Question: Salam,
I heard there is a hadith stating, “There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm.”

So would it not be okay to hit someone if they hit you first, or say something mean if someone said something first?

Wa alaykum salam

Thank you for writing to us.

The hadith you mention, narrated from the messenger Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), namely that there should be no harm or reciprocation of harm is a sound hadith transmitted by Ibn Majah, Daraqutni, and others.

Scholars take different views as regards the meaning of harm (darar) and the reciprocation of harm (dirar). In his commentary on the forty ahadith of Imam Nawawi, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami listed several of these views.

Some held that “there should be no harm” means that one should not harm a person even if the harm one causes him benefits him. “No reciprocation of harm” (dirar) means that one should not inflict harm on another that does not benefit him.

Others said that “there should be no harm” refers to a situation where you benefit while your neighbor is harmed, and there should be “no reciprocation of harm” refers to a situation where you do not benefit while your neighbor is harmed.

Ibn Hajar referred to many other views and concluded that the official view amongst Shafi’i scholars is that both terms mean the same thing, namely that one should not inflict harm on another. [Ibn Hajar, al-Fath al-Mubin]

Thus, the shari’ah has a foundational legal maxim that harm will be removed.

However, it is permissible to retaliate by harming one who hits you or intends to harm you. Fiqh devotes a specific chapter to defending oneself from one who intends to or does harm you by hurting your person, wealth, or blood. It is permissible to defend yourself by any means necessary, even killing.

However, the jurists say one may only deflect harm from another by the lightest means. So, if it is possible to defend yourself by speaking or calling for help, it is not permissible to hit. If it is possible to hit with your hand, you may not hit with a whip. If it is possible to hit with a whip, you may not use a stick, etc. Therefore, it is permissible to defend yourself from someone who intends to harm you. You may hit him if there are no other sufficient means to protect yourself from harm from him. [al-Mawsu’a al-Fiqhiyya]

It is important to remember that one may not hit another in the face. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “If one of you were to hit his brother, he should avoid hitting his face.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

And Allah knows best,
Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Abdurragmaan received ijazah ’ammah from various luminaries, including but not restricted to: Habib Umar ibn Hafiz—a personality who affected him greatly and who has changed his relationship with Allah, Maulana Yusuf Karaan—the former Mufti of Cape Town; Habib ‘Ali al-Mashhur—the current Mufti of Tarim; Habib ‘Umar al-Jaylani—the Shafi‘i Mufti of Makkah; Sayyid Ahmad bin Abi Bakr al-Hibshi; Habib Kadhim as-Saqqaf; Shaykh Mahmud Sa’id Mamduh; Maulana Abdul Hafiz al-Makki; Shaykh Ala ad-Din al-Afghani; Maulana Fazlur Rahman al-Azami and Shaykh Yahya al-Gawthani amongst others.