What are the principles of medicine with the scholars of Islam

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Imam Ibnul-Qayyim (d.751 AH) laid down some mighty principles in his excellent work commonly known as “At-Tibb An-Nabawee” (The Prophetic Medicine) which is actually a part of his monumental authorship entitled “Zaad al-Ma`aad fee Hadyi Khayr al-Ibaad.” I will recall here some of what he (may Allah have mercy upon him) has written about the “principles of medicine” that the scholars of medicine and religion have mentioned in their books.

Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullaah) stated:

“The principles (qawaa’id) of bodily medicine are three:

  1. The preservation of health,
  2. The expulsion of harmful substances,
  3. Protection from harm.

Thus, Allaah (the Most High), has mentioned has mentioned these three principles in three most relevant places: 

1.  In the verse on fasting: “If any of you is ill, or on a journey, then fasting should be made up later from a set number of other days.” (Al-Baqarah: 184). So He permitted the sick person to break his fast because of illness; and the traveller in order to preserve his health and strength, as fasting while travelling might cause injury to health through the combination of vigorous movement and the consumption of vital bodily energy which is often not properly replaced due to lack of food. So He permitted the traveller to break his fast. 

2. In the verse of Hajj pilgrimage, He said: “If any of you is sick, or has an ailment in his head, then he can make compensation of fasting or charity or sacrifice.” (2:196) He gave permission to the sick, and to anyone which ailment in his head, such as lice or itching, to shave his head, while in a state of ihraam. This was to evacuate the substance of harmful vapours that brought about an ailment on his head through being congested beneath the hair. When the head is shaved, the pores are opened up and these vapours make their way out. This kind of evacuation is used to draw an analogy for all other kinds of evacuation, where congestion of matter would cause harm. There are ten things which if blocked or restrained cause harm: 1. blood when it is agitated, 2. semen when it is moving, 3. urine, 4. faeces, 5. wind, 6. vomiting, 7. sneezing, 8. sleep, 9. hunger, 10. thirst. Each of these ten, if repressed, bring about some kind of malady. The Most High drew attention to the least significant – the vapour congested in the head – to indicate the importance of evacuating what is more serious. Such is the method of the Qur’aan: to give instruction about the greater, through mentioning the lesser.

3. In the verse of ablution Allaah, the Most High, referred to the protection from harm: “If you are sick, or on a journey, or one of you comes from the privy, or you have had relations with women, and you can find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth.” (4:43) He permitted the sick person to desist from using water and to use earth instead, in order to protect the body from harm. There again the attention is drawn to take the necessary precautionary measures against anything which could harm the body, internally or externally.

The Most High has thus guided His servants to the three main principles of medicine, and the sum total of its numerous rules. 

(At-Tibb An-Nabawī, Dar Ibn Katheer p.10-11 ; Medicine of the Prophet, ITS, p4-5.)

Ibnul-Qayyim explains the roots and branches of these principles throughout the book. 1. Preservation of health by consuming the correct food in the right quantity in accordance to one’s own bodily temperament and especially so when one is ill, when food itself becomes medicine. 2. Expelling what is harmful, so as to remove the root cause of the ailment in order to return it to good health. 3. Protecting the body by keeping away from it that which harms it so that illnesses and diseases are kept away by Allaah’s permission.



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