Itikaf Under the Growing Danger of Swine Flu
Nowadays, many questions are being raised concerning swine flu and the fear of its spread among large gatherings of people. Unfortunately, these questions pay exaggerated attention to the gatherings performing congregational worship (e.g., Hajj and Friday Prayer), but they strangely became silent when it comes to the crowds gathering for worldly matters (e.g., football matches and other kinds of sports).
Dr. Rajab Abu Mleeh, a Shari`ah researcher stated,
I`tikaf was a tradition of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Thus, the Hanafi scholars deem it a sunnah mu’akkadah (stressed sunnah) during the last 10 days of Ramadan; however, performing it is only recommended in days other than those 10 days.
The Malikis deem it a stressed, desirable act that is not a sunnah. The Shafi`is view it as a stressed sunnah at all times and a more stressed one during the last 10 days of Ramadan for those who desire to follow the example of the Prophet and for those who seek to devote themselves to worship on Laylat Al-Qadr (the Night of Power).
The Hanbalis opine that it is a sunnah at all times and that it is more stressed in Ramadan and even further stressed during the last 10 days of it.
On the other hand, the noble Sharia exhorts us to take the appropriate measure in every matter. This includes adopting the means of protection and seeking medication for diseases, knowing that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) commanded us to do so. He also guided those who are afflicted with plague not to get out of the country where they are hit by the disease and forbade anyone else from entering a country where the disease shows.
Al-Bukhari and Muslim reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Escape away from the leprous the way you escape away from the lion.” Besides, Muslim reported that the Prophet said, “The sick should not be allowed to associate with the healthy.” Moreover, Al-Bukhari reported that the Prophet said, “If you hear of an outbreak of plague [i.e. an epidemic] in a land, do not enter it, but if plague breaks out in the land where you are, do not run to leave it [i.e. your land].“
Epidemics have assumed different forms in the present age, such as AIDS, Bird Flu, and Swine Flu. We ask Almighty Allah to grant us safety and protection. It is inferred through reference to plague in the hadith that this applies to all contagious diseases.
As for the prevention of i`tikaf due to the spread of swine flu, we should introduce the following facts to the reader.
First, we have already indicated that i`tikaf is a sunnah, while the protection of human life is an obligation; thus, nothing precludes the prevention of such gatherings in case it is scientifically proven that it is the only means through which protection can be achieved. Yet, it has not yet been even proven, so we cannot prevent it at all.
However, we can reduce the number of people performing i`tikaf in Masjids and make sure that such gathering places are well-ventilated and that neither the sick nor weak people, like children and aged persons, enter it. Furthermore, there is no objection that such places, where i`tikaf is performed, be put under the auspices of the Ministry of Health in order to provide people with hygienic enlightenment and medical care.
Second, being under the pressure of media panic, we would not like to hasten to suspend rituals or worship, since people have been raising questions about Friday Prayer and congregational Prayers and about Hajj and `Umrah (major and minor pilgrimages). Voices have been raised here and there calling for limiting or fully suspending these rituals.
However, we have not heard anybody speaking about crowding due to the traffic crisis and about laying solutions for such dilemmatic issue. None has spoken about gatherings in cinemas, cafes, or football playgrounds, where thousands of people flock together, knowing that such places are more crowded than Masjids and places of i`tikaf.
Third, indeed, this disease has not yet transformed into a pandemic that drives us to compare it to plague, as the total of people who died of this disease all over the world, in more than six months since the disease was first discovered and announced and until now, are three thousands. Well, this rate is quite fewer than that of people who died of any other disease, and even lesser than that of people who die of normal influenza. Therefore, there is no need for such panic that could result in damages and harms more than those resulting from the disease itself or from its resultant deaths.
Fourth, undoubtedly, calling for the prevention of i`tikaf, Friday Prayers and congregational Prayers entails closure of schools and universities, which is already thought of by some countries. Thus, if this takes place, it would indubitably result in a much greater loss than the current damages resulting from that disease.
Fifth, our noble Sharia sets regulations and rules for us to guide our behaviors and distance us from extremism, excess, and negligence. It has dictated that “necessity requires special rulings,” yet it has also dictated that “necessity must only be assessed and answered proportionately,” that “the greater harm is to be warded off through enduring the lesser harm,” and that “harm is not to be removed through harm.”
Sixth, most world countries, including Egypt and most of the Islamic and Arab countries, have not yet witnessed an outbreak of the disease, because all the infected cases therein came from abroad. It was expected that tourists coming from countries afflicted with the disease would be denied entrance into these countries. However, this measure was not adopted. There is no reason for neglecting such a measure other than the fear of deficit in the countries whose economy depends mainly on tourism.
Seventh, we know that the current number of deaths resulting from traffic accidents is hundred or thousand times greater than the number of deaths due to that virus. Nevertheless, if someone rises and claims that we should return to the use of camels and should do away with the cars, ships, and planes as means of transportation, they would indeed be accused of insanity and absence of mind. So, how can we accept such a norm in this case and deny it in the preceding one?
Eighth, all of the above mentioned does not mean that we should not adopt required measures and assume care and caution. However, such adoption of necessary measures should not be exaggerated or be observed only in certain fields and neglected in others. Rather, a wise person weighs matters according to the scale of Sharia and reason with no excess or overawe, and also with no negligence or underestimation.
Ninth, it is more proper for our Ummah, whose current population is more than a billion and a half, to work hard in search for an effective cure for that virus, and not to sit idly by waiting for a medication to be brought in from abroad, knowing that the import of such a drug may be purposefully delayed due to unmistakable interests of giant pharmaceutical firms that monopolize the manufacturing of drugs that are expected to cure some infected cases.
Tenth, the creed of Muslims and their belief in Almighty Allah (exalted be He) make them assured, of course after assuming necessary measures, that whatever befalls them could have never missed them and whatever misses them could have never befallen them and that our ages have been predetermined even before our birth. Hence, we are only required to work hard and to know that things run according to Almighty Allah’s predestination and predetermination.