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Unani Medicine: Challenges and way forward

When the entire Europe was pre-occupied with concepts and superstitions of witchcraft and witch-hunting, scientific ideas and concepts were deep rooted in the art of this system of medicine

Post by on Tuesday, July 20, 2021

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The art of Unani or indigenous system of treatment was born in Greece. The Arabs, because of their extreme thirst for knowledge and learning also learnt and adopted the Unani system of medical treatment and gave it new and wide dimensions. They not only adopted and promoted this system for diagnosis and treatment of diseases but during the period of their rule in Spain, it was these intellectuals, men of learning and scientists who laid down the basic criteria and rules of surgery on which stands the grand structure of modern surgery. 
Later on, this art or science reached central Asia and Iran. This is the region where historic and epoch-making books on medicine and surgery were written from which Europe derived benefits for centuries. Even today these books are of great importance. When the entire Europe was pre-occupied with concepts and superstitions of witchcraft and witch-hunting, scientific ideas and concepts were deep rooted in the art of this system of medicine. Principles of analysis, diagnosis and research in human physical system were being laid down. Human diseases and ailments were being treated with natural herbs and plants. In no other country except India no other system of medicine and treatment based on natural herbs and plants was so much developed and advanced as the Unani medicinal system.
This system came to India through the Muslim physicians from central Asia and Iran. Today India is global leader of unani medical education and trainings and some other countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Iran, UAE, and South Africa are also promoting Unani system of medicine at institutional level including research. The physicians who came to India from foreign countries also took advantage and derived benefits from indigenous or local system of medicine i.e. Ayurveda and this tradition has been continuing ever since that time right up to the present times of Hakeem Ajmal Khan, Masihul Mulk (Physician of the Nation) and Hakeem Abdul Hameed.
India had abundance of natural botanical treasures and the tradition of treatment of diseases and ailments by natural herbs and plants was prevalent since ancient times which was in conformity with the Unani system of medicine. Therefore, India's natural conditions and climate were favorable for the development and survival of Unani medicines. That is why this system made so wonderful progress in this country that experts in Unani medicinal system are playing a great part in the field of national health services and in spite of the inherent shortcomings and weaknesses, this system is producing great persons and physicians because of whom there is no reason for pessimism with regard to this medicinal system. Currently India has 40 govt and Unani undergraduate and dozens of Post graduate colleges and full-fledged net work of autonomous research organisation namely Central Council of Research of Unani medicine with regional research, ethno botany and literary branches.
Some challenges
The future of life and art (or science) is, however, not unconditional. There are, therefore, some conditions and challenges before the exponents and practitioners of Unani system in order to make its future stable and bright. It is necessary to understand these challenges which are of two kinds viz: internal and external.
Internal challenges or constraints include easy going attitude of people, sense of inferiority complex, growing trend of ignoring and sacrificing the broader interests for the sake of personal interests, mutual differences and disputes for trivial matters, absence of unity, lack of interest and hard work in the attainment of knowledge and learning, short cut for the achievement of material comforts and resources, search for back-door means for worldly requirements and many more such kinds of shortcomings etc, can be harmful for the future of Unani system. The future of this system and its practitioners lies in accepting these challenges boldly and doing away with its shortcomings, weaknesses and impediments.
People in general appear to be losing interest in this system for treatments. If at all there are some people here and there, they do not appear to be the representatives of the present generation who find it very difficult to revive, maintain and promote this system. The fundamental reason for this is the poor and disintegrating system of education of Unani medicinal system. Neither students appear to have any interest in learning nor do the teachers appear to have any interest in teaching this system. BUMS degree has simply become a means of employment for students. If they start private practice, they have perforce to include certain allopathic medicines for running their clinics. The perseverance, devotion and hard work needed for studying Unani medicine system is sadly lacking. As far as the teachers are concerned, most of them are careerists whose entire knowledge is confined to some special books and have very limited experience. They have no authority over their subject and profession. Their laboratories are so small and congested that even fresh air cannot reach there. Useful, meaningful and objective books are not available. The trend towards finding fault with others is increasing.
As regards history of this science, more attention is being paid to the dates of birth and death of famous Hakeems, their dynasty etc, but very little attention is being paid on their works, research and valuable services rendered by them. Unani Research Council and some learned research scholars have no doubt written and published some important and useful books but they are exceptions.
External challenges for the future of this system too are no less important. Islamic and oriental arts and sciences have been passing through the stages of rise and fall for centuries. They are alive even today because of their inherent strength because they have been directly related to human life, its requirements and aspirations, its moral and cultural build-up and training. The Unani medicinal system is also one of those sciences.
In 'Al Hilal' of 11 Feb, 1914, Maulana Azad published in his editorial a proposal by Allama Shibli about Darul Musannifeen which is quoted below:
'In fourth century Hijri, the corrupt rule, violence and prejudice of Mutawakkil Abbasi compelled the ulama and scholars of Baghdad to leave the country. Historians have termed this event as ' Migration of learning and knowledge' and said that all Arabs from the East migrated to other places. A secret meeting of some physicians and Ulema was held in those days with the objective of merging up or mixing some treatises on these sciences in divine studies and sciences so that those sciences or knowledge about them may be preserved. This meeting was named 'Ikhwanus Safa' whose magazines and treatises are available even now. Hence today also it is essential that a meeting of “Ikhwanus Safa' should be convened so that the knowledge which has been lost could be regained'.
Whatever meagre financial and technical assistance is being provided by the government to Unani institutions, whether to keep alive the concept of democracy or under the compulsion of politics of vote or prompted by the unparalleled sacrifices, selfless services and nationalism and patriotism of eminent personalities of the world of Unani medicines, in spite of being woefully insufficient, should be treated as a blessing because in no period of its history the science of Unani medicine has ever been fortunate enough so as to win royal favour. What is even more unfortunate is that the students and teachers of this science do not even have the will and capacity to derive any advantage whatsoever from the nominal patronage and assistance. 
The policy and decision makers of our country do not want to do away with Unani system altogether but are trying behind the scene to make it a part of the wider science of Ayurveda or one of its departments by terminating its identity as an independent and exclusive science. For this purpose even some of the supporters of this system are being used as a tool.
From scientific point of view Unani system in a way is more perfect science and a somewhat separate one as compared to Ayurveda. Its system of diagnosis and prescription, fundamental principles and philosophy, prescription of medicines and method of use are completely different from Ayurveda. Unani Scholars and practitioners emphasise the fact that there is fundamental difference between Unani and Ayurvedic systems. But unfortunately our senior and well informed physicians, pressurized under the above-mentioned conspiracy, give the statement before the media that there is not much difference between Unani and Ayurveda. This attitude and way of thinking of our own people is unfortunate as well as harmful for this system.
The period of Unani system of treatment, which is our past legacy, was evolved and developed by our senior and master physicians by their selfless services and also by their desire to alleviate the sufferings and ailments of the slaves of God by their art and knowledge. They did not enjoy government assistance and sponsorship. In order to brighten the future of Unani system of treatment, it is very essential to understand the dangers lying ahead in its path and be guided by the determined efforts of our master physicians of the past in our forward march. 
(Author can be reached at draltafshah@gmail.com)

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