© 2016 Marina Vladimirovna BAKANOVA
2016 – №2 (12)
Key words: Islamic medicine, traditional medicine, medicine of the Prophet, Muslim culture, fasting, the month of Ramadan, du’a, hijama, hadith, fard
Abstract: This text is a response to an important and interesting article by O. Kotynia «”Medicine of the Prophet” as a form of Islamic traditional medicine» (published in No. 2 (8) of this Journal, 2014, section “Science”). The intention to enter into dialogue with the author is due to the fact that, along with the extremely valuable material presented in this work, there are, in my opinion, a number of inaccurate and erroneous statements which spring from the fact that the author extrapolates what is known to her from the “medicine of the Prophet” in Yemen to the entire Islamic tradition.
The topic touched upon by O. Kotynya in this article is quite relevant at present. Indeed, given that many of our contemporaries become adherents of traditional methods of treatment, including Arabic traditional medicine, it becomes difficult for many doctors to understand patients and their priorities. Moreover, active migration processes and revival of religions also often lead to misunderstanding between the doctor and the patient, if the latter adheres to the norms of folk treatment. However, the Islamic heritage is so great and diverse that in one article only a superficial examination is possible of its relatively general principles.
In fact, the “Medicine of the Prophet” is a collection of a large number of books, mostly in Arabic, which are studied in detail at the faculties of traditional medicine in some Arab countries. Moreover, although it is natural for a European to contrast science-based and traditional medicine, in Arab countries they coexist on a completely peaceful basis. There is also a saying by the Prophet Muhammad that “for every sickness, except death, Allah created healing” and that in case of illness one should seek a qualified doctor.
Strictly speaking, that was because of these two hadiths1 in the first centuries of Islam and establishment of the caliphate in the Arab world that science, including medicine, actively developed. One can even say that modern European medicine has grown on the basis of classical Arabic medicine, which in turn was based on the studies of the Greco-Roman school, traditional Persian and Ayurvedic schools and traditional Arabic medicine or “Medicine of the Prophet.” Which brings us back to the fact that it is impossible to consider this topic in any detail in one article. However, it should be admitted that the attempt to make a review of this issue by O. Kotynya was quite successful.
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With all due respect to Olga Kotynia’s study, I have to point at some mistakes that sneaked into this work. Most probably, they are conditioned by the fact that the article was written by a scholar who is very far from the religion of Islam and cannot always objectively and critically evaluate the sources of information used.
Actually, the author herself admits that the basic data was collected during the trip to Yemen. Since the “medicine of the Prophet” is multifaceted and its different elements (often interpreted in different ways) are in use in various countries, it would be logical for the author to state in the title of the article that she describes a very specific kind of “medicine of the Prophet”, namely, the one accepted in Yemen. This would help avoid some generalizations caused by the fact that the author automatically extrapolated the Yemeni version to the entire Islamic world. This is not true; almost every Muslim country has its own peculiarities. Moreover, since both branches of Islam are widespread in Yemen (Sunnism and Shiism), it would be appropriate to describe which branch of religion the collected data refers to, since quite often, there are contradictions between these branches.
Thus, the author’s assertion that “In the Muslim culture of today the most popular amulets are these in the shape of a palm which Muslims believe to be endowed with a particular blessing”, is very controversial. This statement is suitable only for Yemen and some adjacent regions. For example, in Turkey and Central Asia amulets with blue stones are most common, in Pakistan – Taviz (leather bags on the towline with the sentences from the Quran put inside). In fact, according to modern scholars of Islam, amulets are generally prohibited, but widely used by the people.
Similarly, the discussion of whther du’a2 is accepted creates some doubts. Many traditional Muslims who do not have a special Islamic education believe that the du’a cannot be accepted. However, authoritative theologians state (with reference to authentic hadiths) that du’as are accepted in all cases, and only the answer to them may be different: 1) the God will fulfill what they ask for, 2) the God will replace it with a better option, 3) the unfulfilled du’a will serve as a defense against misfortune that should have happened to a person, 4) the unfulfilled du’a will be accumulated in the future life at the Last Judgment (only 4 answers). The variants listed by the author, rather, represent folk Arab beliefs on the lack of response to du’a. They are not present in the classical Islam and are more of recommendations on how to perform du’a.
The author casually mentions that fasting in the month of Ramadan is a fard3 (in the text of the article the wrong word ” farā’iḍ” was used) without elaborating on this point. In general, in Islam “fard” is something that lies at the basis of religion, that a committed Muslim cannot reject or can reject but only for a very serious reason (the list of reasons is delineated and limited). Fards include shahada (saying the formula “there is no deity except Allah” which makes a person Muslim), five prayers a day, fasting in the month of Ramadan, committing hajj and paying zakat (a Muslim tax on wealthy people).
Despite the fact that fasting in the month of Ramadan has a healing value for spiritual and physical health, and most Arab doctors consider its possibilities as an adaptive mechanism, people who have serious health conditions (confirmed by a qualified doctor) are exempted from fasting (temporarily or until the end of life).
As for voluntary fasting, the text contains an error. “According to tradition, Muḥammad was to fast on Mondays and on Thursdays”. However, there are hadiths stating that he performed voluntary fasts on Mondays and Thursdays, on full-moon days every month (on the 13th, 14th, 15th day of the lunar month) or held the so-called “fast of Daud (the Prophet David in the Christian tradition)” every other day.
In addition, the author points out that bloodletting can be done during fasting. Here there is a very critical nuance: despite the fact that the fasting period is the month of Ramadan, fasting time is defined as the time from dawn to sunset. After the sun went down, the things forbidden during the day become allowed. So, it is allowed to drink and eat food, have sex; bloodletting and some other actions are permitted until the dawn.
As for the very process of bloodletting (hijama), the author claims that it is very widespread. However, it became popular in some Arab countries (in Russia – in the Republic of Dagestan), but not in all countries where Islam is the predominant religion. For example, in Central Asia and Pakistan, hijama is not practiced or is practiced very seldom. Even in the Arab countries, hijama is not always widespread, as I mentioned earlier. In different localities, the “medicine of the Prophet” was preserved to varying degrees with emphasis on its various elements.
Thus, we can draw the following conclusions. The presented article gives a good-quality analysis, but it should have emphasized that the elements of “medicine of the Prophet” mentioned in are not applicable to the entire Islamic world, but specifically to Yemen. In addition, despite the fact that the author has processed a very significant volume of Islamic literature, the article would benefit from consulting official Muslim scholars educated in the field of fiqh (Islamic law) that could clarify some moments.
1 Hadith (arab. الحديث) – a legend about the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, touching upon various religious and legal aspects of the life of Muslim community.
2 Du’a (arab. دعاء) – in Islam, a prayer, that is, an appeal to Allah; one of the varieties of worship. Du’a are read in various daily situations. Usually Muslims pray to Allah for help, embarking on a new venture.
3 Fard (arab. فرض) – in the Sharia, the obligatory actions that every Muslim must perform. Fard is divided into two types: a) Fard ayn – this kind of fard is prescribed to be performed by every Muslim individually; b) Fard kifai – this kind of fard should be performed by some Muslims, while others are exempted from the responsibility for non-fulfillment of this duty.
UMMA.ru – Reliably about Islam: Religious practice. Hadiths. Fatwa. Interview, official site of Imam of the Moscow Memorial Shamil Alyautdinov mosque (www.umma.ru ).
Ronald T. (2004) Marchese: The fabric of life. Cultural transformation in Turkish society, Binghamton University, New York.
Bakanova M.V. (2015) Mir pod nazvaniem Pakistan? [A world named Pakistan?], Canada: Altespera publishing house.