Health Care in Islam

by Alexander Abu Bakr Stark

All praise is for Allah, Lord of the Universe. We praise Him, and seek His help, and His forgiveness, and we seek His protection from the accursed Satan. Whoever Allah guides will never be misguided, and whom He allows to be misguided will not be guided. I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger.

Nowadays many people are looking for so-called natural medicine which usually refers to medicine which could be an alternative to Western and chemical medicine. The reason for this trend is that the Western medicine could not solve all the important health problems. For example cancer which is a real threat for many people. Many countries invest a lot of money in order to find proper medicaments against this disease. But nonetheless the cancer rates increase dramatically. The World Health Organization refers to the World Cancer Report and states:

"Cancer rates could further increase by 50% to 15 million new cases in the year 2020 according to the World Cancer Report." 1

In the same article the researcher concludes that prevention measures are very important and can prevent one-third of that rate:

"Examples of areas where action can make a difference to stemming the increase of cancer rates and preventing a third of cases are:

  • Reduction of tobacco consumption. It remains the most important avoidable cancer risk. In the 20th century, approximately 100 million people died world-wide from tobacco-associated diseases.
  • A healthy lifestyle and diet can help. Frequent consumption of fruit and vegetables and physical activity can make a difference.
  • Early detection through screening, particularly for cervival and breast cancers allow for prevention and successful cure." 2

In this article I want to show that the medicine of the Prophet (s.a.w.) already stressed the importance of prevention. And it is maybe astonishing that the Prophetic medicine mentions many points. We should know that the Islamic medicine can contribute an important part not only in the prevention of cancer but also in regard to other diseases. This article tries to mention the most important points in brief.

•  Nutrition

In the Islamic tradition there are quite a number of ahadith which specify the proper way of eating. Before we discuss about some food we should look at the way how to eat according to the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). Rasulullah (s.a.w.) was a very humble and modest man and he (s.a.w.) used his fingers and sat on the floor whilst he (s.a.w.) was eating. Before the Prophet (s.a.w.) began to eat he (s.a.w.) washed his hands. This is important for the hygiene. We often neglect this simple behaviour by just using the fork or spoon. But we do not know how long this fork or spoon were lying on the table and who touched them.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) used his fingers (3 fingers) for taking the meal. This kind of eating prevents that we eat food which is too hot. If we eat with our fingers then we directly feel whether the meal has the right temperature or not.

We should know that Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) never ate too much.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, "Man fills no vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to have a few mouthfuls to give him the strength he needs. If he has to fill his stomach, then let him leave one-third for food, one-third for drink and one-third for air."(Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Saheeh al Jami' 5674).

An extravagant way of life is not good. Allah (s.w.t.) says:

"And eat and drink but waste not by extravagance."(Qur'an 7:31)

So before we eat we should remember the way how the Prophet (s.a.w.) ate and of course we should know what kind of food is forbidden and what kind of food is highly recommended.

•  The prohibition of pork

The pig is a very dirty animal and its meat contains many unhealthy elements. I could give so many examples but I just intend to write a small article and therefore I will just give one example. Especially worms and parasites can be often found in pork. Trichinosis is a parasitic disease. The trichina worm enters the body and causes serious damage. How can the humans become infected? The main reason is pork (especially in the developing world):

"The few cases in the United States are mostly the result of eating uncooked game, bear meat or home reared pigs. It is most common in the developing world and where pigs are commonly fed garbage." 3

There are many other types of worms that live in pork and all of them are the source of different diseases. Therefore pork is forbidden in Islam:

"He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of Allah."(Qur'an 2:173)

"Forbidden for you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah."(Qur'an 5:3)

In the verses 6:145 and 16:115 this prohibition is mentioned too. As the Qur'an is the Word of Allah we should consider this prohibition and avoid pork

•  Prohibition of alcohol and other intoxicants

The drinking of alcohol can cause cancer. According to the homepage www.cancerresearch.uk. it can cause the following types of cancer:

  • Mouth cancer
  • Pharygeal cancer (upper throat)
  • Oesophageal cancer (food pipe)
  • Laryngeal cancer (voice box)
  • Breast cancer
  • Bowel cancer
  • Liver cancer

And even the so-called light drinking can be dangerous:

"Alcohol can increase the risk of cancer at levels far too low to make an average person drunk. It's not just people who have 'drinking problems' who have higher risks." 4

So it is no wonder that Allah (s.w.t.) forbids the consumption of alcohol.

"They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: 'In them is great sin, and some profit for men; but the sin is greater than the profit."(Qur'an 2:219)

And in the ahadith we can find this prohibition, too.

Narrated Anas ibn Malik: Allah's Messenger cursed ten people in connection with wine: the wine presser, the one who has it pressed, the one who drinks it, the one who conveys it, the one to whom it is conveyed, the one who serves it, the one who sells it, the one who benefits from the price paid for it, the one who buys it, and the one for whom it is bought."(Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah).

We should also know that all intoxicants are strictly forbidden.

Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar, Allah's Messenger said: "Every intoxicant is khamr and every intoxicant is forbidden."(Muslim 4963)

•  Prohibition of Smoking

At the beginning of this article it is already mentioned that smoking is one of the main reasons for cancer. Many Muslims avoid alcohol and pork but smoking is still widespread. The smokers even harm the health of the surrounding people. But Allah (s.w.t.) says:

"Those who annoy believing men and women undeservedly bear on themselves a glaring sin." (Qur'an 33:58)

And of course it is very unhealthy for the smoker.

".make not your own hands contribute to your destruction."(Qur'an 2:195)

Therefore most of the scholars say that smoking is forbidden ( haram ). The scholars quote more than just the verses which I quoted above. I just quote one hadith :

The Messenger (s.a.w.) said, "Whoever consumes poison, killing himself with it, then he will consuming his poison in the hellfire, and he will abide in it permanently and eternally." (Bukhari/Muslim)

•  Recommended food

In the Qur'an and ahadith we find some food which is explicitly mentioned. Some kind is prohibited like pork and there is on the other side another kind which is very healthy. This healthy food prevents diseases or even cure after someone became infected.

One famous fruit is the olive ( zaytun ). It is mentioned in the Qur'an:

"By the fig and the olive."(Qur'an 95:1)

And the Prophet (s.a.w.) said about it:

"Eat the olive oil and massage it over your bodies since it is a blessed (Mubarak) tree."(Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah)

The modern science confirms that the olive and its oil are very healthy (especially in combination with other herbs):

"In view of the research carried out in USA and England , it is concluded that it is a good nourishing diet during the ailments of kidney, where nitrogen containing food/proteins in take is contra indicated." 5

The other fruit which is mentioned in verse 95:1 is the fig. The fig is very healthy and protective:

"Fruit and Cereal Fiber Protective against Postmenopausal Breast Cancer

Results of a protective study involving 51823 postmenopausal women for an average of 8.3 years showed a 34% reduction in breast cancer risk for those consuming the most fruit fiber compared to those consuming the least. In addition, in the subgroup of women who had ever used hormone replacement, those consuming the most fiber, especially cereal fiber, had a 50% reduction in their risk of breast cancer compared to those consuming it the least. Int. J. Cancer 2008 Jan 15; 122 (2): 403-12

Fruit riches in fiber include apples, dates, figs, pears and prunes.

In animal studies, fig leaves have been shown to lower levels of triglycerids (a form in which fats circulate blood stream), while in in vitro studies, fig leaves inhibited the growth of certain types of cancer cells." 6

This is really impressive. In this quotation we can see that dates are very healthy too. We should always remember that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said:

"When any of you breaks his fasting he should eat dates cause dates are blessing,;.." (Abu Dawud)

"Who eats 7 pressed dates in the morning, will not be inflicted with witchcraft or poisoning that day." (Abu Dawud)

It is recommended to eat dates instead of other sweets like chocolate. Dates are very healthy. They can help to cure digestive illnesses or fight constipation and heat burns. 7

Another sweet food is honey. It is a very healthy food and contains Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and C. It also contains magnesium, calcium, iron, sodium etc. 8 So it is a medicine which can help to cure disease like haemorrhoids, skin diseases, diseases of the cataract etc. 9

The bee is a very useful animal and there is even a whole Surah in the Qur'an which is named after it (the bee - an Nahl - Surah 16). Allah ( s.w.t.) says in this Surah:

"And thy Lord taught to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men's) habitations. Then to eat all of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skills the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is a healing for men: verily this is a Sign for those who give thought."(Qur'an 16: 68-69)

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: " There is a cure in three substances, a drink of honey, a slash with a knife used for cupping and cauterizing by fire. I forbid my nation from cauterizing by fire." (Bukhari)

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: "Make use of two cure: the honey and the Qur'an." (Ibn Majah)

A man came to the Prophet (s.a.w.) because his brother has stomach disorder. The Prophet said: "Let him drink honey." The man returned again, and said: "I have done that." The Prophet then responded: "Allah has said the truth, but your brother's stomach has told a lie. Let him drink honey." He drank it and was cured. (Bukhari)

Honey is such a wonderful thing that I want to quote a part of the book "Healing with the medicine of the Prophet" of Ibn Qayyim al Jauziyah:

".honey reduces the bitter taste of other medicine, cleanses the liver and the chest, aides in producing urine, and dissolves the phlegm that is accompanied by coughing. When honey is consumed hot and mixed with rose oil, it cures animal bites and the effects of opium. Taking honey mixed with water helps against the bite of a rabid dog and the effect of poisonous mushrooms.When honey is applied to someone that is infected with lice, it will kill both the lice and the eggs." 10

Ibn Qayyim al Jauziyah mentions many more benefits but it should be sufficient to show that honey is a very healthy food.

Conclusion: In this first part I wanted to show that the Islamic medicine stresses the importance of food. It prohibits dangerous food and on the other side it recommends healthy food which protects our body against various diseases. There is much more healthy food which could be mentioned like barley etc. But I just want to show that we benefit if we follow the guidelines of the Islamic medicine regarding nutrition. Nutrition is only one part of health care. In the following chapter I intend to show that even Islamic worship is an important element of health care.

Islamic worship is healthy.

•  Ablution ( wudoo)

Before a believer prays he has to perform ablution. There are many ahadith regarding that topic. In Sahih Bukhari there are many ahadith about ablution. The way of ablution is as follows:

Narrated Ata bin Yasar: Ibn Abbas performed ablution and washed his face (in the following way: He ladled out a handful of water, rinsed his mouth and washed his nose with it by putting in water and then blowing it out. He then, took another handful (of water) and did like this (gesturing) joining both hands, and washed his face, took another handful of water and washed his right forearm. He then took another handful of water and washed his left forearm, and passed wet hands over his head and took another handful of water and poured it over his right foot (up to his ankles) and washed it thoroughly and similarly took another handful of water and washed his left food (up to the ankles) and said, "I saw Allah's Messenger performing ablution in this way."(Bukhari)

Cleanliness is very important and usually we perform ablution 5 times a day as we have to pray 5 times daily. Sometimes it can be less if the person is still in a condition which allows him to pray.

Every day we are touching a lot of things which might be infected by viruses.

"Washing one's hands, a form of hygiene, is the most effective overall way to prevent the spread of infectious disease." 11

It is also highly recommended to brush the teeth at the same time like ablution. The Prophet (s.a.w.) said:

"Siwak cleanses the mouth and earns one of the Lord's pleasure."(Bukhari)

"Were it not for the fact that I did not want to make things too hard for my Ummah, I would have commanded them to use the siwak at every time of Salat (prayer)."(Bukhari)

Siwak refers to a stick or a twig which is used in order to clean the mouth. There is no doubt that is very good to clean our mouth in order to remove filthy things. The siwak also helps to strengthen the gum. The siwak itself has 19 beneficial ingredients which are important like antibacterial acidic inhibitors that fight decay. It contains other elements like sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate etc. which help to clean the teeth too. 12

•  The prayer ( salat )

For many people it might be surprising that the Islamic prayer itself is healthy. A team of researchers of the University of Malaya (Department of Biomedical Engineering) made a research about this topic. There are astonishing results. The way the Muslim performs his prayer has a positive effect on his health, i.e. for the heart, the muscles, the brain etc. The person who knows what to recite during prayer and who prays five times per day got the best results.

"Therefore participants who perform salat five times a day have a healthier body composition as compared with participants who did not perform their salat regularly. Thus, it can be concluded that practicing salat five times a day will increase the level of an individual's health. A complete act of five obligatory salats a day also boosts the body's immune system and helps guard against the risk of heart disease, stress, cholesterol and undesirable health conditions." 13

So we should not hesitate to pray!

•  The fasting ( as sawm )

Another well-known Islamic kind of worship is the fasting during the month of Ramadan. There are also voluntary types of fasting like 6 days fasting in the month of Shawwal, fasting on Monday and Thursday etc. But the fasting during the month of Ramadan is obligatory and every Muslim (who is considered as an adult) must perform it:

"O you who have attained faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God."(Qur'an 2:183)

During Ramadan it is not allowed to eat, drink, engage in sexual activity and smoke between sunrise and sunset. So we can say that the fasting encourages the smoker to stop this bad habit. If someone can abstain such a long time without smoking, he should be able to abstain for ever. Fasting during Ramadan helps to lower the blood sugar and cholesterol level.

"Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for the treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obsesity, and essential hypertension." 14


In this second part I wanted to show that Islamic worship is healthy. I concentrated my view on some obligatory parts of worship. But I could also mention some other elements like dhikr (remembrance) which is healthy too.

Although there is a lot of improvement in the treatment of various diseases we are still faced with difficulties as we have seen in the increase of the cancer rate. Therefore the experts stress the importance of health care. The doctors recommend a reduction of tobacco consumption and a healthy way of living with a frequent consumption of fruits and other healthy food. In the first part of this article I have shown that the Islamic way of life stresses these elements too and clearly mentions what kind of food is good for us. In the second part I showed that Islamic worship is an important element of health care. For many readers it could be surprising: How could a simple person like Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) know all these facts. We must know that this knowledge is from Allah:

"Your companion is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he speak (aught) of (his own) desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him. He was taught by one Mighty in Power."(Qur'an 53: 2-5)

All the above-mentioned facts should help to see that the Qur'an is a real miracle.

"Soon will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. Is it not enough that thy Lord doth witness all things?" (Qur'an 41:53)


1. Global cancer rates could increase by 50% to 15 million by 2002. www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2003/pr27/en/

2. from the same article like in 1

3. www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichinosis

4. http://info.cancerresearchuk.orghealthyliving/alcohol

5. from: Dr. M. Laiq Ali Khan: Zaitoon (Olive) is a cure for seventy diseases, www. Islamvoice.com/February.2000/medicine.htm

6. from www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?name=foodspice&dbid=24

7. Look at the article: Dates a miracle. www.waleg.com/health/archives/001613.html

8.This information is from the book: Dr. Danial Zainal Abidin: Perubatan Islam dan Bukti Sains Moden. Batu Caves 2007, page 41

9. like in 8, page 41

10. From the book: Ibn Qayyim al Jauziyah: Healing with the medicine of the Prophet. Riyadh 1999, page 44.

11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hygiene

12. www.islamonline.net/iol-english/dowalia/techng-22-03-2000/techng2.asp

13. From: Fatimah Ibrahim/Wan Abu Bakar Wan Abas/Ng Siew Cheok: Salat: benefit from Science perspective: Kuala Lumpur 2008, page 25

14. www.crescentlife.com/spirituality/spiritual_and_health_benefits_of_fasting.htm