Prophetic MedicineZeynep Ünver
Tibb Al-Nabawi, better known as Prophetic Medicine is a collection of Prophetic Traditions about health and medicine related advices which Prophet Muhammad imparted to his Companions and practiced himself. These sayings and traditions have existed for more than 1400 years, and serve as guidance for many Muslims, who follow his traditions and adhere to his advice.
The Prophet had an extensive knowledge about medicine, as well as many other fields. Throughout history, some Islamic scholars collected the Prophetic Traditions related to health and medical subjects in a single book for those who were interested in knowing the views of the Prophet in this particular field. One of the most popular and faithful collectors was Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, a great Islamic scholar and a practicing physician. He is the man behind the most faithfully recorded work, a 277-chapter book called Prophetic Medicine, or Al-Tibb Al-Nabawi.
According to Ibn Qayyim, the Prophetic Medicine deals with the overall principles, while the scientific medicine fills in the details. The subjects in Prophetic Medicine can roughly be described as advice about the virtues of diet, herbal medicine, treatment of simple ailments such as headaches, fever, sore throats, and diarrhea, treatment of spiritual diseases, hygiene, and prevention and protection against contagious diseases.
The Prophet never claimed that he was a physician himself, rather it is narrated that many a time he directed his Companions to seek help from a doctor. A Prophetic Tradition dealing with this subject is as follows:
Imam Ahmad narrated that Usama ibn Surayk said:
"I came to the God’s Messenger and his Companions, so I greeted them and sat down. Then some Arab Bedouin came from there and there, and asked: O God’s Messenger, can we seek treatment? He replied: Seek treatment o servants of God, for God has not created an ailment without having created a cure for it except for one ailment. They said: Which one is that O God’s Messenger? He said: Old age."
Prophet Muhammad made it clear, that every disease was created together with a cure. Imam Muslim, who is the producer of one of the major collections of Prophetic Traditions, supports this statement of the Prophet in the following tradition:
“God has not sent down a disease except that He also sent down its cure."
What we learn from these Traditions is that God has created all diseases with causation, and since there is a cause for every disease, Muslims are encouraged to search for this cure until it is found.
One might ask what the role of a doctor then is. In his book Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet, Ibn Qayyim answers this question by referring to the recommendations of the Prophet to seek help from doctors when someone falls ill. To make matters clearer, he gives an example from the Jewish tradition which states that Prophet Abraham once asked God:
"O my lord! Where does disease come from?" He said, "From Me." Abraham said, "Where does the cure come from?" He said, "From Me." Abraham said, "What is the role of the doctor then?" He said, "A man in whose hands I send and cause the cure."
A holistic approach
Prophetic Medicine has a holistic approach to the treatment of disease. Holistic medicine is a term used to describe therapies that attempt to treat the patient as a complete person, physically and spiritually. Both the physical body and the soul are equally important and form part of the whole human being. Thus, study of the body equals in importance to the study of the soul.
It is well known that the Prophet on many occasions advised people to recite verses from the Qur’an in case of physical as well as mental and emotional illnesses. People with strong faith, who put their trust in God, have reportedly experienced relief or improvement of their diseases. Many studies support the idea that there is a positive correlation between religion and health. If a person has strong belief, their body and soul are balanced, which is an important factor in defeating illness. These findings are particularly strong in patients with severe diseases, such as cancer.
Prophetic Medicine and Islamic Medicine
Unfortunately, many people including some Islamic scholars tend to mix the terms “Prophetic Medicine” and “Islamic Medicine”. These two are defined differently: Islamic medicine in its true context is defined as the medical knowledge, developed and practiced by Muslim physicians in the early Islamic era. Islamic scholars and physicians at that time studied and adopted vast amounts of information of medical knowledge from Greek sources, as well as sources from Persia, Syria and Rome. By adding their own observations, experiences and techniques, Islamic medicine became one of the major contributors to the field of medicine throughout history. This period of history is called the Islamic Golden Age where the Islamic world contributed enormously to technology, culture and medicine, as it did in many other fields.
The popularity of alternative treatment with natural remedies has grown rapidly in the past few years, and keeps growing. The interest in alternative medicine is due to various reasons as more information is available for the public. Another important point to note is that there are fewer side effects, compared to lab-created drugs. Some people find it more convenient because of the natural products and based on historical or cultural traditions, rather than on scientific evidence. These are some of the reasons why people prefer natural/herbal remedies to chemical drugs. It is therefore not surprising that more people are interested in Prophetic Medicine, which is based on natural products and treatment.
Some scientists in the medical field, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, have found inspiration in the Prophetic Traditions, so that they have been inspired to make research and studies particularly based on these Prophetic statements. A large number of scientific studies have been and are still being carried out in different countries to prove, for example, the benefits of black seed, which is mentioned specifically by Prophet Muhammad who describes it as a cure for every type of ailment, except for death. It is also important to mention the study of the blessings of zamzam water (from the well of this name in Makka), the benefits of using the miswak (a tooth stick) and the virtues of dates. A very big part of Prophetic Medicine has thereby been approved and accepted by many modern scientists today. While we cane easily determine some of the wisdoms behind these traditions, by virtue of present-day technological advantages, it is important to remember the circumstances which prevailed at the time of Prophet Muhammad wherein none of our current technological equipment was available. Thus, we can conclude that the enormous knowledge of the Prophet Muhammad can be attributed to the intellect and inspiration bestowed on him by God.