Where scientific studies reveal how certain substances heal maladies, they cannot tell us why. This reality is illustrated by one of the sweetest prescriptions of Allah [swt] – honey.

And thy Lord taught the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in habitations; then to eat of all the produce of the earth, and find with patient skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is a healing for men. Verily in this is a sign for those who give thought.

(al-Nahl, 68-69)

Unlike folk remedies and Western medicine, Prophetic medicine is not predicated upon experimentation or conjecture. Rather, it is based upon Divine sources and built upon through reason. Prophetic prescriptions are therefore also distinct because they have a dual purpose; they not only promote the well-being of the physical body but also the soul. This is because submission requires a Muslim to recognise that an illness can only be healed if the Creator permits the intervention of the cure. The use of honey has highlighted this understanding. Before we look at how, it is worth appreciating that what we now know about the production and use of honey accurately reflects the Qur’anic verse above.

The Varying Colours.

The “drink of varying colours” is produced through the collective discipline and systematic diligence of the bee. The bee produces enzymes which convert floral nectar from sucrose to glucose and fructose. It then uses the fanning of its wings to evaporate the excess water.

The product is honey and there are over 300 types known worldwide, each originating from different nectar sources and each identified by its distinct colour and flavour. Al-Zuhri, one of the earliest Hadith authorities, when explaining that honey is good for the memory, said that the best of these varieties is “the pure, the white, the least sharp, and the sweetest”.

Healing with Honey.

As explained in Ibn Kathir’s Qur’anic exegesis, students of Prophetic medicine have interpreted that the Qur’anic reference to “a” remedy instead of “the” remedy suggests that honey is not necessarily a remedy for every disease. For example, in keeping with the learning that a disease should be treated with its opposite, honey should be used for every ‘cold’ disease, because honey itself is ‘hot’.

Still, the known benefits of honey are almost as varied as its colours and researchers are still discovering evidence of its diverse medical effects. Honey is known to have detergent and tonic properties which can rid impurities from arteries and bowels; it can be used to suppress coughing and to cure a loss of appetite; it has diuretic and detoxicating properties; it is an antitoxin against certain poisons; and it has been used as an ointment for head lice and to promote hair growth. It is also known to extraordinarily preserve fruit, vegetables and meat for months. And these are just a few of its known merits!

“God Spoke the Truth”

There is a well-known authentic narration wherein the Prophet [saw] prescribes honey for a man complaining of irregular bowel movement. Eventually, the condition passes but before then, the man’s brother repeatedly returns to the Prophet [saw] to inform him that the honey did not help. It is reported that the Prophet [saw] said: “God spoke the truth and your brother’s belly lies”. (al-Bukhari)

It is largely understood that the Prophet [saw] was firstly emphasising that honey is indeed the correct medicine for this specific ailment – because of its ability to expel excess moisture. Secondly, this narration highlights the importance of patience in continuing treatment. Finally, by identifying the stomach’s denial, it is illustrated that, despite using the correct methods, it is only with the leave of Allah [swt] that healing can take place. In other words, it is not the honey, or indeed any other medicinal substance, that has the power to cure. The honey is the ‘how’; the ‘why’ is Allah [swt].

The understanding that Allah [swt] permits both the illness and the cure according to His Will, based on His Wisdom which is unknown to us, should permeate the Muslim’s outlook on healing. Recognising that we are ultimately in His Dominion in all respects is an act of submission. Therefore, it is no wonder that the Prophet [saw] encouraged the physical healing along with that of the soul when he said: “Make use of the two remedies: honey and the Qur’an.” (al-Tirmidhi)