Term paper on Islamic sickness

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Term paper on Islamic sickness

Al-H??rith is sometimes used by those who need to justify the use of medicine and doctors by Muslims. Given the great achievements of Islamic culture in the medical field, it might, at first, seem surprising that such a justification or defense of medicine was considered necessary at all; but it is clear that there was a certain uneasiness about the practice of medicine, even an outright opposition to it, on the part of many Muslims, and consequently the defense of medicine is a frequent theme in the literature. This is not the place to explore in detail the nature of the ambiguous relationship to medicine of medieval Islam, to which I. Goldziher, B. Reinert, and F. Rosenthal have been prominent in drawing attention, but it seems important to underline certain of its features, in order to show that it was indeed strong enough to serve as a possible motive for the taking up of the figure of al-H??rith by those who wished to argue the legitimacy of the practice of medicine.

Unease about medicine on religious grounds is not uncommon in Semitic monotheism generally. In Judaism and Christianity, as well as in Islam, examples of it are not difficult to find alongside, of course, evidence of respect for medicine and of flourishing medical practice. Evidently, the relationship between religion and medicine differed from circle to circle, and from time to time. The Jewish and early Christian material showing the anxiety felt by some has recently been surveyed by Vivian Nutton, and one might also refer to relevant articles by Leopold Löw and H. Schadewaldt. The fundamental reason for the anxiety seems to be the feeling that medicine may attempt to thwart God's purposes. Since He creates everything for His own purposes, including illness and disease, and since He uses sickness and other tribulations to punish, to test and to purify His creatures, the practice of medicine or the seeking of cures may be thought illegitimate by some. The same sort of attitudes to sickness and disease may be seen in some Muslim traditions, for example, that which describes the plague (al-'?n) as a punishment sent down by God on Ban? Isr?'?l or "those who were before you," or that in which the Prophet points out that to die without any preliminary illness is not the blessing it may seem, since God uses illness to wipe out our offenses, and consequently, to diminish the pains we must suffer after death. In Islam these considerations may have been intensified by the relatively greater emphasis which is placed on God's predetermining power, and we certainly find defenders of medicine insisting that to seek cures does not in any way imply lack of acceptance of the divine qadar and qa1E0D?': if God does not wish the cure to be successful, a man's seeking it will not make any difference.

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