Regarding the ruling on medicinal treatment (at-tadaawee) a difference exists amongst the body of Muslim scholars, past and present. There are those who hold medicinal treatment to be obligatory (waajib), those who hold it to be permissible (mubaah) and those who hold it to be recommended (mustahabb). In this short series we will present statements from various scholars that offer important clarifications in this regard.
First, is a discussion by Shaykh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah clarifying that medicinal treatment (at-tadaawee) is not obligatory (waajib).
This excerpt occurs in the context of those who try to analogise between the situation of eating unlawful food (such as the meat of the dead animal) due to compelling necessity (to repel starvation) and between using that which is unlawful for medicinal purposes (such as intoxicants or prohibited meat and so on), and who argue, built upon this claim, that medicinal treatment with that which is unlawful is permissible for a compelling necessity. Shaykh ul-Islaam addresses this argument and in the course of it addresses issues connected to medicinal treatment (at-tadaawee).
Shaykh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah said in Majmoo al-Fataawaa (21/563-566):
And medicinal treatment (at-tadaawee) is not a compelling necessity (adh-dhuroorah) from numerous angles:
The first of them: That many of the ill, or the majority of the ill are cured without medicinal treatment, especially the bedouins, the inhabitants of the various towns and those living in the various parts of the earth. Allaah cures them by the powers (faculties) made inherent in their bodies that can relieve [the body of] the illness. And likewise [He cures them] on account of what He facilitates for them of a physical movement or a [performed] action, or an answered supplication, or a beneficial ruqyah, or a strength of the heart, or good reliance [upon Allaah] and other than that from the many ways (asbaab) besides medicinal treatment. As for eating then it is a necessity, and Allaah has not made the bodies of animals to subsist except by way of nourishment, and if (a person) did not eat, then he would die. This establishes that medicinal treatment is not a necessity (adh-dhuroorah) at all.
The second of them: That eating at the time of (compelling) necessity is obligatory. Masrooq said, "Whoever is compelled by necessity to [eat the flesh of] the dead animal, does not eat and thus dies, will enter the Fire".
And medicinal treatment is not obligatory (waajib). Whoever contests this will be disputed by the Sunnah, in the case of the black woman to whom the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasalllam) gave the choice between patience upon this tribulation and entering Paradise and between supplication for relief, and she chose the tribulation and Paradise. And if removal of the disease had been obligatory, then there would not be any place for giving a choice, such as what we see (conversely) in repelling hunger. Likewise his supplicating for Ubayy with the fever,and his choosing fever for the people of Quba and in his supplication for the perishing of his Ummah through bloodshed (at-ta'an) and plague (at-taa'oon), and likewise in his prohibition from fleeing from (the land in which) the plague (has broken out). And likewise, the state of the Prophets will dispute with him, those who were put to trial and were patient upon the tribulation, when they did not adopt the ways and means that would repel it, such as Ayyoob (alaihis salaam) and others. And the state of the Righteous Salaf will dispute with him too, for Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq (radiallaahu anhu), when they said to him, "Shall we not call a physician for you?" He said, "He has already seen me", and they said, "What did he say to you?". He said, "Indeed I am the Doer of whatever I will". And the likes of this has been reported from ar-Rabee' bin Khaytham, the humble repentant who is the best amongst the Kufans, or like their best, and 'Umar bin Abdul-Azeez the rightly-guided khaleefah, the guide and guided, and a great portion (of others) that cannot be counted in number. And I do not know of any predecessor who made medicinal treatment to be obligatory, many of the people of excellence and knowledge preferred to abandon it, due to preference and choice for what Allaah had chosen (for them) and was pleased with, out of submission to Him. And this is also textually stated from (al-Imaam) Ahmad - even if there were amongst his associates who held it obligatory, and others who held it to be recommended (mustahabb) and declared that to be most correct, as was the way of many of the Salaf, holding fast to what Allaah had created of the ways and means and made to be His Sunnah amongst His servants.
The third of them: That [the success of] the medicinal treatment cannot be held with certainty, rather in many diseases, it's ability to repel the disease cannot be presumed, since if that was continually the case, no one would die at all, as opposed to food repelling hunger and starvation, for that is absolutely certain due to the ruling of Allaah's Sunnah within His servants and His creation.
And the fourth of them: That a disease can have many different treatments, [such that] if it is not repelled [with what is unlawful, a person (then) moves to what is lawful], [but] it is impossible that there should not be any cure or treatment in that which is lawful (halaal). The one who sent down the disease, [also] sent down for every disease a cure except for death. It is not permissible that treatments for disease should be in the unlawful type (alone) for He, the Sublime, is the Compassionate, the Merciful. And this is alluded to in the reported hadeeth, "Indeed Allaah did not put the curing of my Ummah in what He made unlawful for them". This is (all) different to hunger, for, although, it can be removed with any type of food, it is agreed that the filthy (unlawful food) becomes permissible when nothing else can be found. So if we were to imagine the same [situation] for medicinal treatment, then that would be a very rare situation, since illness is rarer (less frequent) than hunger by a great deal, and the particularization of a specific medicinal treatment [for an illness] with the absence of anything else (besides it) is a rare situation...
The fifth of them: And within this is the understanding of the subject: That Allaah the Most High made His creation in need of food and nourishment, their hunger and starvation not being repelled by anything except a type or category of food. For He has guided us and taught us the type that repels starvation and ends hunger. As for illness (a person) can end it by many types of ways (asbaab): [which can be] outward (dhaahirah) and inward (baatinah), spiritual (roohaaniyah) and bodily (jusmaaniyyah). So medicinal treatment is not designated [as being uniquely and customarily disease curing].
Further, [a particular] form of medicinal treatment is not specifically designated [as something] that ends a specific illness in a [specific] type amongst the [different] types of [physical] bodies.
And further, attainment and [gaining] specific knowledge of that specific type [of medicinal treatment] is hidden from most people, rather from the generality of them. Those who devote themselves to this speciality, those possessing understanding and intellect, a man amongst them will spend much of his life in being acquainted with that [knowledge], and then a particular type of illness, its reality, and its treatment and cure may [still] remain hidden from him.
Thus, the asbaab [ways and means] that end illness differ from the asbaab [ways and means] that end hunger in these manifest realities (indicated above) and others. And likewise, their rulings [therefore] differ too, as we have mentioned.
Later in this series we will look at statements of Shaykh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (and others) that provide a good tafseel (detail) in this matter, and explain that the ruling on medicinal treatment can vary (depending on circumstances).