The Prophet’s Pharmacy: Herbal Medicine Makes a Comeback
November 18, 2011
The World Health Organization has identified an “exponential” growth rate of herbal and traditional medicine in recent years, with the fastest-growing markets in the Middle East and other developing countries. In the Middle East, however, some herbal medicines come with an interesting twist.
With the growth of the herbal supplement industry has come the spread of marketing that relies on a neo-traditional movement called al-tibb al-nabawi, or “The medicine of the Prophet.”
For Muslim consumers, some herbal companies have created marketing with a decidedly religious undertone. Advertisers for black cumin regularly reference a saying of the Prophet claiming that the seed is capable of “healing every disease but death.” Muhammad also recommended the twigs of the miswak tree, one native to the Middle East and Africa, for its teeth-cleaning properties. Today, a company called Misfaco uses miswak as an active ingredient in its toothpaste, marketing it as “toothpaste just like the Prophet used to use.” Honey is prescribed for a range of ills including diabetes, although some suggest it first should be mixed with vinegar.
Many of these products are manufactured in modern facilities around the world, with shipments going to Singapore and Sweden as well as Saudi Arabia. The batch the factories send to religious Muslims, however, comes with a different kind of branding. Having a model endorse a product is good, but being able to invoke the name of a prophet is divine.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.