Humans crave for "Perfect Health". They know that they can never
attain this state of perfection because they cannot conceive what is
"perfect". Most should therefore be reasonably satisfied with relative
"good health", where the individual would be living without imminent
suffering or pain. As living organisms, humans are subject to genetic and
environmental influences that affect the functioning of their organs. Any
negative effect would cause a disease.
The force of life inexorably urges living organisms to resist disease which
constitutes by definition an obstruction to the fulfillment of the ultimate
objective of the ailing organism. Not only do humans who live for some purpose
in life, but one dare say every particle has a role and is commissioned to
undertake it to the best of its ability. This innate tendency in all organisms
to function in accordance with their respective eternal laws ministering their
roles and missions is a part of what the Quran terms as "Tasbeeh".
"The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, declare His
Glory: There is not a thing but celebrates His praise, and yet you understand
not how they declare His glory. Verily He is oft-forbearing most
forgiving." (Quran 27:44)
Both words "glorifying" and "praising" in the above verse
have been used by translators to imply "Tasbeeh", but they can mean
the conformity with the laws enacted by Allah to administer the ideal
relationship among all beings in the course of their function and performance.
When there is any disturbance or deviation from the inherent discipline of
Tasbeeh, then there is a disease. In humans, such a disease can be pure moral
(psychological), pure pathological, or moral-cum-pathological. When a person
goes astray in his behavioral conduct, or when he contracts a virus infection,
or where the cholesterol in his blood increases to the extent that affects his
meditative faculties and behavior, the person is accordingly considered sick. To
cure him, an appropriate course of treatment must be followed. The person who is
qualified to judge whether a person is suffering from a "disease" as
such, and who assumes the functions of healing is called a medical doctor.
To help understand the role of a Muslim doctor, let us have a look at the texts
in the Quran and Hadith relating to the subject. God talks in the Quran about
moral disease and cure in several suras (chapters):
"O mankind! There hath come to you a direction from you Lord and a healing
for the (disease) in your hearts, - and for those who believe, a guidance and a
mercy" (Quran 10:57).
The "direction" in this verse is to the Quran itself: it is
considered a sure cure to any moral or psychological disease that may afflict
"It (Quran) is a guide and a healing to those who believe" (Quran
There is no doubt that genuine belief in God can be the best cure for most of
our psychological disturbances. It brings peace to our hearts as we beckon to
our Creator and resign in Him.
"But He guideth to Himself those who turn to Him in patience. Those who
believe, and whose hearts find peace and satisfaction in the remembrance of God:
for without doubt in the remembrance of God do hearts find satisfaction and
peace" (Quran 13: 27-28).
Moral disease has been frequently expressed as disease in the heart. For
instance, depicting the psychological picture of the Hypocrites (Munafiqeen) God
"In their hearts there is a disease; and God has increased their disease:
and grievous is the penalty they (incur), because they are false (to
themselves)" (Quran 2:10).
Transgressors, unbelievers and ill-intentioned individuals suffer from a moral
weakness - a disease in their hearts. This term has been repeated about thirteen
times in the Quran.
From the physical point of view, there are many verses that mention the ill and
the patient, giving them respite from some commissioned obligations and
prescriptions. For instance, the ill are allowed not to keep the fasting during
2:184), not to observe the usual ablution
and to cut their hair
during pilgrimage (Quran
In general, the ailing person is treated as a special case and is given the
chance for recovery and is always given special treatment.
It is granted that Allah is the ultimate healer. Ibrahim
arguing with his
people about the omnipotence of Allah said, "... (Allah) is He who
created me, and it is He who guides me, who gives me food and drink, and when I
am ill, He cures me..." (Quran 26:80).
Nevertheless, the Quran mentions, for instance, a healing potential in honey
produced by bees:
"...there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors,
wherein is healing for men..." (Quran 26:69).
The Hadith, as usual, gives us striking revealing facts concerning disease and
cure. Our Prophet
informed us that the general rule is that there is a
cure to every disease, whether we are aware of it or not. We know at present
that our cells produce antibodies to fend against the agents of disease: the
viruses and virulent bacteria. Homeopathic philosophy is based on helping the
body to overcome the disease by giving the sick very small doses of drugs that
would stimulate the same symptoms in a healthy person if given in a large doses.
In simple words, the well established Hadith narrated on the authority of Ibn
Maso'ud "God has not inflicted a disease without prescribing a cure to it,
known to whoever knows it, and unknown to whoever does not know it." (cited
by Ahmad. cf Nayl-al-Awtar, V.9, p.89) is a confirmation of the natural law of
auto-resistance or self defense. It indicates as well the necessity for
discovering cures to our diseases. He
said - on the authority us Usama
Ibn Shuraik - when a Bedouin asked him whether he should seek treatment:
"Yes, servants of God seek treatment; God has not set a disease without
setting a cure to it, known to whoever knows it and unknown to whoever does not
know it " (cited by Ibn Mujah, Tirmidhi and Abu-Dawood). And again, on the
authority of Abu-Huraira, the Prophet
said, "God has not sent any
disease without sending a cure to it" (cited by Ahmad, Bukhari and Ibn
The Muslim Patient
Every human being is bound to feel ill sometime and somehow. A Muslim does
not panic when afflicted with any sickness because his belief in the mercy of
God, his faith in destiny and his faith enjoining forbearance and patience give
him strength to stand fast and endure his ordeal. However, he is supposed to
seek treatment in response to the Prophet's
order. By accepting the
statement that there is a cure to every disease, the Muslim
patient builds up a strong hopeful attitude that helps him and his doctor to
resist the disease and overcome it.
The Muslim Doctor
The Muslim doctor shares with the Muslim patient the two main characteristic:
the faith in God and destiny, and the conviction that there is a cure for every
disease. But the doctor must have something more; he is supposed to know, or at
least try to know, the proper diagnosis and the proper cure. He must be aware of
his mission or commission entrusted to him in his capacity as the agent of
healing. Being and agent, he believes that the act of healing is not entirely
his, but depends on God's will. It seems to me that medical doctors are more
aware than others of the divine power and God's will. They meet every day with
cases where destiny plays the major part, and they encounter the most unexpected
results. Yasir narrates that the Prophet
said: "For each disease
there is a cure: and when the (right) treatment is given, the disease is cured
by the Will of Allah" (Ahmad and Muslim).
The art of healing, which is called the medical profession in modern language,
has been highly respected all through the ages. For a long period in human
history this art was closely correlated with religious leadership and quite
often confluent with magic and miracles. Since the advent of Islam 1400 years
ago, medicine has become a science subject of human intelligence and discovery.
Nevertheless, the medical doctor has persistently captured the appreciation and
respect of his contemporaries, especially as medicine was usually associated
with other philosophical and social knowledge. In fact this close marriage
between philosophy and medicine distinguished the medical history of Islam. The
gist here is that a doctor's prognosis included the spiritual, psychological and
social sides of the patient over and above the pathological aspects. I earnestly
believe that in an Islamic state, all Muslim doctors in course of their everyday
practice, and when dealing with Muslim patients in particular, should keep this
traditional prognostic attitude in mind. I am sure, if they do they will never
regret the act.
But what is it that makes a Muslim doctor different from other non-Muslim
doctors? From the technological and scientific points of view, all doctors fall
in one category. However, when it comes to practice, the Muslim doctor finds
himself bound by particular professional ethics plus his Islamic directives
issuing from his belief. In fact, the Muslim doctor - and I mean b this that
doctor who tries to live his Islam by following its teachings all through - is
expected to behave differently on some occasions and to meet greater
responsibilities compared to other non-Muslim doctors.
1. The Public Responsibility: A Muslim doctor is supposed to belong
to a Muslim community where there is some common cause, common feelings and
mutual solidarity. "Believers are brethren" (Quran 49:10). God also says:
"And hold fast all of you together to the Rope of Allah, and be not divided
among yourselves; and remember Allah's favor on you, for you were enemies and He
joined your hearts together, so that by His Grace you become brethren..."
The implication is that the Muslim doctor is a member in a Muslim community
where the healthy body of the individual is crucial for its survival and
development. The doctor has a big say and great weight in influencing his
patients and in righteously guiding their orientation. In a country like USA where we live, the best service
that a medical practitioner can render is to behave all the time in accordance
with his Islamic beliefs, to declare his conviction , and to be proud of it.
Thus he can be a good model for others to win their confidence and hearts.
2. Faith and Healing: By accepting the fact that Allah is the healer -
and that the doctor is only an agent, both patients - irrespective of their
creeds - and their doctors, fight their battle of treatment with less agony and
tension. I think it is an established fact that such spiritual conviction does
improve the psychological state of the patient and boost his morale, and thus
help him overcame his physical weakness and sickness. There are many examples
where faith plays an important part in the process of healing. In my opinion, a
Muslim doctor must make his faith the backbone of his healing career.
3. Reprehensible, Prohibited and Permissible Acts: More than any other
professional, the Muslim medical doctor is confronted frequently with questions
concerning the Islamic legitimacy of his activities. There are diverse daily
controversial problematic issues on which he is supposed to take a stand: e.g.,
birth control, abortions, opposite sex hormonal injections, transsexual
operations, brain operations affecting human personality, plastic surgery
changing physionomy, extra-uterine conception, etc.
The Muslim doctor should not be guided in such issues merely by the law of the
county. He must also find the answer is not an easy matter, especially if the
doctor himself has no reasonably solid background in the field of Islamic
teachings. Yet, to gain such knowledge is very simple and would not consume much
time as generally presumed.
In general, every Muslim must have a preliminary knowledge of what is
reprehensible and what is prohibited. One has to admit that our early education
as individuals is very deficient in this regard. But this does not justify our
ignorance of the essentials of our religion and our indifference towards its
injunctions. There is no difficulty nowadays to obtain a few reference books
about our Shari'ah and to find out the answers to most - if not all - our
medical queries. The most preliminary study of the Islamic science of "Usul"
would give the doctors the main principles of analogy, "Qias",
preferential application (Istihsan) and juristic initiation (Istihsan).
The importance of such knowledge becomes conspicuous when the subject of the
issue is purely technical and this lies beyond the reach of the normal religious
scholar. Besides, there are many secondary questions that arise in the course of
dealing with patients where the personal judgment of the doctor is the only arbiter. There, as always, the doctor needs a criterion on which he can build
his code of behavior and the ethics of his medical procedure.
To conclude, the role of the Muslim doctor is briefly to place his profession in
service of his religion. To this end, he must know both: medicine and Islam.
Adapted from the book "Islamic perspectives in medicine".
A collection of essays compiled by Shahid Athar, M.D.