The Permitting of Haram (the Unlawful) Under Necessity is Meant to Make Life Easy and Less Oppressive for Muslims
That the necessity removes restriction is an important juridical rule. It shows that the Islamic shari'ah (law) is not heedless of the exigencies of life nor to human weakness and our ability to face them; it allows the Muslim under the compulsion of necessity to do things which would otherwise be prohibited in order to meet the necessity and save himself from harm.
Necessity means harm. That is, when a person undergoes an excessive situation that could hurt him or destroy his body, part of his body, his mind, his family, his money or his religion.
The prohibited are the things that Allah ordained Muslims not to do whether these things are disliked or forbidden. This juridical rule is supported by a number of verses in the Qur'an as well as from the sunnah (the Prophetic guidance).
Proofs from the Qur'an
Allah says in the surah (chapter) of Al-Ma'idah:
"Forbidden to you for food are carrion, blood, swine-flesh, and that which has been dedicated to any other than Allah; that which was strangled; that which was beaten to death by a blunt instrument; that which fell a long fall; that which was gored by horns; that of which predators have eaten - saving that which you make lawful by slaughtering before they die; and that which has been sacrificed to idols. And forbidden also is settling matters with gambling-arrows. That is corruption. This day, those who disbelieve are in despair of ever stifling your religion; so fear them not, and fear Me! This day I have perfected your religion for you, and completed My favour upon you, and chosen Islam for you as religion. Whomever is forced by hunger, not by will, to sin, for him Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate."
This verse has clearly stated that prohibited food becomes permissible in times of emergency, i.e. extreme hunger.
In another verse Allah says:
"He has only forbidden you carrion, blood, and swine, and that which has been consecrated to any other than Allah. But who is driven by necessity, neither craving nor transgressing, it is no sin for him. For Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate."
In the surah of Al-An'am, Allah says:
"And why do you not eat of that [meat] over which the name of Allah has been mentioned, when He has explained to you that which is forbidden to you, unless you are compelled by necessity. But many mislead [others] by their own desires without knowledge. Your Lord knows best those who transgress."
Proofs from the Sunnah
Many traditions establish that necessity dictates exceptions - one of them is the saying of the Prophet, peace be upon him, "The harm should be removed."
The permitting of haram under necessity is meant to make life easy and less oppressive for human beings. Allah says:
"Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you ... "
In another verse He says:
"Allah would make the burden light for you for man was created weak."
However, the rule of necessity should in no way be used as a pretext to relish haram and embrace it with eagerness, or to succumb to desires, for it is well established that surrender to desires (the prohibited ones) is conducive to grave corruption. Allah says:
"And if the Truth had followed their desires the Heavens and the Earth and whoever is in it would have been corrupted. We have brought them their Reminder but from their Reminder they turn away."
To prevent those inclined to follow their desires from exploiting this great principle and using it as a tool for realizing their evil purposes the jurists of Islam established a number of stipulations that govern the use of this Islamic rule. Some of these conditions are:
- The necessity should be present and unexpected. If, for instance, some people were sailing in an overloaded ship and they knew from the weather forecast that there would be a strong wind in the next day, they would not be allowed, based upon this future forecast, to throw away some of the ship's load into the sea. But if the weather started changing and become rough, so much so that they either throw away some of the ship's load or face death, then the necessity requires them to get rid of some passenger's luggage and baggage in order to save the lives of passengers, but the affected passengers should also be later compensated for their loss;
- The necessity should be real and not imagined. Meaning the person must face a real prospect of losing his life, part of his body, his money, his mind, his family or his religion. However, the nature and magnitude of necessity is to be determined by certified and righteous jurists, not by ordinary persons. Hence, one is not permitted to take an interest-bearing loan in order to expand one's business or to multiply one's profits under the pretext that the protection of wealth is sanctioned by the shari'ah. One is also restricted from taking interest-bearing loan to buy new furniture or a new car. It is also impermissible for a woman to travel alone seeking education without a mahram (close male relative) for not only are all these goals not extremely necessary but also they could be achieved through other legal means or avenues;
- This rule is to be resorted to when there is no way of removing necessity other than by engaging in a haram act or thing. However, one should try hard to seek a halal (permissible) solution for his necessity for it is haram to pursue impermissible solutions for the problem when it could be alleviated by other halalways. For instance, it is not permissible to have a commercial insurance with the aim of protecting one's wealth. For even if we granted that insurance is a necessity still it could be realised through co-operative insurance. Allah says, "Help one another in benevolence and piety and help not one another in sin and transgression ... " [Al-Qur'an 5:2] One is also prohibited to take an interest-bearing loan to buy a house for one's family under the pretext of safeguarding his family and its sanctity, because this goal could be achieved by renting a house. One could also avoid taking commercial insurance by adopting other halal alternatives like the mudarabah contract wherein one party provides the money and the other provides the labour. A Muslim woman should also avoid exposing her body parts to a male doctor if there is an able female doctor who could handle her ailment.
- The quantity permitted is determined by the magnitude of the necessity. A sick woman, for example, should expose to a male doctor, or even to a female doctor, only the parts of her body that are crucial for diagnosis; and
- A solution for a problem should not lead to a more harmful result. For instance, a woman should not travel alone for medication for this will subject her to a worse problem which is fitnah (putting herself in ways of seductions and temptations).
And hence a Muslim should use and deal with the necessity rule cautiously and with complete piety and respect for Allah's limits and restrictions. He should not rush to engage in haram things and acts once he finds himself in a difficult situation. He should, instead, take time to deeply and carefully consider the situation at hand and do his best to try all possible legal outlets before committing haram. May Allah guide you and me to his straight path.
From The Islamic Awakening website (now defunct)