The Unani System Of Medicine

 

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       The Unani Tibb system of medicine is traced to the system of Greek medicine developed during the Arab civilisation, is also called the Greco-Arab system. The name Unani (Ionian) is considered indicative of the Greek origin of the system, though the European historians call it Arab medicine, now prevalent in India, Pakisthan and Bangla Desh. It had gone also to places where the asian muslims took it along.

        The Hamdard Foundation in Karachi has done commendable service to the cause of the Unani system of medicine, more importantly through a series of publications on the subject. Detailed general information on various aspects of the Unani system of medicine can be obtained from Baquai (1977), Said (1983) and Sathnarayana Bhat and Kameswara Rao (1993). A very useful glossary of plants used in Unani medicine was compiled by Fathima (1994), which includes sources of therapeutic information.

 

        It was Hippocrates, the Greek philosopher-physician (460 to 377 BCE), who relieved medicine from the grip of superstition and magic and gave it the status of science. The theoretical frame work of Unani is based on the teachings of Hippocrates. Subsequent to him, a number of Greek scholars have enriched the system considerably. Of them was Galen (131—210 CE) standing out as the one who established the fundamentals of Unani on which the Arab physicians like Rhazes (850-925 CE) and Avicinna (980-1037 CE) constructed an imposing edifice. Thus there is some justification in calling Unani as a Greco-Arab (Islamic) system. By the time the Muslim religion came into being, Unani was in use.

 

        The Unani system owes its development to the Arab and Iranian physicians and to a very considerable extent to the Indian Hakeems. It has absorbed what was best in the contemporary medicine in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, India, China and other middle and far eastern countries.

 

        The Arabs have introduced the Unani system into India and soon it took to deep roots. When Mongols ravaged the Persian and Central Asian cities like Siraz, Tabrez and Geelan, scholars and physicians of Unani medicine fled to India. They received state patronage from the Delhi Sultans, the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs, and the Mughals. Some of the Unani scholars and physicians have even been employees of the State as court physicians. The Unani system had its heyday during the period between the 13th and the 17th centuries in India. Among those who made valuable contributions to this system, to name a few, were Abu Bakr, bin Ali Usman Kashmari, Sadruddin Damashqui, Bahwa bin Khwas Khan, Ali Geelani, Akbar Arzani and Mohammad Hashim Alvi Khan. The scholars and physicians of the Unani system who settled in India were not content with the known drugs but they subjected the Indian drugs to trials and as a result of their experimentation added numerous native drugs to their own system, thus enriching it. The system found immediate favour with the masses and soon spread all over the country and continued to hold an unchallenged sway for a long period even after the down fall of the Mughal Empire.

 

        During the British Rule, the Unani system sufferred a setback and its development was hampered due to the withdrawal of governmental patronage. But since the system enjoyed the faith of the masses, it continued to be practised. It was mainly due to the efforts of the Sharifi family in Delhi, the Azizi family in Lucknow and the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Unani system survived in India during the British period. An outstanding physician and scholar of the Unani medicine, Hakim Ajmal Khan (1868-1927), championed the cause of the system in India. The Hindusthani Dawakhana and the Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbia College in Delhi are the two living examples of the Hakim’s immense contribution to the multi-pronged development of the two Indian systems of medicine.

The development of the Unani as well as the other Indian systems of medicine gained momentum after India became independent. In order to streamline education and regulating the practice of the Indian systems of medicine, the Government of India has established (by an Act of the Parliament, The Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970), the Central Council of Indian Medicine. In 1995, the Government of India has also set up a full-fledged Department of Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy, in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to accelerate the pace of development of these systems.

 

        The Unani medicine, as said earlier, was based on the principles of Hippocrates, who first established that disease is a natural process, that its symptoms were the reactions of the body. He advocated that the chief function of a physician is to aid the natural forces of the body in combating the disease. Hippocrates was the first physician, and the only one on record from antiquity to introduce the practice of recording medical histories of patients.

 

        The chief contribution of Hippocrates to medical realm is the humoural theory, which passed on to Unani. The humoural theory in Unani presupposes the presence of four humours in the body: Dam (blood), Balgham (phlegm), Safra (yellow bile) and Sauda (black bile). The temperaments of persons are expressed by the terms sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic, according to the preponderance of the humour (blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile) in them. The humours themselves were assigned temperaments—blood is hot and moist, phlegm is cold and moist, yellow bile is hot and dry and black bile is cold and dry. Every person is supposed to have the unique humoural constitution which represents his/her healthy state.

 

The body is considered to be comprised of the following (Said, 1983):

 

a) Arkan: different states of matter and materials entering into and forming a part of everything in Universe (elements);

 

b) Mizaj: the bodily temperament (physico-chemical aspects);

 

c) Akhlat: the structural components (bodily humours);

 

d) A’da: the fully developed mature organs (anatomy);

 

e) Ruh: the vital or life-force (mental or nervous energy);

 

f) Quwa’: the bodily power (physical energy); and

 

g) Af’al: the corporeal function (physiological and biochemical processes).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      

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