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Healthcare in Islam

Salman Rasheed

The writer is a Karachi-based research analyst and political consultant.

During pre-Islamic era, people with disabilities were considered a burden on society and thus, they were mistreated and looked down upon. Thanks to the Almighty Allah (SWT), the opposite is true in Islam. 
There exist many narrations praising visiting the sick and mentioning the reward for it. One narration state that “70,000 angels accompany a person when they visit the sick and they continue to accompany that person when they leave until they reach home.”
When we have this viewpoint that the sick as being accompanied by Allah (SWT) and the source of reward then this will influence the way we rush to treat the ill, comfort the ill, and direct resources towards the ill.
In many religious traditions, it is frowned upon to seek a cure for your illness because it is seen as a deficiency in your trust in God.  Fortunately, for Muslims, we have the example of Caliph Umar (RA), when deciding not to enter a city with a plague, he said, “We are running from the Qadr of Allah to the Qadr of Allah”
In a hadith, Holy Prophet (SAW) encourages us to seek treatment, “Seek treatment, O servants of God, for Allah did not create a disease except that He created for its cure.”
Islam teaches us to quarantine through this hadith, “Do not enter a land in which there is a plague, nor exit a land fleeing from the plague.” Given the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the world, this hadith is very apt.
The oldest known Arab physician and a companion of the Prophet (SAW) were Al-Harith ibn Kaladah who traveled to Gundeshapur, the intellectual centre of the Sassanid empire, in search of medical knowledge before the advent of Islam.  The Holy Prophet (SAW) employed him to treat people.
In addition, the Prophet (SAW) had ‘field-medics’ or ‘military paramedics’ appointed in his masjid, such as Rufayda al Aslamiyya (RA), who tended to the wounded.
Muslim pharmacists like Bayruni and physicians such as ar-Razi, Ibn Sina, and Ibn Rushd were world leaders in the field of medicine. Muslims considered healthcare among the most important rights of an individual in society, regardless of their social or religious status. Thus, they lead the world in establishing hospitals.
In the second Hijri century, the first hospital in Baghdad built by Harun-ur-Rashid established 700 years before the first hospital in Italy. Around 500 years ago, Italy had a single hospital while Cordoba had 50 hospitals. Baghdad held the first-ever ‘medical-board-exams’, as the Prophet(SAW) served as the impetus of this renaissance by saying, “Whoever practices medicine while not being known to be proficient in medicine is accountable.”
Healthcare was not just for Muslims.  Hazrat Umar (RA) once passed by a group of dhimmis (Non-Muslims) that were afflicted with leprosy and ordered that the jizya be suspended and that a medical stipend be granted to them from Baytul-Mal for their treatment. The Prophet (SAW) sent Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas (RA) to read Ruqya (Surah Fatihah) on a non-Muslim chief as a form of cure.
When it came to the health of prisoners, Hazrat Ali (RA) would routinely check on them to ensure they were receiving proper medical attention.  In addition, Umar b. Abdul Aziz (RA) would write to his governors, “Check who is inside the prisoners, and keep close watch of those sick.” The caliph, al-Mu’taḍid allocated 1500 dinars monthly on prisoners’ needs and medical treatment.
Since the beginning of Islam, the spread of the concept of Waqf is what led the Muslim civilization in every regard, particularly on the medical front. All this continued until the end of the 1800s when the Waqf system began dismantling due to colonial interference. It was not just Baytul Mal or generosity of the leader that made our medical civilization a reality, but the waqf model, which the masses competed in due to their Islamic zeal.
In Pakistan, people die daily because they don’t have access to quality healthcare.  This means that many Pakistanis cannot afford to get sick. The right to healthcare should be enshrined in our Constitution.  Our Islamic traditions and history show us that the early generations of Muslims considered healthcare among the most important rights of an individual in society. 
I strongly believe that the current COVID-19 pandemic has made us realise the importance of quality public healthcare that has experienced neglect for decades by governments of all stripes.
We should adopt a single-payer public healthcare system like NHS in the UK, medicare in Canada, and other welfare states where the government provides free healthcare for everyone regardless of income and socioeconomic status. 
People should not go bankrupt to receive required medical treatment.  To achieve this in Pakistan, we need consensus among the federal government and all the provincial governments to establish a government-funded healthcare system with agreement on funding levels by the center and provinces to ensure the survival of this system along with uniform quality standards so that the level of public healthcare is the same no matter where you live in Pakistan.
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