I know that Gaza is in flames and Iraq is burning, whilst terrorism roars in our cities and the hype continues regarding Zidane, the French football player of Algerian origin, who led his team to the World Cup finals before being sent off. These are the topics of the hour and are preoccupying public opinion.
Away from these momentous events, a few thoughts by a Saudi writer, perhaps not well known outside her native country, caught my attention. She spoke about the conflict between the mind and mass spirituality in the Arab and Muslim worlds, on how to reconcile a religious soul and a mind wary of delusions.
Dr. Samia al Amoudi, a gynecologist and former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at King Abdulaziz University, wrote in Al Madina magazine last Thursday about her discovery that she had breast cancer. Instead of writing about health awareness and the female reproductive system, Samia found herself facing her own battle against illness and staring death in the face.
Samia reacted to the terrible news with calm; she tried to channel her illness and use it to increase awareness amongst her compatriots. She continued to rely on her scientific upbringing and did not relinquish her logical approach. In an emotional article, entitled “Is what has befallen me the result of envy?” she wrote, “Discovering I had cancer was a surprise to myself and those around me. I discovered the tumor all of a sudden and it was already 4cm long and had reached the lymph nodes. The speed of the illness was a big problem for me. I felt I needed to inform a dear friend, Dr. Fatma Nassif. I sent her a letter by fax, informing her of my ill health and asking her to pray for me, as I saw this affliction as a letter of love from God. She replied, “As much as I was saddened by your news, I admire your comment that it is a letter of love. You need such a spirit to strengthen your defenses and immunity to combat the illness.” She added, “This, my dear, is a result of envy.”
Of course, we do not know what prompted Dr. Nassif to conclude her friend was the victim of a spell. However, one can be sure that Samia is a practicing Muslim, whereby her article was peppered with citations from the Quran and the Hadith. However, despite her suffering, she did not forget to warn from those who prey on misfortune and exploit stricken individuals and revealed the “uproar” that patients go through as they cling to the illusion of survival.
Samia discussed a number of recommendations given to her by those lacking the requisite scientific knowledge. “Someone advised me not to undergo chemotherapy and to only drink the water of Zamzam (the sacred well in Mecca)… we are a people who believe in the water’s capabilities. Zamzam water does not cure on its own but we have exported it to the world as a cure. But Zamzam water in addition to the belief that God is the healer and that he has given us the methods in the water and in medical treatment, make up the true treatment… Let us not forget the story of the charlatan that so many fell for, after he appeared on a satellite television channel and how he claimed that by simply placing a piece of paper on a woman’s breast, he could cure cancer… and there are many interpretations in alternative medicine about which herbs and foodstuff to use… because the sick person is weak, he or she clings to any available option.”
Yet, Samia concludes, “Medical care remains the basis and not following it, because of ignorance or lack of knowledge, can be truly deadly. One should stress this… God is with us in the beginning and in the end.”
Of course, I understand why the sick clings to the faintest of hopes but I can’t accept the continuing silence of the health authorities on the exploitation of people’s ills or their lack of care, such as when a popular charlatan posing as a doctor became famous in the United Arab Emirates, almost two years ago. He appeared on the cover of a number of magazines, claiming he had treated artists and actors from serious illnesses. Without any shame, he even alleged he could cure AIDS and cancer, but said Arab governments did not appreciate his talents.
The Saudi health ministry warned patients about this modern-day Arab Rasputin and demonstrated that he is a charlatan and not a real doctor (not even a specialist in alternative medicine). His meteoritic rise to fame gave the public a glimpse of the murky world of magic and the extraordinary… Unfortunately, his clients were not only the poor or the elderly! Some of society’s elite members and prominent personalities fell for his lies!
Does this mean that we should forget about the psychological aspect of treatment? Of course not! This is a complex issue and is well-known by specialists. The psychological health of the sick person is an integral part of the treatment he or she will undergo, but it is also exploited by impostors and swindlers!
I still recall seeing a man, who allegedly rid individuals of their demons and jinns, hit a poor young man suffering from a psychological illness with a thick stick. With the young man crying and wailing from the pain, the charlatan turned to his brother and said, “Don’t worry, the pain is only being felt by the jinn”, citing a faqih as evidence. When the young man’s feet turned blue because of the beatings, someone exclaimed, “Thank God, the spell is starting to leave his soul”!
It is important to discuss this type of behavior because it is no longer practices amongst the poor and uneducated classes… it has morphed into a phenomenon that requires us to combat it with what is left of scientific minds.
In her letter, Samia pleaded with women to attend regular check ups and seek medical treatment if and when necessary. In her frank and logical piece, she championed science and logic over illusions and fantasy. She said it is possible to strengthen the patient’s resolve with belief without the need for swindlers and charlatans who prey on easy targets.
Keeping one’s sanity means safeguarding one’s body… this is the crux of Samia’s love letter. Is anyone listening?