THE ROLE OF A MUSLIM DOCTOR
Mahmoud Abu-Saud, Ph.D.
Disease and Cure
Humans crave for "Perfect health." They know that they can never attain this state of
perfection because they cannot conceive what is "perfect". Most should therefore be resonably
satisfied with relative "good health", where the individual would be living without imminent
suffering or pain. As living organisms, humans are subject to genetic and environmental
influences that affect the functioning of their organs. Any negative effect would cause a disease.
The force of life inexorably urges living organisms to resist disease which constitutes by
definition an obstruction to the fulfillment of the ultimate objective of the ailing organism. Not only
do humans who live for some purpose in life, but one dare say every particle has a role and is
commissioned to undertake it to the best of its ability. This innate tendency in all organisms to
function in accordance with their respective eternal laws ministering their roles and missions is a
part of what the Qur'an terms as : "Tasbeeh"
"The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, declare His Glory : There is not
a thing but celebrates His praise, and yet you understand not how they declare His glory. Verily
He is oft-forbearing most for giving "(Qur'an 27:44) .
Both words "glorifying" and "praising" in the above verse have been by translators to imply
"Tasbeeh", but they can mean the conformity with the laws enacted by Allah to administer the
ideal relationships among all beings in the course of their function and performance. When there
is any disturbance or deviation from the inherent discipline of Tasbeeh, then there is a disease. In
humans, such a disease can be pure moral (psychologal), pure pathological, or moral-cum-
pathological. When a person goes astray in his behavioral conduct, or when he contracts a virus
infection, or where the cholesterol in his blood increases to the extent that affects his meditative
faculties and behavior, this person is accordingly considered sick. To cure him, an appropriate
course of treatment must be followed. The person who is qualified to judge whether a person is
suffering from a "disease" as such, and who assumes the functions of healing is called a medical
To help understand the role of the Muslim doctor, let us have a look at the texts in the
Qur'an and Hadith relating to the subject. God talks in the Qur'an about moral disease and cure in
several suras (chapters):
"0 mankind! There hath come to you a dil·ection from your Lord and a healing for the
(disease) in your hearts, - and for those who believe, a guidance and a mercy" ( 1 0:5 7).
The "direction" in this verse is to the Qur'an itself: it is considered a sure
cure to any moral or Psychological disease that may afflict true believers. "it (Qur'an) is a guide
and a healing to those who believe" (41:44).
There is no doubt that genuine belief in God can be the best cure for most of our
psychological disturhances. It brings peace to our hearts as we beckon to our Creator and resign
"But He guideth to Himself those who turn to Him in patience. Those who believe, and
whose hearts find peace and satisfaction in the remembrance of God: for without doubt in the
remembrance of God do hearts find satisfaction and peace" (13:27-28).
Moral disease has been frequently expressed as disease in the heart. For instance,
depicting the psychological picture of the Hypocrites (Munafiqeen) God says:
"In their hearts there is a disease; and God has increased their di and grevious is the
penalty they (incur), because they are false (to themselves)" (2: 10).
Transgressors, unbelievers and ill-intentioned individuals suffer from a
moral weaknes -a disease in their hearts. This term has been repeated about thirteen times in the
From the physical point of view, there are many verses that mention the ill and the patient,
giving them respite from some commissioned obligations and prescriptions. For instance. the ill
are allowed not to keep the fasting during Ramadan (2:184), not to observe the usual ablution
(4:43), to cut their hair during the pilgrimage (2:196), and not to respond to the call of Jihad (9:91),
etc. In general, the ailin person is treated as a special case and is given the chance for recovery
and is always given special treatment.
It is granted that Allah is the ultimate healer. Ibrahim (PBUH) arguing with his peopleabout the
omnipotence of Allah said,
"... (Allah) is He who created me, and it is He who guides me. who gives me food and drink, and when I am ill, He cures me..." (26:80).
Nevertheless, the Qur'an mentions, for instance, a healing potential in honey produced by
" there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors,
wherein is healing for men..." (26:69).
The Hadith. as usual, gives us striking revealing facts concerning disease and cure. Our
Prophet (PBUH) informed us that the general rule is that there is a cure to every disease, whether
we are aware of it or not. We know at present that our cells produce antibodies to fend against the
agents of disease: the viruses and virulent bacteria. Homeopathic philosophy is based on helping
the body to overcome the disease by giving the sick very small doses of drugs that would
stimulate the same symptoms in a healthy person ifgiven in large doses. In simple words, the well
established Hadith narrated on the authority of Ibn Maso'ud "God has not inflicted a disease
without prescribing a cure to it, known to whoever knows it, and unknown to whoever does not
know it." (cited by Ahmad. cf Nayl-al-Awtar, V.9, p. 89) is a confirmation of the natural law of auto-
resistance or self defense. It indicates as well the necessity for discovering cures to our diseases.
He (PBUH) said - on the authority of Usama Ibn Shuraik - when a Bedouin asked him whether he
should seek treatment: "Yes, servants of God seek treatment; God has not set a disease without
setting a cure to it, known to whoever knows it and unknown to whoever does not know it" (cited
by Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi and Abu-Dawood). And again, on the authority of AbuHuraira, the Prophet
(PBUH) said, "God has not sent any disease without sending a cure to it" (cited by Ahmad,
Bukhari and Tbn Majah).
The Muslim Patient
Every human being is bound to feel ill sometime and somehow. A Muslim
does not panic when afflicted with any sickness because his belief in the mercy of God, his faith in
destiny and his faith enjoining forebearance and patience give him strength to stand fast and
endure his ordeal. However, he is supposed to seek treatment in response to the Prophet's
(PUBH) order. By accepting the Prophet's (PBUH) statement that there is a cure to every
disease, the Muslim patient builds up a strong hopeful attitude that helps him and his doctor to
resist the disease and overcome it.
The Muslim Doctor
The Muslim doctor shares with the Muslim patient the two main characteristics: the faith in
God and destiny, and the conviction that there is a cure for every disease. But the doctor must
have something more; he is sup posed to know, or at least try to know, the proper diagnosis and
the proper cure. He must be aware of his mission or commission entrusted to him in his capacity
as the agent of healing. Being an agent, he believes that the act of healing is not entirely his, but
it depends on God's will. It seems to me that medical doctors are more aware than others of the
divine power and God's will. They meet every day with cases where destiny plays the major part,
and they encounter the most unexpected results. Yasir narrates that the Prophet (PBUH) said:
"For each disease there is a cure: and when the (right) treatment is given, the disease is cured by
the Will of Allah" (Ahmad and Muslim).
The art of healing, which is called the medical profession in modern language. has been
highly respected all through the ages. For a long period in human history this art was closely
correlated with religious leadership and quite often confluent with magic and miracles. Since the
advent of Islam 1400 years ago, medicine has become a science subject of human intelligence
and discovery. Nevertheless, the medical doctor has persistently captured the appreciation and
respect of his contemporaries, especially as medicine was usually associated with other
philosophical and social knowledge. In fact this ctose marriage between philosophy and medicine
distinguished the medical history ofIslam. The gist here is that a doctor's prognosis included the
spiritual, psychological and social sides of the patient over and above the pathological aspects. I
earnestly believe that in an Islamic state, all Muslim doctors In course of their everyday practice,
and when dealing with Muslim patients in particular, should keep this tradi tional prognostic
attitude in mind. I am sure, if they do they will never regret the act.
But what is it that makes a Muslim doctor different from other non Muslim doctors:' From
the technological and scientific points of view, all doctors fall In one category. However, when it
comes to practice, the Muslim doctor finds himseIf bound by particular professional ethics plus
his Islamic directives issuin8 from his belief. [n fact, the Muslim doctor and I mean by this that
doctor who tries to 1ive his Islam by following its teachings all through - is expected to behave
differently on some occasions and to meet greater responsibilities compared to other non-Muslim
1. The Public Responsibility: A Muslim doctor is supposed to belong to a Muslim
community where there is some common cause, common feel ings and mutual solidarity.
"Believers are brethren" (49:10). God also says:
"And hold fast all of you together to the Rope of Allah, and be not divided among
yourselves; and remember Allah's favor on you, for you were enemies and Hejoined pour hearts
together, so that by His Crrace you became bretheren..." (3:103).
The implication is that the Muslim doctor is a member in a Muslim community where the
healthy body of the individual is crucial for its survival and development. The doctor has a big say
and great weight in influencing his patients and in righteously guiding their orientation. Besides, he
should be actively involved in propagating true Islam among Muslims and non-Muslims. Almost all
Christian missionaries depend on medical doctors when approaching alien masses, taking
advantage of the humanistic services doctors render to poor sick people. In a country like USA
where we live, the best missionary service that a medical practioner can render is to behave all
the time in accordance with his Islamic beliefs, to declare his conviction, and to be proud of it.
Thus he can be a good model for others to win their confidence and hearts.
2. Faith und H~uling: By accepting the fact that Allah is the healer and that the doctor is
only an agent, both patients - irrespective of their creeds - and their doctors, fight their battle of
treatment with less agony and tension. i think it is an established fact that such spiritual conviction
does improve the psychological state of the patient and boost his morale, and thus help him
overcome his physical weakness and sickness. There are many examples where faith plays an
important part in the process of healing. In my opinion, a Muslim doctor must make his faith the
backbone of his healing career.
3. Reprehrnsihle, Prohihited anu' Permissihle Acts: More than any other professional, the
Muslim medical doctor is confronted frequently with questions concerning the Islamic legitimacy of
his activities. There are diverse daily controversial problematic issues on which he is supposed to
take a stand: e.g., birth control, abortions, opposite sex hormonal injections, transsexual
operations, brain operations affecting human personality, plastic surgery changing physionomy,
extra-uterine conception, etc. The Muslim doctor should not be guided in such issues merely by
the law of the country. He must also find the Islamic answer and rather adopt it as much as he
can. To find the answer is not an easy matter, especially if the doctor himself has no reasonably
solid background in the field of Islamic teachings. Yet, to gain such knowledge is very simple and
would not consume much time as generally presumed.
In general, every Muslim must have a preliminary knowledge of what is reprehensible and
what is prohibited. One has to admit that our early education as individuals is very deficient in this
regard. But this does not justify our ignorance of the essentials of our religion and our indifference
towards its injunctions. There is no difficulty nowadays to obtain a few reference books about our
Shari'ah and to find out the answers to most - if not all - our medical queries. The most preliminary
study of the Islamic science of "Usul" would give the doctors the main principles of analogy, 'Qias',
preferential application (Istihsan) and jurisdistic initiation (Istihsan).
The importance of such knowledge becomes cclnsplcuous when the subject of the issue
is purely technical and thus lies beyond the reach of the normal religious scholar. Besides, there
are many secondary questions that arise in the course of dealing with Patients where the personal
judgement of the doctor is the only arbiter. There, as always, the doctor needs a criterion on which
he can build his code of behavior and the ethics of his medical procedure.
To conclude, the role of the Muslim doctor is briefly to place his profession in service ofhis
religion. To this end, he must know both: medicine and Islam.
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