The Arabic word haram which means “forbidden” or “unlawful”, is used too loosely amongst Muslims. It is frequently used as a catch-all term for things that are disliked or questionable, but it’s important to remember that there are actually not many things that Allah (SWT) has forbidden. In this article, we will explore why we tend to use that word so liberally and what it means for us, and what is really defined as haram.
The Muslim community has gotten in the habit of using the word haram so often, making it a quick way to dismiss many things without really thinking critically about them. There are multiple reasons why this happens, such as hearing from others that something is forbidden and assuming or believing it to be true and passing it on. Then it becomes something like a common myth in society, like the ones we were told growing up such as not to swallow your gum because it takes seven years to digest, or that cracking your knuckles too much would lead to arthritis. Perhaps the more common reason given for calling too many things haram is that its legality is unclear and disputed among Muslims, and so it is “better to stay on the safe side”. As a result, many Muslims take part in a culture that believes, “everything is haram until Allah (SWT) makes it halal (lawful/allowed)” rather than vice versa, as the Quran holistically demonstrates.
If we received a dollar for every time we heard a Muslim say, “it’s haram” or, “it’s halal” we’d all be quite rich by now. Understanding God’s laws and what is expected of us is an essential aspect of Islam. However, an important topic that needs to be addressed is the misuse of those terms.
You must have heard something being termed haram when in reality it is not. What makes something haram? Defining something as haram is implying that Allah (SWT) has deemed something to be unlawful, yet so many things that we are told are haram have no proof in the Quran and/or Hadith. Labeling something as religiously lawful or unlawful without careful consideration and understanding of Allah’s (SWT) words is very dangerous, and should be avoided at all costs, as the Quran tells us:
وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ ٱفْتَرَىٰ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ كَذِبًا أَوْ كَذَّبَ بِـَٔايَـٰتِهِۦٓ إِنَّهُۥ لَا يُفْلِحُ ٱلظَّـٰلِمُونَ
[6:21] Who is more transgressing than one who fabricates lies about God or denies His revelations? For certain, the transgressors will not succeed.
قُلْ أَرَءَيْتُم مَّآ أَنزَلَ ٱللَّهُ لَكُم مِّن رِّزْقٍۢ فَجَعَلْتُم مِّنْهُ حَرَامًۭا وَحَلَـٰلًۭا قُلْ ءَآللَّهُ أَذِنَ لَكُمْ ۖ أَمْ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ تَفْتَرُونَ
[10:59] Say, “Have you seen what God has brought down to you of provisions, of which you have made some unlawful and some lawful?” Say, “Did God give you permission, or are you fabricating lies about God?”
وَلَا تَقُولُوا۟ لِمَا تَصِفُ أَلْسِنَتُكُمُ ٱلْكَذِبَ هَـٰذَا حَلَـٰلٌۭ وَهَـٰذَا حَرَامٌۭ لِّتَفْتَرُوا۟ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ ٱلْكَذِبَ ۚ إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ يَفْتَرُونَ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ ٱلْكَذِبَ لَا يُفْلِحُونَ
[16:116] Do not utter lies that are portrayed by your tongues: “This is lawful, and that is unlawful,” to fabricate lies and attribute them to God. Those who fabricate lies and attribute them to God will not succeed.
ٱلَّذِينَ يُجَـٰدِلُونَ فِىٓ ءَايَـٰتِ ٱللَّهِ بِغَيْرِ سُلْطَـٰنٍ أَتَىٰهُمْ ۖ كَبُرَ مَقْتًا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ وَعِندَ ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يَطْبَعُ ٱللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ قَلْبِ مُتَكَبِّرٍۢ جَبَّارٍۢ
[40:35] Those who argue against God’s revelations without any authority having come to them, they do something that is of great abhorrence in the sight of God and in the sight of those who believe. Thus does God seal the heart of every arrogant tyrant.
The above verses provide a clear and strict prohibition from calling things halal and haram when The Almighty has not stated so. So why do many people feel so comfortable doing so? We must consider the grave spiritual and social effects of our words.
أَفَغَيْرَ ٱللَّهِ أَبْتَغِى حَكَمًۭا وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَنزَلَ إِلَيْكُمُ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ مُفَصَّلًۭا ۚ وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَاتَيْنَـٰهُمُ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ يَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُۥ مُنَزَّلٌۭ مِّن رَّبِّكَ بِٱلْحَقِّ ۖ فَلَا تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلْمُمْتَرِينَ ١١٤
[6:114] Shall I seek other than God as a lawmaker when it is He who has brought down to you the Book fully detailed? Those to whom We have given the scripture know that it was brought down from your Lord with truth, so do not be among the doubters.
The message in this verse is loud and clear: Allah (SWT) is the only lawmaker. The Almighty is directly telling us that to claim something is halal or haram when He has not suggested such a thing is a grave error, and for anyone to give themselves the authority to decree something lawful or unlawful in a religious sense is in fact playing Allah (SWT)!
Believing in Allah (SWT) alone as a Muslim does not simply mean that you believe in the existence of only one deity. It means you also believe in all of Allah’s (SWT) divine attributes, which He explains to us in the Quran what they consist of, and what it means. One of those attributes is that Allah (SWT) is the only possessor of sovereignty, meaning He is the one and only entity Who can decide such matters of what is or isn’t a sin. He is the only ruler of the worlds, the only judge on judgment day, and we have no ally or intercessors other than Him.
If Something Is Not Deemed Haram By Allah (SWT) Then It Is Halal by Default
Nobody has the power to abrogate Allah’s (SWT) words. We are given an example in which below the prophet Muhammad himself attempted to decree forbidden a lawful thing that was decreed by God:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّبِىُّ لِمَ تُحَرِّمُ مَآ أَحَلَّ ٱللَّهُ لَكَ ۖ تَبْتَغِى مَرْضَاتَ أَزْوَٰجِكَ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ غَفُورٌۭ رَّحِيمٌۭ
[66:1] O you prophet, why do you prohibit what God has made lawful for you, seeking to please your wives? God is Forgiver, Merciful.
Even Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was reprimanded and expected to repent for this, then how can we allow ourselves to make this mistake? We must be very careful with our words because they have a big impact on ourselves and others.
The Muslim Community is Too Quick To Label Things as Haram
Muslims are so quick to call most things forbidden which further adds to the confusion that is faced in our community. By labeling things as haram without having any knowledge or proof, Muslims cause tons of discord. This is a direct representation of the disconnect of the community from understanding the true words of the Quran.
A reason why many Muslims use the word haram so liberally is because there’s a mixup between what Islam categorizes as forbidden and what culture considers to be forbidden. We may not be sure if a certain traditional norm or ritual is considered cultural or Islam and therefore, it may be considered to be haram.
The Haram V. Halal Debate Will Never End
Muslims will not always agree on everything considered halal or haram and we must learn to respect that reality and not impose our beliefs on others. If we truly want to educate others about something we believe is correct, we must make sure it is mentioned in the Quran or authentic Hadiths. Despite differences, we must continue to respect others and their opposing views by politely disagreeing, and staying humble as that is what our religion advocates. All matters will be returned to The Almighty, and He is the best of judges.
The Quran is the perfect resource given to us by Allah (SWT) as guidance on life’s matters. Therefore, rather than seeking answers from others on what what is halal or haram, we should explore the words of the Quran. The more we study the Quran, the better we understand Allah’s (SWT) rulings, and expectations, as well as how to respond in certain situations that are not so black-and-white. Allah (SWT) knows exactly what our intentions and capabilities are, and He will judge us according to those. In other words, don’t overthink, rather, think critically. If you are unsure what to do and cannot find a solid answer, make dua for clarity and strive towards doing what is best. If tells you that something is halal or haram, make sure you verify the source, do research, and do your best to understand the message and reasoning. Remember: Islam is meant to make our lives easy and not difficult!