Prophetic Medicine

In IslamProphetic medicine (الطب النبوي‎, ‘Al-Tibb al-nabawī) is the advice given by the prophet Muhammad with regards to sickness, treatment and hygiene as found in the hadith, and the writings undertaken primarily by non-physician scholars to collect and explicate these traditions. It is distinct from Islamic medicine, which is a broader category encompassing a variety of medical practices rooted in Greek natural philosophy. Prophetic medical traditions exhort humans simply not to 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. 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. It is nonetheless a tradition with continued modern-day currency.


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. 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”. 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.

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:

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 death.

— Abu Dawood, Sunan Abu Dawood

The Prophet said, “If a house fly falls in the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink) and take it out, for one of its wings has a disease and the other has the cure for the disease.”

— Muhammad al-Bukhari, Sahih Bukhari

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


Black seeds

Nigella sativa seeds

Nigella sativa seeds

Main article: Nigella sativa

Abu Hurayra quoted Muhammad saying:

“Utilize the black seed for without a doubt, it is a cure for all sicknesses aside from death.” (Hadith Al-Bukhari 7:591)

Camel urine

Main article: Camel urine

Some people ofUkl orUraina tribe came to Medina and its climate did not suit them. So the Prophet ordered them to go to the herd of (Milch) camels and to drink their milk and urine (as a medicine). So they went as directed and after they became healthy, they killed the shepherd of the Prophet and drove away all the camels. (Hadith Al-Bukhari 4:100)


See also: Honey § Religious significance

The value of honey is traced to specific mention of its virtues in the Quran, an-Nahl (the Bees) and not just Muhammad. (Quran 68-69)


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. The canonical al-Bukhari corpus, divided into 97 books with 3,450 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 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. Ethics of medical practice continue to be an important marker of Islamic medicine for some. Al-Jawziyya also elaborates on the relationship between medicine and religion.

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. Al-Suyuti’s other manuscript divides medicine into three 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. Ibn al-Khatib also addressed the Black Death and his belief in the contradiction between hadith and science regarding plagues, which may have led to his execution by strangulation for “heresy”.

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. Other notable works include those of Ibn Tulun (d. AD 1546) and Al-Dhahabi (d. AD 1348).

Iran post-1970s

Some clerics in Iran promote a controversial form of prophetic or “Islamic” medicine, based on sometimes rather unlikely quotations attributed to historic Muslim religious figures, and on Iranian traditional medicine.

Abbas Tabrizian, a prominent proponent, has faced official action for selling unapproved treatments; he has been widely criticized, and it thought to have few supporters. His burning of a copy of “Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine”, a medical reference book, was condemned by Grand Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, who said that “insulting medical learning is against the spirit of Islam and Islam’s call for [learning] science… Criticizing the content [of a book] is appropriate, but [burning] is an act of ignorance, and many libraries were set on fire based on wrong motivations in the past”. Ayatollah Alireza Arafi, who runs Irans seminaries, also condemned the book-burning. Abbas Tabrizian was widely ridiculed for a suggestion that COVID-19 could be prevented by applying a cotton ball soaked in violet oil to the anus. The IRNA news agency reported that Abbas Tabrizian, who has often promoted his remedies as “Islamic medicine” in opposition to standard medicine, has also claimed that COVID-19 is God’s revenge against those who had bothered him.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Morteza Kohansal, a follower of Abbas Tabrizian who visited the coronavirus section of a hospital in Iran without wearing protective gear, and applied an unknown substance he described as “Prophet’s Perfume” to patients.

Using “Islamic medicine” has caused some Iranian clerics to delay getting standard medical treatment. Ayatollah Hashem Bathaie Golpayegani announced that he had been infected by COVID-19, but had cured himself, three weeks before being hospitalized. He died two days later. Ayatollah Haeri-Shirazi and Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi were both also said by their families to have long delayed seeking standard medical, using “Islamic medicine” instead. Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, who had been considered a possible successor Supreme Leader of Iran, died of cancer. His son Ala Shahroudi later said that “The so-called Islamic doctors had convinced my father to ignore what modern physicians said about his illness and how to treat it… My father underwent surgery in 2017. Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, secretly visited and advised him to ignore what the Islamic doctors say, and listen to the modern-day physicians… Nevertheless, my father ignored the leader’s recommendation, and continued to trust the so-called Islamic Medicine experts.”

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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