The Islamic belief regarding sicknesses and contagious diseases


1. What is the correct Islamic belief regarding sicknesses, diseases, epidemics, etc.?  Are they contagious or not?

2. Please provide a detailed explanation of the following two Ahaadith narrated in regard to sicknesses,  لا عدوى ولا طيرة  - (there are no contagious sicknesses nor any bad omens) and فر من المجذوم كما تفر من الاسد-  (flee from a leper as you will flee from a lion).

It apparently seems as though the meanings of both these Ahaadith contradict each other.  What is the correct understanding and reconciliation of both these Ahaadith?

3. At the time of an epidemic, what is the Islamic teaching in dealing with people who are afflicted?

4. During the time of an epidemic, did the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) who were not afflicted attend the Musjid for salaah?

A: In regard to sicknesses and diseases being contagious, there are two views reported from the Muhadditheen and Ulama of the past:

The first view is the view of Allamah Ibnu Khuzaimah (rahimahullah), Allamah Ibnu Hajar (rahimahullah), Allamah Tabari (rahimahullah) and others. According to these Ulama, there are no sicknesses that are contagious in Islam. Rather, all sicknesses come directly from Allah Ta’ala. Just as the first person was afflicted with the sickness directly from the side of Allah Ta’ala, similarly the second person who associated with the sick person was also afflicted with the same sickness directly from Allah Ta’ala. These Ulama substantiate this from the generality of the Hadith لا عدوى ولا طيرة- (there are no contagious sicknesses nor any bad omens).

As for the Hadith that states فر من المجذوم كما تفر من الاسد- (flee from a leper as you will flee from a lion), they explain that this was mentioned in order to safeguard the belief of people from becoming corrupt. It is commonly witnessed that when a person associates with a sick person and is thereafter afflicted with the same sickness, he generally attributes the sickness to his association with the sick person and not to Allah Ta’ala. Hence, Nabi (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) commanded us to refrain from associating with a sick person so that our belief is not corrupted.

The second view is the view of Allamah Bayhaqi (rahimahullah), Allamah ibnu Salah (rahimahullah) and others.

These Ulama hold the view that though all sicknesses come directly from Allah Ta’ala, Allah Ta’ala has created certain causes for these sicknesses to come about. Hence, associating with a sick person may at times become a cause for one being afflicted with the same sickness, and at times, it may not be the cause for one falling sick.

The belief of a mu'min is that Allah Ta’ala is the controller of everything but Allah Ta’ala has created means and causes for things to come about. At times, these means and causes prove effective to bring about the outcome, and at times they do not prove effective when Allah Ta’ala does not decree it.

Therefore, it is witnessed that at times, people associate with a sick person (e.g. one who has chickenpox, measles, flu, etc.) and they are afflicted with the same sickness, while other people also associate with the same person, but are not afflicted. Hence, through the hadith, فر من المجذوم كما تفر من الاسد-  (flee from a leper as  you will flee from a lion), Nabi (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) had taught the ummah to take precaution.

Similarly, in certain Ahaadith, Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) mentioned, "Do not keep a sick animal with a healthy animal, as it is possible that the association with the sick animal can become the cause for it getting sick." Therefore, we understand from the Hadith that we are advised to adopt precaution, but together with this, we should understand that everything happens with the will and decree of Allah Ta’ala. Hence, a mu'min should adopt the means while placing his trust and reliance on Allah Ta’ala alone.  He should believe that the means will only prove effective if Allah Ta’ala wills, and even if the healthy animal is kept with the sick animal, it will not get sick unless Allah Ta’ala wills.

This lesson we learn from another Hadith wherein Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) taught us that associating with a sick person is not the definite cause for falling ill and that our hearts and conviction should be upon Allah Ta’ala, and not upon the cause. In this Hadith, it is mentioned that Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) once ate with a leper from the same plate. Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) took the hand of the leper, placed it in the plate and said to him, "Commence eating." Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) then took the name of Allah Ta’ala and said ثِقَةً بِاللَّهِ وَتَوَكُّلًا عَلَيْهِ- I place my trust in Allah Ta’ala and rely upon Him alone.

From this Hadith, we understand that Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) had taught the ummah that nothing happens without the will of Allah Ta’ala and associating with a person who is sick or who has a contagious sickness is permissible. Similarly, he taught the ummah that through associating with the sick, one will not get sick if Allah Ta’ala does not decree it. Hence, if one's Imaan is strong and one is pleased with everything that Allah Ta’ala has decreed for him, whether good health or sickness, then there is no harm in such a person associating with a person who has a contagious sickness.

Therefore, we find that when the plague of Amwaas struck Syria in the time of Hazrat Umar (radhiyallahu anhu), the people did not abandon the sick. Rather, they continued to take care of them and associated with them, as the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) possessed strong Imaan.

It is reported in one narration that when Hazrat Muaaz (radhiyallahu anhu) returned from the musjid, he found his son afflicted with the plague. He remained with him until he passed away. From this narration, we understand that during the epidemic, the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) would attend the Musjid for salaah as well as take care of the sick among them. There is no mention of the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) abandoning those who were ill among them during the epidemic.

During the plague of Amwaas, Hazrat Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) had given an instruction to Hazrat Abu Ubaidah (radhiyallahu anhu) to take the people from the low, confined and damp land wherein they were situated to a higher land as the clear, open air would prove effective as a remedy for their sicknesses. In this case also, we do not see that those who were uninfected moved away and quarantined those who were infected, forsaking them and leaving them to fend for themselves. Rather, all the people moved together. Similarly, there is no mention of all the people isolating themselves from each other.

Accordingly, it is reported in the Hadith that Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) had taught the Ummah that at the time when an epidemic breaks out in a certain place, people from that place should not leave and nor should people from outside enter. The Muhadditheen explain that the reason for people being discouraged from leaving the place is that if all the people had to try and escape from the place, then no one would remain to take care of the ill and the sick among them. From this, we understand that care should be shown to those who are ill and they should not be abandoned. If there are certain people taking care of them, then others will be absolved and are not obliged and forced to go near them. However, if they are quarantined and isolated to the point that no person cares about them, and they have to pass away in this situation, then on account of not taking care of the sick, all the people who had knowledge of their condition will be answerable and sinful.

As for the Hadith لا عدوى ولا طيرة- there are no contagious sicknesses nor any bad omens, this Hadith was explained in order to refute a baseless belief prevalent amongst the Arabs. The Arabs in the pre-Islamic era believed that sicknesses and bad omens were some type of creation which possessed the ability, in its very nature, to move by itself from person to person. Hence, they dreaded associating with a sick person as they feared that the sickness within him would move to them and grip them by itself.  Thus, Nabi (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) strongly refuted this baseless, superstitious belief by saying  لا عدوى ولا طيرة-  (there are no contagious sicknesses nor any bad omens (in Islam)).

Moulana Gangohi (rahimahullah) mentioned that this belief of the Arabs was based on shirk as they believed that this sickness has the ability to move on its own in every situation, and is not under the control of Allah Ta’ala.  Therefore, since this belief went against the belief of Islam, Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) had unequivocally refuted it.

Moulana Ashraf Ali Thaanwi (rahimahullah) explained that both the above-mentioned views of the Muhadditheen and Ulama are substantiated from the Hadith. Hence, whichever view one wishes to subscribe to, one may do so.

عن أنس بن مالك، عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: لا عدوى، ولا طيرة، ويعجبني الفأل قال قيل: وما الفأل؟ قال: الكلمة الطيبة (صحيح مسلم رقم 2224)

عن أبي هريرة، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: فر من المجذوم فرارك من الأسد (المصنف لابن أبي شيبة رقم 26408) 

حدثنا سعيد بن ميناء، قال: سمعت أبا هريرة، يقول: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: لا عدوى ولا طيرة، ولا هامة ولا صفر، وفر من المجذوم كما تفر من الأسد (صحيح البخاري رقم 5707)

عن جابر بن عبد الله، قال: أخذ النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم بيد مجذوم، فأدخلها معه في القصعة، وقال: "كل باسم الله، ثقة بالله، وتوكلا عليه" (صحيح ابن حبان رقم 6120)

حدثنا يعقوب بن نصر، ثنا عبد الحميد بن بهرام، ثنا شهر بن حوشب، حدثني عبد الرحمن بن غنم، عن حديث الحارث بن عميرة، أنه قدم مع معاذ من اليمن فمكث معه في داره وفي منزله، فأصابهم الطاعون، فطعن معاذ، وأبو عبيدة بن الجراح، وشرحبيل بن حسنة، وأبو مالك في يوم واحد، وكان عمرو بن العاص حين حس بالطاعون فر، وفرق فرقا شديدا، وقال: يأيها الناس: تفرقوا، في هذه الشعاب , فقد نزل بكم أمر من الله، لا أراه إلا رجز، وطاعون، فقال له شرحبيل بن حسنة: كذبت، قد صحبنا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وأنت أضل من حمار أهلك، فقال عمرو: صدقت، فقال معاذ بن جبل لعمرو بن العاص: كذبت، ليس بالطاعون ولا الرجز، ولكنها رحمة ربكم، ودعوة نبيكم صلى الله عليه وسلم وقبض الصالحين، اللهم، فآت آل معاذ النصيب الأوفر من هذه الرحمة، قال: فما أمسى حتى طعن ابنه عبد الرحمن، وإنه أحب الخلق إليه، الذي كان يكنى به، فرجع معاذ من المسجد فوجده مكروبا، فقال، يا عبد الرحمن! كيف أنت؟ فاستجاب له، فقال: {الحق من ربك فلا تكونن من الممترين} [البقرة: 147] فقال معاذ: «وإنا إن شاء الله من الصابرين» فمات من ليلته، ودفنه من الغد، فجعل معاذ بن جبل يرسل الحارث بن عميرة إلى أبي عبيدة بن الجراح يسأله كيف هو؟ فأراه أبو عبيدة، طعنة بكفه، فبكى الحارث بن عميرة إلى أبي عبيدة، وفرق منها، حين رآها، فأقسم أبو عبيدة بالله ما يحب أن له مكانها حمر النعم، قال: فرجع الحارث إلى معاذ، فوجده مغشيا عليه، فبكى الحارث واستبكى، ثم إن معاذا أفاق، فقال: يابن الحميرية لم تبكي علي؟ أعوذ بالله منك، فقال الحارث: والله، ما عليك أبكي، فقال معاذ: فعلى ما تبكي؟ قال: أبكي على ما فاتني منك، العصرين، الغدو، والرواح، فقال معاذ: أجلسني، فأجلسه في حجره، فقال: اسمع مني، فإني أوصيك بوصية، إن الذي تبكي علي، من غدوك، ورواحك، فإن العلم مكانه بين لوحي المصحف، فإن أعيا عليك تفسيره، فاطلبه بعدي عند ثلاثة، عويمر أبو الدرداء، أو عند سلمان الفارسي، أو عند ابن أم عبد، وأحذرك زلة العالم، وجدال المنافق (كشف الأستار عن زوائد البزار رقم 3042)

قال محمد بن إسحاق، عن شعبة، عن المخارق بن عبد الله البجلي، عن طارق بن شهاب البجلي قال: أتينا أبا موسى وهو في داره بالكوفة لنتحدث عنده، فلما جلسنا قال: لا تحفوا، فقد أصيب في الدار إنسان بهذا السقم، ولا عليكم أن تنزهوا عن هذه القرية، فتخرجوا في فسيح بلادكم ونزهها حتى يرتفع هذا البلاء، فإني سأخبركم بما يكره مما يتقى، من ذلك أن يظن من خرج أنه لو أقام مات، ويظن من أقام فأصابه ذلك أنه لو خرج لم يصبه، فإذا لم يظن ذلك هذا المرء المسلم، فلا عليه أن يخرج وأن يتنزه عنه، إني كنت مع أبي عبيدة بن الجراح بالشام عام طاعون عمواس فلما اشتعل الوجع وبلغ ذلك عمر، كتب إلى أبي عبيدة ليستخرجه منه. أن سلام عليك، أما بعد، فإنه قد عرضت لي إليك حاجة أريد أن أشافهك بها، فعزمت عليك إذا نظرت في كتابي هذا أن لا تضعه من يدك حتى تقبل إلي. قال: فعرف أبو عبيدة أنه إنما أراد أن يستخرجه من الوباء. فقال: يغفر الله لأمير المؤمنين! ثم كتب إليه: يا أمير المؤمنين، إني قد عرفت حاجتك إلي، وإني في جند من المسلمين لا أجد بنفسي رغبة عنهم، فلست أريد فراقهم حتى يقضي الله في وفيهم أمره وقضاءه، فخلني من عزيمتك يا أمير المؤمنين، ودعني في جندي. فلما قرأ عمر الكتاب بكى، فقال الناس: يا أمير المؤمنين أمات أبو عبيدة؟ قال: لا، وكأن قد. قال: ثم كتب إليه: سلام عليك، أما بعد، فإنك أنزلت الناس أرضا غمقة، فارفعهم إلى أرض مرتفعة نزهة. قال أبو موسى: فلما أتاه كتابه دعاني فقال: يا أبا موسى، إن كتاب أمير المؤمنين قد جاءني بما ترى، فاخرج فارتد للناس منزلا حتى أتبعك بهم، فرجعت إلى منزلي لأرتحل، فوجدت صاحبتي قد أصيبت، فرجعت إليه فقلت: والله لقد كان في أهلي حدث. فقال لعل صاحبتك قد أصيبت؟ قلت: نعم. فأمر ببعيره فرحل له، فلما وضع رجله في غرزه طعن، فقال: والله لقد أصبت. ثم سار بالناس حتى نزل الجابية، ورفع عن الناس الوباء. (البداية والنهاية 7/222)

شرح نخبة الفكر (ص69)

إمداد الفتاوى (4/289)

Answered by:

Mufti Zakaria Makada

Checked & Approved:

Mufti Ebrahim Salejee (Isipingo Beach)