The numbers are scary. As we write this, there are four and a quarter hundred thousand humans reported to be affected by the pandemic Covind-19. The number of deaths are fast approaching the twenty-thousand figure world-wide. No one can predict where these numbers are headed. Mankind has never faced a challenge of this magnitude during our times. The answer to this must be found soon. The spirit of inquiry must NOT give way to despondency. For, to be despondent of the mercy of God is also a type of kufr (disbelief). In Quran, God orders us never to despair of His mercy.
Never give up hope of Allah’s mercy; truly none despairs of Allah’s mercy except those who have no faith (12: 87)
So, how do we respond to this crisis? By now, thanks to the enormity of media outreach, both mainstream and social, most of us are aware of what is expected from us.
This is a misnomer. What is actually being required is “physical distancing”. It is the key to slowing down the spread of the virus. Here is an excellent exposition of how the lack of the same yields exponential growth in the numbers. We find measures, such as, complete shut downs that include banning of internal and international travel, all forms of congregations that might risk human-to-human physical contact. Does a measure, such as, a lock-down has any precedence in history of Islamic societies?
Let us begin with what the Prophet (peace be upon him) of Islam said in the context of a society being hit by an epidemic.
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. (Sahih Bukhari: 5729 and Sahih Muslim: 2219)
This according to scholars, implies that neither a belief in predestination should push one to continue proceeding to a region hit by an epidemic, nor an absence of the same make one flee.
Large sections of contemporary Muslims find it hard to accept the blanket ban on all Islamic congregations including mass prayers in mosques when they have always known that they must pray and make solicitations collectively when confronted with a crisis. In fact, during the initial stages of the outbreak, a few large congregations were organized (in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and elsewhere), apparently backed by a firm belief in predestination.
It is also a novel experience for many faithful to find an alteration in the call for prayer (adhan), suggesting Muslims to pray at respective homes. It is novel, though not unprecedented. The scholars have allowed this in earlier times under exceptional circumstances when an attempt to pray in congregation in the mosque may cause harm (e.g. if the weather makes it significantly inconvenient).
Ibn Qudamah said: “(A man) may be excused for not praying the Friday prayer (Jumu`ah) or praying with the congregation because of rain that makes the clothes wet, or mud that causes annoyance or stains the clothes. Abdullah bin Abbas a companion of the Prophet (pbuh) said to his Muezzin on a rainy day: When you say: ‘I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and I bear witness that Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allah, do not say, ‘Come to prayer’, rather say: ‘Pray in your houses’. It was as if the people found that strange, so he said: Are you surprised by that? One who is better than me did that. Jumuah (Friday congregational prayer) is obligatory, but I did not want to force you to walk in the mud and on slippery ground.” An-Nawawi said in reference to valid reasons for missing the congregational prayer: “Severe cold weather is an excuse during night or day. Whilst extreme heat is an excuse in the afternoon and snow is an excuse if it causes the clothes to become drenched.”
It should be obvious that the scientific establishment of a possibility of contagion is a far stronger reason to abstain from congregation than inconvenience caused by the heat or weather.
Washing Hands: Low Hanging Fruit
The complexity of hospital-based care is one of the reasons global public health starts with the low hanging fruit. Low cost, high return; public health practitioners have always been pushing for hand washing, toilets, bed nets as low-hanging fruits in global public healthcare. Hand wash is strongly recommended by WHO and national policy makers across the globe as a strategy to fight the pandemic.
As for the believers, washing hands is a practice highly recommended by in Islam. One is supposed to wash one’s hands immediately after one wakes up in the morning and as part of wudu (ablution) s/he has to perform before every act of prayer. Indeed, cleanliness and purification are not an option in Islam. Caring for one’s hygiene is not just encouraged but rendered into rituals that constitute part of the faith itself.
Sadaqah: The Invisible Helping Hand
Treat your sick ones with sadaqah (Saheeh al-Jaami 3358). This is a well-known hadith from the Prophet (peace be upon him). Islam strongly encourages sadaqah or benevolent acts of giving and helping during such adversities. The link between sadaqah and recovery from sickness may be more direct and materially observable when sadaqah is utilized to fund healthcare for the sick. From the standpoint of the sick, sadaqah constitutes the invisible helping hand. The import of this hadith is so clear in contemporary times when enormous resources – both financial and human – are needed to implement humanitarian interventions. We need donations to fund the procurement of protective gears, medical equipment, sanitizers, medicines etc.. We need temporary and permanent waqf or sadaqah jariya to create facilities where the sick may be treated. We need volunteers as health and sanitation workers to execute the intervention strategies. And all this must be done in a spirit of solidarity and brotherhood. As the Prophet said: “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” (Bukhari 5665, Muslim 2586)
Nurturing the Spirit of Inquiry: Seeking a Cure
A well-known hadith asserts that God did not create a disease for which he did not also create a cure. Islam nurtures the spirit of science and inquiry and exhorts believers to seek solutions to their medical adversities through efforts. Muslims are encouraged to explore and use both traditional and modern forms of medicine and to have faith that any cure is a gift from God.
There are some traditional remedies mentioned in the Quran and the hadith as containing high curative properties. Two specific remedies are: black cumin seeds and honey. Honey has a mention in the Quran in the following words:
“Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down (for you). There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.” (16:69)
The Prophet once said: Whoever takes honey three mornings each month, will not suffer any serious disease. (Sunan Ibn Majah 4-31-3450)
There are several hadith citing the Prophet’s recommendation of using of black cumin seeds for it contains a cure for every disease except death. Aisha reported the Prophet (peace be upon him) saying, ‘This black cumin is healing for all diseases except As-Sam.’ Aisha said, ‘What is As-Sam?’ He said, ‘Death’. (Bukhari 5687)
However, scholars opine that just taking appropriate means and measures does not necessarily lead to the expected results. It is essential for all conditions to be met and all impediments to be absent, and all of that happens by the will and decree of Allah. One should always consult with a medical professional before attempting any treatment.
Let us end this blog on an optimistic note that we will soon be able to develop an effective answer to Covind:19, one of the greatest and gravest challenges of our times with the help of Quranic and prophetic guidance, by the will and decree of Allah.
 In subsequent analysis, such moves were found to have led to disastrous consequences in the form of exponential growth in the numbers of affected.
 Ibn Qudamah in Al-Mughni 1/366
 Ṣaḥiḥ Al-Bukhari: 901
 Al-Majmu’ 4/99