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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Islamic Medicine: Is it only honeys and bees?

To say that something is part of Islam, we have to have evidence for that. For example, car. If we say Islamic car, what does it mean? For me, it means a car with Islamic features on it. What is Islamic features? It means, the car was bought using legal means (not with riba), able to protect the people inside (safety, preservation of life - part of Islam) & function as what it should be, as well as used for things that are right Islamically (work, pray etc).

So, if I say Islamic medicine, what does it mean? The options would be:

- is it the old medicine of 10th- 15th century medicine during which Islam was at its peak of power?
- Is it natural medicine utilizing mostly hearbs, diet and lifestyle adjustment?
- Is it a medicine limited to the health related teachings found in the Quran and sunnah, for example, honey, Habbatussauda, dates, zamzam water etc?
- Could we include the current breed of medicine (of gene therapy and pharmacological intervention) as islamic medicine?

There are things mentioned directly in Quran and sunnah of the prophet as regard to ingredient that can cure ie: honey, dates etc. However, there are things that are indirectly mentioned in the sunnah. In sahih Bukhari, prophet said that Allah has made available a treatment of every illness except old age. So, indirectly any thing that can cure a disease could potentially be included as part of Islamic medicine - provided that it really can cure. So, does atorvastatin part of Islamic medicine? Is dialysis treatment part of islamic medicine? The answer (for me) is a resounding YES.

Other than modern medicine

I was against the use of complimentary medicine once upon a time. For me at that time, medicine is modern medicine, or nothing at all. You can see how shallow can that be. China has their own part of medicine (acupuncture, herbal) for thousands of years, which would not stand the test of time if it is not working. In the era of Islamic empire, muslim physicians was using remedy from all over the world to cure diseases. Aishah r.a was taking a lot of advices from Arabian tribes on how to cure the prophet during his last days of this life. Where is aspirin at that time? It is not that most of the modern medicine come from the natural ingredient? Evidence based medicine is used to sideline all this important measures. Although I fully support the use of evidence based medicine especially when the treatment is proven, there are thing that is just not possible to do randomized control trial. There has never been RCT on appendicectomy vs placebo. The RCT for haemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis failed. There are times when we have to use our own logic when the evidence is not fully there.

Saying that, let us not go overboard. There are people who take advantages of the vulnerability of patients by offering them 'cure' when there is no evidence to their claim. They unfortunately often hide behind the curtain of so-called islamic medicine. Knowing that the people will not question anything about their religion (which for me is just wrong), they (the pratitioner) misguide people on their treatment often with a huge sum of money. I remember hearing about colour vibration therapy one day. I spent hours reading about it (concept), reading about the founder and reading about what it does. The degree is questionable through online university, and the concept does not agree with the current level of understanding. This is to say the least.

Al-Razi (Razes) (who describes the difference between measles and smallpox so vividly that little since has been added) define medicine as 'the art concerned in preserving healthy bodies, in combating disease, and in restoring health to the sick'. ie there is a prevention part and there is a treatment part of medicine.

Aim of medicine

As doctors, we deal with disease through a multidiciplinary approach, involving other specialties like pharmacist, dietitian, physiotherapy, social worker, priest/imam etc. Our aim is not only a physical cure, but a generealized sense of goodness in the patients' life - the quality of life. Patient with a stent after an MI, if he does not look after his diet/smoking, or he is not interested in taking the prescribed medication, or even protecting his family from similar disease that happens to him (by not smoking, good dietary advice etc), then little can be gain as a community. And what more can we ask as our ultimate aim (as muslims) if it is not for goodness in this world and hereafter?

If i am giving advice regarding how to treat an illness, then i believe we should do this through these steps:

- knowing that having illness is an oppurtunity for us to pause and reflect on our life. Probably we are moving too fast that we miss few things that are important in our life - our family, friends and our faith.
- having illness is an oppurtunity for us to expiate our sins
- making plenty of du'a & solat
- remembering death as a possible consequance of the illness, and prepare for it (update the will, increase charity etc)
- seeking help and advice on how to cure it. It might be just a simple change of diet, and stop from doing something harmful. Or we might need something further like medication or operation.
- when seeking for advice for treatment, i will start with a qualified physician. This is because modern medicine has been shown to offer the highest possible way of physical cure. I trust modern medicine as it has undergone vigorous trials to show that it works.

Islamic medicine can be applied not only to the honeys and bees (etc), but also to anything that cure (and proven that it cures), as long as it is islamically permissable.


I am a qualified doctor (MB), so anybody who reads this might want to include that potential bias, although I strive to define Islamic medicine based on available evidence



  • At July 16, 2010 at 4:11 PM , Anonymous shams amir said...

    visit for some articles on Islamic Input in Medical Curriculum. by Prof Dr Omar Hasan Kasule.


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