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Unani - The Greeko-Islamic Medical System

Updated on April 1, 2013

Unani - The Greeko Islamic Medical System


Unani system of Medicine

Background and History

Unani system of medicine (Unanipathy) is generally the medicine developed by the muslims in India and elsewhere in the Islamic world . Unani medicine originated in Greece and is based on the teachings of Hippocrates and Gallen and it was developed into an elaborate medical system by Arabs like Rhazes, Avicenna, Al-Zahravi, Ibne-Nafis and others .Many Arab and Persian scholars enriched the system. Among them Abu Sina or 'Avicenna'(The Western name for Abu Sina) , an Arab philosopher and Physicist who wrote 'Kitab-al-shifa' (The Canon of Medicine) was noteworthy. This system earlier known as 'Galenic', later became Unani (Arabic name for Greek) system of medicine. Unani System is based on the four humours Phlegm (Balgham), Blood (Dam), Yellow bile (Safra) and Black Bile (Sauda) - it seems to mean hard substance and black material).

Though the threads which comprise Unani healing can be traced all the way back to Claudius Galenus of Pergamum, who lived in the second century of the Christian Era, the basic knowledge of Unani medicine as a healing system was developed by Hakim (The Unani name for Doctor) Abu Sina The time of origin is thus dated at circa 1025 AD, when Avicenna wrote The Canon of Medicine in Persia (Iran). While he was primarily influenced by Greek and Islamic medicine, he was also influenced by the Indian medical teachings of Sushruta and Charaka .

Unani Concepts and principles

As an alternative medicine, Unani has found favour in Asia, especially India. In India, Uunani practitioners can practice as qualified doctors, as the Indian government approves their practice. Unani medicine is very close to Ayurveda. Both are based on theory of the presence of the elements (in Unani, they are considered to be fire, water, earth and air) in the human body. (The elements, attributed to the philosopher Empedocles, determined the way of thinking in medieval Europe.) According to followers of Unani medicine, these elements are present in different fluids and their balance leads to health and their imbalance leads to illness.

All these elaborations were built on the basic Hippocratic theory of the [Four Humours]. The theory postulates the presence in the human body of blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Each person's unique mixture of these substances determines his temperament: a predominance of blood gives a sanguine temperament; a predominance of phlegm makes one phlegmatic; yellow bile, bilious (or choleric); and black bile, melancholic. As long as these humours are in balance, the human system is healthy, it is imbalance which can result in disease.

Most medicines and remedies (often common herbs and foods) used in Unani are also used in Ayurveda. While Unani was influenced by Islam, Ayurveda is associated with Vedic culture .

The base used in Unani medicine is often honey. Honey is considered by some to have healing properties and hence is used in food and medicines practiced in the Islamic world. Real pearls and metal are also used in the making of Unani medicine, based on the kind of ailment it aimed to heal.

Unani medicines got enriched by imbibing what was best in the contemporary systems of traditional medicines in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia (Iran) , India, China and other Middle East countries . In India Unani system of medicine was introduced by the Arabs and soon it took firm roots. The Delhi Sultans (Rulers) provided patronage to the scholars of Unani System and even enrolled some as state employees and court physicians . During 13th and 17th century A.D. Unani Medicine had its hey-day in India. During the British rule, Unani System suffered a set back due to withdrawal of State Patronage, but continued to be practiced as the masses reposed faith in the system. It was mainly Sharifi family in Delhi, the Azizi family in Lucknow and the Nizam of Hyderabad due to whose efforts Unani Medicine survived during the British period.

Unani System has Shown remarkable results in curing the diseases like Arthritis, Leucoderma, Jaundice, Liver disorders, Nervous system disorders, Bronchial Asthma, and several other acute and chronic diseases where other systems have not been able to give desired response. Now the system has crossed national boundaries and is popular among the masses globally.


Unani treatment is based on its natural and remarkable diagnosis methods and is affordable. It is mainly dependent on the Temperament (Mizaj) of the patient, hereditary condition and effects, different complaints, signs and symptoms of the body, external observation, examination of the Pulse (Nubz), urine and stool etc. Unique and special treatment methods like Dieto therapy (Ilaj-bil-Ghiza), Climatic therapy (Ilaj-bil-Hawa), Regimental therapy (Ilaj-bit-Tadbir), make it a different and remarkable and popular system. This system observes the influence of surroundings and ecological conditions such as air, food, drinks, body movement and repose, psychic movement and repose, sleep and wakefulness and excretion and retention on the state of health. This influence causes a dominance of one of the four humours in every human body. Unani believes that it is this dominance which gives a man his individual habit and complexion i.e his temperament.

In short, Unanipathy aims at maintaining proper health by conserving symmetry in the different spheres of a man's life. Unani practitioners not only cures bodily diseases but also acts as an ethical instructor.

Regimental therapy includes venesection, cupping, diaphoresis, diuresis, Turkish bath, massage, cauterization, purging, emesis, exercise, leeching, etc.

Dieto therapy (Ilaj-bil-Ghiza) aims at treating certain ailments by administration of specific diets or by regulating the quantity and quality of food.

Pharmacotherapy (Ilaj-bid-Dawa) is mainly dependent upon local available herbal drugs which make the system indigenous. Similarly, surgery has also been in use in this system for quite long. In fact, the ancient physicians of Unani Medicine were pioneers in this field and had developed their own instruments and techniques. But at present only minor surgery is in vogue in this system.

In Unani Medicine, single drugs or their combination in raw are preferred over compound formulations. The naturally occurring drugs used in this system are symbolic of life and are generally free from side-effects. Such drugs as are toxic in crude form are processed and purified in many ways before use.

The Greek and Arab physicians encouraged poly-pharmacy and devised a large number of poly-pharmaceutical recipes which are still in vogue. In Unani Medicine, although general preference is for single drugs, compound formulations are also employed in the treatment of various complex and chronic disorders. Since emphasis is laid on a particular temperament of the individual, the medicines administered are such as go well with the temperament of the patient, thus accelerating the process of recovery and also eliminating the risk of drug reaction.

Unani Medicine - India

In India, the concept of research in Unani system of medicine was originally perceived by Masih-ul-Mulk Hakim Ajmal Khan in the 1920s. A versatile genius of his time, Hakim Ajmal Khan spotted Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui - a chemist - for undertaking chemical studies on some important medicinal plants used in Unani Medicine. Dr.Siddiqui undertook the task visualized by Masih-ul-Mulk and his discovery of medicinal properties of a plant, commonly known as Asrol (Pagal Booti), led to sustained research that established the unique efficacy of this plant known all over the world as Rauwolfia serpentina, in neurovascular and nervous disorders, such as hypertension, insanity, schizophrenia, hysteria, insomnia and psychosomatic conditions, etc.

At present the Unani system of medicine, with its own recognized practitioners, hospitals and educational and research institutions forms an integral part of the Indian national healthcare system. Today, India is considered a world leader in Unani Medicine.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Wow, superb blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is wonderful, let alone the content! eaaegkdgdbce

    • profile image

      Muhammad Akram Tatri 

      7 years ago

      The Four Qualities

      The understanding of natural systems was further enhanced by a system of four qualities: Warmth, Dryness, Coldness and Moisture. Each of the four elements expresses two of those qualities, which thus links the elements. Fire is considered Dry and Warm, Air is Warm and Moist, Water is Moist and Cold and Earth is Cold and Dry. In addition, the attributes of each element and each quality are further expanded by a system of correspondences that relate to heavenly bodies, the seasons, daily time periods, climatic influences, the properties of food and medicines, components of the body, physiological functions, disease symptoms and many other objects and phenomena. For example, spring is regarded as belonging to the Air element because it is Warm and Moist, summer belongs to the Fire element because it is warm and dry, autumn belongs to the Earth element because it is cold and dry and winter is considered to belong to the Water element because it is Cold and Moist. Correspondences are important in Greco-Arabic Medicine, as they facilitate the observation of relationships and interactions in the natural world and provide a simple, but effective system of diagnosis and treatment that can be truly considered holistic because it takes into account every factor of human experience.

      The second most important source of life is the Humors, which are vital essences that also course through the blood vessels. The Humors are manufactured in the liver from nutrients that have been extracted by the digestive system from food and liquids.

    • profile image


      8 years ago


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Subhan Allah.


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