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 by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, U.S.A.



Taking away the life should be the domain of the One who gives life. True, there is Pain and suffering at the terminal end of an illness, but we believe there is reward from God for those who patiently persevere in suffering (Qur'an 39:10 and 31:17).

“While Muslim Physicians are not encouraged to artificially prolong the misery in a vegetative state, they are ordained to help alleviate suffering."

Qur'an says, "Anyone who has saved a life, it is as if he has saved the life of whole mankind" (5:32). Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) emphasized this by saying, " O Muslims, seek cure, since God has not created any illness without creating a cure." Allah's Messenger May Allah's peace and praise be on himsaid: There is a remedy for every malady, and when the remedy is applied to the disease it is cured with the permission of Allah, the Exalted and Glorious.  The Prophet May Allah's peace and praise be on himsaid: Every disease has a medication: If the medication for a particular disease is found, it will be cured with Allah's (swt) permission.


Be11ary is a city in Karnataka State, South India, with a population of nearly 200,000 in 1975.  Bellary is a district headquarters, 306 kms to the northwest of Bangalore. It has spread round two rocky hills, and one of them called Balahari Betta has a temple. The fort was built round the hill in Vijayanagara times. It passed into the hands of Bijapur, Marathas, the Nizam and Haider. After the fall of Tipu, the Nizam ceded the town to the British. The Durgamma temple here has the deity represented by the heap of earth. The place has two large mosques. A Government Medical College was founded here in 1961.

Be11ary is situated about 200 miles south of Hyderabad, 300 miles west of Madras, 186 miles north of Banga1ore and 700 miles south-east of Bombay. It is connected by Air (there is an aerodrome which is claimed to be India's first, but without regular commercial air service), Rail, and Road. Once a British cantonment, the town is near the border with Andhra Pradesh and the population is bilingual: most people speak both Kannada and Telugu. There is an unmistakable presence of Andhra culture. The town is easily accessible by road and rail from Bangalore and Hyderabad. At one time, it was a center for arts, culture, music and drama. It is the gateway to the Iron ore and Manganese mines near Sandur, the huge Tungabhadra Dam, as well as to the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire at Hampi, and a new university nearby.

A huge fort built on solid rock dominates the view of the town. Even though the fort is abandoned, it is worth a visit for the inquisitive traveler for an excellent view of the town. The old walled city with buildings of colonial architecture lies at the foot of the fort.

About 35% of the population is Muslims, 2 to 3% are Christians, and the rest are Hindus--with all the castes and sub-castes represented.


Be11ary has been a district headquarters since 1920. It is the home of the Deputy Commissioner (Collector), Superintendent of Police, District Educational Officer and other district officials. It has a well-organized municipal corporation, operating free drug pharmacies in each community.


A steel mill is being constructed 20 miles west of Bel1ary. There are three government hospita1s--one general hospital, one hospital for women, and children. and the Medical College Hospital. There are also numerous hospitals, such as missionary hospital. TB hospital and several nursing homes for all ages. All these hospitals offer treatment to patients on the lines of western medicine or allopathic medicine.


In 1975 Bellary had  a four-year college where students can get a Bachelor's Degree. It has a medical college, which enrolls 150 to 200 students each year. The students get the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery Degrees at the end of four years. It also has other professional schools such as a teacher's college law college school of nursing. School of midwifery, Institute of Indian Medicine (which trains doctors in the Indian

Medicine or Ayurveda} and a polytechnic school.  Bellary also has eight high schools-one exclusively for girls.

In 1945 the situation was slightly different in Bellary from what it is now. There were only two free government general hospitals, one for both the sexes and the other for women and children. There was no medical college, but there was an undergraduate college for arts and science.


During this time there was an epidemic of meningitis. An eighteen-month-old boy in a Muslim family was afflicted with this disease. The father of the child, being a police sergeant, was always busy and away from the home; so the responsibility of getting the sick child well, fell on the shoulders of the mother who had two sons and one daughter.

The child first developed fever. The child's mother summoned her own mother to help her in the treatment of the child. The old lady came and saw, the child and said: "Oh, it is nothing--don't worry. The child is a victim of an evil eye (Nazr)." To counteract the evil eye the old lady performed what is call the "Bhadada'. in the following manner. She placed pieces of hot charcoal in a wide mouthed earthen pot at mid-afternoon (12 o'clock). Then she swung the pot in all four directions, east, west, north, land south around the affected child, while reciting the names of those who might be responsible for the evil eye. Then the old lady spat three times without allowing the saliva to come out of the mouth. and circled the hot pot over the head of the child three times. Immediately she overturned the earthen pot over a large plate (pan) containing yellow water to which turmeric had been added. If the earthen pot sucks all the water, then it shows the sick person is profoundly affected by the evil eye.

Also, after some time the water oozes out of the earthen pot into the flat pan. From yellow it turns red. The greater the metachromatia  the greater is the degree of evil eye affliction.   The fever of the child did not subside in spite of the child's mother performing the "Bhadada" three times a day. The grandmother of the patient again came and performed the "Bhadada" on a larger scale. As the child became restless with typical symptoms of meningitis, he was taken to a  Hakim who specializes in the Unani system of medicine. He gave some powder to be given orally three times a day after being mixed in honey or milk. The condition of the child did not improve. The neighbors told the mother that the child appeared to be a victim of black magic and witchcraft and advised her to see a "Pujari" or Hindu priest who was also a Vaidya (a practitioner of Ayurvedic system of medicine}

The Pujari came and saw the child. After learning the child's Birthday date and time,  he drew the horoscope of the child, studied the stars and other Heavenly bodies influencing the child and prescribed "Sadaqah"(charity) or offerings  to a Devi (goddess) who was responsible for the child1s disease (Fuchs, 1960). There were two types of Sadaqahs (charities); one was to be performed at mid-day, and the other at mid-night. During the mid-day, a circular trench was made in front of the home. The place was nicely washed with cow-dung and decorated with lime water, ghayeru (red clay paint) and Kum-Kum (color powder). Agarbatti (Incense sticks) were lighted. The trench was covered with a plank and the child was given a bath by making him sit on the plank. All the water, after washing the child's body, was drained into the trench. The child and plank were removed. A variety of flowers and eleven eggs were buried in the trench; three coconuts were split into halves and also buried. A black cock was sacrificed and also buried in the trench.

At mid-night of a new moon night (Amavasya) in complete darkness the grandma of the child, wearing a white sari, left the house with an Earthen plate filled with fruits, flowers, incense, and coconut. She was warned not to speak to anyone till she returned home after performing  the Sadaqah. The old lady went outside of the city till she found the spot where three paths crossed. At that spot she struck the coconut against the ground with all her strength so that the coconut burst into pieces. She left the earthen plate at that spot after lighting a camphor candle and returned without ever turning back to see what was happening and with her mouth shut. If she talked then, the effect of the Sadaqah would be lost.

Within a couple of days the child died. The community never advised the illiterate mother to seek the help of a western educated doctor (allopathic doctor) or to go to the government hospital, which renders free treatment to all. This family was later criticized by orthodox Muslims for having ,followed faithfully the instructions of a Pujari and for showing faith  in the existence of a Devi (Hindu goddess) and black magic and witch craft which are all against the teachings of Islam. But alas, the family lost the Child!

Family Medicine in Bellary

When any child falls sick, the usual medical treatment is to put  fresh  Lemon juice, one drop, in each eye. Later every child in that family will also receive the same treatment as a preventive measure. Another type of treatment for a sick child is to burn certain parts of the body with a hot piece of glass bangle. A piece of glass bangle is  heated in the flame of a lamp and five places on the body are burnt with it.  The five places on the body are (1) on the "whirl" in the scalp, (2) immediately above the eye-brow (3) back of the neck, (4)  above the left nipple, and (5) on the upper side of the left toe.

Bellary looks like a modern city. But in spite of western education and facilities of modern civilization, people at the time of a health crisis behave in the same way as described by Hsu in his remarkable article, 'A cholera epidemic in a Chinese town" (Hsu, 1955). The writer stayed in Bellary for 16 years from 1944 to 1960. From his personal experience the writer is surprised at the unmistakable similarities between the health attitudes of people in Bellary, South India, and of the community of Hsi-cheng in south- western China, in spite of the divergent cultures of these two communities. As recently as 1966 a rumor spread throughout Bellary that a Devi(goddess) who is responsible for causing one of the infectious diseases was angry with the people of Bellary and would come to any door at mid-night, knock on the door, and if anyone opened the door or responded, then that person would vomit blood and die immediately. The remedy for this was to paint the outline of a hand and write "COME TOMORROW" on the doors. It was supposed that the Devi, after reading the words, would go away and would come the next day and again go away after reading the sign. In effect, it was meant to fool the Devi. This  sign could be found on the door of every house in the city. It was surprising that educated people could not resist this, and they were also a victim to this.


This case of the Muslim family clearly drives home the fact that although man takes any advice and will do anything, even against his own  religion, in order to save the life of a near or dear one. Yet this family never sought help of western or modern  medicine even though the existence and availability of western/modern medicine in Bellary was well known to this family. A similar case, in which people of a Mexican village refused to seek western medicine, was clearly described by Lewis (Lewis, 1955).

The health attitudes of people in northern India, particularly their strong belief in magic and faith in the healing powers of the Vaidyas and Hakims were nicely illustrated by Carstairs (Carstairs, 1955) and Marriot (Marriot, 1955). These, and other authors, have discussed at length why it is not possible to change the health attitudes of people and also why one fails when one attempts to change their attitudes. It takes a long time for people of Bellary to accept western/modern medicine and enjoy its fruits. However, group discussion techniques may help (Rosenstock, 1966). The majority of the people are illiterate and are in the strong grip of religion, ritualism, culture and tradition. They need to be educated and enlightened, taking into consideration their socio-economic level and culture so that they develop the capacity to appreciate western medicine. If one person in a family, kin-ship group, or even in a community, studies western or modern medicine  then that doctor has the unique opportunity of exerting profound influence in the community or caste to which he/she belongs so that he/she can give them health education and make them accept western medicine and scientific thinking




1. Carstairs, G.M.  Medicine and Faith in Rural  Rajasthan. Health, Culture and Community (ed) Paul B.D., pp. 107-135, Russel  Sage Foundation, New York, 1955.

2. Fuchs, S.: The Magic World.   The  Gond and Bhumia of Eastern Mand1a pp. 503-514, Asia Publishing House, New York, 1960.

3. Hsu, FLK.: A Cholera Epidemic in a Chinese Town. Health, Culture and Community (ed) Paul, B.D., pp. 135-154, Russel Sage Foundation, New York, 1955.

4. Lewis, O.: Medicine and Politics in a Mexican Vil1age.  Health  Culture  and Community (ed) Paul, B.D., pp. 135-154, Russel Sage Foundation, New York, 1955.

5. Rosenstock, I.M.: Why People Use Health Services. Mi1bank Memorial Fund Quarterly, Vol.  XLIV, No.3, part 2, pp. 94-127, July 1966.


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