Jump to navigation

Principles Concepts and Definition

Avicenna, one of the greatest scholars of Unani Tabb (medicine), has defined it as:

Tabb is the science of which we learn the various states of body, in health and when not in health, and the means by which health is likely to be lost and, when lost, is likely to be restored.

The basic theory of Unani system is based upon the well- known four- humour theory of Hippocrates. This presupposes the presence, in the body, of four humours viz., blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. The human
body is considered to be made up of the following seven components are:

  1. Arkan (Elements)
  2. Mizaj (Temperament)
  3. Akhlat (Humors)
  4. Aaza (Organs)
  5. Arwah (Spirits)
  6. Quwa (Faculties)
  7. Afaal (Functions)
  8. Arkan (Elements)
The human body contains four elements. Each of the four elements has its own temperament as follows:
Element Temperament
Air Hot and Moist
Earth Cold and Dry
Fire Hot and Dry
Water Cold and Moist

Mizaj (Temperament)

In the Unani system, the temperament of the individual is very important as it is considered to be unique. The individuals temperament is believed to be the result of the interaction of the elements. The temperament can be real equitable where the four elements used are in equal quantities. This does not exist. The temperament may be equitable. This means presence of just and required amount of compatible temperament. Lastly, temperament can be inequitable. In this case there is absence of just distribution of temperament according to their requirements for healthy functioning of the human body.

Akhlat (Humours)

Humours are those moist and fluid parts of the body which are produced after transformation and metabolism of the aliments; they serve the function of nutrition, growth and repair; and produce energy, for the preservation of individual and his species. The humours are responsible for maintaining moisture of different organs of the body and also provide nutrition to the body. Food passes through four stages of digestion; (1) Gastric digestion when food is turned in to chyme and chyle and carried to liver by mesenteric veins (2). Hepatic digestion in which chyle is converted into four humours in varying quantities, that of blood being the largest. Thus, the blood which leaves the liver is intermixed with the other humours namely, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. The third and fourth stages of digestion are known as (3) vessels and (4) tissue digestion. While the humours are flowing in the blood vessels, every tissue absorbs its nutrition by its attractive power and retains it by its retentive power. Then the digestive power in conjunction with assimilative power converts it into tissues. The waste material in humour at this stage is excreted by the expulsive power. According to this system when any disturbance occurs in the equilibrium of the humour, it causes disease. The treatment, therefore, aims at restoring the equilibrium of humours.

Aaza (Organs)

These are the various organs of the human body. The health or disease of each individual organ affects the state of health of the whole body.

Arwah (Spirits)

Ruh (Spirit) is a gaseous substance, obtained from the inspired air, it helps in all the metabolic activities of the body. It burns the akhlat latifah to produce all kinds of quwa (powers) and hararat ghariziyah, it is the source of vitality for all the organs of the body. These are considered to be the life force and are, therefore, important in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. These are the carriers of different powers, which make the whole body system and its parts functional.

Quwa (Faculties)

These are of three kinds:

  1. Quwa Tabiyah (Natural power)
  2. Quwa Nafsaniyah (Psychic power)
  3. Quwa Haywaniyah (Vital power)

Quwa Tabiyah or Natural power is the power of metabolism and reproduction. Liver is the seat of this power and the process is carried on in every tissue of the body. Metabolism is concerned with the processes of nutrition and growth of human body. Nutrition comes from the food and is carried to all parts of the body, while growth power is responsible for the construction and growth of human organism.
Quwa Nafsaniyah or Psychic power refers to nervous and psychic power. It is located inside the brain and is responsible for perceptive and motive power. Perceptive power conveys impressions or sensation and motive power brings about movements as a response to sensation. Quwa Haywaniyah or Vital power is responsible for maintaining life and enables all the organs to accept the effect of psychic power. This power is located in the heart. It keeps life running in the tissues.

Afaal (Functions)

This component refers to the movements and functions of all the organs of the body. In case of a healthy body the various organs are not only in proper shape but are also performing their respective functions. This makes it necessary to have full knowledge of the functions of the human body in full detail.


Health refers to that state of human body when all the functions of the body are carried out normally. Disease is the opposite of health in which one or more functions or forms of the body organs are at fault.


The Diagnostic process in Unani system is dependent on observation and physical examination. Any illness of a person is to be regarded as a product of:

  1. The stuff and material he is made of ;
  2. The kind of temperament, structure and strength of faculties he has;
  3. The type of factors operating on him from outside; and
  4. Natures own attempt to maintain his physical functions and to ward off disruptions to the extent possible.

Keeping all inter-related factors in view, the cause and nature of illness is determined and treatment is chalked out. Diagnosis involves investigating the causes of disease thoroughly and in detail. For this, the physicians depend mainly on Pulse (Nabz) reading and examination of urine and stool. The alternative contraction and expansion of the arteries produced by the systolic and diastolic of heart is called Pulse (Nabz).
Besides the means of pulse reading and physical examination of urine and stool, other conventional means such as inspection, palpitation, percussion and occultation are also used for diagnosis purposes.