Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Covid-19 and Civic Duties

On Illnesses & Prevention

Does protecting oneself from such viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, Chikungunya, H1N1, and avian flu etc., fit into the logic of prevention in Islam? 

Prevention does exist in the Shariah, and it seems even more: it is a religious principle. Imam Bukhari (ra) tells a story from the time of Caliph Umar (ra), perfectly illustrating the prophet’s (pbuh) guidelines for the prevention of pandemics and diseases in general. 

Hazrat Umar (ra) was heading towards the land of Sham with a group of Muslims to inspect the situation in the country: arriving near Sargh, Hazrat Abu Ubaydah Aamir Ibn Al-Jarrah (ra) informed him that the plague was raging in these lands. Hazrat Umar (ra) consulted with the Muhajireen, and subsequently the Ansar, who were torn between the desire to continue the journey, and to avoid entering an infected region. Other companions, of the tribe of Quraish, who had made the Hijrat after the conquest of Mecca, unanimously said: “We think it is better to turn around, and that you do not expose the Muslims to this disease.”

Hazrat Umar (ra) made the decision to return to Medina. Hazrat Abu Ubaydah (ra) then made the following remark to him: “Are we not running away from what Allah has already predestined?” And in other versions, some Muslims said, “Are we fleeing death when everything is predestined, and will it happen to us that which Allah has already decided?” 

Hazrat Umar (ra) replied, “If it was someone else who made this remark, I would have reprimanded him. O Abu Ubaydah, we flee from Allah’s predestination to Allah’s predestination.” And Hazrat Umar (ra) explained his reasoning to him: “Imagine that you come to a valley with your camels, and that there is before you a fertile land, full of grass and another barren and dry; if you decide to make a halt in the green region, has this halt not already been predestined by Allah?” 

And in another version, he also says: “If we enter this region, it is because Allah has already predestined it for us, and if we turn away, it is because Allah has already so decided.” 

Hazrat Abu Ubaydah (ra) was completely satisfied with the answer; Hazrat Umar (ra) opted for taking precaution despite the remark of Abu Ubaydah (ra) and some Muslims, justifying himself by his careful understanding of destiny [our belief in destiny, predestination] which goes perfectly with freewill.


Hazrat Abdullah Ibn Masud (ra) [or in certain narrations Abdur Rahman bin ‘Auf] who was absent during the consultation, arrived and heard the words of Hazrat Umar (ra); he approved it by quoting a Hadith which he had retained from the prophet (pbuh) and which provided a direct answer to this problem. 

He said, “I heard the prophet (pbuh) say about the plague, ‘If you know that an area [a land] is infected, then don’t go [there]. And if the epidemic appears while you are there, then do not run away from it’.” (Bukhari) 

Hearing this, Umar (ra) thanked Allah; his opinion was in accordance with the prophetic teachings, which emphasize the protection of human life and health, unambiguously combining trust in Allah, faith in predestination, humanism and realism.

Many Hadiths still emphasize the preventive attitude of the Prophet (pbuh) when no one trusted Allah as much as he did. In a Hadith reported by Bukhari, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) ordered the Muslims to stay away from people with a highly contagious disease that existed at the time. He also advised camel owners not to mix sick animals with healthy ones. (Bukhari, Muslim) 

Why did the prophet (pbuh) urge us to cover the vessels at night, if not to avoid being hit by the bad things that proliferate at night, and among them germs and diseases? (Tirmidhi) 

He also advised against drinking from a bottle by the neck, for fear that one might absorb an insect that accidentally fell into it (Tirmidhi). 

Once a Sahabi [companion] neglected or simply ignored this prophetic advice, and he swallowed a small snake which had indeed fallen into a vessel; when the Prophet (pbuh) learned of the incident, he pointed out that he had already warned of the risk. This is a perfect illustration of prevention.


Regarding a hard consumer product such as butter, margarine or butter fat, if it happens that an animal like a mouse or a rat falls into it or is found dead in it, then just throw away the pieces around the animal only. In this regard, there are two Hadiths reported by Bukhari. The first is told by az-Zuhri about an animal (a mouse or other animal) that has fallen into solid or liquid oil or butter fat. 

He said, “I was informed that a mouse had died in butter fat, whereupon the Messenger of Allah ordered that the butter fat near it be thrown away and the rest could be eaten.” (Bukhari) 

Hazrat Maimunah (ra) reports the following Hadith: “A mouse fell into butter fat and died. The Prophet was asked about this. He said: Throw out the mouse and the butter fat around it and eat the rest of it.” (Bukhari) 

In another version reported by Tirmidhi, he advised that if the product had been liquid then the product in question should no longer be consumed as the rat would have already contaminated the entire contents.


Modern science proves the veracity of these Hadiths because indeed, liquid matter is more apt to be contaminated faster than solid mass. If an animal or an insect that is usually the carrier of diseases, such as rats, mosquitoes, flies or even cockroaches falls into the food products, then the rest of the solid food that has not directly been in contact/ infected with the animal can be eaten, but we have to discard any food in liquid form because of the infections and contaminations which cross faster in the liquid medium than in solid. But ultimately, even if a rat is found dead in the solid product [such as butter fat, etc.], the decision is up to whoever should consume it. If all of this turns him off, then it is best for him to avoid using/ consuming it. Here, prevention is better. 

So all of these accounts prove the importance that the Prophet (pbuh) placed on prevention, despite the fact that there was no one who had more trust and faith in Allah and predestination than him!


It is therefore the Muslim’s duty to take maximum precautions not to catch these viruses and diseases, such as Covid-19 by using the appropriate products, and to avoid contact with people and animals at risk, even birds in the event of avian influenza, and in general any factor favouring contamination. These are the “factors” of disease, which obey the system set up by Allah, that some animals or things are beneficial or bring health, while others are harmful and transmit disease; but in the end it is Allah Who decides.


As I told you last Friday in my sermon, cleanliness, the whole notion of hygiene is part of faith. By the way, that’s even half of our Muslim faith. And it is not in vain that Allah has ordered us to do our ablution before each prayer (Salah) because each act of tangible and intangible purification is a form of prevention at the level of the body and the spirit and which allows us to make our faith more refined and more easily open our way to God [Allah], The Almighty.


So what is our duty as Muslims and citizens in the face of these viruses, bacteria and other diseases?


It should be known that the behaviour of the Muslims is not limited to the prevention in a personal capacity; it is also our duty to act in a way that does not harm our fellow citizens, whether they are Muslims or not. In the case of Covid-19, it is about following the guidelines not to promote the spread of the virus by maintaining social distance and wearing masks and always keeping oneself clean. We need to follow government guidelines for disease prevention and for staying healthy. And it appeals to a quality that is not very present in us, and that many ignore the fact that it forms part of Islam. What quality is it? Civic duties. 

[But nevertheless, as I told you last week, there are things the government tells us to do that are not good for us, such as the Covishield Astra Zeneca Vaccine. Do you know that compared to other governments, the government of Mauritius forces Mauritians who want to make this vaccine to sign a document where they agree to take all the risks that are attached with this vaccine, even if it leads to death. And so, even then, no one will have the right to sue this government if it happens that this vaccine has a fatal reaction to someone where they can become disabled or even die? When he signs this document, that person waives all rights to denounce such repercussions of the vaccine. In other words, what will happen, people will not die with covid-19, but with covid-19 vaccines because those who designed or produced these vaccines and governments are not even sure of their healing effects! There are some governments elsewhere that are starting to wake up to ban these vaccines. 

So, as I told you, a vaccine which is not thoroughly tested and which does not provide health security and where Allah had indeed warned us that we should turn to Him, and worship Him and place our trust in Him, because at the end of the day He is the Healer, He is our Healing. So, we have to do what Allah tells us to do, for Allah is beyond all governments and their very limited powers.


But we follow government directives when they do not conflict with what Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) have said and done in the Quran, Sunnah and Hadiths.] 

It is unfortunate that despite our regular attendance at mosques and our pride in being Muslims, we are not always good citizens, respectful of our neighbour, regardless of race or religion. However, doing our civic duties is part of our religion, and one would even say without hesitation: it is part of the faith! And Allah instructed us in His Holy Quran to protect humanity. He who saves a life is like he has saved all mankind! (Al-Maida 5:33). 

So if by forgoing human contact we can save lives, then it is our duty as a Muslim and a citizen of our country to do the same.


If while walking or if you are driving around and you see, for example, an overturned trash can interfering with traffic, and you stop to move it, what about this gesture? It is a civic act, very responsible indeed, but above all you have just performed an act of worship [of Ibadah]. For removing something that obstructs the passage, or that causes harm to people is an act of worship, and is one of the branches of faith. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said: “Faith is made up of more than seventy [or more than sixty] branches, the highest being the attestation of faith, and the lowest being removing an obstacle from the way…” (Bukhari, Muslim) 

Civility is therefore a quality that every Muslim must have in him in order to hope to have a complete faith: it is a proof of the plurality of Islam, which is not practiced only in a mosque or on a prayer rug [Musalla], but which is lived.


So, it is up to us to rescue humanity by doing our best to obey divine and secular orders. So, it is up to us to save mankind by doing our best to obey the instructions of Allah and the authorities of this world, only and above all, when these mundane instructions do not go against what Allah has said to do. It is up to us to show humanism and civility and behave like good Muslims. Let us help each other to build a future in godliness and fear of Allah. Let us preserve our faith by preserving the lives of the servants of Allah and doing our best to keep them healthy. Let us also take care of our physical and spiritual health so that Allah will have mercy on us and this world and get rid of all evil and whatever happens, we preserve our faith in Him and we obey Him and we submit to His will because it is He Who controls predestination and all life. It is He alone Who can exterminate this virus and make it harmless and make it disappear. It is He alone Who can cure patients of all forms of diseases such as Dengue, Chikungunya, Cancer, and Covid-19 among others. 

Let us place our trust in Him and pray to Him alone without associating anything in His worship. Let us trust in Him alone Who has provided us with an intelligence and a capacity for reflection and the capacity to do good and not evil. May Allah guide us all to the right path and heal our sick and cleanse this world from all forms of evil. Insha-Allah, Ameen.

---Friday Sermon of 19 March 2021~05 Shabaan 1442 AH delivered by Hazrat Khalifatullah Munir A. Azim (aba) of Mauritius.