Our recent article on the importance of cow dung in traditional Hinduism triggered some angry responses, nearly exclusively concentrated on the issue of camel urine in Islam.
It’s a common polemical point based on authentic (sahih) narrations (ahadith) from the Prophet ﷺ where camel urine is recommended for its therapeutic benefits.
Out of the many ahadith on the subject-matter, we read in Sahih al-Bukhari 6805:
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
A group of people from `Ukl (or `Uraina) tribe —-but I think he said that they were from `Ukl came to Medina and (they became ill, so) the Prophet (ﷺ) ordered them to go to the herd of (Milch) she-camels and told them to go out and drink the camels’ urine and milk (as a medicine). So they went and drank it, and when they became healthy, they killed the shepherd and drove away the camels. This news reached the Prophet (ﷺ) early in the morning, so he sent (some) men in their pursuit and they were captured and brought to the Prophet (ﷺ) before midday. He ordered to cut off their hands and legs and their eyes to be branded with heated iron pieces and they were thrown at Al-Harra, and when they asked for water to drink, they were not given water. (Abu Qilaba said, “Those were the people who committed theft and murder and reverted to disbelief after being believers (Muslims), and fought against Allah and His Apostle”).
We have to say that we’re not ashamed of our Prophet ﷺ and would never doubt him, nor his acts, nor his words.
As we read in the Qur’an, in 4:59:
O believers! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. Should you disagree on anything, then refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you ˹truly˺ believe in Allah and the Last Day. This is the best and fairest resolution.
And few verses later, in 4:65:
But no! By your Lord, they will never be ˹true˺ believers until they accept you ˹O Prophet˺ as the judge in their disputes, and find no resistance within themselves against your decision and submit wholeheartedly.
So, when the Prophet ﷺ recommends camel urine for its medical benefits, we don’t resist his advice or his imperatives.
Yet, we have to contextualize the polemic and see if the “controversy” even makes sense.
Why Camel Urine in Islam Isn’t Comparable to Cow Dung in Hinduism
Firstly, we didn’t talk of cow urine (even if we hinted at that) in our article, but cow dung, so there’s no parallel to camel urine, speaking on a purely formal basis. If they wanted to criticize us coherently they should have then focused on camel dung and its supposed place in Islam.
Secondly, the most obvious point is that the camel is not a “sacred animal” in Islam the way the cow is in Hinduism, nor is camel urine used in rituals: We do not worship the camel or kill those who “harm” it, nor are we advised to have camel urine for iftar or use camel urine during wudu’, for example.
RELATED: Hinduism’s Double Standards on Beef
In fact, we could confidently say that a Muslim might not even know what a camel is and his Islam would not be affected in the least. It’s not comparable to the place of the cow in traditional Hinduism, as we’ve succinctly shown in our article. Not comparable at all.
Thirdly, and finally, “urine therapy” among Hindus isn’t limited to cow urine: Morarji Desai, who served as the Prime Minister of India between 1977 and 1979, used to drink his own urine on a daily basis (and he wasn’t a cow), something which amused the Americans, as India’s Economic Times reported:
And this Desai provided in plenty. The quirk was, of course, his practice of drinking a glass of his own urine every day, and as veteran journalist M.V.Kamath, reporting for ToI, noted rather despairingly, the problem wasn’t just that Desai did this, but he was very eager to talk at length about it: “in a 15-minute appearance on a very popular Sunday TV show called ’60 Minutes’, Mr.Desai was seen taking practically half the time to commend urine therapy.”
How sensational this was in the US can be seen in celebrity TV interviewer Barbara Walters memoir where she writes of how, when Desai first revealed this to her, ABC news for which she filed the story was so repulsed it didn’t carry the story. Only when CBS (which ran 60 Minutes) came out with the story “finally, then, playing catch-up, ABC ran my footage. The network urine wars.”
Urine therapy is ubiquitous in Hindu culture, and the dozen of books written about urine therapy and its “miracles” often have Hindu authors, a “classic” in the genre being Manav Mootra (“Human urine, an elixir of life”) by Raojibhai Patel, a personal friend of Gandhi, who himself might have been a urine drinker as per some of his biographers.
Such heavy presence is simply due to the fact that urine therapy is a part of Ayurveda, the centuries-old traditional system of medicine of the Hindus, as Dr S. K. Sharma says in his influential Miracle of Urine Therapy, beginning the sub-chapter “Urine in Ayurveda” as such, in p. 20:
Accorting to Sushruta “human urine is an antidote to poisons” and in Yoga Ratnakara it has been succinctly mentioned that urine of human beings controls and calms down cough. It is destroyer of worms, capable of cleansing the intestines, controlling bile in the blood. Though it tastes sharp, yet it dispels laziness of body.
He then goes on to specify the supposed benefits of cow urine more specifically.
Clearly, urine therapy, through the camel or the human (including one’s own), does not have an analogous place in Islam or Muslim culture.
Moreover, urine therapy has been an integral part of Western science and culture as well.
Urine Therapy in Western Civilization
Richard Sugg is a British academic attached to the Durham University, who in 2011 released a book called Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians.
As the title suggests, this book is about “corpse medicine,” or what could be termed crypto-cannibalism. Scanning Western history we find figures like Pliny the Elder (c. 200 AD), the influential Roman encyclopedist who advised drinking human blood to fight epilepsy. In the modern period, we find Victorian England’s ruling class enjoying dead body parts to keep their “youth.”
The West never had a principled objection to many of the unsavory things they criticized in other cultures and civilizations. Often they were much worse.
But while this “corpse medicine” is mainly about cannibalism, which could be the subject of another article of its own, there are also references to urine therapy.
We thus read in pp. 248-249:
Pliny had advised urine for the treatment of ‘sores, burns, affections of the anus, chaps, and scorpion stings’, while old urine mixed with the ash of burnt oyster shells could be rubbed on your baby for the Roman equivalent of nappy rash. In the thirteenth century, Arnold of Villanova (or one of his acolytes) had commended not just oils of human blood and bones, but ‘an oil drawn out of the excrements of children, that availeth in the foul mattery scabs of the head’. Having distilled the shit thoroughly, you should then apply the oil ‘hot on the grieved place’. Oils drawn ‘out of man’s ordure’ would ‘cure the cancer, and mortifieth the fistula’. Although details are lacking, this oil of excrement sounds as if it may have been taken orally.
Later, Estienne’s Maison Rustique spoke of the distillation of ‘all juices and liquors, as man’s blood, urine, vinegar, the dew, milk… man’s dung, or beast’s dung’. Christopher Irvine had his own distinctive uses for the spirit of human dung, and asserted that the ‘excrements of the backdoor’ would cure ‘all diseases of the intestines’. To stop the bleeding of a wound, you should ‘take a hound’s turd and lay it on a hot coal, and bind it’ to the injured area. So said the popular medical compilation of Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent.
Moise Charas was convinced that urine was an effective medicine, and Boyle, meanwhile, had innumerable uses for the spirit of human urine – asserting at one point that as a medicine it could be employed against jaundice, pleurisy, fevers and asthma. At another he refers to the experimental use of undistilled urine, which is well-suited for certain ends, provided (of course) that ‘it be stale and rank enough’. For ‘obstructions’ he prescribes that the patient should drink every morning ‘a moderate draught of his own urine’, preferably while ‘tis yet warm’ and ‘forbearing food for an hour or two after it’. Over in France in 1671, Matte la Faveur (a chemist at the University of Montpellier) described a volatile salt of urine which required no small patience in the collection alone. The diligent practitioner needed to obtain ‘about sixty pints of the urine of little children who drink very little wine’. ‘Madame de Sévigné, writing ‘to her daughter on June 13th 1685’, remarked that ‘“for my vapours I take eight drops of essence of urine”’
Outside medicine, urine therapy was also used in cosmetics, as European women beautified themselves through urine (and fecal matters), as he wrote in p. 252:
In many cases, medical urgency or desperation might seem to offer some explanation for what is otherwise baffling to the modern mind. But the same clearly does not hold for some of the beauty tips found in the 1675 work, The Accomplish’d Lady’s Delight in Preserving, Physic, Beautifying, and Cookery. Against falling hair, the discerning restoration lady might wash her head with ‘the ashes of pigeon’sdung in lye’; whilst to thicken it she could employ the ashes of burned frogs or ‘the ashes of goat’s-dung mingled with oil’. One’s own urine, meanwhile, was ‘very good to wash the face withal, to make it fair’. A reputable beauty journal such as the above makes us more inclined to trust a mere man (the surgeon William Bullein), when he claims that those ‘whose faces be unclean’ should wash their skin with distilled water of honey, mixed with ‘strong vinegar, milk, and the urine of a boy’. No less popular amongst self-respecting ladies was fresh blood. After a hart was killed in the park of Sir Arnold Braems in Kent on 10 August 1661, ‘everybody, especially the ladies, washed their hands in the warm blood, to get white hands’.
These and similar habits went back a very long way. Laporte discusses at some length ‘the cosmetic properties of shit, which was once used on ladies’ faces and hair’. St Jerome, ‘advisor to the ladies of Rome from 382 to 385’, had ‘warned against the practice of smearing one’s face with shit to preserve a youthful complexion’. ‘Numerous distillations destined for cosmetic use and an array of beauty potions purporting to whiten the skin were generated from fecal matter’, along with a host of urine-based products designed to beautify the complexion and heal scars. Most intriguingly of all, a rarefied elixir of youth might be anointed upon the cheeks of privileged women. ‘The shit of athletic youths’ Laporte writes, ‘was prized above all’, while ‘in some instances, custom went so far as to exact… the “discharge of just born infants”’. (Any women currently worrying about the expense of a new baby might perhaps like to factor in the savings they would make on skin creams.)
Boy urine, goat dung, “discharge” of infants, “shit of athletic youths.” Quite a colorful history of medicine Western civilization has!
Note how urine therapy remains a pattern in the West despite the outward change in religion, as it goes from the Greco-Roman thinkers up to someone like Robert Boyle in the 17th century, the man advising patients to drink their own urine every day. By the way, Robert Boyle is considered no less than “the father of chemistry” in the West.
Now critics might argue that Greco-Roman civilization or even modern Europe is not the contemporary West and now the “enlightened” West surely would not use urine, human or animal, for medical purposes.
Well, not quite: Premarin is a controversial but widely-circulated drug, a hormone (conjugated estrogens) therapy for menopausal women, and the name itself is just a portmanteau of “pregnant mare urine.” It’s even said that “from 1992 through 2001, Premarin was the most widely prescribed drug in the United States.” We could argue that horse urine isn’t fundamentally “more legitimate” than camel urine.
So, does urine therapy play that significant of a role in the Muslim world? Certainly not. So how can the West criticize Islam when its own most respected philosophers, scientists, and pharmaceutical companies openly embrace and advocate the use of urine to a far greater extent than anything found in Islam or practiced by Muslims? And let’s not even bring up the “fecal therapy,” cannibalism, etc., that was cited above.
Scientific Studies about Camel Urine
Having dismantled both Hindu and Western critiques, let’s also look at the question of whether camel urine really contains empirically-attested benefits. What does science say about the subject?
Some of this scientific literature has been briefly reviewed by Dr. Zakir Naik in the following video, and readers are advised to go through it to have a general sound picture of the subject-matter:
We could cite tons of articles on the question, but we’ll concentrate on one in particular: From Desert to Medicine: A Review of Camel Genomics and Therapeutic Products.
We chose this article because two of the three authors seem to be non-Muslims based on their names (in fact one is actually a Hindu), also because it’s relatively recent, published in 2019, and presents a panoramic view of the studies already done. Most importantly perhaps, it has been published in the Frontiers in Genetics journal, a journal which prides itself in its peer-reviewed research and its high impact factor, being one of the most respected scientific journals in the field.
All of these parameters make the article “neutral” on the subject or, at least, can’t be accused of “Islamic apologetics.”
So what does it say about camel urine more specifically?
Camel urine is a natural product used for the management of several diseases in the Arabian region. Cancer patients usually drink (100 ml/day) camel urine alone or mixed with milk. Camel urine is devoid of bad odor and toxicity due to low urea and lack of ammonia. Additionally, camel urine is basic (pH > 7.8), while human urine could be weakly acidic or weakly basic (Read, 1925). Research on camel urine has shown that it has antifungal and antibacterial activity and is able to protect the liver from CCL4 induced damage (Al-Bashan, 2011; Alzahrani and Alharbi, 2011). Gastroprotective and ulcer healing effects of camel urine have also been reported (Hu et al., 2017). Camel urine has potential activity as antiplatelet and anticancer agents as well (Alhaidar et al., 2011).
Camel urine inhibits the induction of CYP1A1 gene expression by 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). TCDD is a potent CYP1A1 inducer and a well-known carcinogen. This depicts the transcriptional regulation in which the binding of TCDD to a cytosolic transcription factor, the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), is the first step in a series of cellular events leading to carcinogenesis and mutagenesis. Research on camel urine has shown that camel urine, but not bovine, inhibits TCDD-mediated toxic effect by inhibiting the expression of CYP1A1 at both transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels (Alhaider et al., 2011).
Good anticancer agents activate cell death or inhibit proliferation of tumor cells without affecting the growth of normal cells. Fortuitously, camel urine presents all these features (Al-Yousef et al., 2012). Anticancer activity of camel urine has also been demonstrated using GC-MS and ICP-MS methods (Ahamad et al., 2017). Studies using GC-MS and ICP-MS have shown a marked difference in urinary metabolites produced by camels. Camel urine metabolites like canavanine are also excreted by other mammals but the quantity is low when compared to camel. Canavanine, an arginine analog, is a by-product of amino acids and urea metabolism and it has been shown to possess potent activity against tumor cells. Camel urine has also displayed antimetastatic effect on breast cancer cells (Romli et al., 2017).
So medical research has shown that camel urine is a potent anti-cancer agent.
Of course, we don’t base our religion on science, nor would we weaponize science against the sayings of our Prophet ﷺ. Nonetheless, it’s always good to have a wider perspective on such matters, and refute the critics from their own “scientific” perspective as well.
After all, the average Westerner proudly embraces the “scientific method,” with testing and experimentation being some of the prominent pillars of their epistemology. So the Westerner who criticizes Muslims about camel urine, if he persists in denying the academic literature on the subject which recurrently highlights its benefits, should definitely try some camel urine to experiment first hand, just for the sake of “verifying” the holy “scientific truth.” What’s the worst that could happen? If the camel urine kills him, well even then he will end up as a “martyr” for science, like Galileo!
In the end, we would say this: When we, as Muslims, follow “blindly” (as the critics put it) our Prophet ﷺ, we’re being consistent. But when Westerners, who worship science, refuse the benefits of camel urine despite scientific studies favoring it, or when they refuse to drink it for themselves to see if indeed it’s salutary or not, they’re being hypocritical and standing against their own epistemology.