A growing number of Muslims in Southeast Asia are turning away from Western medical care in favor of Islamic medicine (or “medicine of the Prophet”), a loosely defined set of remedies based on the Quran and other Islamic texts, according to the Guardian newspaper (Sept. 26).
The trend in Islamic treatments is often associated with “fundamentalists” who charge that Western, chemically laced prescriptions aim to poison or defile Muslims with medicines made from pigs. There have also been reports that members of terrorist groups have been involved in Islamic remedies as healers and sellers, and that some clinics are used as recruiting grounds for extremist causes.
But the newspaper reports that most of those seeking out Islamic clinics, hospitals and pharmacies appear to be moderate Muslims, “reflecting a rise in Islamic consciousness worldwide.” “Islamic medicine carries a cachet that, by taking it, you are reinforcing your faith—and the profits go to Muslims,” says Sidney Jones, an expert on Islam in Southeast Asia with the International Crisis Group. The industry is also going high-tech and employs modern advertising methods. One university is developing an application for mobile devices to query what Islamic remedies are recommended by teachings known as hadiths, which, along with the Quran, make frequent references to diseases, remedies and healthy living. In Indonesia, Islamic alternative healing increased soon after a government promotional campaign in 2009, says Brury Machendra, owner of a clinic in suburban Jakarta.
Only one such clinic existed in the area two years ago, but now there are 20, with 70 others waiting for permits. Machendra says most Indonesian Muslims don’t doubt conventional medicine, but the health services are so poor and expensive that many people seek out alternatives. Some doctors are trying to bring Muslim elements into the Western tradition. His clinic offers herbal medicine, a bloodletting treatment known as bekam and exorcisms in which a therapist places a hand on a patient’s head while chanting verses from the Quran.
He acknowledges that clinics such as his benefit from militant Muslims telling “people not to go to infidel doctors and say that buying Western medicine is forbidden.” Jemaah Islamiyah, an Al Qaeda-linked militant network, is said to have connections to some herbal manufacturers and to operate many of the country’s Islamic medicine clinics, according to Jones. But the clinics are aimed more at building solidarity among Islamists rather than recruiting militants.