0802-Prophetic Medicine

Background material by Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. for Year 1 Semester 2 PPSD Session on 20th February 2008


Definition: Tibb Nabawi refers to words and actions of the Prophet with a bearing on disease, treatment of disease, and care of patients. Thus also included are words of the prophet on medical matters, medical treatment practiced by others on the prophet, medical treatments practised by the prophet on himself and others, medical treatments observed by the prophet with no objections, medical procedures that the prophet heard or knew about and did not prohibit, or medical practices that were so common that the prophet could not have failed to know about them.  The prophet's medical teachings were specific for place, population, and time. They however also included general guidance on physical and mental health that are applicable to all places, all times, and all circumstances. Tibb nabawi is not one monolithic or systematic medical system as some people would want us to believe. It is varied and circumstantial. It covers preventive medicine, curative medicine, mental well-being, spiritual cures or ruqyah, medical and surgical treatments. It integrates mind and body, matter and spirit.


Search for cures: The Prophet enunciated a basic principle in medicine that for every disease there is cure (ma anzala allahu daa; illa anzala lahu shifa'a- Kitaab al Tibb, al Bukhari). This is an impetus for us to look for remedies. Thus the prophetic medical tradition does not stop at only the medical teachings of the prophet but goes beyond to encourage humans to search and experiment with new treatment modalities. This implies among other things that prophetic medicine is not static. There is room for growth and even breaking new ground. Another implications of this hadith is that seeking treatment does not contradict qadar (pre-determination). Thus both the disease and its treatment are part of qadar.



Pre-Islamic Arab medicine: Tibb nabawi has several sources: revelation, wahy; empirical experience of the prophet, folk medicine of that time in the Arabian peninsula and it is possible that some medical knowledge of other communities could have been known in Makka or Madina at the time of the prophet.


The Qur’an as a source of tibb nabawi. Many verses of the Qur’an relate to diseases of the body and the mind and their treatment.  The Qur’an talks about physical ill health and mental ill-health/diseases of the heart. The Qur’an contains dua for good health as well as guidance on specific therapy such as honey, eating only healthy halal food, avoiding unhealthy haram food and not eating in excessive amounts. The Qur’an is not a textbook of medicine but a book of moral guidance. It contains basic information and guidance on medical matters leaving the room open for humans to undertake research and fill in the details. Confining medicine to only the teachings in the Qur’an would make it very limited because the Qur’an is very selective in coverage of details leaving the field open to humans to observe, search for an understand Allah’s signs on earth, aayaat al llaah fi al ardh.


Hadith as a source of tibb nabawi: The following were the forms of the prophet’s medical teachings: words of the prophet on medical matters, medical treatment practiced by others on the prophet, medical treatments observed the prophet with no objections, medical procedures that the prophet heard/knew about and did not prohibit. The total number of hadiths on medicine is about 300; many do not reach the degree of hasan. Bukhari in his Sahih narrated 129 hadiths directly related to medicine. He devoted two books to medicine: kitaab al tibb and kitaab al mardha. There are many other hadiths in Bukhari indirectly related to medicine. Other books of hadith also narrate more hadiths with relevance to medicine. Scholars have collected these hadiths together and some have related them to available medical knowledge. Hadiths on physical remedies are either wahy or based on empirical experience. In most cases we cannot distinguish between the two sources unless there is a specific indication that wahy is involved such as in the hadith of using honey in treating an abdominal ailment of a brother of a companion. Thus hadiths that are not specifically wahy are not binding, ghair mulzimat. However all hadiths on spiritual cures of disease are wahy and are binding, mulzimat


Books on tibb nabawi: Many books have been written about tibb al nabawi down the centuries. Books with the title al Tibb al Nabawi were written by Ibn al Qayyim al Jawziyyat (d. 751H / 1350 M), al Hafidh Abu Abd al llaah Shams al Ddiin Muhammad bin Ahmad al Dhahabi (d. 748H), Abu al Qasim al Husain bin Muhammad bin Habiib al Naisapuuri (d. 206H), Abu al Sunni Abu Bakar Ahmad bin Muhammad al Dainawiri (d. 364H), Abu Nu’aim Ahmad bin Abd al llaah al Asfahani (d. 430H), Abu al ‘Abbaas Ja’afar bin al Mu’utazz al Mustansiri (d. 433H), Dhia al Ddiin Muhammad bin ‘Abd al Waahid al Maqdasi (d. 643H), Shams al Ddiin Abu Abd al llaah Muhammad bin Abi al Fath al Ba’ali (d. 709H), Abu Abd al llaah Muhammad bin Yusuf al Sanuusi (d. 895H), Abu al Hasan Nur al ddiin Ali Bin Muhammad al Jazaar al Masri (d. 914H), Qaysuufi Zaadet Muhammad Badr al Ddiin (d. 1020H), Abd al Waziir al Abhari. Jamaal al Ddiin Daud,


Mukhtasar al tibb al nabawi was written by Jalaluddin al Suyuti. Al Ahkaam al Nabawiyyat fi al sina’at an tibiyyat was written by the physician ‘Ali bin Tarkhaan. Kitaab al tibb fi al hadiith by Abu ‘Ubaid bin al Hasan al Harraani (d. 369H). Al Ahkaam al Nabawiyyah fi al sina’at al tibiyyat by Ali bin Abd al Karim al Hamawi (d. 720H). Al Rahmat fi al Tibb wa al Hikmat by Mahdi bin Ali al Sabiiri (d. 815H), al Sayr al Qawi fi al Tibb al Nabawi by Muhammad bin And al Rahman al Sakhaawi (d. 902H), Al Manhaj al Sawi a al Manhal al rawi fi al Tibb al Nabawi by Jalal al Ddiin Abd al Rahman bin Abu Bakar al Suyuti (d.911H). Al Rahmat fi al Tibb wa al Hikmat by Jalal al Ddiin Abd al Rahman bin Abu Bakar al Suyuti (d.911H). Rawdh al Insan fi Tadaabiir Sihhat al Abdaan by Khair al Ddiin Khidhr bin Mahmud al ‘Atuufi al Murzaifuuni (d. 948H). Al Masaabih al Sunniyyat fi Tibb Khair al Bariyyat by Shihaab al Ddiin Abu al ‘Abbaas Ahmad bin Ahmad bin Salamah al Qalyuubi (d. 1069H). Sihhat Aabaad by Othman Zadeh Taa ib Ahmad (d. 839H). Mukhtasar al Tibb al Nabawi by Mur’ish ZadehQudduus Ahmad Affendi (d. 1265H).

Need for new books on tibb nabawi: In his book, A Tibb al Nabawi, Imaam Ibn al Qayim al Jawziyat mentions many medical conditions for which the Prophet provided guidance. He interpreted the hadiths using the available medical knowledge of his day. This book needs rewriting and it will look very different if written interpreting the prophetic traditions using today's medical knowledge. With modern medical knowledge we can identify more hadiths with relevance to medicine than was possible in the past.



Preventive tibb nabawi: The classification of traditions relating to medicine depends on the state of knowledge and changes with time and place. Jalaluddin al Suyuti published a book on tibb nabawi and divided medicine into 3 types: traditional, spiritual and preventive. Most of tibb nabawi is preventive medicine which is a very advanced concept given the level of scientific knowledge at the prophet's time and certainly must have been divinely inspired. Al Suyuti (1994) listed preventive medical measures such as food and exercise. Other preventive measures taught in hadith include: quarantine for epidemics, hijr sihhi, forbidding urination in stagnant water, use of tooth stick, siwaak, precautions in the house at night regarding fire and pests, leaving a country because of its water and climate, marriage and mental health, marriage and sexual health, dietary control to avoid excesses, cleanliness and avoiding filth.


Spiritual tibb nabawi: Study of tibb nabawi reveals that there are spiritual aspects of healing and recovery. Prayer, dua, recitation of the Qur’an, and remembrance of Allah play a central role. Psychosomatic diseases could respond to spiritual approaches. The use of ruqyat (surat al fatiha, al mu’awadhatain) falls between physical curative and spiritual. The curative part of ruqyat can be understood in modern terms in the way the psyche can modulate immune mechanisms that protect against disease.


                  Curative tibb nabawi: Ibn Qayim al Jawziyat listed many diseases with their recommended treatments from tibb nabawi. Diseases in tibb nabawi treatable by natural remedies: fever, humma;  bowel movements, istitlaq al batan; dropsy, istisqa; wounds, jarh; epilepsy, sar’a; sciatica, ‘irq al nisa; temperaments, tabau’; skin itch, hakk al jism; pleurisy, dhaat al janb;  headache and hemicrania, sidau and shaqiiqat; inflammation of the throat, ‘adhrat;  enlargement of the heart, al maf’uud; ophthalmia, al ramad; catalepsy, khudran al kulli; pimples, bathrat; skin eruptions, awraam;  food poisoning, sum;  witchcraft, sihr; and head lice. He also mentioned other diseases like: plague, leprosy, eye diseases, throat and tonsils, diarrhea, abdominal disease, fever, plague, snake bite, scorpion bite, food contamination by a fly, headache, nose bleeds, teeth, cough, dropsy, sprain, fracture, bite by rabid dog, and the evil eye. The medical treatments mentioned were honey, al 'asal; cold water for fever, al mau al barid; diet, ghadha;  milk, al laban;  camel milk; camel urine. The black seed, al habba al sauda,  was especially emphasized. The surgical treatments mentioned were: cupping, al hijaam;  cauterization, al kayy;  venesection with cauterization, qatiu al uruuq wa al kayy.



General considerations: There are 3 aspects that we have to deal with regarding modern application of tibb nabawi. (a) is tibb nabawi part of the sharia? (b) what is the scope of tibb nabawi? (b) spatio-temporal changes (c) empirical research on tibb nabawi.


Tibb nabawi as part of the shari’at: We can distinguish two parts of the shari’at: (a) fixed and immutable regulations applicable to all places and times and (b) general principles whose details of application change with place and time. If we take the meaning of shariat in (b) above we can conclude that prophetic medicine is part of Islamic shariat that can change and grow using ijtihad and empirical research to apply general shariat principles to changing circumstances.


Scope of tibb nabawi: Tibb Nabawi as reported to us did not cover every conceivable disease at the time of the Prophet neither can it cover all ailments today or in the future in various parts of the world.  This is easy to understand from the context that although the Prophet practiced medicine, his main mission was not medicine and he was not a full-time physician. The hadiths of the Prophet should not be looked at as a textbook of medicine.  They should be used for the diseases that they dealt with.  The proper way to get additional medical knowledge is through research and looking for signs of Allah in the universe.


Spatio-temporal changes: Whatever the Prophet said or did was valid and must be followed because he never uttered any untruth even when joking. The ijtihad of the prophet even in worldly matters was protected, ma'suum. The record of authentic hadith that we have is valid whether in 'aqidat or worldly matters. The attempt to distinguish between the medical teachings of the prophet-messenger and as a human living in Arabia at a particular historical epoch is of no practical significance.  The question is whether all or some of the tibb nabawi should be used today.  If the diagnosis of a disease and all the circumstances surrounding it are exactly like those at the time of the Prophet, then we have no hesitation in saying tibb nabawi should be used. In actual practice it is difficult to ascertain that the conditions are the same. Changes in disease pathology, changes in the genetic pool of the patients, changes in the genetic pool of the medicinal plants, weather and climatic conditions are among many variables that may make a particular remedy recommended by the Prophet not appropriate for a medical condition today. The circumstances of time and place have changed. Indiscriminate use of the historical remedies could be using the right drug for the wrong disease. There is even a more serious linguistic problem. The meaning of words has changed. What was called fever in the 1st century AH may not be the same as the meaning of the same world today. Even medicinal plants like the black seed may not be exactly the same plant. We can therefore conclude that the teachings of tibb nabawi can only be a foundation to guide and encourage scientific research for remedies that are suitable for our times.


Empirical research on tibb nabawi: There is a lot of scientific interest in prophetic teachings on medicine. The black seed (nigella sativa)  is an example of a prophetic remedy that has been studied extensively by both Muslims and non-Muslims.


Conclusion and future challenges: From the survey above we can conclude that tibb nabawi is an authentic and valid medical system. The general principles of this system are applicable at all times and all places. The specific remedies taught by the Prophet (PBUH) are valid and useful. They however cannot be used today without undertaking further empirical research

ŠProfessor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. February, 2008