Prophetic medicine

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In Islam, prophetic medicine (Arabic: الطب النبوي‎, 'al-Tibb al-nabawī) is the advice given by the prophet Muhammad with regards to sickness, treatment and hygiene as found in the hadith. It is usually practiced primarily by non-physician scholars who collect and explicate these traditions.[1][2] Prophetic medicine is distinct fromIslamic medicine, which is a broader category encompassing a variety of medical practices rooted in Greek natural philosophy. In practice, prophetic medical traditions encourage not only following Muhammad's teachings, but to search for cures to various ailments as well. The literature of prophetic medicine thus occupies a symbolic role in the elucidation of Islamic identity as constituted by a particular set of relationships to science, medicine, technology and nature. There has historically been a tension in the understanding of the medical narratives of the hadith. Some are unsure whether to treat them the same as the prophet Muhammad's religious pronouncements, or as time-sensitive, culturally situated, and thus not representative of a set of eternal medical truths.[3] This body of knowledge was fully articulated only in the 14th century, at which point it was concerned with reconciling Sunnah (traditions) with the foundations of the Galenic humoral theory that was prevalent at the time in the medical institutions of the Islamicate world.[4] It is nonetheless a tradition with continued modern relevance to this day.[5][6]


Prophetic medicine is sometimes casually identified with Unani medicine or traditional medicine, although it is distinguished from some iterations of these and from scientific medicine most predominantly by the former being specifically a collection of advice attributed to Muhammad in the Islamic tradition.[7] It is important to note that medieval interpretations of the hadith were produced in a Galenic medical context, while modern-day versions of prophetic medicine treatments may include recent research findings to frame the importance of the genre. In the hadith, Muhammad recommended the use of honey and hijama (wet cupping) for healing and had generally opposed the use of cauterization for causing "pain and menace to a patient".[8] Other items with beneficial effects attributed to Muhammad, and standard features on traditional medicine in the Islamicate world, include olive oil; dates; miswak as a necessity for oral health and Nigella sativa or "black seed" or "black cumin" and its oils. These items are still sold in Islamic centers or sellers of other Islamic goods.

Muhammad's firm belief in the existence of a cause and a cure for every disease is described in many hadith along the lines of the below:[8][9]

Make use of medical treatment, for Allah has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease, namely death.

The Prophet said, "If a house fly falls in the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink) and take it out, for one of its wings has a disease and the other has the cure for the disease."

This belief can be said to be a grounding philosophy of this otherwise loosely defined field,[12] and is said to have encouraged early Muslims to engage in medical research and seek out cures for diseases known to them.[9]


Black seeds[edit]

Nigella sativa seeds

Abu Hurayra quoted Muhammad saying: "Utilize the black seed for without a doubt, it is a cure for all sicknesses aside from death." (Hadith Al-Bukhari 7:591)[13][14]

Camel urine and milk[edit]

According to a hadith recorded in the 4th chapter (Wudu') of Sahih al-Bukhari, Muhammad had used camel urine and milk to treat people:[15][16]

Some people of` Ukl or `Uraina tribe came to Medina and its climate did not suit them. So the Prophet ordered them to go to the herd of (Milch) camels and to drink their milk and urine (as a medicine). So they went as directed and after they became healthy, they killed the shepherd of the Prophet and drove away all the camels.

— Hadith Al-Bukhari 4:100

The event has also been recorded in Sahih Muslim, History of the Prophets and Kings and Kitāb aṭ-ṭabaqāt al-kabīr.[17][18]


According to Hadith compiler Abu Dawood's work Sunan Abu Dawood, Muhammad had advised the application of henna in case of leg pain:[19]

Narrated by Salmah, the maid-servant of the Prophet, said: No one complained to the Prophet of a headache but he told him to get himself cupped, or of a pain in his legs but he told him to dye them with henna.

— Abi Dawud Book 28, Hadith 3849

In Ibn Majah's Sunan ibn Majah, Muhammad has been described as using henna for external injuries:[19]

Salma Umm Rafi’, the freed slave woman of the Prophet, said: “The Prophet did not suffer any injury or thorn- prick but he would apply henna to it”

— Ibn Majah Vol. 4, Book 31, Hadith 3502


The value of honey is traced to specific mention of its virtues in the Quran, an-Nahl (the Bees) and not just Muhammad. (Quran 68-69)[20] [non-primary source needed]


While the prominent works focused on treatment of the hadith related to health date from several centuries A.H., Sahih al-Bukhari and other earlier collections included these as well. 'Abd Allah b. Bustâm al-Nîsâbûrî’s Tlbb al-a'imma, aggregating a legacy of several Shi’ite Imams, is widely considered to be the first known treatise on prophetic medicine, although it is rooted in a somewhat different cosmology.[3] The canonical al-Bukhari corpus, divided into 97 books with 3,450 chapters, includes over a 100 traditions in its book, 76 loosely related to medicine, covering topics ranging from precautions against leprosy and epidemics to the forbidding of alcohol and suicide. The most notable works that still survive[21] are attributed to religious scholars and largely not to Galenic physicians, although the latter are occasionally referenced.

Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya in the 13th century produced one of the most influential works about prophetic medicine in his 277-chapter book, Al-Tibb al-Nabawiyy. Al-Jawziyya deals with a diversity of treatments as recommended by Muhammad but also engages with ethical concerns, discussing malpractice and the hallmarks of the competent doctor.[22] Ethics of medical practice continue to be an important marker of Islamic medicine for some.[23] Al-Jawziyya also elaborates on the relationship between medicine and religion.[2]

A theologian renowned for his exegetical endeavors, Al-Suyuti also composed two works on prophetic medicine, one of which was on sexual relations as ordered by Muhammad.[22] Al-Suyuti's other manuscript divides medicine into three types: traditional, spiritual and preventive (e.g. dietary regimen and exercise). Along with Al-Jawziyya, Al-Suyuti also included commentary that spoke to dealing with contagion and thus was relevant to the Black Death in the Islamic world. Ibn al-Khatib also addressed the Black Death and his belief in the contradiction between hadith and science regarding plagues, which may have led to his execution by strangulation for "heresy", although the court dealing with the case never reached a conclusive statement, and the event was recorded to have been largely influenced by the enemies of Ibn al-Khatib.[24] [25]

Both of the works above also address bioethical issues of abortion and conception, issues that, like the idea of Islamic medical heritage as being holistic, continue to be important in constructions of modern Islamic identity.[26] Other notable works include those of Ibn Tulun (d. AD 1546) and Al-Dhahabi (d. AD 1348).

Iran post-1970s[edit]

Some clerics in Iran promote a controversial form of prophetic or "Islamic" medicine, based on sometimes rather unlikely quotations attributed to historic Muslim religious figures, and on Iranian traditional medicine.[27]

Abbas Tabrizian, a prominent proponent, has faced official action for selling unapproved treatments; he has been widely criticized, and it thought to have few supporters. His burning of a copy of "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine", a medical reference book, was condemned by Grand Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, who said that "insulting medical learning is against the spirit of Islam and Islam’s call for [learning] science... Criticizing the content [of a book] is appropriate, but [burning] is an act of ignorance, and many libraries were set on fire based on wrong motivations in the past". Ayatollah Alireza Arafi, who runs Irans seminaries, also condemned the book-burning. Abbas Tabrizian was widely ridiculed for a suggestion that COVID-19 could be prevented by applying a cotton ball soaked in violet oil to the anus. The IRNA news agency reported that Abbas Tabrizian, who has often promoted his remedies as "Islamic medicine" in opposition to standard medicine, has also claimed that COVID-19 is God's revenge against those who had bothered him.[28]

An arrest warrant has been issued for Morteza Kohansal, a follower of Abbas Tabrizian who visited the coronavirus section of a hospital in Iran without wearing protective gear, and applied an unknown substance he described as "Prophet's Perfume" to patients.[29]

Using "Islamic medicine" has caused some Iranian clerics to delay getting standard medical treatment. Ayatollah Hashem Bathaie Golpayegani announced that he had been infected by COVID-19, but had cured himself, three weeks before being hospitalized. He died two days later.[29] Ayatollah Haeri-Shirazi and Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi were both also said by their families to have long delayed seeking standard medical, using "Islamic medicine" instead.[29] Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, who had been considered a possible successor Supreme Leader of Iran, died of cancer. His son Ala Shahroudi later said that "The so-called Islamic doctors had convinced my father to ignore what modern physicians said about his illness and how to treat it... My father underwent surgery in 2017. Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, secretly visited and advised him to ignore what the Islamic doctors say, and listen to the modern-day physicians... Nevertheless, my father ignored the leader's recommendation, and continued to trust the so-called Islamic Medicine experts."[27]

Modern Applications[edit]

Ripe Momordica charantia

Because of the relevance of the hadith in Islamicate culture, modern physicians have conducted research into some of the medical applications of their suggestions. In their research, doctors have found some hadith to have potential practical applications in the treatment of contemporary diseases. Particularly, some of the recommendations of certain “functional foods” seems to be quite effective in the treatment of several ailments, and scientists have been able to isolate some of the potential reasons for these foods healing properties.

Black Cumin

Nigella sativa or black cumin has been found to have anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties. When applied to cancerous cells, the thymoquinone found in the seed’s oil appears to increase apoptosis.[30] Between its immuno-supportive properties, and its ability to increase apoptosis in cancerous cells, black cumin could potentially be used in combination with chemotherapy to increase its effectiveness in ridding the body of cancerous cells while bolstering the patient’s immune system in the process. Black Cumin has also been found to have strong anti-viral properties, and herb therapies using it have been found to be effective in treating immuno-insufficient diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.[31] There has even been some more recent exploration of using the seed’s anti-inflammatory properties in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.[31]


Ginger root

Gourds, particularly the bitter gourd Momordica charantia, and the natural bioactive compounds found in their flesh and seeds have been shown to have a positive impact on the recovery of cancer patients.[14] The methanolic extracts and highly oxidized tetracyclic triterpenoid compounds of the bitter gourd’s fruit and skin have been found to have anti-proliferative effects on cancer cells, preventing their spread. The fatty-acid rich seeds of the bitter gourd can also be used to increase the induction of apoptosis in cancerous cells, helping to contain the spread and increasing the effectiveness of other treatment methods being employed.[30]


Research has proven ginger to be a powerful nutraceutical. The various bioactive compounds, particularly the rhizomes found in the ginger plant, have noteworthy medical application in the treatment of diseases including cardiovascular and respiratory disease, diabetes, cold, flu and cancer.[32] Ginger has strong antioxidant properties that can aid in slowing the effects of free radicals in tissues, giving it potential application in the treatment of arteriosclerosis and heart disease.[32] The rhizomes in ginger have also been found to have antiproliferative and antimetastatic properties, meaning it slows the division of cancer cells, and hinders its ability to spread.[30]


Honey has been found to have many potential health benefits due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. It contains various nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and many more substances necessary for the healthy functioning of the human body.[30] It also contains monosaccharides, fructose, and glucose. Honey has been found to bolster the body’s natural healing process, and its properties allow it to be employed in the treatment of a wide range of ailments, from coughs to healing wounds, and even treating cancer.[33] Honey has been found to be selectively toxic to tumor or cancer cells only, and safe to normal cells, which further exemplified its vast potential to be developed as chemotherapeutic agents for cancer treatments.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Islamic Culture and the Medical Arts - Prophetic Medicine". National Library of Medicine. 15 December 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  2. ^ a b Muzaffar Iqbal, Science and Islam (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007),59
  3. ^ a b Ragab, Ahmed (2012). "Prophetic Traditions and Modern Medicine in the Middle East: Resurrection, Reinterpretation, and Reconstruction". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 132 (4): 657–673. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.132.4.0657.
  4. ^ Stearns, Justin (1 December 2011). "Writing the History of the Natural Sciences in the Pre-modern Muslim World: Historiography, Religion, and the Importance of the Early Modern Period". History Compass. 9 (12): 923–951. doi:10.1111/j.1478-0542.2011.00810.x.
  5. ^ ":: Tibb-e-Nabawi, Healing by ISLAM". Retrieved 2016-01-08.
  6. ^ "Lifestyle & Wellbeing According to the Quran & Sunna". Prophetic Medicine. Retrieved 2016-01-08.
  7. ^ Rosenthal, Franz; Marmorstein, Jenny (1975). The classical heritage in Islam. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 182. ISBN 0-520-01997-0.
  8. ^ a b Deuraseh Nurdeen. "Ahadith of the Prophet on Healing in Three Things (al-Shifa' fi Thalatha): An Interpretational". Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine. 2003 (4): 14–20.
  9. ^ a b Borchardt, John K. (2002). "Arabic Pharmacy during the Age of the Caliphs". Drug News & Perspectives. 15 (6): 383–388. doi:10.1358/dnp.2002.15.6.840036. PMID 12677236.
  10. ^ Sunan Abu Dawood, 28:3846
  11. ^ Muhammad al-Bukhari. "Sahih Bukhari / Hadith 3320". Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  12. ^ Irmeli Pehro, The Prophet's Medicine: A Creation of the Muslim Traditionalist Scholars (Helsinki: Kokemaki, 1995)
  13. ^ "Book 71: Medicine - Hadith 591 (Volume 7) - Sahih Al-Bukhari - Collection of Actions, Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) - Kutub as-Sittah".
  14. ^ a b Rahmani, Arshad H.; Alzohairy, Mohammad A.; Khan, Masood A.; Aly, Salah M. (2014). "Therapeutic Implications of Black Seed and Its Constituent Thymoquinone in the Prevention of Cancer through Inactivation and Activation of Molecular Pathways". Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014: 1–13. doi:10.1155/2014/724658. ISSN 1741-427X.
  15. ^ "Ablutions (Wudu) What is said about the urine of camels, sheep and other animals and about their folds". Archived from the original on 2013-12-13.
  16. ^ Boyer, Lauren (10 June 2015). "Stop Drinking Camel Urine, World Health Organization Says". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  17. ^ The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. Jointly published by the Association of Muslim Social Scientists; International Institute of Islamic Thought. 2007.
  18. ^ "Sahih Muslim Book of Oaths, Muharibin, Retaliation, and Bloo". Retrieved 2021-02-01.
  19. ^ a b "History and health benefits of Henna". IslamicFinder. Retrieved 2021-02-05.
  20. ^ Quran 16:69
  21. ^ "The Magic of Science". Retrieved 2016-01-08.
  22. ^ a b Cyril Elgood (1962) The Medicine Of the Prophet. PubMed Central, 146-153.
  23. ^ "'Islamic medicine' on the rise in Southeast Asia". The Jakarta Post. 2011-09-26. Archived from the original on 2016-01-30. Retrieved 2016-01-08.
  24. ^ c.f. Ober, William B., and Nabil Alloush, "Plague at Granada, 1348-1349: Ibn al-Khatib and Ideas of Contagion."
  25. ^ Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... macmillan. p. 185. ISBN 9780099523277.
  26. ^ Fazlur Rahman Health and Medicine in the Islamic Tradition: Change and Identity. (New York : Crossroad, 1987)
  27. ^ a b "Successor To Khamenei Died Because He Trusted Islamic Medicine, Son Reveals". RFE/RL.
  28. ^ Faghihi, Rohollah (10 March 2020). "A cleric's cure for coronavirus becomes butt of jokes in Iran". Al-Monitor.
  29. ^ a b c "Prophet's perfume and flower oil: how Islamic medicine has made Iran's Covid-19 outbreak worse". The France 24 Observers.
  30. ^ a b c d e Sheikh, Bassem Y.; Sarker, Md. Moklesur Rahman; Kamarudin, Muhamad Noor Alfarizal; Ismail, Amin (November 2017). "Prophetic medicine as potential functional food elements in the intervention of cancer: A review". Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 95: 614–648. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2017.08.043. ISSN 0753-3322.
  31. ^ a b Maideen, Naina Mohamed Pakkir (2020-09-30). "Correction: Prophetic Medicine-Nigella Sativa (Black Cumin Seeds) – Potential Herb for COVID-19?". Journal of Pharmacopuncture. 23 (3): 179–179. doi:10.3831/kpi.2020.23.3.179. ISSN 2093-6966.
  32. ^ a b Shadap, Arwankie; Lyngdoh, YA; Singh, Shailesh (2018-06-30). "Ginger as an Alternative Medicine to Urban Population - A Review". Journal of Pure and Applied Microbiology. 12 (2): 1027–1031. doi:10.22207/jpam.12.2.67. ISSN 0973-7510.
  33. ^ Meo, Sultan Ayoub; Al-Asiri, Saleh Ahmad; Mahesar, Abdul Latief; Ansari, Mohammad Javed (July 2017). "Role of honey in modern medicine". Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. 24 (5): 975–978. doi:10.1016/j.sjbs.2016.12.010. ISSN 1319-562X.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ghaly, Mohammed, Prophetic Medicine, in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol. II, pp. 502–506. ISBN 1610691776

External links[edit]