Hadith 32. No harming nor reciprocating harm


It was related on the authority of Abu Sa’id Sa’d bin Malik bin Sinan al-Khudri (RadhiyAllahu ‘anhu) that the Messenger of Allah (SallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:

“There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm”

(A hasan hadith 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 (SallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) but dropping (the name of) Abu Sa’id. This hadith has lines of transmission which strengthen one another (so that it may be regarded as of sound isnad).)

 Brief Commentary

  • This hadith is evidence of the miraculous nature of the speech of the prophet (SallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam), in that he used to say very short sentences which carry very great meanings
  • This hadith contains a very important maxim of fiqh
  • A maxim of fiqh is a principle used to derive rulings. It is unique in the sense that muftis/scholars can derive rulings directly from the maxim.
  • Maxims of fiqh also make us aware of the philosophy and essence of the shari’ah
  • There are five major maxims of fiqh that the shari’ah is based upon. These are:
    • Actions are but by their intentions
    • Difficulty brings ease
    • Certainty is not removed by doubt
    • Harm is to be removed
    • Customs are a legislation
  • It can be seen from the five major maxims above that the shari’ah is built upon making things easy and good for the people. Many of the movements/groups that have gone astray have done so due to their lack of knowledge of the maxims of fiqh and the essence of the shari’ah
  • The fourth major maxim of fiqh is derived directly from this hadith
  • A powerful method of speech was used in this hadith in that although this hadith is a statement (though the English translation may not show it to be so), the understanding of it is a commandment. This is similar to when we say to someone JazakAllah khair (Allah give you good). We are saying it as a statement, but a supplication is intended (May Allah give you good).
  • There have been numerous interpretations of this hadith. Three major interpretations are:
    • There shall be no harming an individual but benefitting yourself at the same time, and there shall be no harming an individual without bringing benefit to yourself
    • There shall be no harming an individual who is not harming you, and there shall be no harming an individual in an unislamic way who has harmed you
    • There shall be no harming others, and there shall be no bringing harm to yourself (by harming others)
  • This is very similar to tafsir, in that we have many statements of the scholars interpreting something, but they are all correct, so the hadith encompasses all of the interpretations above
  • The shari’ah has regulations which ensure that harm cannot be carried out. Some of these regulations are:
    • You cannot harm others for the sake of harm, so you cannot divorce more than three times (The Arabs before Islam used to divorce a woman and return her just before her divorce period is about to expire, and continue to do so, thus ensuring she can never remarry)
    • You cannot dedicate more than a third of your wealth in your will. At least two thirds must be split between the rightful inheritors according to Islamic inheritance law
    • If you harm an individual due to recklessness whilst benefitting yourself, then you are liable to pay compensation, even if your intention was not to harm the individual
  • From this principle, we learn that there is nothing in the shari’ah that brings harm. There may be some difficulty sometimes, but there is never harm e.g. fasting is difficult but not harmful. If it becomes harmful for an individual then Islam provides concessions
  • When the prophet (SallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) saw a man walking continuously, he enquired about him and it was said that this man said he will go to hajj by foot (though he is able to do so otherwise), so the prophet (SallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “Tell him Allah is in no need of his walking, so let him ride” (Reported in Bukhari & Muslim)
  • Some principles extracted from this hadith:
    • Harm is repelled as far as capable, which helps in achieving the principle “prevention is better than intervention” e.g. Islamic punishments, jihad
    • Harm is not repelled by a similar harm e.g. repel harm of poverty by gaining haram income
    • Repelling harm is more onerous than bringing good (with some exceptions) e.g. forbidding of gambling or drinking alcohol
    • Major harm can be repelled by a minor harm e.g. The prophet (SallaAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) allowing the bedouin to urinate in the Masjid rather than scaring him and causing him pain as well as making the urine splash everywhere
    • Harm for a specific (person or group) is tolerated to avoid general harm (to the masses) e.g. reckless doctor prevented from practicing to repel the harms of what would happen to the patients

Benefits and Action points:

  • Learn and study the maxims of fiqh (under a reputable person)
  • Appreciate the easy and caring nature of the shari’ah
  • Avoid falling into any of the major interpretations of this hadith
  • Understand and implement the principles extracted from this hadith

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