When a command follows a prohibition, does the action become an obligation?

Islam is a complete religion that includes belief and action, or in other words knowledge and laws. The basis of laws are a set of commands and prohibitions, that can indicate one of four legal rulings – obligation, recommendation, reprehensible, forbidden. There is a fifth category – ibahah (allowed) – which is whatever falls outside of these four. This is known as the al-ahkam al-khamsa, or the five legal rulings and they cover everything we can say and do. Performing the five daily prayers is an obligation, giving gifts is a recommendation, drinking standing up is reprehensible and drinking alcohol is forbidden. Eating fruits, or chocolate is mubah, allowed, meaning there is no specific command for us to rule it to be an obligation or recommendation and there is no prohibition for us to rule it to be reprehensible or forbidden. So it falls into the category of mubah, or allowed. 

However, there are instances in the Shari’ah where you will come across a command to do an action after a prohibition from that action. In this case, the scholars of Usul al-fiqh, islamic legal theory, have a principle for all the instances where this happens in fiqh. In this short post, I will mention the principle and its impact with an example from a specific fiqh issue to show its impact. 

The question is, what is the ruling of an action when there is a command to do it after  a prohibition? Ordinarily, a command would mean obligation but in this instance none of the scholars of usul apply the principle of obligation as there is no basis for it. However, they are divided as to the ruling into two views:

Opinion 1: A command after prohibition shows ibahah, or permissibility, meaning it is just allowed for you to do or not to do, you have the choice and none is in itself rewardable. The scholars of usul who have this view argue their case saying that the the prohibition abrogated the command so when the prohibition is lifted it becomes simply allowed 

Opinion 2: When there is a command after a prohibition, you must look at the ruling prior to the prohibition and apply that ruling, meaning it merely lifts the prohibition and therefore the ruling reverts back to what it was before the prohibition. So if it was recommended prior, it returns to being recommended and if it was mubah, allowed, it returns to being allowed. 

Let’s take an example of a fiqh issue where depending on the opinion applied the outcome differs. In surah al-Jumu’ah muslims are prohibited from all types of trade and an obligation to go to the mosque once the adhan has been called. In the following ayah we find a command that once the prayer is complete to go out of the mosque and seek Allah’s bounty. 

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِذَا نُودِىَ لِلصَّلَوٰةِ مِن يَوْمِ ٱلْجُمُعَةِ فَٱسْعَوْا۟ إِلَىٰ ذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِ وَذَرُوا۟ ٱلْبَيْعَ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

O you who have believed, when [the adhān] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumuʿah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allah and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew.

فَإِذَا قُضِيَتِ ٱلصَّلَوٰةُ فَٱنتَشِرُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱبْتَغُوا۟ مِن فَضْلِ ٱللَّهِ وَٱذْكُرُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ كَثِيرًا لَّعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

And when the prayer has been concluded, disperse within the land and seek from the bounty of Allah, and remember Allah often that you may succeed.

In the above example there is  a prohibition of trade, a way of seeking provision, which is then followed by a command to go out of the mosque to seek provision. If we apply the first opinion, we would say that the person is free to stay in the mosque or leave and seek provision, or that he is allowed to leave after the prayer is complete. However, if we apply the second opinion, we could say that it is recommended, and therefore rewardable, to go back to work (seek provision) after the jumu’ah prayer is over, as seeking provision through work is recommended before the prohibition of trading was applied due to the time of jummah prayer. In this example, you can see how the different opinions result in different outcomes and rulings, one being rewardable and the other not. 

So, what is the correct opinion and why? While the majority of the scholars of Usul al-fiqh hold the first view, the second view is the one that makes more sense rationally speaking. Let’s say you told all the students who entered your classroom to sit down, a command. Then after a while you said: do not sit down, a prohibition. Following the prohibition some time later you said: sit down. Would they understand that they now have a choice to remain standing or to sit down, meaning both are equally allowed, or that they should sit down, as was the state prior to the prohibition?

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