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Islamic Medicine: A Brief Introduction to the General Principles

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Prophet Muhammad (s) and his successors, the twelve Imams (a), were the most knowledgeable people of their time. Their knowledge came straight from Allah. They knew many sciences including physiology, biology, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, and more. In this article on Islam4u, we will dive into the ocean of medicine from the Islamic perspective.

Medicine in the View of the Prophet and Imams

The Prophet and Imams practiced a unique medicine that they received from Allah. Most of the recommendations they gave were independent of other branches of medicine. Nevertheless, they did sometimes make references to certain elements of a type of medicine that is known as Unani (Greek) medicine. Islamic medicine is still very popular and is being practiced as alternative medicine. Once again, many of the things the Prophet (s) and Imam said were unique, and no other medical practitioner of the time or before had stated them.

The General Guidelines of Well-Being in Islamic Medicine

Our Prophet and Imams have given us several guidelines for well-being. For example, we have been recommended to wash our hands before and after we eat. The Noble Prophet (s) has said:

اَلْوُضوءُ قَبْلَ الطَّعامِ يَنْفِى الْفَقْرَ، وَ بَعْدَهُ يَنْفِى الهَمَّ وَ يُصَحِّحُ البَصَرَ

Washing hands before a meal alleviates poverty and after it removes sorrow and improves eye health.

In a similar hadith, Imam al-Sadiq (a) has said:

اِغسِلوا أيدِيَكُم قَبلَ الطَّعامِ وبَعدَهُ؛ فَإِنَّهُ يَنفِي الفَقرَ، و يَزيدُ فِي العُمُرِ

Wash your hands before and after a meal because indeed it alleviates poverty and promotes longevity.

Islamic medicine

The Importance of Cleanliness and Hygiene in Islamic Medicine

Our Prophet and Imams have attached enormous importance to cleanliness, purity, and personal hygiene. There is no doubt among all people that being clean and hygienic is the best way to avoid many illnesses.

The Noble Prophet (s) has said in a famous hadith:

النَّظافَةُ مِنَ الإيمانِ

Cleanliness is a part of faith.

His holiness has said in another hadith:

تَنَظَّفوا بِكُلِّ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ فَإِنَّ اللّه َ تَعالى بَنَى الاِْسْلامَ عَلَى النَّظافَةِ وَلَنْيَدْخُلَ الْجَنَّةَ إِلاّكُلُّ نَظيفٍ؛

Purify yourself by any means because Allah the Almighty has built Islam on the basis of purity, and one will never go to paradise unless one is pure.

Imam Ali (a) has said:

نِعْمَ الْبَيْتُ الْحَمّامُ تَذْكُرُ فيهِ النّارَ وَ يَذْهَبُ بِالدَّرَنِ؛

What a good place the bathroom (shower) is, it reminds one of hell and removes impurities.

Diet and Eating Habits in Islamic Medicine

Aside from physical activity and exercise, the most important thing that contributes to one’s physical, psychological, and spiritual health and well-being is one’s diet. Islam has given many guidelines on what to eat, how to eat, and when to eat. This aspect of Islamic medicine is one of the most important ones that no one should ignore. Here, we will mention a few hadiths about diet and eating habits.

The Importance and Benefits of Salt

Salt nowadays is very much demonized and is linked to multiple diseases including hypertension, heart disease, and more. However, Islam has always emphasized moderation in all things. Not too much and not too little of healthy food, drinks, and seasonings like salt are what Islam recommends. After saying Bismillah and saying prayers before eating, it is recommended to begin by eating some salt. Likewise, it is recommended to finish one’s meal with some salt. The Prophet (s) and Imams (a) have said, “Eat salt before you begin your meal and finish your meal with some salt. In this way, you will be immune to more than 70 diseases.”

Imam al-Kazim (a) has said, “A table that does not have salt shall not be blessed.”

Now, we must be careful we do not overconsume salt. Every halal thing is good in moderation and in bad in excess.

Islamic medicine

Having Two Meals a Day

In Islamic medicine, it is recommended to have two meals: breakfast and dinner. Based on our narrations, the inhabitants of paradise also have two meals a day. Our narrations advise us to have breakfast early in the morning. For example, if one wants to fast, they should have breakfast before the dawn adhan, and if they do not wish to do so, they can have their breakfast after sunrise. Having breakfast early in the morning is greatly emphasized in Islam and has been attributed to a healthy body. Likewise, having dinner has also been emphasized. A narration quotes the Prophet (s) as saying:

“Do not forgo dinner, even if it is a handful of dates. Not having dinner ages the human being.”

As you can see, having any meal between breakfast and dinner is ill-advised because it can cause problems for one’s health. Of course, there is no problem with having light healthy snacks.

How to Drink Water

There are some recommendations in Islam for drinking water. During the day, it is recommended to drink water standing up, and during the night, it is better to drink water while sitting down. One must begin drinking water with Bismillah and finish with Alhamdulillah. One should not drink a whole glass of water at once. Rather, one must take three sips. One should not drink water immediately after or while eating. If one wants to eat fruits, it is advisable that one does not drink water immediately after because it puts a strain on the digestive system. Specifically, hot drinks like coffee or tea cause much more harm if drunk after eating fruits. After one has finished drinking a glass of water, it is highly recommended to say salam to Imam al-Hussain (a) and curse Yazid.

Islamic medicine

Eating Little

One of the well-known dietary recommendations of Islam is not to eat unless one is hungry and to stop eating before one is full. The Prophet (s) has said, “The mother of all medicines is eating little.” By eating little, we do not mean undereating such that we suffer malnutrition. It means that we eat as much as our body needs and not in excess. In other words, eating in moderation.

The Importance of Avoiding Harmful Food

The Noble Prophet (s) has said, “One’s stomach is the house of all ailments, and avoiding food that is harmful to one’s health is the root of all cures.” Most of the time, we have to be careful what not to eat instead of what we eat. If we have a certain medical condition, we must be watchful of our diet and try not to eat food that worsens our condition.  

Fasting and Hunger

The Noble Prophet (s) has said that those with the highest rank before Allah are the ones who feel hunger the most and think the most. The most hated before Allah are those who sleep the most, eat the most, and drink the most.

Modern science has proven the benefits of going hungry for hours as a way to heal and detoxify the body. When the body does not get food for several hours, the body goes into a state known as autophagy, where it starts to repair itself. This is why fasting has been recommended as a lifestyle in Islam. By fasting, we mean not just fasting in the month of Ramadan, but also days of other months. Prophet Muhammad (s) said, “Allah revealed to one of the Israelite prophets to tell his people that no servant of Allah fasts one day for His pleasure other than Allah gives him health and a great reward.”

Therefore, Islam is totally against overeating and has enumerated its harms. The Prophet has said, “Do not kill your hearts by eating and drinking too much. Verily, the heart (and stomach) is like a farm that dies if you give too much water to it.” His holiness has also said, “Whoever gets accustomed to eating and drinking too much will have a heart of stone.”

The Importance of Brushing the Teeth

The Prophet (s) greatly emphasized the importance of brushing one’s teeth in order to protect the teeth and for other benefits. Of course, what the Prophet did was not the same brushing of teeth as we do with a toothbrush and toothpaste. The Prophet (s) used a special twig from the Arak tree known as miswak (مسواك). The Prophet (s) said, “Miswak strengthens the teeth, makes one more eloquent in speech, and is the cure for all ailments except death.” His holiness recommended we do it at least twice a day and brush vertically (top to bottom) and not horizontally (side to side).

Miswak

Conclusion

These were some of the general principles of Islamic medicine based on the method of the Noble Prophet (s) and the Ahlul Bait (a). His holiness has also mentioned what foods are good for what and which ones one must avoid. However, we only intended to talk about the general principles of Islamic medicine without delving into its details. By observing the medicinal guidelines of the Prophet (s) and the Ahlul Bait (a), we will have healthy bodies and minds, God willing.

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