THE LESSER EVIL

In the Shariah there is a principle called Ahwanul Baliyyatain which means the ‘lesser of two evils or the lesser of two calamities. In terms of this principle, when one is confronted with two evils or two calamities, one should opt for the lesser one. In some quarters this principle has been misunderstood. Even some learned men misinterpret it, thus involving people in the commission of haraam. The operation of this principle is based on a condition. This condition is the non-existence of a lawful alternative. This principle cannot be availed of, if a lawful option exists. Only when confronted by two evils and there is no exit may this principle be applied. When there is simply no other alternative, the Shariah orders that one should save oneself from the greater calamity by acceptance of the lesser calamity.

An example of the operation of this principle is given in the Qur’aan Majeed. Eating haraam meat is permitted to save one’s life. When a person is in the dire straits of starvation and no halaal food is available, then to save oneself from death, consumption of even pork becomes permissible. The conditions for this permissibility are:
(1) Total unavailability of halaal food of any kind whatever.
(2) Eating only sufficient to save one’s life.
Eating to satiation is haraam as well as eating for taste or pleasure. The two evils or calamities in this example are death due to starvation and consumption of haraam. The lesser evil according to the Shariah, not according to our logic, in this example is consumption of haraam to the extent of need.
A principle cannot be applied in isolation of its shuroot (conditions). It is not lawful to apply the principle and ignore the conditions which are essential for the validity of the principle. Thus, if a halaal option is available, it will be haraam to apply the principle of Ahwanul Baliyyatain
Once this has been understood there will be no difficulty in applying this principle. However, if someone is simply bent on misinterpretation for the purpose of gaining nafsaani satisfaction, then there is no rational argument for such a person. This man of dhalaal is not the subject of this address.
Some examples will be cited to illustrate the misinterpretation of this principle, which is generally motivated for the mismanipulation of situations at the behest of the nafs.
The question is asked: Is it better for a woman to work in her husband’s shop or elsewhere in a stranger’s business where she will be among ghair mahrams? Since the lesser evil is for a wife to be with her husband in his shop, misguided learned men advise that the woman should work in her husband’s shop. Even though she will be constrained to commit many Purdah violations and ruin her modesty in the purdahless environment of the shop. They argue that in view of it being the lesser evil, it is permissible for her to be employed in her husband’s shop.
This fallacious argument has completely ignored the essential condition of this principle. There is a third lawful- alternative available here, and that is adherence to the original command of Allah Ta’ala, viz., women should remain in the holy precincts of their homes. In the first instance it is haraam for women to emerge unnecessarily from their homes. It is the obligatory duty of the husband to ensure that he maintains his family. It is not the duty of the wife to earn and feed the family nor assist with this obligation. It is a kabeerah sin to pull her out of the sanctity of the home and plunge her into an environment of immorality and Hijaab violations. In this example, the woman is not compelled by anyone to choose between two evil options. She simply has to reject both options and remain at home in obedience to the Qur’aanic command:
“And (O you women!) remain within your homes.”
It is better for a woman to participate in a thikr session in a Madrasah hall than to wander around in a hypermarket. Since ‘the lesser evil is the former, votaries of public halqah thikr claim that she should participate in this form of thikr. Again, the essential condition for the application of this principle is ignored. A woman is not under compulsion to either visit the hypermarket or to participate in the thikr session. Since there is no such obligation or compulsion or need for her, it is not permissible for her to invoke this principle. She has to simply reject both options and follow the Islamic injunction of remaining at home. In fact, inviting women to participate in public lectures, thikr, Taraaweeh, etc., is not influenced by the principle of Ahwanul Baliyyatain. It is simply a new-fangled teaching of misguided learned men who seek to justify their errors by resorting to misinterpretation of the principles and teachings of the Shariah.

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