The meaning of the statement of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم): “Flee from the leper as you would flee from a lion”, is that one should not expose himself to situations wherein he is put through anxiety, mental struggle and the possibility of being put to trial with belief in contagion. It is not an affirmation of contagion.
ʿUmar bin al-Khaṭṭāb (رضي الله عنه) used to deliberately drink from the same spot on the same vessel as Muʿayqīb (رضي الله عنه) who suffered from leprosy, intending by that to dispel the notion of contagion from his mind and heart.
Imām al-Qurṭubī states in al-Mufhim:
He (صلى الله عليه وسلم) prohibited from passing the sick by the healthy out of fear that what the people of jāhiliyyah fell into might occur, of believing in [contagion], or out of fear that the souls might be disturbed or that the [people’s] imaginations might be affected. So this is similar to his (صلى الله عليه وسلم) command of fleeing from the leper. For we, even though we believe that leprosy is not contagious, we still find aversion in our souls and a dislike of that. To the extent that if a person was to force himself to be near to him [the leper] and to sit alongside him, his soul will feel pain and perhaps [his soul] may be harmed by that, and become ill.
Leprosy is not contagious through contact
Some quotes from the above document which are taken from an 1893 book, Leprosy and Vaccination, by Dr. William Tebb:
Dr. G. A. Hansen says : —“If people wash themselves, and take the least care of themselves, when they come in contact with lepers, I do not think there is any danger whatever. It is a remarkable fact that not one of the nurses or servants in our Asylums (Norway) has caught the disease, although they daily wash and dress the patients.”
Several leprous patients were pointed out to me at the Colonial Hospital, in close proximity to the other inmates... No one appeared to be afraid of contagion, and I could not learn of a single case so communicated.
After going through the various buildings of the Leper Asylum at Mucurapo, Trinidad, and seeing the unfortunate patients in every form of this hideous and mutilative disease, I said to the lady superintendent (of Dominican Sisters), who had been in charge of the institution for seventeen years, “Have you no fear of contagion?” “Not the slightest,” she promptly replied. “And you and your assistants do all that conscientious nursing requires?” (This includes washing the sores and bandaging the limbs of the unfortunate inmates.) “Certainly, and feel it a joy and privilege to be of service to these afflicted people.” “Has any case of infection by contact to doctor, nurse, attendant, or laundress ever been reported during your superintendence?” “Not one.”
This experience was confirmed at the lazarettos in Barbados and elsewhere; and some of the nurses and attendants have been employed from ten to thirty-two years. At the leper asylum in Ceylon, I learned that the laundry work had been managed by one family for three generations, and no case of infection had ever been recorded of laundress, nurse, or doctor. Similar experiences were related to me in South America, South Africa, and at the leper asylums in Norway.
The officials connected with the leper settlements at Molokai, and the Hospital of Suspects, Kalihi, near Honolulu, where I saw some of the worst cases, have not the slightest fear of contagion. They told me that they had never known a medical attendant or nurse contract the disease by simple contact.
The British Consul in Crete, in a memorandum to Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, M.P., on the subject of leprosy in that island, concludes that the disease is not contagious, from the fact that there are “several cases of healthy women married to, and living with, lepers for years without being in the least affected. In fact, if the disease were decidedly contagious and hereditary, it would inevitably spread much more than it does, considering that the lepers are perfectly at liberty to marry among themselves or with healthy persons, and that their children remain with them like those of other people, without any precaution being taken on their behalf.”
Dr. Arthur Mouritz, in his official report to the Honolulu Board of Health, dated Molokai, February, 1886, says :—“The washerwoman for the hospital Kalowao (Molokai) has washed the soiled clothes of the worst cases [of leprosy], certainly many of them so, in the [leper] settlement for the past seventeen years.”
In a communication by Dr. Van Deventer Director of the Suburban Hospital, Amsterdam, to the Hawaiian Government, the writer says :—”Not one case of contagion has ever been recorded.”
Dr. Trousseau, of Honolulu, who told me he devoted much attention to the causation of leprosy in Hawaii, says : —“Is leprosy infectious or ever contagious in the proper sense of the word, that is, by contact mere and simple? I emphatically say ‘No.” I am supported in that opinion by the whole medical world, and by my personal experience.”
Dr. Max Sandreczi, director of the Hospital for Children, Jerusalem, says :—“I am obliged to declare that the result of my researches gives me the conviction that leprosy is by no means contagious, and that consequently the exclusion and isolation of the patients is both a useless and a cruel measure.”—Lancet Aug. 31, 1889, pg 423.
The Lancet, June 22, 1889, p. 1252, says :—“There [is] hardly an hospital in London that has not had within its walls cases of leprosy within the past decade—in-patients, it is true, who have contracted the disease in countries where it is indigenous. Nor, so far as we know, has there ever been an instance of the communication of the disease from one of those subjects others in this country.”
Dr. James H. Dunn, Professor of Dermatology in the Minnesota Hospital College, in a clinical lecture on leprosy, reported in the North - Western Lancet, March 1st, 1888, said : — “The question, Is leprosy contagious? has been a source of much discussion and contention. At times and in some countries it has been looked upon as markedly contagious. Some writers still regard it so; but at the present day the great majority of dermatologists teach that it is not, at least not in the ordinary sense of the term. There is no evidence to show that the malady. has in any instance spread by contagion in a country where leprosy is not endemic.”
Mr. T. H. Wheeler, the British Consul of Bogota, South America, in his Report for 1890 to the Foreign Office, No. 804, observes that although public opinion favours the belief prevalent in Colombia that leprosy is contagious, in the climates of Tocaima and Agua de Dios it is not so :—“For more than one hundred years that these places have been the chosen resort of lepers in all stages of the disease, who have mixed freely with the other inhabitants of the district, there is no case on record of the disease having been contracted by contagion.”
Dr. Alfred Ginders, in a communication to the Inspector-General of Hospitals, etc., Wellington, New Zealand, on Leprosy among the Maoris, dated Rotorua, 4th July, 1890, states his opinion that the disease is not infectious or contagious in the ordinary sense, but “that, in all probability, the worst cases have arisen from direct infection of the blood by inoculation, either accidental or premeditated.” The only premeditated form of inoculation in vogue is that induced by the lancet of the vaccinator.
Dr. Vandyke Carter, of Bombay, says:—“I have not met with any evidences of the contagious nature of leprosy that bear sifting.”
Dr. Day, of Calcutta, who, according to Dr. Balehandra Krishna, L.M. and S. of Bombay, has made leprosy his special study, says, in the Indian Mirror, that he does not believe in the contagious nature, of leprosy.
The Medical Superintendent, Leper Asylum, Calcutta, Dr. Madhub Chunder Ghose, in his "Report to the Honourable H. Beverly, President of the District Charitable Society of Calcutta", 27th August, 1889, says:
It seems to me, after an experience of fifteen years in the asylum, that leprosy is not contagious or infectious in the proper acceptation of the term. Recently I have taken the full history of all the lepers in this asylum, and, with one or two exceptions, the origin of the disease could not be traced to contagion...
And then proceeds to give numerous illustrations:
To prove my assertion as to the non-contagiousness of leprosy, I beg to bring forward the following facts, that is to say, my own personal experience of the disease for over fifteen years. There is an inmate of the asylum, by the name of Doris, who is a non-leper, and who has been at the asylum for over twenty years, sleeping in the same ward, constantly mixing with the lepers, eating with them, etc., and he has not contracted the disease.
There is also an idiot boy at the asylum, a non-leper, who has been an inmate for over ten years; he also sleeps, eats, and mixes freely with the lepers; this boy, also, has not the slightest trace of the disease.
The dhoby attached to the asylum, with his father and grandfather before him, have washed the clothes of the lepers for more than thirty-five years; none of those showed any signs of the disease.
The native doctor, Runchanun Dass, who lived with his family for over ten years in the premises of the asylum, neither contracted the disease, nor did any of his family.
The dressers, Buddye and Narain, acted, the former for twelve years, and the latter for ten years: they did not suffer from the disease.
The dressers, Rajjian and Jaddao, have been attached, off and on, the former for eight years, and the latter for ten years (this man is yet at the asylum as a dresser), and I have recent news regarding Rajjian, who has gone to his country: these men are unaffected. The dressers have, daily, to handle sores, wash unhealthy ulcers, apply ointment, etc., besides having to shave the lepers periodically. The present Christian cook and his father have been working at the asylum for over twenty years. The father died a non-leper, and the son is free of the disease.
Other cooks, who work for a few years and then go to their country, have never been attacked. The sweepers, Roohon and Bustee, have worked more than seven years without contracting the disease. Both the men have been discharged, and are yet living. Other sweepers, who have been working a short time each, also have not suffered.
The Durwana have not contracted the disease. The present Durwan has been now over five years in service.
I have myself been attached to the asylum now for over fifteen years, visiting the lepers daily, cutting and handling them, without having suffered.
My predecessor, Dr. K. Stewart, was in medical charge of the asylum for over twelve years, and remained free of the disease till his death. My assistant, Dr. H. W. Mitnish, M.R.C.S., England, has been at the asylum for over eight years, and is healthy.
And there dozens upon dozens more citations.
According to the CDC:
You cannot get leprosy from a casual contact with a person who has Hansen’s disease like: Shaking hands or hugging, sitting next to each other on the bus, sitting together at a meal. Hansen’s disease is also not passed on from a mother to her unborn baby during pregnancy and it is also not spread through sexual contact...