Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
11 - 17 May 2000
Issue No. 481
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BOOKS: a monthly supplement of Al-Ahram Weekly

Medicine for the soul

Medicine of the Prophet, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya,
Translated by Penelope Johnston, Islamic Texts Society, 1998.

Medicine of the Prophet belongs to a particular genre of Islamic medical writing written by the renowned fourteenth-century Hanbali theologian and jurist, Shamseddin Abu Bakr Mohammed Ibn Abu Bakr Al-Zar' Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (691-751 AH/ 1292-1350 CE) It is part of a larger work of Ibn Qayyim's called Zaad al-Ma'aad and falls into a category of writing which was especially popular between the 13th and 15th centuries and in which medical advice acceptable to the more religiously orthodox was dispensed by legal scholars in accordance with the precepts of the Qur'an and the Sunna and as a counterweight to the more Greek-based medical systems originating from Galen.

The text will be of interest to the non-Arabic speaking Muslim reader who wishes to acquaint himself with the range and depth of medical prescribing recommended by the Prophet Mohamed. It will also be of interest to those who want to understand how the current proliferation of interest in alternative and complementary medicine dovetails with many of the precepts of prophetic medicine. The interconnection between faith and health that is emphasized in this book has now been scientifically documented by researchers such as Dr. Larry Dossey in the US. Whereas modern medical doctors might previously have dismissed much of the material in this book as superstitious humbug from the medical point of view, it is becoming clearer that this position is itself becoming outmoded with increasing discoveries about the inseparable link between mind and body and the implications this has for what you believe, think, feel and experience. As Ibn Qayyim says in his text, "The soul and the body react one upon the other, and the quality of one affects the quality of the other."

The fundamental principle of all natural healing methods Vis Medicatrix Naturae (that utilize the healing power of nature), is constantly re-emphasized throughout the book. Ibn Qayyim says that, "the physician is the servant and assistant of the innate nature, not one who impedes it," words of advice that many modern medical practitioners might do well to heed.

Penelope Johnston has done an excellent job in translating this text, striking a fine balance between when to use the original (often untranslatable) Arabic terms and when to use the appropriate English equivalents. Being a scholar in the field of Arabic medicine and herbals, she has also provided the reader with a useful Arabic-English glossary of terms as well as, for Muslim readers, a concise source attribution for all the hadith mentioned in the text. In addition, the layout is attractive and the whole is eminently readable

In general The Islamic Texts Society has once again proven with the publication of this work that it is maintaining its high standards in the selection of its texts, the quality of their translation, and in their printing and layout.

Reviewed by A. H. L. Holdijk


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