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Reconciliation between the Hadiths on sickness and plague

Question

Both Imams Bukhari and Muslim have narrated a Hadith on the authority of Sayyiduna Anas (radiyallahu ‘anhu) that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) has said:

‘There is no ‘adwa [transmission of infectious disease] and no tiyarah [superstitious belief in bird omens].’

(Sahih Bukhari, Hadith: 5776, and Sahih Muslim, Hadith: 2224)

However, the following Hadith indicates that there are some contagious diseases. Modern science proves contagion like Coronavirus etc.

The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:

‘If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.’

(Sahih Bukhari, Hadith: 5728, 5729, and Sahih Muslim, Hadith: 2219)

Could you reconcile between both of the Hadiths please?

 

Answer

Before the advent of Islam, it was an accepted principle that if a healthy individual or animal were to interact and mix with a sick person/animal then he/it would surely fall ill; no concept of divine decree or intervention was ever linked to the matter [nothing at all was ever attributed to Allah Ta’ala]. Such a belief is problematic as it necessitates that Allah Ta’ala is not in control. Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) therefore mentioned the first Hadith above to address and correct the credence [Aqidah] of the masses.

The second Hadith was to further ensure this belief and protect the masses, lest they revert back to the previously incorrect belief taking Allah Ta’ala out of the equation. The ‘Ulama and Muhaddithun have understood this from the final clause of the Hadith. Had the instruction of Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) discouraging others from approaching plagued lands been out of fear of it spreading and being contagious, then surely he would have instructed those inhabiting such lands to escape as well. As seen from the Hadith however, Nabi (sallalllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) instructed the opposite. It is therefore understood that this instruction was not given out of fear of the plague being contagious but rather to ensure that the correct belief and credence [‘Aqidah] is maintained.

It shouldn’t happen such that a person leaves plagued lands, and after remaining healthy attributes his health to the mere fact of having escaped those lands. Likewise, it shouldn’t be such that a person hears of a plagued land, enters it whilst being healthy, gets ill, and then attributes the illness to having entered that area. Rather, all conditions and outcomes solely occur through the will of Allah Ta’ala; He is in control of everything.

The above explanation seems to have been the most common understanding in reconciling between narrations of such nature.  The ‘Ulama and Muhaddithun have recorded several additional ways as well.

 

In light of modern science

Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah), after acknowledging the above, has further explained that modern science, claiming to have proven the transfer of illnesses from body to body through germs etc. does not go against the first Hadith. This is because the only thing negated is the notion that the illness itself, without any divine decree, is the influencing factor in making other people sick. Such a belief, as mentioned above, is problematic as it necessitates that Allah Ta’ala is not in control. That being said, if a person were to believe that germs were merely a medium and means of others getting sick, but that it is ultimately restricted to the will and decree of Allah Ta’ala, then it is fine. Such a belief is not forbidden in Shari’ah.

Allah Ta’ala is in control of everything and can do as He pleases, with or without the use of mediums. Many a times however, for the comfort and in the interest of mankind, Allah Ta’ala utilizes a systematic method and approach. Mufti Taqi (hafizahullah) has elaborated on this and given preference to the explanation of those Muhaddithun who were of the opinion that Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) discouraged others from approaching diseased individuals due to his understanding of the System of Allah Ta’ala [where He allows illnesses such as leprosy, plague, etc. to be transmitted]. In doing so, Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) has not only explained that such illnesses often occur through a systematic method used by Allah Ta’ala but he has also established the permissibility to adopt precautionary measures and worldly means in an attempt to protect one’s self.

In light of the above explanations there exists no contradiction between the two Hadiths. Nor does there exist a contradiction to what Modern Science claims to have proven.

(References for all of the above: Sharhu Ma’aniyal Athar vol. 3 pgs. 303-314, Fathul Bari, Hadith: 5707, Takmilatu Fathil Mulhim, Hadith: 2220; Also see: Al-Mufhim, Hadith: 163, Fathul Bari, Hadith: 5771, Alkawkabud Durri, vol. 5 pg. 228 and Takmilatu Fathil Mulhim, Hadith: 2231)

 

And Allah Ta’ala knows best.

 

Approved by: Moulana Muhammad Abasoomar