Treatment of a wide range of ailments through Hijama is becoming popular but the question remains how safe and authentic it is
By Amel Ghani
A woman, her face covered in a niqab, sits patiently on an examination table as Usman Baloch, a Hijama practitioner for ten years in Lahore, looks for the veins in her leg. This is Shazia Nadeem, a woman in her middle age, who has come here to find a cure for the perpetual pain in her knee. Successfully locating a vein, Baloch takes an ordinary blade and punctures the vein. He repeats the procedure a few times.
His wife, Nadia Baloch, also a Hijama practitioner, tells TNS this technique is called venesection and her husband is amongst the selected few in the country who can perform it.
Shazia happily talks about how getting Hijama done only once has considerably helped reduce her knee pain as the punctures on her left leg slowly bleed out in a metal tray. This is her second sitting.
A little later she moves her leg to her chest and then to her side while sitting, telling me, “I was unable to do this before.”
Like many other people looking for cure in alternative medical techniques such as Hijama, she also tried allopathic medicine first. She was disappointed by its inability to produce results as quickly as Hijama.
She heard about it from an Al-Huda trained religious expert. She was drawn towards it for religious reasons as well, since the procedure is considered a Sunnat (tradition of Prophet). Interestingly, alongside Hijama, Shazia continues to see her allopathic doctor and takes the prescribed medicines regularly.
“When my doctor saw the Hijama marks and I told him that I had gotten the treatment done, he asked me why I was putting my faith in an ancient and medieval procedure. It has given me relief without the additional burden of swallowing painkillers everyday that made me drowsy,” she says.
The word ‘Hijama’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘Hajam’ which literally translated means ‘sucking’. The technique involves the placement of highly pressurised cups on various points across the body. Once the blood accumulates in that area small cuts are made, and creating a vacuum bleeds the person. Baloch tells TNS, “Toxins built up over time are released by the procedure.”
Those who carry out the procedure and those who get it done, both claim that Hijama is the cure for all illnesses.
Different points on the body have been pre-determined to cure a variety of illnesses while two specific points at the back of the neck have been determined as Sunnat points. All practitioners devise a course of treatment for the patient after looking at the problem.
Baloch says he has helped patients with complaints like stress and anxiety to more chronic diseases like Parkinson, Alzheimer and Cancer. However, he adds adamantly, “What we recommend to our patients here is a change in lifestyle since Hijama alone will not be as effective.”
Since it is considered a Sunnat, the procedure is granted more legitimacy and a wider audience than other alternative treatments. While most are looking for cure, some people also get it done simply because it is a ‘Sunnat’ and is said to act as a prevention from illnesses.
Twenty-four year old data analyst, Syed Tajammul Hussain, who turned towards Hijama for back pain says, “It is encouraged by Hadees that we should adopt a Sunnat when other people no longer practice it.”
The practioners suggest that the optimal dates for getting Hijama done are 17th, 19th and 21st of the lunar calendar, as per the Sunnat. “The moon light creates a tidal force and since the human body is 60 per cent water, this helps the toxins come to the surface,” says Dr. Sohail Zafar, practicing Hijama for the last five years.
There seems to be no agreement on the number of cups to use on a patient. Baloch says he limits it to two cups on a person in one sitting. Others disagree. Zafar comments that this is determined by the nature of the illness.
This creates some discrepancies when discussing the effectiveness of the treatment and how to achieve the best possible results. Practitioners do not agree on the number of cups to be placed on patients or the age below which the treatment must not be performed. While most practice it like any other form of alternative medicine, the religious aspect of it grants it more legitimacy with the larger public. Using their own limited understanding of the human body, they prescribe a treatment that may or may not work.
Most clinics charge their patients per cup, and in the absence of any regulation, patients can be easily exploited. Like other alternative medicines, this one is considered cheaper than allopathy. Some places are said to be administering Hijama free of cost, in the name of Allah and because “it’s a Sunnat”.
Syed Tajammul Hussain, who turned towards Hijama for back pain highlights there is “a financial element to it. The place I went to charged me 300 per cup and placed a total of eleven cups; however in Saudi Arabia they only place eight cups on a person.”
This brings into question the safety of the procedure which if not performed properly can have serious side effects. Dr. Arshad Hamayun, who has been practicing for more than 15 years and has served as the vice president of the Academy of Family Physicians, questions the entire procedure. “What are the protocols that need to be followed? Can someone be held accountable if something goes wrong? There are no set protocols or procedures to follow, no standardisation of the procedure.”
A major problem with Hijama as with most alternative medical avenues is the lack of proper training. Countless videos and training courses can be found online while the equipment too is not difficult to procure, thus making anyone an expert since no prior background in medicine is required. This brings into question various other aspects when treating a patient, such as an understanding of their medical history and complications.
Most practitioners agree with this and while they themselves claim to be fully qualified, they will warn you of others.