بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
All praise is for Allah the Almighty; we praise him and seek refuge in him from the evils within ourselves and from our actions.
Many of us are likely aware of the current outbreak of a new strain of Coronavirus, COVID-19. The first recorded case in the UK was confirmed on 31st January 2020 with a total of 19 reported cases, as of time of writing. The medical community have estimated a mortality rate of around 1-2% from known cases, though there is no reliable figure due to suspected unreported and asymptomatic incidents worldwide.
As can be seen in the past few weeks, due to the 24-hour nature of media organisations around the world, news regarding the outbreak has been reported at a feverish rate. This level of coverage for the severity of the related affliction is disproportionate as there has not been a single death in our place of residence.
However, not much seems to have been written about how you and I, from an Islamic perspective, should respond to the seemingly growing threat, nor how the Messenger of Allah, may peace and blessings be upon him, may have responded to such an event. This article aims to put forward some practical advice for our communities to help us better cope with the situation we find ourselves in.
What does Islam say?
- Illnesses and natural calamities are an inevitability
Allah, the Almighty, has informed us that we will be tested in many different ways, and tests of loss of health and life is but one of them, as he says in the Qur’an:
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient.” Qur’an, Al-Baqarah (2:155)
And in another verse, he, the Almighty, said:
“Do they not see that they are tried every year once or twice but then they do not repent nor do they remember?” Qur’an, Tawbah (9:126)
This theme is recurrent in the Qur’an; tests will come, however and whenever our Creator wishes
- Tests and trials exist as a purification for some and a punishment for others
Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri, may Allaah the Almighty be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allaah, may peace and blessings be upon him said: “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that.” Sahih al-Bukhaari (5641)
And in another amazing narration specifically about plagues he, may peace and blessings be upon him, also said:
“Plague was a punishment which Allah used to send on whom He wished, but Allah made it a mercy for the believers. None (among the believers) remains patient in a land in which plague has broken out and considers that nothing will befall him except what Allah has ordained for him, but that Allah will grant him a reward similar to that of a martyr.” Sahih al-Bukhaari (5734)
The scholars of Islam have highlighted three ways that tests can be a reward or punishment:
- Making people frightened and teaching them humility
Allaah the Almighty says in the Qur’an:
And We have already sent [messengers] to nations before you, [O Muhammad]; then We seized them with poverty and hardship that perhaps they might humble themselves [to Us]. Then why, when Our punishment came to them, did they not humble themselves? But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made attractive to them that which they were doing. Qur’an, An’am (6:42)
- A means of punishment for the wrongdoers
Imam Bukhari, may Allah the almighty have mercy on him, narrated that the Messenger of Allaah, may peace and blessings be upon him said:
“It [the plague] is a means of punishment with which some nations were punished and some of it has remained, and it appears now and then…” Sahih al-Bukhaari (6974)
- To cause people to turn back to him and obey his commands and stay away from his prohibitions
Allah, the Almighty, makes clear that tests, whether good or bad, exist to make one return to him as is mentioned in the Qur’an:
And We divided them throughout the earth into nations. Of them some were righteous, and of them some were otherwise. And We tested them with good [times] and bad that perhaps they would return [to obedience]. Qur’an, A’raf (7:168)
- Success in tests and trials is through patience
In a famous narration, the Messenger of Allah, may peace and blessings be upon him said:
“Amazing is the believer, for whatever Allah decrees for him, it is better for him! If he is tested with a bounty, he is grateful for it and this is better for him; and if he is afflicted with a hardship, he is patient with it and this is better for him.” Sahih Muslim (2999)
- Every illness is from Allah the Almighty, and for every illness there is a cure
The Messenger of Allah, may peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Allah does not send down any disease, but He also sends down the cure for it.” Sahih Bukhari (5678)
He, may peace and blessings be upon him also reported to have said in another narration:
“Allah has sent down both the disease and the cure, and He has appointed a cure for every disease, so treat yourselves medically, but use nothing unlawful.” Sunan Abu Dawud (3874)
Therefore, illnesses should be treated based on three conditions:
- The treatment should not be something impermissible
- There should be no serious adverse effects
- One should have full knowledge of the treatment – refer to medical advice
It is possible that one dies as a result in which case one should remember that the outcome of this life does not depend on the mode of death, rather on one’s belief and deeds before it.
What practical steps can we take?
The law of the Lawgiver was given to us to organise and straighten our affairs, and spread justice among the creation of Allah, the Almighty. What does Islam say about conducting ourselves in these times? What practical advices can we obtain from the words of our Creator and from the life of his Messenger, may peace and blessings be upon him?
- One should not travel to or from places of serious, contagious illnesses
There is a great principle mentioned in the Qur’an, where Allah, the Almighty, commands:
“…And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.” Qur’an, An-Nisaa (4:29)
The scholars of Islam hold that the general meaning of this verse is applicable, and one of the proofs for the prohibition of suicide. In keeping with this understanding, it was narrated from the Messenger of Allah, may peace and blessings be upon him, that he said:
“If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.” Sahih al-Bukhari (5728)
The wisdoms behind his commands would prevent the healthy from catching the plague and isolate it within its area, as the international community are desperately trying to do today.
- If someone contracts such an illness, he should avoid gatherings, even the attendance of communal worship such as Jumu’ah
The Messenger of Allah, may peace and blessing be upon him said:
“A sick person should not be taken to one who is healthy” Sahih Muslim (2221)
This also applies to animals, as mentioned in another narration:
“A man with sick camels should not let them graze or drink alongside healthy ones.” Sunan ibn Maajah (31, 3670)
It is the understanding of the scholars of Islam that a person should not attend the congregational prayer if he suffers from some harmful or contagious illness as Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
[If] …he has a disease that may harm others such as leprosy and the like, and anything that causes annoyance to people if it is present in one of their neighbours in the mosques and they want to expel him from the mosque and keep him away from it, they have the right to do that so long as the reason for doing so is present, until it is no longer present. Once that reason is no longer present, he has the right to return to the mosque.At-Tamheed (6/422)
It was also the understanding of the companions of the Messenger, may Allah be pleased with them, as can be seen from a statement from Ibn Mas’ood:
“There was a time when no one stayed away from the prayer except a hypocrite who was known for his hypocrisy or one who was sick…”Sahih Muslim (654)
- One should heed the advice of the medical community
Wherever we are advised by the health authorities, and this advice does not advise us to do something against the religion of Islam, nor does it go against any of the principles mentioned, one should follow the guidelines given to prevent the spread of harmful and contagious illnesses. This may include paying extra attention to washing hands, limiting how long is spent outside or even self-isolating if required.
- One should remember that death and harm does not come to a person except by the will of Allah, the Almighty
Allah, the Almighty, says in the Qur’an:
“No disaster strikes upon the earth or among yourselves except that it is in a register before We bring it into being – indeed that, for Allah, is easy – In order that you not despair over what has eluded you and not exult [in pride] over what He has given you. And Allah does not like everyone self-deluded and boastful.” Qur’an, Hadid (57:22-23)
Therefore, the true reward and blessing can only be obtained if a person firmly understands and believes in the Qadr of Allah, the Almighty. Neither COVID-19, nor flooding, nor any other natural calamity can kill a person, except, and only when, Allah, the Almighty, has decided.
- Patience, and the means to obtain it, becomes even more rewarding in times of greater affliction
We have been reminded many times that patience is the source of the greatest reward obtainable to mankind, as is mentioned in the Qur’an:
“You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse. But if you are patient and fear Allah – indeed, that will be a determining factor in all affairs.” Qur’an, Aali-‘Imraan (3:186)
And in another verse:
“Say, ‘O My servants who have believed, fear your Lord. For those who do good in this world is good, and the earth of Allah is spacious. Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.’” Qur’an, Az-Zumar (39:10)
Imam ibn Kathir, may Allah have mercy on him, the author of the famous book of Tafsir, stated:
There are several types of Sabr ـ patience: one for avoiding the prohibitions and sins, [another] one for acts of worship and obedience. The second type carries more rewards than the first type. There is a third type of patience required in the face of the afflictions and hardships, which is mandatory, like repentance.
‘Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam said, “Sabr has two parts: patience for the sake of Allah concerning what He is pleased with (i.e., acts of worship and obedience), even if it is hard on the heart and the body, and patience when avoiding what He dislikes, even if it is desired. Those who acquire these qualities will be among the patient persons whom Allah shall greet (when they meet Him in the Hereafter)”Tafsir ibn Kathir
- Seek help through patience prayer and supplication
The meeting described above is mentioned in further verse of the Qur’an:
“And those who are patient, seeking the countenance of their Lord, and establish prayer and spend from what We have provided for them secretly and publicly and prevent evil with good – those will have the good consequence of [this] home – Gardens of perpetual residence; they will enter them with whoever were righteous among their fathers, their spouses and their descendants. And the angels will enter upon them from every gate, [saying], ‘Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. And excellent is the final home.’” Qur’an, Ar-Ra’d (13:22-24)
Here, Allah, the Almighty, connected patience with prayer and other good deeds and made it the greeting by which the Angels greet the believers in paradise. Prayer and supplication are sources of great help in times of affliction as Allah, the Almighty says (interpretation of meaning):
“And seek help in patience and As-Salah (the prayer) and truly, it is extremely heavy and hard except for Al-Khashi`in [i.e. the true believers]” Qur’an, Al-Baqarah (2:45)
- Don’t share information unless you verify it properly
There is a lot of misinformation and untruths reported and spread around the internet and by phone, which is then repeated by word of mouth. Needless to say, this is a dangerous pastime to engage in, one which we have been commanded in the Qur’an and Sunnah to stay away from.
Our news outlets and media organisations that report updates from all over the world unfortunately do not follow a high level of journalistic verification and sensationalism is rampant in order to increase reporting profit. It is even more important for the Muslim to ensure his/her sources are reliable and verifiable. This is especially important in times such as these where a single news report can trigger mass hysteria.
We ask Allah, the Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the one to whom belongs the cure, that he cures us of all ailments, that he protects us from the evils of this world and our own selves and raises us, and the believers who have passed under affliction, among his beloved slaves in paradise. Amin.
And Allah, the Almighty, and his Messenger, may peace and blessings be upon him, know best.