Sunnah and Health Awareness Reading of Sheikh Al-Qaradawi’s Book

By Shari`ah Staff


I IntroductionSunnah and Health Awareness

II  Health and Cleanliness
III Sunnah and Pollution
IV  Sportive Muslims
V  Sunnah vs. Intoxicants, Drugs, and Harmful Ingredients
VI Sunnah and Wearing out the Body in `Ibadat or Otherwise
VII Islam's Moderation Between Extravagance and Stinginess
VIII Sunnah and Medication
IX Sunnah and Psychological Health
X Conclusion


The Sunnah (the collection of Prophet Muhammad's deeds and sayings) occupies an important place in the thought of Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who is indeed regarded by both his followers and many of his opponents as a major figure in the contemporary Muslim thought.

In the broader scheme of Islamic legislation, the Sunnah is well-acknowledged as the second source of legislation after the holy Qur'an. It comes second in value and importance. Over the past few years, there has been a number of voices calling for undermining the importance of the Sunnah and relying basically on the Qur'an. While undoubtedly the Qur'an is the central pillar in Islamic legislation, efforts to belittle the Sunnah should be confronted because after all, it is considered the most important source after the Qur'an, explaining many of its verses.

What follows is a review of Al-Qaradawi's chapter on "Islamic Concept of Hygiene As Seen by the Sunnah" from his book "The Sunnah: A Source of Knowledge and Civilization." The chapter was separately translated from Arabic into English by Al-Falah Foundation and was published as an independent short book in 1997.

The introduction highlights the role of the Sunnah as the second main source of legislation which is strongly illustrated by the Qur'an itself:

{And whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids, abstain from it} (Al-Hashr 59:7).

It also notes the role of the Sunnah as it provides a practical way to implement the teachings of Islam (both belief and practice). The Sunnah also instructs Muslims to lead their daily lives according to Islam, even in the most minute details. It is indispensable to guide Muslims and indeed the rest of humankind to a proper way of life. Allah Almighty says about Prophet Muhammad with regard to his value to his people,

{There has come to you a messenger, (one) of yourselves, unto whom aught that you are overburdened is grievous, full of concern for you, for the believers full of pity, merciful} (At-Tawbah 9:128).205448

Thus, the Sunnah covers all the aspects of the lives of Muslims, as it is taken to be a comprehensive way of life. One of those aspects that so far has not received due attention is the area of hygiene and health principles as seen by the Sunnah .

Whereas the concept of hygiene in the West is a recent concept that probably goes back a few hundred years; in Islam, its roots go back 1,400 years.

Moreover, hygiene and cleanliness in Islam are not merely concepts, but more importantly acts of worship. Prayers in Islam cannot be performed without wudu' (ablution). If a Muslim is junub (had a sexual intercourse or discharge), he or she can neither pray nor read Qur'an before performing ghusl (ritual cleansing of the entire body).

The book in question, Islamic Concept of Hygiene As Seen by the Sunnah, engulfs all aspects of hygienic behavior in the life of Muslims. It displays several traditions that urge cleanliness and healthy living on the individual and the collective levels. Such directives include combating pollution, playing sports, and refraining from using drugs and intoxicants.

The book does not address Muslims exclusively. In fact, in the same manner that Islam reaches out to humanity in its totality, this book tries to extend the message of Islam to everybody in universal terms. So far, there is not any religion or culture in which hygiene is not discussed so extensively.

The book opens with an overview of hygiene in the Sunnah, stressing that the Sunnah has considerably cared about humankind's hygiene as well as its psychological well-being. Towards this end, the Sunnah came with much information and ideas that "are looked upon as a precious treasure valued by all who genuinely care about man's welfare" (Al-Qaradawi 5).

Health and Cleanliness

The first instruction that Al-Qaradawi deducts from the Sunnah is to cherish health and truly realize its value as a blessing from Allah Almighty. Allah says in the holy Qur'an,

{And when your Lord proclaimed, "If you give thanks, I will give you more; but if you are thankless, lo! My punishment is dire} (Ibrahim 14:7).

The author, Dr. Al-Qaradawi, quotes Al Bukhari's report that the Prophet said:

"There are two blessings in which many people incur loss: health and free time"

From what is mentioned above, Al-Qaradawi concludes that the "way to thank Allah for the gift of health would be to preserve it in accordance with Allah's rules" (Al-Qaradawi 6).

The author quotes Imam Ahmed in his Musnad, who reported on the authority of Abu Bakr who said,

"I heard the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saying: ask Allah Almighty for perfect faith and sound health, no one ever gets anything, after perfect faith, better than sound health" .

The first of many ways to maintain overall health is through personal bodily cleanliness. Al-Qaradawi asserts that Islam's attitude towards cleanliness is unmatched by any other faith because cleanliness in Islam is an act of worship that draws people closer to Allah. Moreover, it is a religious obligation (Al-Qaradawi 9).

The renowned scholar draws our attention to a very important point: All books of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) start with a chapter entitled taharah (purification). This is the first branch of fiqh that Muslim men and women start to study (Qaradawi 9). Dr. Al-Qaradawi then cites a well-known rule for Muslims: No Muslim could pray if he or she is not purified from minor impurity (Al Hadath Al Asghar) by partial ablution or from major impurity (Al Hadath Al Akbar) by complete ablution or ghusl.Sunnah

The partial ablution, wudu', is sometimes repeated several times a day. It is not complete unless the parts of the body more susceptible to dirt are washed, such as the face, the nostrils, the mouth, the feet, the head, and the ears. Allah Almighty describes wudu'inthe holy Qur'an as follows

{O you who believe, when you rise up for prayer, wash your faces and your hands upto the elbows, and [lightly] rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles.

And if ye are junub, purify yourselves.

And if you are sick or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the place of relieving himself, or you have had contact with women and ye find no water, then go to clean, high ground and rub your faces and your hands with some of it.

Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that you may give thanks} (Al-Ma'idah 5:6).

Every Muslim man and woman knows that prayer without ablution will not be valid.

In addition to the cleanliness of the body as a pre-condition for Allah's acceptance of prayers, the surroundings have to be equally clean. The clothes, the ground, and the prayer rug have all to be clean. The holy Qur'an states,

{For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean} (Al-Baqarah 2:222).

The Sunnah emphatically supports this verse as Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "Purification is half of faith" (Muslim)

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was very keen to emphasize personal hygiene and bathing as he said,

"It is the right [of Allah] upon every Muslim that he should take a bath (at least) once every seven days, washing his head and body" (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was specially concerned with the hygiene of the mouth and teeth. He was reported saying,

 "The siwak (a small piece of wood from a particular tree used for cleansing teeth) is a means of cleansing the mouth and pleasing the Lord" (Ahmad).

Moreover, our beloved Messenger urged people to clean their houses and the town's roads (Al-Qaradawi 13).

Sunnah and Pollution205449

Al-Qaradawi stated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to admonish some people for the irresponsible pollution or infection of the environment. The blessed Prophet called certain actions "the actions that provoke curses" (Abu Dawud). Among these actions are urinating in water, urinating in the bath, relieving oneself in the shade or where people take shelter, and relieving oneself in the roads.

Also, Imam Muslim reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah:

"Avoid the practice of the two things that provoke cursing: relieving oneself in roadways where people walk and in shaded places where people take shelter."

Relieving oneself includes excretion of both urine and feces. Islamic jurists say doing it in public places is makruh (condemned and discouraged). In the opinion of Al-Qaradawi, however, it actually approaches the degree of prohibited. Imam An-Nawawi and Imam Adh-Dahabi both agreed that it was "one of the major sins" (Qaradawi 14).

Our beloved Messenger also prohibited bathing in stagnant water as it may cause diseases; he said,

"None of you should wash in standing water when you're is in a state of janabah (major ritual impurity.)" (Muslim)

Sportive Muslims205450

A tradition reported by Salamah ibn Al-Akwa` stated:

The Prophet passed by some people from the tribe of Aslam while they were competing in archery (in the market). He said to them, ''Shoot O children of Isma`il, your father was a skilled marksman. Shoot and I am with so and so.''

 One of the two teams therein stopped shooting. The Prophet asked, 'Why do not you shoot?'

 They answered, 'How could we shoot while you are with them (the other team). He then said, ''Shoot and I am with you all.'' (Al-Bukhari)

This hadith was mentioned in one of Ibn Taymiah's books, Al-Montaqa Min Akhbar Al-Mustafa, (Chosen Traditions from the News of the Prophet) in a chapter entitled "Urging Archery" (Al-Qaradawi 21). Undoubtedly, the Sunnah encourages sports as a means to a healthy body.

Furthermore, the Prophet had always encouraged Muslims to work, to be energetic, and to start their day early; all of which are conditions for a healthy body. He said "O Allah, make the early morning hours blessed for my nation." (Ahmed).

He emphatically warned his Companions of laziness and obesity. Moreover, he used to seek refuge in Allah from incapacity and indolence. He used to entrench the notion that a good practicing Muslim should get up from sleep energetic and in good spirits (Al-Qaradawi 16).

The blessed Messenger also stressed the importance of exercise for children and adults. The Prophet himself was engaged in sporting events. `A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said,

"I raced with the Prophet and I beat him. Later when I had put on some weight, we raced again and he won. Then he said, 'Tit for tat" (Al-Bukhari).

Also, Muhammad ibn `Ali ibn Rukanah said, "Rukanah wrestled with the Prophet and the Prophet won" (Abu Dawud).

The Prophet held a race between horses and gave the winner a prize. He also permitted tournaments in wrestling, spear play, and foot racing (Al-Qaradawi 16-17).

Sunnah vs. Intoxicants, Drugs, and Harmful Ingredients

Islam's prohibition of intoxicants strongly and clearly illustrates its concern for bodily health. Alcoholic drinks and drugs are prohibited under any name or in any form. Islam is very strict in the prohibition of intoxicants (here intoxicants include alcohol and drugs.)

The consumers of intoxicants are not the only ones who are subject to legal punishment in the view of Islam but also the manufacturers, the sellers and the servers. Any substance that causes harm for the body is prohibited by the Qur'an and Sunnah. (Qaradawi 24)

Sunnah and Wearing out the Body in `Ibadat  (acts of worship) or Otherwise

The Sunnah of our great Prophet is clear with regard to wearing out one's body. Continuous work, starvation, and staying up late are shunned out in Islam.

Even overdoing acts of worship is considered a body abuse. The Prophet disapproved some Companions when one of them wanted to pray all night and never lie down, the other wanted to fast continuously, and the third wanted to refrain from marriage; all in the name of worshipping Allah. The Prophet said,

"I am the most God-fearing of you. Yet, I observe prayer and I sleep, I fast and suspend fasting, and I marry women. He who turns away from my Sunnah is not from my people" (Al-Bukhari).

We cannot find any hadith that praises hunger except for fasting (Al-Qaradawi 27-28).

Islam's Moderation Between Extravagance and Stinginess

The Sunnah always praises moderation as a means of maintaining physical health. It reprimands all those who declare things to be haram (forbidden) by their own authority.

Yet the Sunnah also prohibits extravagant indulgence in eating and drinking as it causes bodily harm. The holy Qur'an says

{O Children of Adam, look to your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not prodigal. Lo! He (Allah) loves not the prodigals} (Al-`Araf 7:31).

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) further asserted the mentioned verse when he said,

"A human being has not filled any vessel worse than his stomach. A few bites are sufficient to support his back. If it is inevitable (i.e. eating a lot because he likes eating), then a third for food, a third for drink, and third for his breath" (Imam Ahmad and At-Tirmidhi)

Sunnah and Medication205452

In the context of caring about physical health, Islam stresses the importance of both preventive and therapeutic medicine.

It particularly cares about preventive medicine because prevention is better than cure. These days are known for the discovery of many preventive vaccines, especially for infant diseases such as small pox, polio, and certain types of fever. It is not a matter of choice in Islam whether to take the vaccinations or not, they must be taken (Al-Qaradawi 32).

According to the author if you see the most prominent hadith compilations, you will always find a chapter on medicine included; in addition, you will always find more information scattered on the same subject in other chapters (Al-Qaradawi 34)

Most importantly, Al-Qaradawi deduced a number of directives from the Sunnah,  pertinent to medicine and hygiene.

The first of these directives is to establish the value of the body. This basically means to recognize the rights that the body has. The body has the right to be fed when feeling hungry, the right to rest when feeling tired, the right to be cleaned when it gets dirty, and the right to be treated when it falls ill (Al-Qaradawi 36).

The second directive is to realize that medicines are part of Allah's decree. Some Muslims think that "believing in fate" is against treatment with medicine. They are quite wrong, for Allah has created the illness and has created the cure (Al-Qaradawi 38).

The third directive is to realize that though illness, when it occurs, is part of the fate decreed by Allah; nevertheless, we are to try to cure it — or better yet — prevent it.

The final directive is to especially respect the medicine that is based on experiments rather than all kinds of superstitious medicines or the spells and omens of soothsayers (Al-Qaradawi 37-41).

In addition to taking care of material medicine, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also instructed us to value the "divine medication" (supplication to Allah and dhikr).

According to Imam Ibn Al–Qayyim, "divine medication" cures an illness both before and after its occurrence. The first case is illustrated by the hadith in Al-Bukhari on the authority of `A'ishah:

"Whenever the Messenger of Allah went to bed, he used to recite surahs Al-Ikhlas, Al–Falaq, and An-Nas, holding his hands together before his mouth, spitting lightly on them, and then rubs his hands over his body."

Also the hadith reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim:

"Whoever recites the last two verses of Surat Al-Baqarah at night, they would suffice for him (i.e. drive away evil and bad things)".

Sunnah and Psychological Health

The Sunnah also cares a lot about the psychological health and mental well-being. In this context, the Prophet always evoked optimism and high hopes among his Companions and followers. The blessed Prophet always raised the hope of both physicians and patients that illnesses will be cured.Thus, our beloved Prophet alleviated the terrible despair associated with what we call chronic, incurable diseases.

Al-Bukhari reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah that the Prophet said,

"There is no disease Allah has created except that He has also created its treatment."

Moreover, Imam Ahmad reported on the authority of Usamah ibn Shuraik that the Prophet said,

"Verily, Allah did not create a disease except that He also has created the treatment; some would know it and some would not"

In his famous book, Zad Al-Ma`ad, Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim said that

"The hadith of the Prophet that reads, 'There is a remedy for every malady' gives spiritual support to both the physician and the patient as well as urges them to seek this remedy and get it.

When patients feel that there is a cure for their illness, this would raise the hopes of recovery, push away despair, and open the door of anticipation.

Should their spirit get stronger, the warmth of their instinct is let out that in itself provokes strength of natural psychological and vital spirits. Consequently, when these spirits get stronger, they will conquer the disease and drive it away" (Al-Qaradawi 49).

Undoubtedly, the psychological and physical state of people interchangeably affect each other. Realizing this fact, the Sunnah cared strongly about the psychological health of Muslims. According to Al-Qaradawi, "it is with your soul, not your body, that you are a human being."


From what is said above about the Sunnah and hygiene (physical and psychological), we could clearly understand the hadith that states that "The strong believer is better [in the eyes of Allah] than the weak believer" (Al-Bukhari).

Strength here could be taken as strength in faith and character as well as strength in body and soul. Muslims must recognize Allah's bounties and be grateful to their Lord for them. In practice, they should express this gratefulness through maintaining health. Also, Muslims need healthy bodies and souls in order to truly worship our Lord and fulfill His commands with regard to striving on earth for the betterment of humanity.

Al-Qaradawi, Yusuf. Islamic Concept of Hygiene As Seen by the Sunnah.Cairo: Al-Falah Foundation for Translation , Publishing and Distribution, 1997.

Source: http://www.onislam.net

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