Prophet Muhammad’s teachings regarding pandemics

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Last Updated on 3rd January 2021

Aizaz Khan, Missionary, Canada

Every morning, like clockwork, I get two particular notifications on my phone. One tells me the weather in my local city and the other tells me the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in some part of the world. The real tragedy in all this is that we’re living in times where checking the number of deaths due to a pandemic is not so different from checking the weather – you can see how it’s changed since the night before, take a glance at the upcoming week’s projected forecast, maybe compare your city to another and even anticipate that it’s so unpredictable, you’ll be surprised just hours later.

It goes without saying, the unraveling of Covid-19’s timeline over the past several weeks has perplexed the masses – travel bans, social distancing, self-isolation and a newfound obsession with what are otherwise expected hygienic practices. All the while, one can’t help but wonder in amazement at the parallels that can be drawn between these preventative measures and those found in Islamic history.

After all, Islam has been handling pandemics for more than 1,400 years and an honest study of the traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, demonstrates that infection control is inherent in Islamic practices. 

Here are five of Prophet Muhammad’ssa teachings regarding pandemics: 

1. Travel bans and quarantine

The Holy Prophetsa recognised 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)

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.

2. Social distancing and isolation

The Holy Prophetsa 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 Holy Prophet’ssa hand. Keeping his distance, the Holy Prophetsa kindly sent word to him that his pledge had already been accepted and that he should return home. (Sunan Ibn Majah)

Regarding isolation, the Holy Prophetsa taught that those who are sick should not in any way compromise the community at large. He said, “Do not place a sick patient with a healthy person.” This teaching was extended to animals as well; “The cattle suffering from a disease should not be mixed with healthy cattle.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

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 – in some cases up to $750,000 for failing to self-isolate – and even imprisonment for not obeying emergency laws.

In stark contrast to this, Muslims in the time of the Holy Prophetsa and thereafter practiced social distancing and isolation as if it was a religious injunction. 

Hazrat Umarra once encouraged a leprous woman who was circling the Holy Ka‘bah in Mecca to go back to her home as it would be better for her (and others). After Hazrat Umar’sra 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 Holy Prophetsa and his rightly guided Khulafa.

3. Hygiene

If there is one thing people have learned over the past several weeks, it is proper handwashing techniques and thorough hygienic practices – a hallmark of Islam. Any Muslim child can quote verbatim the tradition that states, “Cleanliness is half of the faith.” 

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 Holy Prophetsa 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 Holy Prophetsa would cover his face and muffle the sneeze, effectively containing the spread of airborne bacteria and viruses. (Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi)

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-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.223)

4. Seeking medical treatment

Islam, as taught by the Holy Prophetsa, is a practical and progressive faith-based system. The Holy Prophetsa 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 notseek 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.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)

The Holy Prophetsa 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)

5. 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 conceptualised in the time of the Holy Prophetsaand formally established during the Khilafat of Hazrat Umarra. 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.

It is reported that Hazrat Umarra was on his way to Syria, when he came across a group of Christians afflicted with leprosy. He immediately ordered that a medical allowance be provided to them from the government treasury so they could seek medical treatment. Hazrat Umarra also ordered Muslims to keep a close watch on prisoners and provide for all of their medical needs as required.

In conclusion, the Holy Prophet Muhammad’ssa 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.

32 COMMENTS

  1. A well written article that is an enjoyable read and easy to understand. Thank you for these reminders from the life of our beloved Holy Prophet (saw); they are a great resource not only during this difficult time but for daily life as well.

  2. Very well written article that is useful for all people to understand and reflect upon in light of the current situation. JazakAllah!

  3. No doubt a worth reading article with authentic references from the teachings of holy prophet Hazrat Muhammad (saw) and khulafa.
    Its very timely as of current spread of coronavirus. May Allah save the humanity and turn towards God to be His true servants and enable them to accept Messiah of the age.
    Well done Aizaz Khan

  4. This is brilliant written, especially about the free medical care and about doing Dua and having Dawa at the same time. Our beloved Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) had shared this many years ago to guide people back then and even now. May Allah enable us all to serve humanity in this difficult times and may Allah grant the sick quick recovery.

  5. MashAllah a great Article & relevant today with guidance from the Quran which was revealed over 1400 years ago! Our Religion has taught us these basic principles which are being practised today!

  6. جزاكم الله احسن الجزاء
    My respect to your outstanding effort to quote Islamic & medical science’s similarities to fight pandemic.

  7. Alhamdulillah….Wow..Great knowledge ….Really I don’t know about the hadeedh which you’ve quoted…..the Person who follows Prophet’s Hadeedh who doesn’t dare about to live in the pandemic circumstances….he will survive from such contagious disease ……..

  8. It is a wonderful and well enlightened piece. May Allah reward the author abundantly. It is another proof that Islam is the complete way of life and the message of our prophet is meant for the world.

  9. Assalam-o-Alaikum,
    It appears that whatever is stated / referenced under “2. Social distancing and isolation” is conclusively not supportive of what is being practiced today. I have been seeking references in line for closing the worship places including the mosques, at the time of Khulafa-e-Rashideen, Tabieen, or Taba-Tabieen.
    Jazak Allah Khairan

  10. I am not a particular follower of any religion but I believe in spirituality. I believe we can learn from all religions as a history of their and other people. past history that geologist’s are learning and linguistics translating every are teaching us more about our past and our future as we learn from our past history. I was intrigued by you article.Thank You very much for a teaching in history.

  11. There is no evidence of social distancing in prophet SAW life
    The rest of article is nice one

    And you should also mention his saying about the pandemics that
    Pandemics exists for 72 days

  12. Ok there are things that need to be addressed.

    #1 The Hadith“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) Has nothing to do with Quarantining and Banning the travel of healthy people. There is no scientific or religious evidence that healthy people gathering in groups spreads a disease or a virus. And I find it quite odd and disturbing that this hadith is used to support the ideology and oppression of Fasiq people in the Health Care Industry and Government…

    #2 The idea of completely shutting down Mosques and even worse Hajj and Umrah seems to me like it would earn the displeasure of our creator. Especially when oppressing healthy people from these practices. Allah SWT has said that the one who misses Jumuah 3 fridays in a row is a Munafiq and the Munafiqs are in the lowest level of the hellfire. Furthermore the idea of social distancing in congregational Salat invalidates it. We are instructed to stand shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet leaving now space for the Shaitan.. So because there is an illness we are supposed to let the shaitan have free reign in the Masjids and invalidate our salat?

    #3 There is no evidence from the teachings of our beloved Prophet (SAW) that shows that in times of spreading illness he ever shut down the masjid and forbid his followers to perform Jumuah Salat or any other congregational prayers.. Nor is there any evidence that he instructed his congregants to pray 6 feet apart or any other “social distance” to prevent illness from spreading. I took my Shahadah 9 years ago and from day 1 all I have heard is that if the Prophet (SAW) didn’t do it, then it is bidah. Show me one hadith, Authentic, weak or even fabricated, that shows he ever prescribed any of these things that I have mentioned. He SAW said, “Whomever Allah guides, no one can lead him astray. Whomever Allah sends astray, no one can guide him. The truest word is the Book of Allah and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. The most evil matters are those that are newly invented, for every newly invented matter is an innovation. Every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire.”

    Without a doubt all of these things that Muslims are doing are not from the Prophet SAW, they are from the Kuffar… Corrupt, Evil people that thrive on power, control and money. That have no belief in their creator that have pledged their allegiance to the Devil. So do you have faith in Allah and his Messenger or are you just paying lip service? Allah SWT says in the Quran “And When I am ill, it is Allah Who cures me” The Prophet (SAW) said, “There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.”(Al-Bukhari) these people that you are listening to and following like the WHO, CDC and Anthony Fauci have the treatment and they are concealing it to line their pockets with wealth through their poison drugs and vaccines. Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “This blackseed is healing for all diseases but poison.” She said, “What is poison?” The Prophet said, “Death.” Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5363

    So in conclusion, where does your faith really lie? In Allah and His Messenger? Or The Fasiq ones that Allah SWT warned you of in the Quran? Do you believe Allah and his Messenger Or do you believe the Kuffar? I can tell you that I was among the Kuffar for 43 years? I know their lies and their deceptions, I know their evil agendas. My daughter caught COVID, she was released from the Hospital yesterday.. Before she went in she was Agnostic, the second she was afflicted with this virus now she suddenly believes in God and is begging everyone for prayers.. I’m not sure how I feel about this, is she going to go back to being a disbeliever when she is completely healed? That is concerning to me.. My sisters best friend caught covid, she had done everything right, wearing the mask, social distancing, good hygiene, everything and she still got it. What that tells me that if Allah has decreed for you to get a disease you are going to get it and all the masks and social distancing in the world aren’t going to protect you. I on the other hand have not changed a single thing, I have been living my life the same way I did before there was a pandemic and I am doing just fine. I have had people say that this is just luck or doesn’t mean anything. I say my faith and trust in Allah is my mask and it has protected me just fine for almost a year now. I have been attacked for my belief even by Muslims because I don’t believe masks and social distancing protects anyone. My own Muslims brothers called me a Trumpster and a conspiracy theorist. This is not Islamic behavior. Try being a little stronger in faith and trust in Allah, that is what is going to get us through this. Not a corrupt system who’s God is the almighty dollar.. And rest assured that if I get this Virus I will be sure to come back here and admit that my way didn’t work. But I will also accept that it was the decree of Allah and I will accept that and whatever the outcome he has decreed for me. I am not attached to this life, The only fear I have of dying is the fear of the unknown of where I will end up. Hellfire or Paradise.

  13. What about when the Prophet (s.a.w.) said “There is no contagion” (Bukhari, Muslim)?He also said,”One thing does not infect another.” This idea that there is no contagion, that one thing cannot infect another, is confirmed by science , though that science is ignored.
    Modern germ ‘theory’ began being accepted when Louis Pasteur falsified the data from his studies (and later admitted this on his deathbed, and in his journals), convincing the monarchy of his false theory. His fellow scientists did not believe him bc lack of evidence. Eg Antoine Beauchamp knew it was the terrain (toxins in the air, food, soil etc) which caused disease, not invisible microbes. On his deathbed Pasteur admitted it was the terrain, not ‘germs’. So the foundation of germs being contagious was false from the start and has been disproven in many studies – just have to dig a bit deeper to find that info.
    But there’s a Huge amount of money to be made with ‘germ theory’, and no money in
    ‘terrain theory’ (remove the toxins, and healing can happen… InshAllah)

    The important thing is: our Prophet told is there is no contagion. If ‘science’ goes against Islam, ‘science’ is wrong… And the truth of what Islam teaches will prevail.

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