Derived from the Arabic word “ha ja ma,” Hijamah means “to lessen in quantity.” It alludes to the suction procedure used to draw blood from the body or to decrease the amount of blood in the body. The sayings of the prophet Mohammed concerning hijamah indicates to the pulling of blood from the body for healing purposes, either to cure a specific ailment or illness or to maintain health.
The suction or vacuum effect can be attained through various processes including the utilization of instruments such as animal horns that were used during ancient times, the use of a leech to suck blood over a wound (especially in instances of poisonous bites) or a cut, or the use of more modern techniques such as bamboo, plastic or glass cups either with a suction pump mechanism or with fire.
The process of employing a partial vacuum through these methods causes the tissues within the cup to be pulled up and swell, thereby boosting the flow of blood to the problem area. This blood flow boost draws toxins and impurities out from the adjacent organs and tissues and towards the skin surface where it can be eliminated through cracks in the skin layer that were created by incisions made before the cup was applied.
Though, among English speaking people, Hijamah is usually interpreted as “cupping”, this translation is not really an exact one because in the modern sense, cupping can refer to a both wet (which is precisely Hijamah) and “dry” (no blood is shed or eliminated) procedure. Cupping is a healing technique that uses cups to generate a vacuum effect at the surface of the skin in order to pull blood to the surface that can then be eliminated, in the case of “wet” cupping.
History shows that the ancient Egyptians were the first people to practice Hijamah. Around 1550 BC, one of the most ancient Egyptian medical documents was written. It described the use of “bleeding” to ‘expel pathogens from the body’. There is proof that bloodletting was used as a remedy for virtually any type of disease and an important way of maintaining good life and health.
Two of history’s greatest advocates of Hijamah were Galen and Hippocrates. According to Galen, the principal objective for bloodletting is to divert blood or remove residues from one part of the body to another. Two Unani ideas that were accepted at that time were the bases of his approach. In one idea, blood doesn’t flow well in the body, and eventually becomes stagnant until it was “drawn out.” The other idea believed that the balance of the four humors (yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood) was the basis of illness or health, in which instance bloodletting can be availed of to foster balance between the humors. Galen was able to map out the body’s blood vessels and would cut his patients in different regions of the body, based on what region of the body he needed to treat.
Bloodletting during the time of Hippocrates was not used in accordance with the 4 humors theory. For certain illnesses, specific points were bled.
Wet cupping and bloodletting practice in the East always was an essential component of the medical practices, and to this day, remains so. According to the ancient Chinese medical text, the Inner Classic or Nei jing, “stagnation must first be addressed before bloodletting before the use of moxibustion or acupuncture.”
However, by the mid to late 18th century, bloodletting was very much excoriated by the medical establishment which led to its falling away as a commonly used treatment method. As the technique was not being administered appropriately, it became culpable for a large number of deaths and thus was even more criticized by modern medicine. In order to attain medical dominance, modern medicine also started to vilify other long established traditional treatments.
But in the last two to three decades among the Muslim communities, there was an enormous revival in the healing art of Hijamah, and in countries such as the UK, courses are being offered to both the public and medical practitioners.
While Hijamah is a medical technique involving the handling of body fluids and blood and thus has various applications in the treatment of disease and for general health, it should be administered by someone who has been trained in Hijamah as well as in the related medical sciences so as to avert unwanted after effects from the treatment.