Traditional Gaza drawn to old alternative therapy

Jun 27, 2012, 5:20 PM

Associated Press

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) – In a Gaza shop, a group of men sit with glass jars attached to their legs, their backs, their faces, sucking at the skin as blood slowly seeps out. It’s the latest craze in the isolated coastal strip _ cupping therapy.

Cupping is an ancient form of alternative medicine whose advocates believe it improves blood flow and helps relieve a range of ailments from headaches to arthritis. It is perhaps best known in the West as part of traditional Chinese medicine.

But Gazans aren’t just lining up for it for its therapeutic purposes. To them, it’s a way of being devout Muslims.

Hijama _ as the Islamic version of the practice is called _ is specifically mentioned and encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad, who according to tradition said, “Hijama is the best of your remedies.”

There are several forms of cupping therapy. In the Gaza variety, small light scratches are made on the skin and then blood is drawn by a vacuum created by a fire lit inside a glass jar.

Anwar Sheikh-Eid, a 42-year-old Baghdad University-trained veterinarian, has been performing cupping for 15 years.

“According to books, it is reported that the Prophet recommended doing hijama on the two veins at the side of the neck and the base of the neck,” he said, from his humble shop in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. “But he also used hijama on the top of the head, on his hip for a pain in that area, as well on the top of his foot.”

The mainstream medical community has mixed feelings about cupping.

Dr. Pascal James Imperato, Dean of the School of Public health at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn said, “There is no scientific evidence for this practice, and it does not have any medical value in terms of improving a patient’s health or in addressing their medical problems.”

He added, “But in some cultures it does provide psychological and emotional assurance which results in some patients feeling better.

Imperato warned, “when non-sterile equipment is used to make incisions, it can cause infections, and an indirect danger is that it can delay patients getting modern medical care in time-sensitive cases.”

While the bloody practice may not be easy on the eye, proponents hail its healing capabilities. Muslim tradition recommends it three times a month.

“It helps me relax. I sleep more, get more energy and I recommend it to many friends,” said Jamil al-Dayya, a 60-year-old Gaza dentist. “But you need to find a well-trained therapist who knows what he is doing and to make sure that the tools are clean.”

For that he turns to Sheikh-Eid, whose desk is filled with glass jars containing herbs and where a strong smell of homemade apple vinegar permeates. Vinegar is a popular alternative remedy for removing toxins from the body.

He said customers run the gamut of ages, backgrounds and motives. Some arrive for relief from illness or stress while others seek to feel closer to their prophet. Men seated in his shop had the cups _ with burning pieces of paper inside them _ attached to various places of their bodies. Their skin bulged out as their blood dripped into the jars.

But Sheikh-Eid insists it is not painful.

“It’s probably similar to having a blood test,” he said. “Hijama is not as intrusive as a blood test, though, since it does not penetrate the veins.”

There are dozens of practitioners across the Gaza Strip.

Shaaban Assad, the former manager of the Gaza Health Ministry, said the remedy is recognized by the World Health Organization and has proven to help cure many diseases, strengthen the immune system and reduce blood pressure.

“We need to make sure of the sterilization of the tools,” he said. “Lack of experience by some people who claim that they can do it causes health problems.”

The World Health Organization’s expert on traditional medicine, Dr. Zhang Qi, says the organization has not yet conducted research or adopted an official position on cupping. He said the technique has long been used by traditional medicine practitioners in China _ though traditional Chinese cupping rarely draws blood.

The practice is also widespread in Gulf countries, Zhang said.

The World Health Organization adopted a resolution in 2009 calling on countries to integrate traditional medicine into national health systems, as well as encouraging collaborations between conventional and traditional medicine practitioners.

___

Additional reporting by Ian Deitch in Jerusalem.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

People search a collapsed building following an earthquake in Azmarin town, Idlib province, norther...
Associated Press

Death toll soars after powerful earthquake rocks Turkey and Syria

A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked wide swaths of Turkey and neighboring Syria on Monday, killing and injuring thousands of people.
1 day ago
FILE - A fuel trucks drives along a highway in Frankfurt, Germany, Jan. 27, 2023. European Union go...
Associated Press

Europe bans Russian diesel, other oil products over Ukraine

The new sanctions create uncertainty about prices as the 27-nation European Union finds new supplies of diesel from the U.S., Middle East and India.
2 days ago
(Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for BoF VOICES)...
Associated Press

Vivienne Westwood, influential fashion maverick, dies at 81

Vivienne Westwood, an influential fashion maverick who played a key role in the punk movement, died Thursday at 81.
1 month ago
FILE - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during his first Cabinet meeting flanked by his ...
Associated Press

Rishi Sunak: UK’s ex-Treasury chief gets his shot at PM job

LONDON (AP) — Rishi Sunak ran for Britain’s top job and lost. Then he got another shot — and the chance to say “I told you so.” The former U.K. Treasury chief was runner-up to Liz Truss in the contest to replace the scandal-plagued Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and prime minister. But Truss […]
4 months ago
Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss addresses the media in Downing Street in London, Thursday, Oct. ...
Associated Press

Truss quits, but UK’s political and economic turmoil persist

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss quit Thursday after a tumultuous and historically brief term marred by economic policies that roiled financial markets and a rebellion in her political party that obliterated her authority. After just 45 days in office, Truss became the third Conservative prime minister to be toppled in as many […]
4 months ago
People receive medical treatment at the scene of Russian shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 1...
Associated Press

Russia unleashes biggest attacks in Ukraine in months

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia retaliated Monday for an attack on a critical bridge by unleashing its most widespread strikes against Ukraine in months, a lethal barrage that smashed civilian targets, knocked out power and water, shattered buildings and killed at least 14 people. Ukraine’s Emergency Service said nearly 100 people were wounded in the […]
4 months ago

Sponsored Articles

(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
Traditional Gaza drawn to old alternative therapy