Taking the Lesser of the Two Harms

Sometimes, in order to avoid one unpleasant consequence, we expose ourselves to another. This is what we call a dilemma. The sensible thing to do in any dilemma is to avoid the more unpleasant of the two options and bear the lesser one.

When we are dealing with two harmful things in Islamic Law, committing the less harmful of the two in order to avoid the greater harm is not sinful. It becomes permissible – and indeed sometimes obligatory – to engage in the lesser harm to avoid the greater evil.

This is not only a principle in Islam but a principle amongst the whole of mankind. Thus is a principle of common sense which Allah gave to all humans. Furthermore there is Ijmaa (consensus) in this matter amongst all the Muslims.

Anr ibn Aas said: “It does not take a judicial mind to understand good from bad, but it takes such a mind to understand what is good from what is better and what is bad from what is worse.”

When the prophet told the companions to leave Mecca and go to Abyssinia which was governed by a Christian King who did not judge by what Allah revealed. The prophet took the lesser of the two evils because in Mecca they were being tortured and harmed in Abyssinia they will live in peace but not under Allah rule. So he (s) chose the lesser of two great evils.

Yusuf (as) took the appointment as a minister in a non Muslim government, because he knew If he did not there would befall mass famine upon the people of Egypt. He was given the ability to interpret dreams, so he interpreted the dream of the King by Allah permission which read there was going to be a huge famine over seven years. So he asked to be placed in charge of the rations in order to preserve it well throughout the seven years. Now in this example we know it is not in Yusuf interest to help the one who unjustly imprisoned him, and who may do the same again if not worse, yet he did so because the harm in not doing so would not only afflict him but afflict all who lived in the area. So he chose the lesser of the two harms.

Taking the good with the bad


Sometimes it is not possible to secure some benefit except at the cost of suffering some harm along with it. Likewise, it is sometimes impossible to avert something harmful without sacrificing something beneficial as well.

Did the prophet (s) play into the hands of the non Muslims when he sent his companions to Najashi a Christian king in Abyssinia for protection?, and did Yusuf (as) play into the greater agenda of the non Muslim leader who imprisoned him.

When the prophet (s) received gifts from the disbelievers did he reject them saying I do not want to be soften by them so I cannot prohibit their evil? No he did not he accepted it.

Furthermore during the era of Ibn Taymiah, a tax was levied upon all the Muslims and you all know very well to pay tax is not permissible if it can be avoided. However a system of paying less tax became available and he was asked if it were permissible to pay this lesser tax. He replied: “Yes it is, because it is the lesser of the two harms, and one of them cannot be avoided.”

When the late scholar Sheikh Ibn Uthaimeen may Allah have mercy on his soul was alive, he was asked by a student of knowledge from Kuwait who wanted to become a judge in the affairs of hudood the following question. Is it permissible for me to become a judge here in Kuwait when the law applied here is not entirely Islamic, everything is computerised. I have to type in the crime and a number comes up and the law is passed according to that number. Is this allowed for me. The sheikh replied; “what would happen if you did not judge by that law? ”the questioner replied: “they would prevent the implementation of the shariah, and there would be a lawless land with killings, fighting, Muslims rebelling against their leaders. “The sheikh then answered saying: “then you should become a judge and judge by that local law”

In this example the sheikh helped the student of knowledge to weigh up the two harms. No doubt judging by other that what Allah has revealed is harm and so is lawlessness and rebellion and bloodshed. He chose the lighter of the two using the Maqaasidu (higher objectives) of the shariah. And to remind you of the higher objective of the shariah concerned here it is; to maximize human welfare and prevent harm as much as possible


The Muslims are divided based on principles of aqeeda, based upon this very issue of extremism, The berelwi have divided from us because they hate wahabi’s and we prohibit their shirk and innovations, the tableegi has divided from us because we prohibit their innovations, the ikwaan muslimeen have divided from us because we disagree with their notion ‘do not speak against any Muslims and their preaching just unite and allow all Muslims to follow their beliefs and practices even if you believe it to be alien to Islam.” The HT divided from us because they believe the same notion as the ikwaan al muslimeen. The Muhajioon have divided from us because we prohibit their evil of pronouncing Muslims as hypocrites and disbelievers and we prohibit their call for jihad without rules and regulations.

Our call to unity is based upon the aqeeda which Mohammed (s) and his companions held, it is based upon the understanding of sunnah which Mohammed (s) taught his companions and how they understood it, and it is based upon itbaa (following them the companions) not taqleed blind following of the molvis and imams.



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