Unani medicine: a brief introduction

Unani medicine: a brief introduction

For the past few months I have been attending classes with Hakim Shahid Bukhari, a naturopath, herbalist and iridoligist based in Manchester, to study the theory of Unani tibb.


What is Unani medicine?

Unani tibb is one of the three major traditional medicines (others being TCM and Ayurveda). This medicine was developed under the Muslim empire but has roots in Greek and other older medical systems. Major contributors were polymaths and physicians, Ibn Sina and Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī. The word unani translates as ‘Greek’ in Arabic as it is based on the teachings of Greek physicians Galen and Hippocrates, and tibb means ‘medicine’ in Arabic. The work of Ibn Sina became the basis of modern medicine and was taught in Europe until the 17th Century.

Today, Unani tibb is widely practiced, particularly in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The growing Muslim population in India saw the science and knowledge of Unani tibb expand throughout the region; some concepts are similar to that of Ayurveda. Both Unani and Ayurveda were discouraged by the British colonialists during its rule in India, and interestingly, it’s practice became part of the movement for independence.

Some contributions of Unani medicine to modern medicine include:

  • The treatment for extraction of a worm.
  • Knowledge on the circulatory system and the heart’s role in blood circulation.
  • Use of plants and herbs.
  • Clinical trials/evidence-based medicine (first used by Ibn Sina).

Unani medicine understands that the human body comprises components; there is a balance within these components and and imbalances can also occur. The components include: humours (bodily liquids), elements (temperature and feeling; hot, cold, wet, dry), temperaments (air, fire, earth, water), organs (specific and vital functions of the body), forces (internal and external energies), actions (what the energies do that contribute to degrees to health) and spirits (ruh, life force, chi – flows through the body).

Conventional medicine does not explain WHY certain illnesses/imbalances occur – allopathic medicine tends to consider people’s illnesses caused by something external (i.e. microbe) and seeks to treat people’s symptoms, typically by suppressing them. Treatments tend to be invasive, with a great deal of negative side effects and further suppresses the life force/ruh. Treatments include drugs, chemicals, x-rays, radiation and chemotherapy.

Unani medicine, on the other hand, seeks to identify root causes of ailments (physical, emotional and spiritual). Ailments are understood as an imbalance; the imbalance creates an environment that allows diseases to thrive. It treat people as whole individuals using non-invasive means with little to no side effects which stimulates life force/ruh. Methods of treatment typically include nutrition, herbal remedies, essences, homeopathy, physical therapies and oils, to name a few.

A vital concept in Unani medicine is the soul/ruh and its role in the human body. The ruh is related to movement, respiration, circulation and oxygenation, governed by mind, thoughts, emotions and actions. It is further influenced by creativity, energies, desires and adaptability.

In the human body, the soul (or spirits) are also found in organs; each organ has it’s own spirit responsible for the specialised function of the organ, all of which keep the body alive.


Edited and approved by Hakim Shahid Bukhari. See here for his full bio.

Hakim Shahid is taking appointments in London. If you’d like to book an appointment, please feel free to message me or visit his website for his contact information.

Image: https://bit.ly/2RKRmoB

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