Islam contributed to civilization in all aspects and dimensions including in the area of health and illness by the promotion and encouragement of cleanliness and personal hygiene. The Prophet taught his followers to approach God in their prayers five times a day with bodies and clothes spotlessly clean. Islam is particularly a vanguard for promotion of health in all ramifications. To promote good health and avoid the spread of epidemics, Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) decreed that “no man may enter or leave a town in which a plague has broken out.” And to make it all the more binding and effective, he promised heaven for those who die of plague, saying that such a death was that of a martyr. Thus Muhammad (PBUH) laid for the Muslims the laws governing cordon and quarantine for the first time in history and made them work. Islam encourages its adherents to practice personal and environmental hygiene. This is very germane in addressing the problem of COVID-19 pandemic presently wreaking havoc around the world.
“Health is wealth” is a popular saying which indicates how important health is in human life. Man needs good health to engage in any activity and even to practice religion. In this wise, Islam attaches great importance to sanctity of human life. The Prophet of Islam- Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) was reported to have declared that health is the second great blessing given to man by Allah after faith). Also Imam Al-Ghazali was reported to have said, “A proper understanding and implementation of religion, from the standpoint of both knowledge and worship, can only be arrived at through physical health and life preservation”. Other sayings of the Prophet about health include, “No one will be allowed to move from his position on the Day of Judgement until he has been asked how he spent his life, how he used his knowledge, how he earned and spent his money, and in what pursuits he used his health, Whoever of you gets up in the morning feeling physically healthy, enjoying security and having his food for the day is like one who has the world at his fingertips”. ―Make the best use of five things before the onset of five others: your life before your death, your health before your illness, your free time before being too busy, your youth before your old age and your wealth before you end up in poverty”. Islam therefore has an integrated holistic approach to health that we aspire to successfully achieve. Today, people strive and struggle to unfold and uphold many of the issues that they have identified as important elements to health as a human right, while Islam covered all these so-called, newly-founded health aspects centuries ago. Islam advocated for all the modern, man-made concepts aimed at the promotion and protection of health long before people began to acknowledge their importance. In reality, only with the turn of the 20th century did humanity begin to fathom and grasp the importance of health as a human right. Only then did people recognize that every human being‘s right to health must be indisputably acknowledged and be made a universal, indivisible and independent right. And, although it has taken various declarations to capture some of man‘s rights to health, we are still lacking in some areas as the rights of the human body have still not been captured. The value of Islam must therefore be acknowledged and recognized; we must allow ourselves to delve into its very heart to learn and be guided by all that it offers in this regard. God and the Prophet have provided us with the means and the tools necessary to protect our own health, the health of others and our surrounding.
The Quranic passages and the prophetic traditions mentioned are enough and sufficient evidences supporting the fact that Islam cares about wellbeing of man. The Qur’an also confirms that the purpose for creating man on earth is to serve God (Al Quran 51:56) and this can only be effectively done by the man who is healthy.
The right to life is, from the Islamic point of view, the second most important human right. Nothing takes greater importance except the right to freedom. Evidence in support of this is found in the two Quranic verses: Persecution is even worse than killing (Q2:191) and Persecution is an even greater crime than killing. (Q2:217) These verses give a clear principle that persecution, which means a “denial of freedom”, is a far worse and greater offence than killing, which is a “denial of the right to life”. This principle leads to a logical conclusion that freedom is more important than life. This is by no means strange, bearing in mind that the very humanity of man is the result of such freedom. We may remember in this context that God ordered His angels to prostrate themselves before man, a creature who can exercise his free will to choose whether to believe or disbelieve, be obedient to God or disobedient, do good or evil. However, according to Islam, the right to life follows very closely the right to freedom. God has decreed to the children of Israel and the rest of mankind that if anyone slays a human being, for anything other than in punishment of murder or for spreading corruption on earth, it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; and that if anyone saves a human life, it shall be as though he had saved all mankind (Q5:32). It is my humble opinion that killing and saving life here are not confined to the physical sense only. Both are viewed in the mental and moral sense as well. Clearly, what is meant by this verse is the saving or preserving of life, because it is God alone who grants life and causes death (Q3:156). This is in the true and complete sense of initiating life and taking it away. Hence, when we talk of the right to life as a basic human right, we simply mean the right to preserve life, literally and morally. This right is not completely assured unless man is able to enjoy good health and live in a healthy environment. Both are integral parts of the right to life. Human rights in Islam make up a fascinating mix in which privilege and obligation are inextricably intertwined. Each human right requires man to work hard to ensure, secure and preserve it all at the same time. To relinquish what is one‘s right is to relinquish a part of one‘s own humanity. Reflect, on the Quranic verse speaking about those who relinquished their right to freedom, either by choice or coercion: To those whom the angels gather in death while they are still wronging themselves, the angels will say: “What were you doing?” They will answer: We were oppressed on earth‘. (The angels) will say: Was not God‘s earth so spacious that you might have migrated to settle elsewhere?‘ Such will have their abode in Hell, a certainly evil end. Excepted are the men, women, and children who, being truly helpless, can devise nothing and can find no way. These God may well pardon, for God is indeed most lenient, much-forgiving. Anyone who migrates for God‘s cause will find on earth many places for refuge and great abundance. He who leaves his home, fleeing from evil unto God and His Messenger, and is then overtaken by death, his reward is reserved for him with God. God is much forgiving, merciful. (Q4:97–100) The same applies to those who relinquish the right to life. God says in the Quran: Do not kill yourselves, for God is merciful to you. Whoever does this with malicious intent and by way of willful wrongdoing, We shall make to suffer the Fire. That is very easy for God (Q4:29–30). In a highly authentic Hadith, the Prophet is quoted as saying: “Your body has a right over you” Fourteen centuries after Islam established the rights of man, people managed to issue the international declaration of human rights. Nevertheless, they have not yet arrived at the point where they recognize the rights of the human body. It is indeed true that our bodies have a rightful claim against us. This right requires each one of us to feed the body when it is hungry, rest it when tired, clean it when it gets dirty, protect it against all harm, take precautions against subjecting it to illness, provide it with the necessary treatment when it suffers from disease, and not to overburden it in any way. All this represents, from the Islamic standpoint, a right which must never be overlooked or neglected in preference to other rights, including God‘s own rights over us. By discussing the position of Islam about health along with importance of health, protection of life, the rights of man to freedom, and protection of human body from anything that can cause injury or harm, are the essential areas discussed and focused in Islam. Muslims have been greatly benefited since the day of foundation. Islam recognizes the importance of being healthy. It encourages its adherents to keep themselves save by maintaining hygiene in their persons, food, and environments. The Quranic passages and the prophetic traditions mentioned are enough and sufficient evidences supporting the fact that Islam cares about wellbeing of man. The Qur’an also confirms that the purpose for creating man on earth is to serve God (Al Quran 51:56) and this can only be effectively done by the man who is healthy.
(The author is a Professor at ICSC Srinagar. Views are his own)