Plague – Tibb-e-Nabawi


وَقُلِ الْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ الَّذِي لَمْ يَتَّخِذْ وَلَدًا وَلَم يَكُن لَّهُ شَرِيكٌ فِي الْمُلْكِ وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُ وَلِيٌّ مِّنَ الذُّلَّ وَكَبِّرْهُ تَكْبِيرًا

Prophet commanded Muslims not to enter a plague-infested area

In the Sahihain, it is narrated that Sa’ad bin Abi Waqas Radi Allaho Anh asked Usamah bin Zayd about what he heard Prophet Muhammad Sallallaho Alaihe Wasallam say concerning the plague. Usamah said that the Messenger of Allah said:

الطاعُونُ رِجْزٌ أُرْسِلَ عَلَى طائفةٍ من بنى إسرائيلَ، وعَلَى مَن كان قَبْلَكم، فإذا سَمِعْتُم به بأرضٍ، فَلا تَدْخُلوا عليه، وإذا وَقَعَ بأرضٍ وأنْتُم بها، فلا تَخُرُجوا منها فِرَاراً مِنْهُ

The plague is a punishment that was sent down on some of the Children of Israel and on those who were before your time. So if you hear that it has struck a land, do not enter that land, and if it breaks out in a land that you are residing in, do not go out of that area escaping from it

Furthermore, in the Sahihain, it is narrated that Prophet Muhammad Sallallaho Alaihe Wasallam said:

‏‏الطَّاعُونُ شهادةٌ لكلِّ مُسْلِم

“The plague is martyrdom for every Muslim”.

Linguistically, Ta’oon, the plague, is a type of disease. In medical terms, the plague is a fatal, vicious tumor that causes a very strong and painful infection, quickly turning the infected area into black, green or brown color. Soon afterwards, ulcers start to appear around the infected area. The plague usually strikes three areas, under the aims, behind the ear and the tip of the nose, and / or, the soft (flaccid) tissues of the body. Ayesha Radi Allaho Anha narrated that she asked the Prophet about the plague, and he said:

غُدَّةٌ كَغُدَّةِ البَعيرِ يَخْرُجُ في المَرَاقِّ والإِبْط

“A gland that is similar to the camel’s gland and which appears in the tender parts of the abdomen and under the arms”.

Doctors say that when a septic infection occurs in the soft flesh, such as under the arms or behind the ears, it is called the plague. The plague is caused by spoiled, septic blood [infected by a bug that carried the disease from infected rodents]. The infected blood spoils the part of the body that it strikes, sometimes causing blood hemorrhaging and pus. In this case, the inflicted organ sends the infected blood to the heart, thus causing vomit, unconsciousness and rapid heartbeat. Although the plague describes every infection that sends septic blood to the heart, becoming fatal sometimes, it particularity describes the infection that attacks the soft tissues of the body. Since the infected blood is septic, the various organs reject the blood, except those that have become weak. The worst types of the plague are those that strike behind ears and under the arms, because they are closer to the essential organs of the body. There is little chance to be cured from the black plague, while the red plague and the yellow plagues are the least dangerous. Since the plague breaks out in polluted areas, it is called a plague, although this word describes every epidemic, as we have stated, and as Al-Khalil has concurred.

The word epidemic is more general than the plague; every plague is an epidemic while not every epidemic is a plague.

The plagues cause infections, ulcers and malignant growths in the areas of the body we described. It is my judgment that these are only the symptoms of the plague, since this is what doctors visibly observe, thus prompting the doctors to call them symptoms of the plague.

There are three meanings for the word plague. First: the symptoms of the disease that the doctors observe and record. Second, the death that occurs to those inflicted by the plague, as our beloved Prophet said, “The plague is martyrdom for every Muslim”.

Third, the reason behind the outbreak of the plague, which is mentioned in the Hadith “The plague is the remnant of a punishment that was sent on the Children of Israel”. In addition, the plague was described in another Hadith that “it is a result of the Jinn’s touch.” Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad Sallallaho Alaihe Wasallam said that the plague is a Prophet’s supplication.

The doctors cannot refine the seasons we have mentioned explaining why the plague breaks out, although they feel that thorn is no physical proof that supports them. The Messengers informed us of matters of the Unseen, while a doctor’s expertise deals with the physical symptoms of the plague. However, the symptoms of the plague that doctors are familiar with do not provide them with any material evidence that the plague does not engage the soul in some manner, for there is a tremendous connection between the soul and what the body suffers due to disease and ultimately death. Only the most ignorant people will deny the effects of the soul on the body and on human nature as a whole. Allah gives the soul certain powers over the body when someone is attacked by plague; & at such times when an epidemic breaks out or when the air is unhealthy. In addition, the soul has certain effects on the body when it experiences the ailments that are caused by septic substances, especially when blood, semen or black bile is irritated. Evil forces take control of the body when it experiences such emotions and ailments, unless the person repels it with an even stronger power, such as remembering Allah, supplicating to Him, invoking and pleading to Him, giving in charity and reciting the Quran. In this case, angels will descend and will defeat and neutralize the evil effects of the devilish souls (evil forces). We have successfully tried this method many times, that which only Allah is Able to count, and we witnessed the wonderful effects of such positive forces (good souls) in strengthening one’s resolve and ridding him of bad elements when in the early stages. This method almost never fails. When one feels that evil is close-by him, he should turn to good deeds as we have explained, so that they deter and fend off the evil forces (souls). This is the best medicine in such cases for those whom Allah leads to success. But when Allah Decides that His appointed destiny takes over; He draws the slave’s heart away from knowing and intending to perform these good deeds. In this case, the slave does not decide or intend to perform Saalehaat (good deeds), so that what Allah has Decided over rules.

We must reemphasize the fact that unhealthy air plays a major role in causing the plague. Air becomes unhealthy when it becomes polluted because of septic materials or pollutants, no matter what time of year, although it usually happens in the latter part of the summer and in the autumn. This is because during these times of the year (and when the air is most polluted), acute bilious excretions will accumulate during the summer, yet would not have maturated by the end of the season. In autumn, the air is usually cold and thus the immature excretions that accumulated in the summer will heat up and start to get spoiled and decayed, thus causing putrid illnesses. This is especially the case when the body is ready to accept such ailments, being inactive and having abundant septic materials, both of which rarely spare the body from ailments.

We should state that the best season of the year is spring especially regarding the air. Hippocrates said, “Autumn carries the worst types of ailments and fatal diseases. Spring on the other hand, is the best season and has the least occurrences of deaths, pharmacists and those who prepare dead bodies for burial usually borrow money during spring and summer, rather than autumn. This is because to them, autumn is their spring that they are eager for its coming and feet happy when it starts (due to the increased number of deaths in the autumn).

It was reported in Hadith that

‏‏إذا طَلعَ النَّجْمُ صباحا ارْتَفَعَت الْعَاهَةُ عن كلِّ بَلدة

“When the Najm (literally: star) appears, every epidemic is removed from every land”.

The Najm is said to mean the star, or the plants that appear in spring.

‏وَالنَّجْمُ وَالشَّجَرُ يَسْجُدَان‏

“And the herbs (or stars) and the trees both prostrate themselves (to Allah)”. (55:6)

Meaning during spring, because it is the season when the trees are at their prime and thus the epidemics are removed.

As for the Najm (North Star in this case), ailments intensify when it rises and then sets just about dawn. Al-­Tamimi said in his book, ‘The Secret of the Existence’, “The worst two times of the year and the most harmful for the body are when the North star sets just before dawn, and when it appears from the east before the sun rises on the world. This is the time when spring is about to end. Yet, the harm that occurs when it appears is less than the harm caused by its setting. Further, Abu Muhammad bin Qutaibah said:

‘Whenever the Pleiades (in astronomy, the star cluster was named by the ancient Greeks after the “Seven Sisters” of mythology, the Arabs called it الثُّريا Thuraiya) rises or sets, it brings about an epidemic for people and camels. Yet, its setting is worse than when it is rising”

There is a third opinion regarding the meaning of the Hadith, that is, the star means the Pleiades and the epidemic is that which attacks the plants and fruits during winter and in the beginning of spring. When the star rises, the plants will be safe from such epidemics during that time, this is why our beloved Prophet disallowed selling or buying fruit before it is apparent that they are good.

Prophet Muhammad Sallallaho Alaihe Wasallam commanded Muslims not to enter a plague-infested area and to remain in the infected area. This is the best type of prevention, for when one enters a plague infested area; he exposes himself to the risk of infection and harm. Exposing oneself to such danger defies religion and a sound mind. Staying away from plague infested areas is a type of prevention that Allah has directed and guided the people to. In this case, one observes a form of diet or prophylactic by avoiding contaminated areas and air.

As for the Prophet’s sayings for prohibiting the Muslims from escaping the epidemic infested area, it has two possible meanings.

  1. Encouraging the heart to depend and rely on Allah while observing patience and being content with what Allah has decided.
  2. The best medical authorities say that in order to avoid becoming sick during an epidemic requires helping the body to get rid of harmful fluids and moisture, observing a diet and preserving the body’s dryness in general, they warn against sports activities and taking baths. The human body usually contains harmful substances that are idle and which sometimes become activated by sports and taking a bath. They would then mix with the beneficial substances in the body and cause several ailments. Therefore, when the plague strikes a land, the best thing one can do is to remain idle in that area, so that the harmful substances in his body are not aroused or irritated. Leaving the plague-infested area requires motion and physical effort, both of which are very harmful in this case.

These are the statements of the best medical authorities of old and present, helping to shed light on the correctness of the Prophet’s commands that assure the wellbeing of the heart and body.

If someone asks about what our beloved Prophet said, “Do not abandon it and take flight”, refutes the meaning that has been stated. Leaving the infested land for another purpose than escaping, such as traveling, is exempted from the prohibition.

We answer this question by stating that no person, whether a doctor or otherwise, said that all types of motion are prohibited when the plague strikes a land, or the people cannot act as if they were fixed objects. Rather, engaging in excessive physical movements and activities that are not necessary is discouraged during the outbreak of an epidemic. There is no reason behind abandoning the plague-infested land other than escaping from the plague, whereas being idle and calm are better for the people’s hearts and bodies in this situation. In addition, staying inactive satisfies the required dependence and reliance on Allah and submitting to His decisions. As for those who need to move about, such as hired hands, manufacturers and travelers, they are not required to remain completely inactive, but to refrain from any unnecessary movements such as traveling to escape the plague.

There is a great wisdom behind commanding the people to remain in the plague-infested area which is as under:

  1. Avoiding harm and the paths that might lead to harm.
  2. Preserving one’s health, which is the vehicle that people rely on to acquire life’s necessities and to fulfill the requirements of the Hereafter.
  3. So that the people do not fall sick upon breathing polluted and contaminated air.
  4. Avoiding close association with those afflicted with the plague, so as not to catch the plague themselves.
  5. Preserving the body and soul from contamination and superstition; this only harms those who believe in it.

In short, prohibiting entrance to plague-infested areas is a preventive measure and a type of diet (prophylactic) that leads away from the paths of harm. To prohibit leaving the area where the plague has struck entails submitting to Allah’s Will and decisions. The first order teaches and trains, while the second order entails submission and referring all matters to Allah’s will.

وفى “الصحيح”: أنَّ عمر بن الخطاب خرج إلى الشام، حتى إذا كان بِسَرْغَ لَقيه أبو عُبيدة بن الجرَّاح وأصحابه، فأخبرُوه أنَّ الوَباءَ قد وقع بالشام، فاختلفوا، فقال لابن عباس: ادعُ لى المهاجرينَ الأوَّلينَ، قال: فدعوتُهم، فاستشارهم، وأخبرهم أنَّ الوباء قد وقع بالشام. فاختلفوا، فقال له بعضُهم: خرجتَ لأَمر، فلا نرى أن تَرْجِعَ عنه. وقال آخرون: معك بقيةُ الناس، وأصحابُ رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، فلا نرى أن تُقْدِمَهُم على هذا الوَبَاء، فقال عمر: ارتفعوا عَنِّى، ثم قال: ادعُ لى الأنصار، فدعوتُهم له، فاستشارهم، فسلكُوا سبيلَ المهاجرين، واختلفوا كاختلافهم، فقال: ارتفعوا عَنِّى، ثم قال: ادْع لى مَنْ هَهُنَا من مشيخةِ قريشٍ من مُهاجرةِ الفتح، فدعوتهم له، فلم يختلف عليه منهم رجلان، قالوا: نرى أن ترجِعَ بالناس ولا تُقْدِمَهُم على هذا الوباء، فَأَذَّنَ عمر فى الناس: إنى مُصبحٌ على ظَهْرٍ، فأَصْبِحُوا عليهِ. فقال أبو عُبيدة بن الجرَّاح: يا أميرَ المؤمنين؛ أفِرَاراً من قَدَرِ الله تعالى ؟ قال: لو غيرُك قالها يا أبا عُبيدة، نعم نَفِرُّ من قَدَرِ الله تعالى إلى قَدَرِ الله تعالى، أرأيتَ لو كانَ لك إبلٌ فهبطتَ وَادِياً له عُدْوَتَان، إحداهما خِصبة، والأُخرى جَدْبة، ألستَ إنْ رعيتَها الخِصبة رعيتَها بَقدَرِ الله تعالى، وإن رعيتها الجدبةَ رعيتَها بقدر الله تعالى ؟. قال: فجاء عبد الرحمن بن عَوْف وكانَ متغيباً فى بعض حاجاتِهِ، فقال: إنَّ عندى فى هذا علماً، سمعتُ رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول: “إذا كان بِأَرْضٍ وأنْتُمْ بها فلا تَخْرُجوا فِرَاراً منه، وإذا سَمِعْتُم به بأرضٍ فلا تَقْدَموا عَلَيْهِ”.

Umar Bin Khattab radi Allaho Anh was on his way to Ash-Sham when he reached the area of Sargh where he met Abu Ubaydah bin Al-Jarrah Radi Allaho Anh with some people. They told the Caliph that there was an outbreak of the plague in Ash-Sham. They disputed among each other about what to do. So Umar said to lbn Abbas “Summon the early Migrants”. Ibn Abbas said, ‘I summoned them and they disputed, as some of them said to Umar that you went out for a certain purpose and we recommend that we do not go back until it is fulfilled. Other Migrants said, ‘You have the best of the people in your company and the remainder of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah. Therefore, we do not recommend that you send them towards the epidemic. Umar said, ‘Go away from here.’ He then said, “Summon Al-Ansar for me”. Ibn Abbas summoned them and Urnar asked for their opinions. The Ansar disputed just as the Migrants disputed and copied their behavior. Umar said, ‘Go away from here. Umar then said, “Summon whoever is present from the leaders of Quraish from those who embraced Islam in the aftermath of the Fath (conquering of Makkah)”. Ibn Abbss summoned them and no two among them disputed, as they all said, “We recommend that you go back with the people and do not expose them to the epidemic”. Umar Radi Allaho Anh then ordered the people to leave saying, “In the morning, I will be riding on my animal’s back, and so you too should”. Abu Ubaydah bin Jarrah Radi Allaho Anh said, O leader of the believers! Do you run away from Allah’s appointed destiny? Umar said, “I wish that somebody else had uttered these words, O Abu Ubaydah Yes, we run away from Allah’s appointed destiny to Allah’s appointed destiny. If you had a herd of camels that arrived at a valley that has two slopes, one fertile and the other barren and you let your camels graze on the fertile slope, you will do so by Allah’s Leave, will you not? And if you allow them to graze on the barren slope, you will do so by Allah’s Leave, will you not? Soon after, Abdur Rahman Bin Awf Radi Allaho Anh came back from attending to some of his needs and said, “I have knowledge regarding this matter. I heard the Messenger of Allah said:

“If you bear 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, Muslim, Abu Dawood, Tirmizi, An-Nasaii, lbn Majah and Ahmad].