The Five Pillars of Prophetic Medicine
The body of information on health presented by the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is so vast that it could be the subject of a long series of articles. While there are specific remedies like black seed, barley, and honey that are listed within the Qur’an and the Hadith, there is an even deeper relationship between the simple tenants of Islam and our health. Here we take a look at the profound ways in which the physical well-being of humankind is inextricably linked with the Five Pillars of Islam. A quick glance at each Pillar and it’s link to health, will undoubtedly strengthen the practice of each in your life.
In his book, “The Medicine of the Prophet”, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah categorizes the illnesses that impact humans into two types; those that impact the soul and those that impact the physical body. Within each of the Five Pillars we can find perfect examples of health benefits. Let’s look at the first Pillar, the Shahadah. The Shahdah is a necessary practice for the health of the soul. In it, it is prescribed that we believe in only one higher power, that we believe in the final prophet (PBUH) and in the message of the Qur’an. In this teaching we find the perfect solution for lack of hope, for worry and for fear. All of these responses to what I will call the lack of faith can create stress in our lives. Stress as an illness can be linked to 7 of the top ten diseases afflicting humankind today. By believing in God and having faith in the message brought by the Prophet (PBUH), we can alleviate much of the stress created by the unknown and our lack of control over it.
The second Pillar, Salah, has several attributes that promote our health and well-being. The obvious benefit is that it strengthens our connection to Allah (SWT), gives us the opportunity to communicate directly with Him, and works synergistic-ally with the first Pillar. Few people realize, however, the physical benefits of the five obligatory prayers. The ritual washing, or wudu, is an excellent prescription for cleanliness and is prescribed for every Muslim. Much like yoga, the repeated movements, bending, kneeling and standing of the obligatory daily prayers, have tremendous benefits for the physical body. For example, they improve blood flow and the movement of lymph, which is necessary for removal of impurities from the body. The bending motions also help to massage the internal organs, promoting blood flow and elimination. Kneeling and prostration also improve joint movement and lubrication. Finally, these movements also promote isometric strengthening of the body by movement of one’s own weight, helping to keep both muscle and bone healthy.
Zakat, the third Pillar prescribing the giving of alms, has obvious benefits for our spiritual health but, the impacts on our physical health may be less obvious. While this social responsibility is considered part of our service to Allah (SWT), there is much evidence to show that acts of kindness towards others has many health benefits. These can include relief of depression, lowering blood pressure, reducing symptoms of pain, heart disease and even improving immune function. By giving to others, we raise levels of the hormones that promote happiness in our lives, allowing us to spread love and joy to those around us.
The fourth Pillar is Sawm, the practice of fasting. Again, the benefits for our spiritual well-being abound here. We are able to develop compassion for the less fortunate, become more intentional throughout our day, let go of dependence on the material and focus on our connection to Allah (SWT). In the wisdom of Allah (SWT), Sawm also has tremendous physical benefits. Fasting rests the digestive system and lets the body focus on detoxification, allowing the body to remove impurities more effectively. Fasting can also have benefit for reducing inflammation. Many inflammatory issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease have all shown improvement from fasting. In addition, fasting helps to balance blood sugar, without the production of insulin, thus allowing the pancreas to rest. Fasting can also promote fat burning and weight loss, improve immunity, and promote healthy eating.
The final Pillar of Hajj, may be one of the hardest to link specifically to physical health but it is very simple if we look at our emotional health and the role of community in the health and well-being of human. By nature, we are tribal and seek connection to others who share our beliefs and practices. The opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and to see that we are not alone can be very rewarding. There are numerous studies showing that loneliness is a greater risk to our health than smoking or lack of exercise. Connecting to our global Ummah can be better than any other medicine.
By looking at the Pillars of Islam in this way, we can truly see the divine wisdom in what was prescribed by Allah (SWT) and brought to us by our wonderful prophet, Mohammed (PBUH). Subscribing to this wisdom can only lead to better health both physically and spiritually. Islam truly is food for the soul!