The Plague (Tā’ūn) and Contagious Diseases (Wabā’) ―The sayings of the Prophet, the Sahābah, Ibn Al-Qayyim and An-Nawawi ―What should a person do when it afflicts a land?

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Imām An-Nawawi (rahimahullāh) stated: “Plague (Tā’ūn) refers to blisters that appear on the body, under the armpits, the elbows, or on the hands, the fingers and elsewhere on the body. These are accompanied by swellings and severe pain. These blisters appear with a sensation of burning fire and whatever surrounds them becomes blackened, or green, or red, or reddish-purple like pearls alongside palpitations of the heart and vomiting.” (1)

And there occurs in the narration of ‘Ā’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) that she asked the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam): “What is a plague (Tā’ūn)?” He replied: “It is a [swollen] gland like the gland of a camel which appears in the tender region of the abdomen and the armpits.” (2)

Ibn Al-Qayyim (rahimahullāh) explained the connection between a plague (Tā’ūn) and an infectious/contagious disease (Wabā’) in that there is between the two terms, similarities and differences. So every plague is contagious (if Allah’s wills it) but not every contagious disease is a plague. And likewise with general illnesses (known as Al-Amrād), of which plague is just just one example.

Then Ibn Al-Qayyim, after this, stated: “Plague causes ulcers, wounds and malignant swelling. These are the outward symptoms of the plague because this is what the physicians observe which leads them to consider it to be a plague. The plague is known by three affairs:

Firstly: The outward symptoms that we have stated and this is what the doctors mention.

Secondly: The death that comes about to those afflicted. And that is what is intended by the hadeeth: “Death from plague is martyrdom for the Muslim.” (3)

Thirdly: The reason behind the outbreak of this plague which is reported in the authentic hadeeth: “It is the remnant of a punishment that was sent to the Children of Israel.” (4)

It was described in another hadeeth as, “It is from the painful stab of your enemies from the Jinn.” (5).

It was also reported that Mu’ādh (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said regarding the plague while he was in Syria: “It is the mercy of your Lord and the supplication of your Prophet.” (6)

The physicians cannot refute the reasons we have cited as to why plagues occur, even though they feel there is no physical (tangible) evidence that supports these reasons. The Messengers of Allah (‘alaihimus-salām) have informed us of the Unseen matters while the skill of the physicians deals with only the outward symptoms.” (7)

Be sure to read this article: “How to gather between the Prophet’s negation of contagious diseases and his forbiddance of entering a land which has a contagious disease, and mixing with afflicted people ― Shaikh Ibn Bāz.”

A person asked Sa’d bin Abī Waqqās (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) about the plague, whereupon Usāmah bin Zayd (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said: “I will inform you about it. The Messenger of Allah (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: “It is a punishment or afflication which Allah sent to a group of the Children of Israel or to the people who came before you. Therefore, if you hear of it in a land, do not enter it and when it has broken out in your land, do not leave it attempting to run away from it.” (8)

Ibn Al-Qayyim (rahimahullāh) stated:

“The prohibition of entering a land which has been afflicted by plague has a number of rulings connected to it:

Firstly: Avoiding the means that lead to harm and to be distant from them.

Secondly: Preservation of well-being (al-‘āfiyah) which is the provisions of this life and the next.

Thirdly: So that the people do not inhale the spoiled, corrupted and polluted air and then become afflicted with the sickness.

Fourthly: Avoiding close contact with those afflicted with the plague such that they too are not afflicted with the same sickness (by Allah’s permission).

Fifthly: Protecting oneself from falling into belief in evil-omens, superstitions and in the false belief that the disease transmits itself from person to person (which is the assertion of the disbelievers).

[Meaning: that one must guard himself against these two false beliefs: 1. Belief in evil omens and superstitions. 2. The belief of the people of jāhiliyyah (pre-Islamic ignorance) who held that diseases spread by themselves.]

“So in general, the forbiddance of entering a land that is afflicted by the plague is a command for one to beware and to safeguard themselves ―and there is also a prohibition from exposing oneself to the means that may lead to harm.

And the forbiddance of leaving a land that is afflicted by the plague is a command to have reliance (tawakkul) in Allah and to yield and submit (tasleem) to the Decree and Will of Allah. So in the prohibition of entering there is disciplining and teaching―and in the prohibition of leaving, there is yielding and submitting to Allah’s Decree (whatever that may be).

Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbās (radiyallāhu ‘anhumā) said: ‘Umar bin Al-Khattāb (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) departed for Shām and when he reached Sargh, the commanders of the Muslim army, Abu ‘Ubaidah bin Al-Jarrāh (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) and his companions met him and told him that an epidemic (wabā) had broken out in Shām. ‘Umar (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said, “Call for me the early emigrants (muhājiroon).” So ‘Umar consulted with them and informed them that an epidemic had broken out in Sham. They differed in their opinions. Some of them said, “We have come out for a purpose and we do not think that it is proper to give it up,” while others said to Umar, “You have along with you others and Companions of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and it is not advisable to take them to this epidemic.” ‘Umar said, “Leave me now.” Then he said, “Call the Ansar for me.” I called them and he consulted them and they followed the way of the emigrants and differed as they did. He then said to them, “Leave me now,” and added, “Call for me the elders of Quraish who emigrated in the year of the Conquest of Makkah.” I called them and they gave a unanimous opinion saying, “We advise that you should return with the people and do not take them to the epidemic.”

So, ‘Umar (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) made an announcement, “I will ride back to Madinah in the morning, so you should do the same.”

Abu ‘Ubaidah bin Al-Jarrāh (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said, “Are you fleeing from what Allah had decreed?” ‘Umar said, “Would that someone else had said such a thing, O Abu ‘Ubaidah! Yes, we are running from what Allah had decreed to what Allah has decreed. Don’t you see that if you had camels that went down a valley having two places to graze, one green and the other dry, you would graze them on the green side according to Allah’s decree? And if you went to the other side, you would graze them on the dry one also by Allah’s decree?” (i.e. both are by Allah’s decree)

Then ‘Abdur-Rahmān bin ‘Awf (radiyallāhu ‘anhu), who had been absent because of some of his needs, came and said, “I have some knowledge about this. I have heard Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) saying, ‘If you hear about it (an outbreak of plague) in a land, do not go to it. But if the plague breaks out in the land where you are staying, do not flee away from it.'” ‘Umar thanked Allah and returned to Madinah. (9, 10)

Also, read this article: If a person has a contagious disease, what should be done? By Shaikh Ibn Bāz

And all praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creation.


  1. See Sharh Saheeh Muslim of an-Nawawi 14/204, ‘Umdatul-Qāri 21/256, Al-Muntaqā 7/198, Fathul-Bāri 10/180.
  2. Musnad Imām Ahmad 6/145, Al-Haythami stated in his Majma’ az-Zawā’id, 2/315, that the narrators in the chain of Ahmad are all reliable, so the narration is authentic.
  3. Al-Bukhāri, Al-Fath 10/180, and Muslim 3/1522, narrated by Anas bin Mālik.
  4. Al-Bukhāri, Al-Fath 6/513, narrated by Usāmah bin Zayd.
  5. Ahmad 4/395, Al-Hākim 1/50, narrated by Abu Moosā al-Ash’ari, authenticated by Al-Hākim and Adh-Dhahabi agreed.
  6. Ahmad 5/240, and cited by Al-Haythami in Majma’ Az-Zawā’id 2/311, ascribing it to Ahmad stating that the chain of narration is connected and all the narrators of Ahmad are reliable.
  7. See Zād Al-Ma’ād 4/38.
  8. Muslim, no. 2218.
  9. Reported by Al-Bukhāri, no. 5729.
  10. See Zād Al-Ma’ād 4/44-45, slightly abridged.

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