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Old Healthy Prescription for New Era

A genre of medical writing intended as an alternative to the exclusively Greek-based medical systems derived from Galen was called at-tibb an-nabawi or “Prophetic Medicine.”

The authors were clerics, rather than physicians, who advocated traditional medicine as mentioned in the Qur’an and as practiced during the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

It concerned the medical ideas assimilated from Hellenistic society, thereby producing a guide to medical therapy acceptable to the religious.

Therapy consisted of diet and simple medications (particularly honey), bloodletting and cauterization, but no surgery.

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Topics covered included fevers, leprosy, plague, poisonous bites, protection from night-flying insects, protection against the evil eye, rules for coitus eruptus, theories of embryology, proper conduct of physicians, and treatment of minor illnesses such as headaches, nosebleeds, cough, and colic. It was prohibited to drink wine or use soporific drugs as medicaments.

Old Healthy Prescription for New Era
Therapy consisted of diet and simple medications, bloodletting and cauterization, but no surgery.

The treatises also provided numerous prayers and pious invocations to be used by the devout patient, with the occasional amulet and talisman, as they were particularly popular between the 13th and 15th centuries. Some are still available today in modern prints.

In contrast to many writers on this topic, the historian and theologian adh-Dhahabi, who died in 1348 (748 H), keenly attempted to combine the traditional medicine of Arabia and the revelations of the Prophet Muhammad with the ideas and terminology from the Greek-based system. He frequently cited Hippocrates and Galen as well as medieval Islamic physicians.

On the other hand, the popular treatise by the religious scholar Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, who died in 1505 (911 H), was based almost exclusively upon what was known of medical practices during the time of the Prophet. It was derived from the Qur’an, traditions of the Prophet known as Hadith, and the practices of the early Muslim community.

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