Bless the Sneeze

I don’t actually know why we say it, but I find I do say “bless you” when someone sneezes. I guess it’s more like a habit, a reflex. Similar to the heart-stopping, eyes-widening effect of the ice cream van music.

However, to another Moslem, I would say “Alhamdulillah” instead, which in everyday use can be loosely translated to “Thank God.”

In essence, “bless you” (which in completeness should be “God bless you”, since I know for sure it’s not me who’s giving the blessing!!) and “Alhamdulillah” both refer to “God” in whatever form you see “God” as, but the differentiation is simply to avoid offending a non-Moslem who *might* be thinking I’m “Islamifying” (?) them. Perhaps because “bless you” nowadays has more of a cultural reference, rather than a religious one.

In fact, a quick Google search shows up various possible origins to this expression — most of which are linked to religion in some way. One theory states that it originated during the bubonic plague, where sneezing was considered one of its symptoms. “Bless you” therefore could either mean i) a prayer for you to get well soon, or ii) an acknowledgment that your infected, and thus prays for your soul to God as they can no longer help you in this mortal world. Another theory is that because we sneeze so fast, our souls can get thrown out of our bodies! It is therefore either our souls that are vulnerable out in the open and can be snatched by the Devil… or, alternatively, our bodies are empty cases without our souls and thus the Devil can quickly take over. In either case, saying “bless you” was a way to shield our souls or physical bodies from evil spirits before they join back together.

For the Moslem, saying “Alhamdulillah” when someone sneezes has its origins in the hadith, or the narrations of the Prophet Muhammad. My (basic) understanding is simply because sneezing itself is a blessing from God, a form of relief as it releases the germs from our bodies. Thus, we thank God by saying “Alhamdulillah” (or “Praise to Allah”). Like those times when I have that I-want-to-sneeze-but-I-can’t feeling. My nose tickles then, and there’s pressure in my head and nose. And it really is a relief when the sneeze finally comes. And so I thank God.

“Bless you” or “Alhamdulillah”, either one, for me it means that I wish the person health and that the sneeze rids them of all those nasty lil germs! No harm in thanking God at the same time 😉

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for this post! I always wonder why we, Muslims, consider this as a blessing, while others consider it as something bad.. in a way..

    The Hadith itself tells us to say Alhamdulillah when we sneeze, though I’d say Alhamdulillah anyway to others who sneeze to remind them about it haha.. and say Yarhamkallah right after that 😛


    • Posted by asti on March 29, 2011 at 9:50 pm

      Ah true, my bad! Yes, you’re right, we are supposed to say it after we sneeze, not when someone else sneezes.. but like you, I do say it to others as a reminder!

      It never ceases to amaze me just how diverse this world is.. even a small thing such as sneezing can be interpreted in different ways!


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