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Rulings On Smoking And Diseases

Back to Rulings On Smoking And Diseases
  Writer Name : Dr Ahmad Omar Hashim
Language English
Translation By
Article Source Professor and Head of the Department of Hadith Faculty of Theology, Al-Azhar University
Addition Date 08/09/2013
Islamic Rulings on Smoking And Diseases
Under Islam good things are allowable while bad things are forbidden. Islam calls on its followers to remain strong and not to allow their strength to be weakened by smoking and other harmful habits which pose a menace to the health and the mind and induce a state of stupor and addiction.  

Smoking is a real hazard, not for being an intoxicant because it is not, and not simply on account of being a costly practice with dangerous effects on health but also because it is habit-forming. Once addicted the smoker cannot hold himself back from smoking for long intervals. There is another equally dangerous side to smoking. It is a simple practice and spreads quickly, and one can easily indulge in it at any time.

Recent medical findings have revealed that smoking poses such hazards to the respiratory tract as cancer of the lung, cancer of the larynx and chronic bronchitis, as well as cardiac thrombosis and cerebral thrombosis.

In the case of the digestive system smoking contributes to the development of cancer in the lips, the mouth, the pharynx, the o esophagus and the pancreas. It is also associated with peptic ulcers. The urinary tract can also be affected. Such hazards as benign and malignant tumors of the urinary bladder and kidney cancer are associated with smoking(1).

So much for the medical research on the hazards of smoking. From the standpoint of Islam we find that people are enjoined to avoid inflicting harm on themselves And do not with your own hands cast yourselves into destruction (2:195). Kill not yourselves (4:29).

The Prophet PBUH says: "Discard that which fills you with suspicion and hold on to that in which you trust". He also says:  "Do not harm yourselves or others". He also "forbids taking any intoxicants or stupor-inducing agents".

When these religious texts taken from the Quran and the sunna are considered against the background of the foregoing medical findings it becomes quite clear that smoking is haram. If the learned men of times past did not pass a ruling of haram against smoking it was simply because they did not know much about the hazards involved.

To elucidate the matter further, I am going to explain at length how the Message of Islam takes a firm stand against smoking and similar practices and advocates health protection. Hence, in the following paragraphs we shall be able to see how smoking is inconsistent with this Message and incompatible with health, and how it is tantamount even to an invitation to self-destruction or, at least, to a waste of wealth and health.

Islam, as the religion of justice and good, worship and work, calls on its followers to work hard for the achievement of such worthy goals as advancement and progress. These targets can be achieved only through sound health and physical fitness.

On account of that Islam takes a keen interest matters of health and directs its followers as to how they can attain physical safety and well-being.
Islam calls for preventive measures to be taken against disease. It directs its followers to guard against infectious diseases and all that may lead to the deterioration of health.
If disease sets in, Muslims are required to seek medical treatment immediately.
In order to protect the health of man from being dominated by harmful habits which spread on account of certain phenomena in a given environment or community, Islam categorically opposes the phenomenon of addiction to such habits.

Of the other measures prescribed by Islam for the preservation of good health, diet occupies an important place. One is expected by Islam not to eat or drink to excess. The Prophet PBUH says: "Never had man filled a receptacle worse than his own belly. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to have a few mouthfuls of food that provide him with the means of subsistence. If he cannot be restrained then let him spare one third of the space for his food, one third for his drink and the rest (of that cavity) for his breath" (narrated by Ahmad and At-Tirmithi).

The Prophet PBUH also said: "Do not drink the way camels do (taking in as much water as they need at one time) but drink in two or three gulps. Invoke the name of God when you begin drinking and praise Him when you finish" (narrated by At-Tirmithi). The ProphetPBUH also spoke against breathing into the vessel.

Good health depends not only on what one eats or drinks but also on sound sleeping habits. Islamic texts recommend that one sleep on the right side and not the left side, the latter posture being considered to have bad effects on the heart and respiration. The Prophet PBUH says: "Before going to bed wash in the way you would for ablution, then lie on your right-hand side and say: O Lord, to you I resign myself, to you I turn my face, to you I commit all my affairs, to you I appeal for protection, moved by my love for and fear of you. Indeed there is no way of escaping Thee except by seeking refuge and protection from you. I firmly believe in the Book (Quran) which you revealed and the Prophet PBUH whom you sent. And let that be the last thing you say (before you go to sleep)" (narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

The emphasis Islam puts on cleanliness and the purity of the human body, place and clothes is part of the Islamic general concept of sound health. So central to Islamic thinking is this objective that in the case of prayer the purity of one's body and clothes as well as the place where one performs the prayer is made a prerequisite condition for its acceptance. Ablution (the ceremonial washing of parts of the body) is enjoined by Islam as a precondition to prayer. God says: O you who believe! When you rise for prayer wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows; wipe a part of your heads (with water); and wash your feet up to the ankles. If you are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body (5:6).

Islam lays emphasis also on teeth brushing and mouth hygiene. It recommends the use of siwak (a small stick, the tip of which is softened and made brush-like by beating, used for cleaning and polishing the teeth). The Prophet PBUH says: "If it were not for the extra burden involved, I would have asked my people to use siwak before each and every prayer".

From the Islamic point of view, disease prevention is next in importance to body health care, since maintaining good health cannot be realized without disease prevention; and "prevention is better than cure" as the popular saying goes.

Likewise Islam cautions against coming into close contact with disease-infected people. When the Prophet PBUH learned that there was a leper among the Thaqif delegation (that came to offer their pledge of allegiance) he sent word to the man to go back, with the reassurance that his mission was as good as accomplished (narrated by Muslim).

On another occasion the Prophet PBUH said: "Run away from a leper the way you run from a lion" (narrated by Al-Bukhari). Again the Prophet PBUH made it clear that the sick (infected person) should be kept at bay: "No one who is sick is to come into contact with one who is healthy" (related by Abu Huraira).

It is for these specific considerations that the Prophet PBUH, directed that people were not to enter or leave a place afflicted with an infectious disease such as the plague. A hadith, on the authority of Saad ibn Abi Waqqas says of plague: "When you learn of the prevalence of plague in an area, do not go there; and if it occurs while you are there, do not flee from the area".

When Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph of Islam learned, while on his way to Imwas (a town in Syria) that it was afflicted with the plague he did not enter it, acting apparently on the foregoing instruction by the Prophet PBUH. As he made his intention known the Muslim commander-in-chief Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah said: "O Prince of the Believers! Would you flee from God's destiny?" Replied Umar: "If only someone other than you, Abu Ubayda, had said it! Yes we flee divine destiny only to meet divine destiny. Suppose a man had camels and he took them to graze in a valley that had two sides: one was fertile and the other arid. No matter which side he chose to graze them he would be acting in accordance with divine destiny, wouldn't he?" This judicious course of guarding against disease prescribed by the Prophet PBUH is known in modern terminology as "quarantine". Islam preceded modern science and medicine by a long time.

There are other examples of disease prevention recommended by the Prophet PBUH. People were instructed to avoid breathing into the cup while drinking: "When drinking breathe not into the cup". They were required not to leave food containers uncovered, not to drink right from the mouth of the waterskin or leave it untied. Quoting the Prophet PBUH, Jaber related: "Cover the (food) containers and close the water-skin tight" (narrated by Muslim). As preventive measures against disease, Islam lays emphasis on personal hygiene, recommending maintaining cleanliness of the whole body and each part of it, cleaning of the teeth and paring of the nails.

The Prophet PBUH spoke against urinating in still and running water as that could be a cause for the outbreak of endemic diseases. When people neglected these matters diseases and infection spread. Likewise He condemned all wicked practices that dishonour the doer, offend others and bring about their disgust and aversion. For instance, He said "Avoid three cursed acts: defecating in water sources, on roads and in the shade" (narrated by Abu Dawood). The Prophet PBUH, was also reported to have said: "Any one who offends Muslims by laying mischief in the roads they use, deserves their curses" (narrated by At-Tabari).

With regard to the treatment of disease, Islam lays emphasis on dealing with the causes, the use of medicines and medical treatment. The Prophet PBUH says: "God sees to it that there is no disease but has a cure" (narrated by Al-Bukhari). He also says: "God sends down both disease and cure. For every disease He provides a cure. Therefore seek cure but do not use in that any items that are haram" (narrated by Abu Dawood). On the authority of Usama ibn Shareek, some bedouins came to the Prophet PBUH and said: "O Messenger of God, shall we seek treatment?" He said: "Yes, O bondsmen of God, seek treatment for God sees to it that there is no malady but has a cure, except one". They said: "And what's that?" He answered: "Aging" (narrated by Ahmad and An-Nasai).

 Let none therefore think that taking precautions and seeking medical advice as well as taking medicine could ward off divine decree. Indeed these measures are all part of that divine decree.

Abu Huraira asked the Prophet PBUH whether such acts as supplicatory prayers, medication and other curative and preventive measures taken by people at the time of fighting disease, would hold back the divine decree. The Prophet PBUH said: "Those acts are but a part of the divine decree" (narrated by Ibn Hanbal and At-Tirmithi).

There are those who justify, and those who even believe in the use of forbidden drinks on the basis of their alleged therapeutic value, but it must be kept in mind that when Islam bans anything the ban is final and categorical. God would not have chosen to forbid a thing and at the same time make it a kind of cure. This fact is made clear in a saying by the Prophet PBUH narrated by Ibn Mas'ud: "God would never make your cure in something which He has already forbidden" (narrated by Al-Bukhari).

Judging by the foregoing arguments one comes to the conclusion that sound health is greatly valued by Islam. In the first place, Islam urges its followers to keep up their body health and at the incidence of diseases it advises them to seek medical treatment.

It often happens that a person or a community acquires a harmful habit and with the passage of time such a person or community becomes dependent on and tied to it. This is the phenomenon of addiction which occurs with certain (intoxicating) drinks, or habits or even certain types of behaviour which may be insinuated by the Devil, or may be unintentionally adopted under the effect of the prone-to-evil human soul.

Islam forbids all intoxicating drinks, and rules that they all fall under the category of wine. Drinking wine is a major offence which is totally forbidden. Islam leaves the door of repentance wide open to those who repent of their sins, give up wine and other intoxicants and willingly return to God. However, those who fail to refrain from doing what is wrong become addicted to wrongdoing and are not forgiven by God, for the abandonment of wrongdoing is prerequisite to repentance. The Prophet PBUH says: "Every intoxicant is wine, thus it is forbidden. And he who drinks wine and becomes addicted to it dies unrepentant, and will never drink it in the Hereafter" (narrated by Muslim) As is well known God has promised his devotees gardens wherein flow rivers of wine, delicious for those who drink (47:15). The wine of Paradise is, of course, different from the intoxicant wine of this world.

Alcoholic beverages pose great hazards to drinkers especially when they become addicted. It has bad effects on the nervous and digestive systems; it renders the addict a prey to tuberculosis and diseases of the heart, stomach and liver. All this is substantiated by scientific evidence. The Prophet PBUH confirms that "wine is a malady and not a cure" (narrated by Muslim). The ban on wine is all-embracing in the sense that taking even a small quantity of it is forbidden. Therefore, it is stated that "if only a large amount of a drink proved to be intoxicating, them taking any amount, no matter has small, is forbidden".

The phenomenon of addiction is not limited to intoxicants alone, but is of a much wider scope which includes smoking and narcotic drugs.

With regard to intoxicants and alcoholic beverages it must be made clear that they lead to addiction which in turn exposes the human body to various diseases and disturbances. Furthermore they are an abomination and are impure. God says: Wine, games of chance, idols and divining arrows are but abominations devised by Satan (5:90).

Giving up intoxicants and alcoholic beverages contributes to man's well-being: therefore you are ordered to avoid them, so that you may prosper (5:90), whereas addiction to them could incite enmity and hatred among people and make them negligent of their duty to praise their Lord and perform their prayers. God says: Satan seeks to stir up enmity and hatred among you by means of intoxicants and games of chance and thus keeps you from the remembrance of God and from your prayers; will you not give (them) up ? (5:91).

Islam forbids taking intoxicants even in the form of medicine. When the Prophet PBUH was asked about wine used as a part of medical treatment he said: "Wine is a malady. It is not a cure". Some seem to think that wine may occasionally have therapeutic benefits, but the fact of the matter is that it causes illness and pain. Imam Ibn Qayyem al-Jawziyya says in his book Prophetic medicine:

Medical treatment by means of things forbidden is incompatible with both reason and the sharia. How it is inconsistent with the law has already been explained by the Prophet's sayings and other evidence which we have quoted. As to its incompatibility with reason it must be pointed out that God has prohibited certain things on account of them being unwholesome.

Indeed God never forbade Muslims good and wholesome things by way of punishment as He did in the case of the sons of Israel: Because of their injustice. We forbade the Jews good and wholesome things that were formerly permitted to them (4:160). Things forbidden to Muslims are "evil things", and forbidding them is a means of protecting Muslims against their evilness. Thus it is not in keeping with logic to use them in the treatment of disease. These particular things may have some positive effect on the elimination of diseases but at the same time they could lead to serious repercussions undermining man's well-being. Thus man would be eliminating a physical malady at a prohibitive cost to his well-being.

Addiction to other intoxicants induces in the addict such despicable characteristics as cowardice, lack of any sense of duty and weakness of will. These shortcomings are in addition to physical and mental hazards such as health deterioration, dementia and weakness of the memory along with financial and other psychological damage.

The evidence against drugs is overwhelming. God says: He will make good and wholesome things lawful to them, and prohibit all is foul (7:157).

The Prophet PBUH says: "Do not harm yourselves or others" (narrated by Ahmad and Ibn Majah). Umm Salama, the wife of the Prophet PBUH said: "The Prophet PBUH forbade all intoxicants and devitalizers" (narrated by Ahmad and Abu Dawood). The prohibition of narcotic drugs is governed by the same rule that prohibits alcoholic beverages and other intoxicants on account of the fact that both categories of intoxicants permeate, overcome and change the nature of the mind. Umar ibn al-Khattab said: "An intoxicant is something that overcomes the mind" (narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Those addicted to hashish, opium and similar drugs have certain problems in common: they misjudge distances, imagining what is distant to be near and vice versa, and they imagine things which do not exist.

Both Al-Qarafi and Ibn Taymiyya refer to a consensus of opinion declaring hashish a forbidden substance. Furthermore, Ibn Taymiyya says: "He who holds it (hashish) permissible slides into apostasy".

Smoking, which is far more widespread, is to be judged in the light of the Prophet's saying: "Do not harm yourselves or others" and in his other declaration against all intoxicants and devitalizers, even though the hazards involved in smoking have been discovered only lately. This explains why a ruling on it has to be based necessarily on account of its harmful and devitalizing effects. Some scholars are of the opinion that smoking is abominable; others think it impermissible. Its status as abominable or impermissible is contingent on the pathological manifestations and the extent of harm associated with it. In recent years science has established that certain health hazards are caused by smoking, a fact that justifies its classification as one of the things that the Prophet PBUH spoke against when he ruled: "Do not harm yourself or others".

Society is under obligation to do battle against all forms of addiction until they have been eradicated root and branch. For the eradication campaign to be effective the following measures are recommended:

1. The setting of a good example by educators, reformers and parents;
2. Education and guidance through intensive religious and medical information campaigns;
3. Making informative books available to interested readers;
4. Choosing good friends, keeping company with the good ones and avoiding the weak minded.
5. Prohibiting intoxicants, wine and narcotic drugs by law and punishing those who traffic in or use
    them according to the penalties specified.

Unless all forces in society join hands to fight addiction to evil and harmful practices, the danger may get out of control and become widespread. The Prophet PBUH says: "The relation between the one who abides by God's specified limits and the one who falls foul of them is the same as that of a group of people aboard a boat: they drew lots and split. Some occupied the upper deck and the others the lower deck. The latter had to pass by those in the upper deck each time they fetched some seawater. To avoid doing so they thought of drilling a hole in their part of the boat so as not to be a nuisance. If the other party allowed them to have their way all those on board would perish (be drowned), but if they took them to task (prevented them from doing so), both sides would be safe".

The ruling of Islam on smoking

What has already been said helps to demonstrate that Islam attaches great importance to good health and acquaints humans with the means by which they can secure safety.

Furthermore, Islam advocates the adoption of preventive measures on the basis that prevention is better than cure.

Islam takes a tough stand against addiction so as not to allow unhealthy habits to prevail. As smoking is the worst and one of the most dangerous habits a ruling on it takes into consideration the following factors:

1. A smoker feels himself to be devitalized. We have already mentioned that the Prophet PBUH spoke against all intoxicants and devitalizers. The devitalizing effect of smoking is felt by one who smokes for the first time or one who smokes intermittently as well as by a regular smoker who resumes smoking after a certain period of abstention. These cases are always associated with dizziness and stupor. In fact the devitalizing effect of smoking affects every smoker although some smokers may not be fully aware of it.

2. Smoking incurs dissipation which is forbidden by Islam. God says: Eat and drink but never dissipate (7:31). It also incurs squandering. God says: But squander not your wealth in the manner if a spendthrift. Verily squanderers are Satan's brothers (17:27). Another Quranic verse enjoins: Make not your hand chained to your neck, nor make it widespread altogether (17:29).

3. Smoking wastes money, which is forbidden by Islam. The Prophet PBUH says: "There are three things which God would like you to do and three others He would hate to see you engaged in. He would like you to worship him and to associate none with him; to hold fast, one and all, to the cord of God and to let nothing divide you; and to give good advice to he whom God has appointed in charge of your affairs. He would hate to see you engaged in gossiping, asking too many questions, and squandering your wealth". Smoking, if anything, is an outright waste of money, and wasting money is altogether haram.

4. The health hazards posed by smoking have been established by modern science. This leaves no doubt whatsoever that smoking is impermissible. One may recall the report issued in 1977 by the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom, asserting that "the amount of nicotine found in one single cigarette is enough to kill a man in the best of health if it is given to him as an intravenous injection".

A report by the World Health Organization in 1975 revealed that "the number of those who die or live a miserable life as a result of smoking each year exceeds the total number of those who die of the plague, cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis, leprosy, typhoid and typhus". The report asserts that smoking is responsible for a much higher death toll than are all the epidemic diseases combined, and that giving up smoking could contribute to improved health and longevity in a manner which all medical means put together would not be able to match. (1)

In the light of all such health hazards involved, smoking is certainly haram.  God says: Do not with your own hands cast yourselves into destruction (2:195).  The Prophet PBUH calls on men not to cause harm either to themselves or to others. In transgression of all these injunctions, the smoker insists on inflicting harm on himself and others, who are forced to inhale the smoke he exhales at home, in the office or in other places.

(1) Smoking and its effect on health by Dr Muhammad Al al-Barr, p62