Avoiding Harm takes Precedence over Attaining Benefit


Islamic scholars have undertaken major efforts to clarify the rules of Sharia to all Muslims in order to protect Islam from all the tendentious attempts that aim to distort the beautiful image of Islam. Independent judgments should be based on the rules that trusted scholars set. Whoever violates the rule of inference and deduction that is agreed upon by the consensus of scholars is considered a transgressor, since the abandonment of those rules and Islamic assets only contributes to confusion and uncertainty, and spreads lots of misconceptions.

The duty of jurists is to enforce these principles when issuing an independent judgment on any matter, for there is always high demand for independent judgment since incidents are endless, and texts didn’t state all the verdicts of current issues. One such rule set by scholars is that “avoiding harm takes precedence over attaining benefit.” Ibn Taymiyah placed emphasis on this principle, saying, “Islamic Jurisprudence is based on the principle of avoiding harm and attaining benefit. Whoever abandons this rule when issuing an independent judgment is a transgressor, such as those misguided people who believe that Jihad with licentious rulers is impermissible, or those who don’t pray behind the imams whom they think are immoral.” [Jaami’ Ar-Rasaa’il, 2/141]. He also said, “However, if forcing a person or a sect to practice what is enjoined leads to greater evil, then we must choose the lesser of two evils, for the promotion of virtue and prohibition of vice has been enjoined to ward off evil and protect Muslims’ interests. Thus, the promotion of virtue and prohibition of vice is not permissible if it contributes to greater corruption, such as taking part in seditions that some misguided people regard as a promotion of virtue.”[Al-Istiqamah, 1/330]

Moreover, Ibn al-Qayyim said, “The principle of protecting Muslim’s interests and warding off evil is one of the foundations of Islamic law, which Allah has perfected. Therefore the duty of all jurists is to enforce these principles when issuing an independent judgment on any matter.” [Miftah Dar As-Sa’adah, 2/22]

Accordingly, avoiding harm should always come before attaining benefit, for all religious texts approve of this rule. Allah said, “They question thee about wine and gambling. Say in both is great sin and benefits for men; but the sin of them is greater than their usefulness.”[Al-Baqarah: 219] The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Leave me alone as long as I leave you alone, for the people who were before you were ruined because of their questions and their differences over their prophets. So, if I forbid you to do something, then keep away from it. And if I order you to do something, then do of it as much as you can.” The Prophet also said to Aisha, “Don’t you see that when your people built the Kaba they fell short of the foundations of Ibrahim?” Aisha said, “Messenger of Allah, won’t you return it to the foundations of Ibrahim?” the Messenger said, “If it were not that your people have only recently left disbelief, I would have done so.”

Al-Nawawi said in his commentary on Muslim (9/89), “This Hadith places emphasis on the Islamic principle of avoiding harm taking precedence over attaining benefit, because the Prophet, peace be upon him, told Aisha that the reconstruction of the Ka’aba is a benefit that might contribute to greater evil, which is the possibility that new Muslims might leave religion.”

In conclusion, jurists must enforce this principle in all jurisprudential issues, for the abandonment of those rules only contributes to confusion and uncertainty, and spreads a lot of misconceptions about Islam.