Fiqh Beyond The Basics
As Muslims, we believe that Allah s.w.t. created the Syariah – the set of laws and rulings that He has set and taught human beings through His Messengers – but it's also important to remind ourselves that He is also the Creator of human beings. He knows what we are capable of and what we are not. It is crucial for us to remember this because sometimes, in our efforts to adhere to our lifestyle as Muslims, we tend to put very high standards not just on ourselves but on others as well. This can result in an unrealistic understanding of the religion. Therefore, it is important that we continuously educate ourselves about the religion.
Fiqh, or Islamic Jurisprudence, is the science or knowledge of Islamic rulings which is related to our physical acts of worship. While we regularly associate the term ‘fiqh’ with physical deeds such as how to perform prayers, when to fast, how to pay zakat, etc., it is in fact much broader than that. It includes discussions on how these rulings were established, what are the motives and the spirit behind a particular ruling, how and why scholars differ in their opinions regarding rulings, what evidences were used, and even on how certain rulings only apply in specific situations.
Read: The 4 Mazhabs in Islam
Once we are aware of the dynamic nature of fiqh, we will begin to appreciate that Islam is not rigid, and that the religion was not created to make our lives hard. Certainly, there are fixed obligations for Muslims to commit to, but the deeper we learn, the more we will realize that there are concessions made even for obligatory deeds. An example is our five obligatory daily prayers. Our Messenger s.a.w. said in one hadith,
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ مَا يُحَاسَبُ بِهِ الْعَبْدُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ مِنْ عَمَلِهِ صَلَاتُهُ
“The first deed by which man will be called to account on the Day of Resurrection will be Solat (prayers).”
It is indeed a daily duty that we commit to as Muslims. However, with the knowledge of fiqh, we come to learn that there can be exceptions or facilitation (rukhsah) with regards to the obligatory prayers for certain groups of people and for specific situations.
For instance, those who are travelling are allowed to shorten their prayers, and those who are unable to stand in prayer can pray while sitting down. These concessions are made to ease the affairs of Muslims in certain situations.
From the above example, we can understand that there is room for some form of flexibility or adaptability depending on the individual and situation. In fact, these concessions reflect the very nature of Islam: that it is practical and does not burden its followers beyond their capabilities. A verse from the Quran reminds us:
لَا يُكَلِّفُ ٱللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا
“Allah does not burden any soul with more than it can bear.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:286)
Other than its pragmatic nature, Islam is also meant to be practiced at any time and any place. Without a doubt, a common concern that Muslims all over the world share is halal food, especially when majority of the country do not follow the same dietary restrictions. One example is Singapore. Muslims constitute almost 16% of the population. Fortunately, it is not very difficult to find halal food here in this country. There are many eateries and food products that have been certified as halal by MUIS, and this aids Singaporean Muslims greatly in ensuring the food they want to have is halal.
Apart from looking for the halal certification, as Muslims, we must also seek knowledge on what halal food is. Such knowledge will help us make informed decisions when we cannot find a halal certification – for example, when we are travelling in other countries, where halal certification might not be as common as in Singapore.
As a matter of fact, the absence of a halal certification does not necessarily mean the product or restaurant is not halal. One is required to make the proper assessment in their own respective conditions.
In Islam, the origin of things (rule) is permissibility. This means that as long as there is no evidence or any criterion that specifies it to be haram, then it is allowed. Allah says in the Quran,
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ كُلُوا۟ مِن طَيِّبَـٰتِ مَا رَزَقْنَـٰكُمْ وَٱشْكُرُوا۟ لِلَّهِ إِن كُنتُمْ إِيَّاهُ تَعْبُدُونَ
“O believers! Eat from the good things We have provided for you.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:172)
In this verse, Allah s.w.t. did not specify the foods that are halal, as there are simply too many. There are other similar verses that command us to eat only the halal and the good, without specifying the food itself.
On the other hand, what is haram is clearly stated and the commandment to avoid it is clear as well. For instance, pork is haram and cannot be consumed by Muslims, as stated in the Quran,
إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْمَيْتَةَ وَٱلدَّمَ وَلَحْمَ ٱلْخِنزِيرِ وَمَآ أُهِلَّ بِهِۦ لِغَيْرِ ٱللَّهِ ۖ فَمَنِ ٱضْطُرَّ غَيْرَ بَاغٍ وَلَا عَادٍ فَلَآ إِثْمَ عَلَيْهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“He has only forbidden you (to eat) dead animals, blood, pig’s meat, and what is slaughtered in the name of any other than Allah. But if someone is compelled by necessity—neither driven by desire nor exceeding immediate need—they will not be sinful. Verily, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:173)
It is also interesting to note that the second half of the verse above mentions, “But if someone is compelled by necessity—neither driven by desire nor exceeding immediate need—they will not be sinful. Verily, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” Generally, what this means is that if a Muslim finds himself in a dire situation and needs food to avoid death, and the only food that is immediately available to him is pork, he is allowed to consume it, without being excessive and only in the amount needed to save himself from death.
One of the objectives of the Syariah or Islamic law is preservation of life, and this is yet another example of the practicality and adaptability of Islam: that it allows for exceptions from the original ruling in special or extreme cases.
Another matter of concern that we should think about as Muslims is our social conduct. In Singapore, Muslims live with non-Muslims on a daily regular basis, such as in work settings and in public places like stores and community spaces. We should look no further than at the life of our Messenger s.a.w. for guidance, as it is filled with lessons on how Muslims should interact with people of other faiths.
The Prophet was respectful of other religions and did not compel anyone to convert to Islam. His behavior was far from aggressive and hostile. When a funeral procession passed in front of him, he stood up. He was then told that the deceased was a non-Muslim. Our beloved Messenger responded,
“Is it not a human soul?”
He visited non-Muslims who were ill and even ate food prepared by them. Where Islam requires us to adhere to a halal diet, it does not demand us to be harsh or overzealous about our restrictions.
For example, in communal spaces at workplaces, there is no prohibition against eating together with our non-Muslim colleagues at the same table or space. Sharing common spaces like the refrigerator is also not an issue. In both situations, we only need to ensure there is no mixing or contact between halal food and non-halal food.
Attending staff retreats at non-halal restaurants – in cases where we may not have the option to choose the venues – is also permissible, as long as we do not consume non-halal food and drinks. Participating in events organised by the company that we work in is part and parcel of life as an employee and is encouraged for it is good for the morale and productivity of the staff in general.
It's also vital to remember that how we present ourselves regarding our halal diet plays a significant part in our social interactions. We should not come across as patronising or condescending about it. If we would like to be respected for our choices, our own attitude should be respectful and kind. People of other faiths also have their own dietary restrictions, whether based on their own religious instructions or personal choices, such as vegetarianism. As much as Islam is about devotion and practicality, it is also about respect and harmony. To put it candidly, our attitude needs to be as “halal” as our food.
Furthermore, we should avoid wastage or excessiveness when it comes to eating. Any food – even halal food – can become harmful when taken excessively and disproportionately. For instance, meat from a cow or a sheep that has been slaughtered based on Islamic law can be consumed, and meat is important as a source of protein for the human body. However, any doctor or nutritionist can tell you that consuming too much red meat is bad for the body, as it can increase the risk of many diseases such as high cholesterol and heart problems. Thus, it is not enough that we consume halal food; it is also vital that we consume it the right way.
When it comes to choosing what is easy or what is difficult, our faith highly encourages choosing what is easy for us. Our Messenger SAW taught us this very choice. Aisyah r.a. narrated that:
مَا خُيِّرَ رَسولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّمَ بيْنَ أمْرَيْنِ قَطُّ إلَّا أخَذَ أيْسَرَهُمَا، ما لَمْ يَكُنْ إثْمًا
Rasulullah s.a.w. never made a choice between two things except that he would adopt the easier one, as long as it did not involve any sin
Allah says in the Quran,
يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ بِكُمُ ٱلْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ ٱلْعُسْرَ
“Allah wants ease for you, not hardship.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:185)
Again, such is the spirit of Islam, a religion that encourages good and encourages ease and relief. Hence, when we think of our religious commitments, it is best to have an open mind. Limiting our understanding to the bare minimum is not enough, especially if it leads to confusion, misunderstanding and harshness or insensitivity from our part.
Instead, as Muslims, we need to strive to do better in terms of our religious knowledge, so that we are sure and confident about our faith. The more we learn, the more we will realise how holistic our religion is and thus understand better on how the Islamic law was created by our Creator for the betterment of the human life.