x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Traditional Islamic medicine takes off in Indonesia

The bulk of those seeking out Islamic clinics, hospitals and pharmacies are moderate Muslims, reflecting a rise in Islamic consciousness worldwide as Islamic medicine, toiletries and beauty products become big business.

Suratmi, 47, left, receives a treatment at Insani Herbal Clinic in Depok on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia. She is among a growing number of Muslims in Southeast Asia turning away from Western medical care in favour of
Suratmi, 47, left, receives a treatment at Insani Herbal Clinic in Depok on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia. She is among a growing number of Muslims in Southeast Asia turning away from Western medical care in favour of "medicine of the Prophet", a loosely defined discipline based on the Quran and other Islamic texts and traditional herbal remedies. Irwin Ferdiansyah / AP Photo

JAKARTA // A housewife who started using Islamic medicine emerged tearfully from an exorcism, speaking of new-found tranquillity after a turbulent period.

Her abdominal pains are also finally easing.

Suratmi, 47, who suffers from an ovarian cyst, has been taking a mix of herbal medicine harking back to the dawn of Islam, plus undergoing exorcisms at a clinic in Jakarta.

She is among a growing number of Muslims in South East Asia turning away from western medical care in favour of Al Tibb Al Nawabi, or Medicine of the Prophet, a loosely defined discipline based on the Quran and other Islamic texts and traditional herbal remedies.

"I heard that so many people have been healed, so I hope Allah can help me. I followed His path here," said Suratmi.

The Islamic medicine trend is often associated with fundamentalists who believe western, chemically laced prescriptions aim to poison Muslims or defile them with insulin and other medicines made from pigs.

Members of terrorist groups have been involved in Islamic medicine as healers and sellers, while some clinics are used as recruiting grounds for Islamist causes.

But the bulk of those seeking out Islamic clinics, hospitals and pharmacies are moderate Muslims, reflecting a rise in Islamic consciousness worldwide. Islamic medicine, toiletries and beauty products have become a big business with a customer base in South East Asia alone of roughly 250 million Muslims.

The industry's advertising is as gimmicky as any in the West.

Siwak-F, also exported to the Middle East, is hailed as "toothpaste just like the Prophet used to use".

The industry is also going high-tech. Malaysia's Petronas University of Technology is developing an application for mobile devices to query what Islamic remedies are recommended for everything from toothaches to depression, said Hanita Daud, one of the developers.

Like much of Islamic medicine, it is grounded on the saying that "Allah did not create a disease for which he did not also create a cure." This is taken from the Prophet Mohammed's Hadiths.

What is termed classical Islamic medicine was developed in medieval times, when it far outshone that in Christian Europe.

Practitioners say many ingredients in today's treatments were used in the Prophet Mohammed's time, including honey and black caraway, which one advert claims is "a cure for every disease but death".

In Indonesia, traditional medicine took off after a government promotional campaign in 2009, said Brury Machendra, owner of the Insani Herbal Clinic in Jakarta, where Suratmi and up to 400 other patients seek treatment each month.

Mr Machendra, who is also secretary-general of the Traditional Herbal Medicine Association of Indonesia, said most Indonesian Muslims do not doubt conventional medicine but Indonesia's health services are so poor and expensive that many people seek alternatives.

His clinic offers herbal medicine, a bloodletting treatment known as bekam and exorcisms in which a white-gloved therapist places a hand on a patient's head while chanting verses from the Quran.

An exorcism costs US$12 (Dh44), while Mr Machendra's government-certified herbal products, such as the anti-cancer BioCarnoma and anti-diabetes BioGlukol, go for $5 for 60 capsules.

Some doctors try to bring Muslim elements into western methods. "We practice evidence-based medicine but incorporate the spiritual for our patients and staff," said Dr Ishak Mas'ud, director of Al Islam hospital in Kuala Lumpur.

This approach, he said, allows such normally taboo practices as abortions and pig heart transplants if these can save lives.

"I don't agree with some clinics which say that, 'This is Islamic, so it has to be good'," said Dr Ishak, who trained in Australia and Britain. The 60-bed hospital, which attracts patients from as far as Somalia and Saudi Arabia, stresses holistic diagnoses, refrains from giving definite prognoses since "death is in the hands of Allah", and believes it is wrong to practice medicine with profit in mind, he said.

Fees are 20 to 30 per cent lower than at most Malaysian hospitals.

"I am just the instrument of Allah and doctors must tell their patients this," Dr Ishak said. "It's not me that is healing. In Islamic medicine, this is the key, the main concept."