Health and Islamic Philosophy

By Shahid Athar


Prophet Mohammed led a very active life, advising Muslims to teach their children physical exercise including swimming, archery, horseback riding.

Health and Islamic Philosophy

Islam considers health as a basic human right.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) mentioned in one of the hadith (saying): “Your body has a right over you.” (Al Bukhari)

Health is a state of total physical, mental and social well-being in order to maintain the quality of life that we can enjoy at our best performance. A Muslim’s quest for good health is in conformity with his salvation in the life hereafter, as much as for the enjoyment of life in this world. For a Muslim, health consciousness is God consciousness. The Qur’an is explicit in this matter and states:

{O you who believe, be God conscious and let every soul look toward it send for the life hereafter, and observe your duty to God, so God is informed of what you do. Be not like those who forgot God and therefore He caused them to forget themselves. Such are the wrongdoers.} (Al-Hashr 59: 18-9)

We forget ourselves not only by forgetting the reality of the life hereafter but also by forgetting our duties here, including responsibilities regarding our own bodies which have been given to us as a trust. We will be questioned if we do not keep the trust. Knowledge of health and disease is not just for physicians and those involved in health care, but for every one of us since we live in our own bodies and feel the pain when the body suffers.

Thus, we will be directly affected if we are not able to maintain the machine that we live in. If we clog up our arteries with excessive salt, sugar, fat, and lack of exercise and develop diabetes and coronary artery disease or high blood pressure as a result, we cannot call this the will of God as it is not the will of God for us to do so. Good health is a gift from God, and illness sometimes is from our own actions. God says in the Qur’an:

{Everything good that happens to you is from God. Everything bad that happens to you is from your own actions}. (Al-Nisa’ 4: 79)

The Qur’an is not a textbook of medicine but in it, there are guidelines that if practiced correctly will give the healing that it calls itself. God says in the Qur’an:

{We have sent down in the Qur’an that which is healing and a mercy to those who believe}. (Al-Isra’ 17: 82)

In addition, God says:

{O mankind! there has come unto to you a direction from your Lord and healing for the diseases in your hearts,– and for those who believe, a Guidance and a Mercy}. (Yunus 10: 57)

The Qur’an causes the healing not by kissing it or keeping it on a high shelf, but by following the guidance from it and avoiding what is prohibited and doing what is good, it is beneficial for them.

The Medical Benefits of Articles of Faith

The first Article of Faith is belief in God. This belief in God means also belief in our health as a gift from Him, and our responsibility toward our body, because we do it for the pleasure of God so that we may serve Him better. We must understand that whatever God has prohibited us from doing it is only for our own benefit and not for His sake. Therefore, if He has told us in the Qur’an to avoid intoxicants like alcohol and meat like that of swine, only He fully knows of the medical harms of such prohibitions.

Science has confirmed some of them and will confirm many later on as our knowledge grows. The blood and meat of dead animals can be full of germs and other harmful elements such as antibodies. Pork is high in cholesterol and salt and may contain worms, and has abnormal sex hormones in the fatty tissues. Alcohol and intoxicants cloud the mind, suppress the inhibition and interfere with our normal capacity of being able to determine what is good and what is bad. Thus under the influence of alcohol, a person may become violent. He may want to undress in public or engage in unlawful sex acts. All these can lead to trouble. Over the long term, alcohol damages all the organs including the liver, stomach, endocrine glands, heart, and brain.

If the Qur’an prohibited homosexuality 1400 of years before the epidemic of AIDS was known, it must have the knowledge of the future. It is true that one can contract AIDS from other modes of transmission including blood transfusions; however, if you investigate the source of the original contamination of even blood, it will finally lead to homosexuality.

Let us discuss the medical benefits of Islamic prayer (salat). Prayer has three components:


The washing of all exposed areas of the body, which come into contact with germs and dirt throughout the day, including hands, feet, face, mouth and nostrils, five times a day is healthy, preventive medicine. If we keep our nostrils clean in the manner prescribed for the ablution, we will breathe in cleaner air to our lungs. Is it not the washing of hands being encouraged in hospitals for everyone to prevent the spread of infection?

Recitation of Qur’an

The effect of the sound echoing during the recitation of the Qur’an and the meaning of the verses have a healing effect on the body and the mind. Different letters of Arabic when recited have echoing properties to different target organs in the body. It has been studied and determined that listening to the recitation of Qur’an reduces the heart rate, blood pressure and rate of respiration, and has a biofeedback-type tranquilizing effect. A study has been published by Dr. Ahmed El-Kadi of Akbar Clinic in Panama, Florida. The physical activity in the Islamic prayer (salat) is mild, uniform and involve all muscles and joints.

Charity or Zakah

The second pillar of Islam is charity or zakah. Zakah has been described as purification of one’s wealth, and it is the right of the poor over the wealth of the rich. Most people who have money are very much attached to it and because of the love of money, they are driven to insanity. The Qur’an says:

{And he is violent in the love of wealth}. (Al-`Adiyyat 100: 8)

With the lack of money, people are committed to crimes and also with an excess of money, they are under stress. People die of heart attacks sometimes when they win a lottery jackpot.

By having the institution of zakah, in which every Muslim must give 2.5 percent of their saved wealth to the poor, with the addition of the general charity which is voluntary, one becomes more peaceful knowing that the money belongs to God and is being returned to Him for His cause. Therefore, those who give regularly to charity are more peaceful people, and it is advisable that in illness, one should give more to charity which will help a person recover from his illness.


The third pillar of Islam is fasting in the month of Ramadan. Fasting produces physiological change in the body, gives rest to different organs and improves adaptability. It lowers the blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. It produces peace and tranquility in the mind. It is an institution in learning self-restraint as those who have a habit of nibbling food, drinking a lot of coffee and smoking, will have to give up all that during the month of fasting. Hopefully, this pattern of restraint will continue even after Ramadan is over, and that is why Prophet Mohammed has advised us to fast on Mondays and Thursdays after Ramadan.


The next Article of Faith is Hajj or a pilgrimage to Makkah. This Pillar of Islam is a requirement for all able men and women and is to increase one’s physical endurance. Long walks and heat from the sun, thirst, and physical exercise are to remind us of the Day of Judgment, and in doing hajj, there is a form of jihad and striving in the cause of God that makes us strong Muslims.

One must also keep himself in good shape before hajj so that he can perform the Hajj in the correct manner which as mentioned, requires a lot of physical endurance.

Nutrition and Health

We are told in the Qur’an:

{O you who believe, eat of the good things which we have provided to you, and thank God if indeed it is He whom you worship}. (Al-Ma’idah 5: 4)

We are also told not to commit any excess in eating and leave one-third of the stomach empty. With the stomach being a blender and grinder, it would not work to mix the food when it is full to the neck. Among the foods, fruits are especially emphasized in Qur’an (36: 57; 43:73, 16:67 and 50:68). Among the fruits that were mentioned were the ones which were known in Arabia at that time, including grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates. Fruits are low in calories, high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Sugar in fruit is fructose, not sucrose, and fructose has been shown to cause no rise in blood sugar and sometimes even lowers the high blood sugar of diabetes. Honey is from fructose. We are told in Qur’an:

{There comes from their bellies a drink of diverse color, in which there is a healing for mankind}. (Al-Nahl 16: 69)

Therefore, in honey, there is a cure. Recent studies have confirmed that honey has antibiotic properties comparable to Gentamicin, a very strong antibiotic.

Value of Exercise

Prophet Mohammed led a very active life, advising Muslims to teach their children physical exercise including swimming, archery, horseback riding, etc. He used to walk at a fast pace and helped his wife with the housework and even raced with her. It is the lack of routine physical activity or exercise with abundant food that we have, which has caused our present-day obesity and coronary artery disease. Unfortunately, Muslims of today especially women do not engage in regular exercise.

What should we do when we are affected by a disease?

Muslims should accept their disease with patience as a test and pray to God for recovery. The Qur’an says:

{If God touches you with affliction, no one can remove it but Him. If He touches you with happiness, He has power over all things}. (Al-A`raf 6: 17)

Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) said:

{And When I am ill, it is He who cures me}. (Al-Shu`ara’ 26: 80)

In one of the hadith, Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) has said: “No Muslim is afflicted by injury or illness without God causing his sins to drop away just as a tree sheds its leaves.” (Al-Bukhari)

Illness brings us closer to God. The question is: should we seek medical help if cure is from God? The Prophet, when he was asked this question, replied: “Yes, take medicine as God has not created a disease without creating a cure, except for one, that is old age.” (Abu Dawud)

This implies that we Muslim physicians should seek the cure for disease, and Muslim patients should use it. During the illness, in addition to resting, taking medicine and appropriate nutrition, we must increase remembrance of God. As God says in Qur’an:

{Those who have belief, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of God: for without doubt in the remembrance of God, do hearts find satisfaction}. (Al-Ra`d 13: 28)

It is now known that psychological peace and tranquility lower the level of the ACTH hormone which in fact affects the T-lymphocytes and cell-mediated autoimmunity. Thus once the immune system becomes more effective under psychological peace and tranquility, giving the body a chance to fight the disease. On the other hand, those who are at the peak of their anxiety with stress have very high levels of ACTH and suppress their own immune system as a result.

In conclusion, establishing Islam not only means establishing mosques, Islamic centers, and schools, but also establishing Muslims economically, politically as well as physically. Prophetic medicine is not just honey and black seed, but also understanding the working of the body and knowing what is good and what is not good for this machine.

To know the value of exercise and stress management, and preventive checkup of this machine, not waiting for it to completely break down, and taking it to the emergency room. It also means to accept the doctor’s advice and take medicine in the tradition of Prophet Muhammad.


Courtesy with slight editorial modifications.

Shahid Athar M.D. is Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, Indiana University School of Medicine Indianapolis, Indiana. Visit his website:


Related Post