Etiquettes of Sneezing
All perfect praise is due to Allah; I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His Slave and Messenger; may Allah send salutations upon him and exalt his mention, as well as his family and all his companions.
Today we will address one of the great etiquettes that Islam instructs us to maintain, namely the etiquettes of sneezing. There are many authentic prophetic narrations addressing this issue, and the scholars included this in their books within the chapters that deal with etiquettes.
Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “Once, two men sneezed in the presence of the Prophet and he responded to one by saying to him “Yarhamukallaah (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you')" and did not respond to the other. The latter said to him: 'You invoked a blessing on this man but did not do so in my case.' The Prophet replied: “He thanked Allah (by saying ‘Al-hamdulillaah’) but you did not.”[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
Al-Baraa' ibn `Aazib, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “The Prophet commanded us to observe seven things and forbade us from seven others: “To visit the sick; to follow funeral processions; to respond to the one who sneezes with ` Yarhamukallaah' (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you') when he says `Al-hamdulillaah' (i.e., 'Praise be to Allah'); to help the oppressed; to help others to fulfil their oaths; to accept invitations and to promote (the Islamic) greeting." He forbade us from: "Wearing gold rings; drinking in silver utensils; placing silk carpets on saddles and sitting on them; wearing Al-Qassiy (a type of silk cloth) and wearing fine silk brocades.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “The Prophet said: “Allah likes sneezing and dislikes yawning. When any one of you sneezes and says `Al-hamdulillaah' (i.e., 'Praise be to Allah'), it becomes obligatory upon every Muslim who hears him to respond with `Yarhamukallaah' (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you'). Yawning is from the devil. When one of you feels like yawning, he should restrain it as much as possible, for the devil laughs when one of you yawns.” [Al-Bukhari]
Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “The Prophet said, “When one of you sneezes he should say: `Al-hamdulillaah' (i.e., 'Praise be to Allah'), and his brother or his companion should say to him: `Yarhamukallaah' (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you'). When he (i.e., the brother or companion) says this, one should reply: `Yahdeekumullaahu wa yuslihu baalakum' (i.e., 'May Allah guide you and render sound your state of affairs.')” [Al-Bukhari]
Mu`aawiyah ibn Al-Hakam As-Sulami, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “While I was once in prayer with the Messenger of Allah a man in the congregation sneezed and said 'Al-Hamdulillaah' (i.e., 'Praise be to Allah), so I responded by saying: `Yarhamukallaah' (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you'); the people therefore began staring at me disapprovingly, so I said: 'May my mother be bereaved of me, why are you all staring at me?' Thereupon, they began to strike their thighs with their hands (in order to make me be quiet), and when I saw them urging me to remain silent, I became angry but restrained myself. When the Messenger of Allah concluded his prayer –I have never seen a better teacher and mentor than him, may my father and mother be sacrificed for him - he neither objected, nor did he beat or abuse me (for doing what I did.)” [Muslim]
Abu Burdah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that he entered into the presence of Abu Moosaa, may Allah be pleased with him, whilst in the house of the daughter of Al-Fadhl ibn ‘Abbaas, may Allah be pleased with both of them, and sneezed, but he did not say anything to him, but when she (i.e., the daughter of Al-Fadhl ibn ‘Abbaas) sneezed, he said to her 'Yarhamukillaah' (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you') so he (i.e., Abu Burdah) went home and informed his mother about what had happened, so she went to Abu Moosaa, may Allah be pleased with him, and asked him why he did what he did, and so he, may Allah be pleased with him,said: “The Messenger of Allah said: “When one of you sneezes and thanks Allah (by saying 'Al-Hamdulillaah'), you should invoke Allah's mercy upon him (by saying 'Yarhamukallaah'); but if he does not thank Allah, then you should not make any response.”[Muslim]
Ilyaas ibn Salamah ibn Al-Akwa’, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “I heard the Prophet saying to a man who sneezed in his presence (and said 'Al-Hamdulillaah' (i.e., 'Praise be to Allah'): “Yarhamukallaah (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you')” When he sneezed a second time, he said: “It seems that the man has the flu.” [Muslim] It appears from this narration that he said this after the second sneeze only, although other narrations state that it was said after the third time.
A young man sneezed whilst praying behind the Prophet and said: “Al-hamdulillaahi hamdan katheeran tayyiban mubaarakan feeh hattaa yardhaa Rabbunaa wa ba’damaa yardhaa (i.e., 'All thanks are due to Allah, thanks which are abundant, pure, and full of blessings in a way that pleases our Lord, and after He is pleased). After he finished his prayer he asked: “Who said these words during the prayer?” but nobody spoke out, so he asked again: “Who said these words during prayer? For he did not say anything wrong” so the young man said: “I said it, O Prophet of Allah, and I only intended good.” He said: “Nothing prevented it from reaching the throne of Allah (i.e., it was a great statement that was accepted by Allah.)” [Abu Daawood]
Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “Whenever the Prophet sneezed, he would place his hand or his garment on his mouth and lower his voice.”[Abu Daawood]
There are other forms of saying the Tashmeet (i.e., 'Al-hamdulillaah and Yarhamukallaah) like the narration of Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, who reported that the Prophetsaid: “When one of you sneezes, he should say: `Al-Hamdulillaah ‘alaa kulli haal' (i.e., 'Praise be to Allah under all circumstances'), and his brother or companion should say to him: ` Yarhamukallaah' (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you'). When he says this, he should reply: `Yahdeekumullaah wa yuslihu baalakum (i.e., 'May Allah guide you and render sound your state of affairs.')” [Abu Daawood].
Imaam Abu Daawood, included in his book a chapter entitled “What to reply to the people of the book when they sneeze” and he reported the narration of Abu Burdah, may Allah be pleased with him, where he stated that the Jews would pretend that they were sneezing so that the Prophet would say 'Yarhamukallaah' (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you') to them, but he would say instead: "Yahdeekumullaah wa yuslihu baalakum (i.e., 'May Allah guide you and render sound your state of affairs').” Thus, one should not ask for the forgiveness of a disbeliever when he sneezes as he does for a believer but should instead ask for guidance for them. What does it mean to ask Allah to render sound their affairs? It is to change it from disbelief to belief, and what could be better for them than asking Allah to change their situation from disbelief to belief?
Some scholars mentioned that these narrations about sneezing during prayer only apply to the optional prayers, and that during the obligatory prayer, one should say 'Al-Hamdulillaah' (i.e., 'Praise be to Allah') quietly to himself. Also, the scholars disliked that one says this supplication loudly while the Khateeb is speaking in the Jumu’ah sermon, and if others do so then one should point to him to be quiet, lest others around him commit the same mistake. Regarding the greeting of Salaam and the one who sneezes and says the supplication loudly, the scholars differed whether or not one should answer whilst the Khateeb is delivering the Jumu’ah speech, some of them permitted this, such as Imaam Ahmad and Abu Is-Haaq while others disliked that this should be done, like Imaam Ash-Shaafi’i, Tirmithi and others, may Allah have mercy on them.
Once, a man sneezed whilst sitting next to Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, and said: “Al-Hamdulillaah was-salaamu ‘Alaa Rasoolillaah (i.e. 'All thanks are due to Allah and salutations be upon the Messenger of Allah').” Thereupon, Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “I also say the same thing (i.e., believe that All thanks are due to Allah and that we should send salutations upon the messenger of Allah ), but this is not what the Messenger of Allah taught us (i.e., after sneezing). Instead, he taught us to say: 'Al-hamdulillaah ‘alaa kulli haal (i.e., 'Thanks be to Allah under all circumstances.')”
Imaam Ibn Maajah, , reported on the authority of Jaabir ibn ‘Abdullaah, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Prophet said: “The baby will not be entitled to inherit until he cries or sneezes.”This means that a child cannot inherit until he makes a sound that indicates he is alive, like crying or sneezing.
Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet said: “When Allah created Aadam, peace be upon him, and blew into him a soul, he (i.e., Aadam) sneezed and said: 'Al-hamdulillaah.'” - sohe expressed thanks to Allah by His will - “…Then his Lord said to him: 'Yarhamukallaah Yaa Aadam' (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy upon you O Aadam') Then Allah said to him: 'Go to the group of angels sitting over there and greet them by saying 'As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum' (i.e., 'peace be upon you')' so (he did) and they replied: 'Wa ‘alayka As-salaam wa rahamatullaah" (i.e., 'peace and mercy of Allah be upon you') then he returned to his Lord who said to him: 'This is the form of greeting for you and your descendants.'”
Let us explain the meaning of these narrations, and the matters related to the etiquettes of sneezing:
The saying of the Prophet : “When one of you sneezes he should say: 'Al-hamdulillaah' (i.e., 'Thanks be to Allah'), and his brother or companion should say to him: 'Yarhamukallaah' (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you.')”Indicates that it is mandatory for one tothank Allah upon sneezing and that he would be committing a sin if he neglects to say it. On the other hand, Imaam An-Nawawi reported that it is the consensus of the scholars that it is only recommended, and not mandatory; however, it is safer for the Muslim not to abandon this mention of Allah upon sneezing.
The second related issue that arises from the saying of the Prophet is what the one who sneezes should say. Some scholars have stated that saying: “Al-hamdullillaahi Rabbil-‘aalameen (i.e., 'Thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds')” is better than just “Al-hamdullillaah (i.e., 'Thanks be to Allah')” and others have stated that saying: “Al-hamdullillaahi Rabbil-‘aalameen ‘alaa kulli haal (i.e., 'Thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, under all circumstances')” is better because it is more comprehensive; a third group of scholars have said that saying: “Al-hamdulillaahi hamdan katheeran tayyiban mubaarakan feeh kamaa yuhibbu Rabbunaa wa yardhaa (i.e., 'All thanks are due to Allah, thanks which are abundant, pure, and full of blessings in a way that our Lord loves and is pleased with')”is better still.
One has the choice to say any of the statements that have been proven to be authentically reported on behalf of the Prophet or on behalf of the scholars amongst the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them. One who alternates between the different ways of praising Allah would coincide more perfectly with the Sunnah of the Prophet .
The statements that the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, said upon sneezing during prayer and were approved by the Prophet are also recommended to be said, and one should not say other than that like, for example, the saying of the man mentioned earlier who said: “Al-Hamdullaah was-salaamu ‘alaa rasoolillaah (i.e., 'All thanks are due to Allah and salutations be upon the Messenger of Allah.')” because the mention of Allah is something that has to be substantiated with evidences and one cannot personally add anything to it because he would thereby be committing an innovation; therefore, we must adhere to the authentically proven Sunnah (which also includes the statements of the scholars amongst the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them).
One should be careful not to make noises after sneezing and prior to praising Allah, because Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, heard a man saying a word after sneezing and told him that Satan was the one who made him say this prior to praising Allah.
Tashmeet, which isto answer the one who sneezes after he thanks Allah means, linguistically, to supplicate for the sneezing person to be blessed. Why do we say: “Yarhamukallaah (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on you').” to the sneezing person after he thanks Allah? The scholars have said that sneezing is something dangerous because it causes the muscles and joints of one's body to jolt; therefore, it is proper to say this because Allah has bestowed mercy upon the person by making his joints and muscles return to their original position, which means that he was protected by Allah. Likewise, for the one who sneezed, this is a bounty which is worth gratitude and thanks.
On the other hand, the one who does not thank Allah upon sneezing is not to be supplicated for with mercy (i.e., Tashmeet) because he forgot Allah and therefore deserves to be deprived from the supplications of the surrounding people.
Another one of the etiquettes is to lower one's voice upon sneezing and to raise ones voice with the thanks after it, as well as to cover his face, lest things may emerge from his mouth or nose which would harm the people around him. Some scholars said that it is not recommended to turn ones face left or right whilst sneezing because it could be dangerous for the neck.
Supplicating for mercy for the one who sneezed results in the increase of harmony and love amongst the Muslims. It also reminds the one who sneezed to humble himself and remember the bounty of Allah upon him; it also teaches him not to be boastful, because the supplication for mercy is usually interconnected with one's sins, and thus it would remind the one who sneezes with his shortcomings and sins and would thereby increase his humility towards Allah. It also reminds the one who sneezes of his continuous need of Allah.
This etiquette reflects the merits and beauty of Islam, since even the natural bodily movements have designated etiquettes and supplications that accompany them; this proves that Islam is a comprehensive religion that bonds the Muslims closer - even when Muslims sneeze they supplicate for each other, despite them not even knowing one another!
What is the ruling of Tashmeet (i.e., responding to the one who sneezed after he thanks Allah)? The answer is that it is one of the rights of a Muslim upon his fellow Muslim, because the narration of Al-Baraa' ibn `Aazib, may Allah be pleased with him, began with: “The Prophet commanded us to observe ...’ which indicates that it is compulsoryto thank Allah and to answer the one who thanks Allah after sneezing. Some scholars have ruled that if one person answers the one who sneezes, then it would suffice the rest of the people around him, but the above narration proves otherwise. There is a difference between replying to the one greeting with Salaam, in which case one response is sufficient, and answering the one who sneezes, where everyone hearing him must answer him, but it is conditioned with the one who sneezes thanking Allah after sneezing, otherwise, nothing should be said to him.
There are times when we do not answer the one who sneezes with Tashmeet (asking mercy for him), such as:
· If he did not thank Allah after sneezing.
· If the one who sneezed is a disbeliever.
· If the one who sneezed did so due to flu, which resulted in him sneezing more than three times consecutively, as the Prophet said: “Answer your brother with Tashmeet three times, and after that it is only the flu” meaning that one should not answer him with Tashmeet if that is the case. Some scholars have said that one should continue to answer for as long as the one who sneezes thanks Allah, because the Prophet did not forbid us from doing so. Nevertheless, we should only supplicate for the one with flu or allergies to be cured after the third sneeze. What should the one who sneezes answer to he who supplicates for him to be cured? It is recommended that he supplicates the same for him, as Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, did. What if one sneezes two or three times consecutively without being able to thank Allah except after finishing, and then thanks Allah thrice in a row, do we answer him once or thrice? If he thanked Allah once then we answer him once, and if he thanked twice or thrice we do the same, but we stop at the third and do not answer him more than that.
· What if the Khateeb sneezes and thanks Allah whilst delivering the Jumu`ah sermon? If he pauses after thanking Allah then we should answer him, but if he continues to talk then we should answer him quietly to ourselves to avoid talking whilst the Khateeb is delivering his speech. The one who sneezes in the mosque should thank Allah quietly to himself, and people should not answer him whilst the Khateeb is speaking, but there is no harm in answering him between the two parts of the speech or during the interval after he has concluded the sermon and before the prayer.
· If one sneezes during prayer and thanks Allah we do not answer him because the Prophet forbade Mu’aawyah ibn Al-Hakam, may Allah be pleased with him, from doing so and told him that talking is not allowed during prayer, and answering the one who sneezes is a form of talking. Indeed it has been reported that the one who sneezes may thank Allah during prayer, but if he does so whilst reciting the Faatihah then he should finish it first and then thank Allah so as not to interrupt it.
· If one sneezes in the bathroom, even if he mistakenly thanks Allah, because he should not have mentioned the Name of Allah in the bathroom to start with.
· If a person sneezes and one is not sure whether or not he has thanked Allah, do we answer him? This must be one of three cases, either one is sure that he thanked Allah, and thus he must be answered; or one is sure that he did not thank Allah, and thus he is not to be answered; the third case is when one is not sure, and in this case, if people around one answer him and they are people who have knowledge and are aware of the Sunnah and not from the common people who might answer any person, even if he did not thank Allah, then one should answer him. There is another way, which is what Ibn’Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, did when a man sneezed at the far end of a mosque and he did not hear him, so he said to him: “Yarhamukallaah (i.e., 'may Allah have mercy on you') if you have thanked him (i.e., after sneezing).” We must hear one thank Allah before answering him. Do we remind the one sneezing to thank Allah if he forgot? This is a controversial issue but the sound opinion is that we do not, because if it was the better thing to do, the Prophet would have done it, and evidences prove that he did not do so and commanded us not to answer the one who forgets to do so.
Are there different forms of answering the person who answers us after we thank Allah other than: “Yahdeekumullaah wa yuslihu baalakum (i.e., 'May Allah guide you and render sound your state of affairs')”?It is reported that Ibn ‘Abbaas, may Allah be pleased with him, would respond by saying: “`Aafaanaa Allah wa iyyaakum minan-naar, yarhamukumullaah (i.e., 'May Allah protect us and you from Fire, may Allah have mercy on you')”. Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, used to sometimes say: “Yarhamunallaahu wa iyyaakum wa yaghfir lanaa wa lakum (i.e., 'May Allah have mercy on us and you and forgive us and you.')” Therefore, one has the choice of how to answer.
If one hears a person who sneezes and then thanks Allah from afar, should he go to the trouble of going to him and answering him? This is the opinion and practice of Imaam Abu Daawood, who once heard a man thank Allah after sneezing whilst he (i.e., Abu Daawood) was on a boat, so when he reached the other side of the river, he rented another boat to cross the river again and answered the man, and when people asked him why he went to so much trouble and expense, he replied: “He might be a person whose supplications are responded to by Allah, and he would supplicate for me for guidance or mercy, so I did not want to lose out on this opportunity.”
What if a woman sneezes, do we answer her if she thanks Allah? Again, this is a controversial issue, but the scholars differentiate between the woman being young or old because she would have to answer back and people would hear her voice, and an old woman's voice is not usually enticing or moving, contrary to that of a young woman. Some scholars conditioned the answer to the intention of the man, so if he has an ill intention then hearing her voice is prohibited, otherwise it is not a problem to answer her, but she must beware of raising her voice loudly.
The Arabs during the Pre-Islamic era would have pessimistic beliefs regarding sneezing and would hate the one who did so until Islam came and legislated the supplication of mercy to the one who sneezes.