An Apple a Day – Nutritional Therapy in History

Angry doctorThe history of science is the history of struggle against entrenched error. Many of the world’s greatest discoveries initially were rejected by the scientific community. And those who pioneered those discoveries often were ridiculed and condemned as quacks or charlatans.

Columbus was bitterly attacked for believing the Earth was round. Bruno was burned at the stake for claiming that Earth was not the center of the Universe. Galileo was imprisoned for teaching that the Earth moved around the Sun. Even the Wright Brothers were ridiculed for claiming that a machine could fly.

In the field of medicine, in the year 130 A.D., the physician Galen announced certain anatomic theories that later proved to be correct, but at the time he was bitterly opposed and actually forced to flee from Rome to escape the frenzy of the mob. In the Sixteenth Century, the physician Andreas Vesalius was denounced as an impostor and heretic because of his discoveries in the field of human anatomy. His theories were accepted after his death but, at the time, his career was ruined, and he was forced to flee from Italy. William Harvey was disgraced as a physician for believing that blood was pumped by the heart and moved around the body through arteries. William Roentgen, the discoverer of X-rays, at first was called a quack and then condemned out of fear that his “ray” would invade the privacy of the bedroom. William Jenner, when he first developed a vaccine against smallpox. Also was called a quack and was strongly criticized as a physician for his supposedly cruel and inhuman experiments on children. And Ignaz Semmelweis was fired from his Vienna hospital post for requiring his maternity staff to wash their hands.

Centuries ago it was not unusual for entire naval expeditions to be wiped out by scurvy. Between 1600 and 1800 the casualty list of the British Navy alone was over one million sailors. Medical experts of the time were baffled as they searched in vain for some kind of strange bacterium, virus, or toxin that supposedly lurked in the dark holds of the ships. And yet, for hundreds of years, the cure was already known and written in the record.

In the winter of 1535, when the French explorer Jacques Cartier found his ships frozen in the ice off the St. Lawrence River, scurvy began to take its deadly toll. Out of a crew of one hundred and ten, twenty-five already had died, and most of the others were so ill they weren’t expected to recover.

And then a friendly Indian showed them the simple remedy. Tree bark and needles from the white pine—both rich in ascorbic acid, or vitamin C—were stirred into a drink which produced immediate improvement and swift recovery.

Upon returning to Europe, Cartier reported this incident to the medical authorities. But they were amused by such “witch –doctor cures of ignorant savages” and did nothing to follow it up.[1]

Yes, the cure for scurvy was known. But, because scientific arrogance, it took over two hundred years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives before the medical experts began to accept and apply this knowledge.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Finally, in 1747, John Lind, a young surgeon’s mate in the British Navy discovered that oranges and lemons produced relief from scurvy and recommended that the Royal Navy include citrus fruits in the stores of all its ships. And yet, it still took forty-eight more years before his recommendation was put into effect. When it was, of course, the British were able to surpass all other sea-fearing nations, and the “Limeys” (so-called because they carried limes aboard ship) soon became the rulers of the Seven Seas. It is no exaggeration to say that the greatness of the British Empire in large measure was the direct result of overcoming scientific prejudice against vitamin therapy.

The twentieth century has proven to be no exception to this pattern. Only two generations ago large portions of the American Southeast were decimated by the dread disease of pellagra. The well-known physician Sir William Osler, in his Principles and Practice of Medicine, explained that in one institution for the insane in Leonard, North Carolina, one-third of the inmates died of this disease during winter months. This proved, he said, that pellagra was contagious and caused probably by an as yet undiscovered virus. As far back as 1914, however, Dr. Joseph Goldberger had proven that this condition was related to diet, and later showed that it could be prevented simply by eating liver or yeast. But it wasn’t until the 1940’s—almost thirty years later—that the “modern” medical world fully accepted pellagra as a vitamin B deficiency.[2]

The story behind pernicious anemia is almost exactly the same. The reason that these diseases were so reluctantly accepted as vitamin deficiencies is because men tend to look for positive cause-and-effect relationships in which something causes something else. They find it more difficult to comprehend the negative relationship in which nothing or the lack of something can cause an effect. But perhaps of even more importance is the realy of intellectual pride. A man who has spent his life acquiring scientific knowledge far beyond the grasp of his fellow human beings is not usually inclined to listen with patience to someone who lacks that knowledge—especially if that person suggests that the solution the scientist’s most puzzling medical problem is to be found in a simple back-woods or near-primitive concoction of herbs and foods. The scientist is trained to search for complex answers and tends to look with smug amusement upon solutions that are not dependent upon his hard-earned skills.

(World Without Cancer, G. Edward Griffin, 1st edition 1974, p. 53-55)

[1] See Virgil J. Vogel’s American Indian Medicine (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970)

[2] See Edwin H. Ackerknecht, History and Geography of the Most Important Diseases (New York: Hafner Publishing Co., Inc., 1972) pp. 148-149

Reverent Attitude Towards nature as a Creation of God

Hadits feeding animalsThe Indians called the white settlers, “the long knives” on account of their notorious reputation for cutting down trees and whole forests. In many parts of the old World, the same land which has been continuously cultivated by farmers for thousands of years is still fertile today but when the white colonists settled in America, the virgin soil was so badly abused that within less than a decade, it would become sterile, the pioneer would simply abandon it without any regrets and move on. In constrast, the primitive man, and especially the American Indian, had a tremendous reverence for the natural world as sacred which is why the white man found the New World an unspoiled and virgin content. Not only primitive man, but the higher religions also share this same reverence for the natural world. Islam means literally “peace”, not only between men but also includes peace with animals and plants. The Qur’an reminds believers that “every animal of the earth and every creature flying on two wings are like peoples unto you and then unto Allah they shall be gathered.” Once a man carelessly plucked some leaves from a tree and the Prophet Muhammad rebuked him saying: “Every leaf glorifies Allah.” Another follower came to the Prophet Muhammad and confessed that he had burnt down an ant-hill because one of the ants had stung him. The Prophet Muhammad scolded him, saying that he had destroyed a community which glorifies Allah. To the modern mind this may seem sentimental but such a reverent attitude towards nature as a creation of God—not arbitrary legislation imposed from above—is the only remedy to stop air and water pollution by greedy industrialists who seek short-term commercial profit at the expense of long-range public welfare.

(Islam and Western Society, Maryam Jameelah, Adam Publishers, New Delhi, 1982, p. 95-96)

Islamic View of Progress


nature shrinks as capital growsOn account of their Westernized education, they are unable to understand the fact that the Islamic view of life differs from modern Western ideals not only in providing different answers but even more, in asking entirely different questions. Even many of those who regard themselves as genuine Muslims who wish to promote the cause of Islam, can only think in Western terms.

Those who strive for Islamic regeneration must appeal to the nobler self in man which is as universal as his baser inclinations. Today almost everyone living in the giant urban counters subconsciously feels an intuitive emptiness in his days, a lack of purpose, direction and meaning in his existence which no amount of material goods and the frantic chase after “happiness” or enjoyment of sensual pleasures can satisfy. This is the province of religion and entirely beyond the sphere of science, at least in its present form.

The present century can rightly be described as the age of the predominance of Western philosophical thought and learning. This materialistic point of view, supported and propagated by the educational system and the mass-media in almost every country in the East and West without exception, has become global. All the influential people in positions of power and authority in the political, economic, social, educational and cultural spheres are all adhering to this viewpoint. The dominance of Western culture and philosophical thought is so pervasive and universal that even many sincere Muslims who are struggling against it in contemporary Islamic revivalist movements, turn out on closer examination to be greatly influenced by Western thought in their approach, methods and interpretation m  ,/s so that they lose most of their effectiveness.

The central ideas in the Western view of life repudiate all theological and transcendental concepts, insisting instead that physical phenomena and concrete matter should become the most important objectives of human scrutiny and any quest after God, soul, absolute morality and salvation in the Hereafter would find no place. The political, economic and cultural domination of the West afflicted all non-European peoples with acute inferiority-complexes. A host of modernizers arose simultaneously in all these lands to re-interpret their traditional religions and philosophies in a secular, materialistic way. We Muslims have fallen just as easy prey to these same fallacies.

As a result, the average modern-educated Muslim fears above all else to be stigmatized as “backward.” He is far more terrified of being labeled as “backward” than becoming sinful. He longs far more for “progress” than any moral or spiritual virtue. Such modernists among us shout from the rooftops that Islam must be the symbol of “advancement” and “progress”, that “backward” Muslim is a de-Muslimized Muslim. They are so ashamed of Muslim history, traditional Islamic institutions and culture that they are, in fact, far more harshly critical of their religious heritage than the Westerners they strive so frantically to imitate.

On account of their Westernized education, they are unable to understand the fact that the Islamic view life differs from modern Western ideals not only in providing different answers but even more, in asking entirely different questions. Even many of those who regard themselves as genuine Muslims who wish to promote the cause of Islam, can only think in Western terms.

cruel male dominated culture, bikini, hijabThe question of “backward” versus “progressive” of even “primitive” versus “civilized”, is just as irrelevant to the Islamic view of life as the “equality” of women or the right to absolute “freedom” of thought and action. Although all useful knowledge and positive achievements of the West and other non-Islamic peoples may be appropriated by us, provided we use this creatively and adapt it to our own needs and requirements and not mere slavish imitation out of feelings of inferiority, it is entirely wrong to suppose (as our modernists have done) that the Islamic mission cannot succeed in the world until we are materially equal or superior to our adversaries. Islamic history provides the most effective refutation of this wide-spread fallacy.
To the sophisticated Persians and Romans of the days of the Holy Prophet and the Sahabah or Companions, the early Muslims of Arabia must have appeared hopelessly “backward” and “primitive.” Though grossly inferior in numbers and poorly equipped, often ragged and half-starved, they successfully vanquished infinitely more “civilized” foes. They were never ashamed of their material poverty nor did they regard it as any obstacle for the propagation of their mission. The following Hadith is elopuent testimony to the contempt of the Holy Prophet for worldly advantages:

23 - 115 Do you think I created you meaninglesslyUmar Ibn Khattab said: When I entered the room, I saw the Holy Prophet lying on a date palm mat on the floor. There was no bedding between it and him. The marks of the matting were imprinted on his body. He had a leather bag filled with the bark of the date-palm as his pillow. I noticed that the contents of his room comprised of only three pieces of tanned skin and a handful of barley lying in a corner. I looked about but failed to find anything else. I began to weep. “Oh Prophet of Allah!” I cried. “Pray that Allah may grant ample provisions for us. The Persians and the Romans, who have no faith in Allah, enjoy abundance and prosperity. Then why should the chosen Prophet of Allah live in such dire poverty?” The Holy Prophet was resting on his hard pillow but when he heard me talk like this, he quickly sat up and rebuked me. “Oh Umar! Why do you envy their ease and comfort? Are you not satisfied that for them is this world and for us the Hereafter?” I implored: “O Prophet of Allah, forgive me! I was in error.”

(Islam and Western Society, M. Jameelah, 1982, p. 56-59)