Dr. Ibrahim Negm
Secretary-General, Fatwa Authorities Worldwide
The Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh) is known for its capacity and applicability to all times, places, conditions and people in a manner that attests to its flexibility to embrace changing circumstances whatsoever hard.
To this effect, there is Fiqh al-Nawazil (Jurisprudence and fatwas for newly emerging issues) that depends on understanding and applying the concept of Darurah (necessity) at the times of hardship and coming up with fatwas that help people survive such emerging or exceptional circumstances.
With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak worldwide, Muslims are in bad need for applying the Fiqh of necessity through issuing fatwas that facilitate this emerging case of hardship while maintaining the boundaries of the rulings of Islamic law. In this context, Imam Shafi’ said, “If a matter is difficult, ease it; and if a matter is easy, restrict it”.
Jurists and legal theorists (Usulyun) deducted a number of legal maxims from the actions and tacit approval of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) at difficult times and emerging circumstances. These include the legal maxim which states, “Necessity renders the prohibited permissible”. However, according to the two Imams ibn al-Subki and al-Suyti, necessity is measured according to its extent. Based on this perception, jurists, for instance, permitted consuming dead meat or drinking alcohol under a life or death situation.
Deducting the rulings of Fiqh is mainly based on meticulously balancing interest (maslaha) and harm (mafsadah), and therefore, jurists stated that it is essential to balance what comes under necessity and that which is a restriction. Based on this, allowing a matter which is basically restricted in Islamic law is intended to protect lives, property, faith, progeny and honor or comes to lift the hardship upon experiencing a fatal danger that inevitably threatens lives. Jurists agreed that this last case comes under the concept of necessary human needs (hajiyyat) which takes the same ruling as achieving the five objectives of Islamic law. In this respect, jurists agreed that “need”, either public or personal, takes the same ruling as necessity and in another relevant legal maxim, jurists stated that “difficulty begets ease”.
Applying and enacting these legal maxims at times of hardships or emerging circumstances removes harm, facilitates things for mukallafeen (legally responsible individuals) and proves the greatness of Fiqh and capaciousness of Islamic law. Scholars and jurists, on the other hand, have to realize that applying these legal maxims at times of need or necessity comes in line with and achieves the five main objectives of Islamic law.
In line with these legal maxims, Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta and the Council of Senior Scholars at al-Azhar stated in their fatwas that it is permissible not to attend the congregational and Friday prayers in mosques due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which unquestionably achieves one of the objective of Islamic law; namely protecting lives. With this rapid spread of the virus worldwide, the fatwa could go further to endorse preventing congregations inside mosques the same as preventing other forms of gatherings. Having the virus hitting Muslims in other Muslim countries due to religious gatherings, it becomes necessary, in this case, and obligatory upon scholars and jurists to warn people against participating in any religious collective activities.
To this effect, scholars stated that it suffices to engage in individual religious activities or group online communications. This is because protecting lives takes precedence over practicing or performing any religious rites including pilgrimage (hajj and ‘umrah) and Friday prayer.
There are many scholars and jurists who maintained the legal objective of preserving lives and gave it a priority over other objectives including preserving faith or observing “religious rites”. Imam al-Razi said in his book al-Mahsoul fi ‘Ilm al-Usul (vol.5, P. 220), “Matters that come under Darurah are that which dedicated to achieving any of the five objectives of Islamic law and that include protecting lives, property, progeny, faith and intellect”.
Imam al-Zarkashi defined necessity his book in al-Bahr al-Muheet (vol.7, P. 266), “It means achieving one of the five objectives agreed upon by all heavenly revealed legislations. These include: First, protecting lives by legislating retaliation (qisas), without which people might kill one another with no right and stir conflict over interests… Fourth, protecting (religion) for the sake of faith itself and engaging in defending it against the perpetrators…”
Imam al-Esnawi said in Nihayat al-Soul Sharh Minhaj al-Wusul (vol.1, P.256), “The five objectives of Islamic law include: Protecting lives, intellect, property, progeny and honor”.
He, Imam al-Esnawi, also reported in the same book that ibn al-Hajib said, “The objective relating to preserving religion comes at the end of the list of Islamic law’s objectives since the rights of humans are based on controversy”.
In this respect, it is worthy to mention that the apparent conflict between protecting lives and protecting religion is only relating to observing the rites of the religion and is not relating to questioning creed (‘aqidah) matters. ‘Aqidah is that firm belief in the believer’s heart and does not entail any question in this context of applying Fiqh of necessity. Therefore, God Almighty permitted whoever is coerced to show disbelief to utter it only verbally as per His words, “Whoever disbelieves in God after his belief, except for one who is forced [to renounce his religion] while his heart is assured with faith. But those who [willingly] open their hearts to disbelief, upon them is wrath from God, and for them is a great punishment” (Quran 16: 106).
This verse was revealed when the polytheists, in Mecca, forced Ammar ibn Yasir (may God be pleased with him) to utter inappropriate words about the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) and praise their idols. Upon meeting him, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked, “Ammar! What is the matter?” He responded, ‘O Messenger of God, I have been ruined! These tyrants gave me so much grief that I uttered some inappropriate words about you and praised their idols.’ To which the Prophet responded, ‘How do you find your heart?’ Ammar responded, ‘O Messenger of God, my heart is still in full assurance of faith’. The Prophet replied, “If they ever do it again, do the same.”