Al-tibb Al-nabawi (medicine Of The Prophet): Towards A New Definition

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Islamic Medicine
Staff member

There are people who define medicine of the Prophet (al-Tibb al-Nabawi) as medical treatments, prescriptions of diseases, prevention, health promotion and spiritual aspects that were recommended by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) to his companions, and what does not come from the Prophet (s.a.w) is, therefore, not considered as medicine of the Prophet. It is because of this understanding and attitude that practicing al-Tibb al-Nabawi, according to this school of thought, is part of following the sunnah of Prophet (s.a.w) and those who follow other methods of healing are, therefore, not truly following the sunnah of Prophet and probably Islamic teaching too.

It seems that the above narrow interpretation of the scope of medicine of the Prophet seemingly does not hold true meaning of the concept of health and medicine in Islamic tradition. In the history of Islamic medical studies, we found significantly in the very well known commentaries of Sahih of al-Bukhari namely Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari of Ahmad b. Ali Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani (d. 852/1449) and Umdat al-Qari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari of Abu Muhammad Mahmud Ahmad al-`Ayni (d. 855/1452), both were living in the era when medical literature was overflowing with all sorts of medical disciplines, on the meaning of medicine. It was probably in consequence of reading those literatures that they were in preference to hold that medicine of the Prophet as other medical sciences is so broad, meaning that, it does not only refer to what had been said and practiced in the time of Prophet but it reaches and includes as it does into every field of human medical research, activity and thought at all time. To do so, one should know the problem and cause of certain cases, then, he should try to solve it by consulting ahadith of Prophet (s.a.w) relating to medicine as well as ancient and contemporary medical books.

So, it was at the time when medical systems were introduced and practiced widely by Muslims, Ibn Hajr and Ibn Ahmad al-Ayni were very concerned in giving the scope of medicine of the Prophet in broad sense especially when they found that Imam Bukhari was in favor to name one of his chapters (kutub, its singular is kitab) as kitab al-tibb (the book of medicine) rather than kitab al-tibb al-nabawi (the book of the medicine of the Prophet).[2] Having this in mind, they clarified the word al-tibb in the linguistic and medical perspectives. Ibn Hajr, for example, held that the word “tibb” in Arabic language was used to denote al-hadhaq bi al-shai` (perfect knowledge of thing and skill in doing it). Those who possess the skill of treatment and healing are called Tabib. It also carries other meanings such as to amend, restore, adjust, improve, correct, as well as kindness, expertise, judiciousness, skillfulness, resourcefulness, competence, maturity, habit, regular practice, perspicacity, intelligence, sophistication, cleverness, efficiency, ability to negotiate, mastering with consummate skills, finesses, along with aspiration and glad tidings. After understanding this, Ibn Ahmad al-Ayni underlined that medicine is the knowledge of the states of human body (Ahwal Badn al-Insan) in health and decline in health (disease); its purpose is preserving health and adopting suitable measures for restoring health whenever lost (al-tibb huwa `ilm yu`raf bihi ahwal al-badn al-insan min jihhat ma yasihhu wa yazul `anhu al-sihhat li tahfizu al-sihhah hasiluhu wa tastariddu raza`iluhu). This notion reveals to us that medicine may be divided into three major areas: promotion of health, prevention of illness, and restoration of disease.

One of the interesting surprises that came from reading Ibn al-Ayni’s definition of al-Tibb, was his emphasis upon ‘health’ over disease. Meaning that preservation of health should be the primary object of medicine in which a physician has to give, and not the ‘disease’. Throughout Islamic civilization, the primary goal of the medical system is to maintain health rather than to cure the disease or restore it whenever lost. This is in harmony with the objective of Islamic law that keeping health is better than the treatment of disease. In other words, the real purpose of medical is to save human life and to improve the sufferings of living beings.

This does not meant that therapeutic medicine is not important. According to Ibn al-Ayni’s definition of Tibb, the restoration of lost health is the second aim of Islamic medicine. Basically, the restoration of health in Islamic traditional system consists of a number of different therapies or treatments, notably using a gulp of honey, cupping and cauterization. Later on, medicaments, psycho-spiritual healing, and surgical intervention were introduced when many Muslims had learnt from other civilization. As in Greek medicine, Islamic medicine gives very clear distinction between mufradah (simple) and murakkabah (compound) drugs. In this regard, physicians are advised, if possible, to avoid treating diseases with compound drugs if it effects the weakening of the body. This was an extremely attractive theory which actually provided valuable prevention of diseases because the compound medicines are likely to have more side effects. Those people whose foods are, for the most part, simple have very few ailments, and their treatment also consists of simple medicines. But for city dwellers that are used to compound foods need compound medicine as well.


The above discussion leads us to understand that the medicine of Prophet (al-Tibb al-Nabawi), in real sense, is so broad. It does not only refer to what had been said and practiced in the time of Prophet but it reaches and includes as it does into every field of human medical research, activity and thought at all time. This implies that medicine of the Prophet, as other rational disciplines, is not static but it could grow and develop according to the time and circumstance, which needs experience and new knowledge so that it could develop.

Dr. Nurdeen Deuraseh
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