بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله وعلى آله وصحبه
Sufyan ibn Uyaynah narrated a statement (upon the authority of ‘Amr bin al-Aas رضي الله عنه ) that he said:
لَيسَ العاقِلُ مَن يَعرِفُ الخَيرَ مِن الشَّرِ, وَلَكَنَّ هو الّذِي يَعرِفُ خَيرَ الشَّرَين
“The intelligent one is not the one who knows the difference between good and evil, rather he is the one who knows (i.e. able to recognise) the lesser of two evils” [Siyar al-A’laam an-Nabula’, 3/74]
1. From the Qawa’id al-Fiqiyyah is the principle: “The lesser of two evils should be used in removing the greater evil“. It is a principle established and agreed upon within the four schools of fiqh (madhahib) and has been mentioned in most of the books written on Usool al-Fiqh. It is based on the concept of avoiding sins and harm as much as possible, which is derived from the general guidelines found in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
It is the responsibility of a qualified jurist to be able to discern between two evils; as the eminent companion, ‘Amr ibn Al ‘Aas (is also reported to have) said:
ليس الفقيه من يعرف الخير من الشر، ولكن الفقيه من يعرف خير الخيرين، يعرف شر الشرين
“A faqeeh is not one who knows the good from the bad, but rather he is one who knows the better of two goods and the worst of two evils.”
2. Many scholars have commented on this noble principle when discussing the hadeeth:
من رأى منكم منكرا فليغيره بيده فإن لم يستطع فبلسانه فإن لم يستطع فبقلبه وذلك أضعف الإيمان
“Whoever from you sees an evil (vice), let him change it with his hand, and if he is unable to do so, then (he should change it) with his tongue, and if he is unable to do so, then (he should at least dislike it) in his heart, and that is the weakest (level of) faith.” [Saheeh Muslim, 49]
In his explanation of the hadeeth, Imam Nawawi quoted various scholars who elucidated on the principle of ‘reducing/diminishing harm’ via the context of this hadeeth. One of the scholars he quotes is Qadi Iyad, who stated that if an individual believes that changing something with his hand will cause greater harm, such as either being killed or causing the death of another, then he should abstain from physical involvement, and such is the case with attempting to bring about change through one’s speech – this being the point of the hadeeth.
3. Commenting on the same hadeeth, Qadi Abu Bakr ibn Al ‘Arabi said (in his ‘Ahkam al-Qur’an’) that if it is possible to remove the evil through the tongue of the objector then he should do so, otherwise he should resort to the use of physical force. However, if it is not possible to remove this evil except by taking up arms then such a strategy should be abandoned given that the taking up of arms between people may eventually lead to widespread civil discord – a greater harm than letting the relatively lesser evil persist.
Many other scholars have discussed it in detail…
4. Shaykh al-Islam for example, declared ijma’ on taqleel al-mafaasid stating that it was not rational to merely know the good from the bad, but it is incumbent to know that which is best and that which is more evil:
ومعلوم أن الشريعة جاءت بتحصيل المصالح وتكميلها، وتعطيل المفاسد وتقليلها
“The shari’ah was revealed for the attainment and perfection of al-masalih (benefits) and the prevention and reduction of al-mafasid (harms)… He continued to explain that this means suppressing the lesser of two benefits in order to attain the better of the two, as well as acting in accordance with the lesser of two evils and harms whilst also suppressing the worst of the two. [Majmu’ Fatawa, vol. 20 (see here)]
Otherwise, the one who is unable to weigh-up an action in accepting or leaving it (against the legal benefits and harms) risks abstaining from obligatory acts and committing those that are impermissible.
5. Similarly, Ibn Nujaym stated that if one is faced with two evils that cannot be avoided the individual is to turn away from the greater evil by committing the lesser one (see ‘Al Ashbah wal-Nazaa’ir, ch. 98)
Ibn Al Qayyim said: “…the (shar’i) rule is to oppose the greater harm by considering the lesser one.” [I’laam Al Muwaqqi’een 2/6]
Al-Shatibi in his ‘Al-Muwafaqat’ and Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam in his ‘Qawaid Fiqhiyyah’ provide further details and elaborations on this topic…
6. Clarifying a misconception of this principle
And Allaah is the source of guidance.