The coronavirus pandemic has caught the world's attention and arguably dominates the news. In an exclusive guest post, Sheikh Abu al-Yaqdhan al-Masri (Muhammad Naji), who is an Egyptian cleric based in northwest Syria and was previously interviewed on this site, writes on the coronavirus, offering his analysis and advice regarding the pandemic. Note that this article was submitted in its final form for publication on 24 March 2020. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own. The reference citations are those of Sheikh Abu al-Yaqdhan al-Masri.
The coronavirus has spread recently like fire in the straw amid hurried efforts to contain the illness as it has struck 193 states and regions, and thousands of the ill have died because of it, amid clear inability by the greatest medical institutions in the world to confront this epidemic. For in Italy the medical cadres have been wounded and 27 doctors have died because of coronavirus, which has compelled the Health Ministry to appoint students of the medical colleges to work in the hospitals, while the artificial breathing apparatuses have been denied to the sick over 50 for their lack of sufficiency. And Germany, which contains the greatest medical institutions in the world, has announced the availability of 30 breathing apparatuses for every 100,000 citizens and this means a catastrophic situation if the illness spreads among people in German in addition to other lands. And in China health reports indicate that all the men who have recovered from the illness have become unable to have children.
This global anxiety has led to the suspension of flights in many states of the world, and the postponement or cancellation of sporting, political and economic activities around the world, and the closing of schools and universities, and ban on large gatherings and the closing of the public markets.
And in the Islamic world the Umrah has been suspended, and the Tawaf around the ennobled Ka'aba has been banned, and congregation prayers and gathering in most of the countries of the Islamic world have been suspended. And despite the lack of health capabilities available to us in the liberated lands in the north of Syria, it is from the grace of God upon us that no infections with Coronavirus have occurred until now, and we still- by the grace of God Almighty- witness the congregation prayers and we establish Friday prayers.
Firstly we must know that the 'ulama of the Shari'a have distinguished between the epidemic [Arabic: al-waba'] and the plague [Arabic: al-ta'un], for they considered the plague an epidemic and not every epidemic is a plague, as the plagues are generally of unknown source while the source of the epidemic is generally known.
And despite the fact that the plague is a tribulation and torment sent by God on whomsoever He wills, it is a mercy to the believers, for al-Bukhari narrated on the authority of A'isha (may God be pleased with her)- the spouse of the Prophet (SAWS): she said: "I asked the Messenger of God- SAWS- about the plague. He informed me that it is a torment sent by God on whomsoever He wills, and God has made it a mercy to the believers. Whosoever dwells in his land patient and awaiting as the plague befalls it, knowing that it will only strike the one for whom God has decreed, for that person is the likes of the reward of a martyr."[i] And in al-Bukhari and Muslim from a hadith of Anas bin Malek (may God be pleased with him): SAWS says: "The plague is a martyrdom for every Muslim."[ii]
Thus al-Hafiz Ahmad bin Ali bin Hajar al-Asqalani composed a book he called: "The exertion of the instrument on the grace of the plague." And Zain al-Din bin Najim al-Masri says in his work: 'Record of the people of transmission on reports of the chapter on the virtue of the plague and epidemic': "And on that delightful occasion, He has made patience in jihad against the disbelievers, and purity of intention to the Vanquishing One martyrdom, by which He mandates the stations of the pious, and He has made patience in the plague, and surrender and contentment with the decree of the all-knowing King, martyrdom by which He necessitates entry into the abode of peace. And when He made fleeing from the column when fighting the disbelievers among the great mortal sins and offences, He made fleeing from the plague, which shows the lack of contentment with the decrees of fate, to be among the great sins necessitating perdition and ruin."
So the Muslim must be of great faith in the judgement and decree, certain that what he has got wrong has not been for him to get right and what he has got right has not been for him to get wrong, and the periods are set and the lives limited, and a life will not die until it completes its provision and time.
And we have in the Islamic Shari'a customs in dealing with the coronavirus beginning with cleanliness in washing and ablution and washing the hands, as well as the customs of the ill, and ending with the regulations of the Shari'a in dealing with the plague and taking up the advice of the specialists of the doctors and researchers, for taking up the causes of prevention and cure are a Shari'i obligation, while being convinced and believing that we are fleeing from the fates of God to the fates of God.
And if negligence in cleanliness is the most important causes of the transmission of the coronavirus, we find the Islamic Shari'a encourages cleanliness in various ways, for sometimes it obliges it and imposes it, and sometimes makes it desirable. For in cleanliness of the body is the law of ablution for prayer, and the law of washing for its reasons, and the mandating of it on many occasions, and especially on crowding as in the Friday prayers and those of the two Eids. And there is the law of washing the two hands before eating food and after it, and not plunging them into water before washing them when one wakes up from sleep, and the warning against sleep before washing the hands from the remnants of food, and the mandate to cover the containers of food and drink, to protect them from contamination or spoiling in what the air or flies transmit. And there is the mandate to clean the clothing, residence and street, and the Shari'a has also affirmed the cleanliness of the environment, as has come in the hadith: "Fear the three accursed things: excrement in watering places, the middle of the road, and in the shade."[iii]
And the Muslims are obliged to take precautions to prevent gatherings and crowding, for in the plague of Emmaus when Amro bin al-Aas (may God be pleased with him) was governor of al-Sham, he addressed the people and said to them: "Oh people! This torment, if it occurs, will ignite a fire, so avoid it in the mountains."[iv] So he went out, and the people went out, so they separated until God raised it from them, so Omar was informed of what Amro had done- may God be pleased with them both- so he did not resent him.
And the infected one is forbidden to attend Friday prayers and those of the congregations, but rather he is obliged to be placed into health quarantine for the general words of SAWS: "No harm or harm reciprocated.[v]" And SAWS' words: "The one bearing illness should not be brought to the one in health."[vi] And the words of the one upon whom be prayers and peace: "If you hear of the plague in a land, do not enter it, and if it occurs in a land you are in, do not leave it."[vii] And what al-Sharid bin Suwaid al-Thiqfi (may God be pleased with him) said: "There was in the delegation a man afflicted with leprosy, so the Prophet- SAWS- sent him a message: 'We have accepted your allegiance, so return.'"[viii]
And I conclude with a hadith of Uqba bin Aamer (may God be pleased with him): he said: I said: oh Prophet, what is the salvation? He said: 'Hold your tongue, may your home suffice for you, and may you cry for your sins."[ix] So let us beware of rumours and transmission of fake news that disseminate terror in society and destroy the immune system, and let all of us be confined to our homes except for necessity, and let us seek God's forgiveness and repent to Him: "But why did they not humble themselves when Our punishment struck them?" (al-An'am 43). "And when We seized them with torment, they did not yield to their Lord as they did not humble themselves" (al-Mu'minun 76).
Oh God, we seek refuge in You from leprosy, madness, leprosy [al-jidham] and malaise of illnesses. Oh God, we seek refuge in You from the effort of tribulation, and the attainment of distress, and the evil of decree, and the gloating of the enemies.
Written from the frontier of green Idlib by Abu al-Yaqdhan Muhammad Naji
[i] Sahih al-Bukhari (4/175)
[ii] Sahih al-Bukhari (4/24); Sahih Muslim (3/1522)
[iii] Masnad Ahmad T al-Risala (4/449), Sunan Ibn Majeh (1/119), Sunan Abi Dawoud (1/7)
[iv] Asad al-Ghaya (3/260)
[v] Mawta' Malek T Abd al-Baqi (2/745), Masnad Ahmad T al-Risala (5/55), Sunan Ibn Majeh (2/784)
[vi] Sahih Muslim (4/1734)
[vii] Sahih al-Bukhari (7/130); Sahih Muslim (4/1738)
[viii] Sahih Muslim (4/1752)
[ix] Masnad Ahmad T al-Risala (36/571); Sunan Abi Dawoud (4/124); Sunan al-Tirmidhi T Shaker (4/605)