From Issue: 468 [Read full issue]
Necessities and Needs
Scholars of Islamic Law make a distinction between matters that are prohibited for their inherent evil and matters that are prohibited only because they have the potential to lead up to the perpetration of an inherent evil. For instance, murder, fornication, and drug abuse are prohibited in their own right. By contrast, a woman showing her face in public is prohibited by the scholars who regard it as prohibited because of the temptation that it might cause and that might lead to the sin of fornication or adultery. The woman is not required to veil her face for the mere sake of covering it.
This is an important distinction in Islamic Law. Things that are prohibited in their own right cannot be permitted except in cases of dire necessity (darūrah). For instance, a person may not drink wine. However, if that person is choking on something and can only find wine to save himself, he may drink it out of necessity. By contrast, things that are prohibited only because they can lead to other unlawful activities are allowed for any valid need (hājah).
Ibn al-Qayyim explains this principle in I`lām al-Muwaqqi`īn:
Prohibitions regarding the means to wrongdoing are not like things that are prohibited for their own sake. Prohibitions regarding the means to wrongdoing will be lifted for a valid need (hājah). As for things that are prohibited for their own sake, their prohibition is not lifted except in cases of dire necessity (darūrah).
"Lifting the Veil A Consideration of Circumstances" - Sāmī al-Mājid, professor at al-Imām Islamic University, Riyadh