UNANI system of medicine owes its origin to Greece (Unan in Arabic=Greece). It was the Greek philosopher-physician Hippocrates (460-377 BC) who freed Medicine from the realm of superstition and magic, and gave it the status of Science. The theoretical framework of Unani Medicine is based on the teachings of Hippocrates. After a number of other Greek scholars had enriched the system considerably, Galen (131-210 AD) stands out as one who stabilized its foundation. On this foundations islamic physicians like Al-Razi (Rhazes) (850-925 AD) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037 AD) Al Zahravi (Albucasis) the surgeon and Ibn-Nafis (to name only a few) constructed an imposing edifice. Unani medicine got enriched by imbibing what was best in the contemporary systems of traditional medicine in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, India, China and other Middle East and far East countries. The Unani system received great impetus during the reign of the Abbasids and became a respectable and ‘rational’ science.
In India, Unani system of medicine was introduced by Arabs, and soon it took firm roots in the soil. When Mongols ravaged Persian and Central Asian cities like Shiraz, Tabrez and Geelan, scholars and physicians of Unani Medicine fled to India. The Delhi Sultan, the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs and the Mughal Emperors provided state patronage to the scholars and even enrolled some as state employees and court physicians. During the 13th and 17th century Unani Medicine had its hey-day in India. Among those who made valuable contributions to this system into period were Abu Bakr Bin Ali Usman Ksahani, Sadruddin Damashqui, Bahwa bin Khwas Khan, Ali Geelani, Akbal Arzani and Mohammad Hashim Alvi Khan.
The scholars and physicians of Unani Medicine who settled in India were not content with the known drugs. They subjected Indian drugs to clinical trials. As a result of their experimentation added numerous native drugs to their own system further enriching its treasures.
During the British rule, Unani Medicine suffered a setback and its development was hampered due to withdrawal of governmental patronage. Since the system enjoyed faith among the masses it continued to be practiced. It was mainly the Sharifi family in Delhi, the Azizi family in Luchnow and the Nizam of Hyderbad due to whose efforts Unani Medicine survived during the British period. An outstanding physician and scholar of Unani Medicine, Hakim Ajmal Khan (1868-1927) championed the cause of the system in India.
UNANI Medicine, as said earlier, is based on the principles put forward by Hippocrates and exploited asssimalated by the Medeaval Muslim Physicians. Hippocrates was the first person to establish that disease was a natural process, that its symptoms were the reactions of the body to the disease, and that the chief function of the physician was to aid the natural forces of the body. He was the first physician to introduce the method of taking medical histories. His chief contribution to the medical reals in the humoral theory.
Another distinctive feature of the Unani system of medicine is its emphasis on diagnosing a disease through Nabz (pulse), arrhythmic expansion of arteries which is felt by fingers. Other methods of diagnosis include examination of Baul (urine), Baraz (stool) etc.
Unani system of medicine recognizes the influence of surroundings and ecological conditions on the state of health of human beings. This system aims at restoring the equilibrium of various elements and faculties of the human body. It has laid down six essential pre-requisites for the prevention of diseases and places great emphasis, on the on hand, on the maintenance of proper ecological balance and, on the other, on keeping water, food and air free from pollution. These essentials, known as ‘Asbab-e-Sitta Zarooriya’ are air, food and drinks, bodily movement and repose, psychic movement and repose, sleep and wakefulness, and exertion and retention.
In Unani system of medicine various types of treatment are employed, such as Ilajbit-Tadbeer (regimental therapy), Haj bil-Ghiza (dietotherapy), Haj bid-Dawa (pharmacotherapy) and Jarhat (surgery). The regimental therapy include venesection, cupping, diaphoresis, diuresis, Turkish bath, ailments by administration of specific diets of by regulating the quantity and quality of food. On the drugs of animal and mineral origin are also used. Similarly, surgery has also been in use in this system for quite long. In fact, the ancient physicians of Unani Medicine were pioneers in this field and had developed their own instruments and techniques.
In Unani Medicine, single drugs or their combinations in raw form are preferred over compound formulation. The system offers time-tested and excelled remedies for gastrointestinal cardiovascular and nervous disorders. The naturally occurring drugs used in this system are symbolic of life and generally free from side-effects. And such drugs which are toxic in crude form are processed and purified in many ways before use. Since in this system, great importance is attached to the temperament of the individual, the medicines administered are such that go well with the temperament of the patient. Thus accelerating the process of recovery.