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Leaving used face masks in a public area

Question:

What do the scholars and experts of shari’ah say regarding people who wear medical masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus, then after using them instead of disposing of them in designated places, they dispose of them in public areas, which could be a cause for the spread of the virus. What is the ruling of throwing the masks in public areas?

Answer:

All perfect praise is for Allah ﷻ, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah ﷻ, and that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is His Messenger.

With the blessings of Allah ﷻ, the religion of Islam encourages its followers to adhere to all forms of cleanliness. To achieve this, it has made wudhu and ghusl forms of worship. Similarly, Islam has implemented codes of practice for the sake of protecting an individual from all types of harms and difficulties.

The disposing of used medical masks in a public area is absolutely forbidden in the shar’iah. The guiding principle behind this ruling is that any form of harm to others is prohibited. Allah ﷻ teaches us in the Holy Qur’an, “And those who harm believing men and believing women for [something] other than what they have earned have certainly born upon themselves a slander and manifest sin”. (Surah al-Ahzab: 58).

Disposing of medical masks in places not designated for them is a form of harm to other people. The beautiful Messenger of Allah ﷺ has taught us how to protect ourselves and refrain from those practices which lead to a person being cursed at by others. Sayyiduna Abu Hurayrah mentions that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Guard against the two actions which invite people’s curses.” People asked what these practices were. He ﷺ said: “Answering the call of nature by the roadside and in the shade.’ (Muslim)

Imam Nawwawi has written in his commentary of Sahih Muslim, in relation to this hadith: “Imam Khattabi and other scholars have said: The reason for mentioning shade here is because this is what people seek out to take a midday nap (qaylula) or to rest. Therefore, there are certain exceptions where it would be permissible to relieve oneself where there is shade. The blessed Prophet ﷺ completed his ﷺ need under the shade of a date tree. However, the custom of the people was such that they did not rest under the shade of date trees as there was no comfort there.

The first action which the Prophet ﷺ mentioned was “answering the call of nature by the roadside.” In essence, relieving oneself in a place where people are likely to pass by. The Prophet ﷺ prohibited such an act as a passer-by could easily encounter the impurities left behind and experience great discomfort. Similarly, leaving a used mask, which could possibly infect anyone who touches it, in a public area is a cause of clear harm to any passer-by and therefore it will be forbidden to do such a thing.

Another lesson found in the beautiful narrations of the Prophet ﷺ is regarding the care a person who is carrying a sharp object should take. When there is a chance for anyone else to get injured, then the carrier has been ordered to carry it in such a way that no one will be harmed. Abu Musa al-Ashari narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

“Any person who passes through our Masajid or any part of our markets and has an arrow with him, he should hold it securely or he should hold the sharp point in his palm so that he does not harm anyone of the Muslims in anyway”. (Bukhari & Muslim)

In conclusion the throwing of used medical masks in a public area is haram because it can increase the spread of the virus. Health authorities have clearly designated specific places for the disposal of the masks. They have thoroughly outlined the dangers for not following this advice. As Muslims we should be at the fore front of setting an impeccable example to the whole community in protecting others from all types of harm.

And Allah ﷻ knows best

This Fatwa is written by Dr. Hafiz Muhammad Munir Al-Azhari