Dr Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran

Dr Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran

Tuesday, 13 October 2020 10:35

The priority of preventing harm in society

In principles of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) there are several maxims that talk about the principles related to measures in dealing with harmful matters, including "harm should be eliminated".

Another maxim goes "no harm shall be inflicted or reciprocated", while the third one says "the prevention of harm should be given priority than promoting the benefit".

All three convey one message — the importance of preventing any kind of harmful things from taking place on individuals or society at large.

The third maxim has additional significance as it also emphasises the priority in two conflicting situations. When we face two contradictory options on the same situation, between preventing harm and gaining benefit, we have to prioritise the first one.

Among the reasons is that the failure to prevent harm may destroy even the benefit that we may gain, and not vice versa. This is the most important lesson that we have to learn amid the worrying spike of cases during this dangerous Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

Due to a lack of sensitivity towards others, a wrong action by one person, whoever he is, has led to grave implications for the majority of people.

Every person must be reminded that in a situation where maximum level of vigilance is needed, we have to put aside whatever benefit that we would have enjoyed. As the usul al-fiqh maxim reminds us, the priority has to be the prevention of anything that leads to the spread of the disease.

The following measures take priority:

FIRST, stricter punishment must be taken against offenders of rules and standard operating procedures set by the Health Ministry. Let the offenders learn their lesson the hard way before worst scenarios take place.

The implementation of the law should not discriminate between the status of the offenders since everybody is equal before the law. Similarly, the ignorance of the rule cannot be an excuse for anybody not to be justly punished as the legal principle holds that "ignorantia juris non excusat".

SECOND, there must be a high level of self-discipline among members of society in embracing the new normal in containing the pandemic. A surge of cases taking place every day, as well as the increasing number of people who are being fined and reprimanded due to their heedlessness of SOP only prove that the new normal continues to be new and not yet normal for these offenders.

Some people are still in need of the external factors in the form of strict laws and punishment before they can truly embrace the new normal. It is therefore important that every individual takes charge of their own self.

THIRD, inculcate the value of empathy for others. The country we are living in is like a ship that we share with many other people. Everybody has to take care not only of him or herself, but also other people.

There is a hadith of the Prophet which says, "None of you is a true believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself". The proof of this love is realised not only through the fulfilment of others' needs, but also through the prevention of others from doing harm to society.

All these measures must be taken seriously not only by the common people, but more importantly, by leaders who, in some cases, are caught in a dilemma between gaining benefit and political mileage.

There is a beautiful Malay proverb that says, "disebabkan nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga". It conveys the same message as the English proverb, "one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel". If we don't start being vigilant and take strict measures in prioritising the prevention of harm over personal benefit, we may have to pay a high price and wait a long time to rectify the situation.

The failure to flatten the curve will ultimately lead to other greater harm, such as economic downturn, social disharmony and political instability, which will wipe out all potential benefits for the majority of the people.

The writer is director of Centre of the Study of Syari'ah Law and Politics at Institute of Islamic Understanding

Published in: The New Straits Times, 10 October 2020

Source: https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/10/631030/priority-preventing-harm-society