Are Diseases Contagious? – The Hadeeth of Fleeing from a Leper

12th March 2020

السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته

Question: I read in an article that A’isha radhiyallahu anha relates in a Hadith found in Sahih Bukhari that the Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alayhi wasallam told people to flee from a leper as they would from a lion, is not what he would have said. The references given for this are from Fath al Bari, which is in Arabic and unfortunately, I am unable to read it. Kindly clarify whether this is true or not.


الجواب حامداً و مصلياً

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful



In reference to your query, the underlying issue rests on whether Islām agrees to the concept of an illness being contagious or not. Hadeeth scholars have differed whether the prophetic statement ‘flee from a leper as you flee from a lion’ is authentically established from the Noble Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam or not. Imām Bukhari transmits a report from Sayyidunā Abu Hurairah radhiyallahu anhu where the Messenger of Allāh sallallahu alayhi wasallam 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 flee from the leper as you flee from a lion.” In one narration,  (Sayyidah) A’isha radhiyallahu anha herself denied such report from the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam when she was asked but contrarily, there is another report where she apparently affirms the statement from him. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani rahimahullah (the author of Fath al-Bari) transmits a report from Saheeh ibn Khuzaimah in the Book of Reliance narrated from Sayyidah A’ishah radhiyallahu anha where she states, ‘and when you see a leper then flee from him just as you flee from a lion’. The strongest view is that the command of fleeing from a leper is authentically attributed to the Noble Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam. There are many similar reports that Ibn Hajar rahimahullah cites that allude to its authenticity. For instance, there is a narration in Saheeh Muslim where a man from the delegation of Thaqeef who suffered from leprosy (as a result he could not visit the Messenger sallallahu alayhi wasallam). The Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam sent someone to him stating that indeed we have taken your pledge so return. This proves that the prophet exercised caution when coming in contact with a leper. However, there is another report that Ibn Hajar rahimahullah cites from Sayyiduna Jabir radhiyallahu anhu that the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam ate with a leper in the same dish and said, ‘Reliance upon Allah and (our) trust in Him’. There are two types of reports that come to light here; one in which the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam  exercised caution whilst in another, he came into close contact with a leper.

This issue is heavily diversified and contested amongst the scholars partly due to the conflicting reports as in some have denied contagiousness of disease whilst others seem to affirm it. Some have opted the abrogation approach, others have chosen preference whilst most have sought to harmonize between the conflicting reports. Below is a summary of the In Hajar’s rahimahullah commentary of the diverse groups in the same sequence in his Fath al-Bari volume 10 pp.159-161. This will hopefully ground your understanding of the issue.

  1. This group views that the command of abstinence i.e. fleeing from a leper is abrogated and coming into contact with him is valid e.g. eating with him. This was the view of Sayyidunā Umar radhiyallahu anhu.
  2. This group and the most authentic position which the majority have adopted is that the command of abstinence is not abrogated. Rather the conflicting reports are reconcilable. The command of feeing is a preferable command whilst eating with a leper alludes to permissibility.
  3. This group have opted for preference, meaning that both narrations are not reconcilable therefore one narration must be preferred over the other. This group subdivides into two;
  4. The negation of contagiousness is preferred over those narration that affirm it. In other words, one is not commanded to flee nor exercise caution from a leper at all. This group adduce the report of Sayyidah A’isha radhiyallahu anha when she denied the narration of fleeing from a leper being attributed to the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam and said that we had a servant suffering from this illness who would eat from my plate, drink from my cup and sleep on my bed. Here Sayyidah A’isha radhiyallahu anha disproved of fleeing from a leper because the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam welcomed them in his home.
  5. This division prefers the narrations of contagiousness over those that deny it due to the overwhelming reports. Meaning that contrary to the above, one should exercise caution and distance themselves from a leper. These scholars such as Imam Tirmizi rahimahullah question the authenticity of the reports that a leper ate in the same plate with the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam. In their view, it was merely placing their hand on the same plate as opposed to eating in it.

After detailing the multiple views on this matter, Ibn Hajar rahimahullah leans towards the second group namely, reconciliation between the seemingly conflicting reports; preferable to exercise caution from a leper though coming in close contact with them is permissible. This is because all of the narrations have been transmitted through reliable chains that are undeniable. In his view, tarjeeh – preference is only resorted to when reconciliation is not possible and since reconciliation is possible, preference is not an option in this case. Moreover, most scholars adopt the approach of reconciliation so that all of the reports are practised in specific circumstances. Ibn Hajar rahimahullah presents the possible interpretations to harmonise the conflicting reports that affirm and deny illnesses transmitting.

  • Negating (the necessary ability of) contagiousness altogether and as for fleeing from a leper, this was a command in due consideration of the victim himself so to relieve his worry. When a leper sees a healthy person, it could naturally increase in his distress, hence the command was not to glare at lepers.
  • Both reports; the negation and affirmation of disease transmitting refer to two different occasions. The Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam  negating transmission of the disease was in reference to those with strong faith whose reliance in Allah Almighty was very strong. A person with strong faith acknowledges that diseases are not contagious per se as all matters are in the hands of Allāh Almighty so a person one can avert themself from it. The one with weak faith, on the other hand, may not have strong reliance in Allah Almighty thus, the command of fleeing (suggesting disease transmission) apply to him only.
  • According to Abu Bakar Baqillani rahimahullah, the affirmation of leprosy transmission is an exceptional disease to the general command which negates contagiousness.
  • It is possible that the command of fleeing from leprosy does not fall under the remit of contagiousness but rather transmission through physical contact only like touching, embracing or even smelling. Where no physical contact occurs then the disease is not infectious.

[As a point of note, this explanation negates the disease having the ability to transmit if no physical contact occurs. So, the fact a person standing in front without touching him would not necessitate a person being affected by them.]

  • The report which negates disease transmitting was to refute people’s notion during the days of ignorance who assumed that disease is contagious without attributing its control to Allah Alone. The negation was thus to clarify that it is Allah who ultimately afflicts people with disease and illnesses and is able to cure them as well. As for those reports that affirm transmission of disease is to acknowledge the natural causes that Allah has set on earth. As in, the transmission of disease is a cause which Allah has placed on earth albeit He is the controller of all causes.

Ibn Hajar’s rahimahullah conclusion from the above possible interpretations is concerned with it being a matter of one’s personal faith. He states that people with weak faith are discouraged from coming near it whereas those with strong faith have the choice. It appears that the Prophet’s sallallahu alayhi wasallam practice on different occasions was to encompass both categories of people for the sake of ease.

Whilst the above discussion was related to a leper, if we assume the second position to be the most reliable position i.e. conflicting reports are reconcilable and relative to specific circumstances, as Ibn Hajar rahimahullah alludes to in his commentary, then similar ruling applies to all modern forms of endemic disease and viruses for instance coronavirus. One can exercise caution and avoid physical contact such as touching [e.g. shaking hands or embracing] and in doing so, does not go against reliance on Allāh Almighty. Yet, at the same time, we must believe that all matters rest in the hands of Allāh Almighty and it is only He who has the power to inflict and cure illness.


[Allãh Knows Best]



Written and Researched by (Mufti) Abdul Waheed

Answer Attested by Shaykh Mufti Saiful Islam

JKN Fatawa Department