Book 14: On the Halal and Haram

The Internal Regulator

(Reflections on Book 14: The Halal and Haram)

The focus of the ihya is the individual. In reading and studying it, it is hoped that the Muslim will inculcate the lessons of the ihya within. Not only does the treatise attempt to affect the actions of the reader, but also their psychology. It is not enough just to do; one must have the right outlook as to the purpose behind actions.

So the Ihya is not a book of laws to be wielded by the state as a means to regulate society. The state, as a legislature, has authority to constrain individuals through passing laws that define expectations, and enforcing them through punishment.  Law, as the legal theorist Hans Kelsen averred, is a series of rules whose consequence for contravention is punishment.

Accepting this definition for the moment, then the question for religions is “is it law, when there is no punishment”. The immediate answer is that God is the judge and will punish accordingly, but there is no certainty that he will. God’s mercy is above his wrath, as the Prophet said; and there are countless stories from the hadith of criminals pardoned by God; for instance, the genocidal prince that sought God’s mercy, or the prostitute that gave water to a dog. The crime was not so large that God could not forgive.

However, imposing western jurisprudential thinking onto Islamic legal thought has its flaws. Islamic law was never formulated in the corridors of power or from a body corporate; instead it evolved from within communities – Islamic law is bottom up, while western law is top down.

What this means is that individuals are primarily responsible for upholding the law. A body corporate is not required for its continuance or enforcement. Indeed, by assuming that Islamic laws are dependent on a legislature, it would disembody the law of purpose, permanence or meaning.

Fundamentally, Muslims are expected to inculcate the laws within themselves. There is a risk in following the law, the person alienates others. There can be great variation in how one actualises the law in their lives. Conservative individuals can be too judgmental, while liberal minded individuals ignore the sacredness of the law itself.

Ghazali recognises that people have levels of caution when following the law. The law can be broad for some; nevertheless, the law acts as an anchor to how people act. A conscious Muslim, regardless of how liberal they are, should be mindful of law and the objectives of it. Muslims might take out bank loans, but in the back of their minds they know interest is impermissible; they may have sexual relations, but they know that sex before marriage is prohibited.

Consequently, the law acts as an internal regulator for the Muslim. It cautions the individual, and even when a forbidden act is executed, it limits his/her from going further. Of course this is not a hard and fast rule, but in learning and studying, the Muslim is always growing in his religion, even if he/she does not live up to all its demands.



Book 14 : On the Halal and Haram

(Reflections on Imam Ghazali’s Book 14: On the Halal and Haram as explained by Sheikh Seraj Hendricks. The lecture can be found here)


The Quran states “Eat of the good (foods) and do good works” (23:51). For Imam Ghazali, such a juxtaposition demonstrates food has a strong influence on both our internal and external condition. The intrinsic relationship between what we eat and what we do forms the cultural edifice of our society .  To emphasise the relationship, the Quran uses the verb to eat (أكل) to indict those who appropriate wealth or share wealth unjustly

“And devour not their (orphan’s) wealth (by adding it) to your wealth.” (4:2)

“And do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly” (2:188)

Juxtaposing food and action is important for the world. Indeed, gastronomical issues has an impact on both nutrition, politics and economy.

When it comes to nutrition, there is a paradoxical relationship between obesity and malnutrition. According to the Global Nutrition Report 2016, 2 billion people are malnourished and 2 billion people are obese.  44% of countries are experiencing serious levels of under-nutrition and obesity.

Malnutrition and obesity has an impact on health and therefore the economy.  The Richmond Group, which represents 12 charities including Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation (BHF), is demanding a reduction in sugar and salt content of foods to stop 250,000 Britons suffering a preventable death by 2025. It is also calling for a limit on advertising from offending food and beverage companies.

Yet the impact on the economy goes far beyond health. Food security is a key global concern; in 2011, a number of countries across the world experienced riots as grain prices shot up.  The fundamental cause, according to Joachim von Braun, former head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, was high income growth suggesting high demand from the nouveau rich led to decrease in supply for poorer members in society.

Verse 23:51 encourages Man to eat of the good. It does not say eat of the permissible (halal) because the good surpasses legal categorization.  Being conscious of what we eat has an impact on our body and soul. Being conscious of where our food comes from, to whom we pay and how much, and how that impacts the allocation of wealth and resources, has an impact on our society.

To view and listen to more lectures on Imam Ghazali’s Ihya, please visit