What Islamic Medicine?

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, proponents of the so-called Ṭibb Islāmī (Islamic medicine – not to be confused with “traditional” medicine) have been actively using it as an opportunity to propagate their misinformation. Just a couple of days ago a certain proponent of Ṭibb Islāmī by the name of Taqīniyā1 interrupted a meeting of officials held in Qom dealing with the current crisis, acknowledging he was not invited, and forcefully entered the meeting. He is apparently a student of ‘Abbās Tabrīziyān, the supposed “father of Islamic medicine” in Iran, and a man who has been severely condemned by numerous scholars and even officially by the Hawzah of Qom, particularly after he publicly burnt Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine book as a symbolic gesture of fighting against Western medicine.2 After this student entered the meeting and introduced himself as a representative of Ṭibb Islāmī, a “medical expert” with 12 years of experience, he was asked where he got his qualifications from. He replied, “from the seminary”, to which the members of the crisis-management meeting rightfully responded, “the seminary has no capacity to issue such a [medical] certificate.”

He responds nonsensically, “So Imam Ṣādiq has no such capacity? Are you telling me you now need a certificate to accept the words of Imam Ṣādiq?” A member from the meeting rightfully responds, “Yes, we need a source even for the words of Imam Ṣādiq!” implying that not every statement merely attributed to Imam Ṣādiq is necessarily from him (a).

If that is not a strange enough conversation, on February 24th, during the initial days of the outbreak in Iran as health advisors began telling people to avoid congregational environments, Tabriziyān’s official Telegram channel published this message (though it was deleted at some later point):

حضور در مجامع عمومی

ما به مردم توصیه میکنیم حتما صله رحم کنند و فامیل و نزدیکان جمع شوند و در مجالس اهل بیت ع شرکت کنند وزیارت عاشورا بخوانند حرم حضرت معصومه پناه ببرند و دعا بخوانند با رعایت توصیه ای طب اسلامی و استفاده از داروی امام کاظم ع زیرا پیامبر اکرم در روایت نضر بن قرواش میفرمایند لا عدوی چیزی به نام سرایت وجود ندارد من اعدی الاول زیرا نفر اول چجوری بیمار شد و از کجا سرایت کرده پس هیچ مشکلی بیش نمی آید، فقط روحانیون در دروس حوزه شرکت نکنند که آنجا خطر زیاد است و احتمال ابتلا به بیماری در اینطور جاها 90 در صد است، زیرا حوزه ای که نتواند یک سرماخوردگی را درمان نکند همان بهتر که تعطیل باشد!

مسئولان بهداشت هم که نمی توانند این ویروس را درمان کنند بهتر است که کلاس های درس خود را تعطیل کنند.

Attending Public Gatherings

We advise people to most definitely engage in maintaining ties with family (ṣila raḥim), blood-relatives and other close family members should get together and participate in the gatherings dedicated to the Ahl al-Bayt (a), they should recite Ziyārat ‘Āshūra, take refuge in the shrine of Ma’ṣūmah Qom, and heed the advice of Ṭibb Islāmī, use the medicine of Imam Kāẓim (a), because the Prophet (p) has said in the tradition of Naḍr b. Qirwāsh, “There is no such thing as a contagion”, because “who infected the first infected one?” and how did the disease transfer? So, nothing will happen.3

Only scholars should no longer participate in their seminary lessons, because there is a lot of danger there and there is a 90% chance of getting infected in such places. The seminary that was not even able to deal with a simple cold, is better off closed down!

The health authorities can also not cure this disease, so it is better for them to also shut down their lessons.

It did not just end there, but official letters were written by Tabriziyān’s office to the ambassador of China and South Korea in Iran. Below are the original Farsi and English translations of these letters:

Unfortunately, many due to their lack of knowledge, or a weak understanding of Islamic theology, or simply due to a psychological attachment to pseudo-sciences and rituals, have been sold on the idea that such a thing as Ṭibb Islāmī exists. However, this is simply not the position of Shī’ī scholarly authorities within the seminary. As Shaykh Muḥammad ‘Andalīb-Zādeh, a former member of Jāmi’ al-Mudarrisīn and a senior teacher in the seminary has repeatedly said, Islamic medicine – meaning, an extensive medical system derived from the traditions or verses – is nothing but a great lie.4 The greatest of scholars from the seminaries have repeatedly made the point that our traditions do not have the capacity to give us an Islamic medical system – in fact theologically speaking there is no need to even have such an expectation.

In any case, in this post I simply wish to appeal to authority – to counter the assumed authority of the proponents of Ṭibb Islāmī – and intend on sharing the opinions of just a handful of respected scholars on this phenomenon called Ṭibb Islāmī:

1) Ayatullah Shubayrī Zanjānī, one of the top jurisconsults in the Shī’ī world today, says5:

Most of the narrations on medicine do not have a valid chain of transmission and they cannot be attributed to the Imams (a) with certainty. Those that have a valid chain of transmission can be used, but if they simply have an apparent meaning, then nothing can be said with certainty, rather it is just speculative. If it is shown that such a narration is against the findings of science, then even that narration is no longer reliable. Some people come and treat these narrations with certainty and then later fall into a dilemma. These traditions cannot be dealt with certainty. While the weaker narrations should not be rejected outrightly, the reliable ones should not be outrightly accepted, so that it does not create problems in the future.

These traditions should result in conviction for the people, not the type of conviction we have gotten acquainted with in the seminaries. If expediency of society necessitates the practice of traditional medicine under specific conditions, there is no problem, as long as the proponent takes responsibility for their prescriptions. However, in the case that this prescription is not proven according to the experts of the subject, due to weakness in its chain of transmission or its meaning is not clear, one should not attribute them to the Imams (a) with certainty. Of course, if the attribution is known with certainty, and its meaning is also clear, and there is no other certain evidence against it – like mathematics – then we cannot go against such traditions.

2) Sayyid Kāzim Ṭabatabā’ī – head of Dār al-Ḥadīth, Qom, says6:

I am against the term “Ṭibb Islāmi”. Meaning, I do not believe that the purpose of religion and the Sharī’ah was to come and set up a medical system. A medical system was not the purpose of the Sharī’ah, and if it were the case then it should have provided us with all the tools to be able to identify different diseases, the causes of various illnesses, and as well as a complete guide on how to diagnose and cure these diseases. We do not find any such thing in our narrations. The deceased ‘Allamah Ṭabatabā’ī was of the belief that the responsibility of religion is guidance (hidāyah). Our approach is also as such, that religion is responsible for our guidance, and nothing else.

There are around 400 Shi’i ḥadīth works, but not all of them are of the same value. If someone wishes to enter into Shi’i ḥadīth, they must become familiar with their sources. Therefore, if someone happens to say they love Islamic medicine and quote a narration from the work Ṭibb al-Ā’immah by Ibn Basṭām and then later quote a narration from in al-Kāfi on Ṭibb – they should know that there is a significant difference between these two works. In fact, there is no way to treat all the ḥadīth works with the same degree of reliability.

At the institute of Dār al-Ḥadīth, we have gathered all of the narrations – authentic and otherwise – which total to about 6,000 (unrepeated) on the topic of Ṭibb. This is irrespective of them having a chain or not, and whether they are correct or incorrect. So, we find that we have around 6,000 narrations on Ṭibb. From these 6,000 narrations, around 15% have a chain of narration. Meaning, less than 1000 narrations have a chain of narrators – once again, irrespective of whether these chains are authentic or not. So around 85% narrations on the subject of Ṭibb do not have a chain of narrators to begin with. From those 15% that have a chain, around 5% have an authentic chain. So, from all the narrations on Ṭibb, less than 5% have an authentic chain, and most of these are found in al-Kāfi. Most of these narrations have to do with eating specific type of foods, and so do not help us in identifying diseases, nor curing any of them.

With regards to the topics of these narrations, we have very few narrations on curing illnesses, and in fact the least amount of narrations in our works have to do with curing illnesses and majority of them have to do with foods, or general advice on staying healthy and taking preventive measures.

From 6,000 narrations, if we are to separate those reliable narrations that have to do with curing illnesses, they are less than 1% – meaning less than 60 narrations on the subject of treating/curing. So you can see why we do not have such a thing as “Islamic Medicine”. Because the task of religion was not to take on the responsibility of curing the bodies of people.

3) Ayatullah Jawādī Āmulī – a philosopher, mystic, exegete and jurist in Qom who does not need any introduction says7:

What are you referring to when you say Ṭibb Nabawī (Prophetic medicine)? A handful of narrations that have not been analyzed, have not been investigated, have no chains? Some who have researched the matter have said there are 6,000 narrations on medicine, only 5% of them have a chain.

On top of that, even those traditions, like the rest of the traditions, will have iṭlāq and taqyīd, ‘ām and khāṣ, ḥākim and maḥkūm, ẓāhir and aẓhar, naṣṣ and ẓāhir. This is how you are supposed to investigate them, and what is especially important is experimentation – they have to be resolved through experimentation.

4) Sayyid ‘Abdullah Fātemīniyā – a popular ethicist and speaker says8:

Three-four years ago I went to the offices of IRIB and told them, for the sake of Lady Zahrā’, please stop using the term Islamic medicine, call it traditional medicine. Eventually, they began using the terms interchangeably, and yesterday I read that the health minister has said we should no longer use the term Islamic medicine. I pray for him and may God reward him.

My sisters, my brothers, by God be very attentive. Just because someone says a narration exists, it does not mean it is authentic. Just because you see one narration related to medicine you begin calling it Islamic medicine, what is this nonsense!?

Shaykh Ṣadūq says some of these narrations are completely contextual to a certain time. They work on a certain people at a certain time, and they will not work on another set of people at another time. On top of that, he says some of them are fabricated. Differentiating the fabricated traditions from reliable ones requires a methodology, it requires insight. Instead, all we see is people chanting Ṭibb Islāmī, Ṭibb Islāmī! What is this!?

They ended up attributing the Risālah al-Dhahabīyyah [The Golden Treatise] to Imam Riḍā (a) – I went and investigated, this is most definitely not from Imam Riḍa (a). It has one narrator for whom the scholars of Rijāl have said his narrations are not to be accepted. Did Imam Ridā (a) have nothing better to do than to write a medical treatise for Ma’mūn?

5) Ayatullah Sayyid ‘Alawī Borūjerdī, a jurisconsult in his own right and the grandson of the famous Ayatullah Borūjerdī says9:

One of the issues we have today is that sometimes in the name of religion and in the name of Islam we cast aside scientific experimentation and medical studies – this is very dangerous. One of the issues today is this phenomenon of Ṭibb Islāmī. Ṭibb Islāmī is an invalid concept, which unfortunately has some influence today. Even in our seminaries, some become proponents of it. We do not have anything as Ṭibb Islāmī. The Prophet (p) himself would visit the doctor when he would fall ill, Imam ‘Alī (a) would refer to the doctor when he would be ill, Imam Ṣādiq (a) would refer to the doctor when he would be ill!

Yes, we have traditions from some of the Imams, like Imam Riḍa (a) or Imam Ṣadiq (a), but these traditions are advisory commands (ḥukm irshādī). Advisory commands – as Ayatullah Borūjerdī would say – need to be read in their context, when were they uttered, under what environment and atmosphere? What was the condition of the individual who was referring to the Imams (a)? We do not investigate these matters and instead think these traditions need to be treated like legislative commands (ḥukm mawlawī) and that they are revelation, eventually wanting to use them in medicine. It is possible for these treatments to work, but it is also possible for them to not work.

6) Ayatullah Sayyid ‘Alam al-Hoda – the representative of the Walī Faqīh in Khorasān and the leader of the Friday prayers in the shrine of Imam Riḍā (a) says10:

There is no such thing as Ṭibb Islāmī in Islam. If such a thing existed, the Imams (a) who would have been the source of such a science, would not have referred to the doctors of their time. In fact, some of the Imams (a) even referred to non-Muslim doctors.

Traditional medicine is something that is accepted, but we do not have Islamic medicine where the religious sources inform us on how to identify and diagnose illness and then to cure them.

7) Sayyid Muḥammad Ṣādiq ‘Alam al-Hoda, a senior teacher in the seminary of Qom and the son of Ayatullah ‘Abdul Hādī ‘Alam al-Hoda, in response11 to the public message shared on ‘Abbās Tabrīzīyān’s channel that was translated in the beginning of this post, says:

They are playing with the lives of people due to a simplistic understanding of the traditions.

After the spread of the dangerous coronavirus in Iran, the channel of one of the major proponents of Ṭibb Islāmī rejected the contagious nature of the virus and in a message – for which even a legal investigation could take place – has asked people to continue gathering together in your family and religious gatherings, and to ignore the advice of the health ministry.

I have critiqued the weak foundations of their Ṭibb numerous times and have pointed out their invalid methodology of deriving prescriptions from the traditions, and these critiques have been published in detail, I have yet to receive a single response from these proponents. However, now I wish to practically critique just one of their prescriptions so that it becomes very clear how their understanding of the traditions is wrong and simplistic, after which they allow themselves to play with the lives of people. . .

Sayyid ‘Alam al-Hoda then goes on to critique their understanding of the tradition in a technical manner. Elsewhere in the past, he had the following to say12:

We are not talking about traditional medicine. Rather our discussion is on medicine which is today being referred to as “Islamic” medicine.

The Sharī’ah has no responsibility in constructing a medical system. The intellect does not dictate such responsibility for God, and neither is such a matter mentioned in the transmitted sources. The religion of Islam has no such responsibility on its shoulders. As such, God not going into details of medicine is not a deficiency in the Sharī’ah. In addition, the mere presence of some traditions whose contents are medical in nature, one cannot say there is a different medical system which exists here that Islam or the Imams have come up with, a system that is attempting to offer different medical treatments in opposition to medical practices that are commonly accepted by humans in every time and place.


  1. Source
  2. For a collection of all condemnation letters and statements that were issued by scholars and different authorities in Iran after he burnt this book, refer to Rasūl Ja’fariyān’s 226-page book titled Kitāb-Sūzī Tabrīziyān – it can be downloaded from his Telegram channel.
  3. The full tradition is recorded in al-Kāfī, vol. 8
  4. Source
  5. Source
  6. Source
  7. Video
  8. Source | Video
  9. Source
  10. Source | Source
  11. Source
  12. Source

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