Question: It is stated in a verse (which means): “O you Messengers! Partake of (God’s) pure and wholesome bounties, and always act righteously. I have full knowledge of all that you do” (al-Muminun 23:51). Could you explain the relation between pure sustenance and righteous acts?
Answer: The Qur’an and Sunnah place great emphasis on the issue of forbidden and lawful. Islamic scholars who know this fact well summarize Islam as knowing the lawful and forbidden (as they set the fundamental framework of leading a good, righteous life on both the personal and social levels), and then living accordingly. In a pithier form, we can say, “Religion is in good, righteous acts and dealings.” Umar ibn al-Khattab emphasized the importance of this matter as follows: “Do not take a person’s prayers and fasting as basis; you should see whether a given person speaks truth, remains faithful about something entrusted to him, and observes what is lawful and forbidden while carrying out worldly affairs.” Surely, acts of worship such as the Prayers and fasting are very valuable in the sight of God and extremely meritorious. Nobody can dismiss their worth. However, a person’s being careful about one’s food, drink, and clothes, refraining from violating rights of individuals or the public, and leading a righteous life—that is, showing utmost sensitivity concerning what is lawful and forbidden—is a must for being truly Muslim, and it can be said that fulfilling this in practice is more difficult than observing individual acts of worship. Thus, in order to be able to practice Islam thoroughly, one must always stick with the lawful, seek the lawful, stand firm against the forbidden adamantly, and not let a single morsel of unlawful food pass down one’s throat. If we consider the behaviors and attitude of great figures it will be seen that they are the spiritual guides and role models for other believers in this respect as well. They lived in such a sensitive way and presented such willpower that, God Almighty protected them from eating something forbidden, even when they were unaware of it. There are such people that when they extend their hand not knowing that something is forbidden, they notice that thing’s being forbidden (haram) from the shaking of their hand or the racing of their pulse and are taken aback. In the same way, when some of them take a forbidden morsel of food to their mouth unknowingly, they are unable to swallow it. And if they ever learn that such a thing reached their stomach, they try to regurgitate it right away. The first two caliphs are examples to this final case. This was what Abu Bakr did on learning that the food he had eaten had been bought with the money his servant had earned (in pre-Islamic days) by fortune telling, and what Umar did on learning that the milk he drank was from the camels donated as zakah. They both put their fingers in their mouth and regurgitated everything, until nothing remained in their stomach. Thus, such sensitivity against eating anything forbidden and an upright stance are very important with respect to being truly Muslim.
The greatest means of spiritual progress
The issue of observing what is lawful or forbidden is also very important in terms of being a manifestation of obeying God’s commandments and respecting Him. In addition, every kind of effort one makes for the sake of opting for the lawful and refraining from the forbidden is counted as worship offered by that person. Resisting temptations or suffering misfortunes with patience is counted as a “negative” form of worship (which is not actually performed, but endured and thus leads to sincerity of worship); the same holds true with respect to making efforts in search of the lawful. It is also possible to relate this truth with the verse (which means): “To Him ascends only the pure word (as the source of might and glory), and the good, righteous action (accompanying it) raises it.” (al-Fatir 35:10). Accordingly, it is revealed that blessed words of praise, glorification, proclamation of God’s greatness, and invoking blessings on the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, will ascend to God Almighty by means of righteous action only. That is, be it the literal form of worship as prayers, almsgiving, and fasting, or be it “negative” form of worship as taking a stance against forbidden things and making due efforts, both forms of worship are like wings for blessed words to ascend to God. For this reason, the issue should not be seen as something simple, and much sensitivity must be shown with respect to the issue of the lawful and forbidden.
Concerning food, distinguishing pure from impure and not letting the impure pollute the pure, and showing utmost sensitivity in this respect will bring a person otherworldly rewards as if he or she offered worship. If a person reviews the ingredients of a certain medicine or of a product bought from supermarket to determine whether there is anything forbidden by religion, inquires whether the meat he or she buys is in compliance with Islamic rules, and is careful about having completely lawful earnings, these will be a means of spiritual progress for that person. On the other hand, not giving the willpower its due at this issue, and acting in a heedless and lighthearted manner will paralyze the individual’s religious life, kill that person’s spiritual faculties, and be that person’s ruin. Consuming unlawful earnings is referred in the Qur’an while depicting the most corrupt state of a society: “Listening out for lies and falsehood eagerly, and consuming unlawful earnings greedily” (al-Maedah 5:42). Nourishment bought by unlawful earnings is mentioned in the verse as “suht;” it circulates in one’s bloodstream, and it is mentioned in several hadiths that even that person’s worship and prayers will not be accepted. For example, the Messenger of God pointed this out as follows: “Whoever eats a forbidden morsel, his Prayers will not be accepted for forty nights and his supplications will not be answered for forty mornings. What becomes for every (piece of) flesh developed by the forbidden (food) is Hellfire. And (it should be known that) even a single morsel develops flesh.”
The bitter end of one with forbidden food in his stomach
In another hadith recorded in, at-Tirmidhi Abu Hurayrah narrated the negative effects of the unlawful as follows: “The Messenger of God described the situation of a prolonged traveler covered in dust and raised his hands to supplicate God, saying ‘O Lord, O Lord!’ Then the Prophet said, ‘What he eats is forbidden; what he drinks is forbidden, and what he wears is forbidden. So how can his supplications be answered?’” In another hadith, it is stated that when a pilgrim who came with lawful earning calls out “(Labbayk) At Your beck and call O Lord, You have called and we have come,” a caller from Heavens will respond as, “Welcome, how glad you are. Your food is lawful; your mount is lawful, and your pilgrimage is accepted; it is not polluted by sin.” Whereas, a pilgrim who came with unlawful earnings will be responded by a caller from Heavens as, “No beck and no call, you are not welcome. Your food is forbidden; your earnings are forbidden, and your pilgrimage is not accepted.” How can the pilgrimage and supplication of such a person immersed in forbidden things be accepted? How dare can he say, “My Lord! I came here in obedience to You. I am at your beck and call. I am hoping for Your mercy and forgiveness. I expect Your favor and graces!” Even if he does, will not his words be slammed on his face like shabby clothes? For this reason, living within the lawful sphere and eating lawful food are of great importance in terms of letting acts of worship ascend to God. The verse mentioned in the question points to the same fact. That is, a person’s consumption of lawful sustenance has a significant effect on the acceptance of his or her worship for God.
There is another thing that needs to be pointed out here. In many verses of the Qur’an, God Almighty commands eating lawful food. This depends on a struggle to seek the lawful from the very beginning. Actually, as every forbidden thing is an invitation to other forbidden things, every lawful thing similarly is an invitation to other lawful things; everything demands things of its own kind, so that they go together well, have the same character, and keep company. As this is true for people as well; our behaviors, works, and actions similarly run after what resembles them. In the same vein, it is pointed out in a verse, “Corrupt women are for corrupt men, and corrupt men for corrupt women…” (an-Nur 24:26).
It is also possible to describe this as follows: purity, goodness and wholesome things are invitations to other good things. Likewise dirty, foul, and wicked things always invite dirty things. Therefore, when one pursues the lawful and shows due effort, it will form a “virtuous circle” leading to further good, righteous deeds over time (as opposed to a vicious circle), and that person will live accordingly. For this reason, the distinction of lawful and forbidden must be abundantly clear from the beginning.
Forbidden things becoming common cannot be an excuse
Unfortunately, lawful and forbidden are intermingled in our time, and people have lost sensitivity in this respect. However, it should be stressed that a person’s neglect of this issue will bring no benefit at all. As Bediüzzaman stated at the end of the Fourteenth Word, “Do not say ‘I am like everyone else.’ Everyone befriends you only as far as the grave. The consolation of a common misfortune cannot help you on the other side.” Others’ eating from the forbidden, looking at the forbidden, engaging in forbidden, and empty talk may look like a consolation while in this world, but they have no use beyond the grave. Having a common misfortune with some others does not alleviate one’s misfortune in the next world. What befalls on a believer then is to determine where every morsel he or she eats come from, where it will go, and what troubles it might cause that person to face. It should not be forgotten that being heedless on this issue and leading a carefree life will cause serious troubles in the next world. On the Day of Judgment, people will be called to account even for (something as little as) one seventh of a grain of barley. Although we aphoristically say “one seventh of a grain of barley,” the Qur’an refers to the same truth with a zarrah (smallest piece of matter): “…whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it; and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it” (az-Zilzal 99:7–8). Accordingly, as one who does an act of goodness as little as an atom’s weight will see what it corresponds to, and one who commits this amount of evil will also see for sure what corresponds to it. Individuals will be called to account for everything: the words that came out of one’s mouth, the food and drink that went into the stomach, words a person listened to, sights he or she looked at… If a person does not watch one’s step carefully in this world, the reckoning in the Hereafter will be painstaking and—may God protect us—a grim one. Thus, those who have lost their sensitivity in this respect must reconsider what they eat, drink, earn, and spend, and face themselves anew.
Let me make a final point: there is no reason to become pessimistic by looking solely at certain people’s lighthearted attitude. If particularly, those who seem on the fore show scrupulous attention to leading a vigilant life, their state will pervade their surroundings, and this consciousness and sensitivity will be embraced by the society in time, given that we as believers can rid ourselves from superficial practice of Islam and become intent upon distinguishing the lawful and forbidden, or the beautiful and ugly in everything, by considering seriously and pondering deeply.
 Al-Bayhaqi, As-Sunan al-Kubra, VI, 288; Shuab, IV, 230, 326
 As-Suyuti, Jami al-Ahadith, 20/55; Ali al-Muttaqi, Kanz al-Ummal, 4/15
 Sahih Muslim, Zakah 65; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 3
 At-Tabarani, Al-Mujam al-Awsat, 5:251
This article has originally been published in Turkish on 23/09/2013.