Jumuah lecture on Friday 29 January 2021 (15 Jamadi al-Thani 1442)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Verse 80 of Surah Shu’araa (chapter 26 of the Holy Quran) reads as follows:
وَإِذَا مَرِضْتُ فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ
“And when I am sick, then He restores me to health.”
I would like to address this very important and somewhat controversial issue. Do we have any science or branch of science by the name of Islamic Medicine?
There is absolutely no doubt, that Islam has given a great deal of importance to hygiene and physical health. We understand very clearly that a healthy mind and spiritual development is not completely possible without a healthy body. Therefore, the great emphasis on hygiene, for which we are all aware of the very well-known Hadith which states that cleanliness is part of faith.
There are numerous discussions in the Holy Quran which directly or indirectly address the issue of cleanliness and good health. An example is the issue of tayyib (pure) and khabeeth (impure) which the Holy Quran repeatedly addresses. It has different meanings, but one level of understanding refers to tayyib and khabeeth meaning clean and dirty, respectively.
Of course, the whole discussion about pure and impure has spiritual and jurisprudential aspects, without any doubt. That said, we cannot deny that it has the hygienic aspect as well. A basic example is cleaning our bodily parts after using the toilet, or the removal of any type of dirt/impurities attached to our body and clothes.
It goes to the point where these are the guidelines when it comes to taking care of the health of our body and cleanliness, such that we are not allowed to even harm our bodies. The Holy Quran very clearly expresses this compulsory need to care for our bodies. The following excerpt from verse 195 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran) refers:
وَلَا تُلْقُوا بِأَيْدِيكُمْ إِلَى التَّهْلُكَةِ
“and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction”
This is why suicide and any harm to your body is strictly forbidden. Hence, all these are guidelines and recommendations in Islam towards our health and well-being, which is not a point for debate.
ISLAM REGARDS PRACTICING MEDICINE AS A SACRED PROFESSION
The point to explore is what Islam’s guidelines and recommendations are when sickness or disease actually befalls us. Based upon the same principles of preserving life and taking care of your body, there are plenty of instructions to fight the disease with the prescribed treatment.
Islam regards this profession of treating sick people, which we refer to as the science of medicine, with a distinguished level of sacredness. Islam connects this profession deeply with spirituality, referring to medicine as the profession of the Holy Prophets (a.s).
If we look at the history of Islam and Islamic scholars, we find a great number of theologians having practiced medicine alongside their expertise in Islamic sciences. Accordingly, they treated the sick people and helped cure diseases.
DOCTOR IS THE CHANNEL OF RECOVERY THROUGH THE WILL OF ALLAH (SWT)
There is one theological issue when it comes to how we handle sickness and diseases. From the ideological standpoint, we believe that recovery is in the hands of Almighty Allah (SWT), according to His Will. He is the one who cures, as noted in verse 80 of Surah Shu’araa (chapter 26 of the Holy Quran) cited at the beginning of this discussion.
This Will of Almighty Allah (SWT) to grant recovery manifests in this natural system of cause and effect, through the natural chain of action and reaction.
I would like to make reference to a very interesting Hadith on this point. It says that Nabi Ibrahim (a.s) asked from Almighty Allah (SWT) who gives sickness, to which Allah (SWT) replied by saying that it is He who gives sickness. Nabi Ibrahim (a.s) then asked Almighty Allah (SWT) who grants recovery, to which Allah (SWT) replied that it is He who gives remedy too.
Nabi Ibrahim (a.s) then asked what the role of the doctor is, to which Almighty Allah (SWT) replied that the doctor is the one who brings the medicine to you!
Indeed, this is a very thought-provoking Hadith. The source of recovery is in the Hands of Almighty Allah (SWT), but the doctor brings the medication ie. the doctor is the channel through which the recovery from Allah (SWT) reaches us. So, the doctor cannot independently provide remedy, and therefore acts as a “messenger” from the origin, namely Almighty Allah (SWT).
IS THERE A MEDICAL SYSTEM CALLED ISLAMIC MEDICINE?
This is the crux of this discussion. The question we need to address is whether Islam presented a particular system of treatment to combat diseases. Do we find a structured system of medication in Islamic resources such the Holy Quran, Hadith and the practical life of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s), to treat people?
This question naturally attracts intense debate and controversy. There are those who strongly believe that Islam has presented a system of medicine, which is somehow reflected in some verses of the Holy Quran, but mainly in the form of hundreds (if not thousands) of Hadith which are recorded from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s). This is referred to as Islamic medicine.
Contrary to this, there is the belief that Islam did not come to address medical issues. When we reflect on the purpose of Prophets (a.s), we find that the Holy Quran is very clear on the reasons why they were sent to this world, such as purification of the souls, establish justice etc. We therefore find that the main job of Prophets (a.s) was to address issues of the souls and the challenge of injustice and oppression in society. They were not sent to teach people how to treat matters affecting the body.
These are the two divergent opinions on the subject of Islamic medicine. We will now study both opinions and their respective arguments, started from a point of commonality between these two approaches.
DOES ISLAM PRESENT GUIDELINES ON TREATING DISEASES?
The common point is that both groups of scholars agree that Islam has guidelines on how to respond to diseases in the human body. Some principle positions are mentioned. An example is the Hadith narrated from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), where he said that there is a remedy for every disease. Recovery therefore comes with the permission of Almighty Allah (SWT) when you take the remedy.
This is again not a point of dispute. The Holy Quran and Hadith encourage people to treat the diseases. That said, if a person thinks deeply, we do not find anything beyond this if one studies the authentic resources of Islam regarding medicine or the process of treatment in general.
Yes, there are claims and we will address them here, but these general guidelines appear to be more like guidelines on lifestyle and not a structured system of science referred to as Islamic medicine. An example is where the Holy Quran refers to honey as a remedy for the people. Yes, it has remedy, but the reference here is to a general guideline. You cannot take this one verse of the Holy Quran and conclude that the Holy Quran has a full-scale system of treatment when it comes to remedying sickness or diseases faced by the human body.
The same applies to Hadith resources where we find recommendations. There is that well-known Hadith which says that all the diseases are from the stomach, referring to the stomach as the mother of all diseases. Again, this is a general guideline addressing our lifestyle in the form of cautioning us on what we eat and consume, because we will end up with plenty of diseases if we do not take the precautions.
Other examples in this regard are recommendations about drinking water, how to sleep, how to divide our time, exercising or encouraging physical activity. These general guidelines are there, without being prescriptive.
COMMONLY PRESENTED REMEDIES THROUGH BLACK SEED AND HONEY
The Holy Quran recommends the consumption of good, natural food. An example is milk, which is praised in the Quran, and its benefits. Then, the Quran also goes to the opposite end, whereby it bans alcohol, explaining that its harms outweigh its benefits. This list can go on and on, but one of the philosophies of Haraam items in Islam is that they are harmful for the body, causing different sicknesses and diseases. This is in addition to Haraam items being harmful towards our spirituality.
Now, the key point is that these verses of the Holy Quran, Hadith, or fiqh (Islamic law) principles do not establish a fully-fledged system of infrastructure to treat with clearly defined foundations. That is not the case.
Of course, the opposite camp comes with numerous arguments, albeit very weak! Example, they would present Hadith whereby eating a certain herb is recommended as a cure for a particular illness. We find in our own society that a very commonly discussed remedy is that of the black seed, because it apparently has its origins to what Rasulullah (SAWA) prescribed. It has been extensively commercialised in various forms, such as oil, tablets etc.
Indeed, black seed is good. Even modern science has proven its benefits. But now the Hadith which is loosely cited by many Muslims is that “black seed is the cure for every sickness, except death”. Is this really true? Is this acceptable?
Even those people who believe in this Hadith and promote it heavily to sell black seed products surely would go to hospital when they get sick?! Surely, they contact medical professionals! So, this Hadith is certainly disputable for its exaggerated extent as being a cure for every sickness, even though the benefits of black seed are certainly accepted widely.
There is a very serious problem with such Hadith, of which there are plenty, which supposedly says to do “xyz” for a particular illness and “abc” for another illness, and so on…
IS AL-RISALAH AL-DHAHABIAH AN AUTHENTIC MEDICAL DISSERTATION OF IMAM RIDHA (A.S)?
There is a collection of Hadith under the subject of Islamic medicine. Amongst them is a small booklet attributed to the 8th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha (a.s) known as Al-Risalah al-Dhahabiah (“The Golden Treatise”). Our religious scholars have done extensive research and have found that the Hadith narrations on which this medicine is based are mostly unreliable unfortunately.
Amongst these critics is Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli, this great thinker of our time, who says that 95% of these Hadith are unreliable!
Then, there is a very serious issue, that when we narrate these Hadith, it is done so on the ideological (Aqeedah) basis. There are some serious challenges when we use the term Islamic medicine, because it infers that the system which we are offering is Islamic, based on the Hadith alluded to earlier on black seed, honey etc.
There is a very serious problem when these remedies we attribute to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s) do not work. What will happen, because we promote this system as based upon what is explained by our beloved Prophet (SAWA) and the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), whom we believe are infallible and connected to the knowledge of Almighty Allah (SWT). Hence, there is no possibility of mistake here.
So then, what will happen if the black seed remedy does not work? The patient will claim that the “traditional doctor” was not good, and also claim that the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) on which this remedy is supposedly based, was wrong! This will lead to directly having doubt about Rasulullah (SAWA)!
Al-Risalah al-Dhahabiah (“The Golden Treatise”) we made reference to earlier appeared hundreds of years after the martyrdom of Imam Ridha (a.s). There is no direct link. Then also, it is claimed that Imam Ridha (a.s) wrote this medical dissertation for Ma’mun, the Abbasid ruler of the time. The simple question then is, why would Imam Ridha (a.s) try to protect the health and life of his oppressive murderer?
DANGERS OF LABELLING “ISLAMIC MEDICINE” MAKE ALL OTHER SYSTEMS TO BE NON-ISLAMIC
Another very important point is that if we claim this as Islamic medicine, then it means we are saying that all other systems of medicine are non-Islamic, including today’s modern system of medicine! We cannot claim to have Islamic medicine coexisting with other medical systems. Once you claim to have Islamic medicine then it means that all other systems are non-Islamic. This then means it is a great sin if you opt for what you believe to be non-Islamic medicine, when your black seed treatment does not work!!!
As I have mentioned earlier, there is a huge question surrounding the authenticity of these Hadith. Even if we believe these Hadith to be authentic, it requires us to understand the context of them. What were the conditions prevalent with the sick person at the time? What is the background to that sick person? All these factors need to be clearly understood before we can conclude on it being a divine remedy applicable to anything today.
We see during this Covid-19 pandemic, that unfortunately in the Islamic Republic of Iran, some people tried to commercialize a remedy they attribute to the 7th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Musa Kadhim (a.s), as a cure for coronavirus! So many people were fooled and purchased this. The consequence of this for those people who did not recover is that they could lose confidence in Imam Musa Kadhim (a.s) and the religion of Islam, because it was sold to them as being a religious remedy under the sacred name of the 7th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s)!
As expected, when the scholars conducted research into this matter, they concluded that there is absolutely no connection between the medicine and Imam Musa Kadhim (a.s).
In Islam, and especially in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), we have extraordinary sensitivity in attributing something to the Ahlul Bait (a.s) without any reason. The same applies to duas (supplications). The recommendation of our Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) is to make dua as taught by them, and not to create our own! We should depend on their methods and follow them.
We can look at this on various angles. For example, for the Ziyarat of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), we can greet and express ourselves to them the way we feel. However, the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) have taught us to greet them in the manner they have taught us.
BEING A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL IS A GREAT ACT OF WORSHIP
Let me conclude by emphasizing that Islam believes in the sacredness of the medical profession, without any doubt. Islam greatly encourages people to learn medicine and believes that medicine is a great service to humanity and a great form of Ibadah (act of worship).
There are Hadith which goes to the extent of saying that there are two forms of knowledge, namely the knowledge of the body and the knowledge of religion ie. physical and spiritual knowledge. There is a great deal of emphasis on this, but Islam did not prescribe a particular system of medicine.
Unfortunately, what has transpired is that people have mixed the traditional system of medicine with some Hadith here and there and concocted what they call Islamic medicine!
So then, based on this, the question that emerges is what is Islam’s view of traditional medicine?! This system of medicine which is referred to as Islamic medicine is incorrect terminology. Yes, we can call it traditional medicine and inspired by some of the teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s). They are inspired by their guidelines, meaning lifestyle, and not in the form of an official, structured system of medicine.
ISLAM SUPPORTS ALL RECOGNIZED SYSTEMS OF MEDICINE
There are different schools of thought in medicine – allopathic, homeopathic, Greek, Indian, Persian, Chinese to name a few. Islam does not have a problem with any of these systems of treatment, developed by human beings across many centuries. However, it must be based upon well-researched evidence from experts. This is because Islam believes that life is precious, and we should not put this Amaanat (God-given responsibility) in danger.
All these systems of treatment noted in the preceding point are Islamic, because the Holy Quran, Rasulullah (SAWA) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) commanded people to research and utilize your energy to find the solutions to combat the diseases. In that sense, all these systems are Islamic medicine, but not in the sense that they are prescribed by Islam or based upon Islamic resources like the Holy Quran and Prophetic Sunnah.
This becomes all the more confusing because a sizable number of our Islamic, theological scholars practiced medicine alongside being religious leaders, because they believed in the sacredness of helping and treating people. That said, it does not mean that it was per Islamic prescription from Quran and Sunnah if they were learning medical systems like Chinese, Indian and others!
This is the point of confusion I wanted to clarify from the Quran and traditions of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) on this much discussed subject of “Islamic medicine”.
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