Cauterization between efficacy and sorcery [Archives:2005/863/Health]

July 28 2005

Cauterization is considered one of the most popular ways of treating chronic diseases. It dates back to ancient times in history, some say to the time of old Greek and Pharaoh civilizations. This method has survived through ages reaching us despite medical advancement. Some people think that cauterization or what we locally call “misam” can treat many chronic diseases incurable by modern medicine including psychological disorders such as symptoms of trauma for which cauterization is commonly used, and physiological diseases which require surgical intervention. This investigation tries to shed light on cauterization, whether it is useful and the opinon of Islamic Sharia of it.

YR 2500 for a misam

First we met with Jamal Ahmed Sa'eed, 23 years old, who told us about the misam on his back and the disease he suffers.

“I went over to the city of Aden for treatment at renown Mus'abain,” he started. “I held pain as well as hope. I had been suffering for long from hemorrhoids. Many people advised me to go that person assuring me that I would heal soon instead of undergoing a surgery.”

He continued, “I don't deny that the misam has scarred my back and gives me severe pain from time to time, yet I feel I am far better as far as hemorrhoid is concerned.”

“How much does the man get?” I asked. He answered that it depends on the financial status of a patient. “Some pay one thousand. Others five thousand. However I gave him YR2500.”

I served as a mouse for my father's experiment:

While Jamal claimed he benefited from the misam, Abdul-Hamid Mufarih, 40, says that the whole matter is nothing but psychological and that people tend to believe they are recovering. He gave a first-hand example, “When I was seven, my father was the one responsible for making misams in the village,” he narrated. “I suffered at that time from some skin disease. It spreads all over my body including my nose. My father sets a misam at the back of my neck. My father confesses that these things are part of our inherited traditions and habits which many people hold in respect.”

Abdul-Hamid stressed that misams are not always effective. “Only a few patients benefit from them and this may be attributed to psychological factors,” he said.

All of them are liars

“I had a bad headache and was advised to take a misam. I was then 12 years old. I took the misam in my village in Wosab district, Dhamar province,” thus did Ahmed Mohammed Taher start his story. He kept on remembering his experience, “The misam marred my forehead but it unfortunately did not cure the illness. Later, some friends of mine gave me another idea. They advised me to have bloodletting which I did. It was a small cut close to the right eyebrow and the headache was gone.”

He added, “He who claims treating with fire is a liar and so is the one who claims he recovered by virtue of misams. The practioners of this method are sorcerers and imposters.”

It works…sometimes

61-year-old Ali al-Raimi says he had a misam made below his knee last year to treat a painful nerve. He went to Rahidah town to be treated by someone called Abdul-Wali. However, that did not benefit him. Asked about his belief in cauterization, he answers, “I had no option. A man in need for treatment receives a great deal of advice from his acquaintances all of whom show themselves as well-informed and that they experienced so and so way of treatment. I did not decide to try cauterization only upon the advice of other people.”

Sayidah, known as Sharifah

Tackling such an issue, it is necessary to ask the people specializing in this profession on whih they depend for income. Others practice it amateurishly and a secondary source of income. We tried to find them and after a tiresome search, a person led us to an old woman. Although she is over sixty, she insisted she is forty. She lives in the old zone in Bab Mosa in the city of Taiz.

“It is doctors who send patients over to us,” Sayidah Abdul-Wali, the old cauterization expert, said. She went on, “I started my profession when I was ten. First I used to prescribe ground dry herbs for certain diseases. Later she took up cauterization as a profession.”

To strengthen her position, Sayidah quotes the Prophet (PBUH) as saying, “Fire touch cures.”

I asked her whether any of her patients ever complained that she was just practicing sorcery, she replied, “That never happened. On the contrary, people are grateful to me and kiss my head and knee.”

Everyone according to their means

Another person shyly practices this profession. He is nicknamed “Sayid.” He is distinguished from his colleagues by his desire to be far from the spotlight. I tried to provoke him into an interview and taking shoots of him but he politely and modestly declined. He was alone in his home with no clients. I asked him about the number of patients a day. He replied that some days, the number reaches ten and on other days nobody comes. “I don't take money from everyone of them because most of them have difficult circumstances.” He doesn't define a specific amount either. “Often, what I get doesn't exceed YR200,” he concluded.

Retirement from profession

Noaman Ali Nasser is a very old man. He has abandoned practicing cauterization for many years as well as bloodletting.

“My hands can no longer hold the instrument used in cauterization. Moreover, I have poor eyesight,” he said.

Noaman was famous all over Shara'b al-Salam area. At one time, he was the governor of Huryiah market besides his practice of cauterization and bloodletting.

Concerning parts of the body that should be cauterized, he said, “The back of the head. This is used for people who suffers trauma.”

He stands in defense of cauterization because it is an efficacious treatment for some diseases. “It is no sorcery,” cried he.

Islamic opinion

In order to get a complete picture, we need to know what Islam says about treatment with misams. We asked Sheikh Ali Mohammed Ali- imam and preacher of al-Sa'eed Mosque- who said, “Cauterization is one way of treatment. It was known since ancient in history and was passed down from generation to generation. Each civilization has unique ways of medication. The Chinese, for instance, knew acupuncture. Islam came and approved of bloodletting as well as cauterization. The Prophet (PBUH) send a doctor to Ubai ibn Ka'ab who cut off his nerve and cauterized him. Hence, it is lawful to get treatment from cauterization provided there is no other alternative. It should be practiced by professionals and not quacks. If an inexperienced practitioner cauterized causing him/her to die, he should pay the blood money.”

Thus, we have discovered that there are many opinions that admit to the usefulness of cauterization. Yet, this may not be the “master method” that treats all diseases. Otherwise, all these branches of modern medicine could not have existed and people would have satisfied themselves with cauterization.