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Islamic Laws Simplified

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Islam is the final religion that Allah legislated and sent Prophet Muhammad (s) to explain its rulings to people. The laws of Islam are derived from the Quran, Hadith, and Sunnah. In this article on Islam4u, we will discuss the frameworks of Islamic laws.

What Constitutes Islamic Laws

Every act that one performs has a special Islamic law. In other words, there is no act that does not have a law pertaining to it. The acts one performs can have five rulings:

1. Mubah (neutral)

2. Wajib (obligatory)

3. Haram (prohibited)

4. Mustahabb (recommended)

5. Makruh (disliked)

Mubah: Neither Wajib, Haram, Mustahabb, or Makruh

Mubah acts do not entail any punishment if performed. However, if they are performed with a Godly intention, they bring reward. Mubah acts include things such as eating and drinking, sleeping, walking, and any act that is performed without a sinful intention. Sometimes, mubah acts become haram and prohibited acts. For example, eating food that is obtained through unlawful means is a sin, or casting a lustful glance at a non-mahram is a sin, to name a few. Moreover, some mubah acts may be classified as time-wasting activities that one could substitute for other productive activities. If one wastes too much time performing mubah acts such that they hinder one from doing other productive activities, it will negatively affect one’s religious life.

For example, if someone spends most of his time watching TV or using their smartphone, they will be wasting their time, which they could instead use to do other useful and recommended activities such as reading the Quran, saying dhikr, or even visiting their parents and relatives. In general, any act that is neither haram, makruh, mustahabb, or wajib is classified as mubah. Things that are mubah are many. As a general rule of thumb, it is said that everything is mubah unless it is proven otherwise.

Wajib or Obligatory Acts

Wajib acts are part of the religious duties that all Muslims must fulfill. Our Sharia has told us what acts are obligatory. Some of them are as follows:

1. Prayer

Prayer is the most important obligatory act that all other acts depend on it. It is known as the pillar of religion. Every Muslim must perform their prayers within the specific timeframe that has been determined by Allah. Anyone who fails to perform their prayer has sinned, especially if done on purpose. If one misses their prayer unintentionally, one must make up for it and ask Allah to forgive them for missing their prayer. For more information about prayer, please read the article “Salat in the Quran.”

2. Zakat

Zakat, which literally means purity or growth, is a special Islamic tax that must be paid to purify one’s wealth. If one does not pay the zakat, one’s wealth and possessions will be “impure” and the money used to buy things with which to eat will negatively affect their spirit. There are two kinds of zakat: obligatory and recommended. The recommended zakat is known as sadaqah, or the alms one gives to the poor. Obligatory zakat entails nine items. They are:

1. Wheat

2. Barley

3. Dates

4. Raisins

5. Gold

6. Silver

7. Camels

8. Cows

9. Sheep

There are special conditions concerning how these nine items require one to pay their zakat. Another obligatory zakat is the Zakat al-Fitrah, which is paid before the Eid al-Fitr prayer. For more information on the laws concerning zakat, click here.

3. Khums

Khums is another Islamic tax that paying it is obligatory. Khums, meaning one-fifth, is paying one-fifth of all that remains of one’s income after a year. First, one must determine a “khums day” for oneself. For example, one could designate one’s birthday as one’s khums day. If a year passes and one’s income has a surplus, then one must pay one-fifth of it to the religious authority charged with receiving khums. This could be the representatives of their marja‘. However, it is important to note that the sum of money is divided into two portions: the portion of sadat, or the descendants of Prophet Muhammad (s), and the portion of the Imam, which is used for promoting Islam, such as building mosques or helping religious preachers.

4. Fasting

Fasting is another obligatory religious duty that every able-bodied Muslim must fulfill. The obligatory fasting is in the month of Ramadan. Fasting means refraining from eating, drinking, and intercourse from the dawn adhan to the maghrib adhan. Fasting has numerous benefits and purposes. By fasting, we sympathize with all those who have little food to eat. Fasting is a good means of self-purification, self-restraint, and love for Allah. Those who are capable of fasting but do not fast have sinned and must make up for their missed fasts. One must fast for sixty days for every missed fast if one purposely did not fast. For more information on fasting, please read the article “Fasting in the Quran.”

5. Hajj

Hajj is another obligatory act that every Muslim who has the needed funds for it must perform. Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca, the city in which the qibla of Muslims is located. Mecca is the city in which the Quran was revealed. Muslims annually go on a pilgrimage to Mecca and perform certain rituals. Some hajj rituals are as follows:

1. Tawaf: Circumambulation of the Kaaba seven times

2. Sa‘y of Safa and Marwa: Walking and running seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwa

3. Ramy of Jamarat: Stoning the three devils

4. Staying in ‘Arafat

S. Staying in Mina and performing the special rituals: Men shave their heads and slaughter a sheep.

6. Tawaf al-Nisa

For more information about hajj, please read the article “Hajj in the Quran.”

6. Jihad

Jihad, meaning defending a Muslim country from foreign invasion, is wajib kifa’i, meaning a wajib act that must be performed sufficiently. In other words, if there are enough people who are doing jihad, it is no longer wajib for others to participate in jihad. For more information on jihad, please read the article “Jihad in the Quran.”

These were only some wajib acts legislated in the Sharia. Some other wajib acts are enjoining the good, forbidding evil, tawalli (loving Allah and His friends), and tabarri (antagonizing Allah’s enemies).

Haram or Prohibited Acts

By haram acts, we mean acts that performing them is a sin. Failing to perform the wajib acts is haram. Therefore, not performing one’s prayer, not paying zakat and khums, not fasting in the month of Ramadan, and not going on hajj even though one has the money for it are all haram. However, certain other acts are originally haram. For example, we have the haram acts of the tongue:

1. Lying

2. Backbiting

3. Spreading rumors

4. Falsely accusing others

5. Swearing

These are some but not all of the sins of the tongue. Then we have sins that one can commit through different haram activities, such as

1. Theft

2. Murder

3. Fornication and Adultery

4. Fraud

5. Usury

Many acts are haram. One can learn some of them by reading books on jurisprudence and books of practical Islamic laws (risalah ‘amaliyyah).

Mustahabb literally means something that is liked or loved. Mustahabb acts bring more rewards for their performers. Mustahabb acts are not wajib, but performing them is better than not performing them. If one does not perform the mustahabbat, one has not sinned. There are many mustahabb acts, such as the night prayer, the supererogatory prayers (nawafil), recommended fasts, certain supplications, sending salutations on the Prophet and his progeny, always being in the state of wudu, daily recitation of the Quran, giving sadaqah, and saying dhikr.  

Makruh or Disliked Acts

Makruh means something that is disliked, yet doing it is not haram and does not entail punishment. There are three kinds of makruh acts. First, there are the ordinary makruh acts that Allah does not like us to perform, such as sleeping on one’s stomach, drinking water while standing up at night, and eating cheese without walnuts. The second group of makruh acts are ones that performing them bring less reward. For example, if a person who is in the state of junub, meaning he has had intercourse or has ejaculated, recites the Quran, they have performed a makruh act. This means they will receive less reward than someone who is not in the state of junub.

The third kind of makruh act is known as the extremely disliked or makruh act. Two examples of this kind of makruh act are anal sexual intercourse with one’s wife and not giving a loan to someone who needs it. It should once again be stated that performing makruh acts is not haram and does not entail punishment. However, they are better avoided.

Then What Is Halal?

One may wonder why halal is not included among the five rulings for every act. Halal is essentially anything that is not haram. Therefore, anything that is either wajib, mustahabb, makruh, or mubah is halal. Halal means something that Allah has made permissible. Some say that halal and mubah are synonymous. However, this does not seem to be true because things that are wajib, mustahabb, and makruh are also halal and not mubah. Hence, halal encompasses everything that is not haram.

How Are These Laws Derived?

The job of an Islamic jurist or jurisprudent is to study the Quran, Sunnah, and Hadith closely and derive the rulings of religion from them. Only those who have reached the status of ijtihad (independent reasoning) can successfully and correctly derive the laws of Islam from the Quran, Sunnah, and Hadith. They must compare different verses and hadiths with one another and come to a valid conclusion. For example, one hadith may strongly dissuade one from doing something, and yet another hadith may say there is no problem with doing that same thing. The jurist may conclude that that act is neither haram nor wajib, but makruh. Later, mujtahids may advance to become marja‘s, meaning sources of emulation, where others can follow their verdicts on different religious matters.


There are five rulings concerning the acts one performs:

1. Mubah

2. Wajib

3. Haram

4. Mustahabb

5. Makruh

Mubah means an act that is neutral, in that its performance does not entail punishment or reward. Wajib means an act that performing it is obligatory, and not performing it is a sin. Haram means an act that is forbidden and performing it is a sin. Mustahabb means an act that is not wajib but recommended, thus bringing more rewards for its performer. Makruh means an act that is disliked, yet it is not a sin to perform it. These were the five rulings that pertain to the acts we perform in our daily lives. By learning them, we will become better Muslims.

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