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Islamic Traditions of Spiritual Healing

According to historical records, Babur, the Mughal Emperor of India, prayed for the well-being of his son, Humayun, who was gravely ill or on the verge of death. Consequently, Babur beseeched Allah (SWT) to spare his son's life and accept his own life instead. 

According to recent scientific studies, the act of professing believe in God or Allah (SWT) has been found to have a significant impact on our physical well-being. The activation of neuronal pathways for self-healing occurs when individuals invoke their faith.    

The Islamic prayer comprises three main components: contact prayer (salat), Zikr (Dhikr), which involves the remembrance of Allah, and recitation of the Qur'an. These stimuli produce the physiological stimulus of relaxation. The Prophetic saying states that worshiping in a congregation is superior to worshiping alone by a factor of twenty-seven. This applies to both Hajj and congregational worship.

Prayers act as a protective barrier against the negative impacts of stress and anger, potentially through psychoneuroimmunologic mechanisms. There is speculation on the potential of communal prayers to initiate a complex series of biological processes that may ultimately result in improved health outcomes. Research has continuously demonstrated a positive correlation between increased levels of social connection, such as familial and social bonds, as well as participation in congregational prayers at the Masjid, and a reduction in death rates. 

Zakah, a form of generosity, entails the sharing of wealth among Muslims, resulting in not just socio-economic advantages but also improved health outcomes. Acting benevolently towards others is also considered Zakah, and individuals who engage in volunteer labor have significant enhancements in their well-being. 

The health benefits of fasting during the month of Ramadan have been extensively demonstrated in numerous research.  

In Bethesda, Maryland, the National Institute of Health established an Office of Alternative Therapies a few years ago, with the aim of promoting Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Aromatherapy, and other forms of "alternative" therapies.

In the United States, there has been a significant increase in interest and publications in the field of spiritual medicine. Numerous scholarly papers (1-8), books, and conferences have been dedicated to examining the influence of spirituality on patients, physicians, and the healthcare system in recent times. An individual who serves as the founder and Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. is Dr. James S. Gordon, MD. Addison-Wesley (1996) authored a publication titled "MANIFESTO FOR A NEW MEDICINE: Your guide to healing partnerships and the wise use of alternative therapies." According to Dr. Gordon, medical school places a significant emphasis on technical proficiency while neglecting the aspects of personal and spiritual development. Dr. Gregory Plotnikoff, MD, the medical director of the Center for Spiritual Care and Healing at the University of Minnesota, promotes the importance of providing care for both the physical and spiritual aspects of individuals (9). Herbert Benson, M.D.'s book titled "Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief" The work of Benson at Harvard's Mind/Body Medical Institute is referenced by Scribner (1996). Benson's prescription for doctors and patients comprises three essential components: 1) mutually recognize and acknowledge each other's significant beliefs and motivations, 2) engage in meaningful conversations and take action based on those beliefs, and 3) relinquish and embrace these beliefs. His prescription is conveyed through religious conviction and faith. 

In 1996, Dr. David Larson, MD, the president of the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR) in Rockville, Maryland, granted five $10,000 to Medical Schools for the purpose of integrating curriculums on Religion and Medicine. Dr. Ornish, MD, the author of the book "The Neglected Factor" published in 1995, has extensively documented the potential of nutrition and meditation in reversing coronary artery blockage. 

The assertion that health care encompasses a spiritual dimension contradicts the prevailing Western health care culture, which adheres to a biological framework for the promotion of healing and recuperation.

Spiritual Medicine consists of two main elements: Distant Healing and Self-care, which refers to the process of healing through the patient's own endeavors. The term "distant healing" refers to a cognitive endeavor carried out by an individual with the aim of enhancing the physical or emotional state of another person. Within the realm of therapeutic practice, the process of healing can encompass cognitive exertion, whether or not the healer is physically present, with or without their conscious awareness, and with or without physical contact. This comprehensive definition would also encompass petitionary prayer or Du'a, when the practitioner formulates a mental appeal for a specific result or the realization of God's "will." 


The concept of spirituality 

A person possesses biological, psychological, and social aspects, alongside a spiritual dimension that interconnects these dimensions and enhances an individual's overall well-being and sense of completeness. Manifestations of spiritual well-being include experiences such as joy, love, forgiveness, and acceptance. An imbalance in one of the multiple aspects resulted in the development of sickness and worsening of illness. The significance of spiritual aspects in the recuperation from acute or chronic illness is widely acknowledged. The utilization of spiritual healing practices often serves to enhance or supplement traditional healthcare modalities (3). 

Spirituality is sometimes characterized as the encounter with significance and direction in our existence - a feeling of interconnectedness with the individuals and objects in our surroundings. For numerous individuals, this sense of connectivity entails a connection with a divine entity or a supreme being. For numerous individuals in the United States, spirituality is perceived and manifested through religious devotion. The concepts of "religiousness" and "spirituality" are frequently employed synonymously. Religiousness refers to the commitment and observance of the beliefs and rituals associated with a structured place of worship or religious establishments. Spirituality serves as a source of coherence, imbuing one's human existence with significance and purpose. Occasionally, individuals may encounter states of consciousness that had significant spiritual and transforming implications, encompassing near-death encounters, mystical states, and delirious states linked to changes in brain chemistry. These occurrences can either have a beneficial influence on the individual or result in distress. Receiving reassurance and validation from a healthcare provider can have a highly therapeutic effect (10). Physicians are assisting patients in transcending the confines of the physical realm in order to seek solace, solutions, and remedies. According to a recent survey, a significant proportion of the American population holds the belief that spirituality plays a role in their recuperation from illness, accident, or disease. Approximately 66% of the participants expressed a desire for physicians to engage in conversations regarding spirituality in relation to their well-being, or even to engage in prayer with them. 


The Impact of Religion on Health 

Religiousness can positively impact well-being through several means. 

The response to relaxation: 

A physiological assertion that can be elicited by all individuals and that yields a contrasting outcome to the widely recognized fight-or-flight reaction. Benson refers to this phenomenon as the "relaxation response." During this physiological condition, there is a reduction in blood pressure, as well as a decrease in heart rate, breathing rate, and metabolic rate. The relaxation response has numerous enduring advantages in terms of health and well-being. It can be triggered by engaging in Salat, Zikr, and recitation of the Qur'an, all of which are associated with a straightforward mental concentration. These contribute to the efficacy of self-care, the beneficial actions that individuals can undertake for their own well-being. Our physiological systems are designed to get advantages from engaging in the practice of our ideas, values, thoughts, and emotions. Patients afflicted with postoperative anxiety and fear or terminal illnesses have reported experiencing profound bodily comfort following the act of making Du'a (supplication) to Allah (SWT). This phenomenon is the antithesis of the intense, adrenaline surge that individuals undergo during the stress-induced fight-or-flight reaction. Du'a has provided patients with both emotional and spiritual solace. The daily experience of receiving sensitive comfort and calming aids in restoring confidence in both one's physical well-being and one's capacity to confront the challenges and uncertainties of life. Salat and Du'a induce a relaxation response in patients, leading to mental stability and aiding in illness prevention by soothing the body and alleviating worries. 

For millennia, it has been widely acknowledged that the "placebo effect" exerts a significant and beneficial impact on the human body. It is not widely understood that an individual's belief enhances the effectiveness of the placebo. The belief in the treatment by the patient, caregiver, or both parties is a contributing factor to improved treatment outcomes. Occasionally, affirmative thoughts are the sole remedy we require to achieve healing. Occasionally, it becomes necessary to harness the combined power of our convictions and suitable medical interventions. Each person possesses the ability to nurture and heal themselves. Medical professionals are currently placing significant emphasis on the practice of self-care, particularly in relation to the cultivation of beliefs that facilitate the process of healing. It has been observed that the placebo effect exerts a significant influence on the often reported symptoms, including chest discomfort, exhaustion, dizziness, headache, back and stomach pain, numbness, impotence, weight loss, cough, and constipation. A study conducted by Ohio State University in 1992 revealed that placebo treatment can potentially alleviate more severe problems in people suffering from congestive heart failure. Research has demonstrated that the presence of a belief in or anticipation of a favorable result can possess significant therapeutic efficacy, regardless of whether these optimistic expectations originate from the patient, the physician, a caregiver, or both. A study found that pregnant women who held a strong belief were able to successfully overcome persistent nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. The women were administered a medication with the expectation that it would alleviate the issue, but instead, they were given a contrasting substance - a syrup of ipecac, which induces vomiting. The ardent endorsement of therapies by physicians by patients has been found to effectively alleviate a range of medical ailments, such as angina, asthma, herpes simplex cold sores, and duodenal ulcers. An effective doctor-patient interaction is recognized to expedite the process of recovery. Approximately 66% of the patients experienced improvement upon receiving positive news from their doctors, regardless of whether the prescribed treatment involved vitamins. Therefore, the bedside manner is indeed significant. Research indicates that the speed of postoperative recovery is enhanced when the surgeon has a positive, self-assured, and compassionate demeanor towards the patient. 

Episodes of wrath and hostility in "psychosomatic" diseases can manifest as stomach ulcers and heart attacks. There is a close connection between our ideas and our bodies. The accomplishments of the medical profession can be attributed to the innate capacity for healing within individuals. The presence of a positive mindset in a patient can have a very therapeutic effect. 

Benson recounts the case of a renal cancer patient who was able to induce a relaxation response through her beliefs and prayer. Despite experiencing intense pain, she chose not to take pain medication and experienced a significant alleviation of the distress she had previously endured. Upon her demise, she experienced a state of tranquility, relying on her internal physiological support and the potency of her convictions throughout the concluding stages of her existence. 

When the relaxation reaction is triggered, it induces a state of tranquility in the mind, in contrast to the fight-or-flight response. This occurs when the mind is directed towards Salat or Zikr for a period of time. Put simply, as the mind becomes calm, the body also becomes calm. 

According to recent scientific studies, the act of professing believe in God or Allah (SWT) has been found to have a significant impact on our physical well-being. The activation of neuronal pathways for self-healing occurs when individuals invoke their faith.   

The Islamic prayer comprises three main components: contact prayer (salat), Zikr (Dhikr), which involves the remembrance of Allah, and recitation of the Qur'an. These stimuli produce the physiological stimulus of relaxation. 

Islamic spiritual medicine 

In the context of Islam, the term "spiritual medicine" encompasses two distinct concepts, however closely interconnected and occasionally conflated. The term "one" pertains to the conviction in a spiritual, ethical, or psychological remedy for ailments that may manifest in physical, spiritual, or psychic forms. Consequently, a physical ailment can be remedied, such as through the recital of the Qur'an or various forms of prayer (Du'a). The majority of Muslim medical practitioners, even within the scientific field of medicine, acknowledged this idea to a certain degree. 

The credit for psychic healing is attributed to Ibn Sina. Muslim physicians employed many modalities of psychotherapy, including shock or shame therapy, for the management of mental disorders, thereby introducing novel approaches to treatment. The Four Essays (Chahar Maqala), a renowned Persian literary composition, was authored in 1155 AD by Nizami-Ye ‘Aruzi, a court-poet of the ruler of Samarqand. This book delves into the realms of administration, astronomy, poetry, and medicine. Each chapter provides definitions of an exemplary individual in each category, accompanied by ten anecdotes that serve as illustrations (11). Ibn Abi Usaibi'a recounts the torture of a cherished slave girl of the caliph Harun al-Rashid by Jibra'il ibn Bakhtishu', who subjected her to schock-therapy (12). 

A component of spiritual medicine within the Islamic tradition is dedicated to the promotion of ethical well-being, albeit with a pragmatic perspective. Abu Bakr al-Razi authored al-Tibb al-Ruhani, also known as Spiritual Medicine, or The Spiritual Physick of Rhazes, which has been translated into English. 13. 

In this scholarly piece, al-Razi provides a comprehensive analysis of moral disorders, offering a keen insight into their impact on human behavior. 

Jehangir, the Moghul emperor, was once afflicted with an illness that his doctors were unable to remedy. Feeling frustrated, he sought solace in the tomb of Saint Mu'in al-Din Chishti located in Ajmer, where he received a cure. Subsequently, he adorned himself with earrings bearing the saint's name as a symbol of his devotion (14). 

There are extensive collections of spiritual prescriptions for remedies. The majority of prayers and amulets incorporate verses from the Qur'an, which are believed to possess significant therapeutic abilities. Oftentimes, it is advised that the patient transcribe specific verses from the Qur'an onto a sheet of paper or a glass (ceramic plate) and subsequently immerse these transcribed texts in water before consuming the water. In South-east Asian nations, individuals who are unwell position themselves outside the mosques, while the adherents who have completed the prayer recite specific Surahs from the Qur'an and exhale air upon the ailing individuals. 

Khawass al-Quran (Miraculous Properties of the Qur'an): This text explores the extraordinary qualities found in nearly every verse of the Qur'an, including their potential to treat different illnesses. Reciting Surah 38 (Saad) on a sleeping individual is believed to alleviate respiratory issues, while reciting it during a patient's wakeful hours is believed to treat illnesses. An one who consistently recites it would possess immunity against all nocturnal issues (15). 

Sufi Shaikhs or pirs are believed to possess the ability to heal (16):

* Illness


* Work-related issues

mitigating the apprehension of academic failure

Psychopathology (psychological disorder)
According to Al-Dhahabi (d.1348 AD)(17), the Islamic ceremonial prayers (salaat) encompass four distinct benefits, namely spiritual, psychological, physical, and moral. These benefits are attributed to the specific physical postures involved in the prayer. Additionally, he asserts: 

Prayers have been found to facilitate the alleviation of cardiac pain.

Gastrointestinal tract. 

* Prayers elicit feelings of happiness and contentment in the mind; they alleviate anxiety and quell anger. They foster a greater appreciation for truth and humility in the presence of others; they cultivate emotional tenderness, foster love and forgiveness, and deter the inclination towards seeking revenge. In addition, the mind frequently engages in excellent judgment as a result of focused attention on challenging subjects, leading to the identification of accurate solutions to issues. One also retains forgotten information. One has the capacity to explore methods for resolving both secular and metaphysical issues. One can engage in a thorough self-examination, especially when one diligently engages in prayer.  

Salaat is a type of worship that is mandated by divine authority. 

The psychological advantage of prayers lies in their ability to redirect the mind away from pain and alleviate its sensation.
* In addition to mental focus, salaat is

Physical activity: standing poses

Standing, flexing the body, bending down, and lying down,

And focus; where physical gestures

Take place and the majority of physical organs unwind. 

In his book Kitab al-Arba'in, Al-Muwaffaq 'Abd al-Latif recounts the existence of individuals who, despite their affluence, had a sedentary lifestyle but managed to maintain good health. The rationale behind this practice is that individuals were instructed to engage in regular prayer and tahajjud (midnight prayer) (18). 


1. TARG E.: Evaluating distant healing: a research review. ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES IN HEALTH AND MEDICINE 3(6): 62-73,  NOV. 1997 

2. SCHLITZ M and BRAUD W.: Distant intentionality and healing: assessing the evidence. ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES IN HEALTH AND MEDICINE 3(6): 62-73, NOV. 1997 

3. WALDFOGEL S.: Spirituality in medicine. PRIMARY CARE; CLINICS IN OFFICE PRACTICE. 24(4) 963-76, DEC. 1997 

4. COLON K.: The healing power of spirituality. MINNESOTA MEDICINE 79(12), DEC. 1996 

5. LEVIN JS. How prayer heals: a theoretical model. ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES IN HEALTH AND MEDICINE. 2(1): 66-73, JAN. 1996 

6. MACLENNAN S AND TSAI S.: A nursing perspective on spiritual healing. PERSPECTIVES. 19(1): 9- 13, SPRING 1995 

7. HAGGART M.: Nursing the soul. COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES IN NURSING &  MIDWIFERY. 2(1): 17-20, FEB 1996. 

8. LONG A.: Nursing: a spiritual perspective. NURSING ETHICS. 4(6): 496-510, NOV 1997. 

9. SUGERMAN, D.: Healing Body and Spirit. Minnesota Med. 79: 8-9, Dec. 1996. 

10. BRAGDON E.: Helping People with Spiritual Problems. Aptos, Lightening Up Press, 1993. 

11. IBN SINA: Psychic cures. Chahar Maqala (Tehran, 1970), p.120 

12. IBN ABI USAIBI’A, Uyun al-Anba, p. 188. Cited in Health and Medicine in the Islamic Tradition by Fazlur Rahman (Crossroad, NY 1987) 

13. AL-RAZI: al-Tibb al-Ruhani or The Spiritual Physick of Rhazes, (London, 1950) 

14. ALI KAUTHAR CHANDPURI, Atibba-i ‘Ahd-i-Mughliya (Doctors of  Moghul Period), Karachi, 1960, p. 129 

15. AL-HAKIM AL-TAMIMI: Khawass al-Qur’an (Miraculous Properties  of Qur’an). Cited in Health and Medicine in the Islamic Tradition by Fazlur Rahman (Crossroad, NY 1987) 

16. EWING K, Pirs and Sufis in Pakistan (Ph.D. diss. Univ. of Chicago, 1980, pp. 74-75. 

17. AL-DHAHABI, al-Tibb al-Nabawi (Cairo, 1961), pp. 140. 

18. AL-DHAHABI, al-Tibb al-Nabawi (Cairo, 1961), pp.139-140