Denying the Sick What They Want: Islam’s perspective

It is a popular misconception today to deny the sick what they desire, or ask. This is in fear that it might only aggravate whatever condition made them sick or even worse, kill them. There are two hadiths on this topic reported by imam ibn majah:

Ibn ‘Abbas reported that the Prophet (SAW) visited a (sick) man and asked: “What do you desire?” The man replied: “I desire some wheat bread.” The Prophet (SAW) said: “Whoever has some wheat bread, then send it to his brother.” Then the Prophet (SAW) said: “If a sick person among you desires something then feed it to him.” [Hadith 1439 and 3440]

Anas b. Malik reported that the Prophet (SAW) visited a sick person and said: “What do you desire? Do you desire some Ka’ka (a type of persian bread)?” The [man] said “yes” so the Prophet (SAW) requested it for him. [Hadith 1440 and 3441]

Although the above quoted hadith have been graded weak by a number of scholars, they shed light on the fact that providing for the sick what they desire, is not a bad move. In fact, a number of scholars have equally explained some of the importance and wisdom behind giving in to the desires of the sick, some of which include:

  • It is no crime to provide for the sick whatever they desire as long as it does not harm them or worsen their current condition. This is because it will go along way in strengthening them and helping them recover quick.
  • There are a lot people who are addicted to a certain kind of food. When it happens that they are deprived of such food, they become desperate and when given, they feel better. Such people must learn to understand that they are cured not by the food but by the will of the almighty Allah. As such, they should always put their trust in Him and nothing else.
  • It will be helpful also for medical personals to be considerate towards the demands of their patients when it comes to choice of meal. It might even turn out to be indicative of recovery method unknown to them.
  • For centuries, doctors have acknowledged the importance of a patients’ desire towards food as a vital sign in treatment prognosis. As such, Ibn Sina said: “A sick person who desires something is more beloved to me than a healthy person who does not!”

Please allow me to wrap up this article with a short story mentioned by Ibn Qayyim in Rawdah.

“Once a doctor advised Ibn Taymiyyah while he was sick, that the long time he was spending in seeking and teaching knowledge was contributing to his illness, Ibn Taymiyyah replied by saying: “Is it not the case that when a person’s nature finds joy, happiness and strength, this repels sickness?” The doctor replied “Yes of course!” So Ibn Taymiyyah said: “Well then my soul finds joy in knowledge, and my nature is strengthened by it and so I feel comfort!” The doctor said defeated: “This is beyond our treatment!”.

Perhaps we will never understand what it means for a sick person to request a meal and have it served just they way they like it, unless we are in their shoes. May Allah grant us understanding, Amin

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