The Role Of A Muslim Doctor

Posted on April 14, 2007

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Dr. Mahmoud Abu – Saud

(Edited by Shahid Athar , M. D.) and reprinted here with permission.

Disease and Cure

“Perfect health” is a wish that humans crave for. They know that they can never attain this state of perfection, if only because they cannot conceive what is “perfect”. Accordingly, they satisfy themselves with a relative “good health”, where the individual would be living without immediate suffering or pain. As living organisms, humans are subject to genetic and environmental influences that affect the functioning of their organs. Any negative effect may cause a disease.

The force of life inexorably urges living organisms to resist disease since the latter constitutes by definition an obstruction to the ultimate objective of the ailing organism. Not only humans but all particles also have a purpose and role in life , and are commissioned to undertake it to the best of their ability. This innate tenacity 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 forgiving.” (XVII-44)

Both words “glorifying” and “praising” in the above verse have been used by translators to imply “Tasbeeh”, but they should be construed to mean the conformity with the laws enacted by Allah to administer the ideal and balanced relationships among all beings in course of their functioning and performance. When there is any disturbance to our deviation from the inherent discipline of Tasbeeh, then there is a disease. In humans, such a disease can be purely moral (psychological), purely pathological, or moral-and-pathological. When a person goes astray in his behavioral conduct, or when he contracts a virus infection, or when his cholesterol increases to the extent that it 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 “doctor”.

To understand the role of the Muslim doctor, let us consider 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). He says:

O mankind! There hath come to you a direction from your Lord and a healing for the (disease) in your hearts, – and for those who believe, a guidance and a mercy.”(X-57)

The “direction” in this verse refers to the Qur’an itself, and  it is considered to be 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.”(XLI, 44)

There is no doubt that genuine iman (belief) in god can be the best cure for most of our psychological disturbances. It brings peace to our hearts as one reckons to his Creator and resigns in Him.

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.” (XIII, 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 disease: and grevious is the penalty they (incur), because they are false (to themselves).” (II, 10)

Transgressors, unbelievers and ill-intentioned individuals suffer from a moral weakness – a disease in their hearts. This term has been repeated about thirteen times in the Qur’an.

From the physical point of view, there are many verses that mention the ill and the patient, giving them due license from some commissioned obligations and prescriptions. For instance, the ills allowed not to keep the fasting during Ramadan, (11. 184), not to observe the usual ablution (IV, 43), not to abstain from cutting his hair during the pilgrimage (11, 196), not to respond the call of Jihad (IX, 9 1) etc. In general, the ailing person is treated as a special case and is given the due chance for recovery and is always given special treatment and licenses.

It is granted that Allah is the ultimate healer. Ibrahim (P.B.U.H.) arguing with his people about the omnipotence of Allah said,

“…(Allah) who created me and it is He who guides me, who gives me food and drink, and when I am ill, He cures me…” (XXVI, 80)

However, Allah suggests the need for treatment by ascribing a healing potential to the honey produced by bees:

“…there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors, wherein is healing for men… ” (XVI, 69)

The Hadith, as usual, gave us striking revealing facts concerning disease and cure. Our Prophet (P.B.U.H.) 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 if given in large doses. In simple words, the well established Hadith narrated on the authority of Ibn Mas’ud, i.e., “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 of Nayl-al-Awtar, V. 9, p. 89),  is a confirmation of the natural law of auto-resistance of self-defense. It also indicates the necessity for discovering cures to our diseases. He (P.B.U.H.) said – on the authority of Usama Ibn Shuraik – when a Bedouin asked him whether be 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 lbn Majah, Tirmizi and Abu-Dawood). And again, on the authority of Abu-Huraira, the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) said, “God has not sent any disease without sending a cure to it” (cited by Ahmad, al-Bukhari and Ibn 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 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 (s) order. By accepting the Prophet’s (s) statement that there is a cure to every disease, the Muslim patient adopts 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 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 supposed to know, or at least try to know, the proper diagnosis and the proper cure. He must be aware of his mission or role 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 they encounter the most unexpected results. Our Prophet (s), on the authority of Yasir, says: “For each disease there is a cure; and when the (fight) treatment is given, the disease is cured by the Will of Allah“, (cited by 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 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 to human intelligence and discovery. Nevertheless, the medical doctor has persistently captured the appreciation and respect of his contemporaries, especially since medicine was usually associated with other philosophical and social knowledge. In fact, this close relationship between philosophy and medicine characterized the medical history of Islam. The idea here is that 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 every day practice, and when dealing with Muslim patients in particular, should keep this traditional 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 himself bound by particular professional ethics in addition to his Islamic directives issuing from his belief. In fact, the Muslim doctor – and I mean by this that doctor who tries to live his Islam by following its teachings all through – such a doctor is expected behave differently in some occasions and to meet greater responsibilities than other non-Muslim doctors.

1. The Public Responsibility: A Muslim doctor is supposed to belong to a Muslim community where there is some common cause, common feelings and mutual solidarity:

Believers are brethren” (IXL, 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 He joined your hearts together, so that by His Grace you became brethren…” (111, 103)

The implication is the Muslim doctor is a member in a Muslim community where the same body of the individual is crucial for its survival and development. […] Besides, he should be actively modeling true Islam among Muslims and non-Muslims. Almost all Christian missionaries depend on medical doctors when approaching alien masses, taking advantage of the humanistic service doctors render to poor diseased people. In a country like this where we live, the best dawah service to be rendered by a medical doctor is to behave all the time in accordance with his Islamic teachings […]. Thus, he provides a good model that may attract others to Islam, [or at the very least, allay any suspicion of Islam and/or Muslims].

2. Faith and healing: 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 stress. I think it is an established fact that such spiritual conviction would 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 played a miraculous part in the process of healing. In my opinion, a Muslim doctor must make of faith the backbone of his entire healing procedure.

3. Reprehensible, Prohibited and Permissible Acts: More than any other professional, the Muslim medical doctor is confronted more frequently with questions regarding the Islamic legitimacy of his activities. There are almost daily controversial problematic issues on which he is supposed to decide: e.g. birth control, abortions, opposite sex hormonal injections, trans-sexual 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. It is not difficult 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 to the Islamic science of “Usul” would give the doctors the main principles of analogy, ‘Qiyas’, preferentical application Istihsan) and jurisdictic initiation (Istihsan). The importance of such knowledge becomes conspicuous 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 put his profession in service of his religion. To this end, he must know both medicine and Islam.

Note from Rafik Beekun: This article was also lightly edited by me before being reproduced here. 

Source: “Islamic Perspective in Medicine” by Shahid Athar , M. D. (American Trust Publication) available from www.amazon.com and can be read on line by clicking here.

Islamic Medical Ethics

The Islamic Medical Association of North America has put together a document detailing the ethical position of Muslim doctors. Please click here to view it.

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