Role of spirituality in treatment of illness
Dr Liaqat Ali
“And when I am ill, He is the God who cures me.” This iconic verse which is displayed on the walls of almost all hospitals in the Muslim world is very much related to our multiple health conditions. The Holy Quran like Bible and Torah is a revered book of Almighty Allah and the faith on all the heavenly books is considered a fundamental principle in Islam. This verse describes very elaborately that the illness is because of us, we acquire illness either as sufferings or as a test. The magnificent and merciful Allah blesses us with cure. This concludes that God by virtue of his mercy never makes a person ill.
With reference to this verse and relating it the most evolving to 21st century medicine, there is a difference between treatment and cure. Treatment comprises of different pharmacological medicines which are administered to the body or surgical procedures that are performed to remove the diseased portion. In contrast, cure is a broader term that ranges from dealing with probably adversities of drugs and surgery during treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation.
Human being has three fundamental parameters; body, nafs and soul. All the three integral parts of human being are affected by illnesses. The diseases of the body can be treated with medicine or surgery e.g. a symptomatic patient of uncomplicated urinary tract infection can be treated with Ciprofloxacin and NSAIDs but the diseases of soul cannot be treated with antibiotics and pain killers.
The manifestation of illnesses of soul according to Imam Jafar e Sadiq (A.S) are rage, lying and greed etc. These illnesses require pure spiritual healing, because, the addition of anxiolytic medicine to the soul of a sick person may enable him/her to fall asleep but with no curative improvement, thus it is utmost important to treat the spiritual maladies with spiritual healing.
It is also necessary to note at times that there is very delicate line of demarcation for the diseases of body manifesting as diseases of soul or vice versa and at times there is amalgam of symptomatology of body, nafs and soul. This delicate demarcation can be studied in Irfan (disambiguation).
In Islam, the theological school of Irfan which literally means knowing and awareness, refers to Islamic mysticism ‘as having an insight into the unseen’. The contemporary Muslim physicians and scholars of golden era were related to the path of Irfan. Those physicians had tremendous reputation in medicine in addition to the spiritual healing.
It is an astounding fact that the three main Semitic religions; Islam, Christianity and Judaism are related by a common belief in God, the hereafter and the constant battle between good and evil. They also believe in the creation of Adam from soil (dust/clay). “And The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground ...” (Genesis 2:7). According to the Holy Quran 38:71-72, “And (remember) when your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am going to create a human (Adam) from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud ...” It means that the human race is made up of soil, so it possesses the power and influence of all its elements and is answerable to its master as glimpses of the master can be traced in the Holy Quran in Surah Al Zalzal, Surah Al Insan and Surah Al Rahman and also endorsed in Torah and Bible.
Principally, medicine is not/cannot be separated from religion but there are certain limitations for spiritual healing e.g. perusing a diagnostic case of acute appendicitis by healer touch will eventually lead to peritonitis and death. This scenario if embarked by a clinician will come under the category of criminal negligence, so the best way is to explore the point of intersection between religion and medicine at the end of primary treatment.
The intersection between medicine and religion takes place in the common area of three areas shown above. The phenomenon of Apoptosis is derived from ancient Greek words; apo means away from and ptosis means falling. It is the process of programmed cell death (PCD) biochemical events lead to characteristic cell changes and death. As an established fact that Neoplasia occurs when the cell escapes from the cycle of Apoptosis. Is there any way to reverse the Neoplasia into Apoptosis?
As a qualified urologist, I want to share some established facts about uro-cancers. For example, urothelial cancer of urinary bladder is very common malignant tumor of both genders with high rate of morbidity and mortality. There are two risk factors in patho-physiology and natural course of disease in bladder cancer. One is called as clinical risk manifested by recurrence of growth which ranges from 50-80% after transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT) and second is biological risk that means progression which addresses invasion and metastasis. With all therapeutic advances, we have partially controlled the clinical risk but unfortunately, the uro-oncologists are still struggling to predict and control the biological risk of invasion and metastasis. This is the particular area of intersection of religion and medicine as this grey area of helplessness needs spiritual healing in the form of healer touch prayers, or, submission etc.
Despite the justification of my argument on intersection of religion and medicine, the source materials of the three integral parts of humans are different. Body comes from clay, soul from God and nafs as creation is inculcated in the whole picture of human. As the source materials are different, so the illnesses and its treatments are also different. The highly intellectual medic may be the same but the treatments are different. The illnesses of soul and nafs cannot be treated with pharmaceutical or surgical interventions. The illnesses of soul are only managed through transcendence. The recitation of heavenly books like Al Quran, zikar, meditation, pilgrimage, soulful music and even listening to wise and knowledgeable people all can play a role in that transcendence.
In Islamic theology we are given a bit of soul. The Holy Quran says: “So, when I have fashioned him completely and breathed into him (Adam) the soul which I created for him, then fall (you) down prostrating yourselves unto him.” So it is important to achieve transcendence through its ways and means. As far as nafs is concerned, there are four types of nafs: nafs-e-ammara, nafs-e-lawama, nafs-e-mulhima and nafs-e-mutmainna.
The first type is governed by basic instincts of eating, drinking and performing sex. All animals also have this 1st variety. Here comes the affective domain of learning linked with behaviorism theory of educational psychology. The humans through the modes of fasting, meditation and zikar can improve their status of nafs to the higher levels. Again the medic can be the same but not the medicine.
To conclude the discussion, a doctor or any health care provider is a bridge between God and patients. As Aristotle said, “The biggest mistake of human is that there are doctors for the body and doctors for the soul, but both cannot be separated.” So, the medic can be the same for the treatment of soul, nafs and body but not the medicine as pharmaceutical or surgical manipulation.
The writer is a senior urologist, academician and researcher. Currently, he is working as a professor at the Department of Urology, Institute of Kidney Diseases (IKD), Hayatabad Medical Complex/Khyber Girls Medical College, Peshawar. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.