After an outbreak of ‘swine flu’ in Mexico in which over a 100 people have died, the head of the World Health Organization this week indicated that it is on the verge of declaring a full blown flu pandemic. In light of this situation we look at what Islam says about outbreaks of disease such as ‘swine flu’ and how a future Caliphate would respond compared to the current response of the Muslim world.
Plagues and diseases are Qadaa (divine will)
The actions of every human being can be divided into two spheres – actions which are within their control and actions outside their control. Plagues and diseases fall into the sphere of actions that happen upon human beings. They are sent by Allah سبحانه وتعالى as a punishment for some and a mercy for others.
‘Ayisha asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ about the plague and so he informed her: “It is a punishment that Allah sends to whom He wills. Allah has made it a mercy for the believers. There is not a servant who finds himself amidst a plague but he stays in that land in patience hoping (for Allah’s reward) and knowing that nothing can harm him except what Allah has written then this servant will be given a reward like that of a martyr.” [Bukhari]
Although plagues, earthquakes, monsoons and other natural disasters may befall the people this does not mean we simply sit and do nothing. We are not accountable for the calamity befalling us since this is beyond our control. However, we are accountable for our response to these natural disasters within the sphere of actions we control.
When Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab learned, while on his way to Ash-Sham (Syria) that it was afflicted with the plague he did not enter it, and returned back with his people. Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah said to Umar: “O Ameer al-Mu’mineen, are you running away from the decree (qadar) of Allah?” Umar replied, “If only someone other than you had said this, O Abu Ubayda! Yes, we are running away from the decree of Allah towards the decree of Allah. Do you not see that if you had a camel and you came to a valley where there were two patches of land, one green and fertile, and the other dry and barren, if you let it graze in the green land, you do so by the decree of Allah, and if you let it graze in the dry land, you do so by the decree of Allah.” [Bukhari]
This explanation by Umar ibn al-Khattab shows clearly that although he had no control over the plague in Ash-Sham, what he did have control over was entering the affected area or not. The Prophet ﷺ gave specific instructions on what to do when encountering a plague.
‘Abdur-Rahman bin ‘Auf said, “I have heard Allah’s Messenger saying, ‘If you hear about it (an outbreak of plague) in a land, do not go to it; but if plague breaks out in a country where you are staying, do not run away from it.’” [Bukhari]
Using Qadaa (divine will) as an excuse for inaction
Unfortunately, when natural disasters befall the ummah some Muslim countries and government scholars are quick to blame Qadaa (divine will) and resign themselves to inaction. No doubt as the flu outbreak develops we will hear these same arguments again from some quarters in the Muslim world.
As an example, when a massive earthquake hit Turkey in 1999 the then Turkish President Suleyman Demirel made this exact point by arguing that no one could predict or stand against the acts of God. However, a closer examination of the facts surrounding this earthquake shows that blaming Qadaa was simply a way of diverting attention from the real culprits which was Demirel and his government.
Turkey’s State Earthquake Fund was found to have only the equivalent of $2 in it. Government officials were accused of having taken bribes to allow shoddy construction that collapsed with a large loss of life. Relief teams and materials arrived late, if at all, and officials of the Turkish Red Crescent were found to have embezzled funds and sold donated equipment.
The Turkish army units were slow to pitch in with rescue efforts of civilians and worse still President Demirel’s motorcade held up ambulances taking victims to the hospital! One Demirel reached the hospital all he could say to reassure victims was call the tragedy “God’s will”.
Current response to ‘swine flu’
If we look at the western world’s response to ‘swine flu’ we can see a marked difference to that of the Muslim world. Take the UK as an example. As soon as the ‘swine flu’ outbreak occurred the government took immediate steps to minimise the effects of a possible pandemic. Some of the actions included, advice leaflets sent to every household, enhanced airport checks and increasing the stockpile of anti-viral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza from 33m to 50m.
So what about the Muslim world’s response? How many millions of anti-viral drugs do the health ministries have in reserve? Are there plans to purchase more in case of a full blown pandemic? What emergency response and quarantine procedures do they have in place?
Unfortunately, the response so far has not focussed on any effective measures that would deal with the disease. Much of the response has centred on measures aimed at limiting pigs and pork consumption simply because the influenza virus was initially named ‘swine flu’ as it was thought to have originated in pigs.
The UAE has banned meat and pork products from some parts of the United States. Lebanon has banned imports of pigs and uncooked pork, while Jordan banned all meat products from affected countries. Egypt went a step further and in a massive publicity stunt declared another state of emergency even though it has been under a state of emergency since 1967, and then decided to slaughter all 300,000 pigs in the country as a ‘precautionary measure’.
However, as with most influenza viruses that start life in animals and birds, once the virus mutates into a disease that can infect humans it becomes a ‘human flu’.
Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary office with the UN Food and Agriculture Officer in Rome, in response to the Egyptian cull said: “There is no reason to do that. It’s not a swine influenza, it’s a human influenza.”
The WHO even renamed ‘swine flu’ to the Influenza A(H1N1) virus just to eliminate any confusion on this point. Unfortunately, the incompetent and corrupt rulers in the Middle East don’t seem to have got the message.
What the response of the leaders in the Muslim world clearly shows is their complete disregard for the health and welfare of their citizens. Some of the health ministers may give ‘reassuring statements’ that they had taken precautions to protect the health of their citizens and residents, as the Health Ministers of the UAE and Saudi Arabia did, but the people of the Middle East want action not nice words.
Although Egypt’s pig cull has been attacked as scientifically unsound, if it truly believed that the measure would save lives then why has its implementation of the measure been so lame? When Health Ministry workers came to slaughter the animals at a large pig farming centre just north of Cairo, the farmers refused to cooperate so the workers left without carrying out the government order. This is not the first time incident of government inaction in Egypt. In 2008, following fears over diseases spread by animals, Mubarak ordered all pig and chicken farms moved out of population areas, but the order was never implemented.
If the order had been to arrest, torture or expel Muslim opposition figures then such an order would have been implemented immediately without delay. Egypt with its huge numbers of secret police (mukhabarat) is very effective at preventing anti-government demonstrations or brutally torturing its Muslim population. Yet when it comes to the health and wellbeing of its people we see complete incompetency and disregard for their affairs.
How would a future Caliphate deal with the flu outbreak?
- Appoint Islamic Politicians to ruling positions
- Appoint a Delegated Assistant (Mu’awin ut-Tafweed) in charge of the flu outbreak
- Establish an efficient and competent Administrative System.
- Establish an advanced health care system that will develop vaccines and drugs for all diseases.
Firstly, those appointed to government posts in the Caliphate must be strong Islamic personalities who have taqwa fearing none but Allah سبحانه وتعالى.
Politicians in Islam, whether they hold government posts or not, have a completely different outlook towards politics and their role within the state. Politics in Islam concerns looking after the affairs of people. The politician is the one who is a servant of the ummah. They do not take any government post with the aim of achieving personal benefit. Rather they see their position as a responsibility that they will be questioned about on the Day of Judgement.
The Prophet ﷺ said: “A ruler who, having control over the affairs of the Muslims, does not strive diligently for their betterment and does not serve them sincerely, will not enter Jannah with them.” [Muslim]
Secondly, appointment of a Delegated Assistant (Mu’awin ut-Tafweed) to supervise the flu pandemic prevention and response programme.
One of the key cabinet posts in the Islamic Ruling System is the Delegated Assistant (Mu’awin ut-Tafweed). These assistants are the wazir’s (ministers) whom the Caliph appoints to assist him in discharging the tasks and responsibilities of the Caliphate. There are numerous tasks in the Caliphate, especially when the State is growing and expanding, or when hit by a natural disaster such as a plague, and these would be a heavy burden for the Caliph alone. Hence he needs people to assist him in carrying this burden and discharging these responsibilities.
The appointment of Mu’awin is mubah (permissible). The evidence (daleel) for the appointment of the Mu’awin ut-Tafweed as with the details of any pillar of the Islamic Ruling System is taken from the actions of the Messenger ﷺ as head of state in Medinah.
Al-Haakim and at-Tirmidhi reported from Abi Sa’id al-Khudri that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “My two ministers (wazirs) from the heavens are Jibra’il and Mika’il and on the earth are Abu Bakr and Umar.”
The linguistic meaning of the word ‘wazir’ in this Hadith means the helper and the assistant. The word wazir in the Hadith is unrestricted (mutlaq) which includes any help or assistance in any matter. Therefore the Mu’awin can assist the Caliph in the functions and the tasks of the Caliphate.
The Mu’awin ut-Tafweed is the wazir appointed by the Caliph to carry with him the responsibility of ruling and authority. So, in the contract of appointment the Caliph delegates the Mu’awin to discharge the affairs of state according to his own opinion and to execute them according to his own ijtihad (process of extracting Islamic law). He has the mandate to perform any task related to the Caliphate, whether the Caliph delegated that particular task to him or not, for he has been given a general delegation.
Abu Bakr and Umar were the two Mu’awin during the time of the Messenger ﷺ and he assigned them state tasks.
It has been narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim through Abu Hurayarah, he said: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ sent Umar as responsible for sadaqah.”
Ibn Khuzaymah and Ibn Heppan reported: “When the Messenger of Allah ﷺ returned back from the umrah of Ja’ranah, he sent Abu Bakr responsible for hajj.”
Therefore, the Mu’awin ut-Tafweed is a very powerful position and if used correctly can be very effective in responding to national emergencies such as a plague outbreak. This is because when the Mu’awin is appointed to a specific task such as containing a flu pandemic he has the same powers as the Caliph in this task. The Mu’awin will have authority over the wulah (governors), armed forces, health service and other government agencies. He can bring together all the necessary elements of the state to deal effectively with the crisis.
Thirdly, the Caliphate must establish an efficient and competent Administrative System. Running the government and looking after the people’s affairs is carried out by offices, departments and administrations, whose task is to ensure the management of the State’s business and discharge the people’s interests.
Unlike the Administration Systems in Muslim countries today which are based on bribery, corruption and incompetency, in the Caliphate administration is based on the simplicity of the system, speed in processing the tasks and the competence of the administrators.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Verily Allah has enjoined the perfection to everything; so when you kill, do so in a good way and when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way.” Narrated by Muslim from Shaddad b. Aws.
Therefore, the perfection in implementing actions is ordered by the Shari’ah. To achieve this, the administration system should observe three qualities.
- Simplicity of the system which would lead to the ease of processing, whereas complication would lead to hardship.
- Speed in processing the transactions which would spare people of unnecessary delay.
- Ability and competence of the employees. This is required to perfect the task and is even required for the performance of the task itself.
Administrative styles can be taken from any system unless there is a specific text that prevents taking a particular administrative style. Otherwise, it is allowed to take the administrative styles if they were suitable to run the work of the administrative organisations and to discharge the affairs of the people.
This is because the administrative style is not a divine rule that requires divine evidence. This is the reason Umar رضي الله عنه took the style of the diwan (registers) from the Persian Empire for recording the names of the army and the citizens for the sake of distributing government funds to them.
Therefore the Caliphate can adopt emergency response and disease control procedures from the west to deal with a possible flu pandemic.
Fourthly, the Caliphate must establish an advanced health system that can develop vaccines and drugs to treat all the diseases.
Healthcare is one of the basic rights that all citizens of the Caliphate are entitled to free of charge.
The evidence that healthcare is a basic right is taken from the action of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ when he was given a doctor as a gift from one of the foreign rulers. Although the Messenger ﷺ received the doctor as a gift he did not use him, nor take him for himself. Rather he ﷺ assigned the doctor for the benefit of all the Muslims.
Therefore, the Caliphate must establish a health service that is at the forefront of the latest medical advancements as the Muslims were during the previous Caliphate.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Allah never inflicts a disease unless he makes a cure for it.” [Bukhari]
It was this hadith that motivated the previous generations of Muslims to look cures to diseases and not to simply say it’s Qadaa (Allah’s will) that we can do nothing about.
Historically, the Caliphate was blessed with many first class hospitals and doctors in several of its cities: Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Cordova, Samarqand and many more. Baghdad alone had sixty hospitals with in-patient and out-patient departments and over 1,000 physicians.
Public hospitals like the Bimaristan al-Mansuri Hospital, established in Cairo in 1283, had accommodation for 8,000 patients. There were two attendants for each patient who did everything for his/her comfort and convenience and every patient had his/her own bed, bedding and vessel for eating. It treated in-patients and out-patients giving them free food and medicine.
There were mobile dispensaries and clinics for the proper medical care of the disabled and those living in the villages. The Caliph, Al-Muqtadir Billah, ordered that every mobile unit should visit each village and remain there for some days before moving to the next.
Although the flu outbreak is in its early stages and may not develop into a worldwide pandemic, we know that Allah سبحانه وتعالى will send new diseases upon this ummah that were unknown to previous generations.
The Prophet ﷺ said: “Never does Fahisha (fornication and adultery) become widespread and publicly known in certain people without them being overtaken by plague and disease that never happened to their ancestors who came before them.” [Ibn Majah]
However, for the Muslim Ummah any calamities that befall them are a mercy from Allah سبحانه وتعالى.
Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari related that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “This nation of mine is one upon which there is mercy; there is no punishment upon it in the Hereafter; its punishment is in this world – with trials, earthquakes, and killings.”
In this current crisis and when future natural disasters befall the Ummah we must focus on the actions within our control that we can perform to respond to the tragedy, and investigate preventative measures such as vaccines, earthquake proof buildings and well trained and equipped emergency response units.
Only with a change of leadership in the Muslim world by appointing one Caliph will we begin to see true politicians taking their responsibility seriously and looking after the affairs of the people in the best possible manner.