Q&A: Leprosy

Q&A: Leprosy

Question

There have been several messages forwarded on social media that I’ve seen to show that the Prophet peace be upon him said to keep distance from the lepers.  Is the tradition ‘Do not stare at lepers, and if you speak to them, let there be a distance between you and them,’ authentic?

Answer

  1. The question was originally posed in April 2020. Certain individuals at the time were going to great lengths to try and provide any form of ‘Islamic justification’ to the measures governments were imposing under the auspices of a response to SARS-CoV-2.
  2. However, utilising weak traditions in an attempt to try and draw false analogies, purportedly to justify tyrannical government action, is not excusable.

Reasoning

What is leprosy?  Unlike previous epochs, we know a great deal more about this condition and its underlining causes:

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. Leprosy is known to occur at all ages ranging from early infancy to very old age. Leprosy is curable and treatment in the early stages can prevent disability.  Leprosy is likely transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contact with untreated cases.

The narration sent through appears in the Musnad of Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, the Musnad of ‘Ali ibn Abi Ṭālib:

حدثنا عبد الله حدثني أبو إبراهيم البرجماني ثنا الفرج بن فضالة عن عبد الله بن عمرو بن عثمان رضي الله عنه عن أمه فاطمة بنت حسين عن حسين عن أبيه عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال لا تديموا النظر إلى المجذمين وإذا كلمتموهم فليكن بينكم وبينهم قيد رمح

Abdullah narrated to us Abu Ibrāhim al-Burjumāni narrated to us al-Faraj ibn Faḍala narrated to us from Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn ‘Uthmān from Fāṭima bint Ḥussain from Ḥussain from his father from the Prophet peace be upon him, he said:

Do not stare at lepers, and if you speak to them, let there be a distance of a spear between you and them.

In his commentary upon the Musnad, Shu’ayb al-Arnā’uṭ states after the tradition is cited: ‘Its isnād is weak (ḍaef).’  In particular, the narrator, al-Faraj ibn Faḍala, is known to be ḍaef, as explained by Ibn Ḥajar in al-Taqrib. Ibn Ḥazm’s judgement is regards him as matruk [see al-Muḥalla, Issue 1566, Vol. 7].  Commenting in the book of Fitan relating to the weak narration of the 15 afflictions, (purportedly narrated upon the authority of Ali, that the Prophet peace be upon him said: ‘When my Ummah does fifteen things, the afflictions will occur in it…’) Abu Esa al-Tirmidhi says: ‘And al-Faraj ibn Faḍāla was criticised by some of the people of ḥadith and (classified as) weak due to his poor memory.’

A shorter narration appears in the Sunan of Ibn Mājah, on this occasion not to continually look at those who have leprosy:

حدثنا عبد الرحمن بن إبراهيم حدثنا عبد الله بن نافع عن ابن أبي الزناد ح وحدثنا علي بن أبي الخصيب حدثنا وكيع عن عبد الله بن سعيد بن أبي هند جميعا عن محمد بن عبد الله بن عمرو بن عثمان عن أمه، فاطمة بنت الحسين عن ابن عباس أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال لا تديموا النظر إلى المجذومين

‘Abdur-Raḥman ibn Ibrāhim narrated to us Abdullah ibn Nāfi’ narrated to us from Ibn Abi Zinād, ḥawala, Ali ibn Abi Khaṣeeb narrated to us Waki’ narrated to us from Abdullah ibn Sa’eed ibn Abi Hind, all of them from Muḥammad ibn Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn Uthmān from Fāṭima bint Ḥussain from Ibn ‘Abbās that the Prophet peace be upon him said:

Do not keep looking at those who have leprosy.

In Fatḥ al-Bāri though (Book of Medicine, Vol. 11, p. 136), Ibn Ḥajar notes that this narration is reported by both Ibn Mājah and Aḥmad, but again it is not authentic, its isnād is ḍaef.

May Allah protect us all from the afflictions of disease, as well as those that arise from the injustice imposed by tyrannies across this world.

حدثنا موسى بن إسماعيل، حدثنا حماد أخبرنا قتادة عن أنس أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم كان يقول اللهم إني أعوذ بك من البرص والجنون والجذام ومن سيئ الأسقام

Musa ibn Ismā’il narrated to us Ḥammād narrated to us Qatādah reported to us from Anas that the Prophet peace be upon him used to say:

O Allah! I seek refuge in you from leukoderma (vitiligo), insanity, leprosy and (other) evil diseases.

[Sunan Abu Dāwud]