From Al-Razi, to Ibn al-Nafis, to the 10th-century philosopher and physician Ibn Sina, Jim examines the most influential medics of the Golden Age. He shows us his personal copy of Ibn Sina’s Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (‘The Canon of Medicine’), a comprehensive text which was the pinnacle of medical knowledge at that time. It was widely copied and translated, becoming a standard medical reference across the world for centuries. Jim ends his journey at the Weill Cornell Medical College, learning how the institute is using the latest equipment to map the human genome. The genome is the complex genetic code contained in every one of our cells and sequencing it can reveal possible diseases that are inherited. Focusing on genetic and hereditary diseases, scientists from around the world have come together to work on this ambitious project that some-what parallels Baghdad’s Bayt al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom), the renowned centre of learning that played an integral role in the Islamic world’s scientific advancement.
Tag Archives: medicine
Health, cleanliness and hygiene occupy a great part of Islam’s attention.
While some nations adopted such beliefs as abandonment of self-care and cleanliness to attain high spiritual ranks, Islam made it obligatory to clean oneself properly in preparation for daily prayers.
Caring for one’s hygiene is not only deemed a good habit in Islam but also rendered into rituals that constitute part of the faith itself.
As mentioned above, a Muslim is required to be clean when performing daily Prayers, which includes properly cleansing oneself after using the toilet and practicing ablution.
In some cases, a full body bath is obligatory such as after spouses’ intimacy.
Moreover, the great encouragement for cleaning teeth as shown in the hadiths below reveals to which extent Islam was careful even for the details of personal hygiene.
That is no strange for Islam cares about the wellbeing of the human both in the world and in the hereafter. A healthy strong believer is better in the sight of Allah than a weak one as the former is more qualified to fulfill the objectives of Islam and serve the humanity.
This collection of hadiths presents only some examples of Islam’s stance on health and hygiene:
Cleanliness is part and parcel of faith
1. Abu Malik Al-Ash`ari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Purity is half of iman (faith).“
Miswak is highly recommended
2. `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The miswak (a twig used for tooth brushing) cleanses and purifies the mouth and pleases the Lord.” (An-Nasa’i and Ibn Khuzaimah; authenticated by Al-Albani)
3. Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“Were it not that I might overburden my my followers, I would have commanded them to use the miswak before every prayer.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Personal hygiene is a human nature
4. Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Five practices are of the fitrah (natural disposition): circumcision, shaving the pubic region, clipping the nails and cutting the moustaches short.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Rituals on Muslims’ best day
5. Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Whoever takes a bath on a Friday and does it well, and purifies himself and does it well, and puts on his best clothes, and puts on whatever Allah decrees for him of the perfume of his family, then comes to the mosque and does not engage in idle talk or separate (pushing between) two people; he will be forgiven for (his sins) between that day and the previous Friday.” (Ibn Majah and authenticated by Al-Albani)
Keep environment clean
6. Mu`adh (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet warned,
“Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: relieving yourselves in shaded places (that people utilize), in a walkway or in a watering place.” (Ranked sound, hasan, by Al-Albani)
7. Abu Dharr Al-Ghafari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (sadaqah).” (Authenticated by Al-Albani)
Using medicine is encouraged
8. Usamah ibn Sharik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:
I came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions were sitting as (quiet as) if they had birds on their heads. I saluted and sat down.
The desert Arabs then came from here and there. They asked: Messenger of Allah, should we make use of medical treatment?
He replied: “Make use of medical treatment, for Allah has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease, namely old age.” (Abu Dawud and authenticated by Al-Albani)
Be strong and healthy
9. Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“A strong believer is better and dearer to Allah than a weak one, and both are good. Keenly pursue what benefits you, seek help only from Allah, and do not give up. If something befalls you, do not say, ‘If only I had done otherwise,’ but rather say, ‘Allah so determined and did as He willed,’ for ‘if only’ opens the door to Satan’s work.” (Al-Bukhari)
(Muhammad Fathi is the managing editor of the Shari`ah page, AboutIslam.net)
For early Muslims, knowledge was a treasure they would eagerly seek. Medical science and pharmacy were no exceptions.
Muslim physicians’ early practice emphasized the importance of preserving health through natural gentle interventions. The Hippocratic philosophy of ‘Premium non nocera’ (first don’t harm) was a well kept notion in their minds as it reflected the teaching of their religion. Prophet Muhammad’s words, “Your body has rights over you” (agreed upon – Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī) paved their way to amazing advancement in the medical, pharmaceutical, and health fields.
Studying history, we can see that medicine within the Islamic civilization passed through three main stages (Abouleish, n.d.). The first stage started in the early 7th century by collecting and translating the medical knowledge of the Greeks, Persians, Assyrian Syriacs, Indians and Byzantines. (Nagamia, 1998)
Soon enough, Muslim physicians started to elaborate on the collected body of knowledge and largely expanded it through experience, exploration, experimentations, testing, and practice. This was during the Golden Age of the Islamic civilization that brought the original contributions of Muslim physicians in the medical, pharmaceutical, herbal, nutritional and botanical fields. This second stage extended during the ninth through thirteenth centuries. During the last stage, however, decline occurred which reflected the stagnation and gradual deterioration of the whole Islamic nation.
During the second stage, many physicians, Arabs as well as non-Arabs, contributed to the flourishing of the medicine. Physicians like Al-Razi, or Razes (841 – 926 AD), and Ibn-Sina, known as Avicenna (980 – 1037 AD) were pioneers in the medical fields. Their books and teachings were used as bases for medical study in Europe for centuries to come.
Al-Razi’s fame started with the establishment of a hospital in Baghdad in the 9th century which included a special ward for mental illness. He also pioneered in holistic and spiritual medicine, advocating healing and caring for the whole patient. This idea was well reflected in his book ‘Al-Tibb al-Rawhani’ (Spiritual Medicine) where he emphasized the importance of heart purification and ethical and virtuous conducts in achieving total healing.
In his famous book, Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (The Law in Medicine), Ibn-Sina laid the foundation of medical practice, compiled a complete Materia Medica, described diseases and malfunctions and gave a full formulary of remedies, suggestions and recipes for treatment.
As early as the 10th century, Muslim physicians were treating eye diseases and even performing cataract surgery. Al-Mawsili, an Iraqi ophthalmologist and physician, designed a special needle to remove cataract by suction. And, an amazingly complete text book on eye disease ‘Notebook of the Oculist’ was written by Ali Ibn Isa also in the 10th century Baghdad. On Ibn Isa’s valuable reference was based the European knowledge of modern ophthalmology. (Al-Hassani, 2006)
Ibn al-Nafis, the Syrian Muslim scholar, described in a treatise written in 1210 AC the role of the heart and lung in blood purification and elaborated on Ibn-Sina’s description of the pulmonary circulation. Ibn al-Nafis accurately described the anatomical structure of heart chambers and the fine structure of the circulatory system hundreds of years before Western discoveries.
Early Muslims also laid the foundation of modern day pharmacology through the early work of Sabur ibn Sahl, Al-Razi and Ibn-Sina in the early 9th century. Later on, in the 11th century, Al-Biruni wrote his famous master piece ‘The Book of Pharmacology’ compiling an amazing work on drugs and remedies. Al-Zahrawi’s writings ‘Al-Tasrif’ (Dispensing) further taught methods of drug preparations and formulation starting from simple remedies all the way to complex compounding. (Al-Hassani, 2006)
The principal concepts embodying medicine as practiced during this period were based on the essential meaning of balance. They presented the physician’s role as one of in balancing and harmonizing overall bodily functions while restoring health and healing on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual planes.
Physical ailments were thought to arise mainly as a result of accumulation of excess waste substance in the body. Overeating, improper food choice and other unhealthy habits were regarded as the source of the accumulated morbid matter, and a disease’s symptoms appears when the digestive process becomes overwhelmed. (Al-Jauziyah, 2003)
More importantly, however, it was the fundamental belief of a Muslim physician that the physical body should never be the sole interest of the physician. It is the Ruh, or soul, which gives this body its vitality and true essence. (Nagamia, 1998) It was thus essential for a Muslim physician to be well aware of the diseases of the heart and soul and how to treat them along with managing physical symptoms.
During the third stage of this thriving medical history within the Islamic world, and around the fourteenth century, a new type of medical writing emerged. The authors were religious scholars, rather than physicians. Their aim was to preserve the wealth of knowledge and heritage compiled and practiced by Muslims over the years from fading away before the rapidly rising Western society. (National Library of Medicine, 1998)
Their writings all carried the same title: Al-Tibb Al-Nabawi (Prophetic Medicine) and was intended as an alternative to the Greek-based medical science. Most famous among them were the writings of Al-Jauziyah, As-Suyuti, and Az-Zahabi which are considered as the base for what is today referred to as ‘Islamic Medicine.’
Al-Jauziyah’s recommendations for approaching the patient reflected the preserved notion of balance and holistic approach taught by early Muslim physicians. He advised physicians to investigate all areas of their patient’s life, research the real cause behind the disease, examine the patient’s feelings, mood and life style and consider dietary options before resorting to drugs. (Al Jauziyah, 2003)
The physicians were knowledgeable about the ‘sickness of the heart and soul’ and took great care when approaching them in a professional yet caring manner. They realized the effects of stress, emotions and mental state, and used positive affirmations from Qur’an and Prophetic Sunnah to increase hope and strengthen the will for healing.
Moral values, love, courage, patience, kindness, and altruism were prescribed as the best remedies for the inner self, and prayer was practiced for maintaining the connection with God, preserving the health of the body and soul, strengthening faith, bringing happiness and energizing the body against acute ailments. (Ayad, 2008)
The six primary channels that should be balanced to avoid contacting diseases, as stated by As-Suyuti, further reflected the wisdom of early Muslim knowledge. He emphasized the importance of the quality of air we breathe, food and drink we consume, physical exercise and movements, our emotional state and feelings, our sleep and waking cycles, and our body’s ability to excrete toxins, get rid of accumulated morbid matter and retain valuable nutrients.
“Whenever it is possible to use gentle remedy, do not use something powerful instead,” he wrote, advising a physician to be “gentle in his speech, kind in his words and close to God.” (As-Suyuti, 2009)
Az-Zahabi, on his side, recommended using only medicines that are similar or related to regular food and that contained no noxious or harmful substances. (Az-Zahabi, 2004)
Starting from the beginnings of the seventeenth century, Islamic Medicine was challenged by rapidly spreading science of conventional modern medicine, which eventually replaced the core of the health care systems in most of the Islamic countries (Nagamia, 1998).
Contemporary practice of Islamic Medicine is restricted to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where one can find established medical schools teaching this type of medicine, certified and supervised by the Indian Medical Council. (Nagamia, 1998) And while these schools do teach such medical approach while being highly influenced by the teachings of the old Greek practice, it is also common to find conventional physicians in Middle Eastern countries and Malaysia giving medical advice and some treatment while making use of the Islamic approach. Some believe that this mixing of the old and the new, the eastern and the western, makes their patients benefit from ‘the best of both worlds.’
Fasting can help protect against brain diseases, scientists say
Claim that giving up almost all food for one or two days a week can counteract impact of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
A vertical slice through the brain of a patient with Alzheimer’s, left, compared with a normal brain, right. Photograph: Alfred Pasieka/Science Photo Library
Fasting for regular periods could help protect the brain against degenerative illnesses, according to US scientists.
Researchers at the National Institute on Ageing in Baltimore said they had found evidence which shows that periods of stopping virtually all food intake for one or two days a week could protect the brain against some of the worst effects of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other ailments.
Professor Mark Mattson
“Reducing your calorie intake could help your brain, but doing so by cutting your intake of food is not likely to be the best method of triggering this protection. It is likely to be better to go on intermittent bouts of fasting, in which you eat hardly anything at all, and then have periods when you eat as much as you want,” said Professor Mark Mattson, head of the institute’s laboratory of neurosciences.
“In other words, timing appears to be a crucial element to this process,” Mattson told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.
Cutting daily food intake to around 500 calories – which amounts to little more than a few vegetables and some tea – for two days out of seven had clear beneficial effects in their studies, claimed Mattson, who is also professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Scientists have known for some time that a low-calorie diet is a recipe for longer life. Rats and mice reared on restricted amounts of food increase their lifespan by up to 40%. A similar effect has been noted in humans. But Mattson and his team have taken this notion further. They argue that starving yourself occasionally can stave off not just ill-health and early death but delay the onset of conditions affecting the brain, including strokes. “Our animal experiments clearly suggest this,” said Mattson.
He and his colleagues have also worked out a specific mechanism by which the growth of neurones in the brain could be affected by reduced energy intakes. Amounts of two cellular messaging chemicals are boosted when calorie intake is sharply reduced, said Mattson. These chemical messengers play an important role in boosting the growth of neurones in the brain, a process that would counteract the impact of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“The cells of the brain are put under mild stress that is analogous to the effects of exercise on muscle cells,” said Mattson. “The overall effect is beneficial.”
The link between reductions in energy intake and the boosting of cell growth in the brain might seem an unlikely one, but Mattson insisted that there were sound evolutionary reasons for believing it to be the case. “When resources became scarce, our ancestors would have had to scrounge for food,” said Mattson. “Those whose brains responded best – who remembered where promising sources could be found or recalled how to avoid predators — would have been the ones who got the food. Thus a mechanism linking periods of starvation to neural growth would have evolved.”
This model has been worked out using studies of fasting on humans and the resulting impact on their general health – even sufferers from asthma have shown benefits, said Mattson – and from experiments on the impact on the brains of animals affected by the rodent equivalent of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Now Mattson’s team is preparing to study the impact of fasting on the brain by using MRI scans and other techniques.
If this final link can be established, Mattson said that a person could optimise his or her brain function by subjecting themselves to bouts of “intermittent energy restriction”. In other words, they could cut their food intake to a bare minimum for two days a week, while indulging for the other five. “We have found that from a psychological point of view that works quite well. You can put up with having hardly any food for a day if you know that for the next five you can eat what you want.”
O you who believe fasting is decreed for you, as it was decreed for those before you, that you may attain salvation. Specific days (are designated for fasting); if one is ill or traveling, an equal number of other days may be substituted. Those who can fast, but with great difficulty, may substitute feeding one poor person for each day of breaking the fast. If one volunteers (more righteous works), it is better. But fasting is the best for you, if you only knew. Quran 2:183-185
((يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ. أَيَّامًا مَّعْدُودَاتٍ فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ فَمَنْ تَطَوَّعَ خَيْراً فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَهُ وَأَنْ تَصُومُوا خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ ))
It was narrated that ‘Aishah said:
“The Messenger of Allah used to be keen to fast on Mondays and Thursday.” (Hasan)
أَخْبَرَنَا إِسْحَاقُ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ، قَالَ أَنْبَأَنَا عُبَيْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ سَعِيدٍ الأُمَوِيُّ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنْ ثَوْرٍ، عَنْ خَالِدِ بْنِ مَعْدَانَ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، قَالَتْ كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَتَحَرَّى الاِثْنَيْنِ وَالْخَمِيسَ .