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Unani Medicinal System


Unani medicine as the name suggests, originated in Greece or unan. It was the Greek philosopher-physician Hippocrates (460-377BC) who freed medicine from the realm of superstition and magic and gave the status of science. The theoretical frame work of unani medicine is based on the teachings of Hippocrates. He believed that whenever and wherever possible, medicine should be gentle and safe. This is the main objective of unani medicine. After Hippocrates, a number of Greek scholars enriched the system and it imbibed the best from contemporary system of medicine in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, India, china and other Middle east and far East countries. That’s why the system is known in different parts of the world by different names, like Greco-Arab medicine, Ionian medicine, Arab or Islamic medicine, Oriental medicine and so on.


Physician Hippocrates (460-377 BC)

Unani system of Medicine owes its origin to Greece. It was the Greek philosopher - Physician Hippocratic (460-377 BC) who freed Medicine from the realm of superstition and magic, and gave it the status of Science. The theoretical framework of Unani Medicine is based on the teachings of Hippocrates. After that, a number of other Greek Scholars enriched the system considerably. Of the Galen (131-210 AD) stands out as the one who stabilized its foundation on which Arab physicians like Rhazes (850-925 AD) and Avicenna (980-1037 AD) constructed an imposing edifice. Unani Medicine got enriched by imbibing what was best in the contemporary systems of traditional medicine in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, and India, China and other Middle East and Far East countries.

Avicenna (980-1037 AD)

In India, Unani system of Medicine was introduced by Arabs and soon it took firm roots in the soil. When Mongols ravaged Persian and Central Asian cities like Shiraz, Tabrez and Galan, scholars and Physicians of Unani Medicine fled to India. The Delhi Sultan, the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs and the Mughal Emperors provided state patronage to the scholars and even enrolled some as state employees and court physicians. During the 13th and the17th Century, Unani Medicine had its hey-day in India. Among those who made valuable contributions to this system into period where Abu Bakr Bin Ali Usman Ksahani, Sadruddin Damashqui, Bahwa bin Khwas khan, Ali Geelani, Iqbal Arzani and Mohammad Hashim Alvi Khan.

The scholars and Physicians of Unani Medicine who settled in India were not content with the known drugs. They subjected Indian drugs to clinical trials. As a result of their experimentation added numerous native drugs to their own system further enriching its treasures. During the British rule, Unani Medicine suffered a setback and its development was hampered due to withdrawal of governmental patronage. Since the system enjoyed faith among the masses it continued to be practiced. It was mainly the Sharifi Family in Delhi, the Azizi family in Lucknow and the Nizam of Hyderabad due to whose efforts Unani Medicine survived during the British period. An outstanding physician and scholar of Unani Medicine, Hakim Ajmal Khan (1868-1927) championed the cause of the system in India

Unani Medicine is a Traditional Medicine, which like other Traditional Medicines, e.g., Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine, has a specific and unique set of principles and methods that are used in the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions.

Unani is an Arabic word that refers to its origins in Ionia in ancient Greece, as Unani Medicine is primarily based on the ancient methods of medicine that were used and taught by its traditional founders.

Unani Medicine is both very old and very modern. As we have seen, it was practiced by Hippocrates over 2400 years ago. His medicine however included a great deal of ancient Egyptian medicine as well as important components of the ancient Mesopotamian traditions. Thus it can be said that many aspects of Unani Medicine are over 6000 years old.Unani Medicine is also very modern, as it has been and is still being practiced as a traditional medicine in Europe,

The Middle East and the Asian subcontinent. Although in Europe traditional medicine has, to a great extent, been supplanted by modern medicine, there are still those who are knowledgeable in, and practice Unani Medicine. In the Middle East and in the Asian Subcontinent, Unani Medicine continues to serve millions of people as their only or main traditional medicine. Further, as modern medicine also originated from the ancient Greek traditions, new scientific concepts can readily be integrated into its practices. Thus Unani Medicine is both an ancient medicine and the traditional medicine of the future.

Principle of Unani Medicine:

The fundamental principle of the unani system recognizes that disease is a natural process and symptoms of a disease are body's reaction to disease. The chief function of the physician is to aid the natural forces of the body. The unani medicine is based on the Humoral theory-which presupposes the presence of four humors. They are Dum (blood), Balgham (phlegm), Safra (yellow bile) and Sauda (black bile). The body has the power of self preservation to maintain a correct balance of these humors, which is called as Quwwat-e-Mudabbira (Medicatrix natura). Unani medicines help the bodytoregainthisbalance.

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 (humors); 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).

Mizaj e motadil is of two types

Mizaj e motadil e haquiqi and Mizaj e motadil e tibbi

Mizaj e motadil e haquiqi is seldom found in the universe as nothing is found to be exactly accurate to the maximum there is always slight difference like a thing can be comparatively hot to something that is cold but cold to something that is comparatively hot this is mizaj e motadil e tibbi.

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 humoral 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 restore and promote or help and develop rather than supersede or impede the action of this power.

Diagnosis & treatment:

The Unani Physician (Hakim), diagnoses diseases by feeling the Nabz (pulse). The rate, rhythm, expansion and contractions, fast or slow etc of the arteries are felt by the four fingers which denote the four humors. Stool (Baraz) and urine (Bole) examination also helps in diagnosis. Four types of treatmentlinesareavailable:

  • Ilaj-bit-tadbeer(regimentaltherapy),
  • Ilaj-bil-Ghiza(diettherapy),
  • Ilaj-bid-dawa(Pharmacotherapy) and
  • Jarahat(Surgery).

The regimental therapy includes procedures like vene-section, cupping, Turkish bath, massage, exercise and leeching among others. These therapies involve working on specific body reflexes, most commonly by massage. But in case of musculoskeletal problems like arthritis and back pain, application of cold, heat or suction cups is also done. In rare instances, serious and acute diseases are treated by puncturing certain reflex points, during which a few drops of blood are released.

Similarly, dietotherapy involves administration of specific diets or regulation of quantity and quality of food, where as pharmacotherapy deals with administration of drugs derived from plant and mineral sources. In unani system, single drugs or their combinations in raw form are preferred over compound formulations. These two forms of therapies can be subdivided into two, namely Ilaj biz zid and Ilaj bil maroof.

Ilaj biz zid means a person suffering from an ailment or a disease can be given medicine or diet which has got opposite action like for hot temperament diet or medicine which induces cold are prescribed and same wise in ilaj bil maroof it is the vice versa, like is to be treated by like (medicinesordrugshavingsynergisticaction).

A Unani physician tries to go down to explore the root cause for the disease or alteration in the temperament and tries to rectify, not by directing anything at the disease or target directly but, by indirectly treating or correcting the underlying cause.

A Unani physician does not prescribe a strong 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 andlifestyle.

Since in Unani, health and disease depend upon the equilibrium or imbalance between the four humors, a thorough examination of the pulse is undertaken to determine which humor is dominant at the time.

The examination of the urine is the next important step.

Its color, taste, viscosity, whether it has froth on its surface, indicating balgham (phlegm), indicating safra (yellow bile) are scrutinized. The stool is also examined in a similar way.