By Dr. M.I.H. Farooqi
Muslim attitude towards epidemics go back to the very early period of the emergence of Islam. These views were based on rationale and reason and of course inspired by Quranic and Prophetic injunctions. Epidemic was considered as a Decree of Allah and not the punishment for sins committed by Servants of God. Despondency during savages of epidemics was considered un-Islamic. Those who faced such situations bravely (with all precautions) but died were considered as Martyrs.
During Calamities of Nature, Muslims are reminded that many people in the past had suffered and had their faith tested. Present day people too will we be tried and tested in this life. Muslims are advised that Allah loves those who show Patience (Arabic,Sabr) in difficult times of distress and trials. Quran Says: “do not dispute and [thus] lose courage and [then] your strength would depart; and be patient. Indeed, Allah is with the As Saabiroon (Those who keep patience) Quran 8:46). In another Verse of Quran reward of Patience is described in these words; “Only those who are patient shall receive their rewards in full, without Hisaab (without limit, calculation, and estimation).”(Quran, 39:10). It is in the light of Quranic observations that in one of the important Hadith, Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said; “Whoever persists in being patient, Allah will make him patient. Nobody can be given a blessing better and greater than patience (Sabr).” (Sahih Al-Bukhari). Prophet also said: “As-Sabr (the patience) is illumination.” (Sahih Muslim).
No definite medicine was suggested for deadly epidemics. However, strong recommendations were made to make distance from the place of epidemics and asked people not to move away from the place of epidemic. They were asked to stay put. Even during some emergency “stay at home” was allowed as part of AZAAN from Mosques. Narrated Nafi’ “Allah’s Messenger used to tell the Muezzin (who calls Azaan) to pronounce Azaan and say, Al Salat Fi Beyootikum” (Pray at homes) in place of “Hayya Alasalah” (Come for the prayer) at the end of the Azaan, on a rainy or a very cold night during the journey. (Al Bukhari, Book Call for Prayers)
Quran in several verses wishes INSAAN (Human Beings) to do GAUR O FIKR (Understanding with reason) on the acts of Nature. Thus it is duty of human being to understand all that is happening (Including disasters) and find their solution to live and survive. Some Quranic injunctions are as follows:
1). “Travel through earth and see how Allah did originate creation” (Quran 29:20)
2). ”And such are the Parables We set for mankind but none will understand them except those who have Knowledge.” (Quran 29:43).
3). “Worst than the beast are those who do not understand (do not apply mind)” (Quran 8:22)
4). “Only the learned know the secret of universe” (Surah30:V22).
5). ”the more you know, you are closer to Him.” (Sarah 58: 11).
Islam considers life of human being as the most important gift of God. It should be protected in all the circumstance. Without human life this world has no purpose.
Some of the Prophetic sayings which helped Muslims to make their attitude towards epidemics are as follows:
1.) Narrated Abdurrahman bin ‘Awe “I have heard Allah’s Messenger saying, ‘If you hear about it (an outbreak of plague) in a land, do not go to it; but if plague breaks out in a country where you are staying, do not run away from it’.( Al Bukhari)
2). Messenger of Allah (PBUH), said: “Do not cause harm or reciprocate harm. Whoever harms others, Allah will harm him. Whoever is harsh with others, Allah will be harsh with him.”
3). Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: Prayer for a Muslim: Oh Allah I beg for Good Health and Faith with Good Conduct (Al Bukhari).
4.) Narrated Jabir. Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: “Every disease has a cure” (Sahih Muslim)
Based on Quranic injunctions and Prophetic sayings Grand Mufti of Dubai Dr. Ali Ahmad recently said: “There should be neither harm nor malice’, the suspension of group prayers is allowed by Islam to prevent harm and protect people from any form of damage resulting from bad weather, epidemics or wars.” (Press Report)
Rationale of the attitude of Muslims towards keeping away from place of Epidemics, social distancing in modern terms, and to stay put at the place of outbreak, lockdown in modern terms, was strengthened by an important incident taken place during the time of Hazrat Umar Farooq, 2nd Righteous Caliph of Islam. This incident is mentioned in Islamic History as follows:
According to famous Egyptian Islamic scholar ibn Hajar Asqalani (1372-1449), there were sixteen cases of Bubonic Plague during early Islamic period (till the end of Umayyad period.) These included Plague of Amwas (638-39 AD), Plague of Kufa (669 AD) and Plague of Basrah (688-89 AD). In these outbreaks thousands Muslims were killed. Amongst them were prominent persons of Islam. However, the first big disaster Muslims confronted was the Plague of ‘Amwas.
Sometime during 638, Hazrat Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph of Islam, came to know of some administrative lapses in Syria causing widespread trouble there. He decided to visit the area himself and discussed the matter with Hazrat Abu Ubaidah ibn Jarrah who was commanding the Muslim Army stationed at the garrison in Damascus.
Hazrat Umar set out for Syria in early 638. When he got as far as ‘Sargh’, Abu ‘Ubaidah and his companions came there to meet him. They informed him that a plague had broken out in Amwas, a village in Palestine, which spread very fast to Syria, Iraq and Iran and killed people in thousands. Hearing the outbreak of deadly disease, Hazrat Umar consulted his elders from Ansars and Quraish about the prevailing situation and sought their opinion about the decision to proceed. Majority of them were against entering Syria and exposing to the epidemic. Hazrat Umar then decided to retreat. Hearing the decision, Hazrat Ubaidah felt disheartened and said to Hazrat Umar “Are you not fleeing from the Decree of Allah”. Without showing any displeasure over the comments of his old friend and a prominent Companion of Prophet, Hazrat Umar said rather firmly ” Yes, we are fleeing from the decree of Allah to the decree of Allah’. In the meantime ‘Abdur Rahman ibn ‘Awf narrated the Hadith in which Prophet advised his followers never to enter land of epidemic. About a year later Hazrat Ubaidah, along with three other Companions of Prophet, was amongst those twenty five thousand soldiers who became victims of deadly Plague. (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)
The story of Amwas and Prophetic Saying (Hadith) on Epidemic are ethically powerful reasons for Muslims to follow present day norms for containing spread of deadly Covid 19.
Dr. M.I.H. Farooqi is Deputy Director (Retired), National Botanic Research Institute, Lucknow, India