By S. Ubaidur Rahman
Though effective, inexpensive and easily available, the Unani system of medicine still continues to lurk on the fringes of alternative healing, perhaps due to its unfamiliarity or due to its Muslim associations
Gaurav, a 10-year-old boy could not move his hands or feet when he was brought to Hakim Jameel Ahmed five years ago. Suffering from cerebral palsy, with an underdeveloped cognitive level, he could neither think nor talk properly.
Now 15 years later, thanks to Unani treatment, he is not only able to walk well but also talk ten to the dozen. Despite the absence of formal research on a cure in Unani for cerebral palsy among children, Hakim Jameel had been moved by the miserable condition of the child to experiment and successfully cure him.
Now after further research and medication on patients suffering from cerebral palsy, Unani’s usefulness in dealing with cerebral palsy is being heavily discussed.
The father of modern medicine
The Unani system of medicine originated in Greece and the term Unani is derived from ‘Unan’, Arabic and Urdu for ‘Greece’. The theoretical framework of Unani medicine is based on the work of Hippocrates (460-377 BC). By his method of careful study and comparison of symptoms, he laid down the foundation for clinical medicine based on diet and rest.
He advocated that the chief function of a physician is to aid the natural forces of the body in combating a disease. Unani system follows the humoural theory which postulates the presence of four humours in the body: dam (blood), balgham(phlegm), safra (yellow bile) and sauda (black bile), a parallel to kapha, vata and pitta, the three doshas in ayurveda .
A number of Greek scholars after Hippocrates such as Galen (131-200 AD) followed by Arab physicians like Rhazes (850-932 AD) and Avicenna (980-1037 AD), enriched the system considerably. Rhazes and Avicenna authored Al-Hawi and Al-Qanun respectively, which were compilations of their observations.
These were later translated into Latin and other European languages and taught in medieval European universities. They are said to have greatly influenced western medical thought.
Growth in India
Unani may have disappeared from the country of its origin, but it has found root in India. Arab traders who entered through the Western Ghats long before Moghuls, introduced Unani here. The Khiljis, Tughlaqs and the Mughal emperors provided state patronage to Unani scholars and even employed some as court physicians.
Unani experienced its heyday between 13th and 17th centuries with the contributions of Abu Bakr bin Ali Usman Ksahani, Sadruddin Damashqui, Ali Geelani, Akbal Arzani and Mohammad Hashim Alvi Khan. They subjected Indian drugs to clinical trials and added numerous native drugs to their own system, further enriching its treasures.
The British period saw the strictest restrictions imposed on any system of treatment other than allopathy. But despite these and the suspension of all aid to Unani institutions, the system survived due to the commitment of Hakims like Ajmal Khan. Ajmal Khan, who also served as the president of Indian National Congress in 1921, was a Unani physician and scholar of unmatched calibre. He founded the Ayurvedic and Unani Medical College in Delhi.
He also founded All India Unani and Tibbiya Conference in 1917 to counter the bad effects of the Medical Registration Act. He started Hindustani Dawakhana, one of the leading manufacturers of Unani medicines in the country. Hakim Abdul Hameed, the founder of Hamdard Dawakhana, is another well-known name in Unani in India and abroad.
He set up the highly successful Unani Tibia College in Delhi and the Jamia Hamdard University, whose faculty of pharmacy and science are rated one of the best in the country. He made products like Safi, Sharbate Rooh Afza, Sinkara, Gripe Water, Joshina, all household names. Among contemporary Unani physicians, Hakim Khaleefatullah’s name stands out.
In 1989, he set up Niamath Laboratories, a modern indigenous pharmaceutical house for manufacturing genuine Unani drugs. Hakim Zillur Rahman, who has served at the Hakim Ajmal Khan Tibbiya College, Aligarh, for over 40 years before retiring as dean faculty of Moalijat (medicine), is known the world over for his unmatched contribution to Unani.
Author of 25 books on different aspects of Unani, he also owns one of the largest collection of books on Unani in the world. He recently launched the Bu Ali Sina Academy of Art and Science, which attracts a large number of people due to the sheer size and diversity of its library.
How Unani works
The essential constituents and the working principles of the body, according to Unani, can be classified into seven main groups: arkan or elements, comprising earth, water, air and fire as different states of matter and the building blocks of everything in the universe; mizaj (temperament); akhlat (humours); aza (organs); arwah (life, spirits or vital breaths); quva(energy); and af’al (action).
Each of the four elements has its own special qualities: earth is cold and dry; water is cold and moist; fire is hot and dry; air is hot and moist. The resultant quality of the uniform body is called its mizaj. The temperament of a substance may be a mizaj-e-mutadil (balanced one) or a mizaj-e-ghair-mutadil (imbalanced one).
Different types and shades of imbalanced temperaments are described in Unani, which believes that at birth every person is endowed with a unique and healthy humoural constitution determining the temperament of an individual.
Unani also postulates that the body contains a self-preservative power, which strives to restore any disturbance within the limits prescribed by the constitution or state of the individual. The physician merely aims to help and develop rather than supersede or impede the action of this power.
Says Hakim Jameel: ‘A Unani physician does not prescribe the strongest drug at the beginning of the treatment. He selects the drug according to the degree of variation from the normal healthy condition, and observes the effect produced by the treatment. At the same time, he instructs the patient to observe some restrictions in diet and lifestyle.’
He continues, ‘This is necessary as the therapeutic effect of these mild drugs may be counter-balanced to an extent by a faulty diet or lifestyle. Particular care has to be taken while treating a ‘hot’, ‘cold’, ‘dry’ or ‘moist’ disease with food or drug of the opposite quality.’
Since in Unani, health and disease depend upon the equilibrium or imbalance between the four humours, a thorough examination of the pulse is undertaken to determine which humour is dominant at the time. The examination of the urine is the next important step.
Its colour, taste, viscosity, whether it has froth on its surface, if the bubbles formed are large, indicating balgham, or small, indicating safra, are scrutinised. The stool is also examined in a similar way.
Some Unani physicians also examine the blood pressure and use stethoscopes to study the breathing and heart sounds.
Unani is unmatched in treating chronic diseases like arthritis, asthma, mental, cardiac and digestive disorders, urinal infections, and of course sexual diseases.
Hakim Shamshad A. Khan, assistant director of Central Council for Research in Unani Medicines (CCRUM), a government body, says that recent research has proved that Unani medicines are highly effective in treating diseases like malaria, hepatitis B, leukoderma and skin problems.
Unani is also said to be effective in increasing immunity levels in AIDS patients. Hakim Usama Akram reports that the results of his research on Unani treatment in cerebral palsy among children have been encouraging, with children showing marked improvement in movement as well as cognitive levels.
Ziabetus or diabetes in its early stages is fully curable using Unani. Its efficacy in treating sexual disorders remains unrivalled. Hakim Jameel claims that Unani medicines permanently and effectively cure every sexual ailment, even sterility in women. Unlike modern medicines like Viagra and its Indian variants which have harmful side-effects, Unani also improves the general health of the person.
Today there are 40 undergraduate and postgraduate colleges teaching Unani medicine in India. These accord BUMS (Bachelor of Unani Medicines and Surgery).
Several colleges have recently introduced postgraduate courses in Unani and give MD degrees in Ilmul Advia (pharmacology), Moalijat (medicine) and Kulliyat (basic principles) as well as Jarahat (surgery) at Ajmal Khan Tibbiya College, Aligarh, and in Moalijat, Amraz-e-Niswan (gynaecology) and Amraz-e-Atfal (paediatrics) at Government Nizamiah Tibbi College, Hyderabad.
Several other colleges including Faculty of Medicine (Unani) at Hamdard University and Ayurvedic and Unani College at Karol Bagh in Delhi have introduced such postgraduate courses. There are over 150 Unani hospitals and 1,500 Unani dispensaries spread across 18 states of India.
There are around 50,000 Unani graduates in the country and most of them are practising physicians. Unani now forms an integral part of the national health care delivery system, and is recognised by the WHO as one of the alternative system of medicines. The Unani system is inexpensive, effective and easily available.
Realising its potential, the central and state governments have constituted the IMCC Act of 1970, which since 1973 has been implemented all over the country for standardization of education in the Unani system of medicine. Accordingly, a statutory council, CCRUM regulates the practice and education in Unani.
Hakim Jameel points out that following the global trend of rising interest in alternative and natural systems, Unani is also drawing attention in countries such as South Africa and Malaysia.
He adds that Unani healing is vibrant and vigorous today and is being practised, taught and researched under its local names in over 20 countries including Afghanistan, China, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK and USA.
Even in financial terms, Unani is loaded with potential. There are several large and medium sized companies producing Unani medicines. There are a number of licensed manufacturers of Unani medicines both in the small and large-scale sectors, with their production being controlled by the government as well as private bodies.
These companies include Hamdard Dawakhana, Hamdam Dawakhana, New Shama Laboratory, Hamdam Hindustani Dawakhana, Sadar Dawakhana, Dehlevi Remedies, Rex Remedies, all in Delhi; Niyamath Pharmacies, Chennai, National Dawakhana, Calcutta, Islahi Drug House and Unani Remedies, in Mumbai.
Most of the practising Unani physicians in India are Muslims. Though there are also many practitioners from other communities, most people think of Unani as solely a Muslim system of medicine.
Hakim Jameel attributes this to Unani books being available either in Arabic, Persian or Urdu with inadequate translations of these into English and Hindi. This makes it mandatory for aspiring Unani physicians in most Unani medical colleges to know Urdu.
Even questions during entrance examination are in Urdu. Hakim Khalid Siddiqi, however, points out that Unani is a well-developed medical science and has nothing to do with Islam or Mulsim culture.
He points out that the number of students from other communities in Unani medical colleges in South India is increasing and they are not only going for undergraduate courses but postgraduate courses as well.
Siddiqi adds that the number of students from scheduled castes and other backward sections has also registered a sharp rise. Siddiqi observes that most patients seeking Unani treatment are mostly from other communities.
For instance, in Delhi, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital’s Unani ward receives over 300 patients daily, an overwhelming majority being non-Muslim. He adds that in another Unani centre run by CCRUM’s regional office in the predominantly Muslim populated area of Abul Fazal Enclave in Okhla, south Delhi, almost half of the patients are non-Muslim.
The notion that it is poor people who use Unani is also wrong. Siddiqi says that most patients of Unani doctors are from well-to-do families. Very poor people cannot afford long-term treatment as Unani medicines are comparatively expensive. Unani vs other natural systems
Though Unani’s popularity is on the rise and fresh research has opened new vistas for this system, it has lagged far behind ayurveda. The sort of phenomenal growth ayurveda has witnessed remains a dream for Unani system.
Unani experts like Prof Syed Maudood Ashraf of Tibbiya College, Aligarh, blame post-Partition trauma and the government’s apathy towards the system as reasons for this state of affairs. He adds that Unani institutions suffered enormously during the Partition when the people running these migrated to Pakistan.
It took a long time to rebuild them. While Unani was suffering from this upheaval, ayurveda was prospering due to unprecedented government assistance. Yet Prof Zillur Rahman asserts that Unani’s achievements despite all these reasons is commendable and that Unani is all set to benefit enormously from people’s new-found love for herbal and natural systems of medicine.
Contact: Jamia Hamdard University, Delhi
Ph: (011) 6084484, 6084685
Ajmal Khan Tibbiya College, Aligarh
Ph: (0571) 2702746,
Prof. Zillur Rahman, Ph: (0571) 2400452
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