The Role of a Muslim Doctor
By Shaykh Mahmoud Abu-Saud
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 reasonably 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 Quran 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." (Quran 27:44)
Both words "glorifying" and "praising" in the above verse have been used by translators to imply "Tasbeeh", but they can mean the conformity with the laws enacted by Allah to administer the ideal relationship 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 (psychological), 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, the 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 help understand the role of a Muslim doctor, let us have a look at the texts in the Quran and Hadith relating to the subject. God talks in the Quran about moral disease and cure in several suras (chapters):
"O mankind! There hath come to you a direction from you Lord and a healing for the (disease) in your hearts, - and for those who believe, a guidance and a mercy" (Quran 10:57).
The "direction" in this verse is to the Quran itself: it is considered a sure cure to any moral or psychological disease that may afflict true believers.
"It (Quran) is a guide and a healing to those who believe" (Quran 41:44).
There is no doubt that genuine belief in God can be the best cure for most of our psychological disturbances. It brings peace to our hearts as we beckon to our Creator and resign 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" (Quran 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 disease: and grievous is the penalty they (incur), because they are false (to themselves)" (Quran 2:10).
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 Quran.
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 (Quran 2:184), not to observe the usual ablution (Quran 4:43), and to cut their hair during pilgrimage (Quran 2:196), etc. In general, the ailing 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 arguing with his people about 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..." (Quran 26:80).
Nevertheless, the Quran mentions, for instance, a healing potential in honey produced by bees:
"...there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors, wherein is healing for men..." (Quran 26:69).
The Hadith, as usual, gives us striking revealing facts concerning disease and cure. Our Prophet 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 a 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 said - on the authority us 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 Mujah, Tirmidhi and Abu-Dawood). And again, on the authority of Abu-Huraira, the Prophet said, "God has not sent any disease without sending a cure to it" (cited by Ahmad, 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 faith enjoining forbearance 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 order. By accepting the Prophet's 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 characteristic: 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 commission entrusted to him in his capacity as the agent of healing. Being and agent, he believes that the act of healing is not entirely his, but 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 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 close marriage between philosophy and medicine distinguished the medical history of Islam. 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 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 plus his Islamic directives issuing from his belief. In fact, the Muslim doctor - and I mean b this that doctor who tries to live 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 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" (Quran 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 He joined your hearts together, so that by His Grace you become brethren..." (Quran 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 practitioner 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 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 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 overcame 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. Reprehensible, Prohibited and Permissible 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 county. He must also 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 juristic initiation (Istihsan).
The importance of such knowledge becomes conspicuous when the subject of the issue is purely technical and this 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 judgment 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 of his religion. To this end, he must know both: medicine and Islam.
Excerpted from the book "Islamic perspectives in medicine". A collection of essays compiled by Shahid Athar, M.D.