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Monday, April 19, 2010

Al-Ruqyah with the Qur’an and the Du`a (the Prayer) in Islamic Medical Tradition*


*Dr., Department of Government and Civilization Studies Faculty of Human Ecology Universiti Putra, Malaysia
Nearly all primitives and the people in ancient civilization believe that God answers prayers if they are performed in the proper ritualistic way. After reading and analyzing the Ahadith of the Prophet (s.a.w) in Kitab al-Tibb of Sahih Bukhari, it is found that Islam has its own way of prevention and treatment of disease caused by Jinn and Devil, known to some people as supernatural powers. Imam al-Bukhari in his Sahih Bukahri has decided to provide special chapter relating to al-Ruqyah with the Qur’an and the Du`a (prayer).
Key words: The Medicine of the Prophet (al-Tibb al-Nabawi); Ruqyah with the Qur’an, Ruqyah with the Du`a (the Prayer); and Ruqyah with the Mu`awwidhat Verses.

Muslim’s Views on al-Ruqyah
Before we mention the common verses of the Qur’an and how they were used in ruqyah, let we look on briefly the Muslim’s view in regard to the use of the Qur’anic verses in ruqyah. We have to bear in mind that whatever the concept of Islam have been discussed, there is pro and contra on the issue. In this regard, there was a debate among the Muslims on ruqyah with reciting of Quranic verses, du`a and muawwidhat over a sick person for purpose of treatment of disease. Some people held of the opinion that it is not permissible especially for ordinary people to use the Qur’an to treat a disease by ruqyah. Others viewed, it is permissible to use it with the condition that the Raqi, the one who recites verse of the Qur’an or du`a, has sufficient knowledge and has to know recitation of the Qur’an, that he used in ruqyah, besides he has to be sound belief, righteous and pious (taqwa) person. This view is mainly based on the Qur’anic verses stating that man may use its verses in treatment of disease because al-Qur’an is itself cure (shifa’) as Allah (s.w.t) said: “We reveal of the Qur’an what is healing and merciful for the believers,”[i] This verse indicates that al-Qur’an is not only a source of legal and illegal matters but also a source of healing. The term Shifa’, which is one of the names of the al-Qur’an, applies that al-Qur’an is a book of healing and restoration of health.
Al-Ruqyah with the Qur’an
Imam Bukhari listed down the Ahadith of the Prophet (s.a.w) on al-Ruqyah with the Qur’an in many chapters of kitab al-tibb.[ii] Among them are: chapter on al-Ruqya with the Qur’an and the Mu`wwidhat (Bab al-Ruqa bi al-Quran wa al-Mu`awwizat); chapter on ruqyah by reciting surah al-fatihah (Bab al-Ruqa bi Fatihat al-Kitab); chapter on the conditions required for ruqyah (Bab al-shurut fi al-ruqyah bi fatihah al-kitab); chapter on ruqyah for an evil eye (Bab ruqyah al-`ayn); chapter on the effect of the evil eye is a fact (Bab al`ayn haqq); chapter on treating snakebite and scorpion sting with ruqyah (Bab ruqyah al-hayyah wa al-uqrab); chapter on the ruqyah of the Prophet (Bab al-nafth fi al-ruqyah); chapter on the blowing saliva while treating with ruqyah (Bab mash al-raqi al-waj` biyadihi al-ymna); chapter on a woman treating a man with ruqyah (Bab al-mar’ah tarqa al-rajl); chapter on not treating with ruqyah (Bab man lam yarqa).[iii] In these chapters, Imam Bukhari reported that:
During the Prophet's fatal illness, he used to recite the Mu'awwidhat (Surat An-Nas and Surat Al-Falaq) and then blow his breath over his body. When his illness was aggravated, I used to recite those two Suras and blow my breath over him and make him rub his body with his own hand for its blessings. Ma'mar asked Al-Zuhri: How did the Prophet use to blow? Al-Zuhri said: He used to blow on his hands and then passed them over his face.[iv]
Some of the companions of the Prophet passed by some people staying at a place where there was water, and one of those people had been stung by a scorpion. A man from those staying near the water, came and said to the companions of the Prophet, "Is there anyone among you who can do Ruqya as near the water there is a person who has been stung by a scorpion." So one of the Prophet's companions went to him and recited Surat-al-Fatiha for a sheep as his fees. The patient got cured and the man brought the sheep to his companions who disliked that and said, "You have taken wages for reciting Allah's Book." When they arrived at Medina, they said, ' O Allah's Apostle! (This person) has taken wages for reciting Allah's Book" On that Allah's Apostle said, "You are most entitled to take wages for doing a Ruqya with Allah's Book.” [v]
Abu Said al-Khidri said: A group of companions of God’s Messenger went on a journey. On their way, they came by a camp of Bodouins and solicited their hospitality. The Arab Bedouins refused to welcome them, so the companions stayed nearby and took a rest. Meanwhile, the chief of the Beduins became ill of a scorpion bite. His immediate circle tried everything they knew but no avail. Finally, they went and asked the companions if they had anything to cure their chief. One of the companions replied: “Indeed, Glory be to Allah (s.w.t), I know what effective prayers to recite as cure for poisonous bite. However, we asked you to lodge us and you refused to confer such hospitality, and I will not perform such prayers unless you make us an offer.” The Arab Bedouin then cheered them and promised to reward them with a group of sheep if they succeed in curing their chief. Immediately, the companion went to the chief’s tent and sprinkled him with his spittle while reciting the Opening Chapter (surah al-fatihah).  When the companions left him, the chief had regained all his strength. After the Arab Bedouins fulfilled their promise, the companions said: “Let’s divide the reward.” The one who performed the ruqya prayers replied: “Do nothing until we get back to God’s Messenger and relate our story.” Later on, when they came before him and told him what happened, the Prophet (s.a.w) commented: How did you know that al-fatihah is a ruqya? Indeed, you were right. Now, divide what you have among you and allow a share in it for men too. [vi]
In the light of these ahadith we feel much more confident to conclude that it is permissible for raqi to treat a disease with Quranic verses. As mentioned before, the Raqi should understand and know the essence of the meaning of the Quran. He is not essentially to have knowledge of all branches of Qur’an in depth. Surah al-Fatihah, for example, has been recited easily and frequently five times a day in the prayers. The Prophet (s.a.w) had expected the Muslim is able to recite and use it for medical purpose. In connection to the medical benefit of surah al-fatihah, Ibn al-Qayyim in his al-Tibb al-nabawi said: “If one’s faith, soul, and spirit are strong, and if he adapts himself to the essence of the Opening Chapter (al-fatihah), and by Allah’s leave, by reciting its holy words and blowing them on the affected person followed by his spittle upon the victim, Allah willing, such reading will incur the reaction of the evil spirits and cause the elimination of their evil act--Allah knows best.” [vii]
We are aware that the recommendation to recite Surah al-Fatihah over a patient is strange and not logical to some people especially non Muslim, however, we have to understand that the social condition in the time of Prophet (s.a.w) where disease is well understood as the logical consequence of patient’s falling to the evil spirit, needed to be treated by the spirit power of verses of the Qur’an. Now, why is exactly surah al-fatihah commonly used in prevention and treatment of disease? Some commentators were of the opinion that the central point of medical benefits in surah al-fatihah which is known as umm al-kitab, is in the power and blessings of the words: “Thee we worship (iyyaka na`budu), and Thy help we seek  (iyyaka nasta`in)” These words, worship (na’budu) and help (nasta`in), are the strongest elements of the most effective cure for illness. This is an extremely noble means because, we directly ask the help from the Healer (al-Shafi) whom we rely on, trust, shelter for recovery, recognizing one’s need and dependence upon the Sole Sustainer who acknowledges one’s need. This is why surah al-fatihah is one of recommended surah to be recited for recovering from illness, weather spiritual, mental or physical.[viii] In Bab Fadl Fatihat al-Kitab of Kitab Fada`il al-Quran, Imam Bukhari reported that:
Narrated Abu Sa'id Al-Mu'alla: While I was praying, the Prophet called me but I did not respond to his call. Later I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I was praying." He said, "Didn't Allah say: 'O you who believe! Give your response to Allah (by obeying Him) and to His Apostle when he calls you'?" (8.24). He then said, "Shall I not teach you the most superior Surah in the Qur'an?" He said, '(It is),  'Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. ' (i.e., Surat Al-Fatiha) which consists of seven repeatedly recited Verses and the Magnificent Qur'an which was given to me."[ix]

Abu Said Al-Khudri: While we were on one of our journeys, we dismounted at a place where a slave girl came and said, "The chief of this tribe has been stung by a scorpion and our men are not present; is there anybody among you who can treat him (by reciting something)?" Then one of our men went along with her though we did not think that he knew any such treatment. But he treated the chief by reciting something, and the sick man recovered whereupon he gave him thirty sheep and gave us milk to drink (as a reward). When he returned, we asked our friend, "Did you know how to treat with the recitation of something?" He said, "No, but I treated him only with the recitation of the Mother of the Book (i.e., Al-Fatiha)." We said, "Do not say anything (about it) till we reach or ask the Prophet so when we reached Medina, we mentioned that to the Prophet (in order to know whether the sheep which we had taken were lawful to take or not). The Prophet said, "How did he come to know that it (Al-Fatiha) could be used for treatment? Distribute your reward and assign for me one share thereof as well."[x]
After Bab Fadl Fatihah, Imam Bukhari mentioned ahadith relating the spiritual powers of Surah al-Baqarah in Bab Fadl Surah al-Baqarah which consists 286 verses. One of them is verse 256 known as Ayat al-Kursi. In this regard, Imam Bukhari reported that Allah 's Apostle said: “…when you go to your bed, recite Ayat-al-Kursi, for then there will be a guard from Allah who will protect you all night long, and Satan will not be able to come near you till dawn."[xi] This view has foundation from the meaning of Ayat al-Kursi itself as Allah (s.w.t) says:
Allah! There is no god but He, the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) Before or After or Behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory). [xii]

In spite of the fact that we have no scientific and rational explanation of the saying of the Prophet: “when you go to your bed, recite Ayat-al-Kursi, for then there will be a guard from Allah who will protect you all night long, and Satan will not be able to come near you till dawn,” however, psychologically, there can be no doubt if the reader recites the verse sincerely with full of concentration to God alone, such a prayer can be considered as a means for protection, prevention from evil. Because, when he recites the verse, he believes that Allah (s.w.t) alone is the true God who is the only One worthy for worship. He is alone lives absolutely and everlasting who is looking after all of His creation and providing them with everything they need in maintaining their respective living process. Secondly, the reader believes that He is free from tiredness and never feels sleepy and by this He alone can controls all that are in the heavens, the earth with an absolute and all-embracing authority. Thirdly, the reader believes that He is at liberty absolutely to do as He pleases. He needs nobody and nothing but everybody and everything depends on Him. Fourthly, the reader believes that He knows completely the condition of all His creation, including everything they see or that which is not seen by them. This is because He alone is the supreme Administrator and therefore, His knowledge and greatness embracing the heavens and the earth. Lastly, the reader believes that He alone posses ultimate power by which there is no difficulty and burden for Him to watch over and look after the heavens and the earth and everything that is in and on both. All these indicate that He is not like any other person or things that we know or can imagine because His qualities and nature are Unique.
There is another Surah which is commonly used by Muslims in prevention and treatment of disease namely Surah Yasin. It is possible that those who are convinced of the benefit of Surah Yasin are aware of the saying of the Prophet (s.a.w) that “On the Day of Judgment, God will not account with the person who reads Surah Yasin, but will grant him forgiveness and will make him an intercessor for many others.” Whoever has traveled to Muslim countries may see the Muslim recites certain verses of Surah Yasin for different medical purposes. For instance, it is said that if one is suffering from toothache, verse 78, wadaraba lana mathalan wanasiya khalqahu qala man yuhyi al-`izam wahiya ramim, to the end of the Surah Yasin is advised to relieve the pain by writing the mentioned verse on paper and hung over the ear on the side of the aching tooth and it will cure the pain. In addition, Muslim uses certain verse of Surah Yasin to protect his property and his household. Thirdly, Muslim is of the opinion that if one has an enemy he wishes to harm and that without injury to himself or one whose love he wishes to gain, he recites seven parts of Surah Yasin. At each mubin part, which ending with the word mubin, which means open or clear, he ties a knot in a cord he has ready at hand. When the recitation is completed he nails the cord into the ground, then, he might get his desire.
We also find that Muslims have attempted to use the Qur’an not only by recitation of its verses but also by writing it on a certain materials. These are commonly practices in the Muslim world for the purpose of prevention, treatment as well as protection one’s property, his household and his person from Jinn and evil eye. The idea was that the evil spirits, Satan of mankind and Jinn can be protected by hanging the verses of Qur’an most notably by mu`awwidhat verses. According to Ibn Hajar the mu`awwidhat verse consisted in three major surahs of the Quran namely surah al-falaq, surah al-Nas and surah al-Ikhlas.[xiii] In other words, the mu`awwidhat were used primarily in the case of spiritual disease to counteract the devil (Satan) that had taken hold of an individual in a general way or, more commonly, to derive out a devil from the body. As we have known that surah al-Ikhlas has special medical benefits since surah al-Ikhlas contains the perfect affirmation of God’s Unity. The confirmation of God’s Unity its self necessarily confirms that all perfection is His, as well as, all created beings betake themselves to Him in their needs: that is, creation, from highest to the lowest, seeks Him and directs itself towards Him. Surah al-Ikhlas denies begetter and begotten and any equal. His name the Eternal (al-Samad) confirms all perfection; the denial of any equal declares none is like unto Him. Therefore, it is said that Surah al-Ikhlas equals a third of the whole Qur’an.
Bear in mind that the Muslim think differently. For the Muslim, reciting al-mu`awwidhat, as the word means, is crucial for protection from the devil i.e., Satan and Jinn. In Bab Ruqyah al-Nabiyy (Ruqyah of theProphet) of Kitab al-Tibb, Imam al-Bukhari, in order to show the spiritual benefit of mu`awwidhat, reported that 'Aisha (r.a) said: “Whenever Allah's Apostle went to bed, he used to recite Surat-al-Ikhlas, Surat-al-Falaq and Surat-an-Nas and then blow on his palms and pass them over his face and those parts of his body that his hands could reach. And when he fell ill, he used to order me, her wife, to do like that for him.”[xiv] We are aware that it is too difficult for non Muslim to accept this, but as mentioned before, al-tibb al-nabawi is rational in its own orbit and time. There is rationality of reciting mu`awwidhat before going to the bed since we are not able to control ourselves during sleep. In this case, it is reasonable to recite the muawwidhat verses seeking to a protection from everything hateful. As we agreed, seeking refuge from the evil of which He has created by reciting surah al-mu`awwidhat, carry an immense impact on safety and protection against evils before they occur.

*  This article is part of my “Health and Medicine in the Light of the Book of Medicine (Kitab al-Tibb) in Sahih Bukhari”. It was prepared while I was a Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OCIS) from March until June 2004. I would like to express my deepest thank and recognition to the Director of OCIS, Dr. F.A Nizami for giving me the golden opportunity to conduct my research at the University of Oxford as well as for the funding that I received for my research from the Centre. Similarly, I wish to express my gratitude to the Vice Chancellor, the Dean of Faculty of Human Ecology and the Head of the Department of Government and Civilization Studies, Universiti Putra Malaysia, for their moral support, encouragement and understanding. The author is currently a Senior Lecturer at the Universiti Putra Malaysia. He has published in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine (USA); Islamic Culture (India); Arab Law Quarterly (London); Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine, and the International Medical Journal Malaysia. E-mail:
[i]  Surah al-Isra’ (17): 82. Many verses of the Quran are known as: ’ayat al-shifa’ (for recovery from diseases), ’ayat al-husul al-sihhat (for gaining health), ’ayat al-hifz (for self protection), ayat al-istikfa (for atonement), ’ayat daf‘ al-shada’id (for warding off hardships), and ’ayat al-daf‘ al-darar wa saqm (for staving off injuries and ordeals). For this reason, when the Muslim faces certain problem, the raqi advised to write down the verse on particular on certain materials for the purpose of treatment of disease or protection.
[ii]  The book of medicine (kitab al-tibb) of Sahih Bukhari (194-256/ 810-870) appears in the book 76, which consists of 58 chapters with 104 traditions. The titles of each chapter depicted the picture and the content of traditions regarding the medicine and what was related to it. This manifests Imam’s Bukhari vast knowledge of health and medicine as practiced in the time of Prophet (s.a.w) and even after. Thus, we understand that it is not merely its authenticity that makes this particular collection interested by Muslim scholars, but also the vital role it played in developing the concept of health, medicine, prevention and treatment of disease relevance to this age.
[iii]  Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari Sahrh Sahih al-Bukhari, 13 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-kutub al-`ilmiyyah, 1989), 10: 215.
[iv]  Sahih Bukhari, Kitab al-Tibb, Bab Ruqyah al-Nabiyy (s.a.w).
[v]  Sahih Bukhari, Kitab al-Tibb, Bab al-Ruqa Bi Fatihat al-Kitab.
[vi]  Sahih Bukhari, Kitab al-Tibb, Bab Ruqyah al-Nabiyy (s.a.w).
[vii] Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Tibb al-Nabawi, ed. Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut and ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Arna’ut. (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1985), pp. 178 & 180; M. W. Dols, Majnun: the Madman in Medieval Islamic Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 257.
[viii] Ibn al-Qayyim, Zad al-Ma‘ad fi Hady Khayr al-‘Ibad. ed. Shu‘aab al-Arna’ut and ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Arna’ut. 5 vols. Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 4: 164.
[ix]  Sahih Bukahri, Kitab Fada`il al-Quran, Bab Fadl Fatihat al-Kitab.
[x] Sahih Bukhari, Kitab al-Tibb, Bab Ruqyah al-Nabiyy (s.a.w).
[xi]Whoever has traveled in Muslim countries, where Muslim occasionally celebrated the annual festivals, has seen the group of Muslims used to recite Ayat al-Kursi in a very significant way just as they recite in spare time and some of them recite the verse without thinking and knowing its medical benefits. First they recited Ayat al-Kursi followed by the salutation to Prophet Muhammad and his household in three times. Then, it followed by the recitation of Surah al-Fitihah in ten times. After finishing them, they raised the hands to the sky praying God. All fingers should be pointed upward and the suppliant should blow his breath upon them, and then express all his needs and desires.
[xii]  Surah al-Baqarah (2): 256.
[xiii]  Ibn Hajar, Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari Sahrh Sahih al-Bukhari, 10: 239.
[xiv] Sahih Bukhari, Kitab al-Tibb, Bab Ruqyah al-Nabiyy (s.a.w).

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