Friday Sermon: How Does Islamic Literature Speak Of A Healthcare System?

“You have a choice. If you prefer I will pray to Allah to remove your fever or it can remain among you longer as means of purification of your sins.”

“You have a choice. If you prefer I will pray to Allah to remove your fever or it can remain among you longer as means of purification of your sins.”

Our series have been considering the lessons and urgent changes needed in society in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. In our previous lectures, we asked why some essential items such as food and shelter are considered human rights while others like healthcare and water are not.

We found that many of the authors or influencers of human rights literature have impacted what is considered a right for people. Factor in how corporations have commercialised many rights and their availability are now haphazardly distributed across the world.

In this final part, we will explore how Islamic texts and scholarship propose a hierarchy for organising a healthcare system – and interestingly how preparing for a pandemic is not even the highest level of healthcare in Islamic thinking!

We start with an important reflection in regards to the changes we are making and what is driving them: Our behaviours have shown us that although we value our freedoms so highly – to be able to go where and when we want, our health is given priority over that need. Furthermore, as much as we value our individual health, we value our collective health greater.

Isolation has proven that individualism is far less important than the protection of the country or family or friends we keep. These behaviours being instinctive and also guided speaks volumes to what we really value in life and society and so what must be placed at the helm of political protection.

As the Qur’an says, when we arrive at these realisations we must not go backwards returning to our previous states: “And be not like her who undoes the thread which she has spun after it has become strong” (16:92).

And so the way in which we measure society must also be in accordance with those values we consider to be most important: living standards; a clean environment; psychological wellbeing; health; time use; education; cultural diversity; good governance; ecological diversity; and community vitality.

Physical Health of a Society is Central to a Prosperous Society in Islamic thinking

Based on the above ways to measure a society, the sound health of individuals and the collective is amongst the highest goals of Islamic thinking. This falls under the principles of the Right to Life and the collective is prioritised above the individual, in the highest values of the Divine Law, the Maqasid as-Shari’ah.

At the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s), there were epidemics and illnesses that ravaged communities. What is interesting in relationship to our theme of seeing the lessons in these events, is that often the illnesses that spread were directly related to the spiritual development of the new believers.

The great companion Jabir ibn Abdullah narrates that fever came in a human form and sought permission to speak to the Prophet. The Prophet (s) enquired who had come to visit to which Umm Mildam, the name Arabs gave to fever, was the reply. The Prophet then instructed it to go the people of Quba, afflicting many people with illness.

When the people of Quba came to the Prophet to complain, the Prophet responded, “You have a choice. If you prefer I will pray to Allah to remove your fever or it can remain among you longer as means of purification of your sins.” They enquired further, “Can this really be?” Then they agreed for the fever to remain after the Prophet confirmed that their sins will be expiated for the illness. [1]

This shows us that whilst protection of life is paramount, this is at times tempered with the needs to understands greater realities and experience a learning lesson which may not have otherwise been grasped. After this incident the people of Quba would always understand the relationship between patience in a test – be it famine or war or economic hardship, and the reward for it.

Personal Healthcare

Individual care of the self, from diet to sleeping patterns to governance, comes under the term Hayaatun Tayyibah or to live a pure, prosperous life; those things which enable the human to steadily develop through the dignity that must be afforded to the body. Ayatollah Syed Taqi al-Modarresi, in a book under the same title, divides individual health into three parts.

1) Min al-Wiqayah, or the prevention of harm coming to the body, is based on three things:

a) Avoiding excess, such as overeating, which is where the majority of illnesses stem from. Famously the Prophet Muhammad (s) stated the stomach should be divided into three parts, one part for food, one part for drink, one part for space. Too often we make it four parts food and two parts drink – leaving us gasping for the part of space!

b) Avoiding the haraam (forbidden) and makruh (abominable) for the body. A great example of the need of this is to avoid foods which carry infectious diseases like the bat, which is a potential cause for the spread of Covid-19.

c) Adoption of clean things which would keep our bodies clean.

2) Min al-‘Ilaj, or the treatments of those things which respond to the body’s needs. Amongst them are things like fasting or eating the foods recommended by the Qur’an and prophetic texts. Whilst we know of the famous saying: ‘An apple a day, keeps the doctor away’ we may not know the words of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq:

لو يعلم الناس ما في التفاح ما داووا مرضاهم إلا به، وإنه أسرع شيء منفعة للفؤاد، خاصة “Had people realised what was in apples they would not cure their ailments except by them! They are the fastest thing to benefit the hearts in specific.”

3) Sakinatu an-Nafs, around the topic of mental health or a calm soul which can bring contentment to the mind and body.

Collective Healthcare

Government and global governance also plays a role in the protection of the masses. As stated previously, we must already make the assumption that healthcare is a human right and not something tied to a job or insurance. Al-Modarresi divides collective healthcare systems into five:

First (and most basic level) is that which preserves life and ensures the survival of limbs of the human body. This is an obligation and therefore the foundational responsibility of a healthcare system. Though this may seem obvious, we have seen in the US people with Covid-19 being turned away from hospitals because they don’t have insurance! Or when doctors, nurses, shelf stackers do not have access to protective clothing – what kind of a failed state is that!?

Second is that which protects a person from fear of harm or weakness or a deficiency in capabilities, such as to lose sight, hearing or sexual capacity for procreation. The second lowest form of healthcare systems must protect such areas.

Third, or the middle level of a healthcare system, responds to our particular issue of living in a pandemic – not the gold standard as we might imagine! He states that this is what is needed to maintain public health and remove that which causes corruption, affliction, and the spread of deadly disease such as a pandemic.

Fourth, or the second highest level of a healthcare system, includes those mentioned before but also protects from non-fatal diseases but may lead to the death of some.

Fifth and the highest standard, based on the investment, the scientific knowledge available, is the research into what guarantees human safety and what may potentially harm society, such as future diseases and their mutations. [2]

He evidences this by a number of verses and narrations, for example:

( يَآ أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا اسْتَجِيبُوا لِلّهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ إِذَا دَعَاكُمْ لِمَا يُحْيِيكُمْ وَاعْلَمُوا اَنّ اللّهَ يَحُولُ بَيْنَ الْمَرْءِ وَقَلْبِهِ وَاَنَّهَُ إِلَيْهِ تُحْشَرُونَ( (الانفال/24)

( وَمِنْهُمْ مَن يَقُولُ رَبَّنَآ ءَاتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِي الاَخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ( (البقرة/201)

( يَآ أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا لاَ تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَكُم بَيْنَكُم بِالْبَاطِلِ إِلآَّ أَن تَكُونَ تِجَارَةً عَن تَرَاضٍ مِنْكُمْ وَلاَ تَقْتُلُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيماً( (النساء/29

( وَأَنْفِقُوْا فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ وَلاَ تُلْقُواْ بِاَيْدِيكُمْ إِلَى التَّهْلُكَةِ وَأَحْسِنُوا إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُـحْسِنِينَ( (البقرة/195) تداووا ، فما أنزل الله داءً إلا أنزل معه دواءً

“Medicate [properly]! For Allah has not revealed any disease except that He revealed with it, its cure.”


The Coronavirus is more than just a disease and more than a pandemic. It is a mirror, showing us the realities of the systems we have created for ourselves which too often prejudice and prioritise wealth and greed. The fact that we see so many flaws in the way in which this has been dealt with, from the healthcare system to panic buying to the incapability of many politicians should be an earthshaking wake-up call to us that we are basing our systems of living on the dignity and honour that mankind has a right to. It reminds us of the verses of Surah al-Zalzalah of the Qur’an:

إِذَا زُلْزِلَتِ الْأَرْضُ زِلْزَالَهَا When the earth is shaken with its [final] earthquake
وَأَخْرَجَتِ الْأَرْضُ أَثْقَالَهَا And the earth discharges its burdens
وَقَالَ الْإِنْسَانُ مَا لَهَا And man says, “What is [happening] with it?”
يَوْمَئِذٍ تُحَدِّثُ أَخْبَارَهَا That Day, it will report its news…


[1] Ladak, A Star Amongst the Stars, Islamic Publishing House, pg 139.
[2] Al-Modarresi’s work on healthcare.

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