Saudi Aramco World: March/April 2014 - page 36

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Saudi Aramco World
Young men and women on motorcycles and motor scooters
pull through a tall gate and park in the courtyard. It’s the
first day of a new semester at the Unani Medical College in
Pune, India, and students gather to catch up with each other
as they walk toward the three-story classroom building.
Their conversations mix Urdu and English, and some carry
American textbooks on anatomy and physiology. From this
first moment, Unani’s unique blend of ancient and modern,
western and eastern, brings up the questions that often come
when encountering a different way of medical thinking:
Where did it come from? What does it offer?
Written and photographed by
S T E W A R T G O R D O N
The term
unani
refers to the ancient Greek province of Ionia,
located in what is today western Turkey. According to Qaisar
Khan, a professor at the college and a specialist in Unani
history, the deepest roots of this type of medicine lie with the
Greek and Roman concept of the body’s four elements—earth,
air, fire and water—as well as the idea that illness occurs when
the body’s essential physical states—mainly hot and cold, dry
and wet—are out of balance. Imbalance affects many organs,
such as the digestive tract, liver, heart and brain. Through
observation of pulse, breath, eyes, urine and stool, a doctor
can understand the imbalance and correct it, not only with
medicines, but also with recommendations for rest, therapies
and changes in diet and personal behavior. Medicinally,
Unani looks first to compounds of herbs with long traditions
of treating particular conditions, such as problems of the
digestive tract or high blood pressure. But unlike other herb-
based alternate medical systems, Unani medicines, Khan says,
are produced from the whole plant, rather than from extracts
of the active ingredient.
Left, top:
In the early 15th century, scholar and physician
Mansur ibn Ilyas included this diagram of human musculature
in his Tashrin-i Badan-i Insan (The Anatomy of the Human
Body). It was written some four centuries after Ibn Sina's
encyclopedic Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (Canon of Medicine),
left,
the
world's premier medical text until the 16th century; the page
depicted is in a Persian copy produced in 1632.
Above:
The
main entrance to the Unani Medical College, in Pune, India.
Medicine’s Greco-Islamic
Synthesis
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