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Is COVID-19 a Punishment on Humanity?

Answered as per Hanafi Fiqh by Mathabah.org
Answered by Shaykh Mazhar Mahmood


I have heard people saying that the COVID-19 phenomenon is a punishment of Allāh. I heard a viral audio clip of a prominent scholar saying based on an anonymous dream that COVID-19 came as a punishment from Allāh upon the Chinese nation and many more. Is there any merit to this claim in Islām?


In the Name of God, Most Merciful, Most Kind

Thank you for contacting Mathābah with your query. We ask Allāh, the Almighty to ease the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic and to grant humanity relief.

To attribute an occurrence such as the COVID-19 to the Almighty as a punishment to entire nations is irrational. To do this based on an anonymous dream is not very scholarly nor ethical. It is troubling at the least to see some segments of Muslim scholarship making such claims across various platforms.

To attribute a specific dimension to any matter that the Almighty has not attributed to Himself is Islamically unethical and problematic.

Allāh Almighty says in the Qur’ān:

وَاجْتَنِبُوا قَوْلَ الزُّورِ

“Abstain from false claims.” – (Qur’ān, 22:30)

The great Companion of the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) ‘Abdullāh bin ‘Abbās (may Allāh be pleased with him) says in the exegesis of this verse; ‘Abstain from false claims’ “meaning, rendering false attributes against Allāh and accusing Him of lying.”  – (Ṭabarīy)

Allāh also says,

وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَى عَلَى اللَّهِ كَذِبًا أُولَئِكَ يُعْرَضُونَ عَلَى رَبِّهِمْ وَيَقُولُ الْأَشْهَادُ هَؤُلَاءِ الَّذِينَ كَذَبُوا عَلَى رَبِّهِمْ أَلَا لَعْنَةُ اللَّهِ عَلَى الظَّالِمِينَ

“Who could be a greater oppressor than the one who lies against Allāh. Such people will be presented before their Lord. Witnesses will bear testimony [as follows], ‘these people have lied against their Lord’. Indeed the curse of Allāh is upon the oppressors”. – (Qur’ān 11:18)

Worthy to note is that many great people whom Allāh testifies of being pleased with in the Qur’ān were consumed by pandemics and/or plagues.

Among them were some of the following great Companions of the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) who were a part of 30 000 people consumed by the plague of al-‘amwās:

  1. Abū ‘Obaidah Ibn al Jarrāḥ (The most trustworthy of the Ummah)
  2. Mu’ādh bin Jabal
  3. Yazīd bin Abī Sufyān
  4. Abū Jundul (son of Suhayl bin ‘Amr)
  5. Suhayl bin ‘Amr

and many more, may Allāh be pleased with all of them.

No scholar would deem such a calamity as only a punishment. That being said, we make the following analysis:

The COVID-19 has spread worldwide, claiming indiscriminate lives.

To deem it a punishment irresponsibly is a sign of disrespect to every muslim, non-muslim, young and old, pauper or prince, whose lives are being claimed by the virus.

There are narrations from the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) which indicate plagues as punishment. Rebellious disbelievers of the past were taken to task through plagues.

كنتُ بالمدينةِ فبَلَغَني أنَّ الطَّاعونَ بالكوفةِ قال فذَكَرَ لي عَطاءُ بنُ يَسارٍ وغيرُ واحدٍ مِن أهلِ المدينةِ هذا الحديثَ قال فقُلتُ مَن يُحدِّثُه؟ قال فقالوا عامرُ بنُ سعدٍ وكان غائبًا قال فلَقيتُ إبراهيمَ بنَ سعدٍ، قال فسَأَلتُه عن ذلك فقال سَمِعتُ أُسامةَ يُحدِّثُ سعدًا أنَّ رسولَ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّمَ قال إنَّ هذا الوَجعَ رِجسٌ وعَذابٌ أو بَقيَّةُ عَذابٍ حَبيبٌ يَشُكُّ فيه- عُذِّبَ به ناسٌ قبلَكم

Ḥabīb bin Thābit said, “I was in Madīnah when I heard about a plague prevailing in Kūfah. Thereafter, I met Ibrahīm bin S’ad (the son of S’ad bin Abī Waqqāṣ). I asked him regarding the plague. He responded by saying, ‘I heard Osāmah bin Zayd narrating to S’ad that the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) said, “This trial is either impurity, a punishment or a remanence of a punishment whereby communities before you were punished.” – (Bukhārī: 5728)

Despite the above report, we do not have the right at all, to distinguish saints and sinners by making mere judgments on our own accord, about the status of those afflicted. One cannot deduce from narrations regarding plagues of the past, believing the Coronavirus is a mere punishment.

A few points to keep in mind:

  1. Punishments which were unleashed upon the people of the past did not generally come with restoration.
  2. Narrations regarding mass plagues being a punishment for the people of the past cannot be applied in general to assume every pandemic is a mere punishment.
  3. Ḥabīb, the narrator confesses of some doubts regarding this narration.

In a clear narration of a similar nature – void of any doubt and inconsistencies -, also narrated by Osāmah bin Zayd (may Allāh be pleased with him), the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) says,

 إنَّ هذا الوباءَ رِجزٌ أهلكَ اللهُ بهِ الأممَ قبلَكم  و قد بقيَ منه في الأرضِ شيءٌ  يَجيءُ أحيانًا و يذهَبُ أحيانًا

“Indeed, these pandemics are a form of impurities. Allāh destroyed nations before you with such pandemics; some effect of them may remain on earth. They come and go from time to time.” –  (Muṣannaf ‘Abd al Razzāq, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim)

Note: the word ṭā’ūn (plague) has been replaced with the word wabāʿ (pandemic) in this ḥadīth and there is no clear mention of the wabā being a remanence of a Godly punishment in this particular ḥadīth.

The Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) further elaborates in a ḥadīth narrated by ‘Ā’ishah (may Allāh be pleased with her),

أنَّهَا سَأَلَتْ رَسولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّمَ عَنِ الطَّاعُونِ فَقالَ كانَ عَذَابًا يَبْعَثُهُ اللَّهُ علَى مَن يَشَاءُ فَجَعَلَهُ اللَّهُ رَحْمَةً لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

‘Ā’ishah asked the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) about the plague, He said: “It used to be sent as a punishment upon whom Allāh wanted; but Allāh has made it a means of mercy upon the believers.” – (Bukhārī: 661)

The Distinction between Pandemics and Plagues.

Ibn Al-Athīr, the famous historian and linguist writes the following description in Al-Nihāyah, “Plagues are general epidemics. A pandemic harms the atmosphere and brings about difficulties to the temperament and bodies of people”.

Some scholars have distinguished the differences between the tā’un (plague) and the wabā (pandemic); Others have not. For further details, see compiled researches such as: بذل الماعون في فضل الطاعون للحافظ بن حجر.

Imam Ibn Ḥajar brings about a chapter in his book where he describes that the plague is not synonymous to the pandemic. If the word “pandemic” has been used to describe the “plague”, it is only in a metaphorical sense.

The Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) said,

المدينةُ…لا يدخُلُها الدَّجَّالُ ولا الطَّاعونُ إنْ شاء اللهُ

“Dajjāl, as well as a tā’ūn (plague) will not be able to enter the city of Madīnah.” – (Ibn Ḥibbān: 6804)

Whilst in another ḥadīth ‘Āyesha (may Allāh be pleased with her) mentions,

قَدِمْنَا المَدِينَةَ وَهي وَبِيئَةٌ

“We arrived in the city of Madīnah whilst it was a city of pandemics.”

The matter is further elaborated in the narration of Bilāl (may Allāh be pleased with him), when he said,

اللَّهُمَّ العَنْ شيبَةَ بنَ رَبِيعَةَ وعُتْبَةَ بنَ رَبِيعَةَ وأُمَيَّةَ بنَ خَلَفٍ كما أخْرَجُونَا مِن أرْضِنَا إلى أرْضِ الوَبَاءِ

“O Allāh, curse Shaybah and ‘Otbah, the sons of Rabī’ah and Umayyah bin Khalf because they expelled us from our land to a land of wabā (pandemics).” – (Bukhārī: 1889)

If the word “plague” and “wabā” were synonymous, there would be a clear contradiction in the ḥādīths; which is undoubtedly not the case.

Trials, epidemics and pandemics do not necessarily entail punishments.

This should be a known principle by all. As mentioned above, some of the greatest people in history were trialed by plagues and epidemics.

The Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) says,

 أشد الناس بلاء الأنبياء ثم الأمثل فالأمثل

“Individuals who are placed in the most severe trials are the Prophets of Allāh, thereafter those who follow them in rank and those closest to them.” – (Tirmidhī: 2398)

The Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) also says,

إذا أراد الله بعبده الخير عجل له العقوبة في الدنيا.

“When Allāh wishes good for His servant, Allāh hastens trials for them in this world.” – (Tirmidhī – 2396)

We have seen generally at a global level a sentiment of positive change amidst COVID-19. People yearning to help their neighbors, doctors exported to various countries as life savers, animals who were distanced from their natural habitats returning back home and above all; people increasingly developing a sense of God consciousness more than before and much more.

Such beauty does not represent COVID-19 to be a punishment of God at all, at any rational level.

We ask Allāh Almighty to bring about ease globally and we ask him to relieve humanity from the trials that they endure.

Allāh Almighty Knows Best

This answer was collected from Mathabah.org. It’s an Islamic educational institute based in Canada. The questions are generally answered by Sheikh Yusuf Badat and Sheikh Omar Subedar.

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