There Shall Be No Harm

There Shall Be No Harm

Dr. Mohammad Haitham Al-Khayat

A unique, brief and highly authentic statement by the Prophet (pbuh) may be translated as follows: “There shall be no infliction of harm on oneself or others”.  Perhaps the most lucid definition of causing harm was stated by Rasheed Reda in his commentary on sura 5, entitled The Repast (Al-maida): “It means that all harm, whether affecting an individual or a group of people, must be removed”.  It is from this principle that we derive the rule which stresses the need to prevent all evil and safeguard personal and communal interests, always observing the aims of Islamic legislation.

The prohibition on causing harm is clearly stated in the Quran: Say: My Lord has forbidden all atrocities, whether overt or disguised, and harm (ithm) (7:33). Another verse in the Quran states: Abandon all harm (ithm), whether committed openly or in secret. (6: 120) In reference to intoxicating drinks and gambling, God says: There is great ithm (harm) in both although they have some benefit for people,” but their ithm (harm) is far greater than their benefit.” (2:219 When we take all three verses together we realise that causing harm is forbidden in the Quran.  It is not lawful for a Muslim to cause harm to himself or to other people. Evidence supporting this prohibition is to be found in plenty in the Quran. Let us now consider how this principle relates to health.

1. Causing harm to oneself

This is forbidden, as God says: You shall not kill yourselves. (4:29) He also says: Do not expose yourselves to ruin. (2: 195) The Prophet (pbuh) said: “There shall be no inflicting of harm on oneself’. Similarly, it is not permissible to a Muslim to expose himself to the risk of illness or injury in any way or form. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “No believer may humiliate himself’. When he was asked how any person would humiliate himself, he said: “By exposing himself to risks with which he cannot cope”. A man runs the risk of illness or injury if he leaves himself exposed to their causes, or by not taking the necessary precautions to prevent them, or by not taking proper care of his health. Islam f has given us the necessary directives to steer away from all such risks, making it a duty of every Muslim: To be keen to do whatever is beneficial to his health, such as eating well, but not too much, and doing exercise to keep fit.

People must also take the necessary care of every part of the body and have sufficient rest. They should do this in response to the Prophet’s statements: “Be keen to do what is beneficial to you”; Store up enough health to draw on during your illness; “Whatever you feed yourself counts as a benefaction”. Similarly, “Your soul has a [human] right against you; your body has a [human] right against you; your eyes have a [human] right against you”.

To take all preventive measures to guard against illness, for prevention leads to health protection, as the Prophet (pbuh) says: “He who protects himself from evil shall be spared its effects”’. That includes keeping away from whatever may cause illness, such as illicit sex, homosexuality and all lewd and immoral conduct. God says in the Quran: Do not approach adultery, for it is a gross indecency and an evil way. (17:32) He also says: Do not approach any immorality, open or covert. (6: 151) In reference to the people to whom the Prophet Lot was sent, the Quran quotes him as saying to them: You lust after men instead of women. Truly you are people given to excess (7:81) In a hadith the Prophet (pbuh) is quoted as saying: “The worst thing I fear for my community is the practice of the people of Lot”.

Prevention also includes keeping away from ithm (harm). God says: Abandon all ithm (harm), whether done openly or in secret. (6:120) ithm, as Rasheed Reda says in his commentary on the Quran, includes: ” All that is harmful to self, property or anything else. The worst of these are social vices”. ithm also includes intoxicants and drugs. God says: They ask you about intoxicant and gambling.  Say: There is great ithm in both. (2:219) He also says: Believers! wine and games of chance, idols and divining arrows, are abominations devised by Satan. Turn away from them. (5:90) This last command is the strongest expression of prohibition. The Prophet (pbuh) “has prohibited every type of intoxicating and narcotic substances” . He is quoted as saying: “Every type of intoxicant is forbidden; every narcotic substance is forbidden. Whatever causes intoxication when taken in a large quantity is also forbidden to take in small quantities. Whatever influences the mind is forbidden”.

Preventive measures include keeping away from patients who are ill with infectious diseases and vaccination against communicable diseases is a great measure of prevention. To take every care to prevent injury. This is based on several hadith instructing people to make sure they do not expose themselves to any cause of harm or injury, such as: “If you have to sleep while travelling by night, avoid the main road, as it is the track of animals and the refuge of pests”’. When you go to bed, shake your sheets. You never know what they may have inside”. The Prophet (pbuh) also said: “Put out lamps when you go to bed, shut the doors, close the water-skins and cover water and food containers”. In another hadith, he alerts people to the danger of fire, saying: “Fire is like an enemy to you: put it out before you sleep”. He also said: “Whoever sleeps on the roof of a house which has no wall has no claim to make (for social insurance) if he comes to any harm”. The Prophet (pbuh) also “discouraged staying alone, urging his followers not to stay at night in a house alone and not to travel alone”

To take suitable medicine when ill. The Prophet (pbuh) says: “Seek medical treatment, for God has not created an illness without creating a cure for it”.

2. Causing harm to one’s family

This means one’s parents, children and spouse. All this is forbidden since it all comes under the prohibition of causing any harm. Islam urges its followers to be kind to their parents. God says in the Quran: We have enjoined on man kindness to one’s parents. (29:8) The Prophet (pbuh) prohibited “holding on greedily to money and asking for it persistently, being unkind to mothers and burying young girls alive”, as was the habit of certain Arabian tribes before the advent of Islam.
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Cursed be he who is unkind to his parents”. No one can be more unkind to his parents than one who exposes their health to unnecessary risk.

Similarly, Islam instructs parents to take care of their children, and instructs both husband and wife to take good care of each other, laying particular emphasis on a man’ s duty to look after his wife. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Do take good care of women”.
He also said: “My Lord, place particular importance on the rights of the two weak groups: orphans and women”’. He also said: “Your wife has a [human] right against you and your children have a [human] right against you. Give to everyone their rightful claims”.
In another hadith, we read: “Your household has a [human] right against you”.

The Prophet (pbuh) explains the concept of mutual responsibility within the family, when he says: “A man is guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is guardian of her husband’s house and children, and is responsible for them”. To neglect the rights of parents, wife or children and not to take good care of their health and not to take the necessary measures to prevent their exposition to illness are certainly forbidden, on the basis of the following Quranic statements:
You shall not kill your own children. ( 6: 151)
You shall not kill anyone, for that is forbidden by God, except through the due process of justice. (6:151)

Losers are those who in their ignorance stupidly cause the death of their own children. (6:140) No mother shall expose her own child to harm, nor shall any father expose his child to harm. (2:233)

Imam Ibn Hazm: comments on this verse: “There is no doubt it is the child that parents are forbidden to harm”.

God also says in the Quran: Consult together with all reasonableness. (65:6) Ibn Manzour says in his commentary on this verse: “It is the duty of each one of the parents to show reasonableness when consultation takes place with regard to what happens to the child”. Let us remember that this verse comes within the context of divorce. It means, therefore, that the divorced parents should consult with each other in order to protect the interests of the child, In the same context, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “It is a sufficient harm for any man to allow his dependents to perish”, He also said: “Whoever does not show compassion to our young ones does not belong to us”.

One of the most essential aspects of compassion to young ones is to protect their health and to prevent their illness, Among the most important measures to protect a child’s health is breast-feeding for the first two years of its life, because that gives the child the best possible nourishment, enhances its immune system, and helps to provide reasonable birth spacing since breastfeeding often serves as a means to prevent conception. God says in the Quran: Mother shall breast-feed their children for two whole years if the parents wish the sucking to take its full course. (2:233) God also says: Its weaning comes in two years. (31:14}  Similarly, the pledge of loyalty which Muslim women gave to the Prophet (pbuh) contained the all important clause that they. ..shall not cause the death of their own children. (60: 12)

It is the duty of all Muslims towards the members of their household to: Take all necessary measures to prevent illness. This includes keeping them away from any source of infection, as well as their vaccination, as necessary, in order to immunize them against communicable diseases.  When parents are complacent with regard to the vaccination of their children, they expose them to harm, which God has forbidden them to do.  Similarly, a foolish or ignorant action from either parent could expose their child to death and make them losers, as God says: Losers are those who in their ignorance stupidly cause the death of their own children. (6: 140) ’

Do their best to provide them with the means of healthy living, such as good food and to teach them the habit of eating moderately and to do exercises whicb keep them fit. Seek medical treatment for them when they fall ill. One of the worst hazards to which children may be exposed is for one of their parents to be a smoker, which means that they are forced to breathe in the smoke of cigarettes and are exposed to all the illnesses that smoking causes. It is no exaggeration to say that this is doubly forbidden as it means, in effect, neglect of the child’s right to be protected against illness, and a forceful exposure to risk when still young and defenceless.

3. Causing harm to anyone, particularly neighbours

This is again forbidden, as the Prophet (pbuh) said: “There shall be no infliction of harm on oneself or others”. He also said: “God will inflict harm on anyone who harms others”. Speaking to his companions, the Prophet (pbuh) once said: “By God, he is not a believer”. They said, “Who is this ill-advised loser, Messenger of God?” He said: “The one whose neighbor does not feel safe against his designs”’. Commenting on this hadith Imam Ibn Taimiyah said: “If this is the case when a neighbor simply does not feel safe against evil which may be perpetrated by his neighbor, what would it be like when such evil designs are actually perpetrated, in addition to that feeling of unsafety?” The Prophet (pbuh) said: “When you restrain yourself from harming others, your action constitutes an act of benefaction that is credited to you”. The Arabic term “aza” is used frequently in this connection and most people use it as synonymous with causing harm. That is a mistaken usage. Aza is much lesser than harm it includes any material or moral annoyance and anything which disgusts or offends. If such matters are prohibited, causing harm is even more so. God says in the Quran: Those who annoy believers, men or women, without having deserved it, assume the guilt of slander and commit clearly sinful action. (33:58)

The Prophet (pbuh) said: Whoever believes in God and the Last Day must not offend his neighbors”. It is not permissible, therefore, for a Muslim to smoke in a confined place, or when he travels in a car, bus, or plane. By so doing, he causes harm to his neighbors and exposes them to the risk of this evil substance. While he must not smoke even when he is alone in order not to expose himself to various killer diseases, the prohibition is much stronger when smoking affects others as well.

A person sitting next to you in a plane or a bus is your neighbor, and one who is close to you in a public place is your neighbor, and one who is inside your house or flat is a closer neighbor. God has ordered us to be kind to near and distant neighbors and to fellow travelers. The same applies to a person who throws rubbish in front of his house. It is annoying to neighbors and passers by. It equally applies to one who lets the effluent of his plant or factory run into streams or rivers. To all such unsafe practices the ruling which prohibits causing harm or annoyance applies. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Whoever offends Muslims in their roads deserves their curses”.

The Prophet (pbuh) warned most emphatically against exposing any individual in society to any annoyance or harm. He also instructed his followers to take all precautionary measures to prevent that. An example is the hadith: “Whoever passes through our mosques or markets carrying arrows should grasp them well with his hand so that he does not accidentally inflict injury on any Muslim”.

The question of disease transmission also comes under this heading. It is not lawful for a Muslim to transmit diseases to his brother, or to be complacent in this connection. Nor is it permissible for him to cause the spread of disease in society. All that is incorporated in the all embracing rule which forbids all harm. The Prophet, ordered that “no infected person should come close to a healthy one”. I am rather inclined to understand the hadith which states “No disease is to be communicated and no belief in evil omen entertained” as a prohibition rather than a denial of disease transmission and belief in evil omen.”  This understanding is further supported by another hadith which states: “No belief in omen is to be entertained, but the best of that is good omen”. This is certainly not a denial of belief in omen; otherwise, the Prophet (pbuh) would not have added that the best omen is the good one. It is rather discouragement and indeed a prohibition of entertaining belief in any omen whatsoever.

This understanding fits in well with the last part of the same hadith which instructs us to “run away from a person who has leprosy as one would run away from a lion”. One person in the audience was confused because he understood the Prophet’s statement as a denial of the whole idea of disease transmission. He asked the Prophet: “You see one camel that suffers from mange, and soon all the camels will have the same illness”. The Prophet’s answer to him shows his caution that people may wrongly, attribute things to anyone or any cause other than God. He said: That is God’s will; otherwise, who caused the first camel to become mangy”. Thus the Prophet corrected a misconception. This is further supported by the Prophet’s answer to a question put to him in the following form: “When we supplicate for recovery or take medicine or take, some preventive measures, does any of that repel what God has willed?” He answered: “They are part of the operation of God’s will”. This was the second Caliph, Umar’s own understanding when he refused to enter an area into which the plague had spread. His army commander, Abu Obaidah asked him; “Do you run away from God’s will?” He said: “Yes. We run away from God’s will into God’s will”. In this Omar was in keeping, through his deep understanding of Islam you know that plague is raging in a specific land do not enter it and if it happens in a land where you are, do not seek to leave it”’. It is important therefore, that we should know that disease transmission is part of God’s will and combating it is also part of God’s will. Illness, medical treatment and preventive measures all work by God’s will.

Having said that, I must humbly add that God knows best what the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to convey to us. All that I have said about causing harm to oneself or others falls under this all embracing statement by the Prophet: “Shall I tell you the definition of a believer? He is one with whom people feel themselves and their property to be safe. A Muslim is the one who does not abuse people by word or deed”.

Originally published on the Crescent Life site at