Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions

The exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia (IAMM) titled ‘Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts’ has been extended until end of January this year. If you were planning a visit to IAMM, this month would be a good time to go.

‘Tibb’ is the Arabic word for medicine and this exhibition displays IAMM’s collections of manuscripts and objects related to the science of medicine in the Islamic world. The collections are from across the Islamic world and cover a number of areas including prophetic medicine, pharmacy and dietetics, bimaristan (hospital), anatomy, Malay medicine, and traditional medicine.

Knowledge of healing from around the Malay Archipelago is encapsulated in a number Kitab Tibb Melayu, the first of which was written in 1638 CE by Sheik Nuruddin al-Raniri, an ulama in the Aceh Sultanate. IAMM has a number of Kitab Tibb in its collection; samples from a few pieces are shown below.

A 19th century Kitab Tibb Melayu from the Malay Peninsula written in Jawi script. This manuscript is dedicated to the tropical disease puru (yaw), a disease that infects the skin, bones, and joints leaving scars and deformities. It was widespread in the Malay Archipelago and this manuscript provides information on its development, symptoms, and treatment.

The 2-page spread in the photograph provide illustrations of the human body labelled with the various types of puru at the different locations on the body. The manuscript also provides illustrations on the shapes of pustule clusters. For example, the keri getah (sickle used in cutting rubber trees) shaped cluster appears between 1-7 days while the buaya laut (sea crocodile) shaped cluster would indicate the person has been infected for 15 days.
This Kitab Tibb is written on the leaves of the nipa palm. As can be seen in the photograph, the leaves are stitched together. The page on the left is the colophon page, which attributes the authorship of the book to Haji Abdullah bin Wan who completed the work in May 1936 CE. The treatise describes herbal remedies for a large number of common maladies from sore throat to snake bites and to tuberculosis. Some treatments prescribed for new mothers continue to be practised today, for example bertangas, a herbal steam bath. The herbs used in the remedies were easily obtained locally.
This medical treatise from the Malay Peninsula (19th century CE) is a training guide on becoming a bomoh (medicine man). It includes knowledge on obtaining assistance from the Rijal al-Ghaib (invisible beings), traditional healing ceremonies, and predicting the patient’s future well-being though calculations using the Lawh al-Hayat (Board of Life) and Lawh al-Mamat (Board of Death). It also includes treatment for various diseases.

The page in the photograph contains an illustration of the front (right) and back (left) of a human body. Puru (yaw) clusters are marked on the right image while the puru names are labelled on the left image. The puru on the right foot is named Gajah Mata (Elephant Eye), the right knee Anjing Basah (Wet Dog), and right shoulder is Batu Tengah Laut (Stone in Middle of Ocean). The inclusion of this page shows the prevalence of this disease and the effort spent in documenting it.
A Kitab Tibb from Patani, dated to either 1786 CE or 1883 CE. It is written on 12 pieces of wood tied together with white thread. This medical treatise describes remedies for a number of skin diseases, vascular diseases, and diabetes. The remedies make use of plants, especially their leaves and roots. Cautionary advice to stop taking the medication if headaches occur is included. Dietary advice is also given – for example a diabetic patient is advised not be consume certain types of meat and seafood.
A Kitab Ramalan (Book on Divination) from the Malay Peninsula dated to the 19th century CE. It describes a number of different divination methods to determine the auspicious and inauspicious start dates for a wide range of activities, for example the right time to prepare medicine, build a house, make a boat, and travel.

The left page in the photograph is a guideline for building houses. The right page has an illustration of the Naga Hari (Daily Rotating Naga). This serpent moves across the cardinal directions (N, S, E, W) on different days. Another serpent (not shown in the photograph) known as the Naga Tahun (Yearly Rotating Naga) moves across the cardinal directions every three months.

Reference

Harun Mat Piah (2018) ‘The Malay Knowledge of Healing’, in Lucien de Guise (editor) Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts, Kuala Lumpur: IAMM.

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Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

2 thoughts on “Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions”

  1. Dear MV JMM friends, This exhibition at IAMM is certainly worth a visit. Apart from an excellent presentation on Malay Medical Manuscripts, it also trace the history of medicine. I have visited a few times, as one visit was not enough. It was also my good fortune to be invited to contribute a chapter entitled: “ Anatomy and Physiology in Medieval Islam “ to the catalogue of this exhibition. Just sharing. Sincerely, Farida Jamal

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Thanks, Farida. It is indeed a very good exhibition. And the chapter you contributed to the book is very interesting.

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