It seems that there is some confusion with regards to the issue of “modern science”,
“western science”, “Islamic Medicine”, and just “science” as whole. Does Islamic Medicine even exist is an issue that is often raised and articles have been written quoting scholars claiming that Islamic Medicine simply does not exist.
The recent pandemic has thrown this issue in to the lime light and is now a significant question.
To help clarify the position that we take from this we have summarised the evidences backing this claim and provided a brief response.
About the Author:
In addition to the above, there is a need to respond to some claims that the author of this article and website is against modern medicine. It should be noted that he is a pharmacist, trained in Australia. The author is not against “modern medicine”, this is non-sense… how can one be against modernisation and the progress and development of science?
He is, however, against what the pharmaceutical industry has done historically, and the length they will go to in order to maximise their profits. He has worked as a pharmacist in the community sector for over 21 years, is still licenced, and still in contact with the pharmaceutical industry. He has worked in hospital and pharmaceutical industry (Big Pharma). He was witnessed in person lies, coverups, and the work of ill-intentioned people. So that is what he is “against”, that medicine is now about profits and control, rather than health.
Modern Medicine however, should improve human health and wellbeing in a wholistic sense and includes the wellbeing of the spiritual soul. It should look at the entire environment surrounding the individual and society as a whole and not simply to band aid a problem and mask the symptoms of the disease.
To be a proponent of Islamic Health and Wellbeing, it should be noted, does not necessitate the rejection of modern medicine.
More on this issue in another post insh-Allah…
The subjects in question today – Islamic Health and Wellbeing
Does “Islamic Medicine”, or whatever you may wish to call it, actually exist. Firstly, there are different definitions which may be referred to as Islamic Medicine. We prefer to use the term Islamic Health and Wellbeing, and in a general sense, it means the prevention of and the healing of the body and soul from illness. The specific meaning could relate to any of the following:
- All medicine is Islamic, as only Allahﷻ cures the ill.
- What the Muslims would do to treat their ill.
- Medicine that does not go against the Sharia Law.
- Medicine derived from Islamic sources, specifically, the Holy Qur’an and Narrations.
In a recent article by an online site by a respected student of the Hawza in Qom, which will not be named, the author quotes a number of scholars to suggest that such a science (that of Islamic Medicine or Health and Wellbeing) does not exist. The following evidences have been used to back such a claim, and with all due to respect. they are followed by a brief answer:
Evidence 1 – Most narrations do not have a chain of narrators.
This is backed by experts in the field that have collected all the narrations and found the existence of 6,000 narrations, “most” without chains of narrators. One quote states:
“…we have gathered all of the narrations – authentic and otherwise – which total to about 6,000 (unrepeated) on the topic of Ṭibb. This is irrespective of them having a chain or not, and whether they are correct or incorrect. So, we find that we have around 6,000 narrations on Ṭibb. From these 6,000 narrations, around 15% have a chain of narration. Meaning, less than 1000 narrations have a chain of narrators – once again, irrespective of whether these chains are authentic or not. So around 85% narrations on the subject of Ṭibb do not have a chain of narrators to begin with. From those 15% that have a chain, around 5% have an authentic chain. So, from all the narrations on Ṭibb, less than 5% have an authentic chain, and most of these are found in al-Kāfi. Most of these narrations have to do with eating specific type of foods, and so do not help us in identifying diseases, nor curing any of them.”
And in another quote:
““we have very few narrations on curing illnesses” and “if we are to separate those reliable narrations that have to do with curing illnesses, they are less than 1%”
The statement contains the word “most” when it discusses narrations and the existence of narrations to do with health and wellbeing, meaning that at the very least, this indicates the existence of some narrations that do have authentic narrators. Also, the fact that the narrations are weak does not necessarily mean they are not from the Imams, albeit we cannot attribute it to the imam with certainty. The final statements in the evidence acknowledges this.
Evidence 2 – There is no such thing as Islamic Medicine
In logic, and in usool, the first thing we learn is to identify the meanings of words. What is meant by such a word or topic? And so the question here, what is meant by Prophetic Medicines, or Islamic Health and Wellbeing, or Islamic Medicine, is an important one.
The assumption is the discussion regarding whether or not we can extract from the Holy Qur’an and narrations any advice on how to live a healthier life. If that is the case, then given what is mentioned in the first evidence, how can one deny this? Historically, one cannot deny the Divinely Guided, including prophets of the past, concerned themselves with issues of health and wellbeing. (Take Prophets Adam, Idris, Soliman, David, Jesus, the Prophet to mention a few obvious examples).
If it means an organised system accepted by all, of traditions to do with medicine, then there is no such thing. That is because we have forgotten the benefits of the advice of our Imams, have trusted the so-called sciences of others, and have fallen in to the trap of denying what was once a given. And the more time that passes, the easier it becomes to throw doubt upon such issues.
Given the existence of at least one such narration, it cannot be claimed that such a subject does not exist. Many subjects that exist now did not exist during the early times of Islam such as Ethics, Usool, Chain of Narrators, Quranic Sciences, Syntax and Conjugation, etc Rather they developed, formed and evolved over time. As such, so did the issue of health and wellbeing.
Many of our jurisprudential Islamic Laws are based around single narrations (please refer to the subjects of Usool and Fiqh Istidlali), some even with weak or contradictory stances, which need to be resolved using a science call “Usool-il Fiqh”. A subject, which as stated above, did not exist early on, and began only after the demise of the prophet SAWA by the Ahlul Sunnat, and the Shia Muslim world did not have such a science until after the major occultation.
In the seminaries, we are taught to acknowledge that not finding something does not indicate its non-existence. For example, if you cannot see or hear bacteria, or cannot find it, it does not mean that bacteria do not exist. Another example is in the exegesis of Fakhru Razi, a Sunni scholar, in his Al-Tafseer Al-Kabir, where he acknowledges that Ayah 4:59 of the Holy Qur’an can only confirm the need to follow a “ma’soom”, yet deflects from this and reclassifies this understanding to mean others [See Al-Tafseer Al-Kabir, V10, p113]. This is sophistry and serves to confirm only his own ideology, despite looking at the Truth directly. Likewise, on the topic of Islamic Health and Wellbeing, we clearly see the existence of such narrations (and Ayahs of the Holy Qur’an) yet deny the subject in which it falls under.
Given the exitance at least some authentic of narrations (even if only one, but the article on this particular site quotes research stating that there are 60 narrations with authentic narrations), how is it that we conclude that “we do not have such a thing as “Islamic Medicine””. This statement appears contradictory, and against the principle described that “not finding something does not indicate it does not exist”. Not only is there something that is found, but at least a portion of them have a solid chain of narrations. This is indeed why we have chosen to use the terms “Islamic Health and Wellbeing” rather than medicine, so that there is no apparent clash with “medicine” that is being used today.
Evidence 3 – Traditions that go against the findings of science must be ignored.
This is completely correct, and no one can deny this. Any tradition that goes against a scientific result which has reached a level of certainty, needs to be disposed of, that is an indisputable fact.
The issue is the science that is being used and the funding behind it, which unfortunately taints the results of this “science” and changes the outcome to the benefit of those who fund such “science”. This is where the problem lies and any experienced healthcare professional who has their eye open and is free minded, should be able to confess to the existence of such a tyrannical science and – as a result, a tyrannical health system.
It should also be noted that the “evidence based” information provided in medicine is funded and presented to doctors and health care professionals by the industry itself, that is, by the very manufacturer that benefits from the sale of their products
We also need go back to the experts in a particular field in order to attain the answers we need. However, the very issue is that there are many questions that need to be raised when it comes to science that is related to medicine, which is controlled by a certain group, with all the information being divulged also being controlled by the very people benefiting from the results. Conflict of interest is in issue all students of the Hawza should be aware of, and this is no different.
The science that may be being referred to here is “western medicine”, from controlled studies funded by pharmaceutical companies that stand to benefit for the sale of their products, giving information to prescribers and doctors, and even paying them handsomely, to prescribe their medicines. This is an elongated discussion which we can get in to perhaps at a later time, however, it suffices to say that in today’s world, doctors have very little time to do their own research and rely upon the information provided by manufacturers.
It may be appropriate to consider articles such as these for more information as one example, of course, there are many more: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/many-antidepressant-studies-found-tainted-by-pharma-company-influence/
Vaccines, given the topic of the current times, are no different. Not only are we facing the above situation of conflict of interest, we are also faced with a scenario where information is lacking even if available, transparency is lost, studies are not being released in full, and the governments in need of being seen to be pro-active in the fight against COVID-19 fast tracking certain medicines and devices despite having no proof of their efficacy (COVID-19 testing kits are a point in case).
Evidence 4: If it exists, Islamic Medicine should have provided us with all the tools to be able to identify different diseases
The statement ignores that there are narrations that discusses the causes of illnesses and their therapies. The fact is, as stated on the online article, “there is no way to treat all the ḥadīth works with the same degree of reliability.” Which is the beauty of this subject (Islamic Health and Wellbeing) as is the same with all other subjects in Islamic Studies.
Note that the main purpose of Islam is of course guidance, not medicine. So therefore, we should not expect medical advice from the Ma’soom to be all-encompassing, although if further studied it may well be determined that it is, but at the same time, it is not possible to comprehend, intellectually, that such advice would not have been given to the Islamic Ummah under the guidance of the Ma’soom.
Afterall, Shaheed Mutahiri believes that reaching perfection [kamal] requires certain conditions to be met, and one of those is the bodily and mental wellbeing of the individual. Given guidance has an ultimate goal of reaching perfection, is it not a possibility that advice is given to the masses as to how to attain this wellbeing – a pre-requisite?
Evidence 5: What is especially important is experimentation, and there are none in Islamic Medicine
Experimentation is a key aspect of this science. Anecdotal evidence suggests some of the recommendations given in narrations and the Holy Qur’an have a strong therapeutic response. However, it should be noted that funding is required to carry out large scale (such as double blind controlled studies) if we were to significantly benefit from these narrations in the way that we should. Alas, such an opportunity is far from possible given the war that is being waged against such a science, even if it is simply to entertain the idea!
Evidence 6: The Imams and Prophet, peace be upon them, themselves went to doctors.
The Arabic terms used for doctors are “Hakeem” and the one that conducts the prescription that is prescribed by the Hakeem is called a “Tabib”. A “tabib” is today translated as “doctor”, rather than “nurse”, and perhaps this has caused some confusion as to why an Imam would allow a non-Muslim to be his doctor! Whereas in fact, all that is being done, is that the Imam is simply being nursed, not treated. Secondly, if we were to consider all narrations to do with medicine to be a non-existent entity, how could you then rely on this narration that indicates an Imam referred to a doctor when he was ill?
A final word:
Perhaps the problem is that some of the claims from so called “Islamic Medicine Doctors” go beyond their call of duty, blindly following even the weakest of narration even if proven to be an Israelite. As such, this damages any possibility of progress in the field and those responsible should be accountable. This accountability also goes back to the Ministry of Health in failing to regulate such an industry, despite regulating other traditional medicines.
The claims listed above come from quotes that include statements that at least point to the possibility of the existence of health-related narrations such as:
- “Most of the narrations on medicine do not have a valid chain of transmission” and “less than 5% have an authentic chain” and that the authentic ones to do with curing disease “are less than 1%”: Indicating that at least some do, and signifies their existence.
- Those that have a valid chain of transmission can be used.
- If expediency of society necessitates the practice of traditional medicine under specific conditions, there is no problem, as long as the proponent takes responsibility for their prescriptions.
- Of course, if the attribution is known with certainty, and its meaning is also clear, and there is no other certain evidence against it – like mathematics – then we cannot go against such traditions.
There are no doubts that these narrations exist, and that some have authentic chains of narrators. The question is, if we were to gather them and place them under a subject heading, what would the name of that subject be? Would it not make sense to call this topic something like “Islamic Health and Wellbeing”? Or should such narrations simply exist under the heading miscellaneous and ignored?
Further research is therefore required in to the topic of Islamic Health and Wellbeing/Islamic Medicine. But outright denial is problematic.
 See “Motahari and The Quranic Healthy Human”, http://www.mortezamotahari.com/fa/ArticleView.html?ArticleID=78802 cited 10/12/2020.