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Prophetic medicine

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Title: Prophetic medicine  
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Subject: Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, Medicine in the medieval Islamic world, Quran and miracles, Abu'l-Faraj ibn al-Jawzi
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Prophetic medicine

Prophetic medicine ('Al-Tibb al-nabawī, Arabic: الطب النبوي‎) refers to the actions and words (hadith) specifically of the Islamic prophet Muhammad with regards to sickness, treatment and hygiene, and the genre of writings undertaken primarily by non-physician scholars to collect and explicate these traditions.[1] It is distinct from Islamic medicine, in that the latter is a broader category encompassing a variety of medical practices rooted in Greek natural philosophy. Prophetic medical traditions exhort humans to not simply stop at following Muhammad's teachings, but encourage them to search for cures as well. The literature of Prophetic medicine thus occupies a symbolic role in the elucidation of Islamic identity as constituted by a particular set of relationships to science, medicine, technology and nature. There has historically been a tension in the understanding of the medical narratives: are they of the same nature as Muhammad’s religious pronouncements, or are they time-sensitive, culturally-situated, and thus not representative of a set of eternal medical truths? [2] This body of knowledge was fully articulated only in the 14th century, at which point it was concerned with reconciling Sunnah (traditions) with the foundations of the Galenic humoral theory that was prevalent at the time in the medical institutions of the Islamicate world.[3] It is nonetheless a tradition with continued modern-day currency, as suggested by the online presence of resources on the genre.[4]


Prophetic medicine is sometimes casually identified with Unani medicine or traditional medicine, although it is distinguished from some iterations of these and from scientific medicine most predominantly by the former being specifically a collection of advice attributed to Muhammad in the Islamic tradition.[5] One would do well to note that medieval interpretations of the medical hadith were produced in a Galenic medical context, while modern-day editions might bring in recent research findings to frame the importance of the genre. In the hadith, Muhammad recommended the use of honey and hijama (wet cupping) for healing and had generally opposed the use of cauterization for causing "pain and menace to a patient".[6] Other items with beneficial effects attributed to Muhammad, and standard features on traditional medicine in the Islamicate world, include olive oil; dates; miswak as a necessity for oral health and Nigella sativa or "black seed" or "black cumin" and its oils. These items are still sold in Islamic centers or sellers of other Islamic goods. The value of honey is traced to specific mention of its virtues in the Quran and not just Muhammad:

And thy Lord taught the Bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men's) habitations;
Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought.
—Quran, sura 16 (An-Nahl), ayat 68-69[7]

Muhammad's firm belief in the existence of a cause and a cure for every disease is described in many hadith along the lines of the below:[6][8]

Make use of medical treatment, for Allah has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease, namely old age.

This belief can be said to be a grounding philosophy of this otherwise loosely-defined field,[10] and is said to have encouraged early Muslims to engage in medical research and seek out cures for diseases known to them.[8]


While the prominent works focused on treatment of the hadith related to health date from several centuries A.H., Sahih al-Bukhari and other earlier collections included these as well. 'Abd Allah b. Bustâm al-Nîsâbûrî’s Tlbb al-a'imma, aggregating a legacy of several Shi’ite Imams, is widely considered to be the first known treatise on Prophetic medicine, although it is rooted in a somewhat different cosmology.[2] The canonical al-Bukhari corpus, divided into 97 books with 3450 chapters,includes over a 100 traditions in its book 76 loosely related to medicine, covering topics ranging from precautions against leprosy and epidemics to the forbidding of alcohol and suicide. The most notable works that still survive[11] are attributed to religious scholars and largely not to Galenic physicians, although the latter are occasionally referenced.

Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya in the 1300s produced one of the most influential works about prophetic medicine in his 277-chapter book, Al-Tibb al-Nabawiyy. Al-Jawziyya deals with a diversity of treatments as recommended by Muhammad but also engages with ethical concerns, discussing malpractice and the hallmarks of the competent doctor.[12] Ethics of medical practice continue to be an important marker of Islamic medicine for some.[13] Al-Jawziyya also elaborates on the relationship between medicine and religion.[1]

A theologian renowned for his exegetical endeavors, Al-Suyuti also composed two works on prophetic medicine, one of which was on sexual relations as ordered by Muhammad.[12] Al-Suyuti's other manuscript divides medicine into 3 types: traditional, spiritual and preventive (e.g. dietary regimen and exercise). Along with Al-Jawziyya, Al-Suyuti also included commentary that spoke to dealing with contagion and thus was relevant to the Black Death in the Islamic world.

Both of the works above also address bioethical issues of abortion and conception, issues that, like the idea of Islamic medical heritage as being holistic, continue to be important in constructions of modern Islamic identity.[14] Other notable works include those of Ibn Tulun (d. AD 1546) and Al-Dhahabi (d. AD 1348).


  1. ^ a b Muzaffar Iqbal, Science and Islam (Westport, CT: Greenwood press,2007),59
  2. ^ a b Ahmed Ragab. Journal of the American Oriental Society 132.4 (2012). 657-673.
  3. ^ Stearns, Justin (1 December 2011). "Writing the History of the Natural Sciences in the Pre-modern Muslim World: Historiography, Religion, and the Importance of the Early Modern Period". History Compass 9 (12): 923–951. doi:10.1111/j.1478-0542.2011.00810.x. 
  4. ^ Tibb-e-Nabawi ~ Healing by ISLAM, both for the body & soul, for the doctor & patient, for the sick & healthy; Prophetic-Medicine
  5. ^ Rosenthal, Franz; Marmorstein, Jenny (1975). The classical heritage in Islam. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 182. ISBN . 
  6. ^ a b Deuraseh Nurdeen. "Ahadith of the Prophet on Healing in Three Things (al-Shifa' fi Thalatha): An Interpretational". Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine 2003 (4): 14–20. 
  7. ^ Quran 16:69
  8. ^ a b Borchardt, John K. (2002). "Arabic Pharmacy during the Age of the Caliphs". Drug News & Perspectives 15 (6): 383. doi:10.1358/dnp.2002.15.6.840036. 
  9. ^ Sunan Abu Dawood, 28:3846
  10. ^ Irmeli Pehro, The Prophet's Medicine: A Creation of the Muslim Traditionalist Scholars (Helsinki: Kokemaki, 1995)
  11. ^ The Magic of Science
  12. ^ a b Cyril Elgood (1962) The Medicine Of the Prophet. PubMed Central, 146-153.
  13. ^ Islamic medicine on the rise in Southeast Asia
  14. ^ Fazlur Rahman Health and Medicine in the Islamic Tradition: Change and Identity. (New York : Crossroad, 1987)

Further reading

  • Ghaly, Mohammed, Prophetic Medicine, in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol. II, pp.502-506. ISBN 1610691776

External links

  • U.S. National Library of Medicine: Prophetic Medicine
  • International Institute of Islamic Medicine
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