The right of the roads

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله وعلى آله وصحبه

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Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri رضي الله عنه narrated that the Messenger of Allaah صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

إياكم والجلوس في الطرقات . قالوا : يا رسول الله ! ما لنا بد من مجالسنا . نتحدث فيها . قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : فإذا أبيتم إلا المجلس ، فأعطوا الطريق حقه . قالوا : وما حقه ؟ قال : غض البصر ، وكف الأذى ، ورد السلام ، والأمر بالمعروف ، والنهي عن المنكر

“Beware of sitting in the road-paths *. They said: ‘O Messenger of Allaah, we gather and talk (by the roads).’ The Messenger of Allaah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: ‘If you refuse because of your gatherings, then give the road its (due) right.’ They asked: ‘And what is its right?’ He صلى الله عليه وسلم said: ‘”(That you) lower your gaze, and refrain from harming, and return (people’s) salaam, and to promote the ma’roof (virtue and goodness) and prevent the munkar (vice and evil).”

[Saheeh Muslim, 2121 / 2163 – see also al-Bukhari, 6229]

* طرقات  denotes any public access or passage of way, like roads and streets etc.

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Here we have a beautiful hadeeth that guides Muslims to wholesome goodness. It promotes wisdom, justice and social harmony while being outdoors, if only we ponder upon his صلى الله عليه وسلم words…

Imam Nawawi said in his sharh that: “This hadeeth has many benefits, and is from the comprehensive of hadeeth, with rulings that provide purity. It speaks of avoiding (entering and) sitting by the roads, to avoid back-biting and holding bad thoughts (about people), to holding passers-by in contempt; and narrowing the roads (to cause hardship for others) and forbidding (i.e. stopping) passers-by from passing through; or frightening them. Stopping people from their work or business when they have no other route to their destination except through this route.”

1. The Messenger of Allaah صلى الله عليه وسلم warned his Companions رضي الله عنهما from sitting by the roads because these are places that contain potential hazards of injury to one’s body and soul – (similar to the marketplaces). The Companions replied that this was something difficult to do (due to their circumstances) as they would usually gather there. From his صلى الله عليه وسلم mercy and foresight, he provided them with a set of clear guidelines that would compensate for such gathering places – advice that would safeguard their emaan as well as both, their bodies and souls…

i. Injury to the body because of close proximity to moving traffic on the roads as well as close encounters with members of the public – both of which are ingredients for accidents and/or violence. The command to refrain from harming is found in a profound hadeeth (known from the jawami’ al-kalim) that establishes a base-rule in fiqh – the the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

لا ضرر ولا ضرار

“There is no harm and no reproaching harm.” – In this context, it would include avoiding injury to oneself and others, damaging property, talking too loudly or cursing or annoying others and general trouble-making. It also includes refraining from violent behaviour and preventing violence from others where possible. It also includes removing harm or difficulty from others, if within one’s ability to do so. Thus carelessness or recklessness in any matter goes against the the objective of this great principle and can prove detrimental. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم also said about the importance of protecting the rights and honour of Muslims:

المسلم من سلم المسلمون من لسانه ويده

“The Muslim (is one) from whose tongue and hands, other Muslims are safe.” [Saheeh al-Bukhari, 6484]

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ii. Injury to the soul because these are places of fitnah that involve women and potential lewdness, hence the command to lowering the gaze. This is also from the obligated etiquettes for Muslims. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said about the ease by which eyes fall into looking at the haram:

كل عين زانية

“All eyes are (susceptible to being) adulterous” [At-Tirmidhi, 2786 who graded it as hasan saheeh]

And he صلى الله عليه وسلم also aid:

فالعينان زناهما النظر

“… the zina of the eye is looking (at the unlawful) …” [Saheeh Muslim, 2657]

It is the double, prolonged (pleasure-seeking) look at a person of the opposite gender that is described as “the zina of the eye”; and it is such looking (at forbidden things) that gives renewed impetus to Shaytan and his handiwork. This is from the reasons why the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم told ‘Ali bin Abi Talib رضي الله عنه : “O ‘Ali, do not follow a glance with another, for you will be forgiven for the first, but not for the second.” [At-Tirmidhi, 2701 – graded as saheeh in ‘Saheeh al-Jaami’, 7953 (see also At-Tirmidhi, 2700 regarding accidental glances) and corresponding commentary works]

Abdullah ibn Mas’ood رضي الله عنه is reported to have narrated that the Messenger of Allaah صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

النظرة سهم مسموم من سهام إبليس

“Gazing (an unlawful) look are poisoned arrows of Shaytan…” [Tabarani and Al-Hakim and others]

Although the sanad for this narration is declared da’eef by the majority of the muhaditheen, the meaning is correct and corroborated from other narrations. Ibn al-Qayyim commented on this narration in his ‘Ad-Da’ wad-Dawa’ and ‘Jawab al-Kaafi’ and said this (gazing) means: “sharing (continuous) moments of looking; and that in lowering the gaze there are many benefits, (among which) he included:

– Showing obedience to the Command of Allaah, who becomes Pleased with His servant in this world and the next.
– Preventing poisonous effect of the arrow that may be detrimental to his heart.
– Strengthening the heart and rejoicing, while gazing weakens the heart and cause grief.
– Blocking Shaytan’s entrance to the heart…
– Having a heart that is stable and provides strength of courage.
– Inheriting a genuine insight that can distinguish between right and wrong…
– It opens the door to knowledge and emaan, intuition and ikhlas.
– Gaining a heart (full) of light, as Allaah Said: “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze” [An-Noor, 30] and then He Said after that (in An-Noor, 35): “Allaah is the Light of the heavens and the earth”

Such light enters the heart of His believing slave, who complies with His Orders and avoids what He has Prohibited. This heart turns to good things from every side, and if the scourge of evil turns into dark clouds from everywhere, they are repelled as it wants nothing from innovations and misguidance. This light is revealed to a heart that implements goodness and does not want to remain blinded and wandering in the darkness (of sin).

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2. In the midst of conversations and the bustle of the streets, it is quite easy to become inattentive, ignore or miss the salams of a fellow-Muslim. It is from the rights of the roads, that salaam is returned to anyone who extend it, whether they are on foot or in vehicle, whether they are known to us or not. A man asked the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم: ‘Whose Islam is the best?’ The Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم replied:

تطعم الطعام ، وتقرأ السلام على من عرفت ومن لم تعرف

“(Those) who feed (people) food, and greet with salaam, those whom they know and those whom they don’t know.” [Saheeh al-Bukhari, 12]

The questioner asked a profound question, and its response touched on characteristics of a Muslim that are from the most praiseworthy. Imam Nawawi mentioned that the greeting of salaam is a sign of ikhlas and a symbol of this ummah; and thus it needs to be maintained to reflect the good nature of Muslims. Ibn Hajar said: “Do not single out anybody out of arrogance or to impress them, but do it to honour the symbols of Islam and to foster Islamic brotherhood.” [Fath al-Baari, 1/56]

Al Sanoosi said: “What is meant by salaam is the greeting between people, which sows seeds of love and friendship in their hearts… There may be some weakness in the heart of one of them, which is dispelled when he is greeted, or there may be some hostility, which is turned to friendship by the greeting.” [Ikmaal al-Mu’allim, 1/244]

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3. Promoting ma’roof and preventing munkar is an all-encompassing command (e.g. see Aal-Imraan, 110 and At-Tawbah, 71). It is a base-principle of the Deen and on a general-level, all Muslims are obliged to adhere to it at all times and places to the best of their ability. This is even more the case within environments that have a greater share of fitnah and munkaraat. It is not that a believer will never commit a mistake or be involved in evil, except that he will never insist on it, justify it or promote it; and he will never be a force opposing ma’roof. It is also intricately linked to the matter of emaan as is mentioned in the famous hadeeth: “Whoever among you sees an evil…” – see here

4. It is from the Wisdom and Justice of Allaah سبحانه و تعالى that He has ordained the rights and limits of His Creation. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم taught us these rights in order to safeguard ourselves as well as our surroundings – to safeguard our emaan and maintain the physical and spiritual peace and harmony within ourselves and the environs around us.

5. From a similar context, ‘Ali bin Abd Al-Azeez ar-Rajhi حفظه الله تعالى enumerated the following points of benefit from the hadeeth, which has been abridged below:

i. Islam aims to advance the Muslim community to higher standards of ethics and morals. And to distance them from bad or shameful acts within a loving and intimate society, linking elements of brotherhood and affection… Rectifying social phenomenon that is upsetting communities…

ii. (This hadeeth shows an integration) of the Deen in its legislation, ethics and etiquette, and the care of the rights of others. When it comes to all affairs of life, there is little or no legislation in any religion or creed that provides the kind of comprehensive solutions brought by Islam.

iii. The original (ruling) about roads and courtyards is that they are not places to sit because of the resulting harm that can occur, including:

– Seeing the (special) condition of people (i.e. in which they would not want to be seen).
– Loss of time and gaining little benefit from sitting in such places.

iv. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم provided some of the rights on the road; among (their implication) is:

– Lowering the gaze when women pass by; and turning away from all muharamaat must be adhered to in all situations and circumstances.

– Refraining from harming pedestrians from all kinds of harm, such as using insulting words and abusing and gossiping, ridiculing and derision, as well as showing aggression in front of homes of others… all of which is a source of harm for the family.

– Scholars are unanimously agreed that it is a duty to respond to salaam, as Allaah Said: “Whosoever intercedes for a good cause will have the reward thereof, and whosoever intercedes for an evil cause will have a share in its burden” [An-Nisa’, 85] – and it is known that the salaam is a prayer for safety and mercy and blessings and the initiator of salaam gets more reward.

– The promotion of virtue and prevention of vice is the fourth right mentioned in the hadeeth and it is especially noteworthy because of the high risk of existence of evil in the streets. The combined texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah point to this great principle, as Allaah Said: “Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining Al-Ma’ruf and forbidding Al-Munkar…” [Aal-Imran, 104]

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Guidance and strength is from Allaah alone.

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