Fatawa >Section Ten > P1


Rules of Self-defense


Self-defense and all that which is aimed at preserving one's life are intrinsic urges. Thus, the Shari'a has made it lawful and obligatory on the mukallaf to comply with it. Furthermore, by rewarding the practicing self-defense and punishing for its abandonment, the Shari'a has stressed its importance for it aims at man's prosperity, progress of nations, and peace and security of the human race.

The importance of this sacred duty is not less than that of enjoining good and forbidding evil, if it does not outstrip it. By taking to the former, we aim at defending the faith and moral values; by practicing the latter, which is a defensive jihad, we mean to protect the very existence of the human race society, and the homeland, hence the plethora of Quranic verses and traditions (hadith) which talk favorably about this topic; parallels have often been drawn between jihad and striking a deal with the Creator, in that embarking on it would open up a special gate to Heaven, which Allah has reserved for the elite among His creation.

We will confine the discussion to the defensive type of jihad (al jihad ad difa'ie), because the jihad in the way of Allah (al jihad al ibtida'ie) is not feasible before the re-appearance of the twelfth Imam (May Allah hasten his re-appearance).

Defensive jihad does not stop at defending oneself, property, honor, etc., rather it goes far beyond this circle to cover the defense of others, be they Muslim or non-Muslim. Furthermore, it goes beyond driving away direct threat to one's own being to that which is indirect, e.g. that which may result in undermining society, the land as a sovereign entity, and all that which relates to its security, economic welfare, political interests, and so on of the type which makes the individual and society function according to what Allah has ordained.

On certain occasions, self-defense against the dangers on a personal level could fall on the individual himself (wjibun aini), if he can do that. However, should the individual not be in a position to protect himself, others should, by way of wajibun kifa'ie, take it upon themselves to do it for him.

Yet, defending the homeland and other public interests falls within the remit of wajibun kifa'ie to start with. That said, it might take the description of wajibun aini sometimes.

Defending Oneself and Similar Issues

i. Self-defence

170. It is obligatory on every mukallaf, man and woman, to ward off danger from themselves, regardless of its source, be it from another human being ,animal, or anything else (natural). Indeed, it is haraam for the mukallaf to cause injury to themselves.

The level of personal injury precipitating action from the individual to protect himself against it is that which reasonable people perceive as practicable. However, its uppermost ceiling is death. Next on the list of dangers is coma, paralysis, insanity, and blindness, i.e. in that order of gravity; thereafter ghastly wounds and cuts, fractures and diseases, especially acute ones and those resulting in excruciating pain, and so forth.

That said, cuts, bruises, concussions, mild pain, or common diseases, such as colds and cough are not of that order.

Other dangers which one should guard against are sexual attack, attacks aimed at denigrating the human integrity and honor by way of adverse attitude and perhaps rude language, which could lead to ridiculing, upsetting, or harassing the victim, and any other moral injury.

Among the dangers too is breaching other people's privacy, by way of breaking into their homes, snooping on them, for any purpose and by any means, such as by using binoculars, peeping, filming, taking snapshots… etc. The victim has every right to avert/fight of such crimes perpetrated against him, so much so that they should not be held responsible to indemnify any material damage sustained by the culprit, should it occur in the process of defending oneself.

171. No exceptions are such self-inflected inquiries as endangering one's health by smoking. Among these too are those sustained for "religious reasons", such as cutting one's head with a sword or a machete, or causing bleeding in other parts of the body or burning them (self mutilation) in commemorating the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (a.s.).

However, if any of these actions fit the definition of injury, which one should protect oneself from, it is haraam, i.e. one should not put themselves in harm's way. This is so, even if the practice has become established and widespread or tinged with some "religious' tradition, which the Shari'a neither called for nor condoned.

172. It may be obligatory to sustain a lesser injury to avert a greater one. Indeed it may be obligatory, or permissible, to getting martyred in the process of waging jihad against the enemy.

173. Protecting oneself is done in two stages:

i. By taking necessary measures to avoiding danger and shielding oneself against it. This is a fundamental means to forestalling natural dangers from taking their toll on the human being, such as those accidents caused by the elements, contagious diseases, predatory animals, etc.

Should the aggressor be a human being and it is possible to avoid their aggression, by any means at one's disposal, even by fleeing, it is permissible to do it, unless it leads to breach of the sanctity and dignity of the intended victim; however, it may be obligatory, even with the possibility of humiliating oneself, if both the safety of the aggressor and the victim could be achieved, especially in situations of the flare-up of tempers between family members, or the aggressor being a lunatic, and so on.

It is worth noting, though, that cases covered in this type of self-defense are numerous and varied; indeed, some of them are complex. Thus, the mukallaf should spare no effort in being very careful in identifying what is best for them, but never losing sight of getting to grips with the dictates of the practical laws of Islam, being cautions, and godly.

Precaution is called for in every sphere of self-defense and the means uses to achieve it, even when using force and violence, lest one should be excessive, so much so that they could be overstepping the boundaries of the legitimate right.

ii. The use of pre-emptive strike, as a means of averting imminent danger, but stopping short of causing death. However, it is within one right to use any means at their disposal to protect themselves, even if it leads to hurting the aggressor and killing them in the process.

That said, every care has to be taken to using force, starting with the less harmful to the most devastating one as the case may be, provided that the party doing the defending should be capable of handling the confrontation on all levels. This is in stark contrast with the situation where the would-be victim is not capable in every department to handle the fight, i.e. even with the step-by-step approach.

174. Every case of defense has its own means of progressive approach, as follows:

i. Resorting to any way falling short of hitting; this could be achieved by insulating oneself from the aggressor by, say, a shield, locking the door, shouting, firing in the air, brandishing a gun, and showing sings of aggressive behavior.

ii. Using force against the aggressor by way of hand and stick. Such force should first be directed to the parts of body that produce the least pain and gradually to the force which inflict most pain. Progression in the level of force used is also called for, i.e. from that which my not leave marks on the body to that which is capable of leaving such marks.

The type of defensive weapon used should also be taken into account. That is, the use of blunt implements for a start to the sharper and then the sharpest, in the last resort. The type of intended injury should start with the most superficial to the severest.

However, should the would-be victim know before hand that the aggressor cannot be repelled only with the maximum force; they have the right to do so. The same goes for not being able to identify the least injurious method of defense to the aggressor because of the nature of the standoff and its complications.

They yardstick of deciding the level of force which may result in inflicting the least painful injury or the most painful one is what has become common practice (urf).

157. The person resorting the protect themselves against aggression should not be made to compensate the aggressor, be it for a personal injury or loss of property, if they abided by what is within their own right. Should they use unwarranted excessive force and turn aggressors themselves, they must stand to indemnify the other party.

176. The person might erroneously think that someone intended to attack them. In the process of warding the perceived danger off, they inflicted injury on the other party. They should be held responsible for compensating the injured party any loss, be it personal or in property. However, the culprit should not be deemed sinful.

177. The person carrying out self-defense must fulfill certain requirements to qualify for engaging in such an activity:

i. Making absolutely sure that the other party is intent on inflicting harm on you. This should be the case because mere suspicion of the perceived danger does not give you the right to engage the other party, while you have the means of fighting off the danger.

Should you think that they might wage s surprise attack on you, while you are not prepared, and that such a suspicion is accepted as an established practice (urf), it is permissible for you to engage them. Should there only be a remote chance of the other party really meaning to attack you, to say it is permissible to engage them, is problematic (ishkal); it is more likely (al aqrab) that it should not be the case.

ii. If there be a possibility that you are not going to overcome the aggressor, you are not required to engage them, unless in not doing so a greater harm could ensue. In such a case, it is incumbent on you to stand for your right, even if you may be defeated.

iii. In defending yourself against injury or death, you are not required to fight of the aggressor, even if it leads to their death. That is, although you are allowed to do so, it is not obligatory.

As for the cases where defense is sanctioned, such as protecting your property, engaging the aggressor is haraam, if it leads to their death. Anything short of causing their death is permissible, even though what my result from the action of defending your property is far worse than what you have set out to preserve.

178. For self-defense to become permissible or obligatory there is no difference whether it came from a stranger or a relative, be they close or far, including family members. That is, you are justified in defending yourself against any attack, albeit from a father or a son, even if the engagement results in death.

179. Once the aggressor is checked and backs off, it is not permissible to chase them up; should you carry on engaging them after they have backed off or fled and caused them any injury in the process, the victim turned aggressor should stand to compensate them any loss they may have sustained, let alone deeming them guilty.

 180. Should repelling aggression require enlisting the help of the wrongdoer or the unbeliever, it is either permissible or obligatory, as dictated by the circumstances. This should be the case, even if the victim resorted to using undue excessive force in the process.

However, if the victim was able to prevent the helping party from using excessive force, it is obligatory on them to do so. The party who has sought help should not indemnify any injury of loss caused by the helping party; the latter are responsible for their own actions.

181. Should a scuffle between two people, resulting in mutual injury, both the parties involved should indemnify one another's injury or loss of property. However, should any party back off, and the other party continue with the fight, forcing them to take action to stop the aggression, and causing injury to the attacker in the process, they should not be held accountable to compensate the attacker.