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

Bear specific harm by repelling general harm [Yutahammalu D-Dararu l-Khassu li Dafʿi D-Darari l-ʿAmm]

The last sub-maxim we will look at is based on the quantity of those affected. In some cases, someone might be harmed on an individual level in order to prevent more people from being harmed.

This sub-maxim is somewhat similar to the philosophy of utilitarianism which states that a guiding principle in ethics is to bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people. The converse of that would be to avert the greatest harm from the greatest number of people, even if that might result in some harm to a few individuals.

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A good example of that would be banning untrained physicians from practicing medicine in society. So-called ‘quack doctors’ represent a potential harm to many people by giving bad medical advice that is not evidence-based. This can seriously harm people.

However, on the flip-side, there may be some unlicensed medical practitioners who are very knowledgeable and give good advice. They would be harmed if they were prevented from officially practicing medicine in society. However, the priority of preventing a general harm to most people takes precedence over the individual harm that may result.

Conclusion

We have looked at what legal maxims in Islamic Law are and how they help Muslim scholars navigate contemporary issues that arise, such as in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it should be kept in mind that there are many more intricacies and conditions that scholars consider while using these principles. People should not assume that fatwas [Islamic answers by qualified scholars] are given out just by knowing a few maxims and principles. It is hoped that the reader will understand part of the process by which new issues are dealt with in Islamic Law and gain a greater appreciation for the beautiful religion of Islam.

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