The importance of pure sustenance – the meaning of tayyib

O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy. [Al Baqarah: 168]

Abu Hurairah, radiyallahu ‘anhu, reported that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said:

“Verily Allah the Exalted is pure. He does not accept but that which is pure. Allah commands the believers with what He commanded the Messengers. Allah the Almighty has said: “O you Messengers! Eat of the good things and act righteously” [23:51-53]. And Allah the Almighty also said: “O you who believe! Eat of the good things that We have provided you with” [2:167-172].

Then he (the Prophet) mentioned (the case of) the man who, having journeyed far, is dishevelled and dusty and who stretches out his hands to the sky (saying): “O Lord! O Lord!” (while) his food was unlawful, his drink was unlawful, his clothing was unlawful, and he is nourished with unlawful things, so how can he be answered?”
[Sahih Muslim]

The word “at-tayyib” appears many times in the Qur’an and Sunnah. It can be used to describe people, good deeds, actions, things or speech among others. Its literal meaning is “something good” or “pure”.

Verily Allah the Exalted is pure (tayyib) …”

This phrase emphasises the attributes of ultimate perfection and completeness of Allah. He (SWT) is free from any kind of shortcomings, defects, weaknesses or flaws.

“…He does not accept but that which is pure…”
This hadith refers to all good deeds that a person can do. Allah does not accept any deeds that are spoilt or done for showing off to others, those that contain an element of ostentation or show. Therefore, the deed must not have any aspect that may ruin it. Any deed that involves wealth must come from legal sources and should not have any element of haram in them in any shape or form.

Halal actions refer to acts which are lawful in Islam. Tayyib additionally refers to that which is pure, clean, wholesome, good, excellent and fair. As an example a stolen sheep which you can slaughter in a halal manner is not tayyib as it has been sought through a means which is corrupt, such as stealing, cheating or dishonesty. Even our current coronavirus pandemic is thought to have started with the wrong, unclean food items – from swine and bird flu to bat flu.

Tayyib is often considered in the context of food to indicate pure, wholesome consumption of healthy, organic food and drink, rather than processed, junk food. The popular saying is “you are what you eat” and this has been reflected in cultures throughout time. Aztecs would eat the brain of their rivals as they believed it gave them wisdom and health. Nordic Vikings thought drinking the blood of a bear or a lion would give them strength and courage. In some indian communities, they don’t eat onions or food with bad odour because they believe it leads to aggressive behaviours. The concept is that your behaviours and psyche is affected by your food choices.

However, tayyib as mentioned in this hadith extends much further. The example given is a person on a journey who calls upon Allah(SWT) with one of the best names which all the Anbiyaa used – Rabb, with the good etiquette of raising his hands and only calling to Allah(SWT) in desperation. These are usually all signs of acceptance. But his food and drink are unlawful. Also mentioned, are clothing and nourishment with unlawful things. This leads us to reflect on our consumer culture.

The new slavery is consumerism

Consumer culture refers to the popular desire to constantly be on the lookout for the next best thing, when more often what we have is still in good condition, fully functional and wholly adequate.

Fashion, trends and marketing initiatives lure the mind into believing that we need more than we have and better than what we currently own. The ramifications of this are a materially conscious society judging each other by what one does and doesn’t own.

Compared with our parents, today we own twice as many cars per person, eat out twice as often and enjoy endless other commodities that weren’t around only 20 years ago: big-screen TVs with countless streamed or satellite channels, microwave ovens, Galaxies of phones, captivating multi-player games to name a few. But are we any happier?

We are also the most engrossed consumers of digital media spiked further by Covid-19 with doomscrolling or doomsurfing entering our vocabulary to refer to the endless consumption of bad news via social media.

Its important to note that material things are neither bad nor good, however, it is the role and status they are accorded in one’s life that can be problematic. The key is to find a balance: to appreciate what you have, but not at the expense of the things that really matter – your purpose, wellbeing, family and community.

This is why there is such a heavy emphasis on giving in islam with charitable spending leading to fair distribution of wealth. Also the new wave of minimalism encourages you to identify stuff you just don’t use or don’t need but that has the potential to better the life of somebody less fortunate.

You are what you earn

This hadith makes it very clear that one of the most damaging aspects for a person’s deed is when he relies or lives off of money that is not pure or legal, making it haram in the process. The sources of money you use to eat, live and provide for your family members has to be from permissible means.

The money with which a person buys food must be lawful, coming from lawful sources – not from fraud, drugs, interest, bribery, gambling, cheating employers or deceiving others.

It is reported by Jabir (R.A) that our Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said: “The flesh and body that is raised on unlawful sustenance shall not enter Paradise. Hell is more deserving to the flesh that grows on one’s body out of unlawful sustenance.” (Ahmad)

A story of pure intention, consumption and their due rewards

One of our pious predecessors, Thabit ibn Nu’man, was hungry and tired as he was passing through a garden that bordered a river. He was so hungry that he could hear his stomach growling, and so his eyes became fixed on the fruits he saw on the various trees of the garden. In a fit of desperation, he forgot himself and extended his hand to an apple that was within reach. He ate half of it and then drank water from the river. But then he became overcome with guilt, despite the fact that he had only eaten because of dire need.

He said to himself, “Woe unto me! How can I eat someone else’s fruits without his permission? I make it binding upon myself not to leave this place until I find the owner of this garden and ask him to forgive me for having eaten one of his apples.”

After a brief search, he found the owner’s house. He knocked on the door and the owner of the garden came out and asked him what he wanted.

Thabit  said, “I entered your garden that borders the river, and I took this apple and ate half of it. Then I remembered it does not belong to me, and so I ask you now to excuse me for having eaten it and to forgive me for my mistake.”

The man said, “I will forgive you for your mistake but on one condition.”

Thabit asked, “And what is that condition?”

He said, “That you marry my daughter.”

Although he was unprepared for this, Thabit complied, “I will marry her.”

The man said, “But heed you this; indeed my daughter is blind, she does not see; mute, she does not speak; deaf, she does not hear.”

Thabit was shocked and asked for some time to ponder over his situation; a difficult predicament indeed did he find himself in now; what should he do? He realised that to be tested by such a woman, to take care of her, and to serve her, are all better than to eat from the foul matter of the Hellfire as a reward for the apple that he ate. And after all, the days of this world are limited.

And so he returned and accepted the condition to marry the girl, seeking his reward from Allaah, Lord of all that exists. He was nonetheless somewhat anxious in the days prior to the marriage.

He thought, “How can I communicate or have a fulfilling relationship with a woman who neither speaks nor sees nor hears?”

So miserable did he become that he almost wished for the earth to swallow him up before the appointed date.

Yet despite such apprehensions, he placed his complete trust upon Allaah and he said, “There is neither might nor power except with Allaah. Indeed to Allaah do we belong and indeed to Him shall we al return.”

On the day of the marriage he saw her for the first time. She stood up before him and said, “Peace, mercy and blessings of Allaah be upon you.”

When he saw her grace and beauty, he was reminded of what he would see when he would imagine the fair maidens of paradise (i.e., the gorgeous hoor al-ayn). After a brief pause he said, “What is this? She indeed speaks, hears and sees.” He then told her what her father said earlier.

She said, “My father has spoken the truth. He said I was mute because I do not speak any forbidden word, and I have never spoken to any man who is not lawful to me (i.e., she has never spoken to any ghair mahrams)! And I am indeed deaf in the sense that I have never sat in a gathering in which there is backbiting, slander, or false and vain speech! And I am indeed blind, in the sense that I have never looked upon a man who is not permissible for me!”

The fruit of this marriage was the birth of a child who grew up to be known as Abu Hanifah ibn Thabit. None other than the famous Imaam Abu Hanifah, the founder of the Hanafi school of Islamic legal knowledge (fiqh) which has been globally accepted until today.

Reflect upon how much Thabit and his wife feared and respected Allaah, and the amazing blessings this open up for them.Look also at how this woman kept herself chaste, pious, in her hijaab, so much so, she was considered mute (not speaking to any man), deaf (avoiding places of backbiting) and blind (not seeing any man). Allaahu Akbar, isn’t it these qualities that pious men love to see in their wives?

May Allah(SWT) bless us all with tayyib (pure) sustenance and protect us as the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “A time will come when one will not care how one gains one’s money, legally or illegally.” [Sahih al-Bukhari 2059]

Whenever you perform a deed, make sure to have sincere intentions and do it for the sake of Allah and not for showing off. Make sure your food, drink, clothes, wealth and income are from halal sources only. Purify your actions and ask Allah to accept them.

The Prophet (SAW) is reported to make dua as follows ‘O Allaah indeed I ask You for beneficial knowledge, and a good Halal provision, and actions which are accepted.’

اللهم إني أسألك علماً نافعاً، ورزقاً طيباً، وعملاً متقبلاً

‘Allaahumma innee assaluka ilman nafia, wa rizzqan tayyeebun, wa amalan mutaqabilan,.’

[Collected by Tayalisee, Tabraani & regarded Hasan by Hafidh Ibn Hajr]

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