Hakim Archuletta, a homeopath and health practitioner trained in the Unani tradition, may be an unlikely person to caution us against understanding nature or even natural living as medicine, but he does so, offering an important caveat to our desire to heal ourselves naturally: until we first understand the nature of our own being, we will continue to suffer unease.
In this conversation (recorded before the pandemic) Hakim and Dawood Yasin, director of student life at Zaytuna College, discuss the modern maladies that accompany our forceful move toward increased urbanization, afflictions that harm both the soul and the environment. Many people, Hakim notes, want to recover a sense of self, believing themselves lost amidst the pulls and pushes of contemporary demands, but he questions whether healing is possible without a willingness to reconsider our fraught relationship with the divine. Their conversation has been edited for clarity.
Dawood Yasin: Your studies led you to the title of “Hakim,” the title given to practitioners of Islamic medicine. What about the path of traditional Islamic healing interested you at a time when many Western Muslim intellectuals were studying Islamic law, Arabic, and other classical sciences considered more central to Islamic tradition?
Hakim Archuletta: Well, when I became Muslim: I was actually playing music professionally, and I’d been in theater, drama, fine arts, and so forth. One of my first teachers in Islam said to me point-blank, “You should do medicine.” He had the kind of insight that was pretty profound because I realized I had been interested in medicine from the time I discovered this natural medicine encyclopedia in the garage when I was in kindergarten and was just fascinated by that book. That fascination continued with the study of the body and science as a child and as a teenager. When I was thirteen, I would go out and gather wild plants and try to make salads and food for my family to try to get them to eat these things. Of course, they weren’t interested in it.
So, my teacher saw something or knew something that was inherent. Nowadays, it’s hard to find professions that we can even call professions because of the nature of the society and culture. Until recently, people were shoemakers, bakers, warriors, scholars, and medicine people. When I was told I should do medicine, I discovered myself, and then I just loved to study it.
And what I wanted to find in medicine was the same thing that I’d found when I became Muslim, the incredible sea of knowledge and wisdom of Islam. It took me a long time to find it; I looked everywhere. I looked in Morocco, the Middle East, but I did find it finally, in Pakistan, after a long search and after months of looking for teachers. I found my teacher who said to me, “I learned medicine in the forest with my grandfather.” And when he said that I knew, “Okay, this is the kind of medicine I’m looking for.”
DY: You mention that the hakim you learned from in Pakistan learned from his grandfather in the forest. What about the outdoors is so essential to your training as a hakim?
HA: Well, I think the outdoors is essential to our training as human beings, as human animals. People demean animals by saying, “They’re just animals.” The truth of the matter is that humans often sink much lower than animals, and animals remain noble within what they’re designed to be for the most part, unless we interfere.
DY: It’s interesting that when we enter back into nature, perhaps it reminds us of something. It reminds us of our primordial state as people. Two years ago, we did backpacking trips with some of the students here at the college. For one student, it was her first time out and first time ever in the back country, first time with a backpack on. We hiked down about three thousand feet; we stayed there for a day or two. And she stopped for a moment and said, “I want to share something with you.” She said, “I just realized that the perfection and the beauty of this place is that there is no disobedience to God here except for what we bring into it.” And I just thought that was so profound.
HA: Yes. There’s a quality to nature that could be terrifying for some people. But on the other hand, there is that thing you’re talking about, the primordial design of the law and its creation without interference and without obstruction.
DY: A friend of mine has a book called The Mindful Carnivore. He has a line about the impact of Disney on how we view animals. He said in the real world, the owl eats Thumper. The owl eats the rabbit.
HA: Including the bones.