Living Fiqh: Do No Harm

Fiqh refers to the understood and applied laws of Islam, as understood by any of the recognized schools of thought. Although Islamic Law was initially designed to assist Muslims in living an Islamic lifestyle. In later times, it devolved into a strict list of dos and don’ts without any understanding of the rationale and wisdom of these laws. In this series, we aim to revive an understanding of the law that focuses on the wisdom behind the law, so that Muslims can live their lives in an Islamic manner, understanding why the laws are the way they are.

Fiqh Principle #1: Do No Harm

Among the fundamental principles of Fiqh is the removal of harm. This has been worded in a variety of ways across a variety of books and fields of study. Some scholars word it as ‘al-arar Yuzāl‘ (harm must be eliminated),(Shahrul Hussain, p. 48) others prefer the hadith wording ‘Lā Ḍarar wa lā Ḍirār‘ (there should be no harm or return of harm), and while other scholars word it as ‘Dar’ al-Mafsadah‘ (the rejection of harm). (Ibn Ashur, p. 91) All three wordings indicate the same core principle; Muslims must live their lives in a way that is beneficial for humanity, and avoiding harming any creation without a legitimate reason.

The removal of harm is central to Islamic law. It is so important that Ibn Ashur listed it among the two main goals of the Shariah, along with the attainment of benefit. He stated that the laws of Islam as a whole revolve around either assisting us in gaining that which is beneficial for us, or protecting us from that which is harmful to us. In this way, half of our religion revolves around the removal of harm.

The principle is derived from various verses of the Quran, hadiths, as well as a deep understanding of the purpose behind various laws of Islam. The primary hadith upon which this principle is based is mentioned by al-Nawawi (RA) in his Forty Hadith collection. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Lā Ḍarar wa lā Ḍirār (There should be no harm or return of harm.)” (Nawawi, no. 32)

The core message of this hadith that Muslims should neither initiate harm to others, nor respond to others in a harmful manner that goes beyond the limits of justice. Retaliation within the limits of justice is allowed but not encouraged. For example, if someone is attacked, it is permitted to fight back or seek justice in court, but to forgive and overlook is better. However, it would not be permissible to go beyond the scope of justice by attacking the attacker’s family, harming the individual in a way worse than how they harmed you, or harming them more times than they harmed you. The Shariah seeks to limit harms, but also to balance this with a strong emphasis on justice.

How this manifests itself in the law

The primary way in which the removal of harm manifests itself in the law is through the prohibitions. By default, anything that Allah has prohibited is harmful to society. In most cases, the harm is clear and evident like in the case of alcohol and gambling. Sometimes the harm may be unknown but we still trust Allah’s perfect wisdom and follow the law without question. Many times the harms are only revealed later when it is too late to undo the harm.

A sad example of this is the rise in fornication and adultery rates in our era. the sexual revolution brought in a huge change in the way people approached sexual relations. The prohibition of fornication was not only shunned but ridiculed. People saw it as irrational, restricting fun, and an obstacle in the way of personal freedom. Blinded by their passions, a large segment of humanity began engaging in these major sins without fear or guilt. Unaware of the harms caused by this sin, the sins eventually became norms, habits, and lifestyles, and opened the doors to worse forms of immorality.

The harms of this revolution are clearer today after entire generations have grown up in such a culture. The spiraling divorce rate, rising rates of depression, suicide, broken families, spread of STDs, and rise in new forms of immorality are all directly linked to this new immorality-based lifestyle. The harms of these major sins is more evident today then it was twenty years ago, but still the march towards destruction continues as people ignore all these warning signs and remain focused on their base desires. The prohibition of fornication in Islam is rooted firmly in the prevention of harm to oneself and others, as fornication harms all of society, especially the individual who makes it a lifestyle.

How to live by this principle

The removal of harm is not just a Fiqh principle that guides our understanding of the prohibitions. It is really a way of life. A Muslim should consciously live his/her life in a way that minimizes harm and maximizes benefit to others. We must remain extra conscious about the effects and impact of our actions on others. This consciousness must guide all of our decisions.

Whether it is in our business dealings, family relationships, friendships, or online interactions, the avoidance of harm should play a central role in shaping the way we deal with other people. Living by this principle means living a lifestyle that is free from slander, backbiting, abuse, mockery, violence, betrayal, and every type of injustice. Any action that causes unjust harm to another has no place in the lifestyle of the believer.

The principles of Fiqh are more than just a list of dos and don’ts. They are essential guidelines for how we live our lives. By choosing to live consciously and to be aware of the impact of our actions on others, we can minimize our harm, maximize our productivity, and build a better case for ourselves for the day of judgment.

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Posted by Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help, author of over a dozen books, faculty manager of IOU, and a freelance writer.

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