam)
- Using your ‘aql (intellect or common sense) to help you determine what is right or wrong to do as a Muslim, even if your conclusion stays within the bounds of what’s permissible in Islam
- Researching the scholarly evidences on a controversial issue to see which scholarly view you believe is right (because you are not a scholar so you’re not allowed to research anything in Islam)
- Signing a book you wrote (because this is riyaa, imitation of the kuffaar, and “rockstar” culture)
- Having a ringer on your phone (because this is a musical instrument of Shaytaan)
- A woman sitting in front of a camera if the filmmaker is male (because he’s forced to look directly through the lens at a non-mahram woman)
- Dancing, even in the privacy of your home (imitation of the kuffaar and wasting time)
- Dancing in front of your husband (because it will make him think you are an improper woman)
- Tying your hair or under-scarf into a bun (because it’s a sign of the Day of Judgment about camel humps on your head)
- Writing poetry (wasting time)
- A woman going to Hajj or ‘Umrah when she has no Muslim male relative (because it’s haraam for a woman to travel without a mahram)
- A woman working outside the home (because her place is in the home)
- Working in a workplace where there are both men and women (because this is intermingling)
- A woman doing a radio interview (because men will hear her voice, which can be a sexual fitnah)
- Having a slit in your niqaab that exposes your eyes so you can see where you’re going (because your eyes are a fitnah for me)
- A woman uncovering her face during Hajj or ‘Umrah (because the men there will get distracted from their worship, as she is a sexual fitnah)
- Visiting non-Muslim relatives during the holidays, even if you do not participate in their celebrations or enter their houses of worship
- Attending an event or entering a place where there is music playing, even if it’s your parents’ house, a family wedding, or the store
- Going to a restaurant where alcohol is on the menu, even if you do not buy it yourself (because you should not be seated in a place where alcohol is served)
- Moving your fingers, hand or body rhythmically (or to a beat), even if in the privacy of your home (because Shaytaan is making you do this)
- A woman having money of her own without her husband’s knowledge (because you have to get his permission for everything)
- A woman having a profile picture online or even in her passport (because a man might see it and get attracted to her)
- A man having a profile picture (because this is arrogance or violating the rules of tasweer)
- Having a photo album in your house (because it violates the rules of tasweer)
- A woman wearing nice or fashionable clothes, even if fully covered (because this is being ostentatious and thus violating the rules of hijab)
- An all-women fashion show (because it’s a waste of time and “silly”)
- A bridal shower (imitation of the kuffaar)
- A woman wearing anything that a man finds beautiful (because this is zeenah, even if her clothes are plain and not extravagant)
- Comedy (because it allegedly involves lying while joking)
- A woman riding in a taxi or car with an unrelated man driving (because you two are “alone”)
- A woman wearing colors other than black (because it is zeenah and a fitnah for men)
- A woman having trim or designs on her khimaar or abaya (because it’s zeenah and a fitnah for men)
- Leaving the Qur’an open if you’re not reading it (because it’s disrespecting the Qur’an)
- Hanging a Qur’an verse hanging on the wall (because it’s disrespecting the Qur’an)
- A woman wearing heels (because it’s lying about her height)
- Not committing to a single madhhab or school of thought (because this is considered religious misguidance, arrogance, or following your desires)
- Drinking or eating while standing
- A woman eating in a restaurant without a mahram
- A woman praying without socks
- A man praying in pants (because it shows his ‘awrah)
- A woman’s voice on the answering machine or voicemail (because it’s immodest and a fitnah for men who call)
- An unmarried man and woman speaking on the phone (because they are “alone”)
- Following more than one madhhab opinion at a time (because it’s not allowed to follow the Prophet, peace be upon him, from more than one scholarly source)
- Having more than one religious teacher (because it leads to confusion about Islam)
- Having an opinion that differs from the majority of scholars, even if the minority view is backed by Qur’an and Sunnah proofs and is recognized as valid by all scholars
- Disagreeing with *any* scholar, even if you naturally agree with another scholar on the same issue (because you’re disrespecting the first one)
- Not doing taqleed (blind following) of a scholar (because this is religious arrogance)
- Not committing to a single religious sect or group (because this is following your desires and creating your own Islam)
- Striving to follow “only” the Qur’an and Sunnah (because this is religious misguidance or is virtually impossible, so you shouldn’t even try)
- Doing calligraphy (can’t remember why)
- Playing card games (imitating gambling)
- Playing board games (wasting time)
- Children acting in a school play (because this involves lying)
- Acting (because this involves lying)
- Clapping your hands in applause or at all (imitation of the kuffaar and because the Qur’an mentions disbelievers whistling and clapping their hands in worship)
- Killing a spider (because a spider is reported to have made a web to protect the Prophet, peace be upon him, in the cave)
- Killing ants (because ants are discussed honorably in the Qur’an)
- Women praying in congregation with other women (because women shouldn’t be praying in jamaa’ah)
- Playing video games (because it’s a waste of time)
- Women wearing deodorant (because this is like wearing perfume in front of men)
- Wearing any shoes or clothes with the Nike symbol (because “Nike” is a religious symbol like the cross or crucifix)
- A woman *reciting* Qur’an while she’s on her menses
- Wearing a shoulder abaya (because it shows your shape or because only one single sheet of fabric is allowed to cover a woman’s body)
- Eating meat from the People of the Book (because we can’t be sure they killed the meat correctly)
- Eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day, even with no intent to celebrate the holiday
- Voting in non-Muslim elections (because it involves supporting ruling by other than what Allah revealed)
- Being a lawyer or judge in the West (same reason)
- A Muslim involved in politics (same reason)
- Saying “Bismillah” before making wudhoo’ as the Prophet commanded, if the sink is in the bathroom or near a toilet (because you’re disrespecting Allah’s name)
- Attending or delivering a Jumu’ah khutbah (Friday sermon) spoken in English or any other non-Arabic language (because the khutbah is part of a formal prayer and formal prayers can only be said in Arabic)
- Making du’aa (supplicating to God in informal prayer) in your native language if you are non-Arab (because speaking to Allah or asking something of Him can only be done in Arabic)
- Using anything other than your fingers to enumerate your daily dhikr (remembrance of Allah)
- Using a prayer mat while praying (because this is allegedly against the Sunnah)
- Having any designs on the walls of the masjid (because beautifying the places of worship is haraam)
- Writing your name on the *outside of* the Qur’an you own so that everyone knows it belongs to you (because it’s disrespecting the Qur’an)
- Using a pencil to write on the pages of the Qur’an to help with your memorization or recitation (because it’s disrespecting the Qur’an)
- Singing a song written by non-Muslims, even for women at a women-only event for Eid or a wedding (because non-Muslim songs are evil and don’t involve the remembrance of God)
- Singing a song about God written by a non-Muslim (because only Muslims can mention God in a respectable way)
- Saying “Eid Mubarak” or “Ramadan Mubarak” (because this is bid’ah, blameworthy religious innovation)
- Buying or exchanging gifts on Eid (imitation of the kuffaar and bid’ah)
- Decorating your house during Eid (imitation of the kuffaar and bid’ah)
- Having Arabic words hanging in the bathroom, even without Allah’s name (because it’s disrespecting the language of the Qur’an and Sunnah)
- Getting your ears or nose pierced (because it’s harming your body or imitating the kuffaar)
- Getting braces (because it’s changing the creation of Allah)
- Wearing color eye contacts (because it involves deceiving people)
- A woman owning and running an all-women hair and beauty salon (can’t remember why)
- Using birth control or contraception (can’t remember why)
And the list goes on…
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