Is a person who does not see a doctor though he is ill regarded to have committed a sin?

Details of the Question

Is a person who does not see a doctor though he is ill because he is lazy or he feels ashamed regarded to have committed a sin?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

In the light of the evidences, the majority of scholars holds the view that treatment is generally sunnah, mandub or mustahab and that it is wajib when healing seems to be certain through treatment.

It is seen that explanations related to tawakkul (reliance on Allah) have an important place in the evaluations regarding the issue. Many scholars point out that it is contrary to the spirit of the religion, wisdom and the essence of tawakkul to abandon treatment and to take refuge in tawakkul, and that pure faith of oneness can be preserved only by applying to legitimate causes. (Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Zadul-Ma’ad, IV, 15)

However, some scholars hold the view that treatment is makruh regarding it contrary to the understanding of tawakkul acting upon the verse of the Quran “And when I am ill, it is He Who cures me” (ash-Shuara 26/80) and the hadiths regarding treatment with the methods of cauterization and reciting (Muslim, Iman, 371; Tirmidhi, Ṭibb, 14).

However, the verse and the hadiths above are explained by the majority of scholars as being related to the cases when the faith that cure comes from Allah is abandoned, words contrary to Islam are uttered in treatment and the possibility of the treatment method to cure the illness is very weak.   

Some scholars make the following distinction about the relationship between treatment and tawakkul:

It is haram not to apply to treatment methods that are regarded to be definitely useful when one’s life is in danger because this attitude has nothing to do with tawakkul. It is not contrary to tawakkul to treat a patient through methods that are not certain to be useful like getting one’s blood drawn and using laxatives.   

It is more appropriate in terms of tawakkul to abandon methods like cauterization and reciting that are based on delusions. (al-Fatawal-Hindiyya, V, 355)

It is stated in the resolution of International Islamic Fiqh Academy dated May 9-14 1992 that the decree on treatment may change from person to person but that treatment is wajib if one’s life is in danger, if one of the organs can be lost or if the disease can infect others, that it is mandub if the patient can be exposed only to bodily weakness, that it is mubah if there is no risk of being exposed to bodily weakness and that it is makruh if the side effects have more risks than the disease itself.    

In fact, man is held responsible religiously in terms of decrees if he is mentally healthy and he can fulfill certain responsibilities when he is bodily healthy. In Islamic resources, along with the cases that affect the mental and bodily health adversely, the spiritual illnesses that a believer can be exposed to in terms of belief, ethics and deeds are emphasized very much.

Scholars regard the following verses among the special evidences related to the legitimacy of treatment: “And make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction” (al-Baqara 2/195); “Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves” (an-Nisa 4/29); “Wherein (in honey) is healing for men” (an-Nahl 16/69).

It is seen that the advice and practices of the Messenger of Allah are given a special place in the books dealing with the legitimacy of treatment. It is understood that the real purpose of the explanations of the Prophet regarding the issue is not to point out an application not known before but  
- to point out the legitimate ones among the known and applied methods of treatment,
- to state that to apply to treatment is not contrary to the faith of tawakkul,
- and to warn those who act negligently related to health.

The following hadiths can be mentioned regarding the issue:
- “There is a cure for every illness. When that cure is found, that illness is treated with the permission of Allah.” (Muslim, Salam, 69);
- “Undergo treatment. Allah created a cure for every illness except one: senility.” (Abu Dawud, Ṭibb, 1);
- “Undergo treatment but do not used forbidden (haram) things in treatment.” (Abu Dawud, Ṭibb, 11).
- When the Prophet was asked whether treatment through medicine or reciting is regarded to be contrary to the faith of qadar, he said, “They are also Allah’s predestination.” (Tirmidhi, Ṭibb, 21),
- The Prophet himself underwent treatment.
- He stated that one of the two things that people did not appreciate was health
(Bukhari, Riqaq, 1).
- He wished health from Allah when he prayed (Abu Dawud, Adab, 101),
- He did not regard it appropriate to wish to die (Bukhari, Marḍa, 19)
- He advised use to wish long life that will be spent by doing good deeds (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 21).

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