The Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) said, “Every Muslim has five rights over another Muslim: to return the greetings, to visit the sick, to accompany funeral processions, to accept an invitation, to respond to the one who sneezes.” [al-Bukhari, Muslim]
When in good health, we visit each other and hang out. If we have a need to do so, we make time to meet up and speak to one another; through such interactions we form friendships and bonds. If this is the case when we are well, moreover it should be that these ties are strengthened while visiting someone when they are sick, when there is no need or tangible benefit other than pure love, concern, and care.
The sunna of visiting the sick applies to not only people we know, but also people we don’t know, as there is always room for forming new friendships.
When we share the suffering of others, even if the suffering be mild, and we take the time out to offer comfort and support in times of weakness and sickness, whether physical or emotional, we can truly begin to grasp some of the meanings behind the words of the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) when he said:
The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, and camaraderie is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever. [Muslim]
Indeed, Allah would say on the Day of Resurrection: ‘Where are those who have mutual love for My Glory’s sake? Today I shall shelter them in My shade when there is no other shade but Mine.’ [Muslim]
The recommendation to visit the sick not only apply to believers, but extends towards non-Muslims. The Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) would visit non-Muslims when they were sick, such as the hadith of the young Jewish boy as narrated by Imam al-Bukhari.
Moreover, in visiting the sick, there is something in it for the one visiting: reminders and rewards.
Rewards for Visiting the Sick
There are many ahadith concerning the merits of visiting the sick. Among them, the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) is recorded to have said:
When the Muslim visits his [sick] Muslim brother, he is harvesting the fruits of Paradise until he returns. [Muslim]
Whoever visits a sick person or visits a brother in Islam, a caller cries out to him, ‘May you be happy, may your walking be blessed, and may you occupy a dignified position in Paradise.’ [al-Tirmidhi]
There is no Muslim who visits a [sick] Muslim early in the morning but that seventy-thousand angels send blessings upon him until evening comes, and if he visits him in the evening, seventy thousand angels send blessings upon him until morning comes, and he will have a garden in Paradise. [al Tirmidhi]
Etiquettes of Visiting the Sick
Make an intention: We are told that “Acts are according to their intentions” by the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) [Muslim]. Therefore, one should make noble intentions such as:
1. Fulfilling the right of a fellow Muslim
2. To follow the sunna of the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him)
3. To pray for their recovery and health
4. To recite the sunna supplications when visiting
5. To bring joy and happiness to the visited
6. To help fulfil the needs of another person
7. In case of a non-Muslim, to guide them to Islam by showing mercy and excellent manners
8. To remind oneself of the blessings of good health
Timing: It is important to consider what time one visits the sick. Very early morning, very late in the evening, or common nap and meal times should be avoided. One should enquire first what a good time to visit for both the sick person and their family.
Keep visits short: Visits should generally be kept short, so as not to overburden the sick person. It maybe that they are tired or have a need that they are too embarrassed to do with visitors around. Talking may also be undesirable to them. However, if the patient clearly wants one to stay, then there is no harm in staying. There is no need to visit more than once, and one should avoid repeated visits unless the patient requests so or it is known that they will be happy if one does so.
Take a simple gift that will cheer the ill person: Receiving gifts is always nice, but particularly so when a person is feeling low-spirited. Simple, heartfelt gifts that the person will like are always the best, and could be anything from fruits, juice, broth, chocolates, flowers etc. However, a gift is not necessary, and one should not be put off visiting a sick person without a gift. The best gift is to make du’a for the person.
Du’a: There are various supplications that can be made for the sick person:
1. Imam al-Bukhari narrated that whenever the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) would visit a sick person, he would say, “No harm will befall you. It is purification, if Allah wills.” (la ba’sa tahurun insha’llah)
2. Imam al-Tirmidhi narrated that he (peaceful prayers and blessing be upon him) said, “O Allah, make the harm go away, Lord of mankind, and heal him, You are the Healer, there is no healing except your healing, a healing that does not leave any sickness.” (Allahumma adh-hibi‘l-ba’sa rabb an-nasi wash-fi fa-ant ash-shafi la shifa-a illa shifa-uka shifa-un la yugha-diru saqqama)
3. Imam al-Tirmidhi also narrated that the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) said, “He who visits a sick person who is not at the point of death and supplicates seven times, ‘I beseech Allah the Great, the Lord of the Great Throne, to heal you (as-alu’llah al-azeemu rabbu’l-’arsh al-azeema in yashfika)’, Allah will certainly heal him from that sickness.”
Ask for du’a: One should also ask the ill person to make du’a for them, as the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) said, “If you enter upon a sick person, then ask him to supplicate for you, for his supplication is like the supplications of the angels.” [Ibn Maja]
Fulfill a need for the sick person: One should ask the person whether there is anything they desire or need. It is said that the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) visited an ill person and asked, “Do you long for anything? Do you long for sweet bread (ka’k)?” The man replied, “Yes.” So they sent someone to bring some Ka’k for him. [Ibn Maja]
Make conversation: One should make light-hearted and positive conversation. Related by Ibn Maja with a weak chain, the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “When you enter upon one who is sick, cheer him up.” Therefore, the visitor should be upbeat, encourage the patient to have hope, and make easy conversation.
At the same time, one should avoid joking too much or talking loudly. One should also avoid asking too many questions about the illness, or causing any type of anxiety in the person, such as telling them how bad they look, or that the illness can become serious! Similarly, one should not speak about bad news or events. Nor should one enter and draw the person into prohibited speech such as backbiting (ghiba) and tale-bearing during the visit.
Reminder Against Avoiding the Sunna of Visiting the Sick
One hadith should be sufficient as a stern warning against avoiding the visitation of those who are sick and shut-in:
Imam Muslim narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) said, “Allah the Exalted will say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘O son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit me.’ He will say, ‘My Lord, how can I visit you when you are the Lord of the worlds?’ Allah will say, ‘Did you not know that my servant was sick and you did not visit him, and had you visited him you would have found Me with him?’”
Build Genuine Relationships by Visiting the Sick
Insha’Allah, the above ahadith of the sunna of the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) encourages us all to do our best to visit the sick when possible, and thereby sharing in the tremendous rewards offered by such simple acts, acts which not only benefit us in the Afterlife, but build and fortify our relationships with those around us.
In a world of frenzied social media networking and online ‘friends’, the only real and meaningful social networking is in real life, with the people around us; those in need of help and support, those who need a kind word or smile to make that difference to their world, or simply widening our circle of good friends and company.
This is the way of our beloved Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him). Despite his many and varied responsibilities in the community and at home, he (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) would always make time to visit people, keep the ties of kinship and bonds of friendship strong, and this was even more so when people were unwell.
So, let us try to follow his way, for Allah Most High has told us, “Indeed, in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example for whoever has hope in Allah and the Last Day,” [Qur’an 33:21].
And Allah knows best.