Sheikh Allslam Ibn Taymia says in the chapter on the
conflict of good and bad things:
Since it is proved that good things lead to benefits, leaving them undone is. considered
as an evil, and evils are harmful. An undesirable thing may also involve some benefits
conflict happens between two good things that cannot be combined together, and so the
better one should be taken; between two bad things that cannot be averted, so the lesser
of them has to be accepted; or between a good thing and a bad thing which have to be taken
together or left together, and so should be taken or left according to which is bigger:
the benefit involved in the good thing or the evil inhering the bad thing.
The first type of conflict is such as the one between the duty and the recommended act,
such as giving precedence to the repayment of debts over voluntary sadaqat [donations]; or
between a farida that has to be performed by every Muslim and a farida that can be
performed by any Muslim on behalf of all Muslims.
The second type of conflict is like the conflict between giving priority to spending money
on one's wife and family over spending money on a jihad that has not become an individual
obligation and also the financial support of one's parents should have precedence over
jihad, as ordained by the sound hadith:
(The Prophet was asked, "Which
act is better?" He said, "Praying at the due times of prayer, then
treating one's parents well, then jihad for Allah's cause") Jihad, once it is an individual obligation, comes before hajj if the latter
is also an individual obligation and the same precedence is observed when the two are just
recommended acts, according to the Quran and Sunna. Reciting the Quran is given precedence
over dhikr [remembrance of Allah] if the two of them require equal involvement of the
heart and the tongue, while prayer is given precedence over the two of them if it demands
involvement of the heart like them, otherwise precedence should be given to dhikr over the
recital of the Quran that does not involve the heart. However, this is a very expansive
field of fiqh.
The third type of conflict is like that between a woman's travel alone without a mahram
[here: either her husband, or a man of her kin whom she may not marry and therefore would
be safe from sin with him such as a brother, a father, an uncle, etc] and her stay in Dar
alHarb, as was done by UmmKulthum, on whom Allah sent down the Verse of the Test:
( O you who believe! When there come to you
believing women refugees, examine [and test] them) [Surat AlMumtahana: 10].
Also in the fiqh of jihad, while killing noncombatant women
and children and their like is harem, they may be killed if need arises for a type of
combat that includes them, such as using mangonels or night raids, as is narrated in the
Sunna with regard to striking a siege around Taif and launching stones on it with the
mangonel, and also with regard to raiding infidels, who are residing in the Muslim
country, by night. This judgment is also aimed at averting the occurrence of fitna
(temptation against one's creed) by killing those who, otherwise, should not be killed
And such is the issue of tatarrus mentioned by Jaqihs (jurists). Jihad is a fight against
the dissent sown by unbelief. which is fought even if this involves accepting lesser
evils. Therefore, faqihs agree that when the evil against Muslims can only be averted by
means leading to killing those human shields. then they may be killed in some opinions.
Another type of conflict is that which occurs when a Muslim has to eat the flesh of a dead
animal in case of extreme hunger, where eating will be a good act that can be done only
through this evil act. An opposite case is whether to take an
obnoxious medicine, as its harm will be more than the cure it causes, and because other
medicines can replace it and also because cure is uncertain. The same applies to drinking
wine as a medicine.
An evil may be tolerated in two cases: if it will lead to avoiding a worse evil that
cannot be averted otherwise, and if it will bring about an interest that can neither be
abandoned nor be brought about otherwise. An interest or a benefit may be abandoned in two
cases: if it involves the loss of a better interest, or if it entails an evil that is much
larger. This is what relates to religious balances.
As for exemption from a duty as a result of a harm in
earthly life, or allowing an illegal thing for the sake of a benefit in earthly life, such
as exemption from fasting for the sake of travel, and allowing some taboos in hajj on
account of illness, exemption from certain fundamentals in prayer for illness, this is
another field that falls under the leniency of religion and the elimination of hardships
over which laws of various creeds may differ, contrary to the previous field which cannot
be a matter of dispute among creeds, at least on generalities, for they may differ on its
details. This is even determined by reason, as the adage has it, "A wise man is not
that who can tell good from evil, but it is that who can tell the better of two good
things and the lesser of two evils.
Therefore, it has settled in people's minds that at the
time of drought, rain becomes a blessing, for although it makes the harvest of tyrants
bigger its absence is harmful to all people. People also prefer having an unjust ruler to
having no ruler at all. A wise man once said,: "Sixty years under a tyrant ruler are better than one night with no
Moreover, a ruler is held responsible for the aggressions
he commits and the rights he neglects if he is in complete control of matters. However, I
say that if a ruler or an official cannot discharge his duties and keep away from all the
illegal things, but tries to avoid making mistakes while others make them intentionally,
then he may, or should be given the office, because if the public office involves certain
duties that have to be done, such as jihad against enemies, dividing the Fay enforcing
hudud (major punishments) and ensuring security, then it has to be filled. It is only to
be filled by someone who does not deserve it, and the official in question can not prevent
that, then his action will fall under the classification of (what is inevitable for
discharging a duty becomes a duty) and so its harm would be accepted if it is less than
the benefit of that duty. Moreover, if public office is not a duty and is assumed by an
unjust person, and someone else assumes it to lessen the injustice and lift its larger
part by accepting its lesser part, then his action will be good according to this
intention, and the evil will be committing in the course of his action to avert a larger
evil will be a good deed.
This is a field where the intention is the determinant factor. If a tyrant asks a man to
pay a certain amount of money and a mediator intervened to avert the injustice, taking
only part of the money from the man and giving it the tyrant to ensure that his injustice
is averted, and seeking to spare the man payment altogether, then this mediator will be
doing a good deed. However, if he interferes to aid the tyrant, he will be committing an
But the intention and act are foul in most of these cases. The intention is foul because
it is aimed at power and wealth, and the act is foul because it is intentionally aimed at
doing the unlawful and leaving out the obligations, not because of conflict or for the
sake of the best interest.
Besides, while public office may be permissible, desirable or imperative, there could be
other things that are more imperative or desirable to the man appointed to it, so he gives
precedence to the better of the two good things, sometimes out of obligation and sometimes
out of preference.
This classification includes the Prophet Joseph's assumption of responsibility for the
store houses of the land for the King of Egypt, even his asking for this position, while
the King and his people were unbelievers: (And to you there came Joseph in times gone by, with Clear Signs, but you
did not cease to doubt of the [mission] for which he had come) [Surat Ghafir: 34].
Allah says about Joseph, (O my two companions of the prison! [l ask you]: are many
lords differing among themselves better, or Allah the One, Supreme and Irresistible?
Whatever you worship apart from Him is nothing but names which you have named, you and
your fathers) [Surat Yusuf: 3940]. Unbelievers as
they were, they had to have a system and a tradition for collecting money and spending it
on the King's court, soldiers and subjects, and such a system and a tradition did not
agree with the practices and justice of prophets. So, Joseph was unable to do all that he
wanted by way of establishing the [approved] practices of Allah, for these people would
not go along with him. However, did what he could to establish justice and good, and he
gained, through his power, for the believers among his family members what he could not
have achieved otherwise. All of this falls under Allah's saying (So fear Allah as much as you can) [Surat
If two duties coincide but only one can be done and the more important is chosen, then the
other is no longer a duty, and he who leaves it for the more important duty will not be
shirking a duty.
Similarly, if two prohibited things combine so that the lesser of them has to be committed
in order to avert the larger one, doing the lesser one will not be prohibited in fact.
However, the action is called in the first
case a shirking of duty and in the second case
a committing of a prohibited action. It is said in this connection, "The duty was
left for an excuse and the evil was done for the sake of preponderant interest, or for the
sake of necessity. or for averting a worse evil".
This field of conflict is very expansive, especially where the inherited practices of
Sunna and Caliphate are rare and hence these conflicts become more. The more the rarity of
them, the more the aspects of conflict and the causes for dissent in the Nation. When
interests and evils are confused, ambiguity occurs, with some people seeing the interests
and choose a certain thing that involves great evils, others seeing the evils and choose
another thing: that leaves out many interests, and still others who ponder the two things.
A wise scholar should consider these matters carefully, for
he may have, as I have already said, to be flexible in passing decisions on certain
affairs instead of firmly allowing or banning something, such as when he is about to order
a duty that involves a greater evil, in which case he must not order the duty in order to
avert the evil. For instance, one might turn over a guilty man to a tyrant ruler who
sentences him to a punishment that exceeds his crime, or order a ban on doing some evil
things that involve a good thing that exceeds the goodness done by stopping these evils,
in which case one should not order the ban so that it may not involve leaving what Allah
and His Messenger have ordered, which could be greater in benefit than leaving these