We see these two words a lot online and in books but what do they mean exactly? For all of my new Muslims who aren’t familiar, it’s pretty straight forward. Halal means permissible and haram means forbidden. Doing something haram is committing a sin while doing something halal or more commonly referred to as fard (obligatory) or sunnah (recommended) is doing what we’re allowed or required to do. If something is fard it is basically the standard and what is required of us, so we don’t necessarily get any extra rewards for doing it. Doing something that is Sunnah or mustahabb is doing something that is highly recommended and you can receive reward for it.
Common examples of something haram would be drinking alcohol, eating pork, gossip, and zina. Things that are fard would be eating halal-certified meat (meat slaughtered according to the will of Allah and in His name; more on that here), keeping one’s gaze down around the opposite sex, dressing modestly, praying five times a day and paying zakat.
Sunnah directly means “The way of the Prophet (SAW)”. So the things that he did consistently are considered sunnah such as praying the extra rakats of prayer or starting on the right side of the body when getting dressed. Sunnah actions can also be referred to as mustahabb or naafil. There is also another category called makrooh which means something is disliked and not encouraged. Eating shrimp is considered makrooh as well as giving to someone with your left hand. These are actions that are best left undone but if you do them, it’s not a sin.
When we take an even deeper look into each action that falls under these categories we can see why they have been allowed or forbidden. Alcohol is forbidden because it is toxic to our bodies and also causes us to lose our inhibitions, do bad things, and get ourselves into bad situations. Lowering one’s gaze around the opposite sex is obligatory because it keeps our minds from wandering and prevents us from potentially lusting after someone and acting on that feeling. This is good to keep in mind if we begin to miss doing certain things or if we question why we have to avoid these things. And remember that Allah has only forbidden what is harmful and what will lead us to wrongdoing. This means that there is so much more to a fun life that Islam allows us to explore!