Measures taken in the 21st century to prevent the spread of infections and viruses conform almost exactly to the hygiene and infection control practices taught by Prophet Muhammad.
Islam is a holistic belief system and it takes into account the physical, emotional, and spiritual well being of individuals and societies. Although care of the individual is important, safeguarding communities, including its weakest members, is of paramount importance. More than 1400 years ago, Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, was teaching his followers hygiene practices that are still applicable in the 21st century.
From the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, we find evidence that clearly indicates Islam’s stance on coughing and sneezing openly. Prophet Muhammad instructed the believers to cover their faces when sneezing. The most obvious effect of sneezing and coughing without covering the mouth is the spread of airborne bacteria and viruses, besides, droplets invisible to the naked eye, may fall onto surfaces or other people.
This is further emphasised by the basic Islamic rule narrated by Imam Malik that Prophet Muhammad said: “Do not cause harm, and don’t get harmed.” This statement clarifies a general principle that is used in all aspects of life, and which appropriately applies in situations of outbreaks.Muslims must avoid harming others if they are affected by a disease that has a likelihood of harming other people.Likewise, a Muslim must be careful not to get harmed and must protect themselves appropriately.
According to the World Health Organisation, the virus that caused SARS afew years ago, and the on causing COVID-19 is thought to be transmitted most readily by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. What is known as droplet spread can happen when droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person have propelled a short distance (up to one metre) through the air and deposited on the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, or eyes of persons who are nearby.
The viruses also can spread when a person touches a surface or object contaminated with infectious droplets and then touches his or her mouth, nose, or eye. They might spread more broadly through the air (airborne spread).Islam is referred to as the religion of cleanliness. “Truly, God loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves.” (Quran 2:222). In the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, cleanliness is mentioned as half of faith, therefore, it is important to keep the body fresh and clean and Islam insists on several practices to facilitate this.
Today, when trying to stop the spread of any type of viral infection, the first line of defence is frequent hand washing. The WHO recommends the following precautions. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue in the trash after use. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth because germs spread that way. Stay home if you get sickand limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
In Islam, infection control includes isolation and quarantine to stop an epidemic from becoming pandemic. Prophet Muhammad instituted strategies that are today implemented by public health authorities. He commanded his followers not to travel to places known to be afflicted with illness and he advised those in the contaminated areas or communities not to leave and spread the disease further afield. He said, “If you hear that there is a plague in a land, do not enter it; and if it (plague) visits a land while you are therein, do not go out of it”. He also counseled ill people not to visit healthy people.
Prophet Muhammad’s companions followed this strategy in dealing with infectious outbreaks. As the second Caliph Umarwas on his way to Syria, he got news of the outbreak in the region(plague of ʿAmawas). He sought consultation from his advisors on whether to return to Madinah, the capital, or continue on. One of them said, “You left for the sake of Allah so this plague should not stop you.” Others advised the opposite.Umar decided to return to Madinah. Abu Ubaydah rebuked him, “Are you fleeing from the decree of Allah?” He responded, “Yes, I am fleeing from the decree of Allah to the decree of Allah.
The same concept is followed nowadays during the worldwide outbreak of infectious diseases. Quarantine officials arrange for appropriate medical assistance, which sometimes includes medical isolation and restricted travel movements. The WHO says isolation is necessary not only for the patient’s comfort but also to protect members of the public. Many levels of government around the world are legally able to compel sick, infectious people to remain in quarantine or isolation to stop the spread of disease.
The teaching and principles of Islam are designed to benefit all of humankind. Rules and recommendations for personal hygiene and cleanliness promote the well-being of individuals and communities. Infection control is inherent in Islamic hygiene behaviour. Washing the hands, covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing, voluntary isolation, when one is feeling unwell, and restricted travel is an effective and comprehensive public health strategy. Prophet Muhammad is described in the Quran (21:107) as “mercy to the worlds,” which includeall other creatures besides humans and the ecosystem at large.