The current coronavirus threat is on the news everywhere. School children are hearing about it and everyone is curious about it. So how do we make sense of viruses, mutations and their origins?
The images of cities on lockdown, scanning travellers at airports and stations and empty streets can be scary. But this is not new for Muslims. When it comes to highly contagious communicable diseases, Islam has given guidance. Whilst they probably didn’t have novel coronavirus in the time of the Prophet ﷺ, they did have the plague. The Prophet ﷺ said, “If you hear about it (the plague) in a land that you are in, do not run away from it, and if you hear that it broke out in a certain land, do not enter that land.” (Bukhari)
The second part of this hadith may be obvious, but the first part is more difficult to realise.
The natural response of a person confronted with a highly contagious disease is to run.
The Prophet ﷺ gave an incentive like no other. He said: ”Plague was a punishment which Allah used to send to whom He wished, but Allah made it a blessing for the believers. None (among the believers) remains patient in a land in which plague has broken out and considers that nothing will befall him except what Allah has ordained for him, but that Allah will grant him a reward similar to that of a martyr.” (Bukhari)
The reward of the shuhada (the martyrs) is amongst the greatest rewards of all in Islam and it is given to the one who is patient and does not leave the area of plague. This is tied with Islamic concepts of tawakkul (trust in Allah) and knowing that life and death lie solely in His ﷻ hands.
But it’s not just quarantine that Islam institutes. Basic hygiene that prevents transmission is well known.
“Whenever the Messenger of Allah ﷺ sneezed, he would cover his mouth with his hand or a piece of cloth…” (at-Tirmidhi).
Washing hands, wudhu, ghusl and personal hygiene are all strong aspects of Islam. Islam, therefore, lays down the basis of controlling disease-spread.
Prevention is Better Than Cure
How much of what we are seeing is man-made?
In Islam there is an understanding of halal and tayyib (pure). This applies to what we eat, how we farm, how we look after and transport livestock etc. There is certainly divine wisdom in this, that we may or may not be aware of. Many practices these days are far from normal.
In the 1990s there was an outbreak of mad cow disease. It was later shown to be the result of producers, under pressure to make cheaper meat, grinding up the remains of dead livestock and feeding it back to their herds to save money on grain. They believed that turning herbivores into cannibals was not going to have repercussions!
Punishment, Test or Reminder?
The inevitable question that always arises is why?
Is this Allah’s ﷻ punishment on a people for their disobedience and oppression upon others? Especially when we consider what the Chinese government is doing to Uyghur Muslims? Is He ﷻ testing the Chinese people so that they may return to His ﷻ remembrance? Is He ﷻ reminding the Muslims of His power? Or responding to the dua of the oppressed? Or highlighting how the Muslim rulers have truly failed the Uyghurs and how utterly useless they are? Or that we all too need to take heed before trials befall us?
It could be any or all of these.
A Muslim should always take heed. Be fearful of Allah’s ﷻ punishment, be reminded of his shortcomings and push ahead to bear his responsibilities according to his capabilities.
Finding a Cure
The Prophet ﷺ said, ‘There is no disease that Allah has sent down except that He also has sent down its treatment.” (Bukhari).
Unfortunately, we do not think of Muslims at the forefront of medicine. But there was a time that we were. This ummah invented hospitals and trained doctors. The state and rulers saw it their duty to look after their citizens.
Khalifah Umar al Khattab (ra) said: ”If a lost sheep under my care were to die on the banks of the Euphrates, I would expect Allah the Exalted to question me about it on the Day of Resurrection.” (Hilyat al-Awliya 137)
This was his view of the animals, his concern for humans was even higher.
Our scientists were motivated by Allah’s ﷻ reward,
وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَآ أَحْيَا ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعًا َ
“If anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” [Al-Maeda:32]
Sadly, today in the absence of Islam, it is all about the money. ‘Third world” and poor man’s diseases are not considered worth spending money on. At least that is, if it doesn’t spread!
We’ve seen this time and time again with previous outbreaks. For instance, the Ebola virus disease has been around for 40 years and vaccines could have been developed but weren’t because it was seen as an African problem.
Private pharmaceutical companies only invest in that which will make them profit. It is no wonder that there is so much inequality in health where ‘the rich get the best care,’ and ‘the poor are left to die.’
قُل لَّن يُصِيبَنَآ إِلَّا مَا كَتَبَ ٱللَّهُ لَنَا هُوَ مَوْلَىٰنَا وَعَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَ
‘Say: “Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is our Maula (Lord, Helper and Protector).” And in Allah let the believers put their trust.’ [At-Tauba:51]