عن أم المنذر قالت: دخل علي رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ومعه علي ولنا دوال معلقة قالت فجعل رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يأكل وعلي معه يأكل فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم لعلي مه مه يا علي فإنك ناقه قال فجلس علي والنبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يأكل قالت فجعلت لهم سلقا وشعيرا فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يا علي من هذا فأصب فإنه أوفق لك
Umme Mundhir (who was a maternal aunt of the Prophet ﷺ) says that:
“(on one occasion) The Prophet of Allah ﷺ entered upon my (home) together with Ali (RA). We had a bunch of dates hanging, so the Prophet ﷺ began eating from it and Ali (RA) also reached to eat from it, the Prophet ﷺ said to Ali (RA), Stop! Stop! O Ali (RA)! (do not eat the dates!) as you are still recovering (from your illness), so Ali (RA) sat down and the Prophet ﷺ continued eating.” Umm Mundhir says: “I prepared for them (a dish of) barley and chard so the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘O Ali (RA)! eat from this, it is more suitable for you (in this condition)’” Jaami’ Tirmidhi - Volume 2, Page 23 (Qadeemi), Kitaabut Tibb, Chapter of Prevention, Hadeeth 1
The Hukamaa (experienced Muslim doctors) say that there are 3 primary principles of medicine viz.
حفظ الصحة - Maintaining & Preserving health
وقاية - Abstaining from disease causing factors
اخراج مادة الفاسدة - Eliminating disease causing agents
Imaam Tirmidhi (ra) in his Jaami’ begins Kitaabut Tibb, the Book of Medicine, with the chapter of himya which means “prevention” or “protection”. This term refers to and includes the first two principles mentioned above of maintaining and preserving health and abstaining from those things that will cause or increase disease or delay recovery. By placing this chapter first it is apparent that Imam Tirmidhi is also emphasising that tibb-nabawi is first about preservation and protection which is the means by which most illnesses are prevented from arising. This approach aligns with the common saying: “Prevention is better than cure”
This principle however is largely ignored today as people have become accustomed to following their shahawaat, their desires, in eating, drinking, sleeping and other activities, without any concern for regulating these aspects and staying away from an imbalanced lifestyle, and such foods and activities which are detrimental to good health. The modern medical approach has also placed very little emphasis on prevention, and rather emphasises prescribing medication and surgery and other corrective measures only when disease has already taken root. Very often the treatment brings about other new diseases as well, in the form of drug side effects and surgery complications, may Allah ﷻ save us all, Aameen.
In this age, people are also mostly unaware of what exactly is beneficial and what is harmful for their health, unlike in the past when preventive measures were well known. It is therefore a great boon and blessing upon the ummah that these principles have been preserved within the sunnah of Nabi ﷺ and they can be found in the Qur’an and the collection of ahadeeth. If they are understood and practiced upon then good health can be maintained with its associated benefits of being able to exert oneself in ibadah and striving for deen.
In the first hadeeth of the chapter, Imam Tirmidhi brings the hadeeth of Umme Mundhir which contains the most important principles of tibb. Umm Mundhir (RA) whose name was Salma bint Qais from the Banu Najjaar tribe, was related to the Prophet ﷺ from his mother’s side. She was amongst the early reverts to Islam from amongst the women of Madeena and she had the honor that the Prophet ﷺ would often visit her home and partake of some food at her place.
On this particular occasion, Ali (RA) had recently experienced an illness from which he was still in the recovery phase. It seems that this may have been a fever from an infectious disease like a flu, and though the illah, the initial cause, had resolved, the weakness and remaining effects of the illness were still present, this is the meaning of ناقه in the hadeeth. When a person is in this state they are between the state of مرض sickness and صحة good health. This is a period when a person can go in either direction based on what they eat and how they look after themselves.
The Hukamaa write that certain things when consumed in this phase can bring the illness back, one of these, as is apparent from the hadeeth is dates, especially if a person is ناقه from a hot type illness such as the fever from a flu. The reason is that dates are also hot which will not be muwafiq with the current condition, the other reason is that dates are high in sugar which is not recommended during recovery from an infection, contrary to what people believe. Sugary items are to be avoided when recovering from an infection as the body is unable to heal properly in a high sugar environment and it also encourages the production of phlegm and mucus. Many who are not aware of these principles and who do not have training in medicine feel that certain foods are always beneficial, irrespective of the condition, this is an erroneous belief and it is based on not being familiar with these ahadeeth which show that at certain times, certain foods and therapies, even though they may be mentioned in the hadith as cures, can be harmful for the patient depending upon their current condition. It is well known that on one occasion Nabi ﷺ expressed disapproval at a sahabi eating dates while he was suffering from a disease of the eye.
In this instance, Ali (RA) was therefore also prevented from eating the dates by Nabi ﷺ and he abstained from eating them. In this there are many lessons:
One is that it is desirable to advise the patient on which foods to avoid and to even prevent them from doing so for their own benefit.
Another is that one should take the advice of those who are experts in the field and who can recognise which foods and practices should be avoided in order to maintain and preserve health.
Another lesson is that it is desirable to seek good health and recovery from illness and the means should be adopted, with the conviction that health and illness is from Allah ﷻ.
Avoiding harmful foods etc is not against yaqeen and tawakkul, in fact we know from this hadeeth and others that it is according to the sunnah to do so.
Umm Mundhir then prepared a dish of سلق (chard/beetroot) and شعير (barley) and Nabi ﷺ instructed Ali (RA) to partake of this as it is more appropriate for him in his condition. سلق is today commonly known as Swiss Chard which is a type of spinach, however, سلق originally refers to the plant from which both the swiss chard and beetroot common today originated. The سلق prepared by Umm Mundhir could therefore either have been chard or beetroot, which was mixed with the barley and cooked.
Chard has a cooling nature while beetroot is regarded as neutral, therefore both would be appropriate for Ali (RA) if he was recovering from a fever. Both are known to strengthen the body and remove toxins from the body as well. Beetroot also has a beneficial effect for blood circulation. Barley has many health benefits and has the opposite effect of high sugar products as it reduces sugar in the body, satiates hunger, replaces lost nutrients and strengthens the patient, therefore being very beneficial for Ali (RA) during his recovery phase and a means of attaining full recovery and returning to good health.
We learn from this also that the treatment given should be موافق meaning appropriate and suitable, to the patient and their illness. This is in fact one of the most important principles in tibb and includes within it the third principle mentioned above i.e eliminating disease causing agents.
Just like other areas of knowledge, to understand what will be موافق for the patient requires learning from those who have that knowledge. Seeking treatment and health advice from an expert is part of the sunnah and a person can only blame themselves if they self-medicate with the wrong treatments. As the common saying goes “Half a doctor is a danger to your health, and half an aalim is a danger to your Imaan”. The sunnah establishes the principles of tibb, however it does not contain the detail which is to be learnt from the hukamaa.
Other lessons are also derived from this hadeeth. Nabi ﷺ maintained ties with his family and practiced simplicity and also maintained a good relationship with his son-in-law Ali (RA), advising him not only in matters of deen but also in matters of his health as well. Concern and care for the ill and general compassion for mankind was also a salient feature of Nabi ﷺ.
May Allah grant us the ability to learn, correctly understand and apply the sunnah in all aspects of our life.
(This article is a shortened version of the soon to be published detailed commentary on the ahadeeth of Tibb Nabawi by Dr Latib, ان شاء الله ﺗﻌﺎﻟﯽٰ)