Prophetic Traditions on the Etiquettes of Knowing When to Ask and When to be Silent

Hadith No. 2

Anas b. Malik says we were discouraged from asking the Prophet (saws) questions1, and hence it pleased us that an intelligent man from the countryside should come and ask questions so we could also hear the answer.2 It so happened that a man3 came from the interior and said: “Muhammad.4 Your envoy came to us and said that you claim that Allah (swt) has commissioned you.”

The Prophet answered: “He spoke the truth.”5

The man asked: “(If so) then who created the heavens?”

He replied: “Allah.”

The man asked: “And who created the earth?”

He replied: “Allah.”

The man asked: “And who fixed these mountains on the earth and placed in them what He placed?”

He answered: “Allah.”

The man asked: “Then by Him who created the heavens, the earth, and fixed these mountains, has Allah commissioned you?” The Prophet said: “Yes.”6

The man asked: “And your envoy also claimed that upon us are five Prayers during the day and night!”

He answered: “He spoke the truth.”

The man asked: “By Him who has commissioned you, did Allah (swt) order you that?”

The Prophet said: “Yes.”

The man asked: “And your envoy also claimed that due from us is charity on our wealth.”

The Prophet said: “He spoke the truth.”

The man said: “By Him who commissioned you, did Allah (swt) order you that?”

He answered: “Yes.”

The man asked: “And your envoy claimed that upon us is fasting during the month of Ramadan every year.”

He said: “He spoke the truth.”

The man said: “By Him who commissioned you, did Allah (swt) order you that?”

The Prophet said: “Yes.”

The man asked: “And you envoy claimed that upon us is pilgrimage to the House if we can afford the passage.”

He replied: “Yes.”

Upon this, the man turned away saying: “By Him who has sent you with truth, I shall neither add anything to these nor omit anything from them.”7

At this the Prophet remarked: “If he has spoken the truth, he shall enter Paradise.”8 (Muslim)


1. The prohibition to ask the Prophet (saws) questions came both in the Qur’an as well in the Hadith. Said the Qur’an: “O you who believe! Question not concerning things, which, if they were revealed to you, would vex you. But if you ask about them while the Qur’an is being revealed, they will be revealed to you.” (5: 110). And the Prophet said in a tradition recorded by Muslim: “Let me alone so long as I leave you alone. Those before you were destroyed because of excessive questioning and their disputations with their Prophets. When I order you to do a thing, go ahead and do it; and when I forbid a thing, avoid it.”

In other words, the Companions were discouraged from seeking such details of the law, the answers to which could render it harder for them to live by them. And since they could not say for sure which questions were essential and which not, they adopted the safer line and avoided asking questions altogether. Says Bara’ b. `Azib: “A whole year passed and I could not ask the Prophet a question that I wanted to.”

According to another hadith in Muslim, the Companions were so afraid of asking questions that Allah (swt) sent Jibreel to raise those famous question that are part of the Hadith Jibreel.

Nonetheless, it must be understood that that was applicable to the situation when the Shari`ah was being revealed. With the completion of the revelation and of the religion of Islam, the situation has changed. Now it is quite permissible, and, in fact, recommended, that Muslims seek minor details of the law from those who understand it. If they do that they would be seeking finer details of a Law which is already revealed, and practicing which will help them achieve perfection and beautify their deeds. The same applies to matters pertaining to rituals, etiquette, or anything else. Knowledge of minor details improves the religion of a person.

In contrast, it is not possible for the Muslims now, for instance, to treat something lawful, e.g. insurance, or certain types of mortgages, or some dubious contract conditions, without enquiring whether such of them are lawful or not, on pretext that the Shari`ah had disapproved of asking questions, and a clear ruling is unavailable.

What would be reprehensible even now, is for a man to disregard obligations and prohibitions, concentrate on certain modes of worship (`ibadat), and seek most minute details about them in order to improve those acts of worship. If he neglected obligations, or indulged in the prohibited, then his finely tuned acts of worship might not profit him. In certain conditions, even the acts of worship might face likelihood of rejection. (Au.)

2. They waited for a Bedouin to come and ask because they were less likely to know of the commissions and prohibitions.

3. Other reports, one in Bukhari, tell us that the man was Dimam b. Tha`labah. (Nawawi)

4. Either the man did not know of the prohibition to address the Prophet in this irreverential manner, or maybe this incident took place before the prohibition came. (Nawawi)

5. This part proves the correctness of the opinion of the `ulamaa who say that the common people’s faith is complete, and they are true believers (mu’minoon) without them having sought, or adding, proofs to their faiths. Their mere belief to the effect, for instance, that the Prophet (saws) was commissioned by Allah (swt), is enough (for salvation), since the Prophet did not ask Dimam b. Tha`labah that he ought to base his faith in him on proofs and arguments, or should have checked on his miracles, instead of accepting the statements of his envoy as true. (Nawawi)

6. The manner of questioning speaks of the intelligence of the questioner. (First he confirmed that the envoy of the Prophet was truly his envoy. And then: Au.) by asking who had created the heavens, the earth, and placed the mountains, he confirmed that both he as well as the Prophet were referring to the same Lord God. It was after this that he asked whether it was that same God who had commissioned him (Nawawi), because there were so many gods in people’s minds those days, as they have been having throughout history, right until our age: Au.]

7. It is possible that he said that at a time when he did not have the knowledge of the supererogatories (nawafil). He did not mean to exclude them when he said: “I shall not add upon these.” (Nawawi in explaining another hadith).

8. As for the doubt about other obligations of the Shari`ah, which the Prophet (saws) did not include when he said, “If he has spoken the truth, he shall enter Paradise,” did the Prophet mean that he would be successful even if he neglected them and restricted himself to these four obligations alone? The answer is no.

Another report preserved by Bukhari has the additional words that the Prophet spoke to him of the Shari`ah at large, in substance. There are other ahadith in which the Prophet did not even mention all the pillars of Islam. This was either because he spoke according to the situation, or, possibly, the narrators did not narrate in full. (Nawawi explaining another hadith).


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