Taking Normal Precautions Against Harm
In a Hadith, the Prophet is quoted as saying: “A person who sleeps on rooftop without edges and falls and dies has no claim. Similarly, a person who sails in the sea when it is rough and dies forfeits all claims.” (Related by Ahmad and Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad).
The Prophet impresses on his companions, and indeed all Muslims, that they should take normal precautions against what causes them harm. Thus a Muslim should take any measure that enhances his safety, or the safety of his family and dependants. If someone fails to take such measures, he forfeits any rights he might have been entitled to have, from other people or from God, because of his failure. We have a Hadith that clearly speaks against sleeping on an open roof. The Prophet is quoted as saying: “Anyone who sleeps on a rooftop with no barriers forfeits all claims.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad and Abu Dawood).
Exposed to Risks
In our modern days when we have air conditioning and comfortable beds, we may wonder who wants to sleep on a rooftop. We need only to go back a little bit in time and imagine a place with very hot climate, and with no air conditioning available. Many people preferred to sleep on the roofs of their homes because it felt far more comfortable than sleeping in their bedrooms which were much hotter. In this Hadith, the Prophet tells us very clearly that we must take reasonable precautions against a fall. To start with, he points out that if the rooftop is without a reasonable barrier, then sleeping there is wrong. A sleeping person may be exposed to certain risks. If he overturns and happens to be near the edge, he might fall down. A fall is also possible if he wakes up and starts to walk before he is completely alert. He might step over something he cannot see and fall as a result, causing himself a serious injury. Or he may be disoriented if he has not yet recovered all his senses; so he starts walking in the wrong direction. If it is still dark, he might fall down. In all these situations, a fall is possible. Therefore, one must not expose oneself to the risk of falling.
God has been generous and compassionate to us, assigning angels to watch over us. We see this clearly in situations of imminent danger which we have overlooked. We suddenly are alert to the danger and take a reflex action to avoid trouble. We wonder how we could see the danger in the nick of time, when all factors should have prevented us from seeing it. Take the example of someone driving alone and getting tired. He may be about to fall asleep when something suddenly alerts him. God says in the Qur’an: “There are guardians watching over you, noble recorders, who know all your actions.” (82: 10-12)
Precautions in Every Situation
But in order to be in the safest position, we need to take all reasonable precautions in every situation. Thus, we should not drive for a long distance when we are tired and feel that we could easily fall asleep. Instead we should have some sleep before we start our journey. In the same way, a person who sleeps on a rooftop without a rising edge or a barrier to prevent a fall should take reasonable precautions. If he does not, and falls causing his own death, no claim could be made against anyone. Moreover, he may have forfeited any reward he would have otherwise received.
This was perfectly understood by the Prophet’s companions. Abu Ayyoub Al-Ansari, a companion of the Prophet, visited a friend who took him to the roof which had no wall edges. Apparently he offered him to sleep there. But Abu Ayyoub declined and went down. He said: “I was about to stay the night forfeiting all I have.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)
In another Hadith, the Prophet is quoted as saying: “A person who sleeps on rooftop without edges and falls and dies has no claim. Similarly, a person who sails in the sea when it is rough and dies forfeits all claims.” (Related by Ahmad and Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad).
Exposure to Danger
This Hadith mentions two types of exposure to danger. In both situations the person concerned does something careless. As a result he forfeits all his rights. There is first the right to be helped by the guardian angels, and then the right of reward that results from such danger. Although the Prophet mentions only these two types, the import of the Hadith is clear in its applicability to all types of danger. One of these is exposure to illness. Some diseases are contracted through careless behaviour, while others are caused through the failure to take preventive measures. Nowadays, we have vaccinations against a variety of diseases, including some of the worst diseases that affect children, such as tuberculosis, measles and whooping cough. If we fail to vaccinate our children at the right time, we are not giving them the immunity that spares them much trouble. Some of these diseases are killers. If parents fail to immunize their children through vaccination, they are exposing them to these killer diseases. They risk coming under the Qur’anic verse that states: “Losers indeed are those who, in their ignorance, foolishly kill their children.” (6: 140) Failure to immunize children when the means are available could be through either negligence or ignorance. Neither is valid justification. So, if parents neglect to vaccinate their children, and as a result, a child contracts a disease which ends in his death, the parents have to answer to God for a very serious failure.