Health Concerns For BELIEVERS
Contemporary Issues

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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One of the best books I ever read was not a book on Islam or religion or written by a Muslim. It was a book about a fascinating machine which eventually led me to the Creator of that machine.
Thirty-two years ago at the young age of eighteen after receiving the highest position in both high school and pre-medical exams at the university, I entered medical school. While my mind was fresh with the knowledge of mathematics, algebra, chemistry, physics, biology and other branches of science, I was not sure what I was getting into in medical school. The first big book prescribed to me to read for the next two years was Gray's Anatomy, a book written about 100 years ago by the English surgeon Henry Gray. The book describes in detail the gross and microscopic anatomy of various body organs and systems. The diagrams and pictures and cross-sections of various organs were provided for illustration. They were all very fascinating to me, and to confirm what we read in the book, we were given a cadaver, a dead body, to dissect and study.

It was not an easy job for any of us, the young medical students, to sit hours and hours with a dead body, and cut sections of different organs, study them with the naked eye and with the microscope, and then to compare it with the illustrations in Gray's Anatomy. When I started to look at the arrangements of thousands of bones, how they were joined together and were holding all the viscera and muscles, it was a revelation.

Although the bones were doing mostly mechanical work like an infrastructure of a factory, there was more depth to their presence. Each cell of the bone, although it appeared hard, calcified and dead, in fact was a living and ever-growing cell. I looked at all the muscles which were developed for various needs, and I could define their purpose of an intrinsic nature and the orders they were to carry for certain functions. If we did not have those muscles over our bones, the limits would still move but not with grace and beauty.

I looked at all the nerve fibers that were attached to the muscles. They were like electrical wires which carried messages from distant sensory organs to the brain, the command center, and from there to carry back the functions to the distant organs, the so-called afferent and efferent nerves. Then I found out that there were two types of nervous systems, the so-called voluntary and autonomic nervous systems, one of which is under our conscious control, and the other which continues to work even while we are sleeping. We must find out to whom does this involuntary control system responds and who is controlling the so-called autonomic nervous system.

It is fascinating to know that when we go against nature, the auto- nomic nervous system does not like it. For example, when we lie, we develop tremors of the hand, perspiration and palpitations. All these are signs which are used by lie detectors since the autonomic nervous system is not under our control.

When I looked at the dissection of the eye and knew that the present camera is built on the way the eye is built, the fascinating thing to learn was that our images are created inverted as we see them, but in reality, we do not see the inverted image but the correct image as we see it. So how does this inverted images which are formed in the brain become erect again? Nobody knows to date. That is this conscious control over the brain that makes US decide if our certain actions are good or not? Is it not the same conscious control of the brain on our judgment which is taken away when we put our system to sleep by taking sedatives and alcohol? When I looked at the skin, the protective covering of our bodies, it was more fascinating since skin was the only sensitive area of our body responding to pain. Therefore, when the skin is made numb by anesthetic agents, then it is easier for surgeons to cut the visceral organs.

Now many years later, I read the words in Quran to the effect that when the wrongdoers are burned in the hellfire because of their crimes, they will be given a new skin so that they feel the pain continuously. How fascinating it is, that without a new skin, they could never receive the continuous pain after having been burned one time.

What distinguishes man from other animals, and especially mammals, is the special features of the thumb. It is the thumb which makes a man so skillful, such skills which other animals lack in terms of writing or other work that we do with the hand. Now when we look at the area of the brain which corresponds to the area of the thumb, the interesting thing is that the thumb by itself has an area even more prominent than the leg, although the thumb itself is a smaller organ than the leg.

All these portals of entry, whether they are skin or hand or eyes or the hearing mechanism, are given to man to receive information and make an intelligent decision based on that information. This fact has been recog- nized in the Quran, asking, "Have We not given you a tongue, a pair of eyes and hearing that you may decide which path you will choose for yourself?"

And what about the heart? Is it just an organ and a pump, or is it beyond that? When we say, "So and so is close to my heart," or when we say, "I thank you from the depth of my heart," what does it mean? Is this "disease of the heart" which is mentioned in the Quran, not coronary artery disease or valvular heart disease, but the disease of rejection of truth because the heart, by nature, should only accept the truth unless it is diseased?

So as I studied various organs in anatomy and pondered their intricate formation and intrinsic function and sophisticated fibers of nerves and two types of vessels, one to bring the impure blood to the lungs for purification and the other to take pure blood out of the heart for different functions, I could not believe the intelligence and mastery of the Creator of this machine.

As my knowledge of medicine increased in the following thirty-two years, so did my belief in the Creator of this machine. As an endocrinol- ogist, I learned about these special messengers and hormones that give signals to different par ts of the body to function appropriately at the time of need.

I learned that the fetus produces only inactive reverse T3, a thyroid hormone, but as the umbilical cord is tied and the baby is cut off from the hormone supply from the mother, this reverse T3 immediately becomes the active T3 which is the mirror image of reverse but inactive T3. How does this happen? Nobody knows. But now the fetus, on its own, needs T3 for heat conservation and survival. This is again a miracle of the Creator of this machine. All these different organs and different components of this machine are indispensable. Human beings have devised some artificial machines like artificial knee or hip joints, but have not come close to anything original. No one can put a dollar amount on all the components of this machine, but if one day they will be able to, it will be a billion dollar machine which was given to us as a gift and we were to be a trustee of this gift. We never realize this and we try to destroy this beautiful machine with cigarettes, alcohol, salt, sugar and fat, and we become sick as a result. We call it the will of God, which is not true. The human brain and the calculations it can make, and the decisions and logic it call arrive at, constitute a marvelous computer with feelings and emotions. A robot, in the words of a neurosurgeon, can be trained to do the surgery, but it will never learn when not to do surgery-and that's a beautiful decision making capacity of the human brain.

An artificial heart can pump blood, but it will never feel sad or happy. The two beautiful feelings that human beings have been given, nor can it ever be thankful. Thus, the best book is the one which led me to the Creator of this machine.