With the world already struggling with some of the biggest challenges of the century, the Coronavirus pandemic has further intensified the crisis and disrupted the balance in almost every aspect of our lives. The outbreak has created a wave of the socio-economic, religious, and domestic challenges that no one was prepared for. Lockdown of businesses, social distancing, shortages of food and medical supplies, and closure of mosques are some of the prevailing problems Muslims are facing.
Arrival of Ramadan
Now as we enter Ramadan, Muslims around the world are likely to experience a very different Islamic month this year. Ramadan is unarguably the most sacred and holy month of the Islamic year. During this blessed month, Allah revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Holy Prophet (S.A.W). Its significance is followed by the commandments of maintaining fast and the performing Haj (holy pilgrimage to Makkah). But with the recent crisis that has crippled the way of life, certain considerations must be made for your ultimate safety and health.
Fortunately, Islam is a comprehensive religion that offers complete spiritual, cultural, and theological guidance for its believers. There is abundant literature from the Holy Quran, Ahadith, and the Sunnah that provides a thorough dimension of coping with natural and man-made catastrophes as well as the challenges that arise from them.
In such times of crisis and catastrophe, as Muslims, we should seek the guidance and forgiveness of Allah and take heed from the example of His Messenger and Prophet (S.A.W)
Islamic Guidance on Visiting Mosques During Outbreak of Disease
As many of us are already aware that this year’s haj is likely to be canceled, there are several important measures that we as Muslims should also adopt domestically to contain this pandemic. This means complying with quarantine measures enforced by the government and avoid social gatherings and other festivities. This includes mosques for congregational prayers as well.
There have been many misleading statements from different scholars about the idea of coronavirus as a pandemic. Some are discouraging social distancing while others are rebelling against the government measures of locking down mosques. However, there is enough evidence from the Quran and the life of the Holy Prophet to support the rational argument that safety comes first.
The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) was careful when a plague or disease spread. He laid great importance on containment measures such as travel bans and quarantine to mitigate the risks of further spread. At one instance when plague had spread to a town, he said,
If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; if the plague outbreaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place – Sahih al-Bukhari 5728
The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) also practiced social distancing with due diligence to avoid contraction and spread of the disease. At one instance it is reported that a leprous man wished to take bay’ah, an oath of allegiance that required the act of holding or touching the Holy Prophet’s (S.A.W) hand. Learning about this condition, the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) sent word that the pledge had been accepted and he can return home with assurance – Sunan Ibn Majah
He extended the same standards of care and precaution for animals and did not allow mixing sick livestock with the healthy. At one instance 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
Holy Prophet’s life was so exemplary in this regard that He even covered the face and muffled the sneeze to prevent the pathogens from spreading airborne.
But by preaching and practicing social distancing and quarantine, the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) also encouraged people to take every measure to treat the disease until a cure has been found. It is narrated that once a group of Bedouins asked if it would be considered sinful if they did not seek medical treatment. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) 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 Prophet (S.A.W) taught that seeking treatment and cure through science while asking for Allah help was the key to successful treatment. On one occasion He said, “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
Islamic Guidance on Fasting in Case of Sickness
Although the Holy Prophet was very explicit about the relation between faith and duties towards the body (self), emotions can be overwhelming and some Muslims get carried when practicing their religious obligations. One of the most common complications that arise is “can” or “should” a Muslim fast if he/she is sick.
From the texts of the Holy Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah is one of the richest sources that contains complete answers about this subject. Sickness is a valid reason to omit fasting during Ramadan as Islam offers lenity to the sick person. However, this is applicable if,
- Fasting will worsen the sickness to an incurable stage
- The recovery process will be affected or delayed by fasting
- Fasting will lead to intense hardship, without the sickness being worsened or delayed
Here are some of the verses from Surah Al-Baqarah that offer guidance about fasting during sickness.
“And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (e.g. an old man), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a Miskeen (poor person) (for every day)” – Surah al-Baqarah 2:184
“and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe Sawm (fasts) must be made up] from other days” – Surah – al-Baqarah 2:185
“and do not throw yourselves into destruction” – Surah al-Baqarah 2:195
These verses show clear evidence that Allah shows mercy and forgiveness to the sick person and offers alternate ways to complete his/her obligations.
On several occasions, the Holy Prophet mentioned the importance of the body and its rights on the owner. This entails the person who is practicing fast without considering the needs and rights of his/her body or the rights of people on him.
It is narrated by Abdullah bin ‘Amr that,
Allah’s Apostle entered upon me and said, “Have I not been informed that you offer prayer all night and fast the whole day?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do not do so; Offer prayer at night and also sleep; Fast for a few days and give up fasting for a few days because your body has a right on you, and your eye has a right on you, and your guest has a right on you, and your wife has a right on you – Sahih Bukhari – Volume 8, Book 73, Number 155
In a narration by Umar,
The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) said, “Allah loves His concessions to be accepted just as He hates for acts of disobedience to be committed.” – Ahmad (5832) – Classed as Sahih by al-Albaani in Irwa’ al-Ghaleel, 564
In the same context, Hadhrat Ayesha (R.A) said,
The Messenger of Allah (P.B.U.H) was never given the choice between two things but he would choose the easier of them unless it was a sin. If it was a sin he would be the furthest away from it – Al-Bukhari (6786) and Muslim (2327)
These Ahadith points out the teachings of Holy Prophet that he preached through his example about taking necessary care of health and giving the body its due rights as set by Allah before practicing fast or any other religious obligations.
The Way for Muslims in Times of Tribulation
The Islamic history of battles against pandemics is full of guidance and has provided a great deal of knowledge on infection control systems from time to time.
As Muslims around the world are already dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, remaining steadfast and praying for the safety of the people and the Muslim ummah is the duty of a momin. Trials and tests from Allah in the form of afflictions can come our way, but that does not mean one should become unnecessarily complacent.
From the texts of the Holy Quran that teaches Muslims to
“see life’s difficult circumstances as a test — they are temporary hardships to strengthen us” – 2:153-157
And from the example of the Holy Prophet who told the Bedouin to, “Tie your camel and place your trust in Allah.” – Tirmidhi
It is such a perspective that Muslims should adopt to show strength in times of tribulation, and succeed as one ummah.