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Travel Bans, Quarantine, Social Distancing and Isolation Advised by Islam To Halt Epidemics Are Welcome Today and Must Defeat the Covid-19, Insha Allah, But Introspection Is Also Required

By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi, New Age Islam

15 April 2020

The Covid-19 has attacked the human planet. The national and international leaders, administrations, medical experts, doctors and religious guides, all are playing their respective roles of humanity to fight against the Covid-19. From prayer (dua) to medicine (dawa), all departments are seriously concerned about human causes. This is a welcome effort but needs to be actively and seriously supported by all citizens. In addition to doing prayers, medically-suggested precautions, we must create effective awareness at social, spiritual and religious levels in order to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. In this regard, this write-up is a humble effort, which highlights travel bans, quarantine, social or physical distancing and isolation, as rightly suggested by our government, in conformity with the sayings (Ahadith) of the final Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).       

Travel Bans and Quarantine

The beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) introduced and preached the significance of travel bans and quarantine in areasinfected with contagious disease so as to control spread of the disease.It is reported by Sa’ad that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said,

“If you hear of a plague in a land, then do not go into it. If it happens in land where you are, then do not go out of it.” (Source: Sahih al-Bukhari 5396, Sahih Muslim 2218)

'Amir b. Sa'd reported that a person asked Sa'd b. Abu Waqqas about the plague (Taun-a contagious disease), whereupon Usama b. Zaid said: I would inform you about it. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: It is a calamity or a disease which Allah sent to a group of Bani Isra'il, or to the people who were before you; so when you hear of it in land, don't enter it and when it has broken out in your land, don't run away from it. (Sahih Muslim 5497)

In another hadith, the Prophet is reported to have said that it (the plague of Taun) is a God-sent punishment from the calamity or from the remnant of the calamity with which people were afflicted before you. So when it is in a land and you are there, don't get out of it, and if (this news reaches you) that it has broken out in a land, then don't enter therein….” (Sahih Muslim 5501)

Dr. Craig Considine, Professor at Rice University and author on Christian-Muslim relations, also quoted this saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him), urging people to mitigate the Coronavirus in a recent tweet.

The Divine Reward of Patience During Self-Quarantine in Times of Epidemic Plague

Imam Bukhari has organized his collection of Ahadith “Sahih al-Bukhari” into several books and chapters to separately describe the distinguishing aspects of the subjects. One chapter he arranged therein is titled “The Reward Of A Person Having Patience In Times Of Epidemic Plague”. From this chapter, at least one hadith that deserves a focused attention of common masses is as follows; 

It is narrated by Hazrat Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) that she asked Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) about the plague. Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) informed her saying, “Plague was a punishment which Allah used to send on whom He wished, but Allah made it a blessing for the believers, for if anyone in the time of an epidemic plague remains in his town patiently and believing that nothing will befall him except what Allah has written for him, he will get the reward of a martyr.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, The Book of Medicine, Chapter ‘The Reward of A person having patience…….’ hadith no: 5734)

The Arabic word used in this hadith of Sahih Bukhari to connote ‘town’ is ‘balad’ which has several meanings, such as ‘town’, ‘country’, ‘place’ and ‘land’. The same hadith reported by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad (a book of Hadith) has used the Arabic word ‘bait’ which means ‘house’. Both narrations taken together imply that a person should not go outside his country, town and his house in times of epidemic plagues. 

Apart from recording this hadith in the book of Medicine, Imam Bukhari has recorded the same hadith in the book of Prophets with the addition of the word ‘Muhtasib’ which means ‘hopeful of reward’. Thus the hadith implies that if a person, in times of epidemic plague, remains in his town or his house patiently and hopeful of divine reward, and with the faith that nothing will befall him except what Allah has written for him, he will get the reward of a martyr.

Imam Bukhari’s recording this hadith in the book of Medicine is a point of consideration in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) advises quarantining to prevent epidemic plague. Another point of elaboration is that in times of epidemics, a person should remain in his house patiently, that is, without spreading panic and causing worry for others, but releasing all his worries from his mind and leaving all matters up to Allah Almighty. So this hadith suggests precautionary measure, patience, hope and that the one who takes these steps will deserve a divine reward.  

Social or Physical Distancing and Isolation 

Social distancing, in public health contexts, usually refers to several measures that reduce close contact between large groups of people. Social distancing, as per the CDC, entails “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible”. In context of Covid-19, some medical professionals are encouraging the term ‘physical distancing’ as a clearer alternative to social distancing, making it clear that people can still spend time with family and friends using digital technology and social media if they are physically separated.  

Establishing an example of precautionary measure, the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) practiced physical distancing and advised isolation as well.  The following are some Ahadith which can be taken into consideration, in order to contain transmission of Covid-19.

It was narrated from a man from the family of Sharid whose name was ‘Amr that his father said: “There was a man who suffered from leprosy among the delegation of Thaqif. The Prophet (peace be upon him) sent word to him: ‘Go back, for we have accepted your oath of allegiance.’” (Sunan Ibn Majah, The Book on Medicine, Hadith 3544)

Pledging allegiance was an act that would require the leper to touch or hold the beloved Prophet’s hand, but the Prophet maintained physical distancing as a precautionary lesson for others, therefore he sent word to him that oath of allegiance had already been accepted and that he should go back home. 

The same hadith is also mentioned in Sunan Nasai, (The Book of al-Bayah, Hadith 4182) and Sahih Muslim (The Book of Greetings, Chapter ‘Avoiding Lepers etc., Hadith 2231)

The beloved Prophet is reported to have said “one should run away from the leper as one runs away from a lion” (Sahih Bukhari, The Book on Medicine, Hadith 608)

It was narrated from Ibn Abbas that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Do not keep looking at those who have leprosy” (Sunan Ibn Majah, The Book on Medicine, Hadith 3543)

A hadith was narrated by Abd Allah b. Abi Awfa, “Talk to the lepers from a distance of one or two spears between you and him” (Hadith recorded by Abu Nuaim). 

It can be noted that a typical length of a spear is approximately 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters)—and the social distancing suggested by health professionals in order to prevent Covid-19 is about 6 to 8 feet. 

With regard to isolation the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) taught that those who are sick should not make close contact with the healthy people. He said, “Do not place a sick patient with a healthy person.” This command was applied to animals as well, “The cattle suffering from a disease should not be mixed with healthy cattle.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

From the above mentioned sayings (ahadith) of the Prophet, the teachings of travel bans, quarantine, social or physical distancing and isolation, in times of contagious diseases become clear. However there are some people who get confused with literal reading of a hadith which says, “There is no ‘adwa (contagion or transmission of infectious disease)” (Bukhari and Muslim). The scholars of Ahadith and jurists have differed over the negation and approval of contagion, going through the science of Ahadith in the light of such literally conflicting Ahadith. The most preferred view comes out to make compromise (tatbiq) between such Ahadith. One way of tatbiq is that the hadith “there is no contagion”, in its inherent implication and conformity with other Ahadith as quoted earlier, actually means to guide the people that there is no contagion, no transmission of infectious disease without the permission of Allah Almighty, the Creator of the World. This can’t deny the faith that God Almighty is All-Powerful to create contagion through cause-and-effect relation as well. It is justly the matter of faith that the contagion does not have any effect without the permission God Almighty. As for the precautionary measure, on the part of human beings, it must be taken as guided by the ahadith encouraging social distancing and isolation in times of contagious disease (Taun). Thus along with the faith that everything has its effect only after the God’s Will, the precautions must also be taken, because God Almighty says in the Quran, “Do not throw yourself into destruction” (2:195) 

Another way of tatbiq between the literally conflicting Ahadith, as used by a group of scholars, in the words of Ibn Hajar Asqalani is as follows;    

“The address of negation and approbation of contagion is directed towards two different states. When he says ‘la adwa’, the addressee is the person whose faith is strong and his trust in Allah Almighty is right. And when he says “run away from the leper..” the addressee is the person whose faith is weak and who does not have complete trust in Allah Almighty and he does not have the strength of removing the belief of ‘adwa’.”

In the past there were two groups of scholars; one denied the approbation of contagion and other accepted negation of ‘adwa’ (contagion). Among them only a few believed in the concept of contagiousness and tried to give the hadith “there is no adwa (contagion)” a suitable meaning. As for the opinion of negating contagiousness, it had become widespread. But with the discovery of microscope, the microbes were identified and this helped a lot in solving our conflicting understanding of the hadith over the issue of ‘contagion’. The ways of communicability of the virus were identified and the causes of transmission of diseases became clear. Observations, experiments and doctors agreed with this view. Therefore the supporters of contagiousness of diseases who were once few in number now seem to be on the right side.   

After the Covid-19 came to attack the human beings worldwide, some people expressed their confusion on the subjects, such as tawakkul (Trust) and taqdir (Divine Decree). After going through this write-up, they must ponder over the view that the transmission of diseases does not occur by virtue of their own nature, or against the Will of Allah, or without the permission of Allah, or against the tawakkul on Him, or against the command of the hadith. This transmission happens with the Will of Allah and with the Divine Decree. Allah, the Creator of the Wolrd, Who has created the microbes, has also created their ways of transmission and internal immune system to fight against them. On the one hand, contagiousness of disease follows the Divine Will, and on the other hand, resistance and immune system of the body is also dictated by the Will of Allah Almighty. Nothing is out of His reach. Everything happens by His Will and Power. We are human beings and He Almighty has endowed us with mind to know difference between harm and benefit and that the Covid-19 is contagious and has become pandemic. And it is through the God-gifted mind that we know the ways of preventing the Covid-19. So in addition to having complete tawakkul (trust) on Allah that if we maintain social distancing and isolation, as suggested by several Ahadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), He Almighty will soon stop the transmission of the Covid-19.         

While maintaining social or physical distancing and staying at homes in order to halt the Covid-19, we must use our time to do spiritual meditations and introspections as to why Allah Almighty, Who is the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious, has created the Covid-19. It is time to ask this question again and again and if we find the answers we must seek repentance, forgiveness, faithful and spiritual reformation for the acts of oppression, unbearable injustice, religious persecutions and genocide committed by the human beings of this century and then repeatedly call for His Divine Mercy. 

A regular Columnist with, Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (Classical Islamic scholar), with a Sufi-Sunni background and English-Arabic-Urdu Translator. He has also done B.A (Hons.) in Arabic, M.A. in Arabic and M.A in English from JMI, New Delhi. He is Interested in Islamic Sciences; Theology, Jurisprudence, Tafsir, Hadith and Islamic mysticism (Tasawwuf).


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