“…and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty”


516888907_9c2dccbefc_bThere are many proofs for the fact that the shari`a (Islamic law) is based on ease and facilitation and is against rigidity and unnecessary constriction. Any good book on Usūl al-Fiqh will usually provide all such proofs. One of the key proofs used is the Qur’ānic verse mentioned above, in which Allāh subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says that He has not placed any difficulty in this religion. Yet if we look at the normative practices endorsed by the shari`a, we find aspects that seem difficult. For example, praying Fajr when one has been reviewing all night for an exam, or when one is ill, can seem difficult. Wearing hijab (modest clothing) may also seem difficult, perhaps even suffocating at times.

Thus, a brief look at what is being said in the two primary sources, namely the Qur’ān and Hadīth (record of the sayings and actions of the Prophet ) does not seem to correlate with what one actually experiences. However, the believer knows that the primary sources are divine, and hence cannot be providing false or inaccurate information. How then do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? The answer lies in an analysis of our actions and the demands placed upon us by Allāh (swt).

Actions are generally divided into two main categories:

1) The Impossible

There is a general consensus amongst ahl al-sunna wa al-jamā’a that a person is not obliged by Allāh (swt) to do something that is impossible. Though there are apparent differences between some of the scholars of usūl, this seems to be mostly theoretical, if not very much a difference in semantics.

2) The Possible

As stated, it is confirmed that Allāh (swt) does not oblige humans with something not within their capability. This then leaves the domain of all those actions which are possible. Yet all the possible actions are not of the same level―they are differentiated1 based upon how difficult they are.

(i) The Abnormally difficult (المشقة غير المعتاد)

There are actions a person isn’t able to do except without undergoing undue difficulty. These actions are annexed with the impossible, and Allāh (swt) does not oblige human beings with such actions, solely out of His Mercy. There are many textual and rational proofs for this.2 It is this type of difficulty which is referred to in all verses and ahādith that mention the negation of “all difficulty” within the religion. Thus this highlights how a lay reading of legal texts or legal aspects of texts can result in confusing conclusions. So actions such as waking up in the morning to pray fajr (the prayer before sunrise), or avoiding clear-cut agreed-upon prohibitions, are not considered to be from this category, and hence are not negated by all such verses and ahādith, since the fact that they are demanded

(1) in a clear-cut manner, whether requiring the omission or commission of an action,
(2) without it being restricted upon time and place,

assumes that it is  within the capability of the average person. Instead they are considered to be from the next category.

(ii) The Regular Actions with some Added Difficulty (المشقة الزائدة عن المعتاد)

It is true that Allāh (swt) demands from us that which results in some difficulty; however, such difficulty is not given any legal weight. For example, finding a good means of living is difficult. The ability to perform such actions is not deterred by the difficulty that accompanies them, and upright people normally consider a person who refuses to perform such actions as lazy. Thus there is fear of continuously highlighting the fact that Allāh (swt) “has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty,” as it can lead to misunderstanding such statements and encouraging Muslims to be people of weak resolve. Indeed the very nature of responsibility is that it is difficult, hence as people mature, their responsibilities increase and life seems to become more difficult, yet all this is still within the norm.

Differentiating between the Regular and the Abnormal

What then distinguishes the regular action from an action demanding an unusual amount of difficulty? According to Imām al-Shātibi (r), if the continuous performance of an action leads to an unusual amount of difficulty or harm, such that the person is severely de-motivated from performing it, or it harms the health of the one who performs it or his wealth, then this is an indication that such an action is from “The Abnormal Actions.”   If it does not lead to such a result, then even though one may endure some difficulty in performing such actions, nonetheless it is within one’s capability.

Our Attitude Towards Difficulty and Ease

So now that we have established that not all difficulty is removed in the shari`a, how do we understand this difficulty? It is important to understand that the entire shari`a is for the benefit of the creation. Some have said that it is also to avert harm, but in reality, the aversion of harm is securing a benefit. Thus, if our Lord (swt) has legislated for us something we find difficult, it is not for the sake of difficulty, but for the benefits, worldly or other-worldly, that will accrue from that action. However as the world has been created upon some basic ‘laws of nature’, acquiring such benefits results in some difficulty as a by-product. Nevertheless, the gain surpasses by far the difficulty.  This means that the intention of the Most Merciful (swt) is not to cause us hardship, but to secure benefit for us. Therefore our attitude should reflect this, and we should not go seeking difficulty deliberately.

Intending Difficult Actions, not Difficulty Itself

One should not go searching for difficulty in order to increase one’s reward, even though difficulty endured in the process of fulfilling a good deed increases the reward. For example, jihād (struggle in the way of Allah) is better than nafl (optional) prayers, as jihād involves more difficulty; however, it would be incorrect to explicitly intend to undertake jihād just to endure difficulty, since the Creator legislated jihād for accruing  benefits, not for the sake of placing hardship upon us, and any intention that contradicts the intention of the Almighty is null and void. For example, the Hadīth of the Prophet (saw): “A Muslim is not afflicted by hardship, sickness, sadness, worry, harm, or depression—even if pricked by a thorn—but Allah expiates his sins because of that.”3

Even though this is so, it does not imply that we actively seek to be pricked by a thorn. As Imām al-Shātibi eloquently said:

“It is not for the legally mature person (mukallaf) that he should seek difficulty per se in order to increase the reward of the action, but he should intend the action that is more rewarding on account of it being difficult.”4 It is on this basis that the Prophet (saw) ordered a person who vowed to fast standing under the sun5 to find shade and sit, but also complete his fast. Imām Mālik commented on this, saying the Prophet (saw) prohibited him from what was disobedience (ma’siya) and ordered him to complete what was obedience (ta’a). What this also means is that though difficulty is not to be sought, it is one of the criterion for making an action weightier.

A Good Indication of When to Seek a Legal License (Rukhsa)

The above should be a means of knowing when one should consult a mufti (a scholar qualified to issue legal rulings) regarding an action which one is finding difficult. If something is generally obligatory, yet one is experiencing nearly unbearable difficulty, so much so as to be discouraged from fulfilling the obligation, then perhaps the situation has entered the realm of “the Abnormal” and hence a good competent mufti should be consulted.

Conclusion

This world is a place of labour and of work, and striving and difficulty seem to be a vital part of it. To deny this completely is to display ignorance of the subtleties of the magnificent shari`a, and to over-emphasize this aspect and insist on it is to miss the whole point. We are, after all, “a balanced nation”6 and our behaviour and attitude should reflect this.


  1. I have used the categorisations of Imām al-Shātibi: al-Muwāfaqāt fī Usūl al-shari`a
  2. Refer to al-Muwāfaqāt fī Usūl al-shari`a, Volume 2
  3. Bukhāri and Muslim
  4. Al-Muwāfaqāt fī Usūl al-shari`a, Volume 2
  5. Muslim
  6. Qur’an, 2:143
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7 Comments

  1. mike says:

    But what to do; if you believe but are a chronic lazy procrastinator; who misses prayers etc…
    find everything difficult b/c you are lazy..

    ???

  2. JYB says:

    MashAllah, this was very useful! Thank you :)

  3. adil says:

    Posts like this that elucidate general principles of practice are very important to me. Jazakallahukhairan. I hope these types of posts will continue.

  4. Akeel Umar says:

    1- Whilst Imam al-Shatibi seems to categorise “some actions” due to “perfomer’s” state as Abnormal,
    as oppose to the merits of the action itself, this seemingly allocated priority to the performer and his
    views/ability/condition/committment with regards to performing the action is dangerous and invitational
    to open the floodgate for such a claim and thus requesting leniencies, where as the performer should have stuck
    to the task no matter what (to perfom the act) and the difficulty faced would have been paid off in the hereafter.
    For example peformance of Jihad is difficult for both health and wealth therefore to recognise the difficult as these
    grounds for example then inites one to requesting leniency/ fatwa to excuse from jihad.

    Secondaly, individual muftis according to the level of teaching, type of teacher and madrassa as well as individual
    experience will come up with recommendation for their own reasons, now as we know it is difficult
    to diffrentiate between Mufti’s it is therefore (in my view) better to have avoided any mufti
    from “thinking as they like” rather only base on clear-cut provisions and leniencies as stated
    by Prophet via ahadith. There should be no allowance made other than those made by prophet
    , there is wisdom in his leniencies. We dont allow people to make changes in ibadaah.. to avoid
    innovation , the similar protection level shuld have been applied to other matters as well.

    2- No matter what category we give there is a difficulty..yes?
    The write up does talk about the difficulty and the leniency for difficult acts but doesent
    mention why there is a desparity in the deen.. as in is there difficulty or there isnt difficulty
    so if there is difficulty then the verse is not right or there is no difficulty in reality
    though we may linguisticly and incorrectly call things difficut but in reality there is no such thing
    as difficult it is our own view that renders acts difficult.

  5. Akeel Umar says:

    the term by Allah that “there is no hardship in islam” is assurance and an invitational implying that there is no hardship in “deen”.. so once you are in deen what one classes as “hardship” is no longer hardship…
    e.g.
    a true muslim will call reading fajer “very easy” and in fact enjoyable
    but a bad muslim or a non-muslim will call getting up early morning “difficult”
    similarly
    a true muslim will call drinking “very hard and difficult”
    but a bad muslim or a non-muslim will call it “easy”
    so in effect what hard or easy is just a matter of the way we look at it. when Allah says no hardship in “deen” then it implies and assure that “in deen” i.e. once in there is no hardship for what we call hardship.

  6. Haq says:

    Dear Brother Umar, BarakAllahu Feek,

    From you’re example about Jihad being difficult on ones health and wealth, and this serving as a basis for seeking a fatwa, you seem to have misunderstood what was said. It is not the mere difficulty that serves as a criterion on when to seek a fatwa, but the level of such difficulty, so were not talking about the difficulty for example it would cause for a soldier to carry over 7kg’s on his back as part of his training, but the difficulty a blind person may face in engaging in jihad. So it is not difficulty per se, but indeed the extent of such difficulty,

    What you state about seeking recourse to a mufti is confusing. Are you suggesting that the mufti is going to gave baseless verdicts just to seek ease? The principle reason why we seek the verdict of a scholar is because we are trying to stay within the dictates of the shariah, so for you to suggest that the mufti is somehow standing in opposition to the Hadith (and textual sources) seems to suggest a lack of understanding of the process of deriving Ahkam and Taysir. We have the ahadith, but how is this body of text interacted with for it to be viable for all places and times?

    Regarding your whole analysis about difficulty, brother I suggest you read al Muwafaqaat, or at least Usul al-Fiqh al-Islami by Sh Wahbah Zuhaly, you will find that scholars understood that the very nature of “taklif” is difficulty, for the very word Taklif itself has within its meaning difficulty. A brief look at history will inform us how there were many difficult times, indeed in the time of the Prophet himself. The fact that their Iman was so high did not negate the fact that some actions by the nature are difficult.

    I admit, this is a very subtle topic, hence the great scholar Sufyan al-Thawri said, “Making things burdensome and difficult on people is the realm of the masses. Facilitation and ease is the realm of the Faqih”, as it requires deep Fiqh, something which is becoming a very rare commodity in our times.

    Wassalam

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