Answered by Shaykh Shuaib Ally
Question: Assalam alaykum,
1. Is the following narration a prophetic hadith? If so, can you please indicate its status/grading?
“ma ra’ahu al-muslimun hasan fa-huwa ‘inda allahi hasan.”
2. Can the narration above be relevant to sacred law (e.g. as a legal principle/maxim)? If so, how could it be applied to a particular contemporary “political” issue, e.g. ISIS “enslaving” Yazidi girls or “marital rape”?
Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,
Is the Narration Prophetic?
The narration appears to be more accurately a statement attributed to Ibn Mas’ud – God be pleased with him: “Whatever believers [variant: ‘Muslims’] deem good, is good with God.”
It does not appear to have been reliably recorded as a prophetic tradition. Imam Abu al-Hasanat al-Laknawi discusses at length this being a statement of Ibn Mas’ud’s – God be pleased with him – rather than prophetic in his commentary on the Muwatta of Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani.
Similar Narrations Reliable Attributed to the Prophet
Even though this specific statement appears to be more accurately attributed to Ibn Mas’ud, it is nevertheless similar in import to other prophetic narrations that indicate that iniquity is what gnaws at you, and what you would not want others to see because they would find it repugnant (Muslim), as well as a narration in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) commands a companion to resort to his conscience, as one’s heart is contented with goodness, while iniquity eats at a person’s being, irrespective of the legal opinions of others (Ahmad).
What do these Narrations Mean?
These narrations and others that carry a similar meaning, as explained by Ibn Rajab in his Jami’ al-‘Ulum wa’l Hikam, indicate that a person should resort to their conscience or heart when they are unsure as to what to do in a given situation.
If their conscience tells them that a certain conduct is proper, and they find their inner state amenable to it, that is probably the proper and permissible thing to do.
Likewise, in such a scenario, the inner state’s militating against such a course of conduct is a good indication that it is improper and impermissible.
Two Different Levels of Recognizing that something is Improper
When the Prophet – peace be upon him – says: “Iniquity is what gnaws at you, and you dislike that others should be privy to it” (Muslim), he is indicating that iniquity is something that affects ones inner state in that it makes one feel uncomfortable, constrained, disturbed, and confused.
In this case, the individual himself is not happy with it, and others would also consider it distasteful, and is therefore a higher level of ascertaining the good or evil in a given situation.
It is in light of this, Ibn Rajab says, that one should understand Ibn Mas’ud’s statement: Whatever believers consider good, that is good with God; what they consider ugly, that is ugly with God.
The Prophet’s statement: “even if jurists legalize it” (Ahmad) means that whatever doesn’t sit well with a person should be considered improper, even if others tell you that it isn’t so.
This is a different level of determining what is evil. Here, the conduct is repugnant to an individual, but not to others, yet the Prophet – peace be upon him – still rendered it sinful.
Can this be used as a Legal Maxim?
When there is no Qur’anic or Prophetic text, or relied upon scholarly opinion, a believer who finds himself in a specific situation not knowing what course of action to take should use make use of specific means for determining good conduct.
This includes tools such as one’s conscience, or considering whether one would want others to know that he is involved in such action.
If one course of action does not sit well with a person for whatever reason, he should use that as sufficient cause for not engaging in it. Likewise what others tend to find good is a relatively good measure for ascertaining the good, and that what you do not what them to see is a good indication that such behaviour is blameworthy.
Like most ethical principles, this is meant in a general sense to provide a reasonable guideline for ethical behavior in the absence of clear divine or prophetic guidance, or when recourse to such is prohibitive. It is not meant as a principle for deriving law while ignoring available legal strictures. Nor does it mean that what some Muslims do or deem good somehow necessitates divine approval.
What to do in the Presence of Legal Strictures
Whenever there is a legal text related to a specific course of conduct, it is obligatory to follow God and his Messenger: “It is not up to a believing man or woman, when God and his Messenger have decreed upon a matter, to have any choice in their affairs [Qur’an; 33.36].
A person is obligated to accept this and be contented with it: “By your Lord! They do not believe until they give you legal judgement over their disputes, and then do not find any reservation within themselves with respect to what you have ruled, and they submit to it fully” [Qur’an; 4.65].
A person’s internal disapproval of their decree is therefore not a useful guide for differentiating between the legal and illicit.
The Prophet himself – peace be upon him – would sometimes command his companions to do things that did not sit well with some of them, such that they wouldn’t do it and he would then become angry. Examples include him ordering them to change their Hajj intention to one of ‘Umrah; to sacrifice the animals they had brought; to exit from their state of ihram at Hudaybiyah; their discontent with his reaching an agreement with the Quraysh that they would return that year, and that whoever leaves from their side would be returned to them.
Moreover, one’s opinion is not sufficient in the face of grounded legal scholarship. Ibn Rajab gives examples of concessions in the law that many people might not find acceptable, such as breaking the fast during travel or illness, or shortening the prayer and so on, even though their legal basis is strong. In such cases, no regard is given to whether or not people find this acceptable.
In short, in cases of where there is legal texts or reliable legal opinions present, the feelings of an individuals or others do not constitute a sufficient guide for good conduct.
God knows best.
Source: Jami’ al-‘Ulum wa’l Hikam