It was related on the authority of Abu Sa'id Sa'd bin Malik bin Sinan al-Khudri, radiyallahu 'anhu, that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, said:
"There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm."
[A excellent 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, sallallahu '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).]
There are other interpretations of the text. One of them is: "No harm and no harming". Another interpretation is given by Ustaz Jamaludin Zarabozo: "There is not to be any causing of harm; nor is there to be any requital of harm".
There is another version on the hadith in which the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, says: "No harm or harming in Islam". There is the additional phrase "in Islam". In a third version, the hadith states: "It is cursed whoever harms a mu'min (believer)."
Imam Abu Dawud stated that this hadith is one of the hadiths around which all of fiqh revolves. Furthermore, this hadith leads to the birth of new branches in fiqh, mainly fiqh maxims (qaw'ed fiqhiyyah) and rules. The text of this hadith becomes one of the most important maxims. Later on other maxims were derived from the text of this hadith. Some of them are as follows:
Harm is to be prevented from appearing as much as possible.
Harm is to be eradicated.
Harm is not to be removed by a similar harm.
A greater harm can be removed by a lesser harm.
Based on maxim number 4, it was realised that if someone has no other options, he should take the lesser of the two harms. Another situation is that if there is a conflict between two harms, precedence is given to avoiding the greater harm.
The presence of a particular harm is accepted towards a general harm.
Preventing harm takes precedence over gaining or attaining benefits.
If there is a conflict between factors permitting something and others prohibiting something, the prohibition takes precedence; that is, it is going to be given the priority.
Something harmful is not given precedence just because it was pre-existing. In other words, the pre-existence of something does not allow it to continue to exist and be the cause of harm.
There is a real story related to maxim number 8. This story took place in Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) where the people built a mosque. After several years or decades, many houses had been built around the mosque and at that time when the mu'zin wanted to make the call for prayer (Adhan), he used to climb up to the minaret. The fuqaha (jurists) ruled that the mu'zin should stop going up to the minaret in order not to cause any harm (from the minaret, one was able to see into other people's homes and thus invade their privacy).
Another maxim is if there is a conflict between individual harm and public harm, the prohibition of public harm will take precedence. The above are some of the maxims that are derived from the text of this present hadith.
When scholars talk about doing things right from the first time either based on experience or anticipation that certain things will cause harm, they urge people to take precautions to prevent any kind of harm. There are books written by Imam Muslim on this issue. When we look at these maxims, we see that they are very great where we have to anticipate the harm and not to allow it to take place. If it takes place, efforts should be done in order to bring it to an end or to remove it. If it cannot be removed, we should try our best to minimize the harm.
Based on the situation, if there is a conflict between a major harm and a minor harm, then the major harm should be avoided. This means that Muslims have to tolerate the minor harms for the sake of avoiding the major ones. In another situation, if we want to bring an end to a certain harm and if the result would be by bringing a similar or greater harm, then there is no need to remove it in this way. We should not remove harm by bringing a similar degree of harm. In this way the removal of harm would be useless. A greater consideration should be given to this point as this is related to ma'ruf (asking people to do good things) and munkar (asking people not to do harmful things). If the munkar (harm) is to be removed by creating a greater harm, this contradicts the objectives of the shari'ah. The objectives of the shari'ah are to prevent harm (if not, to minimize it) and to promote goodness and maximize it.
Regarding the interpretation of the text, Imam Ibn Rajab points out that what is stated in the hadith (i.e. the usage of the word "harm") is not a matter of emphasis. It is more sound because the two statements have different meanings.
Ibn Rajab and other scholars have given two interpretations of "harm/harming":
The first part of the hadith is the noun "no harm" and then the second part is the verb "harming". Harm is not allowed in shari'ah and causing harm without valid reasons is rejected and not accepted.
The second interpretation says that the first part of hadith (harm) means that the person causes harm to someone else by doing something which is beneficial to the doer. This kind of act is not allowed in Islam. The second part of hadith (harming) means that the person causes harm to someone else which is not even beneficial for him.
For example, suppose a person builds another floor (story) on top of his house and this results in his house being higher than his neighbours. This is beneficial to him but it causes harm to his neighbours as it invades their privacy. Ibn Rajab also says that the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, rejected causing harm if there is no valid reason. However, in the punishment of a criminal, there would be harm but the reason is valid. The aim here is to bring justice. In bringing justice, if there is any harm to an unjust person or criminal, then this harm is legal and allowed.
Causing harm without a valid or good reason
Ibn Rajab says the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, said that if the main objective is to actually cause the harm, then this is totally prohibited. There are many types of harms that are mentioned in the Qur'an:
Wasiyyah (will) - if a person has some money and he wants to give it to someone who is no related to him. He is allowed but he must not exceed the limits (one third). If he exceeds the limits, he will cause harm to the immediate inheritors. Another situation is to give someone more than he deserves, as stated in the Qur'an. To favour any one of the inheritors is harm. Ibn Abbas considers this as a major sin. Some Muslims practice this because of ignorance or self-interest. [See Surah An-Nisa' : Ayah 12]
Marriage and relationship between husband and wife. In al-raj'ah (returning), as stated in Surah Al-Baqarah Ayah 231 - someone divorces his wife and then he reconciles with her, but his intention in reconciliation is so that he can cause her harm. This is not allowed in Islam. Another point is aleyla' (disassociating with one's wife).
Traveling or being away from the family for a long time and without a good reason - this can cause harm to the wife and family.
Breastfeeding - in the case of divorce, the husband tries to take the baby away from the mother and not allow her to feed him. This is prohibited. [See Surah Al-Baqarah : Ayah 233]
Selling and trading - when someone is in great need of something, the seller (who knows this) sells him at a very high price - this is not allowed. Some scholars consider this as a form of riba' (profit) which is prohibited in Islam.
Somene who wants to buy is not good at bargaining, and because of this the seller sells at a very high price, more than it is worth. This is prohibited. According to Imam Malik if the price exceeds a third of what it is worth, it is considered harm.
Someone may do something for a beneficial reason and with a good intention. But he overdoes it, and consequently causes harm to others. Examples of this scenario are as follows:
Burning rubbish on your property on a windy day. This will cause harm to your neighbours. It may cause harm to the environment and the people in the neighbouring countries. This kind of harm should be brought to an end.
Building a high building, as mentioned above. Building a high building where it will obstruct air, sunlight, and moonlight, is not allowed because it will cause harm.
Digging a well that will cause damage to the well of one's neighbour. If one needs to dig a well, he should position it a little further away from his neighbour's.
Behaving on one's property in a way that will harm his neighbours.
Causing bad smell to spread from one's property to his neighbours'.
A person may have a property which is within the property of another person, on which he might cause the harm.
Ibn Rajab mentions that there are also some other types of actions which imply that Allah did not ask His servants to do anything that will cause us harm. He said that whatever Allah commands us to do is beneficial in this world and the Hereafter. And whatever Allah prohibits is harmful to us whether it is in this world or in the Hereafter. Examples of these actions include:
Tayammum (ablution without using water) - this is permissible for sick people or when there is no water.
The traveler or the sick does not have to fast - they can make up for it in the future.
Another example is taken from the biography of Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, where he saw someone walking and asked about him. The companions told him that this man made a vow or commitment that he will perform pilgrimage walking. The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, said Allah is not in need for this one to torture himself. He asked his companions to tell the man to look for a ride, that is, to use an easier way or means to go for his pilgrimage.
The person who has debt. If you lend someone money and he is indeed in a very bad financial situation, then you should give him time for him to get the money and pay you back.
These are just some examples that are mentioned by Ibn Rajab where there is a caused harm and that harm should be prevented.
Any act that causes harm to others, whether individually or as a community and whether it is beneficial or not beneficial to the one who causes it, is prohibited in Islam. It should not exist in the first place and if it did, then a deliberate effort should be made to remove or minimize it. The scholars point out that those in authority should interfere and prevent such harmful acts. http://fortyhadith.iium.edu.my/hadith32.htm