Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) guided us to a healthy spiritual as well as physical life. In Islam, health is regarded as an amanah or entrusted to people for them to use productively and effectively. Several hadith instruct us to make good use of our youth and health while we have them, by leading socially constructive lives and to strengthen our iman or faith by prayer and fasting. Islam prohibits suicide, euthanasia and tattooing. Thus Muslim men and women are responsible for maintaining a healthy body, providing it with healthy and nutritious food and drink, abstaining from harmful substances such as alcohol and drugs, maintaining rigorous cleanliness and hygiene, as well as provision for adequate exercise). In addition, control over one’s ‘nafs’ or desire to indulge in rich food and drink is regarded as essential in maintaining good health.
Muslims believe that the physical body and good health are a gift from God and both are to be maintained by the person who is temporarily living in the body; it is believed that when a person is resurrected after death, he or she will be asked to account for four things:
- Their time in the world and how they spent it, and the deeds or misdeeds done during their lifetime;
- The knowledge they had and what they did with it;
- Their wealth, how they earned it and how they spent it;
- Their body, and how they looked after it and how they used or abused it.
As health is so significant for a Muslim, clear instructions have been given for its upkeep and maximization. Islamic knowledge of health stresses the unity between the mind, body and spirit and traditional Muslims believe one of these cannot be treated without also considering the other two. A hadith related by Abu Hurayrah states that the prophet (peace by upon him) said, “There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its remedy”. Muslims are instructed to actively seek treatment for sickness and disease with the faith that all disease and cure originates from Allah.
The human body is regarded as God’s masterpiece; its central feature is the ‘qalb’ or the heart which is the receptacle of the human soul and of all higher emotion. Muslims believe that the heart determines a person’s attitude towards sickness or health. Any sickness or affliction is seen as a test from God, which needs to be borne with patience and with hope that the suffering will be rewarded in the afterlife. Since God is seen as the most just, it is only reasonable that he would not cause sickness or suffering unless it was to be recompensed, usually with the washing away of past sins. Most devout Muslims regard sickness as an opportunity that aids in absolving their sins in the physical world so that they do not carry over to life after death.
The following saying of the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) is quoted reverentially around sick people, “No one will be afflicted by hardship or illness, or anxiety or worry, no harm or sadness, even the pricking of the thorn, except that, by it, Allah will cover up some of his sins.”. Muslims are urged to cultivate a ‘qalb salim’, or a patient heart which is occupied with discovering and accepting God’s purpose or plan in whatever takes place, whether good or bad. Its opposite, ‘qalb marid’ or the diseased heart, is one which is restless and dissatisfied and occupied with attaining comfort and self-indulgence in the worldly life. Stress, anxiety and depression, common ailments in the modern world are regarded as products of the diseased heart which has lost its original purpose.
Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, “the stomach is the house of every disease and abstinence is the head of every remedy”. Hence, he recommended moderation in diet and stressed good nutrition. Also, he is said to have encouraged physical activity for both men and women. The recommended activities are running, swimming, horse riding and archery.
Some of the most commonly used treatments adopted by prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) are:
- Cupping or hijama (Arabic for ‘sucking’)
This method involves using cups of glass, horn, metal or plastic to create a tight vacuum seal on the site of the body to be treated. Blood is let into the cup via a small incision, and kept on until the flow of blood has eased. Modern medical trials using this method have shown efficacy in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, neuralgia, lower back pain and for boosting immunity.
- Black Seed
Black caraway seed is known to have anti-inflammatory, antihistamine and analgesic benefits. In addition, it is supposed to boost immunity, maintain good digestion and cure black magic. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said “Use the black seed, because it contains a cure for every ailment except death”.
The Quran refers to honey saying:
There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought. (The Quran, Chapter 16 Verse 69). Honey is also included in the drinks of Jannah, along with water, milk and a wine without intoxication. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) called honey the best medicine, a healing and a blessing. In medicine, honey has been used as an antibacterial barrier for wound healing and for burns. It has antioxidant properties and contains complex and simple sugars, enzymes, and several vitamins and minerals.
- Olive Oil
The Quran refers to olive oil in Chapter 23 Verse 20:
And [We brought forth] a tree issuing from Mount Sinai which produces oil and food for those who eat.
Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, “eat the olive and anoint yourself with it for indeed it is from a blessed tree”.
Olive oil contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and Vitamin E. It has anti-inflammatory properties, and helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol improving cardiac health. It regulates blood sugar and enhances insulin sensitivity making it ideal for diabetics. It is known to reduce levels of obesity, and has been shown to reduce occurrence of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.
Dates are eaten fresh or dried. They are a popular means of breaking fast in Ramadan, following the sunnah of prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). Dates are rich in dietary fibre, complex sugars, potassium and magnesium. They elevate blood glucose levels and provide ready energy.
- Zam Zam water
Zam Zam water, from a natural underground spring in Mecca, is rich in calcium, fluoride and magnesium. Water, per se, is a necessity of life without which it is not possible to maintain normal functioning.
Siwak, or miswak, are the twigs of the Arak tree. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) recommended its use as a toothbrush for dental hygiene. The oil of the Arak tree is being used in toothpastes for its ability to promote gum health.
Sleep deprivation is fast becoming a modern malady. Increasingly, people are sleeping less and are directly harming their health in numerous ways. Sleeping late into the day disrupts the circadian rhythm and slows metabolism. The Quran states:
And it is He who has made the night for you as clothing and sleep [a means for] rest and has made the day a resurrection. (Chapter 25, Verse 47).
People who follow the natural cycle of sleep- sleeping when it’s dark and waking up at sunrise- have been shown to have a better immune system, have more energy and are more productive.
As the foregoing account shows, Islam is regarded by its followers as a complete system of life and therefore beliefs about health and illness cannot be understood separated from the religion.
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