Related on the authority of Abu Sa’id Sa’d bin Malik bin Sinan al-Khudri that the Prophet (sa) said: “There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm.” (An excellent Hadeeth which Ibn Majah, Al-Daraqutni and others related as of sound Isnad, but which Malik related in his Muwatta’ as of broken Isnad, from ‘Amr bin Yahya, from his father, from the Prophet (sa), but dropping (the name of) Abu Sa’id. This Hadeeth has lines of transmission, which strengthens one another (so that it may be regarded as of sound Isnad.)
A pithy Hadeeth, which reflects Islam’s mission statement; preventing harm and being useful/beneficial to others. This Hadeeth is all about the attitude of a believer. Remember, even before you harm Allah’s (swt) creations, you actually harm yourself. This concept is a trait that every Muslim must have if he wants to implement this Hadeeth in his life.
This Hadeeth becomes the basis for the rules of behaviour in Islam. Some of them according to the commentary in 40 Hadeeth of an-Nawawi are:
- Harm is to be prevented as much as possible.
- Harm is to be eradicated.
- Harm is not to be removed by a similar harm.
- A greater harm can be removed by a lesser harm.
- Based on rule number 4, if one has to choose between two harms, precedence is given to a lower harm, in order to avoid the greater harm.
- Preventing harm takes precedence over gaining or attaining benefits.
- If there is a conflict between factors permitting something and others prohibiting something, the prohibition takes precedence; that is, it is going to be given the priority.
- Something harmful is not given precedence just because it was pre-existing. In other words, the pre-existence of something does not allow it to continue to exist and be the cause of harm.To demonstrate rule number eight, let’s step into Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). There was a Masjid built in a neighbourhood. Many years later, that area became densely populated – houses were built around the Masjid. As per custom, when the Muadh-dhin (caller to prayer) wanted to make the call for prayer (Adhan), he climbed the minaret. The jurists decided that the Muadh-dhin must cease the use of the minaret, so that no harm was caused to the people in the houses below (as from the top of the minaret, he could see into other people’s homes and thus invaded their privacy).
Two words in this Hadeeth are similar. The root word is Dādrārā – to harm – ‘do not harm’ / ‘no harming’. ‘Do not harm’ encompasses not harming yourself and not harming anyone around you whether intentionally or unintentionally. If it is unintentional, then as soon as you realize your mistake, you must correct it. Sometimes you are not even aware of the fact that you are harming yourself – but as soon as you recognize it, you must stop. This is caused by the negative thought patterns or a feeling of superiority; “I am better than…” The application of this Hadeeth in our lives thoroughly depends upon two factors: our thoughts and our attitude. Even though it is a simple concept, it is the hardest Hadeeth to apply upon ourselves. All our actions are the result of our thoughts, so we must control our thoughts from causing harm to ourselves and others.
“O You who believe! Make not unlawful the Taiyibât (all that is good as regards foods, things, deeds, beliefs, persons, etc.) which Allâh has made lawful to you, and transgress not. Verily, Allâh does not like the transgressors.” (Al–Maidah 5:87)
So remember, we cannot transgress against ourselves, others, animals and even plants or trees.
Is there ever a justifiable reason to cause harm?
Ibn Rajab says that the Prophet (sa) said: “If the main objective is to actually cause the harm then this is totally prohibited.” Any act that causes harm to others, whether individually or as a community, and whether it is beneficial or not beneficial to the one who causes it, is prohibited in Islam. It should not exist in the first place and if it does, then a deliberate effort should be made to remove or minimize it.