Concept of Hygiene & Infection Control in Islam

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Dr. RAIES AHMAD

With the rise of the corona virus, health professionals around the world have become increasingly concerned with the spread of infectious diseases. In recent years several breakouts of infectious diseases such as the swine flu, SARS, and now the corona virus (COVID-19) have meant that infectious diseases have taken on a global context and are now on the agenda of world leaders and health policy makers alike. Easy and frequent air travel allows diseases to spread rapidly between communities and countries and makes it difficult to contain.

Islam being a comprehensive religion, takes every aspect of life into account, including the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of human life. Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) was teaching his followers hygiene practices before more than 1400 years ago, that are still applicable in the 21st century. Prophet of Islam described cleanliness as half of believers faith. Similarly, the Quran states: Truly, God loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves (Quran 2:222). While this purity involves a spiritual aspect, it also includes physical cleanliness.

The guidelines that are practiced today by major health organisations are almost entirely in line and inspired by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) :

Washing Hands Before Eating : The Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), taught that blessings are found when one washes their hands before eating. He said: Blessing in food lies in washing the hand before and after eating.

 Washing Before Prayer (Ablution) : Muslims perform five daily prayers. In order to conduct these prayers, Muslims must be in a state of physical purity known as ablution (wuzu in Arabic). This consists of washing the hands, mouth, nose, face, wiping the head, ears, and washing the feet three times. When an entire community of people do this five times a day it builds a culture of cleanliness and decreases the risk of infectious diseases.

Cleaning Oneself After Using The Washroom : When relieving oneself, the Prophet instructed his followers to use no less than three stones. Obviously, at the time, they did not have toilet paper, but this implies that one should ensure they are clean. Furthermore, the Prophet also encouraged Muslims to clean their private parts with water after using stones.

Covering The Face When Sneezing : The Prophet, peace be upon him, instructed Muslims to cover their faces when sneezing. Although it may seem obvious to us today, but he taught Muslims to do this before there was an understanding of how airborne diseases spread.

Infection Control In Islam : Infection Control In Islam includes isolation and quarantine.  Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), instituted strategies that are today implemented by public health authorities.  He commanded his followers not to travel to places known to be afflicted with illness and he advised those in the contaminated areas or communities not to leave and spread the disease further afield.  He said, “If you hear that there is a plague in a land, do not enter it; and if it (plague) visits a land while you are therein, do not go out of it” (Sahih Bukhari). He also counselled ill people not to visit healthy people.

Quarantine In Islam: Quarantine is essential for the comfort of the sick individual as well as the protection of the larger public. In Islamic history, several hospitals were built to prevent the spread of sicknesses. For example, in 706 Caliph Al-Walid built the first hospital in Damascus and issued an order to isolate those infected with leprosy from other patients in the hospital. This practice continued during the Ottoman Empire until 1838.

The teaching and principles of Islam are designed to benefit all of humankind. Rules and recommendations for personal hygiene and cleanliness promote the well-being of individuals and communities. Infection control is inherent in Islamic hygiene behavior. Washing the hands, covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing, voluntary isolation, when one is feeling unwell, and restricted travel is an effective and comprehensive public health strategy. Measures taken in the 21st century to prevent the spread of infections and viruses conform almost exactly to the hygiene and infection control practices taught by Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

Author is HOD at KTC Hospital and Research Centre, Kashmir. He can be reached at:: cyberaies@gmail.com

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