Humanity has been facing epidemics, suffering crises, enduring adversity, struggling with pandemics, and wrestling with plagues since its inception. No era has been free from one or another type of these calamities. Test and trial are the norm in this worldly life. The Arab poet Abu al-Ḥasan al-Tihāmī has said:
(The world) has been fashioned out of muddy matter
and you wish it to be pure of dirt and filth!
(You) desire the times to be like the opposite of their nature
and you seek a spark of fire in water.
Due to the difference of environments and diversity of epidemics, humans have adopted different methods of treatment. Each society went to the greatest possible extent in seeking better ways to face their pandemics, in particular consideration of the specific kind they were facing and the data about the environment to which they belonged. Thus, in response to such fearful situations, they adopted various methods and approaches.
At times some of them did not care whether the approaches they used corresponded to the dictates of reason. For example, we see that at times people relied on superstitions and sorcery. At times, they would have faith in creatures like themselves (seeking supernatural help from them). This is in spite of the fact that in the majority of cases, humans [instinctively] resort to Allah Almighty at times of adversity and compulsion, even though they denounce Him when free from want and when in possession of choice—just as Allah Almighty says:
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“And when adversity touches you at sea, lost are [all] those you invoke except for Him. But when He delivers you to the land, you turn away [from Him]. And ever is man ungrateful.” [Sûrah Al-Isrâ’, 17:67]
The Assurance Given to the Muslim
Muslims have engaged themselves in compilation and classification of such ailments as [epidemics and] diseases. They have, accordingly, studied the causes, remedies and effects of these diseases. They started with defining the diseases so that they could distinguish among them.
While defining plague, Ibn Hajar says:
[Plague] is the disease that corrupts the air, and this [in turn] corrupts the bodies and humors (amjizah). It is a toxic substance that causes a deadly swelling in the soft parts of the body. The cause of this [swelling] is the bad blood that starts to rot and corrupt. [i]
This view finds support in the following Prophetic saying:
“Plague (al-ta‘un) is swelling like the swelling of the camels.” [ii]
Moreover, the [early Muslim scholars] tried to find cures to the disease through the means allowed in the Sharī‘ah. They considered [the swelling condition] as one form of issues that require a lot of analysis of the observed facts along with the exhaustive study of the Sharī‘ah rulings relevant to it. In fact, at times, in their endeavor to explain the causes of its contagion and the ways it spreads, they even sought to relate it to past events. For example, while describing the conditions of Muslims in the wake of the destruction of Baghdad at the hands of the Mongols, Ibn Kathir says:
“Baghdad was left upturned. There were none but a few individuals [who survived]. The corpses on the street were piled up to form hillocks. Rain fell upon these, disfiguring their forms, which decayed. The foul smell rising out of the bodies polluted the city, turning bad the air in the atmosphere, and this resulted in the creation of an epidemic.” [iii]
The Conviction of the Muslim
Whatever adversity befalls a Muslims, [he knows that] he has no shelter and protection but with Allah Almighty in all circumstances. He relies on none other than Allah in all of his conditions. This is because he has a firm belief that Allah alone removes harms from us. He is the one who takes away tribulations, and He is the one who bestows upon us blessings. Allah Almighty —the exalted in power and might— says:
“…Who listens to the [soul] distressed when it calls on Him, and Who relieves its suffering, and makes you (O mankind] inheritors of the earth?” [Sûrah Al- Shu’arâ’, 27:62]
Thus the believers are of firm conviction and sound faith in what has been stated in the following Ḥadīth Qudsi. The Prophet of Allah (ﷺ) says that the Almighty ﷻ said:
“Son of Adam, do not be helpless in performing four rak’ahs for Me at the beginning of the day: I will supply what you need till the end of it.” [iv]
Thus, the believer always remains reliant upon His Rabb as he seeks His support through the Ṣalāh, beseeches Him in supplications, approaches Him through glorifications, remembering the following saying of His Lord:
“When the suffering reached them from Us, why then did they not learn humility?” [Sûrah Al-An’âm, 6:43]
The believer keeps acting upon the following saying of the Prophet (ﷺ): “Seek refuge in Allah against the turmoil, attacks of misfortunes, and the evil of judgment and joys on the part of the enemies.” [v]
And the believer firmly believes in the Prophetic words:
“If anyone says three times [at night]:
‘In the name of Allah, Who —when His name is mentioned— allows nothing on Earth or in Heaven to cause harm, for He is the Hearer, the Knower,“
then [Allah] will not suffer sudden affliction till the morning. And if anyone says this in the morning, He will not suffer sudden affliction till the evening.” [vi]
The believer lends himself power by following what has been stated in this Prophetic saying:
“He who recites the two Ayat at the end of Surat Al-Baqarah at night, they will suffice him (kafāhu).” [vii]
This kifāyah (sufficiency) [of reciting Q 2:185-186] includes protection from everything that is harmful.
This is in addition to the fact that the believer knows for sure that epidemics are part of Allah’s decrees and come under His cosmic decisions. The believer relies on Allah and seeks to take Sharī‘ah-allowed measures and uses those means while being in absolute submission before His Creator.
How the Muslim Responds to Threats
His belief that created things remain powerless [against the will of Allah] and his belief that these [created] means are weak, do not make him retire from taking spiritual and material means of protection against epidemics and other similar adversities. At the same time, he commits himself in what he does to what the Messenger of Allah taught, abandoning himself to it… This he does while opting for any of the available means of [prevention or cure]. Thus, in his efforts at containing the epidemic, he seeks to implement the Prophetic command:
“A man with sick camels should not let them graze or drink alongside a healthy one.” [viii]
This Prophetic command strictly requires a comprehensive quarantine [for livestock]. More to the evidence for the comprehensive quarantine [for persons] is obtained in the face of the following saying of the Prophet (ﷺ):
“If you get wind of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter [that land]; and if it breaks out in a land in which you are [residing], do not leave it.” [ix]
Thus, the requirement to observe separation and isolation is established merely on news of the spread of an epidemic at some place. One does not need to carry out research and observe the fact directly. The knowledge underlying this protocol is a great miracle.
The Messenger of Allah has encouraged us to quarantine so that contagion does not occur and disease does not spread elsewhere among the people. Consider the command of the Caliph ‘Umar al-Fārūq (RA) to the Amin of this Ummah, Abu ‘Ubaydah b. al-Jarrāḥ (RA) during the plague of ‘Amawās, in which he asked him to move the Muslim army away from [entering] the affected land, This affirm how the Companions understood the Prophet and how seriously they pursued this meaning.
This clear textual command does not contradict the Prophetic saying:
“There is to be no transmission of disease [allowed] of one person to another (‘adwah) and no [attribution of it to an] evil omen (ṭayrah).” [x]
The reason is that it is certain that no two Ṣaḥīḥ Ḥadīths of the Prophet can ever contradict each other. In fact, the second Ḥadīth clarifies the fact that the diseases have no power in themselves to transfer from one person to another, just as the rest of mundane means and causes are not effective on their own. Rather, disease spreads to another by the command of Allah, in accord with His predestination.
The prohibition of leaving the place affected by plague helps us appreciate that the Lawgiver does not intend that all the sound people should leave the affected place. Rather, they should quarantine themselves in place. If the unaffected people were all to leave, that would mean that the disabled and old would remain in the [infected] place on their own. They would be facing devastation. None would be there to look after them. Therefore, the wisdom of this ruling is manifest.
There is nothing baffling about this protocol. For the Prophet [was extremely merciful] as has been described by a poet:
He is mercy [incarnate] gifted to the creation [of the world].
How excellent a gift!
Of honorable attributes and morals,
all good for the settled and the nomad
Even before that, Almighty Allah, the exalted and the great, said about him:
“We have not sent you but as a mercy for all the worlds.” [Sûrah Al-Anbiyâ’,21:107).
This quarantine which the Prophet of Islam pointed out first of all, before all the other nations, is nothing but an application of the divine command:
“Do not kill one another. Indeed Allah is merciful to you.” [Sûrah Al-Nisâ’, 4:29).
He also said:
“And do not throw yourself into destruction.” [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:195]
How the Muslim Protects Himself
Therefore, it is incumbent upon the believers to use all means of protection and it is imperative for them to avoid sources of evil. They must take necessary possible steps to remove any threat of harm, utilizing approved medicine and appropriate foods. The plain truth requires that one must avoid mixing with the affected and stick to the Sharī‘ah and abide by conventional measures for purification.
It is a known fact that the foremost of the sharī‘ahs, which is the Sharī‘ah of Islam, has gone to great lengths to stress the preservation of health, and for this purpose it has stressed the effective measure of purification. Allah Almighty says:
“Allah loves those who repent and the ones who purify themselves.” [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:222]
Along with the observation of the command to take practical and spiritual precautions and to adopt means of protection, the believer should not depart from the sense of being in the company of Allah. He should always expect that Allah will cause good for him. He should have a firm belief and strong faith that the epidemic has come in order to make Muslims modify their behavior and push them to firmly follow the right path.
Moreover, [this confidence] can also help them gain higher statuses and shed their sins. For men are tested according to their status in the eyes of their Creator. Tests and tribulations were the normal ways of the Prophets, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon them all. However, their faith in Allah and reliance upon him did not waiver, nor did it suffer doubt even in the darkest of circumstances.
Here is the example of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) when he was in the cave of Thawr. The enemies were at the opening of the cave. He says to his companion,:
“Do not fear. Indeed Allah is with us.” [Sûrah Al-Tawbah, 9:40]
Then there is Moses (AS), about whom it was revealed to our Messenger (ﷺ) that even when Pharaoh and his army were gaining upon him and there was the sea in front of him:
“Indeed my Lord is with me and He will guide me.” [Sûrah Al-Shu’arâ’,26:62]
Muslims —who are engulfed in the sea of this current epidemic— have a beautiful example in the above Prophetic conducts. They are obliged to hold firmly to the Rope of Allah, the Book of God, and to keep before them the command of His Messenger:
“Anyone who remains in a town which is plagued with pestilence —maintaining patience, expecting [his] reward from Allah, and knowing that nothing will befall him other than what Allah has foreordained for him— he would receive the reward of a Shahîd.” [xi]
They must also stick to his saying:
“Plague is the grounds for martyrdom status of every Muslim [who dies because of it].” [xii]
The Muslims must also pay heed to the advice of Noah (AS), when he said to his people :
“… ‘Ask forgiveness from your Lord; for He is Oft-Forgiving; He will send rain to you in abundance; give you increase in wealth and sons; and bestow on you gardens and bestow on you rivers.’” [Sûrah Al-Nûḥ, 71:10-12]
Muslims must also believe in the following saying of their Lord, the mighty and exalted:
“And Allah was not going to punish them while they were asking for pardon.” [Sûrah Al-Anfâl, 8:33]
Thus, belief in Allah is protection. Reliance upon Him gives us satisfaction.
Calmness in Peril
How beautifully Ibn Qayyim has put it:
When [a believer] has full satisfaction in Allah’s cosmic command, and knows that nothing but what Allah has written for him can strike him, and that only what Allah wills does occur while what He does not will, does not occur, then there remains no cause of disquiet and grief. [xiii]
Based on this, we must stay away from grief and should not go [beyond confidence in Allah] into fear. We must also avoid carelessness and be slow in taking the necessary measures and means. We should rather deal with the issue rationally and realistically.
At the end, we ask Allah —the protector, the praiseworthy, the knowing, the merciful and the most compassionate— to remove the trouble, send away the misery from the Muslims and complete His blessings upon them. We also beseech Him to count those among them who die in the epidemic as martyrs deserving His mercy.
[i] Ibn Ḥajar Al-Asqalâni, Fatḥ Al-Bārī, 11:263.
[ii] Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Jāmi‘, al-Albānī, 3948.
[iii] Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidāyah wa Al-Nihāyah, 13:203.
[iv] Musnad Imām Aḥmad, No: 22469 and Sunan Abu Dawud, No: 1289. The Ḥadīth has been narrated from Nu‘aym b. Hammar al-Ghatfānī (RA). Al-Albānī has declared this Ḥadīth as Ṣaḥīḥ in his al-Jāmi‘(4339).
[v] Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, # 6616 and Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, # 2707. The Ḥadīth has been narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (RA)
[vi] Sunan Abu Dawud # 5088 (the wording used is his), Jāmi‘al-Tirmidhi, # 3388. The Ḥadīth has been narrated by Uthman b. ‘Affan (RA). Al-Albānī has declared this narrative as saḥīḥ.
[vii] Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, # 5771. The Ḥadīth of Abu Hurayrah (RA).
[viii] Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, # 5771, as the Ḥadīth of Abu Hurayrah (RA).
[ix] Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, # 5778, as the Ḥadīth of Usāmah b. Zayd.
[x] Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, # 5771 and Ṣaḥīḥ of Muslim, # 2221, both on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (RA).
[xi] Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, # 5734, on the authority of ‘Ā’ishah (RA).
[xii] Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, # 2830, Ṣaḥīḥ of Muslim, # 1916, on the authority of Anas b. Mālik (RA).
[xiii] Madarij Al-Salikin, 2:483.