Sickness produces sudden and often serious instability in the life of an individual, family or community – the problem of sickness affects ordinary Muslims on a day-by-day basis. As they deal with them, skilled practitioners and their patients often engage in various folk-Islamic activities.
The cause of sickness is often discovered by divinatory means. They will contact their familiar spirit via a séance and discovers the true cause of the problem.
Healing may come at the practiced hands of a ‘wise woman’ in Turkey, or a pangu-ngubat (medicine man) in the Philippines. Vow making and visits to saints may well be associated with healing.
Muslims believe they must take care when visiting the sick or those near death because of the presence there of other beings whose actions influenced by the words of the visitor. A hadith, related by Umm Salamah, justifies such an attitude – ‘When you are present with a sick person, or one near death, then supplicate a blessing for yourself and the sick, because the angels say amen to what you repeat and supplicate.’
Many sicknesses seen as the result of natural causes. Such diagnosis are usually made by a medicine man or woman, often a herbalist, based on examination of physical symptoms.
Some folk-Islamic communities make an analysis of foods on a hot and cold system. For this reason also, they often act as mediators in secular conflicts when disputants become to ‘heated’.
The breaking of taboo recognized as a potential cause of sickness in folk-Islamic thought. Failure to observe taboos will reap serious illness for the person concerned.
Taboos generally for protecting people from dangerous spirit beings or forces that threaten fertility and life during the temporary states of vulnerability, especially those associated with childbirth.
The evil eye recognized as a frequent cause of sickness, despite the many precautions taken to prevent its effect.
Sorcery and black magic are strong causes of illness or misfortune. Exposure of the source often breaks the spell ‘binding’ the sick person, and appropriation of a counter-spell of stronger nature will make sure freedom from the illness.
Certain named jinn, such as Al, Umm al-Subyan and al-Karisi, thought to cause specific diseases, or death, as has been earlier described. Again diagnosis is often made by divination or medium trance, and again, a special practitioner required to produce a cure.
The spirit double of the human being (qarina) is also thought responsible for some sicknesses. Remedy is found in charms written by dua – writers.
Fate is often blamed for sickness, especially where it leads to permanent disability or death. Where death involved, fate referred to by the plural word manaya. Manaya carries connotation of women who snare the doomed with rope.
The last appeal of causality is God. In the case of fatal road accidents, lawsuits by relatives of victims may gradually be dropped because it recognizes that God willed the victim to die at sch a time and in such a way.
A verse in the Quran on causality is arresting – ‘Every man’s fate. We have fastened on his own neck: on the Day of Judgment. We shall bring out for him a scroll which he will see spread open’ (sura 17:13). The verse could mean that God himself is absolutely in control of each man’s destiny. He alone decides, and applies, their fate.
Just as different interpretations of this Quranic verse are possible, so multiple interpretations justified in the diagnosis and treatment of sicknesses. If that possibility, admitted, then correct and complete diagnosis is all the more important.
Sickness, the, is one of any number of crises ordinary Muslims have to face. Muslims spend their days and nights – and hard-earned wages – trying to find ways of rewriting what is supposedly maktub (written).