The “(There is) no ‘Adwa (no contagious disease is conveyed without Allah’s permission” Hadith – In Context
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
The following hadith is misunderstood:
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, ‘(There is) no ‘Adwa (no contagious disease is conveyed without Allah’s permission). nor is there any bad omen (from birds), nor is there any Hamah, nor is there any bad omen in the month of Safar, and one should run away from the leper as one runs away from a lion.”
It is detailed below.
Shakyh Salman bin Nasir writes:
A QUICK NOTE ON THE CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF ADWA (عدوى)
This is the wording of the hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari:
لا عدوى ولا طيرة ولا هامة ولا صفر وفر من المجذوم كما تفر من الأسد
“There is no adwa, no bad omen (tiyara), no haamah, and no safar. And flee from the leper as you would flee from a lion.”
The Jahili Arabs believed in disease spreading as an independent agent that was not subject to the will of Allah. They may have had specific superstitious beliefs in that regard. This belief is being negated, not the concept of contagion.
This is supported by the fact that this is mentioned in a hadith along with other Jahili superstitions, such as their belief that the month of Safar is a time of bad luck or that owls are an omen of death (some reports suggest they believed that the soul of the wrongly killed turned into an owl that would cry out for blood till it had been avenged).
When the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, لا هامة ولا صفر, he did not mean there is no such thing as owls and no month called Safar. He was negating the jahili superstitions concerning these things. This is further supported by the fact that the hadith ends with the advice “Flee from a leper like you would flee from a lion.” Contagious disease can pass from one person to another, but not independent of Allah’s will.
Contagion via viruses is medically established fact. There is no grounds left to hold on to the classical interpretation (one of various interpretations) that لا عدوى means disease is not contagious. You might as well claim it is shirk to duck if someone shoots at you, because bullets don’t cause death, Allah does.
This is from a learned scholar who has studied shar’i sciences with traditional scholars and currently works in disease-related behavioral research with a global health agency (which is working on a coronavirus vaccine candidate), on the topic of adwa:
If it’s not just Hafiz Ibn Hajar’s attempt at جمع that one looks at, but also takes into account the positions of Imam Nawawi, Hafiz Ibn Salah and Hafiz Ibn Taymiyah, then it is possible to do the جمع between the two Ahadith the other way around instead. And it fits perfectly with what we know to be true about infectious diseases today:
- Allah SWT created us in a world governed by أسباب, and he is the absolute مسبّب الأسباب. There is no question or doubt on the issues of استقلال, تأثير and absolute causation resting with Allah alone. That is what is conveyed in the Hadith of لا عدوى as per our scholars.
2. At the level of the أسباب, the way infection takes place is through the physical transmission of microbes from one person to another, and hence the protective precautions mentioned in the Hadith of فر من المجذوم. However, once the microbes enter a person’s body, what happens next is determined entirely by the person’s innate immune response. There are several who get infected and there are several who do not get infected despite being exposed to the virus or bacterium.
3. This in-built immune response is one of the greatest miracles of human creation, because most medicines do not have any role in treating a disease per se, except offering some respite and support to the immune system. The actual healing – at the level of the ظاهر – is done by our incredibly complex and sophisticated immune system: something internal and intrinsic to our body that Allah put in there without us asking or adopting أسباب for it.
4. What shape the immune response will take has Asbab so complicated and dependent on such a huge number of variables (genetics, environmental factors, previous disease history, microbe exposure and evolution pathways, nature and timing of exposure, what else is happening in your body at the time) that it is easier for people to realize and be reminded of the fact that the ultimate causation of everything is by Allah alone.
5. Taking this into account, the outcome of acquiring disease is both dependent on exposure (hence safety measures and distancing) but not entirely dependent on it (hence no عدوى ) even at the level of the أسباب, and most definitely at the level of تأثير and استقلال.
Another report supports this:
عن أبي هريرة، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: ” لا يعدي شيء شيئا، لا يعدي شيء شيئا “، ثلاثا، قال: فقام أعرابي، فقال: يا رسول الله، إن النقبة تكون بمشفر البعير، أو بعجبه، فتشتمل الإبل جربا، قال: فسكت ساعة، ثم قال: ” ما أعدى الأول، لا عدوى، ولا صفر، ولا هامة، خلق الله كل نفس، فكتب حياتها وموتها ومصيباتها ورزقها “
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “One thing does not infect another by its own agency,” repeating it three times. So a Bedouin said: “Messenger of Allah! When mange effects a camel it spreads to all the camels around.” The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) paused for a moment and said: “Who caused the first one to be diseased?
There is no contagion (‘adwa), nor is there a serpent in the belly (safar), nor is there any vermin calling for revenge (hamah). Allah created every soul, determining its span of life, (time and cause of) its death, its afflictions, and its provisions.”
This narration being the most complete provides the actual context and thus clarifies the real meanings of the hadith. The Prophet (ﷺ) basically refuted the idea that anything could be effective on its own and when a Bedouin asked a question related to spread of diseases based on his experience with camels the Prophet (ﷺ) made a rhetorical rejoinder on cause of infection in the first camel.
If the Prophet (ﷺ) denied the fact of some diseases being contagious, let us quickly refer to another hadith report that affirm our conclusion that the Prophet (ﷺ) did not preach any kind of fatalism by denying the fact of contagion.
عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أنه قال: «إذا سمعتم بالطاعون بأرض فلا تدخلوها، وإذا وقع بأرض وأنتم بها فلا تخرجوا منها»
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place
Far from denying the universally known fact of certain diseases being contagious, the hadith was actually a refutation of the pre-Islamic pagan Arab beliefs and superstitions. The Prophet (ﷺ) in fact preached and ordained isolation and quarantining to check the spread of infectious diseases.
Allah knows Best