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“Don’t Cause Harm!” Islamic Legal Maxims and COVID-19

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

The previous articles looked at how sub-maxims under the “do not cause harm” principle apply in slightly different cases.

In this article, we look at the remaining sub-maxims under the same basic principle to understand how to navigate more subtle issues that do not seem to have a clear answer at first glance.

📚 Read Also: COVID-19: Need for Islamic, Holistic Approach

Harm is not removed with its like [Ad-Darar La Yuzalu bi Mithlihi]

The previous “harm must be removed” principle indicated that any harm which already exists should be removed. However, it did not clarify the means and limitations on how to remove that harm.

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The sub-maxim “harm is not removed with its like” clarifies that it is wrong to remove a harm by causing another harm. This might seem obvious in theory, but in practice, it can be common for people to justify their own actions.

Examples from Fiqh Literature

Let’s take a few examples from Islamic Law [fiqh] literature. If a flood sweeps over a man’s land and harms his crops, he would apply the principle “harm must be removed”. So if he makes a drain for the water to leave his property but it ends up flooding his neighbor’s property, this becomes a problem.

He might justify himself by saying, “I had to get the water off my property; otherwise my crops would die.”

However, this reasoning is wrong because it results in another harm; the flood is now affecting his neighbor’s property.

If the harms were equivalent, it is not allowed to prioritize one person being harmed over another, since the first harm already occurred. The second harm would have been directly caused by trying to remove the first one.

Stock Market

Another example would be for someone to harm another person’s wealth in order to protect their own. Given the recent crash in the stock market due to the Coronavirus, there might be a scenario where a fund manager chooses to liquidate his shares in a company while keeping the shares of his clients in order to secure a commission.

He might justify himself with the principle “harm must be removed” but it is wrong to do that when causing harm to another’s wealth in order to protect your own.

Likewise is the case for food: one cannot eat another’s food when in need if the other person is also in need.

COVID-19 Questions

There is a flour shortage in many countries across the world due to the pandemic. If someone were at a grocery store and the aisle containing flour was empty but they saw a few bags of flour in another person’s shopping cart. In this case, taking the flour of others would violate the sub-maxim, since most people are equally in need of flour for making food.

The submaxim “harm is not removed with its like” would also apply to a COVID-19 patient who is on a ventilator during recovery. The harm has already occurred. Now if a new patient comes in with the same symptoms and almost same chances of recovery, it would be wrong to remove the ‘harm’ from the new patient by disconnecting the first patient. This would be an example of removing harm by causing the same amount of harm to another.

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