Haram (حَرَام , ḥarām) is an Arabic term meaning forbidden. This may refer to: either something sacred to which access is forbidden to the people who are not in a state of purity or who are not initiated into the sacred knowledge; or to an evil thus “sinful action that is forbidden to be done”. The term also denotes something “set aside”, thus being the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew concept קודש qadoš, and the concept of sacer (cf. sacred) in Roman law and religion. In Islamic jurisprudence, haram is used to refer to any act that is forbidden by Allah, and is one of five Islamic commandments (الأحكام الخمسة (al-ahkam al-khamsah)) that define the morality of human action.
Acts that are haram are typically prohibited in the religious texts of the Quran and the Sunnah category of haram is the highest status of prohibition. If something is considered haram, it remains prohibited no matter how good the intention is or how honorable the purpose is. A haram is converted into a gravitational force on the day of judgment and placed on mizan (weighing scales). Views of different madhabs can vary significantly regarding what is or is not haram.
Actions that are haram result in harm, and are therefore considered a sin if carried out by a Muslim.
They ask ye about wine and gambling. Say, “In them is great sin and (yet, some) benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit…”— [Quran 2:219]
By bringing up the word “benefit” as an opposite to “sin” the verse 2:219 of Quran clarifies that haram is that which is harmful. In fact, everything becomes meaningful with their opposite; e.g. if there is no cold we never understand what heat is. So sin is that which hurts us. When God says “Do not”, He means “do not hurt yourself”. An Islamic principle related to haram is that if something is prohibited, then anything that leads to it is also considered haram. A similar principle is that the sin of haram is not limited to the person who engages in the prohibited activity, but the sin also extends to others who support the person in the activity, whether it be material or moral support.
The five categories of الأحكام الخمسة (al-ahkam al-khamsah) or the hierarchy of acts from permitted to non-permitted are:
- واجب / فرض (farḍ/wājib) – “Compulsory”/”duty”
- مستحب (mustaḥabb) – Recommended, “desirable”
- مباح (mubāḥ) – Neutral, “permissible”
- مكروه (makrūh) – Disliked
- حرام (ḥarām) – Sinful, “prohibited”
The two types of haram are:
- الحرام لذاته (al-ḥarām li-ḏātihi) – Prohibited because of its essence and harm it causes to an individual
- Adultery, murder, theft
- الحرام لغيره (al-ḥarām li-ġayrihi) – Prohibited because of external reasons that are not fundamentally harmful but are associated to something that is prohibited
- Ill-gotten wealth obtained through sin. Examples include money earned through cheating, stealing, corruption, murder and Interest or any means that involves harm to another human being. Also, a deal or sale during Friday’s prayers salat al-jumu’ah. It is prohibited in Islam for a Muslim to profit from such haram actions. Any believer who benefits from or lives off wealth obtained through haram is a sinner.
- Prayer in a house taken illegally.
The religious term haram, based on the Quran, is applied to:
- Actions, such as cursing, fornication, murder and disrespecting your parents.
- Policies, such as riba (usury, interest).
- Certain food and drink, such as pork and alcohol.
- Some ḥalāl objects, foods or actions that are normally halal but under some conditions become haram. For example, halal food and drinks at noon-time during Ramadan, or a cow or another halal animal that is not slaughtered in the Islamic way and in the name of Allah (God).
- Certain inaction, such as abandoning the salah.
Linguistically, the root of the term haram [compare Ancient Hebrew herem, meaning ‘devoted to God’, ‘forbidden for profane use’] is used to form a wide range of other terms that have legal implications, such as hariim (a harem) and ihraam (a state of purity). In addition, the same word (haram) is used in the Quran to denote the sacred nature of the Ka’ba and the areas of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. This category of sacred, holy, and inviolable also includes spouses and university campuses. As such, the legal use of the root ح-ر-م is based on an idea of boundaries between the profane and the sacred, as opposed to prohibitions, as is normally assumed.
Colloquially, the word haram takes on different meanings and operates more closely as a dichotomy with halal, which denotes the permissible. In Arabic-speaking countries, saying “haram” can mean ‘what a shame’ or ‘what a pity’ (this meaning has been adopted by Modern Hebrew slang as well, and is alike to the Italian use of peccato). The term can be used formally as a method for chastising strangers who behave inappropriately, or between friends as a form of teasing. The word is also used to instruct children in how to behave by telling them that harming other children or animals is haram, among other things.
The binary concepts of halal and haram are used in a number of cultural phrases, most notably ibn (boy) al-halal and bint (girl) al-halal. These phrases are often used to refer to appropriate spouses in marriage, and stand in contrast to ibn al-haram or bint al-haram, which are used as insults. In this case, the term haram is used to mean ill-mannered or indecent, instead of strictly meaning ‘unlawful’. Halal and haram are also used in regards to money (mal). Mal al-haram means ill-gotten money, and brings destruction on those who make their living through such means.
These cultural interpretations of what is haram influence and are influenced by the legal definitions used at the local level. This means that popular conceptions of haram are partly based on formal Islamic Jurisprudence and partly on regional culture, and the popular conceptions in turn change how the legal system defines and punishes haram actions.
Forbidden categories of action
Food and intoxicants
In Islam, prohibitions on illegal acts or objects are observed by Muslims in accordance to their obedience to the Quranic commands. In Islamic law, dietary prohibitions are said to help with the understanding of divine will.
Regarding haram meat, Muslims are prohibited from consuming flowing blood. Meats that are considered haram, such as pork, dog, cat, monkey, or any other haram animals, can only be considered lawful in emergencies when a person is facing starvation and his life has to be saved through the consumption of this meat. However, necessity does not exist if the society possesses excess food. Haram foods do not become permissible when a person is in a society with excess food because the Islamic community is like a single body supporting its members, and should offer halal foods to the fellow Muslim. Certain meats are deemed haram if the animal is not properly slaughtered. A halal slaughter involves a sharp knife that the animal does not see before it is slaughtered; the animal must be well rested and fed before the slaughtering, and the slaughtering may not take place in front of other animals. This preparation is done in order to serve the Muslim population. The proper slaughtering process involves a single cut across the throat, quick and as painless for the animal as possible. During the slaughtering process, Allah’s name should be recited, by saying “Bismillah” in order to take the animal’s life to meet the lawful need of food. Animals that are slaughtered in a name other than Allah are prohibited because this goes against the belief in the oneness of Allah.
There are a number of Quranic verses regarding the prohibition of meat in Islam:
He hath forbidden you only carrion, and blood, and swineflesh, and that which has been immolated to (the name of) any other than God. But he who is driven by necessity, neither craving nor transgressing, it is no sin for him. Lo! God is Forgiving, Merciful.— [Quran 2:173]
How should ye not eat of that over which the name of God hath been mentioned, when He hath explained unto you that which is forbidden unto you unless ye are compelled thereto. But lo! many are led astray by their own lusts through ignorance. Lo! thy Lord, He is Best Aware of the transgressors.— [Quran 6:119]
Alcoholic intoxicants are prohibited in Islam. Khamr is the Arabic word for alcoholic drinks that cause intoxication. The Prophet declared that the prohibition was not only placed on wine, but the prohibition also included beer and other alcoholic beverages that intoxicate a person. The Prophet also forbade the trading of these intoxicants, even with non-Muslims. It is not permissible for a Muslim to import or export alcoholic beverages, or to work in or own a place that sells these intoxicants. Giving intoxicants as a gift is also considered haram.
Other intoxicants, such as tobacco, paan, dokha, and khat have been deemed forbidden by some scholars.
Regarding foods vanilla extract and gelatin are also forbidden either due to being an intoxicant themselves, containing certain percentages of alcohol or other forbidden items such as pig parts.
There are also a number of hadith regarding the prohibition of meat and intoxicants in Islam:
In an incident narrated by Rafi ibn Khadij, Muhammad told Muslims who wanted to slaughter some animals using reeds,
Use whatever causes blood to flow, and eat the animals if the Name of Allah has been mentioned on slaughtering them …— Bukhari
Allah’s Messenger forbade the eating of the meat of beasts having fangs.— Narrated by Bukhari, Narrated Abu Thaʻlabah
The Prophet said: “Allah has forbidden alcoholic drinks. Whoever this verse reaches while they still possess any of it, they are not to drink nor to sell.”— Narrated by Abu Saʻid, Muslim
Marriage and family life
Islam is very strict in prohibiting zina, whether it be adultery or sexual intercourse between two unmarried individuals. Zina is considered to lead to confusion of lineage, leniency in morals, the disconnection among families, and unstable relationships. It is also considered haram to look at members of the opposite sex with desire.
There are Quranic verses on the prohibition of fornication:
And come not near unto adultery. Lo! it is an abomination and an evil way.— [Quran 17:32]
Those who invoke not, with God, any other god, nor slay such life as God has made sacred except for just cause, nor commit fornication – and any that does this (not only) meets punishment.— [Quran 25:68]
In terms of marriage proposals, it is considered haram for a Muslim man to propose to a divorced or widowed woman during her Iddah (the waiting period during which she is not allowed to marry again). The man is able to express his desire for marriage, but cannot execute an actual proposal. It is also forbidden for a Muslim man to propose to a woman who is engaged to another man.
It is considered haram for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. This is due to the idea that the man is the head of the household, the one who supports the family, and the man is considered responsible for his wife. Muslims do not believe in giving women to the hands of those who do not practice Islam and having them responsible over Muslim women because they are not concerned with protecting the rites of the religion.
According to Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, implementing a divorce during a woman’s menstrual period is prohibited because during such a period, sexual relations are considered haram, so it is possible that the idea of divorce came to a man’s mind due to sexual frustration or nervous tension. It is also not considered permissible for a Muslim to take an oath of divorce, which involves stating that if a particular event does not occur, then there will be a divorce. This also involves threatening a spouse if they do not do something, then they will be divorced. According to the shariah, the most suitable time for a divorce is when the woman is clean following her menstrual period.
Riba, any excessive addition over and above the principal, such as usury and interest, is prohibited in Islam in all forms. Interest goes against the Islamic pillar of Zakat which allows wealth to flow from the rich to the poor. Riba is prohibited because it keeps wealth in the hands of the wealthy and keeps it away from the poor. It is also believed that riba makes a man selfish and greedy. In relation to this, cashback reward programs are also prohibited.
All business and trade practices that do not result in free and fair exchange of goods and services are considered haram, such as bribery, stealing, and gambling. Therefore, all forms of deceit and dishonesty in business are prohibited in Islam.
There are a number of Quranic verses that relate to the prohibition of unethical business practices:
O ye who believe! Devour not usury, doubling and quadrupling (the sum lent). Observe your duty to Allah, that ye may be successful.— [Quran 3:130]
Allah hath blighted usury and made almsgiving fruitful. Allah loveth not the impious and guilty— [Quran 2:276]
It is considered haram for a father to deprive his children of an inheritance. It is also haram for a father to deprive the females or the children of a wife who is not favorable to him an inheritance. Additionally, it is haram for one relative to deprive another relative of his inheritance through tricks.
Clothing and adornment
In Islam, both gold adornments and silk cloths are prohibited for men to wear, but are permissible for women as long as they are not used to sexually attract men (other than their husbands). The prohibition of these adornments is part of a broader Islamic principle of avoiding luxurious lifestyles.
It is considered haram for women to wear clothing that fails to cover the body properly and clothes that are transparent. Additionally, Islam prohibits excess beautifying that involves the altering of one’s physical appearance. Physical alterations that are considered haram are tattoos and shortening of teeth.
Islam also prohibits the use of gold and silver utensils and pure silk spreads in the household in order to avoid luxurious lifestyles in the home. Statues are also prohibited in homes, and Muslims are prohibited from participating in making statues because of the idea of negating the Oneness of Allah.
It is considered a sin for a Muslim to worship anyone other than Allah, which is known as shirk.
The following is a Quranic verse on shirk:
Say: I am forbidden to worship those on whom ye call instead of God. Say: I will not follow your desires, for then should I go astray and I should not be of the rightly guided.— [Quran 6:56]
The following is a Hadith relating to the practice of shirk:
It is reported on the authority of Ibn Masʻūd that Muhammad said: “Whoever died while supplicating another deity besides Allah, will enter the Fire.”— Narrated by Bukhari
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia