Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺteachings on pandemics
Being clean and hygienic is a part of Islam. No Salah is accepted without being hygine i.e. Performing Wuzu before Salah. Islam is the only religion which made hygiene part of Islamic rituals whether performing Salah, reading Qur’an (Mushaf) or offering pilgrimage(Umrah/Hajj) or in the state of Fasting. Its compulsory for Muslims to have bath after meeting(intimacy) of husband and wife.
Islamic rules over epidemics to protect people from death and sickness go back to the very early stages of the emergence of the monotheistic religion. On many occasions, the Prophet Muhammad[ﷺ] advised his companions to value their lives as the utmost importance over death in his numerous sayings (hadiths), urging people to stay away from places where there were epidemics.
Islam has been handling pandemics for more than 1,400 years and an honest study of the traditions of the Prophet Muhammadﷺ, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him], demonstrates that infection control is inherent in Islamic practices. Below are few Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ teachings regarding pandemics.
To be away from the city or place of Epidemic(Plague / Waba) is the primary teaching of Prophet Muhammadﷺ. One of the companion of Prophetﷺby name `Umar bin Al-Khattab(R), he left for Sham, and when he reached a placed called Sargh, he came to know that there was an outbreak of an epidemic (of plague) in Sham(Syria). Then `Abdur Rahman bin `Auf(R) told him that Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "If you hear the news of an outbreak of an epidemic (plague) in a certain place, do not enter that place: and if the epidemic falls in a place while you are present in it, do not leave that place to escape from the epidemic." So `Umar(R) returned from Sargh. Sahih al-Bukhari 6973
Plague as punishment
Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "Plague was a means of torture sent on a group of people of the book (or on some people before you). So if you hear of its spread in a land, don't approach it, and if a plague should appear in a land where you are present, then don't leave that land in order to run away from it (i.e. plague). Sahih al-Bukhari 3473
Travel bans and quarantine
The Prophet [ﷺ] recognized and preached the importance of travel bans and quarantine in places contaminated with disease in order to mitigate the spread of illness. He said, “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; and if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.” Sahih al-Bukhari 5728
The wisdom in these teachings asserts that when confronting any outbreak, it is absolutely imperative that we assume the worst until we know otherwise (and act accordingly). Thus, strict travel bans imposed much earlier in Covid-19’s timeline could very well have curtailed the spread of the virus.
Social distancing, Avoiding touch and isolation
The Prophet ﷺ practiced social distancing as well. It is reported that a leprous man once wished to pledge his allegiance to him, an act that would require him to touch or hold the Prophet’s[ﷺ] hand.
فَأَرْسَلَ إِلَيْهِ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم " ارْجِعْ فَقَدْ بَايَعْتُكَ
Keeping his distance, the Prophet ﷺ sent word to him saying: go back, your pledge had already been accepted and that he should return home. Sunan an-Nasa'i 4182
Regarding isolation, the Prophet ﷺ taught that those who are sick should not in any way compromise the community at large. He said, “Do not place a sick with a healthy.” This teaching was extended to animals as well; “The cattle suffering from a disease should not be mixed with healthy cattle.” Sahih al-Bukhari 5771
In our current circumstances, social distancing and self-isolation have been frustratingly difficult for governments to impose. Ultimately, they have been compelled to lay heavy fines and even imprisonment for not obeying emergency laws.
In stark contrast to this, Muslims in the time of the Prophet ﷺ and thereafter practiced social distancing and isolation as if it was a religious injunction.
Umar(R) once encouraged a leprous woman who was circling the sacred Ka‘bah in Makkah to go back to her home as it would be better for her (and others). After Umar’s(R) demise, a man told her that the one who forbade her had passed away so she could go and circle the Ka‘bah as she pleased. She replied, “I am not going to obey him when he is alive and disobey him when he has passed away.” Indeed, this is a beautiful example that reflects the spiritual power and impact of the Prophet ﷺ and his rightly guided Khulafa. Muwatta Imam Malik 1603
Hygiene (Masking or covering face)
If there is one thing people have learned over the past several weeks, it is proper hand washing techniques and thorough hygienic practices – a hallmark of Islam. Any Muslim child can quote verbatim the tradition that states,
: قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم:الطُّهُورُ شَطْرُ الإِيمَانِ
“Cleanliness is half of the faith.” Sahih Muslim 223
Before each of the five daily prayers, a Muslim performs an ablution that comprises of ritual cleaning from head to toe with clean water. The Prophet ﷺ also taught through his practice that the right and left hands should be used to handle pure and impure things respectively, further committing to a high standard of cleanliness on a day-to-day basis.
Furthermore, when he would sneeze, the Prophet ﷺ would cover his face and muffle the sneeze, effectively containing the spread of airborne bacteria and viruses. Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi 2969
In essence, Muslims are taught that physical cleanliness and spiritual purity have a close affinity with one another. Thus, the Holy Quran teaches, “Indeed, Allah loves those who turn to Him [repenting] and he loves those who keep themselves clean and pure.” Surah al-Baqarah2, Ayath 222
To cover mouth
On the authority of Abu Huraira (R): he said: "The Messenger of Allah [ﷺ]would place his hand or clothing on his mouth when he sneezed, and in this way reduced or diminished his voice" Sunan Abi Dawud 5029
Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) taught us: When one of you yawns let him cover his mouth with his hand. Sahih at Tirmizi 2970
To cover the vessels and tie the water skin
On the authority of Jaber bin Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him): he said: I heard the Messenger of Allah[ﷺ]saying: "Cover the vessels and tie the waterskin, for in the year there is a night when a disease descends, and something of that disease will descend on the vessel on which there is no covering, or waterskin that is not tied" Sahih Muslim 2014
To wash the hands before dipping them into vessels
The Messenger of Allah [ﷺ] said: "When one of you wakes from his sleep, let him not dip his hand into the vessels until he washes it three times, for he does not know where his hand spent the night" Sahih Muslim 278
Seeking Medical Treatment
Islam, as taught by the Prophetﷺ, is a practical and progressive faith-based system. The Prophet ﷺ encouraged people to seek medical assistance alongside relying on the power of prayer.
Once, he was asked by a group of Bedouins if it would be considered sinful if they did not seek medical treatment. He replied, “Seek (medical) treatment, O Slaves of Allah, for Allah does not create any disease but He also creates with it the cure, except for old age.” Sahih al-Bukhari 5678
The Prophetﷺ also clarified that seeking medical assistance coupled with divine intervention was the key to successful treatment; “Every disease has a cure. If a cure is applied to the disease, it is relieved by the permission of Allah the Almighty”. Sahih Muslim 2204
Free medical care
Free medical care and financial assistance during a pandemic are crucial in successfully controlling the spread of illness. If the citizens of a nation know that they will be provided and cared for, they will be more likely to follow sanctions that could otherwise put them in financial distress.
The bait-ul-mal (government treasury) was conceptualized in the time of the Prophet ﷺand formally established during the Khilafat of Hazrat Umar(R). The taxes collected in this treasury were used to provide for the poor, disabled, elderly, orphans, widows and others in need. The government was also made responsible to stockpile food supplies in case of disaster or famine.
Supplications or Dua to seek refuge from diseases/ illnesses
It was narrated from Anas that:The Prophet [ﷺ] used to say: "Allahumma inni a'uzu bika minal-jununi wal-jazami, wal-barasi wa sayy'il-asqam
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْجُنُونِ وَالْجُذَامِ وَالْبَرَصِ وَسَيِّيءِ الأَسْقَامِ
(O Allah, I seek refuge in You from possession, leprosy, leukederma and bad sickness or illnesses (that may lead to visible deformity)." Classed as Sahih by Shaikh Albani in Sahih Nasa'i 5508
Similar wordings with slight change:Allahumma inni a'uzu bika minal- barasi wal jununi wal-jazami, wa min sayy'il-asqam
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْبَرَصِ وَالْجُنُونِ وَالْجُذَامِ وَمِنْ سَيِّئِ الأَسْقَامِ
Classed as Sahih by Shaikh Albani in Sunan Abi Dawud 1554
In conclusion, the Prophet Muhammad’s[ﷺ]teachings around pandemics propose an infection control mechanism that calls for both faith and practical measures to be taken in order to effectively contain infectious diseases.
Today, world leaders have two equally important responsibilities – solving the Covid-19 crisis and improving the way we respond to outbreaks in the future. Without a doubt, the history of Islam’s battle against pandemics is indispensable and could very well guide our infection control systems now and in the future.
See also: Pandemic; Covid19; Protection; Prophet Muhammadﷺ;