Dhorura, maslaha wa mafsadha (Necessity, benefits and harm)
It is known that evils are not of the same degree of gravity; rather, some evils are graver. Evils and harms must be eliminated or avoided as long as this is possible, based on the well-known Fiqh principles: “Harm must be eliminated,” and, “There should be neither harm nor reciprocal harm.” However, if both evils cannot be eliminated or avoided and there is no other way but to choose one of two evils, then one should opt for the lesser of the two.
The graver evil must be eliminated or avoided while enduring the lesser in such a case. There is abundant evidence in the Sharee’ah to this effect.
For instance, the Sharee’ah allows the Muslim to eat the flesh of a dead animal in case of necessity although the consumption of the meat of dead animals is prohibited in principle and declared an evil; however, the evil incurred by not eating such meat, namely starving to death, is graver.
“If one is overcome by two evils, one should choose the lesser of the two.”
This general principle has been mentioned in almost all of the books written in this science. It is a principle that is based on the concept of trying to avoid sin and harm as much as possible. It has been derived from the general guidelines found in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Allah Most High says: “So fear Allah as much as you can.” (al-Taghabun, 16).
Similarly, Allah Most High says:
“They ask you concerning fighting in the prohibited month. Say: Fighting therein is a grave (offence), but graver it is in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the sacred Masjid and drive out its members. trials and oppression are worse than killing….” (Surah al-Baqarah, 217)
1.In this verse, Allah Most High mentions that the Pagans of Makkah accused the Muslims of breaching the custom by coming out to fight in the prohibited month. However, despite fighting in the prohibited month being a grave offence, the Muslims were forced to choose the lesser of the two evils, as not fighting would leave the enemies continuing their persecution of the Muslims. Therefore, the Muslims were driven to fight in self defence during that period against their own feelings.
2.In the fifth year of Hijra, the Messenger of Allah sallal lahu alaihi wa sallam agreed to a truce with the polytheists of Makkah known as the Sulh al-Hudaybiyya. The Messenger of Allah sallal lahu alaihi wa sallam compromised with them on many accounts and relinquished the rights of the Muslims. It was agreed that if anyone from the non-believers came to Madeenah, the Muslims must send them back, whereas in the reverse situation, they would not be returned. The Messenger of Allah sallal lahu alaihi wa sallam agreed to this keeping in mind the greater evil, which was the expected torture of those believers that remained in Makkah, and also to prevent instant bloodshed. This was looking into the long term gain.
3.Another well known incident is of a villager who had newly accepted Islam. This villager, not knowing the etiquettes of the Masjid, began to urinate in it. The Messenger of Allah sallal lahu alaihi wa sallam did not stop him instantly, rather he let him finish first and then explained to him in a polite manner that, it is inappropriate to urinate in the house of Allah (Sahih Muslim).
Here, the Messenger of Allah sallal lahu alaihi wa sallam tolerated the lesser evil by letting him finish urinating and prevented two greater evils that were:
1) Stopping him would cause him to run, thus the entire Masjid would become polluted. It will also have an adverse health effect on that person by not completely finishing urinating.
2) Rebuking may drive him away from Islam and cause hatred in his heart.
3.In one was wounded in a way that if he performed prostration (sajda) in prayer, blood would come out and flow. However, if prostration was avoided, it would not come out. In this situation, he will be ordered to offer his Salat sitting down with gestures, as leaving the Sajda is a lesser evil than offering the prayer in the state of ritual impurity. Leaving the Sajda is permissible in optional prayers unconditionally, whereas Salat can never be offered in the state of ritual impurity.
4.An old and ill person is incapable of reciting (in prayer) whilst standing, but is able to do so in the posture of sitting. The ruling in such a case will be that he must offer his Salat sitting down and make the recitation, as offering Salat whilst sitting is a less of an evil than omitting the recitation.
- If one is forced to eat by necessity either dead meat or the wealth of another person, then he should eat the dead and unlawful meat, as eating dead meat is lesser of an evil from the two.