In this series of articles, Shaykh Jamir Meah explores the importance of holistic and natural medicine in the treatment of chronic diseases, and how the principles and practice of natural therapies not only complement our Islamic values and aspirations, but can often promote our own religious practice and spiritual growth.
The Relationship between Mind, Body, and Spirit in Chronic Disease
Imam al Haddad tells us in The Book of Assistance, ‘God never mentioned the inward and the outward in His Book without beginning with the inward. And the Prophet used to pray (may blessings and peace be upon him), ‘O God! Make my inward better than my outward, and make my outward virtuous.‘
Mankind has been preoccupied with disease and healing since time immemorial. The ancients, and nearly all nations throughout history, right up to the last great native nations and tribes, understood the concept of man as a being with an inward and outward dimension. They understood the reality of man’s destiny, and because of this, their philosophies, discoveries, and even everyday life, bore the profundity of man’s existence in mind.
Medicine was no exception. The purpose of treating man at times of sickness meant promoting healing in both the body and spirit. It was Plato who said, ‘The greatest mistake in the treatment of diseases is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated.’
We also acknowledge that the disbelief and rejection of God, the soul, and its final destiny, has also existed since ancient times. However, with the rise of brutal colonial powers, the horrors of the World Wars, the industrial revolution, increasing corporate capitalism, and most alarmingly, the rise of atheism, mankind, specifically ‘western’ man, entered into a new, unprecedented psychological posture, and with it, religious truths gave way to a new breed of science and an insatiable appetite for the material.
With man’s technological and scientific advances, increasingly secular agendas, and major shifts in world wealth and power, God, the hereafter, and the fate of man’s soul were consigned to the past.
Western medicine inevitably followed suit. Modern theories, advanced technological instruments and machines, supported by powerful chemical drugs, ensured that the role of the spirit, as well as the mental-emotional levels, were separated from the physical body, and no longer deemed necessary in the treatment of chronic disease. This is the reason why a depressed, suicidal patient with multiple sclerosis will be referred to two or more types of doctor rather than one, and given different medicines rather than one medicine, though the two symptoms are nothing but the same disease process.
Before the word ‘Medicine’ became monopolised and synonymous with only the western medical model (and everything else became ‘alternative’, ‘complementary’, or even ‘quackery’), and before ‘real science’ became the yardstick to measure and verify every human experience and observation (including the existence of God and religion), other nations, particularly those in the East, were healing people on deep and profound levels for thousands of years.
The Need for Holistic Medicine in Our Lives and in Our Communities
Modern medicine has many benefits, particularly in emergency situations and surgery. In these areas, it is invaluable, unsurpassed, and a blessing from God. Likewise, we should all appreciate and acknowledge the unquestionable sacrifice, devotion, and skill of many doctors around the world. However, it is true to say that modern medicine and its drugs struggle to deal effectively with the chronic diseases of man.
The simple reason for this is that humans are natural beings in a natural world, and treatment of such a being must not only follow the observed Laws of nature (we’ll talk about laws of nature in a later article), but the treatment must take into account the dimensions and subtleties of man’s constitution as a physical and spiritual entity.
As believers, and bastions of the last and complete message from the Divine, it is our duty to tend to both our physical bodies and our spiritual growth. In the treatment of human disease, it is essential that we also do not follow the pack and separate the two, or turn to unnatural solutions for our physiological, emotional, and psychological conditions. For to do so, would be abusing our God-given human nature, which is indeed a miraculous organism that deserves reflecting on. ‘We will show them Our Signs in the universe, and in their own selves, until it becomes manifest to them that this [the Quran] is the truth.’ [41:53]
Unlike most nations, for whom the afterlife seems to have receded into a distant memory, the Muslims, while fully engaging and benefiting from this world, have traditionally always kept the Hereafter at the forefront of their thoughts in all aspects of life. It is our duty to preserve this priority in our lives.
On the fundamental level, what is needed are three things:
1) A return to our religion, in both outward and inward observances, the starting point being our return to the Qur’an, and helping each other in building our relationship with the Book of Allah. Why is this so important? Because Allah Most High tells us, ‘We send down in the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe.’ [17:82]
This ‘healing’ of the Quran is explained by the scholars of Quranic exegesis, ‘The Quran, [whether in] small portions or large portions, is a healing from the manifest and outward sicknesses … And a healing from the inner spiritual sicknesses … And what is meant by ‘Mercy’, is blessings in this life and the next life.’ [Hashiyah al Khalwati].
2) Building strong and stable families and communities. In a world where the social fabric of people, Muslims included, is fast dissolving, with people feeling as isolated as ever, and mental health issues, in both children and adults, are on a meteoric rise, it is imperative that we unite and work towards creating cohesive, safe and resilient communities, which fulfil our worldly and religious-spiritual needs.
3) In times of sickness, both short-term and long-term conditions, it is important for us to utilise medicines and therapies, that can at the minimum, flow in the same direction of the innate healing mechanism and immune system that Allah Most High has created in us, and not oppose it.
The effects of hammering down our immune systems with endless supplies of anti-biotics, anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-depressants (as well numerous Inhibitors and Blockers), not only affects our physical health, but if taken over a long enough time, can deeply disturb our psychological and spiritual health. We must be pro-body and not anti-body!
Ideally, we should seek out potent, natural medicines and therapies, which can not only work with the body in a natural way, but that are able to reach beyond the mere physical level of man, and instigate healing on the non-physical level as well. Such systems of medicine do exist, and we will discuss examples in a later article. Optimally, such modes of treatment would be accompanied by the support and guidance of qualified and adept religious and spiritual persons.
We leave you with a beautiful story of the relationship between emotional and physical sickness (as well as an exemplary model of bed-side manner that all physicians should take heed of!). A young lady, previously full of life, youth and beauty, suddenly, without apparent reason, fell ill. Much to her family’s anguish she began to wither away, pale and withdrawn in both body and spirit. The concerned family sought the advice of the best physicians in the town but none could make a diagnosis, nor find a cure, except that they knew that she was dying.
Finally, the family consulted the celebrated physician Ibn Sina, who agreed to come to the family house to see the girl. He sat with the girl, and proceeded to take her pulse. As he sat beside her, he spoke to her informally, asking her about the area she lives, how long they have lived there, and whether she knew this place and that person and so on. Upon mentioning a particular house, the girl’s pulse picked up a little. Noticing this, Ibn Sina asked the girl whether she knew the family, and again her pulse picked up a little more. He then inquired whether she knew the older children in the house. Her pulse started to pulsate. He then asked if she knew the son, and at this, the girl’s pulse started to race hard and fast.
The case clear, Ibn Sina turned to the family and said, ‘Your daughter is dying from a broken heart.’ And it was indeed true, for the young man she loved had married another.
Such anecdotes may seem somewhat crude, especially to the ‘scientific’ mind, however the principle is the same and holds true, in the same way that the physical and spiritual sicknesses that ail man today, are the same throughout history, because essentially, man is always the same.
The current writer’s own clinical experience, as well as those of his teacher’s, repeatedly attests to the fact that chronic diseases of the body are, without exception, preceded by disturbances on the spiritual and mental-emotional sphere. Outward symptoms of pathology are the pleading expression of the internal disorder. All we need to do is observe, listen, and have the right, gentle tools to answer that plea, not ignore or drown out its voice.
We hear the word ‘Holistic’ used everywhere now, from medicine, to eating habits, to child rearing and education, even in business strategies. However, in reality, being Holistic is nothing new, it’s just we forgot what it is to be really human.
In our next article, we will be discussing this idea of internal disorder more. We will also consider the concepts of health and disease, and how the philosophy and practice of natural systems of healing reflect the teachings, guidance and practice of Islam.
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.