x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Rethinking the meaning of Muslim, part five

"Allah has not sent down an illness except that He has provided for its cure; so pursue medical treatment" - The Prophet Mohammed

This statement and others like it inspired generations of Muslim physicians to pursue learning, experimentation, and application in order to locate the cures to illness as well as promote the factors of good health.

From Avicenna to Rhazes, Muslim physicians were actively pursuing medical advancement and perfecting the art of patient care from 610CE onward. The Arabic language, Canon Medicinae of Ibn Sina - written in the 11th Century - was influential in Europe well into the 18th. In the 9th Century, al Rahawi drafted a text in medical ethics; and in 860CE al Tabari was the first to treat pediatrics as an isolated discipline.

Muslim public hospitals, known as bimaristans, were opened as early as 707CE. They were institutions dedicated to caring for the infirm and the complete restoration of health as opposed to merely isolating the sick and diseased from the public, as was the case with most hospices, asylums, or leper houses of the time. A defining feature of these institutions would be the diversity and egalitarian nature of patient care. Patients of all ethnicities and religious backgrounds were welcomed and received treatment. With separate wards for diverse diseases and specialisations, dispensaries, laboratories, libraries, and outpatient clinics, these bimaristans would engage in advanced surgery and experiment with psychology, the identification of contagious diseases, optometry, cataract removal surgeries, as well as music as a form of treatment.

Islam's concern for medicine goes all the way to its roots. Whole volumes abound in the classical literature treating the medical concerns and techniques of the Prophet Mohammed. The motif of healing itself is tangibly present throughout the Quran. The Quran (10:57) informs us, "Mankind, there has come to you an exhortation from your Lord and a healing for what is in the breasts."And again (Quran, 17:82), "We send down of the Quran that which is a healing and a mercy for the believers." Regarding the medical usages of honey, the Quran speaks of the bee and how from within it comes a drink of varied colours and healing properties for mankind (Quran, 16:69).

All of these subjects have been treated exhaustively in other literature available to those interested. However, our purpose here is to expand the remit of the healing imperative in Islam to wider applications. We have mentioned earlier that Muslim identity is underscored by three properties; being a stranger-in-the-world, being a healer, and being an educator. In humankind's role as steward-in-the-earth they are commissioned to maintain the equilibrium of all the ecologies of the world; whether social, natural, or urban (Quran, 55:7-9). The restoration of lost equilibriums is a particular modality of healing.

The Quran intimates that fraternity is an integrated element of the ontology of the believer. When this fraternity breaks down into rifts and divisions, the Muslim is mandated to mend those rifts in relationships (Quran, 49:10). Mending broken relationships is another modality of healing. At the level of international conflict, resolution by the most peaceful possible means is the implied Quranic preference (Quran, 8:61). This prioritisation of diplomatic resolution is a modality of healing.

Finally, the classical literature of Islam is pre-eminently concerned with identifying types of spiritual illness in the heart and setting about curing them. This is a type of cardiac first response care, in a metaphysical sense. Here we are on the cusp of Ramadan 2010. It is the month of compassion. It is the month of polishing the heart and illuminating the souls. It is the month of love, family, and fraternity. Let's see if we can't make it a month of healing.

Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi