Experts say Islamic guidelines on epidemics, going back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, can help people cope with Covid-19.

Islamic rules over epidemics to protect people from death and sickness go back to the very early stages of the emergence of the monotheistic religion. 

On many occasions, the Prophet Muhammed advised his companions to value their lives as the utmost importance over death in his numerous sayings (hadiths), urging people to stay away from places where there were epidemics. 

“Our Prophet speaks about the concept of quarantine fourteen hundred years ago,” says Cafer Karadas, professor of divinity at Uludag University, referring to one of the widely known hadiths. 

“When you hear that [a plague] is in a land, do not go to it and if it occurs in a land that you are already in, then do not leave it, fleeing from it,” the Prophet famously said. 

“This saying exactly refers to the principle of modern quarantine. What it has been currently practiced [concerning the coronavirus outbreak] is the same principle as the advice of the Prophet,” Karadas told TRT World. 

As the Covid-19 outbreak continues to kill tens of thousands of people across the world, the Prophet Muhammed’s advice on how to respond to a pandemic offers a motivation to people to stay put in their homes and protect themselves from the deadly virus.

Karadas says that the most important aspect of the pandemic is the element of human contact, which should be decreased to the lowest possible level to minimise the virus’s deadly effect. 

Sheikh Fuad Mohamed, Imam at the Muslim American Society of White Center, livestreams his Friday Sermon from his home, amid restrictions against group gatherings because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2020.
Sheikh Fuad Mohamed, Imam at the Muslim American Society of White Center, livestreams his Friday Sermon from his home, amid restrictions against group gatherings because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2020. (Brian Snyder / Reuters Archive)

Islam and epidemics

“Many centuries ago, our Prophet urged his people to eliminate the element of contact to save lives. It shows how much Islam values protection of life and health,” Karadas analysed. 

The Prophet also strictly observed what he advised his companions about the epidemics as he had done in other issues. 

“The Prophet gives utmost importance to his own health and public health. When he was in Medina and was about to make an agreement with one of the delegations, he refused to shake hands with one of the people [from the delegation], who had a contagious disease, sending him back [to where he came from],” said Huseyin Ari, an expert in the High Council of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs. 

During the rule of Caliph Umar, who was one of the four righteous caliphs after the Prophet according to Sunni Islam teachings, Muslims also tried to practice what the Prophet urged them to do in the time of an epidemic. 

A picture of historic Medina, where Prophet Muhammed and his family members were buried.
A picture of historic Medina, where Prophet Muhammed and his family members were buried. (Wikipedia Commons)

When one of the Muslim armies approached a location in current Syria or in the old Levant, where there was a plague, back in the mid 7th Century, the commanders fell into confusion over what to do. 

“Caliph Umar urged the army commander to retreat from the expedition in the face of the plague,” Ari told TRT World.  

But the order did not appear to be fulfilled wholeheartedly. 

Then, he personally moved to a location to meet with commanders to discuss the situation. When the disagreement continued, he consulted with a diverse range of advisers to reach an ultimate decision. 

Finally, he settled on the decision to stay away from the plague. 

“I am returning in the morning, so return as well,” Umar said, declaring his decision to retreat. 

Abu Ubaydah ibn Jarrah, the commander of the army and one of Umar’s best friends, who passed away later from the plague, expressed his dislike of Umar’s decision, asking: “Are you fleeing from the decree of Allah?”

“Yes, we are fleeing from the decree of Allah to the decree of Allah,” Umar famously replied.  

Muslims offer their Friday noon prayers inside a mosque following a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Srinagar March 27, 2020.
Muslims offer their Friday noon prayers inside a mosque following a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Srinagar March 27, 2020. (Danish Ismail / Reuters)

Despite Umar's measures, the epidemic still killed many people. 

"The plague led to the deaths of nearly 25,000 Muslims at the time," Ari accounted. 

Islam’s priorities

In different instances, the Prophet Muhammed demonstrated his dislike of wishing for death under any circumstances. 

“None of you should wish for death due to a calamity that has afflicted him,” Prophet Muhammed said in one of his famous hadiths, urging Muslims to find legitimate and protective ways to survive.  

Even under the most dire developments, he urged his companions to pray for a good fate and wellbeing (hayr in Arabic). 

“Yet if he must do something, let him say: O Allah, keep me alive so long as life is good for me, and cause me to die if death is better for me,” the Prophet said in the continuation of the same hadith. 

Muslim worshippers visit
Muslim worshippers visit "Al-Baqi" cemetary, where the Prophet Mohammad's family, relatives and companions are buried, with Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, (the Mosque of the Prophet) seen in the background, after the early morning prayer of Al-Fajr in the holy city of Medina, Saudi Arabia January 20, 2016. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters Archive)

“Islam has priorities [about life], urging Muslims to protect five main things during their lifetimes. They are to protect life, to protect intelligence, to protect faith, to protect [financial] belongings and lastly to protect offspring,” Karadas recounted. 

Karadas says that Islam’s “to protect life” principle pretty much refers to protecting personal and public health. 

“An epidemic obviously threatens both personal and public health. As a result, a Muslim should strictly follow instrcutions of pandemic experts to protect his/her personal life as well as public health,” Karadas said. 

Ari agrees with Karadas on the strict observance of current social distancing rules.

Muslims need to abide by social distancing rules in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic in accordance with the advice of the Prophet, Ari says. 

He also reminds people of the importance of the rightful due in Islam in the time of the pandemic. 

“If we damage someone else’s health or financial belongings directly or indirectly, we violate their rightful due,” Ari said. 

“If someone infects the virus to someone else as a result of our ignorance or deliberate action, he/she violates the infected person’s rightful due,” Ari viewed. 

“If the infected person dies because of the virus-related disease, ― May Allah protect ― , it means the person, who infected the other person, also led his/her death in a sense, [becoming responsible for the death].” 

Source: TRT World