3. Prohibiting the Halal and Permitting the Haram Is Similar to Committing Shirk
While Islam reprimands all those who, on their own authority, declare what is lawful and what is prohibited, it is more strict with respect to those who voice prohibitions; for the tendency to set up prohibitions results in hardship for human beings, unjustifiably narrowing what Allah has made spacious for His creatures. Moreover, this tendency is prevalent among some of those who go to extremes in matters of religion and must be checked. The Prophet (peace be on him) fought against this pseudo-pietism and zealotry by every means, warning those who indulged in it with the words, "The zealots will perish," repeated three times. (Reported by Muslim, Ahmad, and Abu Daoud.)
The Prophet (peace be on him) characterized his Message by saying, "I have been sent with what is straight and easy". (Reported by Ahmad)
The straightness of his Message consists of belief in tawheed (the unity of Allah) and its ease in practice and legislation, in contrast to shirk (Ascribing partners, or associating others, with Allah. (Trans.)) and to the prohibiting of good things of this life. The Prophet (peace be on him) has mentioned all this in a hadith qudsi (A hadith in which the Prophet (peace be on him) refers a saying to Allah, the Prophet himself being merely the narrator. Unlike the Qur'an, one cannot say of a hadith quasi that "Allah said it." In the case of a hadith quasi, the meaning is from Allah but the words are the Prophet's, transmitted to him either through a vision or revelation. (Trans.)), reporting the saying of Allah Ta'ala: They prohibited to people what I had made lawful for I created people upright (hunafah). Then the evil ones came to them and led them astray from their religion them and commanded them to associate with Me that for which I had not sent down any authority. (Reported by Muslim.)
Prohibiting something which is halal is similar to committing shirk, and this is why the Qur'an censures the idolaters of Arabia for their polytheism, their idols, and for prohibiting to themselves, without any authority from Allah, the eating and the use of certain kinds of produce and cattle. Among these prohibited animals were those which were called bahirah, saibah, wasilah, and ham during the pre-Islamic period of jahiliyyah. (The state of mind and conditions of life prior to the advent of Islam, characterized by deviation from the guidance of Allah and the adoption of ungodly systems and ways of life. (Trans.)) Bahirah (the slit-eared) denoted a female camel which had given birth to five calves, the last of which was a male. The ear of such a camel was slit and she was loosed to roam freely; she was not to be ridden, milked, or slaughtered, and was free to eat and drink from any place she liked without hindrance. Saibah referred to a male or female camel which was released to roam freely because of a vow, usually made following a safe return from a journey, the cure of an illness, or for some other reason. As for wasilah, if the firstborn of a female goat were a male, the polytheists would sacrifice him to their gods, while if it were a female they would keep her for themselves. In the case of twin offspring, one female and the other male, they would say, "He is her brother," and instead of sacrificing the male they would release him to roam free; he was known as wasilah. And if a male camel's second generation offspring was capable of carrying a rider, they would let the older camel go free, saying, "He saved his back," and calling him al-ham.
While there are other interpretations of these four terms, they are all of a similar nature. The Qur'an rejected these prohibitions and left no excuse for those who practiced them to follow the errors of their forefathers: Allah did not institute bahirah or saibah or wasilah or ham; but those who disbelieve forge a lie against Allah, and most of them do not use their reason. When it is said to them, 'Come to what Allah has revealed and to the Messenger,' they say, 'What we found our fathers doing is enough for us.' What! And even though their fathers did not know anything and were not rightly guided? (5:103-104)
In Surah al-An'am, there is a detailed discussion of what such people claimed to be haram of camels, oxen, sheep, and goats. In this context the Qur'an uses an ironic style of rhetorical questioning to convince them of their error: Eight pairs (of cattle), two of sheep and two of goats. Say: Has He forbidden the two males or the two females or that which the wombs of the two hold? Inform me with knowledge if you are truthful. And two (pairs) of camels and two of oxen. Say: Has He forbidden the two males or the two females? (6:143-144)
In another discussion contained in Surah al-A'raf, Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala rejects the claims of all prohibitors, laying down the final criteria governing prohibitions: Say: Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has brought forth for His servants, and the good things of His providing?...Say: What my Lord has indeed prohibited are shameful deeds, whether open or secret, and sin and rebellion without just cause, and that you associate with Allah that for which He has sent down no authority, and that you say concerning Allah that about which you do not know. (7:32-33)
A significant aspect of these discussions is that they were revealed in Makkah. The Makkan revelations invariably dealt with matters of faith, the oneness of Allah Ta'ala, and the Hereafter. We may therefore deduce that, in the sight of Allah, this matter of declaring things to be prohibited without any authority from Him was not a minor matter but one which pertained to the fundamentals and general principles of the faith.
In Madinah certain Muslims showed a tendency toward asceticism, denying themselves some permissible pleasures. Then, in order to keep them within the limits set by Himself and bring them back to the straight path of Islam, Allah revealed the following strongly-worded verses: You who believe! Do not make haram the good things which Allah has made halal for you, and do not transgress; indeed, Allah does not like the transgressors. And eat of what Allah has provided for you, lawful and good, and fear Allah, in Whom you are believers. (5:87-88)