Muslim Medicine and Health Care

by Ahmad F. Yousif
 

In contrast to modern Western civilization, the classical Islamic tradition does not separate science from religion. Accordingly, one finds that both the Qur'an and the traditions of the prophet Muhammad are saturated with references to learning, education, observation, and the use of reason in all realms of life—medicine and health care included.

Islam teaches individuals and societies how to live a physically, mentally, and morally upright life. The Islamic legal system, derived from the Qur'an and sunnah (traditions of the Prophet), aims at creating a healthy environment that will have a positive effect on an individual's physical, mental, and spiritual development.

At a physical level, the Qur'an and sunnah encourage healthy eating, and at the same time forbid all substances that cause bodily harm: intoxicants, drugs, and so forth. Fruits and vegetables, dates, yogurt, camel milk, natural honey, black seeds, and the like are especially emphasized for their nutritious quality and health benefits. The Qur'an also addresses various diseases, especially of the heart, which often lead to direct or indirect physical and mental ailments. It mentions blindness, deafness, lameness, and leprosy, as well as mental disorders, including psychoses, and neurotic diseases, such as sadness and anxiety. But its primary focus is on moral and ethical diseases. The Qur'an itself is referred to as a book of healing.

The large number of prophetic sayings in the area of medicine and health led to the development of an entire discipline known as al-Tibb al-Nabawi (medicine of the Prophet). Imam Bukhari, the most authentic collector of prophetic sayings, narrates 129 hadiths directly related to medicine and devotes two books to medicine and patients. Prophetic statements—such as "There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment"—provided a strong impetus for Muslim scholars to undertake medical investigations. From the ninth to thirteenth centuries C.E., Muslims scholars made numerous contributions to the field. In addition to being medical practitioners, these scholars possessed encyclopedic knowledge of theology, law, and philosophy.

The traditional Islamic medical system that developed in the classical period contains a mixture of spiritual and physical elements, including the use of natural substances and certain Islamic supplications for healing and cures. It includes preventive measures, curative medicine, mental healing, surgery, and most importantly, spiritual cures for both the body and the soul. The scientific and medical achievements made during the classical Islamic period had a significant influence on the formation and development of modern medicine in Europe.

Contemporary Islamic Approaches to Medicine
Muslims today approach medicine and health care in various ways. There are some Muslims, particularly those in rural areas with limited access to modern medical facilities, who completely reject modern medicine. Many of these people prefer to rely on a combination of supplications and traditional medical treatments. Accordingly, it is quite common to find traditional healers working today who continue to rely on a mixture of Qur'anic verses, water, local herbs, ornaments, oil, or honey for their medical treatments. Unfortunately, not all of these practitioners have medical training, and some become involved in superstitious practices that contradict Islamic norms and values.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are secular Muslims, with little knowledge of or regard for Qur'anic injunctions and Prophetic statements in the medical sphere, who prefer to rely completely on modern medicine. The vast majority of Muslims, however, fall somewhere between these two groups. They believe that prayer, supplications, Qur'anic recitation, and dhikr (remembrance of Allah) play an important role in healing and recovery, but they also recognize the benefits of modern medicine.

The last few decades have witnessed a renewed interest in reviving traditional Islamic medical knowledge and combining it with the latest advancements in modern medicine. Many seminars, conferences, books, publications, and medical associations have been devoted to this revival, as well as to generating a precise definition of "Islamic medicine." For some, the term means a return to classical Islamic medicine. Accordingly, institutes such as the Hamdard Foundation in Pakistan and the National Research Center and the Desert Institute, both in Egypt, were established to undertake clinical studies on the efficacy of the medical teachings found in the sunnah.

For other Muslims, however, Islamic medicine entails applying Islamic values and paradigms to any type of medicine, thereby "Islamizing" it. Omar Kasule, the deputy dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the International Islamic University Malaysia, defines Islamic medicine as a system of basic paradigms, concepts, values, and procedures that conform to, or do not contradict, the Qur'an and Prophetic traditions. It is universal and can be defined only in terms of values and ethics, not as specific medical procedures or therapeutic agents.

Significance for Modern Medicine
What do these traditional and contemporary understandings of Islamic medicine have to offer modern medicine? The answer cannot be separated from what Islam has to offer to mankind. Islamic teachings offer guidance on how to live a physically, mentally, and spiritually upright life. Many of the ailments humans suffer from today are diseases of the soul, which stem from societal and environmental factors that are difficult for medication alone to cure. Drugs can never remove the causes of loneliness, estrangement of family members, or lack of self-worth—but Islamic medicine can. Instead of reducing humans, ailments, and treatments strictly to their physical and mental dimensions, as secularly trained and oriented medical practitioners are prone to do, Islamic medicine uses a multipronged approach that focuses on the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of the problem at both individual and societal levels.

In contrast to contemporary views, disease does not always have a negative connotation in Islam. According to the classical Islamic scholar Imam al-Ghazzali, "illness is one of the forms of experience by which man arrives at a knowledge of God." Other Muslim scholars argue that falling ill may be Allah's way of forcing the person to rest or care for the body before it deteriorates further.

Both medical practitioners and patients must know the limits of the former's capabilities. From a Muslim point of view, life and death are ultimately derived from God. No human can give life or take death away. As such, medical personnel do not have the privilege of saying anything definitive about future prognosis. Instead, they are obliged to assist the patient to the best of their abilities and leave the rest to Allah. Such an approach may have a positive effect on reducing the number of medical lawsuits that occur in some countries.

Last but not least, Islamic medicine can provide a code of ethics for medical practitioners. Muslim medical personnel are subject to shariah (Islamic law), on both a personal and professional level, but particularly in terms of their obligations towards patients, community, and society. As such, they are obliged to be sincere, remain humble, and constantly strive to seek the pleasure of Allah, with the consciousness that Allah is the All-Knowing.

Ahmad F. Yousif is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the Institute of Islamic Studies and Head of Educational Technology Center, University of Brunei, Brunei Darussalam.

 

Islam and Breastfeeding: Religious and Cultural Traditions

September 08, 2006

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sept. 8, 2006--Islamic religious beliefs and cultural practices in Muslim communities guide women's breastfeeding decisions and are important factors in early infant care and feeding, according to a paper in the recent issue (Volume 1, Number 3) of Breastfeeding Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. (www.liebertpub.com) and the official journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

Helping Muslim women adopt good infant feeding practices requires an understanding of the differences between the religious basis of breastfeeding and the cultural practices followed by some Muslims. Clinicians can help differentiate between religious beliefs and cultural norms to promote breastfeeding in Muslim communities.

Ulfat Shaikh, MD, MPH, and Omar Ahmed, MD, from the University of California Davis School of Medicine explain that the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, recommends that mothers breastfeed their children for two years if possible and, in fact, states that every infant has the right to be breastfed. If a mother is unable to breastfeed, she and the father can decide together to have a wet nurse feed the child.

"Breastfeeding management is both an art and a science, but for many women it is part of deeply held beliefs about child rearing that stem from their religious teachings. This article will help clinicians understand the religious and cultural basis of Muslim women's views on children and breastfeeding," says Ruth A. Lawrence, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Breastfeeding Medicine, from the Department of Pediatrics, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

The paper, entitled, "Islam and Infant Feeding," describes the importance of privacy and modesty in Muslim culture and suggests that the lack of privacy in hospitals, and especially in neonatal intensive care units might discourage women from breastfeeding. Cultural practices such as substituting honey or water supplements for colostrums could deprive the infant of important nutrients. Similarly, Muslim women who wear veils and have little sun exposure may have low vitamin D levels, putting their breastfed infants at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Breastfeeding Medicine is an authoritative, peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary journal published quarterly. The Journal publishes original scientific papers, reviews, and case studies on a broad spectrum of topics in lactation medicine. It presents evidence-based research advances and explores the immediate and long-term outcomes of breastfeeding, including the epidemiologic, physiologic, and psychologic benefits of breastfeeding.

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., is a privately held, fully integrated media company known for establishing authoritative peer-reviewed journals in many promising areas of science and biomedical research, including Journal of Women's Health, Journal of Gynecologic Surgery, and Pediatric Asthma, Allergy and Immunology. Its biotechnology trade magazine, Genetic Engineering News (GEN), was the first in its field and is today the industry's most widely read publication worldwide. A complete list of the firm's 60 journals, books, and newsmagazines is available at www.liebertpub.com.

 

Alternative medicine is booming in Iraq

By Mark Brunswick and Laith Hammudi

McClatchy Newspapers

An Iraqi man is checked to see if he is a candidate for Hijamma, or cupping. In the absence of modern health care, more Iraqis are turning toward traditional medicine to relieve aches and pains. (Laith Hammudi/MCT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Conventional medicine is a mess in Iraq, but business is booming for the Hijamma man.

Doctors have fled the country, and others have been assassinated - a U.N. report says at least 102 have been killed, with 250 more kidnapped. Sunnis are afraid to go to hospitals in Shiite neighborhoods. There hasn't been a new hospital built in Baghdad since 1986.

But in the Inbaryeen district of northern Baghdad, Ammar Mohammed Shubbar's office is crammed with people seeking his help. Shubbar practices the ancient craft of Hijamma, or cupping. In 21st-century Baghdad, this ancient medical skill, long tied to Islamic tradition with a history in Africa and ancient Egypt, has grown more popular out of necessity.

Using small glass-like jars and a surgical knife, Shubbar makes small cuts in one of 123 areas of the body, depending on his patients' complaints: high blood pressure; blood sugar; migraines; back, hand or leg pain; and even some conditions of sterility.

His patients swear by him. "Honestly, all the doctors and their medicine didn't help me much," said Ghazi Salmamn, 51, who suffers from high blood pressure. "I came here. I did the Hijamma, and the second day I really felt better, and there was a great change."

Unlike the practitioners of more traditional medical treatments, Hijamma men like Shubbar aren't heavy on academics. His training has been on the job, starting when he was 15 in the shop that used to be his father's.

Now at the grand age of 23, Shubbar is known to his patients as the sayyed, an honorific reserved for the grandsons of the prophet Muhammad.

He can tell how to begin simply by looking at a person's back. He works from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. One treatment costs the equivalent of about $1.50.

Shubbar's tools are simple: two glasses and a medical knife. When he chooses a spot, he burns a small piece of paper inside one of the glasses and puts it on the man's back (women are permitted to have Hijamma performed on them, but only by other women).

The burning uses up the oxygen in the glass and creates a small vacuum that pulls blood near the skin's surface. After several minutes, he takes off the glasses and uses the knife to slice six to eight small cuts in each spot. The blood, which he calls "spoiled," starts to ooze, and he moves around to other places on the back. He cleans the wounds with an antiseptic and bandages them.

Shubbar said 10 places on the human body offer the best places to work: the head, either side of the neck, two spots in the middle of the back, the lower back and other positions on the legs.

"The man doesn't feel any pain; in fact, he feels better the next day," Shubbar said.

In the United States, his brand of medicine would be considered alternative. But in Baghdad, the threat to medical workers and their patients is so great that modern treatment isn't much of an alternative anymore.

Iraq's Ministry of Health recently reported that the country has lost 720 doctors and health employees since April 9, 2003. Informal statistics estimated that more than 2,000 doctors have left the country. Recognizing the problem, the ministry recently announced that it would allow doctors to open private clinics in state hospitals without paying rent as a way of protecting them.

In addition to the 102 doctors that the U.N. found had been murdered in Iraq from April 2003 to May 31, 2006, 164 nurses have been killed and 77 wounded.

Lack of consistent electricity hampers medical services, as does corruption. Militias and other security forces intimidate medical staff into prioritizing patients who are their members.

The decline in medical care is readily evident on Al Saddon Street in the center of Baghdad. It was once known as Doctors' Street and was filled with doctors' offices and clinics. Iraqis from throughout the country's 18 provinces used to go there to find specialists, many of whom had degrees from Western universities.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, however, it became an easy venue for kidnappings and assassinations, and now there are few doctors working there.

The rise in sectarian violence has taken its toll as well. People in the Ghazaliya neighborhood in west Baghdad, for instance, no longer go to Al Hakeem hospital in nearby Shula. Ghazaliya is mainly a Sunni neighborhood, and its residents are afraid of being killed or kidnapped if they go to Al Hakeem in Shiite Shula.

"Some armed militia members check IDs and they kidnap any Sunni people," said a 35-year-old man who didn't want his name used because of security reasons. The closest safe hospital is 18 miles away.

So into the void come men such as Shubbar, who's familiar not only with where best to bleed a patient but also when in the month to do it.

The second half of the month is better, especially during what's known as "the white nights" when the moon is full. It's believed that the ebb and flow of the blood is strongly affected by the moon. The best days to do Hijamma are Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Hijamma isn't done on Wednesdays or on Fridays after midday.

Hammudi is a special correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers

 

Islamic Hospital Under Construction in Netherlands
By Anka, Rotterdam
Friday, October 06, 2006
zaman.com

An Islamic hospital is being built in Rotterdam, the second largest city of Netherlands.

According to a Dutch businessmen, Paul Sturkenboom, men and women will be separate, male patients will be treated by a male nurse and medical staff and similar arrangements will be made for female patients, while halal food and on-staff imams will also be available in the hospital.

Rotterdam is planning to employ 45 doctors and 275 nurses to serve the nearly one million Muslims in The Netherlands.

The staff will not have to be Muslim, but will have to respect the Islamic culture.

The hospital project was criticized by right winged parties and right winged municipality members took an action to prevent the project.

However, the left winged controlled council refused the draft on grounds that the project was an attempt of “the private sector”.

"There are about a hundred hospitals in the Netherlands based on general or Christian principles, but none at all for the more than a million Muslims living here. They are regularly confronted by problems," Sturkenboom explained. "For example, they are only able to obtain halal food sporadically. The result is that they often refuse all hospital meals and have to provide their own food."

 

Pakistani clerics oppose polio vaccination

22 Feb 2007

Source: Reuters

ISLAMABAD, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Some Muslim clerics in remote parts of Pakistan are whipping up opposition to a campaign against polio, threatening efforts to eradicate the crippling childhood disease in one of its last reservoirs in the world.

Health authorities are playing down the impact of the opposition and say 32 million children under five have been vaccinated in an immunization campaign in recent weeks.

Nevertheless, the clerics' message that polio vaccination is a foreign-funded ploy to sterilize people is likely to thwart efforts to achieve blanket vaccination of all children, jeopardizing eradication efforts.

Adding to the difficulties, the vaccination campaign in one area on the Afghan border has been postponed after a doctor involved in the drive was killed by a roadside bomb last week, a Health Ministry official said.

A cleric in North West Frontier Province has been preaching that vaccination is against Islamic law, the Dawn newspaper reported on Thursday.

"I must tell my brothers and sisters that finding a cure for an epidemic before its outbreak is not allowed in sharia," the cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, was quoted as saying in a sermon.

"Those who ... get killed during an outbreak are martyrs."

He also voiced suspicion of the immunization campaigns mounted by the government with the help of the United Nations and other foreign agencies.

"I don't understand why foreigners would think of our well-being when we see they are killing Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. The cleric has also been using his private FM radio station to spread his message, officials said.

MISINFORMATION

The highly infectious disease has been eliminated in developed nations but persists in parts of India, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan had 39 cases last year, most in conservative regions on the Afghan border. Four cases have been reported this year, a Health Ministry official said.

"There are people who, owing to misinformation, want to oppose it but all this is very localized, to do with certain beliefs," said the official, who declined to be identified.

Initially, the parents of about 24,000 children in North West Frontier Province refused to have their children vaccinated in the latest drive, partly because of rumors that it was a conspiracy to sterilize them, another health official said.

But that figure had come down as health workers and other clerics persuaded parents of the benefits of immunization.

"It's important to engage those who are opposed. At the local level, people are trying their best to talk to them and make sure they come round," the first health official said.

"We're taking about somewhere around one to two percent of children who have been missed, due to various reasons. They may include a small fraction of refusals," he said.

 

Uses of Tobacco in Islam

Qazi Shaikh Abbas Borhany

August 15, 2007

Discovery & uses of Tobacco

Tobacco was discovered by the Spanish sailors on the American shores at about 1500 CE= 900 AH. Since its discovery, the epidemic of smoking has continued to spread all over the world. In our times, one seldom finds a house not afflicted by it. As early as the 17th Century, the European countries realized the dangers of smoking and fought against it. Laws were designed in England, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, and other countries, prohibiting smoking and punishing violators. Nowadays, the Western countries continue their attempts to protect their peoples from the harms of smoking. They employ media means, ordain laws and regulations, and apply other methods to discourage people from smoking. Because of that, the rate of smokers has declined to a certain degree in those countries. Smoking was introduced to the Muslim countries by the Europeans around 1000 AH. Its spread among the Muslims was similar to that in the West. The unfortunate fact, however is, that in the Muslim countries, no similar measures were exerted to protect the people from it. To the contrary, the media continues its advertisement on smoking and encourage people to do it. This has caused the epidemic of smoking to continue and spread in those countries to such an extent that it has become hard to control. Smoking has become the rule, and abstaining from it, an exception. Often, people look with astonishment and disdain at a person who when a cigarette is offered to him, declines to smoke explaining that he does not smoke. Offering cigarettes to the guests has become the first rules of hospitality. Anyone who does not offer them to his guests or insist on them to smoke would be violating the ethics of hospitality and generosity! Furthermore, some of those who pretend to represent the religion are among the worst addicts to smoking. When they are reproached or reminded of their vice, they respond by providing weak excuses to justify it in the name of Islam. They slyly remark that there is no clear text prohibiting smoking. Therefore, they conclude, smoking is not prohibited, but is only Makruh (disliked). By this, they provide a poor excuse for the ignorant, and establish a very bad example for others. Many Muslims have been influenced by such statements, falling into the snares of addiction to smoking. This is observed all over the world. A striking example is that all American airlines now prohibit smoking, even on most international flights; on the other hand, for Muslim airlines, one travels in a near-suffocation state, even on short trips, because of the high number of smokers. Therefore, it forces us to write an article which provides clear evidence concerning the ruling of the use of Tobacco in Islam. We hope that this will benefit our Muslim brothers and sisters; and we ask Allah to accept it from us as a sincere deed for His pleasure.

 

What do Muslim Clerics, Small Pox Infested Blankets and the WHO Share?

By Leon

NewsBlaze

Biblical Proportions

Muslim Clerics from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa have expressed concern that the World Health Organization has fallen under control of the West. As a result, they have been giving their followers a lesson in Western civilization and early American History by telling the story of two Englishmen, Jeffrey Amherst, and Captain Simeon Ecuyer. Their names have been tarnished by stories of smallpox-infected blankets, which they distributed to and used as germ warfare against the American Indians. This early example of biological warfare started an epidemic among them. The Clerics have been using this tale to conjure up fears among their followers that a Western dominated United Nations was carrying on the tradition through the WHO's polio vaccination campaign.

In 1988, the W.H.O. expressed their hope to eradicate polio by the end of 2005 and in fact, the number of cases is now only 1% of what it was when the $4.6 billion program began in 1988. Health officials believe this is feasible after a coordinated 14-year global campaign brought down cases around the world by 99.8%, from 350,000 in 1988, to 600 in 2001.

The United Nation Health Agency seemed on the verge of following up on its successful eradication of small pox, but now that goal has been jeopardized by an unfortunate combination of religious fanaticism and ignorance.

In 2003, there where 676 new cases of the crippling disease, and half of them were in Nigeria. The Nigerian state of Kano suspended the polio vaccine campaign and set up a committee to investigate the claims of Muslim Clerics alleging that the vaccines are contaminated with the HIV virus and are claiming that it is all part of an American abetted plot to control the population of the third world.

Northern Nigeria has been swept by a wave of Islamic fundamentalism lead by radical Muslim clerics who have been urging people not to take the polio vaccine, which they say, can also make girls sterile.

A large number of people have been panicked into not taken the vaccine causing a predictable result, which is that polio has begun spreading again in Africa. WHO officials articulate that they now fear that as a result some countries will begin refusing other vaccinations which will leave the region more vulnerable than it already is to periodic epidemics of measles, mumps, and cholera.

The tragedy is that this is not the first American sponsored program administered through the U.N. and WHO. For example, there is no question that Africa had been hit the hardest by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Initiatives in countries like Zambia and Uganda, with little in the way of resources, but with active and early commitment made great progress in controlling that disease, prompting Senior Epidemiologist of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, Bernhard Schwartlander to express his hope for success with the polio campaign. Schwartlander, who heads a diverse panel whose responsibility is to update correspondents on the status of the polio effort, emerging global and regional trends of the virus, added that what was needed now was for the international community, particularly donors, to build on those positive efforts in other parts of the continent and around the world.

The WHO has convened a meeting of West African health officials in Geneva to try to prevent the situation from becoming even more serious. This however will create an opportunity for the anti-American Muslim leaders to step up with their lethal and horribly misguided rhetoric with their claims that the U.N. polio program will decrease the Third World population.

The WHO maintains that extensive scientific tests have been carried to ensure the vaccines are safe, but stresses that it will not administer a medicine without consent. The western world should not be hasty in condemning the clerics and the Nigerian government. Rather, it should proceed with restraint and caution given that governments and social leaders do have the right as well as obligation to question the safety of vaccinations they are supposed to administer to their citizens, especially when the appropriate bodies did not explain the safety issues to them.

The polio vaccine controversy displays the inability of the Nigerian Government and the WHO in conveying appropriate vaccination messages to the Nigerian public. In addition, as stated in a BBC interview with the son of Jonas Salk, who invented the Polio vaccine,the particular vaccination currently being administered seems to have problems. A growing number of medical researchers fear that a monkey virus that contaminated polio vaccine given to tens of millions of Americans in the 1950s and '60s may be causing rare human cancers. For four decades, government officials have insisted that there is no evidence the simian virus called SV40 is harmful to humans. However, in recent years, dozens of scientific studies have found the virus in a steadily increasing number of rare brain, bone, and lung-related tumors - the same malignant cancer SV40 causes in lab animals. In addition, simian DNA has been tied to the HIV virus.

The recent Lancet report on the WHO's failure to provide effective malaria vaccines to the critical point of condemning some Africans to death in an attempt to cut financial loses, validates the concerns of the Nigerian clerics and other African governments. The WHO has to show Africans, especially the Nations of East Africa as well as other developing Nations that it is not under the control of the West but an organization working on behalf of poor nations around the world.

 

 

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