Does prayer really cure patients? By publishing a research, some writers have claimed that prayer does not have an effect on the recovery of patients. Is that really the case? What do the scientific researches about prayer really say?
There are so many scientific researches carried out on that issue that conflict each other. According to the database Psyc Lit, there have been 1100 articles published on that issue between the years 2000-2002. Using the results of just one article to claim that it has been proven that prayer does not affect the recovery of patients is completely a subjective and personal choice and using science to promote ones personal choice.
In a related research done at San Francisco General Hospitals Coronary Unit, patients who have been prayed for have turned out to be more healthy than those who have not been prayed for. Those patients have required less cardiopulmonary resuscitation (the need for artificial blood circulation and artificial respiration by pressuring the chest and giving air into the lungs), less drugs for urine problems, less need for antibiotics. Those patients have had less fluid accumulation at the lungs and fewer deaths.
In a scientific research done at the Durham Duke University Medical Center in 1998 on 4000 patients over the age of 65, it has been concluded that, the people who pray and go to a congregation once a week have less hypertension. In addition, the more religious a person is and the more he attends the weekly congregation, the less likely that person would have high blood pressure problems and 40 percent less chance of having high systolic blood pressure problems. The head of the National Institute for Health Care Research at Rockville, Dr. David B. Larson says that prayer decreases blood pressure and points out that faith does have favorable effects on the nervous system and against the daily stress. More interestingly, the head of the Freedom from Religion Foundation and famous atheist Dan Barker says that prayer and religion takes the form of medicine. He adds that people need a community and environment to take care of them and that they need to stay within a certain environment during times of sickness and that religion provides it and religious thinking helps patients recover.
Scientific viewpoint on prayer in the West and Turkey
In the West, not only the effect of faith, religious life and prayer on sick people is being investigated but also such detailed issues like the effects of prayer on bacteria and the intentions of people far away. In his work on experiments over microorganisms, Be Careful What You Pray For, Dr. Dossey says: The people who do not believe in the effects of intentions from a distance say that the observed results could emerge from the expectation of the person or the power of faith and prayer. The doubters do not deny the effects of faith and prayer. Interpreting the experiments made on the effect of distant intentions on bacteria, Daniel I. Benor says that the results are very meaningful. Based on those kinds of experiments, the effects of prayers from far away distances, no matter how far, made for other people are emphasized. As a result, the experts say: Studies put forward the definite proof on the force of prayer. The results of those works show that there is a force of higher rank and we have the ability to interact with it. The issue was discussed extensively at a forum in December 2003 by the psychiatry professor from Duke University, Harold G. Koenig; academic on religion and health issues from John Templeton Foundation, Dr. Christina Puchalski and from Georgetown University, Dr. Cynthia Cohen. Harold G. Koenig called attention to the fact that, historically, patient treatment had started as a purely religious issue; first hospitals and care centers were founded by religious communities; and as a result of the teachings of Freud, it was only in the 20th century that religion and medical care have tended to be separated. Koenig also quoted a Gallup poll that found that 95 percent of Americans believe in God and especially 75 percent of people over 65 say that religion is very important for them. Koenig stated that religion and prayer give people a positive and optimistic point of view, develop an auto-control mechanism in them by instilling them with hope, help them gain themselves role models like Job (pbuh) and reduce stress. For those and other similar reasons, Koenig stated that prayer and religion have favorable effects on sicknesses and a healthy life. Dr. Koenig also cited, out of 3 researches carried out, all 3 of them had concluded that there was a positive relationship between religious life and the immune system and endocrine (hormone secretion) functions; 5 out of 7 researches concluded that a routine religious life decreased the rate of death from cancer; and out of 23 research, 14 of them concluded that religious life had a positive effect on blood pressure.
Let alone doing researches like those in Turkey, even mentioning them is considered non-scientific. Only a few negative examples are pointed out from the West, many positive examples (some of which have been mentioned above) are not mentioned. Many truths about the West are concealed. For example, in a study made at the Baltimore Sinai Hospital in the U.S., 74 percent of patients have said that their beliefs are important for them while 45 percent have said that not enough emphasis is put on their religious-spiritual needs. The researchers who have interpreted the results have pointed out that religious beliefs are important for patients to deal with their health problems and that there is a need for a mechanism to identify and meet the need of every single patient. In addition, it has been concluded in a study carried out at the Norwegian Tromso University Hospital, Oncology Department, that religion and believing is important in the treatment of chronic and life threatening sicknesses. The study has shown that 70.5 percent of patients have resorted to alternative methods of treatment like belief therapy and treatment with the hand.
As a result of scientific researches, the point of view to medicine and medical education is changing. Christian Puchalski, one of the researchers mentioned above, emphasizes that religious-spiritual and cultural beliefs have affected how people understand their sicknesses and that there are social, emotional and spiritual factors behind pain, perceiving pain and treating it. Puchalski points out that they now feel the need to make big changes in medical education and that 65 percent of medical schools have started to offer courses on the relationship between spirituality and health, moral and psycho-social topics. Physicians now start to deal with every patient on a personal basis and they ask patients What would you like me to do?. Even if they do not pray for them personally, the physicians offer to have a religious person pray for the patient at their side.
Why do the researches give different results?
It is said that one of the reasons that research gives different results on the effects of prayer on sicknesses and even sometimes claims that prayer has no effect, is that prayer is expected to have an immediate effect like medicine. Making further comments on the issue, cardiology expert from Duke University Dr. Mitchell Krucoff says: We have not constructed a prayer room. We also do not have a prayer control group. It is not really ethical to tell some patients or some people not to pray. Furthermore, when you tell people to pray, we do not know who really prays, the timing and duration of the prayers.
The most important reason why some researches give negative results, if they are different and correct, is that people do not know the true nature and characteristics of prayer. The Almighty Allah has manifestations of his names through Rahmaniyat (holistic mercy that encompasses all beings, mercifulness) and Rahimiyat (individual mercy that addresses every being one by one, compassionateness). As a result of the manifestation of Rahmaniyat, Allah has laid down laws to govern the universe and this life. All beings, including humans, are subject to those laws. Positive sciences have their topics as one of those laws or some positive sciences have emerged because of those laws. Applying to a means for a desired result or a farmer plowing a field, a patient applying to a qualified doctor and using the prescribed medicine and a student studying for success are all prayers. That kind of a prayer is seeking refuge in the Rahmaniyat of Allah and obeying the Rahmaniyat laws. Those kinds of prayers are generally (not all the time and surely) accepted. As a manifestation of the same Rahmaniyat laws, there are also prayers made with the tongue of need. Hunger draws us to eat and fatigue to rest and sleep. We are drawn to listen to the demands of our body. As an example, the appetite to be full and to rest which is expressed through being hungry, thirsty and tired are innate prayers of our body and they are generally accepted.
There are times when faced with the laws of Rahmaniyat, we are depressed; the means we have applied to obtain the desired results do not come to fruition; medicine becomes helpless against sicknesses. In these kinds of circumstances, we look for a power above all of the means. Allah the Almighty reminds us of his existence and that He has power and authority over all things so that we do not remain stuck with the means too much and associate partners to Him. Allah also reminds us so that we will not start to feel too proud and think that we have power over all things. In addition, Allah wants us not to fall into despair and knows that He is not there only with manifestation of his Rahmaniyat and laws but also with the personal manifestations and laws. So, we are directed to the fact that we can and should turn towards Him. He gives luster to our hopes, strength to our hearts and breadth to our emotions. Actually, this is the prayer that is being debated. These prayers are also never rejected but because we cannot encompass our past, present and future all together, we look at everything with regard to this world and not the infinite life. So, perhaps we can sometimes wish for things which will be bad for us rather than good because we cannot perceive comprehensively what is good or evil for us. Allah the Almighty, on the other hand, wishes the best for us. In addition, although we are individuals, we are related to our environment and all kinds of times and spaces in varying degrees. We cannot comprehensively conceive it either but Allah does; and He acts in accordance with His divine wisdom (Hikmat). For this reason, when we pray orally, sometimes He gives us what we want, sometimes he gives us just the opposite, sometimes nothing at all and sometimes He leaves it to the Hereafter. There is also a method of praying because we are not addressing an ordinary superior but rather the creator and manager of all worlds and the sultan of eternity.
There is no difference between the manifestations of the names of Allah the Almighty; the manifestation of Kalam is similar to the manifestation of Qudrah (power). For this reason, when He orders to create, He just says Be! So, the manifestation of the Quran is just like the manifestation of Qudrah. If He wishes, if it conforms to His divine wisdom and if there is absolute trust of His mercy and power and that He is absolutely not bound with means, the dead can be brought back, the mountains can be moved and grinded to dust and the sick can be cured if the Quran is read with that kind of a heart and tongue. In his book called Prayer, the double Nobel Prize winner French doctor Alexis Carrel says Prayer can cure even cancer. In his book Towards the Future he says the following: A priest asked Don Alexis, Do you teach your students to pray?. Don Alexis replied: I teach them to make their whole lives a prayer.
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