If one were to do an internet search, via any search engine, and type the words – ‘God’ and ‘medicine’, one will encounter, almost fully, websites on mythology, chiefly on the ‘Greek God of Medicine’, Asclepios, and other rather uninteresting websites (several on a a group I had never heard of before, called ‘The Mission’ who released an album called ‘God’s Own Medicine’ in the 1980s).
This is rather unfortunate, for God in all His glory is not a myth. He is a living reality in the just and truthful practice of medicine, who we ought to discover, praise and be thankful to in every single moment that we practice seeing patients and studying about disease and its cure, be it medical or surgical. Alas, although one would expect Muslim or deistic doctors and writers to explore this aspect in more depth, this has not, as far as I can see, been the case. There is a virtually complete silence over the topic among deists, while Muslims appear to be more interested in the ethical and psychosocial considerations of medicine, and what their religion says about topics like euthanasia, abortion, and genetic engineering, and the very peculiar fields of ‘Islamic medicine’ (as if medicine has a religion) and ‘Prophetic Medicine’. I hope in the course of this work to start a way of looking at medicine and its associated sciences, in a different fashion, highlighting the glory and the wonder of it all, which stems from He who has the Eternal Glory, Majesty and Beauty. Many of His Glorious Attributes are highlighted in Medicine.
His generosity is highlighted in giving is not one, but two of many organs – the eyes, the ears, the lungs, the kidneys, and others. Even those organs that we have only singularly, like the liver, a quite substantial degree of damage is needed before problems arise. With the heart, the great kindness of God is evident in the fact that disease of the coronary arteries often needs to be quite severe before symptoms occur. This, it goes without saying poses a problem for cardiologists. Nicholas Boon, writing in ‘Davidson’s Principles and Practice of Medicine’, believes:
“Prompt recognition of the development of heart disease is limited by two key factors. Firstly, it is very commonly latent. For example, disease of the coronary arteries can proceed to an advanced stage before the patient notices any symptoms. Secondly, the diversity of symptoms attributable to heart disease is limited and it is common for many different pathologies to present through a common symptomatic pathway”
His architecture and artistry is evident in everything in it. The study of anatomy and dissection was pursued by Leonardo da Vinci and other great sculptors and artists in all times and places – they aspired to emulate the beauty of the human body.
His kindness in giving us medicine, and the intellect and knowledge to search for it and find it – although at times I think it is simply divine providence that has led us to these discoveries; wasn’t penicillin, the father of all antibiotics discovered by accident, when Alexander Fleming, “Quite by accident… found (a) substance in 1928. This substance was produced by a mold that had somehow landed on one of his cultures of staphylococcus. It was evident in a ring of dead bacteria around each speck of mold”. Saeed Hawa, writing in his book, ‘Allah’, describes this thus, “In the story of the discovery and existence of penicillin, there is another example of this point. Just as man enjoys his food, clothing and beautiful landscapes, he also enjoys knowledge. It will be sufficient if some of Allah’s creatures show His wisdom, mercy and care towards His creatures”.
Even vaccination was a process based originally not on the triumph of human logic taken to its natural conclusion, but by an accident. As explained by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans in their celebrated ‘History of Science and Technology’, “Louis Pasteur discover(ed) by accident that weakened chicken cholera bacteria fail to cause disease in chickens and that chickens previously infected with the weakened bacteria are immune to the normal form of the bacteria, thus paving the way for the development of vaccines against many diseases”. In such ‘productive accidents’ (which we will talk about in greater detail in a later section) we see the truth of the Quranic statement, “He has taught man what he did not know” (96:5). And so many other things which I will endeavor to talk about in these pages.
And it is not just such external ‘medicines’ that I am talking about; any physician will tell us that the immune system that we have, to protect against, and fight illness, is the most powerful disease combating force there is. Richard C Cabot, an American physician based in Massachusetts General Hospital put it this way, "Every educated physician knows that most diseases are not appreciably helped by medicine." In like fashion, Albert Schweitzer, the great German physician and philosopher said, “It's supposed to be a secret, but I'll tell you anyway. We doctors do nothing. We only help and encourage the doctor within." Voltaire said it another way, “The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease”. Before them, the Swiss physician Paracelsus said it, "It is from nature that the disease arises and from nature comes the cure, not from the physician." And before them, Hippocrates, the father of medicine after whom the famous oath is names expressed it thus, "The natural force within each of us is that greatest healer of all." It is this force that the great prophet Abraham noted before them all, saying, “And if I am sick, it is He who heals me”.
In the existence of death, suffering and disease, we see His power and dominion over His Creation. Paul McHugh put it well, "The medical report is an account of nature's power over human life through infections, neoplasms, genes and the like”. Indeed, it is in the deeper daily contact with and reflection over these things, that the physician derives his greatest exclusivity. Or should do, for in most cases, death triggers very few or even no higher thoughts, in the majority of doctors living in our materialistic society today. Benedict Spinoza’s words, "A free man thinks of nothing less than of death; and his wisdom is a meditation not of death, but of life," are very apt in describing the attitude of many doctors to death these days, a generally mechanical, duty based one (diagnosing the patient dead, filling out the death certificate, a cremation form etc) devoid of the use of the higher faculties.
His forgiveness in knowing that, in His great mercy, in all hardship and suffering, there is forgivenss of sins. Does He not say, “Verily with every difficult situation there is a relief” (94:6), or “And be patient in hardship: for, verily, God is with those who are patient in hardship” (8:46). The Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said many sayings with regards to this, a selection of which is as follows:
Abu Hurayrah (RA) reported that the Prophet said: “Hardships continue to befall a believing man and woman in their body, family, and property, until they meet Allah (S) burdened with no sins. ” [Tirmithee]
Abu Hurayrah (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said: “Whenever Allah wills good for a person, He subjects him to adversity” [Bukharee and others]
Abu Hurayrah (RA) and Ka’b Bin Maalik (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said, “The parable of a believer is that of a fresh and moist plant; the wind tilts it this way and that way; and so is the believer; he continues to be subject to affliction. And the parable of a hypocrite is that of a firm cedar tree; it does not shake - until it is uprooted all at once.” [Bukharee and Muslim]
Anas (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said: “The amount of reward is in accordance with the amount of suffering. When Allah (SWT) loves some people, He tries them (with affliction). He who then is content (with Allah’s decree) has achieved the acceptance (of Allah), and he who is dissatisfied (with Allah’s decree) will attain the anger (of Allah).” [Tirmithee]
Abu Hurayrah (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said: “Whenever a Muslim is afflicted by harm from sickness or other matters, Allah will drop his sins because of that, like a tree drops its leaves.” [Bukharee and Muslim]
Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said: “A Muslim is not afflicted by hardship, sickness, sadness, worry, harm, or depression - even if pricked by a thorn, but Allah expiates his sins because of that.” [Bukharee and Muslim]
Sa’eed said, “I was with Salmaan (RA) when he visited a sick man in Kindah ( in Persia ), and he said to him: ” Expect good because Allah (SWT) makes a believers sickness an expiation (for his sins) and a period of rest. However, when a disbeliever falls sick, he is like a camel whose owner ties it then lets it loose - it does not understand why it was tied nor why it was freed.” [Bukharee]
‘Aishah (RA) narrated that once some pain afflicted the Prophet (SAW) causing him to suffer and turn about in his bed. she said: “Had one of us done this, you would have blamed him.” He (SAW) replied: “An ailment is intensified for the righteous. whenever a believer is afflicted by a hardship, whether it is a thorn or more, a sin is taken off from him because of it, and he is elevated by one rank (in Jannah). ” [Ahmad]
Confining myself to the two strictly monotheistic religions (I have argued in many places before why I do not regard Judaism a strictly monotheistic religion – furthermore, I do not believe in a tribal God), we can see that the relationship between religion and medicine has taken many different complexions – in many cases, it has been a positive and powerful one. But at other times it has been a very negative.
What I have just mentioned about Avicenna, Rhazes and others is of course a positive thing, and I think it should remain forever in the memory of all those who seek the truth. It is not enough however to remember their names – it is important to know of their actual contributions too. The reason for this is that those who counter truth have striven in recent times to denounce our religion using these things – foolish men like the militant Christian writer Robert Spencer, who wrote the strange (and I do not speak as a Muslim, but simply as a rational observer and reader) ‘Politically Incorrect Guide To Islam’ and said, “Take, for example, the medical sciences, Muslims established the first pharmacies and were the first to require standards of knowledge and competence from doctors and pharmacists, enforced by an examination.' At the time of the fifth Abbasid caliph, Harun al-Rashid (763-809), the first hospital was established in Baghdad, and many more followed. Yet it was not a Muslim, but a Belgian physician and researcher, Andreas VesaIius (1514-1564), who paved the way for modern medical advances by publishing the first accurate description of human internal organs, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) in 1543. Why? Because Vesalius was able to dissect human bodies, while that practice was forbidden in Islam, What's more, Vesalius's book is filled with detailed anatomical drawings—but also forbidden in Islam are artistic representations of the human body”, or the even more pathetic Pakistani atheist (ex-Muslim) Ibn Warraq, author of the rather biased ‘Why I Am Not a Muslim’ (I would like one day to write a one page rebuttal to that book and call it, ‘Do I Give a Toss’ but will leave that major project for the time being) who believes that ‘orthodox Muslims’ never contributed to medicine, or were even actively against it (I presume he believes that they all desired ill health), and that all valuable contributions that Muslims have made to medical science and practice throughout the ages came after they opposed the religion, or freed themselves from its beliefs. But unlike Spencer, at least Ibn Warraq admits to Muslim contribution to medicine, saying in his book, “Much original work was also done in medicine, algebra, arithmetic, geometry, mechanics and astronomy”.
Indeed, this is the case – to quote one source:
“The contributions of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen) to anatomy and physiology include his correct explanation of the process of sight and visual perception for the first time in his Book of Optics, published in 1021. Other innovations introduced by Muslim physicians to the field of physiology by this time include the use of animal testing and human dissection. Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) (1091-1161) was one of the earliest physicians known to have carried out human dissection and postmortem autopsy. He proved that the skin disease scabies was caused by a parasite, a discovery which upset the theory of humorism supported by Hippocrates and Galen. The removal of the parasite from the patient's body did not involve purging, bleeding, or any other traditional treatments associated with the four humours.In the 12th century, Saladin's physicians al-Shayzari and Ibn Jumay were also among the earliest to undertake human dissection, and they made explicit appeals for other physicians to do so as well. During a famine in Egypt in 1200, Abd-el-latif observed and examined a large number of skeletons, and he discovered that Galen was incorrect regarding the formation of the bones of the lower jaw and sacrum. Ibn al-Nafis, the father of circulatory physiology, was another early proponent of human dissection. In 1242, he was the first to describe the pulmonary circulation, coronary circulation, and capillary circulation, which form the basis of the circulatory system, for which he is considered the one of the greatest physiologists in history. The first European descriptions of the pulmonary circulation came several centuries later, by Michael Servetus in 1553 and William Harvey in 1628. Ibn al-Nafis also described the earliest concept of metabolism, and developed new Nafisian systems of anatomy, physiology and psychology to replace the Avicennian and Galenic doctrines, while discrediting many of their erroneous theories on the four humours, pulsation, bones, muscles, intestines, sensory organs, bilious canals, esophagus, stomach, and the anatomy of almost every other part of the human body.”
This belief that Muslims were merely transmitters, translators, and preservers of old medical practices, with no original contribution is completely unsubstantiated. I do not know why great thinkers, the like of Bertrand Russell were not aware of this fact. Russell made his opinion clear in his ‘History of Western Philosophy’, saying:
“Arabic philosophy is not important as original thought. Men like Avicenna and Averroes are essentially commentators. Speaking generally, the views of the more scientific philosophers come from Aristotle and the Neoplatonists in logic and metaphysics, from Galen in medicine, from Greek and Indian sources in mathematics and astronomy, and among mystics religious philosophy has also an admixture of old Persian beliefs. Writers in Arabic showed some originality in mathematics and in chemistry--in the latter case, as an incidental result of alchemical researches.
Mohammedan civilization in its great days was admirable in the arts and in many technical ways, but it showed no capacity for independent speculation in theoretical matters. Its importance, which must not be underrated, is as a transmitter. Between ancient and modern European civilization, the dark ages intervened. The Mohammedans and the Byzantines, while lacking the intellectual energy required for innovation, preserved the apparatus of civilization--education, books, and learned leisure.”
Perhaps it is we, those who believe in God, and have submitted to Him, are to blame for the skewed opinions of some of the world’s great thinkers on such things. We need to highlight their original contributions, and set an example ourselves too by making such contributions ourselves.
And it all happened because of, rather than in spite of, religious guidance. Warraq is obsessed with quoting orientalist scholars (indeed that is why his only book not attacking Muslims is an attack on the great Edward Said, the man who first exposed orientalism and its goals and intentions) such as Plessner, Grunebaum and Ernest Renan, and uses them to substantiate his argument that Muslim progress came in spite of, rather than because of Islam – submission to God.
The first point I would to make with regards to Warraq’s claims is not regarding those claims, but something he writes prior to that discussion. He says, in his aforementioned work, “As Ibn Khaldun reminds us, Arabs did not play a great part in the original development of Islamic science. “It is strange that most of the learned among the Muslims who have excelled in the religious or intellectual sciences are non-Arabs with rare exceptions, and even those savants who claimed Arabian descent spoke a foreign language, grew up in foreign lands, and studied under foreign masters.” As Martin Plessner says, emphasizing the internationality and inter-religiousness of Islamic science, most of the credit must go to Persians, Christians and Jews”.
I write as an objective reviewer – firstly, I ask, is there any need for this statement, but an unfair critique of the Arabs. The book is entitled, ‘Why I am Not a Muslim’, and not ‘Why I am not an Arab’. But perhaps it is the publishers who are to reprimand, and not the Pakistani ex-zealot, who I hasten to add, admitted that he wished to volunteer for the Israeli army in the 1967 war. That says a lot I think.
Secondly, I ask him to think about his statement once again and see how it contradicts the thrust of his work (but to be fair to him, he appears to be incapable of original thought, admitting in the ‘Acknowledgements’ section of his book, “I am not a scholar or a specialist. I certainly do not lay claim to originality; I lean heavily on the works of real scholars…there is hardly an image or thought that I can claim to be my own creation”. The only word that I can change in that line is ‘heavily’ – the correct word is ‘entirely’. The Jews, Christians and Persians had their own civilizations for hundreds (and in cases of the Jews and Persians, thousands of years) prior to the arrival of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers. If that were the case, why didn’t they precede Islam with such discoveries?
Moving on swiftly, Warraq’s first source is Martin Plessner, who wrote ‘The Natural Sciences and Medicine’ chapter in Joseph Schacht’s and C E Bosworth’s Oxford publication, ‘The Legacy of Islam’. He says:
“Science was perhaps the one cultural area that was at least accessible to ‘Islamisation’. Moreover, the continued and undiminished hostility of official orthodoxy against the ancient sciences remained as characteristic of Islam as it was of Christianity until deep into the Middle Ages, and of orthodox Jewry to the very threshold of our present time. Knowledge not founded on revelation and tradition was deemed not only to be irrelevant but to be the first step on the path to heresy”
He goes on to explain, “The Muslims made a distinction between the native or Islamic sciences and foreign sciences. Islamic science consisted of religion and language (Koranic exegesis, the science of hadith, jurisprudence, scholastic theology, grammar, lexicography, rhetoric, and literature). The foreign sciences, or the ‘sciences of the ancients’ were defined as those common to all people and religious communities, as opposed to such sciences whose development was peculiar to Islam. As Grunebaum says, the foreign (ancient) sciences are primarily…the various branches of mathematics, philosophy, natural history (zoology, botany, etc), medicine, astronomy, music, magic and alchemy. But as Grunebaum says, the study of these foreign sciences was always looked upon with suspicion and even animosity, which increased in the later Middle Ages. A part of the hostility can be attributed to the fact that the ancient authorities were non-Muslim and foreign. All foreign sciences endangered the faith”. Later on he quotes Grunebaum’s remark, “Those accomplishments of Islamic mathematical and medical science which continue to compel our admiration were developed in areas and in periods where the elites were willing to go beyond and possibly against the basic strains of orthodox thought and feeling” and Ernest Renan, “Science and philosophy flourished on Musalman soil during the first half of the middle ages, but it was not by reason of Islam, it was in spite of Islam”, to support his belief.
Furthermore, in his very polite fashion, Warraq writes, “There is a persistent myth that Islam encouraged science. Adherents of this view quote the Koran and hadith to prove their point: “Say, shall those who have knowledge and those have it not be deemed equal” (39:12), “Seek knowledge, in China if necessary”, “The search after knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim”. This is nonsense, because the knowledge advocated in the preceding quotes is religious knowledge. Orthodoxy has always been suspicious of ‘knowledge for its own sake’ and unfettered intellectual inquiry is deemed dangerous to the faith…All sciences are blameworthy that are useless for acting rightly toward God. Useful knowledge was that which was necessary or helpful for the practice of religion. Eventually the ancient sciences were to lose out in this perpetual battle between theological and the philosophico-scientific approach, since they
I will not make any comments here about Warraq’s inefficient style, and annoying repetitiveness (the book can be shortened by at least a hundred pages if he stopped repeating himself), but have to point out how frequently he uses the words ‘This is nonsense’ in his interviews and articles. Such words are never used by serious writers. Instead, they rebute their opponents with logic and reason, which Warraq claims to defend.
Second, how did he, being neither a lexicographer nor Arab, come to the conclusion that the word ‘3ilm’, which is used in all the above statements, means ‘religious knowledge’? Why such dishonesty? Where did he get his reference from? Why does he not make reference when he makes such rash statements, and rather fill his pages with quotes from ‘scholars’ whose thoughts are quite lacking in value. The following is a copy of the word’s translation from the major Arab-English dictionary of our time, Al-Mawrid.
It is clear to everyone who has even passively read the Quran, the only Holy Book of Islam, that it encourages man to study everything, and see the signs of God in everything. Far from denouncing natural sciences, there are many verses in the Quran encouraging its study. Verses such as,“Will they not regard the camels, how they are created? And the heaven, how it is railed? And the hills, how they are set up? And the earth, how it is spread? Remind them, for thou art but a remembrancer” (88:18-22), and “And within yourselves; do you not see?” (51:21). True submission to God entails that we view the world as a book of God – where in He displays His signs and majesty.
Sayyid Qutb explains, “No doubt Islam permits a Muslim to learn chemistry, physics, astronomy, medicine, technology and agriculture, administration and similar technical sciences from a non-Muslim or from a Muslim who is not pious - and this under the condition that no God-fearing Muslim scientists are available to teach these sciences. This is the situation which exists now, because Muslims have drifted away from their religion and their way of life, and have forgotten that Islam appointed them as representatives of God and made them responsible for learning all the sciences and developing various capabilities to fulfill this high position which God has granted them.”
What a strong believer in God believes is that, such knowledge, regarding His Creation cannot be dissociated from Him. It is to be directly connected to Him whenever possible. As explained by Mustafa Mahmood:
God enjoins us to, “Bow down, prostrate yourselves, and adore your Lord; and do good; that ye may prosper” (22:77), and, “And there may spring from you a nation who invite to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. Such are they who are successful” (3:104). And is there a greater goodness than saving one’s life, or revealing God’s signs. Regarding the former, the Quran tells us, “Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind” (5:32). Is there then a greater incentive to study and practice medicine I wonder?
Then again, I think – are the intentions of these orientalists who Warraq refers to endlessly pure; do they really write in the name of justice and truthfulness. Swiss journalist and author, Roger Du Pasquier, gives the answer, “The West, whether Christian or dechristianised, has never really known Islam. Ever since they watched it appear on the world stage, Christians never ceased to insult and slander it in order to find justification for waging war on it. It has been subjected to grotesque distortions the traces of which still endure in the European mind....One is forced also to concede that Oriental studies in the West have not always been inspired by the purest spirit of scholarly impartiality, and it is hard to deny that some Islamicists and Arabists have worked with the clear intention of belittling Islam and its adherents. This tendency was particularly marked for obvious reasons in the heyday of the colonial empires, but it would be an exaggeration to claim that it has vanished without trace.”
I do not understand Warraq’s intentions, but to hear him admit on several interviews that he volunteered to join the Israeli army in 1967 to fight Arabs (and not just Muslims), for me, says a lot. The least I can say about them is that they are not pure – and he is likely to be another Zionist doll talking the talk they all like.
Having just defended Islam and Muslim contributions to medicine, I would like to now look at the negative aspect of this relationship, something that unfortunately, in our age of free information, the opponents of the religion have picked up on and spread.
The lesser criticism that one can level at the Muslim world with regards to their current perspective on medicine is that, most Muslims, and indeed one of the major failures of many Muslim physicians these days is to place too much emphasis on past history and so called ‘Islamic contributions to medicine’ while neglecting the true wonders of the human body in health and disease as revealed by current research methods. In addition, many have a major misconception that there is something called ‘Islamic medicine’. Medicine is a neutral subject, without nationality, colour or race. The discoveries made by Avicenna, Rhazes and others are Muslim, rather than Islamic contributions to medicine. That great Russian physician and novelist, Anton Chekhov put it well, “There is no national science, just as there is no national multiplication table; what is national is no longer science”. Likewise, there is no religious medicine.
My more important criticism is that of the very practice of medicine in many ‘Islamic’ countries. We all know how decadent medical systems are in every single Arab and Muslim state. Sami Jaboor, an assistant professor of medicine based in Beirut, puts the blame on the existence of Israel, saying, “The main external factor is the Arab-Israeli conflict. Military spending is a direct impediment to development, especially in countries directly bordering Israel”. While I agree with the gist of this, I don’t think it paints the full picture. The Arabs and Muslims have been victims of the poverty of their own culture – which is essentially opposed to progress, scientific and intellectual pursuits. In addition, medicine has been a victim of the religious monopoly over everything in life.
For instance, we hear that in northern Nigeria:
“…a country that had previously checked in as provisionally polio-free—a group of Islamic religious figures issued a ruling, or fatwa, that declared the polio vaccine to be a conspiracy by the United States (and, amazingly, the United Nations) against the Muslim faith. The drops were designed, said these mullahs, to sterilize the true believers. Their intention and effect was genocidal. Nobody was to swallow them, or administer them to infants. Within months, polio was back, and not just in northern Nigeria. Nigerian travelers and pilgrims had already taken it as far as Mecca, and spread it back to several other polio-free countries, including three African ones and also faraway Yemen. The entire boulder would have to be rolled back right up to the top of the mountain.” Also, we know that, as Christopher Hitchens describes, “In 1995, the Council of Ulemas in Indonesia urged that condoms only be made available to married couples, and on prescription. In Iran, a worker found to be HIV-positive can lose his job, and doctors and hospitals have the right to refuse treatment to AIDS patients. An official of Pakistan's AIDS Control Program told Foreign Policy magazine in 2005 that the problem was smaller in his country because of "better social and Islamic values." This, in a state where the law allows a woman to be sentenced to be gang-raped in order to expiate the "shame" of a crime committed by her brother. This is the old religious combination of repression and denial: a plague like AIDS is assumed to be unmentionable because the teachings of the Koran are enough in themselves to inhibit premarital intercourse, drug use, adultery, and prostitution. Even a very brief visit to, say, Iran, will demonstrate the opposite. It is the mullahs themselves who profit from hypocrisy by licensing "temporary marriages," in which wedding certificates are available for a few hours, sometimes in specially designated houses, with a divorce declaration ready to hand at the conclusion of business. You could almost call it prostitution ... The last time I was offered such a bargain it was just outside the ugly shrine to the Ayatollah Khomeini in south Tehran. But veiled and burqa-clad women, infected by their husbands with the virus, are expected to die in silence. It is a certainty that millions of other harmless and decent people will die, very miserably and quite needlessly, all over the world as a result of this obscurantism.”
Like the medicine man of old, the religious authorities want to display their power over human affairs, by controlling the practice of physicians, and those beneficiaries of their practice. They feel a need to express an opinion over everything in life, and they seem to have a ruling for everything. Is this the freedom that God wanted man to enjoy? I think not.
Of course, the correct religious perspective regarding something like what the Nigerians did goes along the lines of rationality, which is expressed by the Egyptian scholar Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who said:
“In the context of caring about physical health, Islam stresses the importance of both preventive and therapeutic medicine. It particularly cares about preventive medicine because prevention is better than cure. These days are known for the discovery of many preventive vaccines, especially for infant diseases such as small pox, polio, and certain types of fever. It is not a matter of choice in Islam whether to take the vaccinations or not, they must be taken”
However, the greatest danger lies when such ‘rational’ scholars lie in silence or even in praise of some of the most harmful ideas held by many in the Muslim world – namely what is called ‘Prophetic medicine’. They dare not speak analytically about it; and leave many Muslims, especially those within the medical profession confused and contradicting their belief and their practice, which is a far cry from that system. The result, to those who think about it, is a disharmony within the self, for no one can live happily believing two contradictory systems of thought.
Even if we put these ‘rational’ thinkers aside – we have many Muslim doctors who, with good intentions I have no doubt, wish to contribute to their religion through their expertise, not realizing that their very practice is the greatest benefit to others, and is of greater pleasure to God than such praise of such a deficient and ‘unprophetic’ medicine.
Prophetic medicine is, defined as the “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.”
It is a system that is regarded by some (like Professor Omar Kasule, an epidemiologist trained in Harvard and working in Brunei University), “as 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.”
Furthermore he says, “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 Qur'an and hadith have records of divine intervention to comment on the prophet's ijtihad on worldly matters such his advice on some aspects of agriculture that he later withdrew. Thus 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 not easy and 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.”
As a result of this confusion, which is the direct consequence of the equation of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s practice as a human being living his time, and his universal message, we are still living in awe of this ‘Prophetic medicine’. It is as if God never said in His Holy Book, "Say: 'I am but a man like yourselves, (but) the inspiration has come to me, that Your God is one God.'" (18:110) or "Say: 'Glory to my Lord! I am aught but a man,- a Messenger.'" (17:93).
I cannot for the life of me regard most of the ‘hadiths’ regarding health as genuine, no matter what authority has reported them, and feel that anyone who regards the specifics of prophetic medicine as of value, living in delusion. We can of course accept general, rational statements without a doubt that they are very possibly from a prophetic source. Statements that encourage the learning of medicine, such as, “The Prophet said, "There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment", or the visiting of physicians, such as “On the authority of Hilal Bin Yassar that he said; "The Prophet (r) once paid a visit to a patient and said; ‘Send for the doctor.' A man said; 'O, Messenger of Allah! Do you say so?' The Prophet (r) replied; 'Yes, I do.'"”, or “respecting specialisation in the profession of medicine. On the authority of Zayd Bin Aslam that a man was injured and blood was congested. The Prophet (r) called two persons from the tribe of Bani Anmar and said; 'Whoever of you is more professional in medicine?' A man said; 'Is it good to take up medicine?' The Prophet (r) replied; 'That Who created disease, sent down treatment'"” – all of those statements, even if they did not come from the Prophet (PBUH) are useful and beneficial statements that come under the fold of religion – which can be defined as all that is good for mankind.
But I will never be convinced that the Prophet was a diagnositician, an anaethetist, a gastroenterologist, a cardiologist, a neurologist. I simply cannot believe he (PBUH) would make many of the ‘medical statements’ attributed to him by our ‘scholars’. And it is unworthy of us to say he made many of those statements. Lets look at some of those statements – which I am taking only from the ‘most authentic’ sources of Prophetic statements and Ibn Qayyim’s book, ‘Prophetic Medicine’.
How can one believe that the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would restrict the whole of medicine to three things, "Healing is in three things: A gulp of honey, cupping, and branding with fire (cauterizing)." But I forbid my followers to use (cauterization) branding with fire." Is surgery or the whole of pharmacological medicine a waste of time? And if cauterization is forbidden, then how will all those who benefit from the procedure, which is “frequently used to stop bleeding of small vessels (larger vessels being ligated) or for cutting through soft tissue i.e. abdominal fat in a laparotomy or breast tissue in a mastectomy. It is a treatment for frequent nose bleeds” survive. Was religion designed to kill us, to forbid us all those things which God has created, directly or indirectly, for the sake of man? The answer is clear to he or she who has a mind to think with and a heart that feels, one who knows the greatest man to embrace the planet, who was sent a mercy for all of mankind.
In a similar fashion, I cannot believe that the prophet (PBUH) would have said anything like this, “Narrated Abu Sa`id Al−Khudri: A man came to the Prophet and said, "My brother has some Abdominal trouble." The Prophet said to him "Let him drink honey." The man came for the second time and the Prophet said to him, 'Let him drink honey." He
came for the third time and the Prophet said, "Let him drink honey." He returned again and said, "I have done that ' The Prophet then said, "Allah has said the truth, but your brother's `Abdomen has told a lie. Let him drink honey" (SB). So he made him drink honey and he was cured.” I have not used the word nonsense once in this book, but this is the first time. It is nonsense – unworthy of the great prophet (PBUH). To prescribe based on hearsay is hardly ‘medicine’, and to call someone’s symptoms ‘a lie’ while he is suffering, is unethical.
Likewise, how can he believed to do anything like this, “The climate of Medina did not suit some people, so the Prophet ordered them to follow his shepherd, i.e. his camels, and
drink their milk and urine (as a medicine). So they followed the shepherd that is the camels and drank their milk and urine till their bodies became healthy. Then they killed the shepherd and drove away the camels. When the news reached the Prophet he sent some people in their pursuit. When they were brought, he cut their hands and feet and their eyes were branded with heated pieces of iron.” Is this worthy of the greatest man? To say he did this is an insult, to say assault on the religion and the prophet (PBUH). And the punishment – is this the same prophet I know, who was sent a mercy to mankind?
I ask our wonderful scholars, if they think the consumption of waste products like urine is so wonderful, why do they not drink it themselves? Why do they simply pay lip service to these statements, and reap all the rewards of the hard work of the intelligent Western medical doctors?
Can anyone imagine the Prophet, on his deathbed, to have done the following, “Narrated Ibn `Abbas and `Aisha: Abu Bakr kissed (the forehead of) the Prophet when he was dead. `Aisha added: We put medicine in one side of his mouth but he started waving us not to insert the medicine into his mouth. We said, "He dislikes the medicine as a patient usually does." But when he came to his senses he said, "Did I not forbid you to put medicine (by force) in the side of my mouth?" We said, "We thought it was just because a patient usually dislikes medicine." He said, "None of those who are in the house but will be forced to take medicine in the side of his mouth while I am watching, except Al−`Abbas, for he had not witnessed your deed" (SB). This is not Islam, but evil.
What are we to make of the following statement, “`Abdullah bin `Umar said, "The Prophet said, 'Fever is from the heat of Hell, so put it out (cool it) with water'”? This goes against all that I know about the prophet (PBUH), who as is well known, died of a feverish illness; infact, “His fever increased in the first days of his sickness so that he felt as if he were on fire”. I cannot believe that the prophet is material of hell, which is what this hadith implies. Also, belief in a hadith like this, which attributes a physical thing to something completely ghaib (unknowable in our world) is opposition to science and progress, which is not Islamic in the slightest.
I do not know what to make of statements like, “On the authority of Saad that he said; "I once got sick, and the Prophet (r) came to visit me. He (r) put his hand on my chest, till I felt its coolness on my heart. Then the Prophet (r) said; 'You have a cardiac ailment. Send for Al Harith Bin Kalda from Thoqaif, as he is a man who gives medical treatment.'"”, or that conjunctivitis should be treated by diet and rest, or that vomiting should be encouraged unless it is becoming a risk to breathing, or that epilepsy is due to spiritual possession. I will make no further comment.
This medicine is dead, sterile, and quite disgusting. And it is an insult to humanity to use it, and an insult to the intelligence of mankind to advocate it. Listening to the highly respected geologist Zaghlool Al-Najjar justify the following hadith (as if the truthfulness of the Message rested on the wings of a fly), “If a housefly falls into the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink), for one of the wings has a disease and the other has the cure for the disease” [Sahih al-Bukhari vol 4:537] makes me want to cry. Why is such intelligence being wasted? Also, Najjar claims he is only relying on established science in his books, and correlating only established fact with the ‘Sunnah’. Why does he not reference his works? Surely he understands that science is not based on authority – or maybe his long contact with ‘authority’ has made him forget this basic principle of science. Does he not realize that science is only science if its results can be replicted many hundreds of times afterward, and the results established in good journals, not directed by the whims of their author or editor. Najjar fails miserably in this regard.
But of course, he has an answer to all those who try to convince him of his unscientific approach, which I regard as professional treason – he is using his stance as a world-famous geologist to propagate his own beliefs. He feels the West would not replicate these findings, and would not fund research into it, because they are opposed to Islam – they wouldn’t want to show Islam to be true, as if submission to God rested on the wings of a fly. Is this not madness itself. I quote Najjar fully below, without any further comment.
“This Hadith means that the fly carries on one of its wings a disease, and on the other a cure from the same disease. When a fly falls into a container (of food or drink), it puts forward the wing carrying the microbe, as a self-defense. Imam Ibn Hajar said in his commentary on the hadith that one of the scholars observed that the fly protects itself with its left wing, so it can be deduced that it carries the cure or the antidote on the right wing. So if the fly is immersed in whatever it falls on, the antidote will destroy the venom or the microbe with the will of Allah. Some people are not pleased with the idea of immersing a fly in one's food or drink. However, this can be only applied in cases of emergency. When, for example, someone is in a desert, having only little water or drink. Such a person has no choice but to do as the Prophet recommended. Otherwise, he will die from thirst or infection. If someone disdains eating that food or drink, he does not have to do so, but he does not have the right to disclaim the authenticity of the hadith. The hadith is strongly authentic, as it is narrated by Imam al-Bukhari.
Flies are very common on earth. They are almost 87000 species. It has been scientifically proved that they feed on garbage and waste organic matter of the vast numbers of bacteria, viruses and other various microbes and germs.
Bacteria are very small living organisms. They live in billions in one gram of agricultural land and in millions in one drop of saliva. The effect of bacteria on the biological life on earth is unlimited, without it no crops could grow, and without crops there would be no life for man and animals on earth. Most of the bacteria are harmless, but some cause several diseases.
Viruses are, in fact, nucleic acids (either DNA or RNA). Allah the Almighty gave them the ability to enclose themselves by a protein coat, to form separate units called the "virion". The virus particle or the "virion" has the ability to invade living cells (host cell), inciting them to produce more viruses or destroying the tissues of this host cell. That is why viruses are responsible for many diseases, which affect plants, animals and man.
There is a type of virus, which infects, bacteria cells, known as "Bacteriophage." The killing type of these viruses is known as "Virulent Bacteriophage", while the non-killing type is known as "Temperate Bacteriophage". It is of the Divine Ability of Allah, Glorified be He, to create everything in this universe in pairs, so that, it is only Allah, Who is the One, Who has no partner. Thus, Allah created male and female, day and night, positive and negative, as He created the bacteria and the "Bacteriophage." It is only Allah, Who is the One, Who has no partner.
Allah, the Almighty, gave the fly the ability to carry the germ on one wing and its antidote on the other. Otherwise the fly species would have perished by now, exposed to all these germs. However, they still exist in more than 87000 species.
The fly carries the viruses of many diseases, which are consequently transferred to man's food, drink and body. Of these viral diseases are common flu, measles, mumps, chickenpox, warts, yellow fever, infectious liver diseases, some cases of paralysis, some types of cancer, and some chronic diseases of the central nervous system including multiple sclerosis.
Viruses also cause many diseases, which effect cattle, sheep and birds. Some of these diseases are encephalitis, aphthous fever (foot and mouth diseases) and duck plague, which could be transferred to man through the infected animal. Some crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, bananas and sugarcane can also be destroyed by viral infections.
"The virulent Bacteriophage" kills the bacterial cell that it invades in a very short time. While the "Temperate Bacteriophage" keeps the bacterial cell that it invades alive. It acquires a kind of immunity against the same virus or produce similar viruses. This explains why the fly carries pathogen on one wing and its antidote on the other.
A group of Muslim researchers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia carried several experiments on containers of water, honey and different juices. They exposed them to the flies. Then they immersed some flies in some of these containers. The microscopic examination showed that the liquids in which no flies were immersed were full of bacteria and viruses, while the others where the flies were totally immersed had none.
It was discovered that there are antidotes for pathogens, and that there are various types of bacteria and "Bacteriophages", only in the last decades of the 20th century.
The Prophet alluded to these 1400 years ago, when humans knew almost nothing of the facts of modern science. But given this type of information with such accuracy, that one wing carries the antidote to the pathogen carried by the other, could only be of the Divine Revelation taught to the Prophet”
Najjar is also the first person to put a medical and scientific cloak on many aspects of traditional Islam that were never previously regarded as such. But he, as he says, “feels obliged to do so since the Western world only speaks the language of science now, and we need to address them with science to spread the message of Islam to them”. He seems to forget that the West that he is talking about here is the same West that brought forth the great skeptics, most importantly David Hume, who demolished the opinion that science can be a route to ultimate truth, which essentially is what religion stands for.
Focusing on the ‘medical’ aspect only, for example, we see Najjar’s madness on fire when he is commenting on the miraculous aspect of the tradition, "Five practices are characteristics of the fitrah: circumcision, shaving the pubic hairs, cutting the mustaches short, clipping the nails and plucking the hair of the armpits." (Reported in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.)
Beginning with circumcision, he says “extensive research proved the medical benefits of circumcision, showing that uncircumcised males are more vulnerable to veneral diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, and also to penile cancer which is the most painful”, as if to say, get circumcised lest you commit adultery – that way you will not suffer as much. I hasten to add that circumcision remains a controversial topic among andrologists; unbiased sources say that, “The American Medical Association stated in 1999: "Virtually all current policy statements from specialty societies and medical organizations do not recommend routine neonatal circumcision, and support the provision of accurate and unbiased information to parents to inform their choice." The British Medical Association, states “there is significant disagreement about whether circumcision is overall a beneficial, neutral or harmful procedure. At present, the medical literature on the health, including sexual health, implications of circumcision is contradictory, and often subject to claims of bias in research.” Cost-benefit analyses have varied. Some found a small net benefit of circumcision, some found a small net decrement, and one found that the benefits and risks balanced each other out and suggested that the decision could "most reasonably be made on nonmedical factors." I remind him too of the low incidence of penile cancer, “Penile cancer is very rare in Europe and North America, occurring in about one in 100,000 men in the latter. It accounts for 0.2% of cancers and 0.1% of deaths from cancer amongst males in the United States.”. And these are incidences in largely uncircumcised men.
He moves on to talk about the benefits of circumcision, saying that this “circumcision of the husband protects his wife from this type of infections, which may lead to cancer of the uterus that is widely spread among prostitutes”. This is the first time I hear that infection is a risk factor for uterine (endometrial) cancer; the risk factors I know are listed below.
I presume the geologist is referring to cervical cancer, which carries the risk factor of ‘promiscuity’ – but circumcision cannot be defended on this basis. Firstly, the evidence for circumcision (which is not mentioned once in the Quran) is, as we just saw, pretty inconclusive. Secondly, one cannot use this way of argument to defend ‘a good thing’ – which I presume is Najjar’s opinion of circumcision, as a way of attenuating the harms of sin.
Following this, Najjar makes the sweeping statement, “Physicians noticed that uncircumcised men are more vulnerable to reproductive system diseases than others”; this, and I say this as a medical doctor, is not true. Not once have we learnt this, or heard it from the urologists who look after ‘male reproductive organs’.
He then proceeds to talk about female circumcision:
“Regarding female circumcision, it is also a way of following the Sunnah of the Prophet. It is also more dignified for her, as this is a very sensitive part of her body. If there is an extraordinary elongation of the prepuce (foreskin) it may lead to her being sexually excited repeatedly, especially before marriage. This may also displease her husband or make sexual intercourse difficult after marriage”.
Is there anything more ridiculous than that? Is it not an insult to God, the creator to say that it is more dignified for the woman for woman to not have her external female genitalia or any part thereof, than it is to have them? Are they not attributing a fault in the Creation, He who says, “No fault wilt thou see in the creation of the Most Gracious. And turn thy vision upon it once more: canst thou see any flaw. Yea, turn thy vision again and yet again, and every time thy vision will fall back upon thee, dazzled and defeated” (67:3-4).
When they hear of criticisms of such practices, like the following one by Christopher Hitchens they become very defensive:
“Across a wide swath of animist and Muslim Africa, young girls are subjected to the hell of circumcision and infibulations, which involves the slicing off of the labia and the clitoris, often with a sharp stone, and then the stitching up of the vaginal opening with strong twine, not to be removed until it is broken by male force on the bridal night. Compassion and biology allow for a small aperture to be left, meanwhile, for the passage of menstrual blood. The resulting stench, pain, humiliation, and misery exceed anything that can be easily imagined, and inevitably result in infection, sterility, shame, and the death of many women and babies in childbirth. No society would tolerate such an insult to its womanhood and therefore to its survival if the foul practice was not holy and sanctified.”
This is how one scholar put it, "It is clear that Islamic law supports both male and female circumcision. Just because mistakes are sometimes made in the way in which it is carried out does not mean that the procedure is wrong in itself." How merciful.
Is it not madness to hear that, in 1994, Egyptian Mufti Sheikh Jad Al-Hâqq issued a fatwa stating, "Circumcision is mandatory for men and for women. If the people of any village decide to abandon it, the village imam must fight against them as if they had abandoned the call to prayer”, that another Egyptian scholar saysEven prominent gynaecologists such as Dr Munir Fawzi of the department of gynaecology at Cairo University “came out in favour of the procedure, saying: "Female circumcision is entrenched in Islamic life and teaching."”
What we have here is a deep irrationality, an opposition to World Health Organisation guidelines, a pathetic reverence to ancient ideas that are grounded in nothing but tradition, and a deep contempt for women, and an emphasis on patriarchy. I have said nothing about the practice being opposed to historical practice of the Prophet and his companions, something emphasized by Martin Fido, a fellow at Oxford Univeristy when he writes, “Female circumcision…might well have struck the Prophet as absurd or indecent… the spread of Islam to Africa brought Muslims in contact with several several tribes who practiced various forms of genital mutilation, including labia stretching, male circumcision and clitoridectomy. Since Jewsih influence already proposed male circumcision as a religious rite, some Muslims enthusiastically adopted the female “equivalent”, which was carried out at puberty in some 30 countries, often without anaesthetics.”
On hearing things like this, can anyone blame an atheist like Christopher Hitchens to say that religion is, “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience”.
He further adds, “The attitude of religion to medicine, like the attitude of religion to science, is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile. A modern believer can say and even believe that his faith is quite compatible with science and medicine, but the awkward fact will always be that both things have a tendency to break religion's monopoly, and have often been fiercely resisted for that reason.”
I certainly cannot argue with Hitchens over this; he is speaking the truth. But this irrationality does not stop here. Najjar proceeds to talk about the benefits of the beard, the shaving of which (as well as trimming the moustache) is regarded by many as a compulsory act, or at least a virtuous one. He quotes the hadith reported by Ibn Umar that the Prophet said, “Trim the moustache and let your beard grow”, as well as another narrations, such as “Act differently to the polytheists; let your beards grow and shave your moustache” and “Act differently to the Magians; shave your moustache and let your beards grow” (as if God were concerned were to judge us according to our external appearance, neglecting the fact that He says, “Allah will not take you to task for that which is unintentional in your oaths. But He will take you to task for that which your hearts have garnered. Allah is Forgiving, Clement” (2:225)).
It is all about acting different, and being different; is it a surprise then that Muslims these days are being treated differently, segregared against, opposed, attacked and ridiculed – in many cases it is the indirect outcome of their own wishes. Of course, all such things are wrong, but we need to at least blame ourselves a bit for the current chaos afflicting Muslims.
In any case Najjar proceeds to say, “It is obvious from these narrations that letting the beard grow is obligatory and so is trimming the moustache. Being under the nose and above the mouth, exposed to their various secretions, makes it easy for the moustache to be contaminated with these secretions in addition to remnants of food and drink. It is then difficult to keep it perfectly clean which may lead to the growth of germs and bacteria and may result in a bad smell originating from the person, or may even cause diseases”. Even a first year medical student can respond to this. Which textbooks of dermatology and microbiology has our wonderful geologist consulted in the course of saying this? Furthermore, which school of trichology has he attended? Why does he not reference these sweeping statements? Najjar cannot accuse others of being unscientific, or accuse others of writing ‘empty works’, as he recently did on a television programme, picking up a valuable book of the great and rational linguist Abdel Saboor Shahin saying, “This book has no scientific or religious value”, before he looks into his own works, which are sometimes based on the most ridicilous suggestions, a prostitution of science for his own agenda.
Najjar’s ideas are dangerous, but I have not qualms about his intentions – he seems like an honest man. But he is guilty here not only of treason, but also of misinformation. He is guilty of what Stephen Hawking described, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”. Here is a geologist abusing the entire world of science and medicine to suit his ‘religious’ goals. It is corruption of the highest kind.
Thus in all this we see certain common things. Although there are some good things in ‘Prophetic Medicine’ (and perhaps the best thing about it is its opposition to charms and superstition), we have just seen that in most cases it is a drain of resources (especially human intelligence and time), is unethical, dependent on the belief of the person using it, opposed to science, leading to paranoia and hypocritical practice (those who believe like the author of a recently published book entitled ‘Tibbe Nabwi Aur Jadid Science (Prophetic Medicine and Modern Science)’, who claims that “Prophetic treatment of heart attack by eating seven dates, as was suggested to Sa’ad bin Waqqas, is still the better treatment than modern by-pass surgery, provided people have faith in the treatment of the Prophet” are the first to jump on a plane and seek treatment with the latest triumphs of ‘Western’ medicine), and harmful to the intelligence – a rational Muslim medic cannot be expected to happily believe that epilepsy is the result of spiritual possession and physical abnormalities within the brain tissue). I cannot myself believe that much of ‘Prophetic medicine’ is ‘Prophetic’ – I don’t think such absolutism, as expressed in the above ‘traditions’, with regard to wordly affairs, is characteristic of a prophet, whose beliefs are grounded most firmly in wisdom. In case any of the readers are somehow absolutely convinced that the Prophet (PBUH) made the above remarks, I refer them to the great historians Ibn Khaldun’s opinion regarding this Prophetic medicine is extemely valuable too for those who think that Prophetic medicine is indispensible and utterly correct, that, “The Prophet’s mission was to make known to us the prescription of the Divine Law and not to instruct us in medicine of common practice of ordinary life.’” It would also be, in my opinion, a great thing if Muslims as a whole would listen to the very logical Islamic framework of the Syrian thinker Professor Mohammed Shahrour, who I regard as one of the lights of our age.
In listening to his great precision and discrimination between terms such as ‘nabbi’ and ‘rasool’. Following his analysis of all the verses containing the two words, he comes to the conclusion that there is, “a difference between the words ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Message’, between the functions of Muhammad (SAW) as messenger (Rasul) and as Prophet (Nabi). Muhammad (SAW) received a body of information having to do with prophecy, religion and the like. As a messenger, he was the recipient of a corpus of legal instructions in addition to that information he received as a prophet. The function of Prophet is religious whereas that of the Messenger is legal (and contemporary)”.
This is an extremely important point, and it highlighted to me that imprecision in thought is one of the biggest ills of our time. Bertand Russell said that, “Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise”. That is precisely what has happened with Islamic thought, it has become vague and a victim of this vagueness. Shahroor is trying to highlight the element of precision in God’s Holy Book, likening it to the universe, His other only work that is on daily display to all of us. This is an approach that ought to be welcomed intensely.
Shahroor belongs to a linguistic school of thought that says that there are no synonyms in the Arabic language. This is not a new belief. Many lexicographers and linguists throughout the ages have expressed the same belief with regard to their own language. For instance, Laurence Urdang begins his book, ‘The Synonym Finder’ with the statement, "Those who work with language know that there is no such thing as a true synonym. Even though the meanings of two words may be the same - or nearly so - there are three characteristics of words that almost never coincide: frequency, distribution and connotation." Theodore Sturgeon, an American science fiction novelist, explained this in more detail in an interview, “Here's the point to be made - there are no synonyms. There are no two words that mean exactly the same thing. I don't care about the dictionaries of synonyms and antonyms. If there were two words that meant exactly the same thing, there wouldn't be two words. That means that every word you use has a certain amount of semantic or psychological freight that it carries that makes it different from other words.”
After analysing all those verses that include the word ‘obedience’ ‘اطاعة’ and its derivatives, Shahroor comes to the comforting conclusion that absolute ‘obedience’ is to the ‘Prophet’ and not to the Messenger. He uses several convincing arguments to support this.
For example, the fact that whenever God reprimands the Prophet for something, He is reprimanding Him in the context of Him being a Messenger (nabi), and never in the context of him being a ‘Prophet’ (rasool); the prophet may err as a human messenger, living his times and circumstance, but not in any way with regards to the ‘Prophecy’. In fact he is immune to faults with regards to the Prophecy. He says, “O Prophet (rasool)! Make known that which hath been revealed unto thee from thy Lord, for if thou do it not, thou wilt not have conveyed His message (risala). Allah will protect thee from mankind. Lo! Allah guideth not the disbelieving folk” (5:67).
As a messenger, he erred. God reprimands Muhammad (PBUH), as a messenger in several verses, such as, “O Messenger (nabi)! Why holdest thou to be forbidden that which Allah has made lawful to thee? Thou seekest to please thy consorts. But Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (66:1).
We are told in God’s Holy Book to obey God and obey the ‘Prophet’, and not the messenger. What is said above, that, “Whatever the Prophet said or did was valid and must be followed because he never uttered any untruth even when joking” is absolutely correct. But the professor, I am sure, means ‘messenger’ here.
In all the following verses, obedience is referred to the ‘Rasool’, and not the ‘nabi’ (the word ‘Rasool’ is mistakenly translated as ‘messenger’ here)
“Say, 'Obey Allah and the Messenger.' Then if they turn away, Allah does not love the disbelievers. (3:32)
Allah fulfilled His promise to you when you were slaughtering them by His permission. But then you faltered, disputing the command, and disobeyed after He showed you what you love. Among you are those who want this world and among you are those who want the hereafter. Then He turned you from them in order to test you-but He has pardoned you. Allah shows favour to the believers. (3:152)
These are Allah's limits. As for those who obey Allah and His Messenger, We will admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing under them, remaining in them timelessly, for ever. That is the Great Victory. (4:13)
As for those who disobey Allah and His Messenger and overstep His limits, We will admit them into a Fire, remaining in it timelessly, for ever. They will have a humiliating punishment. (4:14)
You who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in command among you. If you have a dispute about something, refer it back to Allah and the Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best thing to do and gives the best result. (4:59)
We sent no Messenger except to be obeyed by Allah's permission. If only when they wronged themselves they had come to you and asked Allah's forgiveness and the Messenger had asked forgiveness for them they would have found Allah Ever-Returning, Most Merciful. (4:64)
No, by your Lord, they are not believers until they make you their judge in the disputes that break out between them, and then find no resistance within themselves to what you decide and submit themselves completely. (4:65)
Whoever obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah. If anyone turns away, we did not send you to them as their keeper. (4:80)
But if anyone opposes the Messenger after the guidance has become clear to him, and follows other than the path of the believers, We will hand him over to whatever he has turned to, and We will roast him in Hell. What an evil destination! (4:115)
Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and beware! If you turn your backs, know that Our Messenger is only responsible for clear transmission. (5:92)
Children of Adam! If Messengers come to you from among yourselves, recounting My Signs to you, those who guard against evil and put things right, will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. (7:35)”
To those who believe the words ‘Apostle’, ‘Messenger’ and ‘Prophet’ are synonyms, who believe that, “While every rasul is a nabi, not every nabi is a rasul”, we ask, then why does God, whose book does not have an extra word, use both words together in verses like, “(Allah said, 'Believers are) those who follow the Rasool, The Nabi, the Ummi, whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel, commanding them to do right and forbidding them to do wrong, making good things lawful for them and bad things forbidden for them, relieving them of their heavy loads and the chains which were around them. Those who believe in him and honour him and help him, and follow the Light that has been sent down with him, they are the ones who are successful'” (7:157). If every prophet is a messenger, then why didn’t God use the single word, ‘Prophet’, which encompasses both? Is that not an inefficiency or words, or being verbose. Zafar Ansari’s translation, which is used in the very popular English translation of Abul Ala Mawdudi’s tafseer of the Qur’an, ‘Towards Understanding the Quran’, uses just the word ‘Prophet’, “Today, this mercy is for those who follow the Ummi Prophet”. Harun Yahya very conveniently, and in accordance with his belief in the synonymity of the two terms, uses just the word ‘Messenger’ to cover both terms. Fortunately, Pickthall and Abdullah Yusuf Ali use both terms, ‘Messenger’ and ‘Prophet’, but by doing this they unintentionally support the orientalist claim that the Quran is verbose.
My attack on this pretentious field of ‘Prophetic Medicine’ is motivated by several other factors beside a desire for truth and wisdom (which very little of it actually displays).
Firstly, it is to stop such inhumane practices as those given above, like female circumcision. Secondly, at an intellectual level, it is to stop us from seeing the Prophet’s statements as ‘incorrect’ (that cure is one of those three things mentioned above).
Secondly, it is to stop the publication of unnecessary, false and useless books that remain until this day, circulating in Islamic bookshops. Ibn Al-Qayyim’s book on Prophetic Medicine, for instance, a book that carries absolutely no scientific medical value, which spreads the medical ideas prevalent 700 years ago, which is regarded by some as an “extremely valuable book”, “the panacea for those in search of good health. It is a magnificent work that is a treasure every Muslim household. Although it was written by the author, Ibn Al-Qayyim, over six hundred and fifty years ago, it is extremely timely work for our generation in which health and natural health care products have become an important aspect of the lives of so many.” Another reviewer regards it as “an invaluable reference guide for the Muslim of every land and every generation. May Allah bestow His mercy and blessings upon the author, Ibn Al-Qayyim, for surely his work will be cherished throughout time”. Such writers and publishers need to realize that the hallmark of medical science is progress, that, as the great William Mayo put it, “The glory of medicine is that it is constantly moving forward, that there is always more to learn”, that, “Medical science aims at the truth and nothing but the truth”, and not the use of the uninformed opinions of men who lived before the advent of experimental science and medicine.
The attack on this monolithic, unprogressive medicine comes under the umbrella of attack on the concept of alternative medicine, which it falls under. Prophetic medicine and its myths are advocated under the same idea; that of ‘avoiding the harms of Western medicine’. The translators of Ibn Al-Qayyim’s book, for instance, write in their introduction that they are so happy to translate the book, “which is one of the best books which saved us from treatment of chemicals and poisonings that may have got bad side effects”. By spreading ideas like these, scientific, rational medicine comes under threat, and with that the health and safety of the Muslims primarily, but also possibly the rest of mankind. I fear that the Muslims, under the cloak of ‘religious medicine’ will fall under a spell similar to the one Mother Teresa used in the spread of her ideas. As Christopher Hitchens says about her, "The decision not to [fund a proper hospital], and to run instead a haphazard and cranky institution which would expose itself to litigation and protest were it run by any branch of the medical profession, is a deliberate one. The point is not the honest relief of suffering but the promulgation of a cult based on death and suffering and subjection." And of course, we all know, “when she got sick, she would check herself into the Mayo Clinic or some other temple of American medicine. As one who has visited her primitive "hospice" for the dying in Calcutta, I should call that a wise decision. Nobody would go there except to check out, in one way or another. (And please note, adds Hitchens, that Mother Teresa herself has checked into some of the costliest clinics and hospitals in the West for her own treatment.)” I devote a separate chapter later to the many flaws of alternative medicine.
Finally, it is part of the larger attack on the idea of ‘scientific miracles in religion’, which I find extremely uncomfortable. The links between science and religion are far more subtle and sublime than the ones provided by the likes of Maurice Bucaille and Zaghlool Al-Najjar. I find myself in agreement with those who understand the Quran as it is, without extrapolating ‘scientific miracles’ in every other verse. The following is an excellent summary of the reasons why one should believe that to be the case:
“This method of scientific interpretation did not find general approval among Muslim authors. Many classical Muslim commentators and scientists, notably al-Biruni, assigned to the Qur'an a separate and autonomous realm of its own and held that the Qur'an "does not interfere in the business of science nor does it infringe on the realm of science." These medieval scholars argued for the possibility of multiple scientific explanations of the natural phenomena, and refused to subordinate the Qur'an to an ever-changing science. Author Rotraud Wielandt summarizes the arguments of the modern Muslim commentators such as Mahmud Shaltut and Sayyid Qutb who reject a scientific method of interpretation of the Qur'an as follows:
§ It is lexicographically untenable, since it falsely attributes modern meanings to the quranic vocabulary.
§ It neglects the contexts of words or phrases within the quranic text, and also the occasions of revelation where these are transmitted.
§ It ignores the fact that, for the Quran to be comprehensible for its first audience, the words of the Qurʾān had to conform to the language and the intellectual horizon of the ancient Arabs at the Prophet's time — an argument already used by the Andalusian Mālikite scholar al-Shāṭibī (d. 790/1388) against the scientific exegesis of his time.
§ It does not take notice of the fact that scientific knowledge and scientific theories are always incomplete and provisory by their very nature; therefore, the derivation of scientific knowledge and scientific theories in qurʾānic verses is actually tantamount to limiting the validity of these verses to the time for which the results of the science in question are accepted.
§ Most importantly, it fails to comprehend that the Qur'an is not a scientific book, but a religious one designed to guide human beings by imparting to them a creed and a set of moral values.”
In summary, the greatest danger of expounding beliefs such as those above is that it impairs the practice of medicine, that it reinforces this mythical notion of ‘Islamic medicine’ and impedes progress and health. If medicine is to remain, as Osler put it, “the only worldwide profession, following everywhere the same methods, actuated by the same ambitions, and pursuing the same ends”, then the entire edifice of Islamic medicine ought to be discarded. We ought to base our practice on the power of reason and faith in God, submitting our will to Him, rather than the dubious accounts mentioned above. Alas, most of us are too emotionally attached to the books of our men of old. I very much doubt that all that I have said here is not going to fall on deaf ears, but I feel obliged to state my belief. Otherwise we will continue in our medical, not to say moral and intellectual stagnation.
The best way of worshipping God through medicine is excelling in its practice, in accordance with the Quran’s statements, “And there may spring from you a nation who invite to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. Such are they who are successful” (3:104), and, "Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah." (3:110). the reported saying of the Prophet (PBUH), “God loves to see one’s job done to the level of itqan (excellence),” and the other quite beautiful one, “On the authority of Abu Mousa that the Prophet (r) said; "It is indispensable for every Moslem to give charity." It was asked; "But if he has nothing to give?" The Prophet (r) replied; "If he has nothing to give, he must do a work with his hand, by which he benefits himself; and gives charity with the remainder." They said; If he is not able to do that work?" The Prophet (r) replied; "Then assist the needy and the oppressed." They said; "If he is not able to do this?" The Prophet (r) replied; "Then exhort people to do good." They said; "If he does not?" The Prophet (r) replied; "Let him withhold himself from doing harm to people; for verily this is a charity for him."
Muslims or those who have submitted to God therefore ought to be the natural advocates of the poor, a role that many physicians have assigned to doctors in the past. For example Sir Douglas Black, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, who believed that, “[Poverty] is basically a political problem, whose radical solution will require a return to distributive justice. Why write about it in a medical journal? Because doctors are also citizens; they have opportunities to observe and perhaps to mitigate the effects of poverty; and they should be, in Virchow’s words, “the natural advocates of the poor”.”
By being the carriers of the greatest and most simple message – Islam, or submitting to God, they are in a privileged position to help the rest of humanity, to emancipate them from the many socioeconomic and moral crises that exist in our world today. The relationship between these things and ill health is established beyond any doubt, which is why we have something called the ‘social history’ in medical clerkings (which alas is mostly poorly taken). A fantastic article in the Annals of Internal Medicine (McCally et al, 1999) states the following, “Poverty and social inequalities may be the most important determinants of poor health world-wide. Socioeconomic differences in health status exist even in industrialized countries where access to modern health care is widespread. In this paper, we make a formal argument for physician concern and action about poverty based on the following assertions. Physicians have a professional and a moral responsibility to care for the sick and to prevent suffering. Poverty is a significant threat to the health of both individual persons and populations; thus, physicians have a social responsibility to take action against poverty and its consequences for health. Physicians can help improve population health by addressing poverty in their roles as clinicians, educators, research scientists, and participants in policymaking.”
And the greatest healing is in correct belief and good practice, in submitting to God, who said about His Words, “O mankind! There hath come unto you an exhortation from your Lord, a balm for that which is in the breasts, a guidance and a mercy for believers” (10:57) and “Say unto them (O Muhammad): For those who believe it is a guidance and a healing” (41:44).
Also, by being the only true upholders of the idea of God (together with the deists, many of whom, much to my dismay, do not believe in a personal God), they are upholding the most significant foundation to ethics. Without belief in God, ethics is grounded in a vacuum, in the Leviathan of Hobbes. I will turn to this subject in the next section.
The other way in which we can practice and in singing His praises through its many signs. It is this that I aim to highlight, to the best of my ability in the rest of this work.
 Warraq would be pleased to know that I have discovered that he has indeed made one original ‘thought’ or remark. On page 131, he argues against the existence of God, saying, “It is very odd that when God decides to manifest Himself, He does so to only one individual. Why can He not reveal Himself to the masses in a football stadium during the final of the World Cup, when literally millions of people around the world are watching?” Quality. I am yet to read a more comical statement than that. Alas, I can think of no others, unfortunately, and I have read his work quite a few times.
 The Quran puts it like this, “And We have not sent you except as a mercy to mankind." ( 21:107)
 I would love to see Najjar and others who believe this ‘hadith’ dip one side of a fly in his food and redip the other afterward. He would never do it, and I don’t know how he thinks the prophet (PBUH) could even consider us to do that; we do not observe flies in slow motion, and there is no way that we would know which wing is which!
 As the Quran says,“Nay! They say: "We found our fathers following a certain religion, and we do guide ourselves by their footsteps." Just in the same way, whenever We sent a Warner before thee to any people, the wealthy ones among them said: "We found our fathers following a certain religion, and we will certainly follow in their footsteps." He said: "What! Even if I brought you better guidance than that which ye found your fathers following?" They said: "For us, we deny that ye (prophets) are sent (on a mission at all)." (43:22-4).