Manara - Qatar Research Repository
Examining Qatar’s history in folk medicine _ QScience Highlights.pdf (116.98 kB)

Examining Qatar’s history in folk medicine

Download (116.98 kB)
online resource
submitted on 2023-08-16, 09:01 and posted on 2023-08-28, 11:07 authored by Nature Research

Documents obtained by the Qatar Unified Imaging Project, which go back as early as the 11th century up until the modern day, are allowing researchers to explore the region’s culture of traditional medicine.

The project, funded by the Qatar National Research Fund, digitizes primary sources of information related to Qatar’s history, culture and traditions.

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar investigated the works available in the project’s collection to explore the culture of traditional medicine in the region.

The medical heritage of the Arab region was derived from a variety of sources. “The Arabs were exposed to Greek culture long before Islam and in the process learned the theories and practicum of healing,” write the researchers in their paper, published in the journal Avicenna. The Phoenicians played a role in transmitting 12th century Greek texts on medicine through the ports of the Near and Far East. Migratory Bedouin tribes traversing the desert, merchants trading along the ‘incense route’ and seamen arriving in ports all influenced the region with transnational healing practices. Christian missionaries introduced ‘Western-based’ medicine to the Gulf.

“The precursor of modern chemistry, alchemy, experienced a renaissance in the Arab world when the Arabs became expert chemists, and the art of pharmacology emerged into the Middle Ages,” the researchers write. Many of their texts were destroyed, however, during the Mongol invasion in the 13th Century.

A variety of traditional healing methods have been used over the centuries. Cupping, or hijama, was described in the writings of the 11th Century Persian scholar Avicenna, as a means to remove blood impurities. “Specific botanical elixirs and foods prescribed to patients included hijama treatments, and were carefully coordinated with the lunar calendar and planetary movements,” write the researchers.

Cautery was also central to surgical practice in Arabia and was recommended by Avicenna.

“Folk medicine practiced in Qatar is a microcosm of the practices and beliefs of the Arabian world from which it emanates,” write the researchers. “The methodologies correlate with the needs of the people and the materials that are readily available.”

Medical herbs and plants, for example, are used to treat a variety of conditions. The desert gourd ‘colocynthis’ is used as a purgative and diuretic to treat intestinal parasites, gonorrhoea and diabetes. Camel grass, or Cymbopogon schoenanthus, is used to treat colic, kidney stones and rheumatism. And desert truffles, or terfeziaceae, are used to treat eye disease. Additionally, waters are used to heal wounds and skin diseases, and sands are used to treat rheumatism and joint aches.

The researchers found that in modern days, Qataris resort to herbal therapies first among all other available alternative treatments. Cupping is also used for rheumatism, headaches, back pain and toothaches. Cauterization is predominantly used when modern treatments fail, for hepatitis, sciatica, sterility and rheumatism. Qur’anic therapy, which involves the recitation of verses, protective amulets and dissolving written verses in water for ingestion, is sometimes resorted to in order to treat conditions thought to result from ‘the evil eye’. Orthopaedic therapy and massage are other forms of traditional therapy often used in Qatar.

“Medical heritage figures prominently into the historical documentation of Qatar in the 20th Century, and reflects the historical contributions of the Arabs to the development of chemistry and pharmacology, as well as the transnational influences that have affected Qatar’s health care systems over time,” write the researchers.

The team conclude their study with a list of primary source collections for the study of Arabian and related folk medicine.

Other Information

Published in: Highlights, Published by Nature Research for Hamad bin Khalifa University Press (HBKU Press)



  • English


Nature Research

Publication Year

  • 2016

License statement

This Item is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Institution affiliated with

  • Hamad Bin Khalifa University

Usage metrics

    Manara - Qatar Research Repository



    Ref. manager