For more on this topic, see Faith in the Time of Coronavirus

Introduction

In the Name of Allah the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
On the 27th of Rajab, Muslims traditionally gathered in the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus to commemorate the Miʿrāj, the Ascension of the Prophet ﷺ. Ibn Kathīr writes that on that day in the year 749 AH, during the Black Death, “People did not gather as usual because many had died from among them, and many were busy with taking care of their sick and their dead.”[1]
This year of 1441 AH, on the 27th of Rajab, most community gatherings at masjids were once again not taking place.
We’ve been here before, though the mortality rate is far lower this time and advances in hygiene practices, medical care, and public awareness give us much to be grateful for. Allah’s Greatness has not diminished, nor has our ummah’s resilience.
In this short paper, I take a quick look at a few incidents of and reactions to plague and pestilence in pre-modern Islamic history.[2] The goal of this paper is not to accumulate historical census information nor to create any single comprehensive account, but rather to draw a few lessons from the experiences of Muslims before us. Everything that Muslims did in the past is not sacred, but it is profoundly human, and like us they were grappling with Islam, the will of God, and a developing tradition that we too have inherited even if their understandings and interpretations of events were not always the same as ours.

Early perceptions of the origins of plagues

A few visceral ‘human’ responses to disease in late antiquity

A 14th-century discussion of plague: The treatise of Ibn al-Wardī

Devout medieval reactions to sicknesses and disasters

Incidents of masjid closures due to pestilence

Concluding remarks

Recommendations for further reading

Notes