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What does haram mean?

February 15, 2024

“Haram” (حرام, harām) is an Arabic term used in Islam to refer to anything that is considered “forbidden,” “prohibited,” or “impermissible” according to the principles outlined in Sharia law. It encompasses actions, behaviours, or substances that are deemed contrary to Islamic teachings and are to be avoided by adherents of the faith.

To be able to fully answer the question “What does haram mean” we also need to look at the five classifications of al-ʾAḥkām al-Ḵamsa (الأحكام الخمسة) or the hierarchy of acts ranging from permitted to non-permitted:

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  • واجب / فرض, farḍ/wājib – Compulsory, “obligatory”
  • مستحب, mustaḥabb – Recommended, “commendable”
  • مباح, mubāḥ – Neutral, “permissible”
  • مكروه, makrūh – Disliked, “discouraged”
  • حرام, ḥarām – Sinful, “forbidden”

What is fard?

What does haram mean - fard

Fard is an Arabic term used in Islam to denote actions or duties that are considered obligatory or compulsory for all Muslims to perform. These are essential religious obligations that are mandated by Islamic law (Sharia). Fulfilling fard obligations is regarded as a fundamental aspect of practicing the faith, and neglecting them is considered a serious transgression. 

Examples of fard acts include the five daily prayers (Salah), fasting during the month of Ramadan (Sawm), giving to charity (Zakat), and performing the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) for those who are able.

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What is mustahabb?

What does haram mean - mustahabb

Mustahabb is an Arabic term in Islam that refers to actions or deeds that are recommended, desirable, or commendable, but not obligatory. While performing mustahabb acts is encouraged and brings spiritual rewards, neglecting them does not incur sin or punishment. Muslims are encouraged to engage in these actions to enhance their spiritual growth and strengthen their connection with Allah. 

Examples of mustahabb acts include certain voluntary prayers (Sunan), specific supplications, and other virtuous deeds that go beyond the obligatory duties outlined in Islamic law.

What is mubah?

What does haram mean - mubah

Mubah is an Arabic term in Islam that refers to actions or things that are considered neutral or permissible. These are activities or items that are neither explicitly encouraged nor discouraged by Islamic law (Sharia). Engaging in mubah actions is neither rewarded nor penalized from a religious perspective. Muslims have the freedom to choose whether to participate in mubah activities or not, as there is no specific religious obligation or prohibition associated with them. 

Examples of mubah actions include everyday activities like eating, drinking, and wearing certain types of clothing that are neither specifically encouraged nor discouraged in Islam.

What is makruh?

What does haram mean - makruh

Makruh is an Arabic term in Islam that refers to actions or behaviours that are considered disliked or discouraged but not strictly forbidden. Engaging in makruh acts is not sinful, but avoiding them is considered better for one’s spiritual well-being. While not as serious as haram (forbidden) actions, Muslims are encouraged to minimize or avoid makruh actions to cultivate a higher level of piety and moral conduct.

There are two categories of makruh:

  • Makruh Tahrimi: Actions that are close to being forbidden, and avoiding them is more strongly recommended.
  • Makruh Tanzih: Actions that are mildly disliked, and avoiding them is recommended but not as strongly as Makruh Tahrimi.

Examples of makruh actions might include certain types of behaviour, habits, or specific practices that, while not explicitly prohibited, are discouraged for the sake of maintaining a higher standard of morality and piety.

What is haram?

what is haram

Haram is an Arabic term in Islam that denotes actions, behaviours, or substances that are considered forbidden, prohibited, or impermissible according to Islamic law (Sharia). Engaging in haram activities is considered sinful and can lead to spiritual and moral consequences. Violating prohibitions outlined in the Quran and the Hadith (sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) may result in negative consequences both in this life and the afterlife.

Examples of haram actions include:

  • Consumption of Certain Foods and Drinks: Eating pork and consuming intoxicants such as alcohol and drugs are considered haram in Islam.
  • Unlawful Financial Transactions: Engaging in usury (riba) or transactions involving deceptive practices that exploit others is prohibited.
  • Immoral Behavior: Engaging in adultery, fornication, and other forms of sexual misconduct are considered haram.
  • Dishonesty and Theft: Lying, cheating, and stealing are prohibited in Islam.
  • Associating Partners with Allah (Shirk): Associating any partners with Allah or engaging in polytheistic practices is considered the gravest sin in Islam.

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Muslims need to avoid haram actions and strive to lead a life by Islamic principles to maintain spiritual well-being and righteousness.

Haram meaning

haram meaning

What does haram mean linguistically? The term “haram” extends beyond its legal connotations, finding roots in various other terms with diverse implications. Derived from the root ح-ر-م, the term forms words such as “hariim” (a harem) and “ihraam” (a state of purity). Interestingly, the Quran uses the same word to signify the sacred nature of revered places like the Ka’ba, Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. 

This linguistic root also extends to include the sacred status of spouses and even university campuses. Contrary to common assumptions, the legal use of ح-ر-م is not merely prohibitive; instead, it is grounded in demarcating boundaries between the sacred and the profane.

But what does haram mean colloquially? “Haram” takes on additional meanings, operating in tandem with its counterpart, “halal,” which signifies the permissible. In Arabic-speaking regions, the term is colloquially used to express regret or disappointment. It is employed formally to admonish inappropriate behavior, while also serving as a teasing tool among friends. 

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Moreover, parents use “haram” to guide their children’s behaviour, emphasizing actions that are forbidden, such as harming others. The binary notions of halal and haram are further woven into cultural phrases like “ibn al-halal” and “bint al-halal,” indicating appropriate spouses, as opposed to the derogatory “ibn al-haram” and “bint al-haram,” used as insults to denote ill-mannered or indecent individuals. 

Beyond personal conduct, the terms extend to the realm of finance, where “mal al-haram” signifies ill-gotten money, believed to bring ruin to those who acquire their livelihood through such means. Notably, these cultural interpretations of haram are intertwined with formal Islamic jurisprudence and regional cultures, shaping and being shaped by popular conceptions that, in turn, influence how the legal system defines and penalizes haram actions at a local level.


In essence, understanding “what does haram mean” involves exploring the hierarchy of al-ʾAḥkām al-Ḵamsa, categorizing actions from obligatory (fard) to forbidden (ḥarām) in Islam. Fard signifies crucial, compulsory duties, while mustahabb pertains to commendable yet non-mandatory actions. Mubah covers neutral, permissible activities, and makruh denotes discouraged but not sinful behaviors.

At the pinnacle is ḥarām, representing actions considered sinful or impermissible. The term extends beyond legality, rooted in linguistic nuances and cultural expressions, shaping personal conduct and regional norms. Understanding what ḥarām means is crucial in both legal and cultural contexts for Muslims, guiding adherence to Islamic principles, fostering spiritual well-being, and maintaining a balance between the sacred and the profane within the broader framework of Islamic teachings.

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