(Adapted From the famous book Nayl al Awtar)
قال أَبَو هُرَيْرَة: سَأَلَ رَجُلٌ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا نَرْكَبُ الْبَحْرَ وَنَحْمِلُ مَعَنَا الْقَلِيلَ مِنْ الْمَاءِ فَإِنْ تَوَضَّأْنَا بِهِ عَطِشْنَا أَفَنَتَوَضَّأُ بِمَاءِ الْبَحْرِ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ هُوَ الطَّهُورُ مَاؤُهُ الْحِلُّ مَيْتَتُهُ.
Abu Huraira narrated that a man asked the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), “O Messenger of God, when we are out in the ocean we carry little water with us. Hence, if we made wudu (ablution) with it, we would become thirsty. So can we make wudu from the ocean?” The Prophet responded, “Its water purifies, and its dead are permissible to eat.” (Authentic Hadith)
Whenever we examine the statements of the Prophet ﷺ, we should always remember one thing: that he was extremely eloquent and concise. Though his words are few, they contain an abundance of knowledge and wisdom. It is important that we learn to take our time contemplating his words, so we can derive as much wisdom from them as possible.
A Brief Explanation:
A man asked about a particular situation that he and other Muslims had found themselves in. Was it permissible to make wudu from the salty ocean water, while carrying a small amount of water on board? The Prophet ﷺ clearly answered the question and more than the man asked. Let’s take a look at how he answered the question.
First, he could have simply said, “Yes”, and the man would have gotten his answer and moved on. However, the Prophet ﷺ decided to make a universal statement concerning the purity of saltwater and added details pertaining to the consumption of seafood. Had the Prophet ﷺ only said, “Yes”, then it could have been understood that making wudu from saltwater is allowed only under certain circumstances, like when lacking other clean water or if out at sea. This would have left some ambiguity about the absolute purity of saltwater. Rather, he stated a principle that the water of the ocean was absolutely pure, which means it can be used in making wudu, ghusl (ritual washing), and cleaning one’s self after the restroom. Thus, it became crystal clear that saltwater is always considered pure, regardless of the circumstances.
Secondly, he added that whatever died in the ocean was permissible to eat. So why did he add this information when it was not requested? The Prophet ﷺ realized that if people are out at sea, and are in need of water, then they would also be in need of food. Hence, he realized that it was in the man’s benefit to know that all seafood is permissible to eat, and didn’t need to be slaughtered to be considered permissible. This shows the Prophet’s ﷺ insight and practicality in imparting knowledge, which although not requested, was valuable to know.
A Few Lessons from this Hadith:
- Imam Shafi’i said, “This hadith contains half the knowledge of purification. This shows the hadith has a ton of insight and value, and is not just a simple answer to a simple question.
- The Sahabi (companion of the Prophet ﷺ) who asked the question was very clear as to what he wanted to know and why. Hence, it is important that when we ask questions, we make our questions clear and provide any necessary background information that puts the question in context. This helps in giving an appropriate answer based on any special circumstances, or establishing general rulings despite the specifics of the question.
- The permissibility of answering with more than what is requested. In fact, Imam Bukhari has an entire chapter on it in his collection of hadith. “The Chapter of The Questioner Being Answered with more than He Asked.”
- If the one answering is asked about something particular, yet he knows the questioner has a need to know about something else related to the question, then it is recommended and from the sunnah (tradition of the Prophet ﷺ) to give the additional information.
- The man asked about the purity of saltwater and was given information on the permissibly of its food. This is because this knowledge is an essential need for those out at sea. The scholar should always be concerned with what type of knowledge benefits and has practical value.