Handbook of Culture, Therapy, and Healing

By Uwe P. Gielen; Jefferson M. Fish et al. | Go to book overview
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19

Native Healing in Arab-Islamic Societies

Ihsan Al-Issa
The International Arab Psychological Association

Abdulla Al-Subaie
King Saud University
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Healing techniques have always reflected the human struggle for physical survival and psychological well-being in order to preserve a wholesome existence in the face of the mysteries of nature. Because illness is related to the interaction between the individual and both the physical and social environment, it is not surprising that there are commonalties across time and space regarding etiology and treatment. Possession by the spirits as an explanation of physical and mental illness has been with us throughout the history of human beings (Alexander & Selesnick, 1966). The evil eye as an etiological factor is found across cultures, including a number of European countries, India, and the Middle East (Dundes, 1981). Similarly, many universal factors are involved in the therapeutic process, such as the healer's shared worldview with his or her patients, labeling of the disease and the attribution of the cause, the expectations of the patient, and the importance of suggestion (Prince, 1980). Thus, the Arab- Islamic native healing systems share many characteristics with those of other cultures.

Nevertheless, these Arab-Islamic native systems also tend to have their own unique features. For orthodox Muslims, the Qur'an and the prophet-tradition (hadith) are the major sources of guidance in medical matters. They lay out the general outlines of lawful and unlawful healing practices: "We have revealed in the Qur'an that which is healing and mercy to the believers" (Qur'an 17:82). These two sources had become the basis of prophetic medicine after the death of the Prophet. However, when the Arabs later conquered many lands ranging from southern Spain to northern India, they were influenced by native supernatural beliefs, magical practices, and claims of miraculous healing which had nothing to do with orthodox Islam. The veneration of saints, 1 visits to shrines, the use of amulets and talismans, and many other magical practices and dealings with the jinn (spirits; jinni is singular) became popular in Islamic societies. Rejection of these practices by orthodox Muslims is based on the fundamental Islamic principle of Tawheed, "which means believing in His absolute knowledge and power of healing. Seeking help from diviners, magicians, astrologers or fortune-tellers is forbidden because it contradicts the principle of Tawheed" (Al- Subaie & Al-Hamad, 2000, pp. 214-215). Although the Qur'an itself is referred to as

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1
We use the word saint throughout the chapter to refer to various pious and venerated Muslims and holy men with no implication that they are comparable to Christian saints.

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