The Priority of Performing the Obligatory to the Recommended
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
(Friday Speech was delivered by Imam Mohamed Baianonie at the Islamic Center of Raleigh, NC on November 14, 1997)
In Islam, the divine commands do not have the same level of priority; some of them are more important than others. Some of them are commanded by Allah, the legislator, emphatically; this is what categorizes the fard (obligatory). And some others are commanded by Allah less emphatically; this is what categorizes the nafel (recommended). All the scholars agree that leaving the fard results in punishment, whereas leaving the nafel is not a sin nor does it result in a punishment, but leaving the nafel leads to loss of rewards.
Also, the divine prohibitions do not have the same priority; some of them are more important than others. Some of them are prohibited by Allah, the legislator, emphatically; this is what categorizes the Haram (prohibited). And some others are prohibited by Allah less emphatically; this is what categorizes the makrouh (disliked). All scholars agree that failing in the prohibitions result in punishment, whereas doing the makrouh is not a sin and does not result in a punishment, but this makrouh or the disliked action deserves scolding.
So, the obligatory is opposite to the prohibited and the recommended is the opposite to the disliked that means leaving the obligatory is prohibited and leaving the recommended is disliked.
The scholars have come up with this conclusion based on abundant evidence among which are:
In a Qudsi hadith reported by Imam Bukhari: "Allah (S.W.T.) said,".......the servant does not do anything more loved to Me than what I have made fard (obligatory) on him, and my servant keeps getting closer to me with the nawafel (recommended) until I love him, and if I loved him, I would be his hearing with which he hears, and his vision with which he sees, and his hand with which he strikes, and his leg with which he walks, and if he asks me, I will certainly give him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will protect him." This hadith is clear that there is fard (obligatory) and there is nawafel (recommended). And this hadith is also clear that doing
the obligatory is more important than doing the nawafel. This hadith is also clear that performing nawafel leads to the person to be loved by Allah and that this love leads to the protection of the servant and his senses, and to accept his supplications.
The scholars have been also enlightened by the hadith that is reported by Imam Bukhari and Muslim that a man from the Najd region came and questioned the prophet (S.A.W.) about Islam. The prophet responded: "five prayers every day and night." The Bedouin asked, "Am I obliged to perform any other prayer?" The prophet (S.A.W.) replied, "No, except if you want to volunteer." Then, the prophet (S.A.W.) continued, "and fasting the month of Ramadan" The Bedouin asked, "am I obliged to fast any more?" The prophet (S.A.W.) replied: "No, except if you want to volunteer", the prophet (S.A.W.) continued: "and paying zakah" The Bedouin then questioned, "Am I obliged to pay any other zakah?", the prophet (S.A.W.) replied: "No, except if you want to volunteer" The man walked away and said, "By Allah, I will do no more nor less." The prophet (S.A.W.) said: "The Bedouin has succeeded if he is truthful."
This hadith is clear that the acts of Islam are mandatory obligations and recommended sunnah. This hadith is also clear that whosoever keeps doing the obligations without any defect and without doing any more of them, he will be among the successful in entering Paradise on the day of Judgment. This is clear also from a hadith that is reported by Imam Bukhari and Muslim, that a Bedouin came to the prophet (S.A.W.) and said, "O messenger of Allah, tell me a deed that if I did, I would enter Paradise. The prophet (S.A.W.) said: "worship Allah with no partners, and establish the obligatory prayers, and pay the obligatory zakah, and fast Ramadan." The Bedouin said, "By whom my soul is in his hand, I will do no more nor less of this. Then when the Bedouin left, the prophet (S.A.W.) said, "whosoever is pleased to look at a man from the people of Paradise, let him look at this man."
The scholars have also mentioned that the obligatory deeds and the Islamic duties are not at the same level of importance even though all of them are mandatory. So they said: The pillars of Islam (The prayer, the zakah, the fasting and the hajj) come before other obligatory deeds, even the pillars of Islam themselves have different degrees of importance; salah comes first, which is the most important main pillar of Islam and whosoever establishes it, he establishes the deen, and whosoever leaves it, he destroys
the deen. There are many ahadith that consider the difference between Islam and kufr is leaving salah, and that is why Imam Ahmad Bin-Hanbal ruled that a person is a disbeliever if he leaves the salah thinking that it is insignificant and he did not convict him with kufr if he leaves anything else.
After salah comes zakah. It was mentioned along with salah together in the Qur’an twenty-eight times. The first Khalifah Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, ruled that those people who refused to pay zakah are leaving Islam, and he fought them because of that, and he used to say: "By Allah, I will certainly fight who separates zakah from salah, by Allah if they prevented me the leash of a camel that they used to give to the prophet (S.A.W.), I would fight them for it." Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, based his decision on a hadith reported by Imam Bukhari and Muslim that the prophet (S.A.W.) said, "I have been ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger, and they establish the prayer, and pay zakah. If they do that, they will have gained protection from me for their lives and their property, and their reckoning will be with Allah (S.W.T.)."
Many Muslims, today, do not give these issues any importance, so they live their lives in contradictions. Some of them go out of their way to perform the Eid prayer even though many scholars consider it sunnah. At the Same time, the same people do not perform the Friday prayer which is an obligation according to all scholars of Islam, and that if the Friday prayer is left three consecutive times without any legitimate excuse or reason for it. The heart will be sealed with darkness and then, no preach nor advice will be useful for them. Some of them even go out of their way to perform the Eid prayer and do not give much importance to the five prayers, which are the most important pillar of Islam. Some of them do not even fast Ramadan, and when Eid comes, they are very keen about attending the Eid prayer. Some Muslims, today, fast Ramadan but do not pray the five prayers..... and many more contradictions that confirm that these acts of worship have become part of the traditions and customs, but not from submission to Allah (S.W.T.), so it is a must that this reality is corrected and that we prioritize what Allah and his messenger have prioritized and put off what Allah and his messenger have put off.