Boundaries of Allah
Definitions and Usage
“Boundaries of Allah (ḥudūd Allah) are matters of which Allah Almighty has clearly designated limits of permissibility and prohibition and has commanded that these limits not be breached in the least, lest one transgresses to something He has either not sanctioned or has forbidden outright... Ḥadd also denotes legal punishment meted out to those who commit a forbidden act” (Azharī, Tahdhīb, sub ḥ-d-d).
Lexically ḥadd, from the root ḥ-d-d (pl. ḥudūd), carries two primary meanings: (i) al-manʿa, to prevent or impede and (ii) separation between two things (al-ḥājiz bayn al-shayʾayn) which prevents their intermixing (Azharī, Tahdhīb; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Rāghib, Mufradāt). In sacred Law, a legal punishment is called ḥadd as it prevents sinner from committing the sin again (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs).
The phrase appears twelve times (Q 2:187, 229x4, 230x2; 4:13; 9:112; 58:4; 65:1x2) as ḥudūd Allāh, once (Q 4:14) as His boundaries (ḥudūdahu), and once (Q 9:97) as the noun ḥadūda. Except for two instances (Q 9:97, 112), all Qurʾānic occurrences of “Boundaries of Allah” are preceded by legal rulings (aḥkām): four times (Q 2:229x4) in reference to division of inheritance; four times (Q 2:230x2; 65:1x2) with regard to matters of divorce; once (Q 58:4) in reference to those who want to retract their ẓihār—a self-declaration forbidding one’s wife to oneself, declaring, be as my mother’s back (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī) (see Family and Household; Gender Relations; Inheritance and Patrimony; Kindred; Marriage and Divorce). The first of the two exceptions (Q 9:97) is in reference to Bedouins, who are more likely not to know the boundaries of what Allah has revealed; and the second (Q 9:112) in the phrase those who protect the Boundaries of Allah, in the verse which also mentions the penitent, the worshippers, those who praise [Allah], the wayfarers, those who bow, and prostrate, those who enjoin right and forbid wrong. Abū al-Faḍl Shihāb al-Dīn al-Sayyid Maḥmūd b. ʿAbdallāh al-Ālūsī (d. 1270/1853) says that the phrase indicates all the laws pertaining to the subject at hand, and is a reminder of the penalty for transgressing those laws (Rūḥ, sub Q 2:229); he elsewhere observes that “these rulings are limits that constitute a barrier between Divinity and servanthood: Allah rules, and servants obey; do not then approach these judgments, lest you come thereby to associate [partners with Allah]” (Rūḥ, sub Q 2:187).
The Qurʾānic concept of “boundaries of Allah” is related to aspects of Divine Mercy and Divine wisdom.
Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. Ḥabīb al-Māwardī (364-450/974-1058) cites five meanings for the term “Boundaries of Allah”: (i) obedience to Allah (ṭāʿat Allāh), per Ibn ʿAbbās; (ii) conditions set by Allah (shurūṭ Allāh), per al-Suddī; (iii) the custom and command of Allah (sunnat Allāh wa amruhu); (iv) obligatory deeds (farāʾiḍ) Allah has prescribed, which serve as a limit for His servants; and (v) explanations by Allah of the obligatory acts (tafṣīlāt Allāh li-farāʾiḍih) (Nukat, sub Q 4:13; cf. Tafsīrs of al-Ṭabarī, who cites the first four and Ibn Abī Ḥātim, who cites the first three). More generally, “Boundaries of Allah” are obligatory acts, His commands, and what He has declared lawful and unlawful(Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 2:229; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar, sub Q 4:13). They are “His ordinances, be they commands to follow or prohibitions to avoid” (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 2:187). Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) says “Boundaries of Allah” are of two types: (i) those we are commanded to observe by acting upon them (ḥudūd al-amr bil-imtithāl), such as the Divine ordinances regarding marriage and divorce; and (ii) those we are commanded to observe by refraining (ḥudūd al-nahy bil-ijtināb), such as the forbidden acts during fasting (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:230).
Boundaries of Allah are made known to humanity by both the Qurʾān and the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. In Q 4:13, the phrase And those are the boundaries of Allah is followed by And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, him will He bring into gardens beneath which rivers flow, therein to abide forever; and that is the supreme success. But whoever rebels against Allah and His Messenger and transgresses His boundaries, him will He commit unto fire, therein to abide forever; a humiliating chastisement awaits him (Q 4:13-14). According to al-Rāghib (Tafsīr), the specification whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger signals the obligation to adhere to both the laws prescribed in the Qurʾān and those explained by the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (cf. Bukhārī, Waṣāyā, an yatruk warathatah aghniyāʾ khayr min an yatakaffafū al-nās; Muslim, Waṣiyya, al-waṣiyya bil-thuluth; Tirmidhī, Sunan, Abwāb al-waṣāyā, mā jāʾa Lā waṣiyya li-wārith).
The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said:
Allah strikes a simile of the straight path (ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm): on both sides of the path are walls in which there are wide-open doors with draped curtains, and at the head of the path a crier calls, “O people! Embark together on the Straight Path, and do not be driven apart!” And whenever someone seeks to open any one of those doors, a crier calls from above the path: “Beware! Do not open it—for if you open it, you will enter it.” The path is Islam; the two walls are the Boundaries of Allah; the open doors are what Allah has proscribed; the crier at the head of the path is the Book of Allah; and the crier above the path is the exhorter to Allah (wāʿiẓu-Llāh) [who is] in the heart of every Muslim.
For a slightly variant version of the hadith, see Tirmidhī, Sunan, Abwāb al-amthāl, mā jāʾa fī mathali-Llāhi li-ʿibādih, hadith classed ḥasan gharīb; Aḥmad, Musnad, Musnad al-Shāmiyyīn, ḥadīth Nawwās b. Samʿān al-Kilābī 29:172 §17629. Also cited in Ibn Rajab, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wal-ḥikam 1:104
Al-Zamakhsharī (467-538/ca.1074-1143) uses subtle imagery to explicate the delicate nature of following the commands and avoiding the prohibitions set by Allah Most High:
Whoever is in a state of obedience to Allah and acts according to His laws is acting in the sphere of truth (fī ḥayyiz al-ḥaqq) and is prevented from transgressing it, because whoever goes beyond that point will fall into the sphere of falsehood (fī ḥayyiz al-bāṭil). What is more, this has been accentuated (thumma būligh) [so that such a person] is forbidden to approach even the edge (ḥadd)—the edge that is the separation (al-ḥājiz) between the spheres of truth and falsehood—[to ensure] that one does not come close to falsehood and remains in the middle [realm], far from its limit, to say nothing of crossing it. As the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, said: “[The lawful is clear and the unlawful is clear, and in between them there are doubtful matters about which most people have no knowledge. Whoever guards himself against the doubtful matters, has exerted to the utmost limit in seeking to be clear about his religion and his honor; and whoever falls into the doubtful will fall into the forbidden, like the shepherd grazing [his flock] around forbidden pasturage, he is certain to pasture [his flock] in it.] Surely, every king has a preserve (ḥimā), and the preserve of Allah is what He has forbidden.
Kashshāf, sub Q 2:187; for the hadith partially quoted by al-Zamakhsharī, see Bukhārī, Īmān, faḍl man istabraʾa li-dīnih; Muslim, Musāqāt, akhdh al-ḥalāl wa tark al-shubuhāt
Promise to those who Keep the Boundaries of Allah
The protectors of the boundaries of Allah are mentioned along with those who turn repentant, those who worship, those who celebrate His praise, those who fast, those who bow down, those who prostrate themselves, those who enjoin good and forbid evil and they all receive glad tidings, which “is the promise to those who keep their promise to Allah, that He will keep His promise to them: that is, He will admit them to Paradise” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr), a promise explicitly mentioned in Q 4:13: Those are the Boundaries of Allah, whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, He will cause him to enter Gardens with rivers running underneath, abiding therein—and that is the great triumph. The protectors of the boundaries of Allah are those “who remain steadfast in their obedience” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 9:112); they “follow and practice what Allah has commanded and avoid the forbidden” (Makkī, Hidāya).
Consequences for Those Who Transgress the Boundaries of Allah
In Q 2:229 and 65:1, those who transgress the bounds of Allah are called “wrongdoers” (ẓālimūn). According to Abū al-Barakāt ʿAbd Allāh b. Aḥmad b. Maḥmūd al-Nasafī (d. 701/1301), “wrongdoers” here means “those who harm themselves” (al-ḍārrūn anfusahum) (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:229). According to al-Makkī, whoever transgresses “takes his sins upon himself, for which there will be chastisement in the Hereafter” (Hidāya, sub Q 65:1). Ibn ʿAṭiyya (481-546/1087-1151) writes that the description of transgression as wrongdoing serves as a warning, and he cites the Prophetic hadith “Wrongdoing (ẓulm) will be [requited with] profound darkness on the Day of Resurrection” (Bukhārī, Maẓālim, al-ẓulm ẓulumāt yawm al-qiyāma; Muslim, Birr wal-ṣila wal-ādāb, taḥrīm al-ẓulm) (Muḥarrar, sub Q 2:229).
In Q 9:97, the Bedouins are described as more tenacious in their unbelief and hypocrisy, and more likely to be unaware of the boundaries of what Allah revealed to His Messenger; and Allah is all-Knowing, Wise. Qatāda b. Diʿāma al-Sadūsī (d. 117/735) held that their being unaware of the boundaries means “they have little knowledge of the Sunna of the Prophet” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Al-Ṭabarī explains, “Allah Most High has stated that the Bedouins’ vehement denial of the Oneness of Allah, and their hypocrisy—which is stronger than that of townsfolk—are due to their brusqueness (jafāʾ) and hardheartedness, and to their having very little opportunity to keep the company of the righteous. Hence their hearts are hard, and they have very little awareness of the rights Allah has upon them” (Tafsīr).
Clear boundaries are set for humans in order that they may attain the ultimate success—Paradise, wherein they shall dwell forever (Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 4:1).
Ibn Abī Ḥātim. Tafsīr.
Ibn al-Athīr. Nihāya.
Ibn ʿAṭiyya. Muḥarrar.
Ibn Fāris. Maqāyīs.
Ibn Kathīr. Tafsīr.
Ibn Rajab al-Baghdādī, Abū al-Faraj ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Shihāb al-Dīn. Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wal-ḥikam. 2 vols. in 1. Ed. Shuʿayb al-Arnāʾūṭ and Ibrāhīm Bājis. 7th printing. Beirut: Muʾassasat al-Risāla, 1419/1998.