When I wrote “On Ebolaphobia” on this page two weeks ago and followed up with “Of Ebolaphobia and Ebolaphobes” in another column of mine last week, I thought I was done with the “celebrated” Ebola disease.
However, as the disease continues its deadly rampage and everyone scampers for cover, the recent insightful submission of the former President of the Association of African Universities (AAU) and Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Prof. Is-haq O. Oloyede, on precautionary measures from the Islamic perspective is spot on. Captioned “Islam guards against Ebola”, I find sharing it irresistible thus:
Since the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in March this year and its transmission to Nigeria through the late Liberian diplomat, Patrick Sawyer, on July 20, 2014, there have been interventions from Governmental and Non-governmental bodies on how to curb the spread of the deadly disease. NSCIA appreciates the prompt efforts of Governments especially those of Lagos and the Federation on its curtailment so far.
There is increased awareness on a daily basis on measures to be taken and practices to be avoided in order to remain safe in these uncertain times and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) urges Nigerians to take all precautionary and preventive measures.
Moreover, as our Creator does not do anything without a purpose, it is evident that the Ebola outbreak is a wake-up call on us all to adhere to the Islamic etiquette and ethics that even many Muslims have somehow ignored due to ignorance or sheer heedlessness. In other words, beyond the exposure of the current Ebola challenges, Islam as a way of life has provided appropriate mechanisms that guarantee both safety from and prevention of infectious diseases at all times.
First, the Prophet (SAW) said, in an Hadith narrated by ‘AbdurRahman bin ‘Auf, “If you hear the news of an outbreak of an epidemic (plague)in a certain place, do not enter the place; and if the epidemic falls in a place while you are present there, do not leave the place.” The implication of this is that it is a religious responsibility not to travel to areas associated with the deadly virus. It is also a religious responsibility not to travel out of the infected areas as Patrick Sawyer did, for which he had received condemnation from the public.
NSCIA calls on the Federal Government to immortalize and reward Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevo and Nurse Justina Ejelonu who through their dedication and patriotism had to lose their lives in their bid to save the Nation from what could have been a monumental tragedy of unquantifiable proportion. May Allah console their noble families on their ultimate sacrifice.
Secondly, Islam enjoins decency in dressing and regulates what the males and females should wear. According to the Glorious Qur’an, “O children of Adam! We have indeed sent down to you clothing to cover your shame, as well as to be an adornment to you. But the clothing of righteousness (that guards against evil) is the best. Such are amongst the signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition” (Q7:26). A situation in which people, particularly health workers, expose their bodies in violation of the Islamic etiquette would only make them vulnerable and promote the spread of diseases in the public. One would therefore be at a loss on why two major federal health institutions in Lagos are persecuting Muslim female nurses for not exposing their nudity and choosing a more protective of the two prescribed uniforms for female nurses. What an irony!
Then, Muslims must be in a state of purity before every prayer and this involves the use of water and observance of sanitary conditions. Islam insists that one washes one’s hands with soap and water after defecating (or scrub the hands on a hard surface such as sand or rock) in order to be pure. Besides, the institution of ablution which begins with washing hands underscores the premium Islam places on this preventive mechanism against Ebola. Those who wash their hands often would guard themselves against Ebola infection. Islamic prescriptions on protective wears for corpse-washing and permissibility of not washing a corpse when dictated by necessity are also instructive. Shallow graves are also contrary to Islamic prescriptions on burial.
Besides emphasizing the need for Muslims to wash their hands before and after each meal, Islam also requires that all utensils be washed and covered with lids overnight. This principle should be adhered to always especially at this period. Muslims are also forbidden from bathing, urinating or defecating in stagnant pools of water. This is because it is not hygienic and coming in direct contact with bodily fluids would predispose one to infections like Ebola and others.
Furthermore, Muslims should be reminded of not eating the prohibited animals. Animals like monkey, dogs, pigs are forbidden and on no account should Muslims eat them. Bats and all fanged animals, which have now been identified as vectors of Ebola virus, are forbidden.
Other types of food forbidden which one should be wary of as a means of guarding against undesirable consequences are given in the Glorious Qu’ran thus: “Forbidden to you (as food) are dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which the name of other than Allah has been invoked, that which has been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which has been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless you are able to slaughter (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars);forbidden also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows: that is impiety… (Q5:3)
Moreover, Islam discourages unnecessary intermingling of men and women. It dissuades Muslims from shaking hands with the opposite sex with whom they are not related. If this etiquette is adhered to, the risk of contracting diseases will be limited among men and women who engage in casual handshakes and hugging. The Hadith quoted above, if properly understood, can be a solid ground to suspend handshakes and hugging of one another even among persons of the same sex.
Ultimately, Islam enjoins Muslims to be compassionate to all especially those who are sick, needy or in distress. In an Hadith narrated by Abdullah bin ‘Umar, the Prophet (SAW) said: “Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy on you”. Nigerians should therefore be kind, compassionate and merciful as they give all support, including prayers, to both the infected and the affected.
As a matter of faith and conviction, Muslims are enjoined to live Islam by adhering to the provisions of its ethics and etiquette in order to be safe from infections and diseases. “No kind of calamity can occur except with the leave of Allah; and if anyone believes in Allah, He guides his heart aright, for Allah knows all things”(Q 64:11).