An Introduction to Islamic Medicine: Hikmah

Assorted dried medical herbs.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Hikmah is a term for treating the body utilizing the prescriptions of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Historically, several conceptualizations of medicine and medical models emerged. The Chinese developed an advanced form of medical practice, as did the Greeks, and the Persio-Indians. Chinese, Greek, and Persio-Indian medicine often overlapped. By the time of the Prophet ‘Isa عليه السلام, the Jews prided themselves on a now lost medical tradition.

The Arab before Islam had no developed sciences or forms of art outside of the Arabic language and poetry. They put all of their intellectual efforts into the language itself and into constructing sophisticated verbal art.

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Medicine was not a priority during that time. Among the few practitioners of medicine in the Arabian peninsula, several visited RasulAllah ﷺ and accepted Islam.

عن الشمردل بن قُبَاث الكعبيّ، وكان في وَفْد نجران بني الحارث بن كعب؛ قال: فنزل الشمردل بين يدي النبي صَلَّى الله عليه وسلم، فقال: يا رسول الله، بأبي أنتَ وأمي، كنتُ كاهنَ قومي في الجاهليّة، وإني كنْتُ أَتطبَّب فما يحلّ لي؟ فإنني تأتيني الشابة. قال: “فَصْدُ الْعِرْقِ، وَتَحْسِيمُ الطّعْنَة إنِ اضْطُرِرْتَ، وَلاَ تَجْعَلْ فِي دَوَائِكَ شُبْرُمًا، وَعَلَيْكَ بِالسَنَّا، ولا تداوِ أحَدًا حَتّى تَعْرِفَ دَاءَهُ”. قال: فقبّل ركبتيه، فقال: والذي بعثك بالحق أنْتَ أعلم بالطبّ مني

On the authority of Shamardal b. Qubath al-Ka’bi, who was under the protection of Najran’s bani al-Harith b. Ka’b, that he said,

“Shamardal came before the Prophet – salutations and peace upon him – and said,

‘O’ Allah’s Messenger, may my father and mother be sacrificed for you, I was my people’s soothsayer in Jahiliyyah. I used to treat them [medically], so what is allowed for me, as young girls come to me [for treatment]?’

He said,

Drawing blood [phlebotomy] from the veins, incise [tahsim] with deep cuts [ta’na] if needed, do not put shubrum [plant] in your medicine, upon you is al-sinna [herb], and do not treat people without diagnosing first.

So Shamardal kissed his needs and said, ‘By the One who sent you with the Truth, you are more knowledgeable in medicine than me.'”

[Al-Isabah fi Tamyiz al-Sahabah by b. Hajr al-Asqalani, al-Khatib said, ‘There is a problem with the chain.’ Ibn al-Jawzi said, ‘In this narration are unknown people.’]

After the advent of Islam, some Muslims began to look towards the Qur’an and Sunnah for treating people’s bodies. This began the development of a science, known as “hikmah” or “wisdom.”

In the same way that the fuqaha began to investigate all of the Ayat and Ahadith from a legal lens, the mutakallimun began to look at the Revelation from the lens of belief, and every kind of scholarship saw in the Revelation what was applicable to their field: so too did the Hukama. They utilized the Qur’an and the Sunnah to find healing for people’s bodies.

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was the perfect example of a balanced and healthy person, in all regards. He is the archetype for the Hakim to aspire towards and his example is the mold by which people are healed.

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The basis of Hikmah comes from the famous hadith on the authority of `Umar رضي الله عنه who said,

عَنْ عُمَرَ رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ أَيْضًا قَالَ: ” بَيْنَمَا نَحْنُ جُلُوسٌ عِنْدَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم ذَاتَ يَوْمٍ، إذْ طَلَعَ عَلَيْنَا رَجُلٌ شَدِيدُ بَيَاضِ الثِّيَابِ، شَدِيدُ سَوَادِ الشَّعْرِ، لَا يُرَى عَلَيْهِ أَثَرُ السَّفَرِ، وَلَا يَعْرِفُهُ مِنَّا أَحَدٌ. حَتَّى جَلَسَ إلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه و سلم . فَأَسْنَدَ رُكْبَتَيْهِ إلَى رُكْبَتَيْهِ، وَوَضَعَ كَفَّيْهِ عَلَى فَخِذَيْهِ.

قَالَ: فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ الْإِحْسَانِ. قَالَ: أَنْ تَعْبُدَ اللَّهَ كَأَنَّك تَرَاهُ، فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُنْ تَرَاهُ فَإِنَّهُ يَرَاك.

ثُمَّ انْطَلَقَ، فَلَبِثْتُ مَلِيًّا، ثُمَّ قَالَ: يَا عُمَرُ أَتَدْرِي مَنْ السَّائِلُ؟. ‫‬قُلْتُ: اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ. قَالَ: فَإِنَّهُ جِبْرِيلُ أَتَاكُمْ يُعَلِّمُكُمْ دِينَكُمْ “.

While we were one day sitting with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) there appeared before us a man dressed in extremely white clothes and with very black hair. No traces of journeying were visible on him, and none of us knew him. He sat down close by the Prophet (ﷺ) rested his knees against the knees of the Prophet (ﷺ) and placed his palms over his thighs… .

Then he (the man) said, “Inform me about Ihsan.” He (the Prophet) answered, “It is that you should devote yourself to Allah as though you see Him. If you cannot, then He sees you.”

Thereupon the man went off. I waited a while, and then he (the Prophet) said, “O `Umar, do you know who that questioner was?” I replied, “Allah and His Messenger know better.” He said, “That was Jibril. He came to teach you your religion.”

[Sahih Muslim]

There are three Islamic sciences dedicated to studying Ihsan and applying its principles to human lives. Each one is oriented towards healing and each is a kind of medicine.

  • The science of Ihsan dedicated to healing the spirit (Ruh) is called Tasawuff or Tazkiyyah al-Nafs.
  • The science of Ihsan dedicated to healing the mind (‘Aql) is called ‘Ilm al-Nafs.
  • The science of Ihsan dedicated to healing the body is called Hikmah.

Islamic Hikmah draws its principles directly from the Qur’an:

  1. The One
  2. Dualities and Balance
  3. Heaven, Earth, and what is Between
  4. The Four Cardinal Directions
  5. The Five Elements
  6. Six Climates
  7. Seven Heavens and Seven Earths
  8. The Eight Winds

In Hikmah, the greatest disease is shirk and the greatest healing is Tawhid. Allah’s Tawhid is looked at from a medical lens. A person who lives in-line with Allah’s Way (Sirat) receives the benefits from doing so in this life, just as they do in the next. Hikmah advises people to live according to Tawhid.

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The Qur’an constantly discusses opposites and dualities, emphasizing balance. The idea of balancing is so important that all people will be forced to balance on a razor-thin bridge (al-Sirat) over the Hellfire on the Day of Judgment and their deeds will literally be weighed on a scale. Hikmah advises people to live according to this balance.

Allah created human beings (insan) with three major components: body, mind, and spirit. The body (jasad) comes from the earth (turab), the spirit (Ruh) comes from the heavens (Sama’), and the mind exists as an interplay of both of these. As such, the human being is a reflection of the natural world, which also consists of Sama’, Ard, and what is between them two. Allah تعالى says,

اللَّهُ الَّذي خَلَقَ السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضَ وَما بَينَهُما في سِتَّةِ أَيّامٍ ثُمَّ استَوىٰ عَلَى العَرشِ ۖ ما لَكُم مِن دونِهِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلا شَفيعٍ ۚ أَفَلا تَتَذَكَّرونَ

Allah is He who created the heavens and the earth and everything between them in six days and then established Himself firmly upon the Throne. You have no protector or intercessor apart from Him. So will you not pay heed?

[Surah Sajda, Prostration (32):4]

Hikmah advises us to live according to the Sama’, Ard, and what is between.

Islamic Hikmah is seeing a revival; however there are few practitioners of Hikmah. It is easier to find a raqi (exorcist), which is an important part of Islamic healing. However the Muslim community is in need of spiritual guides (Murshid) who are also confident in Islamic psychology (‘ilm al-nafs) and can treat people with Hikmah.

Update: The translation of the narration mentioned above has been made more accurate.

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Ibraheem

Nice read and a fresh reminder. Just one thing stuck out to me that was peculiar, I’ve been practicing islam for over 20 years and haven’t heard of those 8 principles before. What is the source of them or how did they derive them?

Fathima

Very interesting, JAK. More on this topic please!

Baz

Can the Hikma cure the modern major epidemics like Aids and Covid? What about traumatic injuries such as wounds from car crashes or attacks by criminals and khawarij? If we develop our own homegrown Hikma industry in the Muslim world we can save the world from all these problems, and then we will not need to have vaccines or social distancing or masks anymore when Hikma will solve all the pandemic problems instead so easily.

Usman

An informative article.

Just to mention that, although exorcism is the most common task of the raqi, their work need not be limited to that. Ruqyah is applicable for every illness.

Karai Gosht

The translation of first hadith is wrong…

Irq means vein here, not sweat. So closing or stopping blood from veins…also, last bit means, do not treat anybody until you know his ailment, nothing to do witj calling da’ataa whatever that is…

I haveny closely checked the rest but please double check all translations properly!