Thoughts on the Relationship Between a Healthcare Practitioner and al-Shāfī

by Mateen A. Khan

Our personal du`as are spoken humbly and quietly (taḍarru`an wa khufyatan) between ourselves and Allah. We do not teach them to others – not our children nor our students. However, the prophetic (masnūn) du`as were not like that. Unlike the du`as of other people, his were memorized and passed down by his companions to the subsequent generations. So special were the prophetic du`as that they habitually recited them and many even excluded any other du`a from being recited in salāh. He ﷺ spoke them aloud as if to be simultaneously addressing his Lord and his ummah. His du`as give us a glimpse into the incomprehensible relationship between Allah and His Messenger ﷺ. Prophetic du`as are not just in-the-moment requests from Allah, but they are also teaching points meant to be contemplated. They shed light on a natural mindset meant to be adopted. Let’s take a brief look at one such du`a in which he ﷺ calls upon Allah, the Healer (Al-Shāfī).

The beloved wife of the Prophet and our mother, Aishah (Allah bless and grant them peace), said that whenever the Prophet would visit a patient, he would ask Allah:

O Lord (Rabb) of humanity, remove the hardship. Cure him such that no disease remains, for You are The Healer. There is no other cure besides Yours.

أَذْهِبِ الْبَاسَ رَبَّ النَّاسِ اشْفِهِ أَنْتَ الشَّافِي لاَ شِفَاءَ إِلاَّ شِفَاؤُكَ شِفَاءً لاَ يُغَادِرُ سَقَمًا

Whatever your role in the healthcare field – from physician to technician to cleaning staff – this hadith is worth contemplation. The Prophet ﷺ asks Allah by first addressing Him as Lord (Rabb). Rabb is the one who does tarbiyah – the One who Nourishes and Sustains every aspect of our being; mentally, physically, and spiritually. In addressing Him as the ‘Rabb of humanity’ and not just the ‘Rabb of the Believers’, he ﷺ indicated to his ummah that one can and should expect Allah’s Pleasure in assisting any human being in need. His removal of hardship is not limited to Muslims and nor should our service be to them alone. The Qur’an contains “that which is a cure and a mercy for the Believers,[1] but this cure is not restricted to the Believers. Rather, it reaches beyond, evidenced by one of the Companions who successfully treated an envenomation of a non-Muslim bedouin through Surah al-Fātiḥah. Subsequent generations advanced this field through trial and experience.

However, do not be mistaken into thinking that the practitioner, the Qur’an, or any other medication intrinsically contains the ability to heal. These are merely conduits to a cure from Allah. This prophetic du`a draws attention to an important point of `aqīdah. Allah is the source of healing and thus, He is the true Healer. It is our belief—one the scholars of kalām have rationally explained as well—that diseases do not afflict a person nor are they removed except that they afflict or are removed by Allah. No electron changes state nor any action takes place except that Allah is the true Doer. Viruses, bacteria and other vectors are merely the means through which these diseases occur. Similarly, medications do not work except that He heals through them. As Sayyiduna Ibrahim (May Allah give him peace) said to his people, “And when I become ill, then He cures me.”[2] Anecdotally, every practitioner will have stories of someone who should have succumbed to their disease but did not. And individuals that should have survived their minor illness but did not. “There is no other cure besides Yours.” When we see a patient, we do not just see biology, but rather we see beyond that to a cosmology and a deeper reality. The Prophet ﷺ conveyed the healthcare practitioner’s role and mindset explaining, “Indeed, Allah has sent down the disease and the cure. For he made a cure for every disease. So seek it.” The cure which you seek comes from Allah, but become the means for it!

In this last point is the beauty and honor of being a healthcare practitioner. It demands from us a constant connection with Allah. A health practitioner, who loses his or her connection with Allah, has lost his or her connection with the source of treatment and health. It is entirely up to Him if He wishes to guide you towards a cure or to allow you to move away from it. Whereas a healthcare practitioner, who retains this connection, will always benefit not only him or herself but the patient and community.

What greater honor can there be than to be Allah’s agent in healing? A practitioner who learns Medicine and benefits people is an agent of Allah. Although Allah is al-Shāfi, the practitioner is the agent through whom He heals. The Prophet ﷺ said, “He who alleviates the suffering of a brother out of the sufferings of the world, Allah would alleviate his suffering from the sufferings of the Day of Resurrection.” Inshā’Allah, approaching patients with this mindset will give us a better understanding of our proper place and make our efforts a form of worship.

[1] Surah al-Isrā’: 82

[2] Surah al-Shu`arā’: 80

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