Traveling to Swine-Flu Affected Countries

Issuing fatwas needs a consensus decision from a group of scholars in addition to the opinions of different kinds of specialists in order to decide that the harm of traveling is greater than its benefits and that there is no other means to prevent that harm except through banning traveling to countries affected by swine flu.

In his response to the question, Dr. Rajab Abu Mleeh, stated:

A calamity such as this requires that the muftis show a lot of patience, foresight and a deep understanding of the situation. It is vital that they take into account the specific circumstances and customs, consider the consequences, and consult specialists in the relevant fields. This is necessary to issue a fatwa that is as correct as possible, and to receive the reward of the mujtahid (scholar who makes ijtihad); two rewards are received if the opinion is correct, and only one, if it is wrong.

This issue is particularly complicated because of the abundance of shar`i (in accordance with Islamic Law) evidence and many fiqhi (Islamic jurisprudence) rules that need to be considered. If possible, their implications should be combined, and more weight given to any of them if required.

Superficial Contradiction in the Evidence

This contradiction arises from the shallow and incomplete understanding of some Prophetic hadiths. Al-Bukhari narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The camels suffering from a disease [mange] should not be mixed up with healthy camels.” If this is the case with animals, it is with greater reason that it also be the case with human beings.

Also, Muslim narrated that there was a leper in the delegation of Thaqif; so, Allah’s Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) sent him a message, “We have accepted your allegiance, so you may go.

Moreover, he (peace and blessings be upon him) said regarding the plague, which is a fatal epidemic disease, “If you hear about it in a land, do not go there; but if plague breaks out in a country where you are (already) staying, do not run away from it.” (Agreed-upon)

A superficial understanding may reveal a contradiction between the abovementioned hadiths and that which was narrated by Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “(There is) no contagious disease, nor is there any bad omen from birds, nor is there any bad omen from the night bird [i.e. the owl], nor is there any bad omen in the month of Safar, and one should run away from the leper as one runs a way from a lion.  (Al-Bukhari) According to scholars, this hadith means that diseases are not contagious by themselves, as the people of jahiliyyah (the pre-Islamic period) imagined; rather, they are conveyed by Allah’s permission and according to His universal law.

Accordingly, there is no contradiction, as these hadiths imply the necessity of adopting caution, taking precautions, seeking medical treatment if needed, and pursuing the proper means.

Contradiction between Seeking Medical Treatment, and Pursuing the Proper Reasons and Reliance on Allah

Seeking medical treatment does not contradict putting one’s trust in Almighty Allah; rather, it is putting one’s trust in Him. We pursue the proper means and believe that they will not avail us against Almighty Allah, as everything with Him is measured.

Ibn Hajar (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

In fact, if a person puts his trust in Allah and has certainty that His decree is surely fulfilled, his reliance on Allah shall not be deemed incomplete due to his pursuit of the proper means in compliance with His and His Prophet’s Sunnah. He (peace and blessings be upon him) used to fight using two shields and a helmet. Moreover, he positioned the archers at the mouth of the mountain pass, ordered [and took part in] the digging of a trench around Madinah, permitted the emigration to Abyssinia and to Madinah, and he himself emigrated. Also, he followed the proper means whereby he obtained food and drink and stored as much food for his family as would suffice for a year, not waiting for it to descend from heaven, even though he was the most entitled to such a privilege. Furthermore, in response to the person who asked him, ‘Should I tie my camel or leave it loose?‘, he (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Tie it and put your trust in Allah.‘ Thus, he pointed out that taking precautions does not contradict reliance on Allah the Almighty.

Moreover, Ibn Al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

Seeking medical treatment does not contradict the idea of putting one’s trust in Almighty Allah, just as warding off hunger, thirst, heat and cold by means of their opposites does not contradict it. Rather, true monotheism cannot be attained unless one pursues the means which Almighty Allah created and which lead to the ends both in terms of divine decree and in terms of Shari`ah. Neglecting the means undermines the essence of putting one’s trust in Almighty Allah and undermines the Divine command and wisdom, because the one who neglects them thinks that this is a sign of stronger trust in Almighty Allah. The essence of putting one’s trust in Allah is the heart’s dependence on Him to acquire that which will benefit a person in both his religious commitment and worldly affairs, and will ward off that which will harm him in both his religious commitment and worldly affairs. Alongside this dependence, one must also pursue the proper means; otherwise, one will be ignoring the wisdom and command of Almighty Allah. Hence, the servant should not regard helplessness as putting trust in Allah, or putting trust in Allah as helplessness.

Benefits and Harm: Contradiction and Giving Preponderance

There is no doubt that issuing a fatwa or a political decision to ban travel to and from countries affected by this disease or any other contagious disease will cause much harm and suspension of a lot of work. Hence, any such fatwa or decision should be based on the opinions of scholars and experts who asserted that the harm of traveling to these countries is greater than the benefits, and that the harm could not be prevented by any means other than banning travel.

The mufti should consider the [fiqhi] rules and regulations as a whole, such as: There should be no harm and no reciprocal harm; harm should be removed; removing the greater harm with the lesser harm; averting [causes of] harm has precedence over bringing about benefits; necessity is assessed according to its extent; the public interest takes priority over the private interest, and so on.

‘The principle of harm’ is one of the highly significant Fiqhi principles. It is a full-fledged principle based on three principles:

·      The first principle: Preventing harm

This means taking all precautions and measures to prevent the occurrence of harm, which in this case is to stop traveling to and from swine-flu affected countries, as science has proven that this disease can be transmitted from animals to humans and from person to person. Hence, governments have the right to take the necessary precautions and protective measures to prevent such harm, after making sure that they will not be able to prevent the spread of this disease in any other way. Such a decision, even if it may cause harm to wealth and knowledge, should be adopted; as protecting the soul takes priority over protecting wealth, according to the stages of priorities in our venerable Shari`ah.

·       The second principle: Removing harm

This principle is adopted at the time the harm occurs. It refers to the necessity of leaving no stone unturned in the removal of this harm and to prevent the occurrence of its destructive effects. In this case, this is achieved by providing the means of protection against the transmission of the disease from animals to humans or from person to person, spreading awareness among people to avoid contagion, and speeding up the process of manufacturing and providing effective treatment for this disease.

·       The third principle: Eliminating the effects

This is adopted after the outbreak of the disease – Allah forbid – in spite of having adopted the two abovementioned principles. It is based on the necessity of eliminating the destructive effects of the harm as much as possible, so that it does not have a lifelong effect on people.

Accordingly, governments have the right to take the necessary precautions to protect their people from this potentially fatal disease. This is not a violation of freedom of movement, gaining knowledge and traveling, as these precautions aim at protecting citizens in particular and all people in general.