CRUCIBLE: Hilot and Wellbeing (1) Julkipli Wadi

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/30 Nov) — There is no denying that modern man has become very sophisticated as he tries to reach the pinnacle of securing and sustaining life with his fervent desire to attain near immortality status or experience. Compared to other species, man has mastered his condition and the environment he lives in as he is able to break from “state of nature” making him an almost independent, self-preserving being.

Whereas animals and other creatures have not left their primitive stage so much so that there is obviously no development let alone sophistication and innovation in their existence; if you look at trends why many animals become endangered, it is because they have not persisted to live with what Charles Darwin refers to as “survival of the fittest.” They thus fail to fit, to live with the demand of an evolving and increasingly constricted global ecosystem. It is not so with man; he is resolute in looking for ways to secure and sustain life.

This is the frame of my reflections after visiting a number of hospitals recently where I was diagnosed, according to the doctor, with nerve impingement at my back. After undergoing Electromyography or EMG and other tests, doctors recommended me to have Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI, to undergo physical therapy, and to wear a corset, which is an iron brace to support the lower portion of my back.

Due to my rather unease on medical cost and physical encumbrances to wear a corset as if my condition is so serious to merit that; and as a believer on Tausug “hilot” that I previously learned from my late grandfather; given, too, my being discriminatingly rebellious on anything “conventional,” my wife and I thought of exploring alternative ways to relieve my nerve impairment.

Perhaps, our advantage these days is that there is an array of medical institutions and health facilities with varied therapeutic approaches easily accessible ranging from those available in conventional hospitals to traditional “hilot,” Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, food supplements including physical therapy and techniques like reflexology. Easy access to information allows us to know their efficacy as we can easily compare each other while providing us varied choices so we can make better decisions.

After trying and experiencing these “interventions,” I realized up close how far today’s marvels in medical and health science and technology have become. It includes my observation on growing trends and increasing consciousness of people in availing highly consumerist package of health and wellbeing techniques and physical treatment that have now reached enormous proportion that we could even hardly cope with its fast pace development.

All of these are, in my view, geared towards securing and prolonging life, while maximizing the optimum potential of one’s wellbeing, which is generally accepted and mostly patronized by the “haves” as their universal notion of “good life.” Whereas, have-nots and those with aversion on post-modern lifestyle could only relish with their own self-definition of “good” by appreciating and resorting to what is essentially basic and simpler ways in attending to their health issues.

Yet, a deeper insight has to be advanced given the fact that while the thrust of medical institutions and health related methods are all geared toward securing or prolonging life, on the contrary, we might also have to unravel the question where that dogged desire for maintaining healthy lifestyle and wellbeing is coming from as it is possibly based on prevailing and dominant worldview about life – a life that is atomistic and segmented and possibly detached from what Dr. Henry Lindlarh refers to as evocation of “Creative intelligence” that permeates in all beings.

So that the impression created is that, when we get sick, such an experience is viewed totally negative as we immediately resort to some medical interventions even reflexively without us realizing that sickness or diseases are part of natural order of things with our body having that innate ability to do its self-healing process.

The implications on too much reliance on medical interventions are enormous not only affecting us medically, emotionally, and financially, at times, even creating in us a kind of dependent psychology that our salvation lies in the hands of doctors and medicines, therapists, beauticians, spas, yoga centers, and so on. And for good reasons indeed. The importance of doctors and the marvel in today’s medical sciences and health related technology and methods is undeniable.

But what we are trying to raise is whether over-reliance on interventionist approach in our physical body like invasive medicine and costly and high maintenance health and well-being package of feel good kind of treatments bordering on self-pampering lifestyle fully satisfies a comprehensive vision of life that is enough to create a psychology of hope and optimism about life itself and dispels possible obsessive tendency that may in fact be symptomatic of morbid fear of the unknown (al-ghayb) or a deeper source of dread on anything related to sickness, aging, and death.

As we’d discussed in our previous khutbah, it is true that shifah tradition identifies two types of healing: one that is physical; and the other one, which is essentially spiritual. Indeed, it is but natural that we resort to some medical and therapeutic assistance especially so if we experience some physical ailments. Reality of our life is such that we experience certain phase with what the Qur’an refers to as strength-weakness cycle.

In this regard, sickness could be viewed as a trigger that pushes the pendulum of our bodily state to move from one point to another; thus, allowing us to experience physical or bodily fluctuation that may come through ailment, weakness, and other psychological and physical impairment, and so on. The Holy Qur’an reads:

“It is God who created you in a state of (helpless) weakness then gave (you) strength after weakness, then after strength gave you weakness and a hoary head: He creates as He wills, and it is He who has All Knowledge and Power (Rum: 54).”

Some ulama (scholars) of tafsir or exegesis like Ibn Kathir refer to the process of bodily or human fluctuation as part of man’s development from embryonic stage until the time when a baby is born; then s/he reaches certain age, attaining maturity, and old age. Truth is, in each phase of our life, we inevitably experience cycle of physical weakness or strength that often triggers us, such that, if the former sets in, we resort to medical intervention in order to cure or heal ourselves.

Few ahadith  (prophetic sayings) inform us that some diseases and illness have purifying and cleansing effects. A pertinent hadith says that there are no diseases without them having their cure. “Anzala l-llahi min da’in illa anzala l-llahu shifah.”

To say the least, all these experiences strengthen the thesis regarding the veracity of shifahor healing tradition in the Holy Qur’an. For instance, in Suratu n-nahl, a pertinent verse relates about the bees with their honey as effective source of healing. It reads partly: “these issues from their bodies with varying colors wherein healing for men (69).” In the book of Ibn Qayyim, “The Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet,” there are few stories of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) about his advice to the sahabah (companions) to avail honey. The healing value of honey cuts across medical science, traditional hilot, and herbal medicine, and others.

The other type of shifah is a healing for the disease in our “hearts.” This is captured in the verse that reads:

“O mankind! There has come to you a direction from your Lord and a healing for the diseases in your heart and from those who believe a guidance and mercy (Yunus: 57).”

There is a continuum between physical and spiritual healing. This is the reason why, we said previously, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037) came up with two treatises on healing: one spiritual; and, another medical. Ibn Sina, being a philosopher and doctor of medicine must have laid down the foundation of holistic view about man, his life and health even as trend on comprehensive healing principles and methods are now gaining popularity with new lingo like wellbeing, wellness, health lifestyle, alternative medicine, therapeutic medicine, and so on.

This development reflects the trend to fuse polarized traditions of medicine into holistic one and seemingly blurs separate types of healing away from dichotomy of the spiritual versus the physical or the medical. It means, man, as a holistic being, as he experiences ailments, requires, too, holistic healing system. This is supposedly the trend in many hospitals and medical institutions these days. Not everyone who is brought to hospitals is subjected to extreme medical intervention; s/he simply needs some therapy or wellbeing and wellness assistance that emphasize, say, exercises, dieting, yoga, and so on.

It goes without saying that sophisticated and innovative thrust of modern man to secure and sustain life is partly reflective with the universal arch of shifah tradition with both of its spiritual and medical dimensions.

[MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. A khutbah (first installment, with revisions) delivered at the UP-Institute of Islamic Studies on 22 November 2014. Julkipli Wadi is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines].