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Medicine of the Prophet - Introduction and General Consideration
Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya

Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds, and His blessings on the noblest of Messengers, Muhammad, Seal of the Prophets, and his family and Companions, on them all.

These are some useful chapters on the guidance of the Prophet concerning the medicine which he used, was treated with, or recommended for others. We shall elucidate what it contains of wisdom which is not accessible to the intellects of the greatest of physicians. We ask help from God, and from Him we draw strength and power.

(a) The two types of sickness

We begin by declaring that sickness is of two kinds: sickness of the heart, and sickness of the body, both mentioned in the Qur’an.

Sickness of the heart is of two kinds: Sickness of uncertainty and doubt, and sickness of desire and temptation, and these both appears in the Qur’an.

Concerning sickness of uncertainty, the Most High has said: ‘In their hearts is a disease; and Allah has increased  their disease’ (II:10).

Again, He said:

‘That those in whose hearts is a disease, and the unbelievers, may say: What does Allah mean by this as a parable?’ (LXXIV: 31).

And concerning anyone called to accept judgement in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunna, but who refused and turned away, He said: ‘When they are summoned to come to Allah and His Messenger so that He may judge between them, behold some of them decline. But if the right is on their side, they come to him in submission. Is it that there is a disease in their hearts? Or do  they doubt, or are they in fear, that Allah and His Messenger might treat them unjustly? But it is they who do wrong?’ (XXIV: 48-50). This is the sickness of uncertainties and doubts.

Concerning the sickness of desires, He has spoken: ‘O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. If you fear God, do not be too complaisant in your speech, lest one in whose heart there is sickness should desire you’ (XXXIII: 32).

That is the sickness of the desire of adultery. And God knows best.

(b) Principles of bodily illness

On bodily sickness, he has spoken: ‘There is no blame upon the blind, nor one born lame nor on the one who is sick …’ (XXIV: 61). He mentioned bodily sickness in connection with pilgrimage, fasting and ablution, for an amazing reason that indicates the glory of the Qur’an, and how sufficient it is for the one who truly comprehends it. The rules of bodily medicine are three: preservation of health, expulsion of harmful substances, and protection from harm. Thus the Most High has mentioned these three principles in these three most relevant places: In the verse on fasting He said: ‘If any of you is ill, or on a journey (then fasting should be made up from) a set number of other days’ (II: 184). For He permitted a sick person to break the fast because of illness; and the traveller in order to preserve his health and strength, as fasting while travelling might cause injury to health through the combination of vigorous movement and the consumption of the vital bodily energy which often is not properly replaced due to lack of food. So He permitted the traveller to break his fast.

In the verse of the Pilgrimage, He said: ‘If any of you is sick, or has an ailment in his head, then (he can make) compensation of fasting or almsgiving or sacrifice’ (II: 196). He gave permission to the sick, and to anyone with some ailment in his head, such as lice or itching, to shave his head, while in a state of ihram. This was to evacuate the substance of harmful vapours that brought about the ailment on his head through being congested beneath the hair. When the head is shaved, the pores are opened up, and these vapours make their way out. This kind of evacuation is used to draw an analogy for all other kinds of evacuation, where congestion of the matter would cause harm.

There are ten things which if blocked or restrained cause harm: blood when it is agitated, semen when it is moving, urine, faeces, wind, vomiting, sneezing, sleep, hunger, thirst. Each of these ten, if repressed, bring about some kind of malady. The Most High drew attention to the least significant—the vapour congested in the head—to indicate the importance of evacuating what is more serious. Such is the method of the Qur’an: to give instruction about the greater, through mentioning the lesser.


In the verse of ablution the Most High referred to the protection from harm: ‘If you are sick, or on a journey, or one of you comes from the privy, or you have been in contact with women, and you can find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth’ (IV: 43). He permitted the sick person to desist from using water and to use earth instead, in order to protect the body against harm. There again the attention is drawn to take the necessary precautionary measures against anything which could harm the body, internally or externally.

The Most High has thus guided His servants to the three main principles of medicine, and the total sum of its numerous rules. We shall mention the guidance of the Messenger of God concerning these, and shall elucidate how his guidance is the most perfect.

(c) Medicine of the heart

As for medicine of the heart, this has been entrusted to the Messengers, God’s blessings and peace upon them; there is no means of obtaining this, except through their teaching and at their hands. For the tranquillity of the heart is obtained through recognition of its Lord and Creator, His Names and Attributes, His actions and judgements; and he should prefer what He approves of and loves, and should avoid what He forbids and dislikes. Only thus can true health and life be found, and there is no path to acquire these save through the Messengers. Any idea that health of the heart can be achieved except by following them is an error on the part of the one who so thinks unless he only means the life and health of his animal soul and its desires, while the life of his heart, its health and strength, are totally ignored. If anyone does not distinguish between the one and the other, he should weep over the life of his heart, as it should be counted among the dead, and over its light, for it is submerged in the seas of darkness.

(d) Medicine of the body

Medicine of the body is of two kinds:

(1) The first kind is in accordance with God’s creation of the animals, both rational beings and dumb animals, and it does not require the intervention of a physician. Treatment of hunger and thirst, cold, weariness, and suchlike is by their opposites and by that which put an end to these states.

(2) The second kind is that which requires thought and reflection: such as repelling ‘similar’ illnesses, occurring in the temperament, thus unbalancing the equilibrium, whether erring towards heat or cold, dryness or moisture, or a combination of two of these. This is itself of two kinds: either material or qualitative, that is, either through the secretion of a matter, or the appearance of a condition. The difference between them is that illness of condition appears when the matters which actually caused it have ceased to exist, for while these matters abate, their effects remain as a condition within the temperament. But illnesses of matter are reinforced by their own causes; and when the cause of an illness remains along with it, then one must first pay attention to the cause, to the illness itself, and thirdly to the medicine for it.

Then there are illnesses of the organs, which cause the organ to depart from its normal state. This may affect it in form, or in cavity, or vessel; affecting texture or proximity; or glands, or bones, or position. For when these organs are put together to constitute the body, their composition is called: conjunction; and any departure from this equilibrium in this respect is called: disjunction.

Or there are the general diseases, which comprise the ‘similar’ and the organic. The similar are those whereby the temperament departs from a balanced state, and this departure is named sickness, once it has caused actual perceptible damage. It is of eight types: four simple, and four compound. The simple are: hot, cold, moist and dry. The compound are: hot and moist, hot and dry, cold and moist, cold and dry. These occur either with or without the secretion of some matter. If the sickness causes no actual damage it is called ‘departure from the mean’, yet being within the limits of a healthy balance.

The body has three states: (1) natural state, (2) abnormal state, (3) a state midway between the two. The first is that in which the body is healthy; the second is that in which it is sick; while the third state is that which is intermediate between these two states. For nothing transfers to its opposite except by an intermediate.

The departure of the body from its natural state may be from an internal cause, since it is composed from hot and cold, moist and dry; or it may be due to an external cause, because whatever the body encounters may be either suitable or unsuitable.

Harm that occurs to a human being may be caused by disorder of the temperament, through its departure from the mean; or it may be caused by corruption of an organ; or it may be caused by weakness in the faculties or in the spirits which convey them. This harm can be traced back to an increase of something, which in the balanced state should not be in excess; or deficiency of what the balanced state requires in order not to be deficient; or separation of what the balance requires to be separate; or expansion of what the balance requires to be contracted; or finally through a change in shape or location of an organ from its original customary one that causes it to deviate from its equilibrium.

The physician is the one who disperses that which harms the human being when it is congested, or concentrates that which harms him by being separated; he decreases that which, if increased, causes him harm, or increases that which harms by its decrease. Thus he restores lost health, or he preserves it by form and likeness and repels the illness which is present, through its opposite and antithesis; and he confronts illness by that which prevents its occurrence, through precautionary measures. And you will see how these principles are reflected in the guidance of the Messenger of God, bringing healing and sufficiency, through the power and strength of God, His bounty and assistance.


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