Archive for April, 2015


Muslim Health, Privilege and PseudoScience

In Uncategorized on April 18, 2015 by tinfoilturban

Bismillah iRahmen iRaheem

Asalaamu Alaykum Wa Rahmetuallhi Wa Baraketahu 🙂

A few years ago I travelled with my wife to visit her family in Bangladesh. It was a great trip, we travelled out to the small village where her Dadi lived, and stayed there for a few days. While not physically far from Dhaka, the village was very isolated, hard to get to. There was power occasionally, and the last few years (according to my wife) the place had changed dramatically. No more did one need to heat up water for a bath over a fire! I was most likely the first white person to visit the village in recorded memory.

It was an amazing experience, praying fajr in a full masjid in the fields, making wudhu from a well. It invoked all the kinds of idealistic primitivist Orientalist instincts I have in me.

But there was this boy, who lived near the Mosque. He had a very very severe form of polio, and was both immobile and almost in constant pain. It was the first close contact I’d had with polio outside of books and it was very confronting.

The reason it was my first contact with polio is because it has been eradicated in Australia, and indeed much of the world. Poliomyelitis, ‘Infantile paralysis’ is spread by the poliovirus, and warded against by a cheap, easily produced vaccine.

The eradication of polio in much of the world sits alongside other similar successes. Smallpox, once a feared and deadly disease, responsible for decimating entire continents, now exists only in labs. Many other deadly diseases, if not eradicated, are heading that way.

This eradication is the result of targeted campaigns by health organisations, and has ultimately saved millions from a gruesome and horrid death.

This eradication was not the product of the spread of Islam. It was not the product of ‘traditional medicine’ of any kind. It was the product of dedicated work by scientists, building upon centuries of work in the study of health and disease.

Yet in Muslim communities around the Western world, we find people (always untrained in Medicine) telling us that health needs to be wrested from the grip of the assumption that disease and health is the product of biology. Instead we are told that human health is the product of ‘imbalances’, of the ‘spiritual life’ of a person.

Now lets examine that for a moment shall we? Really pull apart the logical conclusions of that kind of thinking.

Well.. the first one is clearly that that kid writhing in pain on an earthen floor in Bangladesh was sick because of his own ‘spiritual imbalances’. Which I feel like is sufficiently ridiculous an assumption to have the entire thing rejected out of hand. If disease is a product of an interaction between the biological and spiritual, then why is infant mortality so high? After all a baby is with the fitrah!

Another logical conclusion is that a spread of ‘spiritual health’ should result in a concurrent spread of physical health. Do we see that?

No. The spread of beneficial health outcomes has not been shown by anyone to at all be related to the spread of Islam, for example. Did the spread of Islam lead to the eradication of Polio? Nope. A significant increase in life expectancy? Nope. Lowered infant mortality? Nope.

No. What does those things is the spread of scientific medicine and increases in wealth in a particular country. Were these assumptions to be correct, they would be bore out by reality, by a world where Sufis never get cancer and a dhikr regimen is sufficient to eradicate infectious disease.

Except that is not the world we live in. It is only in a world so comparatively free of rampant death and disease where one could imagine the above to be the case.

That is ultimately what I’m talking about here. The peddlers of such pseudo-science rest upon the privilege of the developed world. They rest upon the successes of real medicine. Their contempt for it is only maintainable by its very success! Such beliefs can be maintained in a world without real medicine, or in a world built on real medicine’s successes… but not in a world between the two.

Consider deeply the logical conclusions of such belief systems. Look at the history of the world, the history of disease, and ask yourself these questions. Think about a belief system that imagines disease to be a product of spiritual malaise, and what that says about a Muslim world with worse health outcomes than countries where atheism is the fastest growing ‘religion’. Think about what that belief system says about a kid with Polio. Then reconsider following such a deeply immoral way of understanding the world.

NB: This goes fall all other non-scientific approaches to health, whose track record is non-existent. From ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ invented by the Communist regime in a response to a lack of money for health, to aromatherapy and homoeopathy. Alchemy never created gold from lead, and believing that diseases were about smell never stopped the plague.