September 2011: The trend in Islamic treatments, cosmetics and toiletries is often associated with fundamentalists who charge that Western, chemically laced prescriptions aim to poison Muslims or defile them with insulin and other medicines made from pigs. Members of terrorist groups have been involved in Islamic remedies as healers and sellers, while some clinics are used as recruiting grounds for Islamist causes.
These Islamic products have become a big business with a customer base in Southeast Asia of roughly 250 million Muslims. The industry’s advertising is as gimmicky as any in the West. The bulk of those seeking out Islamic clinics, hospitals and pharmacies appear to be moderate Muslims, reflecting a rise in Islamic consciousness worldwide. “Islamic medicine carries a cachet that, by taking it, you are reinforcing your faith and the profits go to Muslims.
Malaysia’s Petronas University of Technology is developing an application for mobile devices to query what Islamic remedies are recommended for anything from toothaches to depression. Like much of Islamic medicine, it’s grounded on the saying that “Allah did not create a disease for which he did not also create a cure.” This is taken from Prophet Mohammed’s teachings known as hadiths, which along with the Qur’an make frequent references to diseases, remedies and healthy living.
What is termed classical Islamic medicine developed in medieval times when it far outshone that in Christian Europe, and exerted a significant influence on it. Practitioners state many ingredients in today’s treatments were used in Mohammed’s time, including honey, olive oil, bee pollen, dates and black caraway which one ad claims is “a cure for every disease but death.”
In Indonesia, Islamic alternative healing took off after a government promotional campaign in 2009. Only one such clinic existed in the Depok suburb two years ago, but now there are 20, with 70 others waiting for government permits.
Brury Machendra, who is secretary-general of the Traditional Herbal Medicine Association of Indonesia, states most Indonesian Muslims don’t doubt conventional medicine. But he also states Indonesia’s health services are so poor and expensive that many people seek out alternatives. Clinic’s offers herbal medicine, a bloodletting treatment known as bekam and exorcisms in which a white-gloved therapist places a hand on a patient’s head while chanting verses from the Qur’an.
An exorcism costs about $12, while government-certified herbal products such as the purportedly anti-cancer BioCarnoma and anti-diabetes BioGlukol go for no more than $5 for 60 capsules. Clinics benefit from traditional Muslim rules forbidding certain ingredients and that many fundamentalists “tell people not to go to infidel doctors and state that buying Western medicine is forbidden.”
Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaida-linked militant network which is essentially banned in Indonesia, is believed to have links to some herbal manufacturers and operate many of the country’s Islamic medicine clinics. The clinics are aimed more at building solidarity among Islamists rather than recruiting militants.
Some doctors are trying to bring Muslim elements into the Western tradition. Dr. Ishak Mas’ud, director of Al Islam hospital in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur alleged that they practice evidence-based medicine but also incorporate the spiritual for both their patients and staff.” This approach, he states, allows such normally taboo practices as abortions and pig heart transplants if these can save lives. “I don’t agree with some clinics which say that, ‘This is Islamic, so it has to be good,’ ” stated Ishak, who was trained in Australia and Great Britain.
The 60-bed hospital, which attracts patients as far away as Somalia and Saudi Arabia, stresses holistic diagnoses, refrains from giving definite prognoses since “death is in the hands of Allah,” and believes it is wrong to practice medicine with profit in mind, he says. Fees are 20 to 30 per cent lower than at most Malaysian hospitals.
“I am just the instrument of Allah and doctors must tell their patients this,” Ishak states. “You know doctors can be arrogant. They will tell you that they can cure you in five days and five days later you can be six feet underground. It’s not me that is healing. We are not powerful. In Islamic medicine, this is the key, the main concept.”
Capitalizing on the popularity of U.S. President Barack Obama, who spent four of his childhood years in Indonesia, one company produces a popular anti-stress concoction called Obahama in a corruption of an Indonesian phrase for herbal medicine. Siwak-F, also exported to the Middle East, is hailed as “toothpaste just like the Prophet used to use.”