Interview with a holistic healer (part 2 of 2)
Written by: Khadeja
Rabiah Mali is a medical herbalist, hijama [cupping] therapist, and, above all, an amazing woman. I first met her a few months back when she was hosting a talk entitled Nature & Spirituality, during which she explained in-depth how connecting to nature can strengthen our spirituality. I was so enthralled with the content that I wanted to sit down with her for a discussion regarding taking a more holistic approach to our health and our lives in general. We settled on a park bench for what felt like a long chat between two friends; Rabiah has an amazing way of connecting with people and making them feel at ease.
*This interview was conducted with a qualified holistic healer. Please note that each individual is different, and that no one recommendation may fit everyone. If you have health concerns, please consult your doctor.
If you haven’t had a chance to read part 1 yet, please visit it here.
I know that each person is different, but what active steps can we take in our lives in order to improve our wellbeing?
- Start with an intention that you would like to improve your health for the sake of God, and keep renewing it.
- Make sure that you try to maintain your 5 daily prayers.
- Just as important is your food and diet. There are certain foods that make prayer difficult for us, while other foods make our prayers lighter and easier to do. I constantly advise people to either cut out meat entirely or to cut down on your meat consumption gradually, until it gets to once a month. You take on the characteristics of the food you eat. As much as I love cows, they are by nature very sluggish and docile. If you eat beef every single day, you will begin to adopt those characteristics. You will also eventually take on the shape of the animal, meaning that the fats will accumulate in your mid-section, which is a very dangerous area as that determines your likelihood of having strokes and heart attacks. Instead of beef, I would suggest lamb, goat or camel (again, once in a while). And try to focus on what is local to the country you live in. When it comes to chickens, I personally have an issue with the chicken farming industry–the fact that it is called an industry in itself is appalling–and how chickens are treated. As Muslims, we should not be supporting this industry at all. Then there is the issue of all the injections that are given to chickens in order to plump them up. When animals go through some sort of trauma, they release certain hormones that, believe it or not, we end up ingesting.
- Increase vegetable and fruit intake–especially organics–as much as you can. Now, I am not saying eat only organic, as that may be difficult to access in some cases, but try to at least keep the root vegetables, apples, and salad greens organic.
- Implement a spiritual practice in your life, other than your prayer, whether that’s a daily dhikr [sayings of remembrance], a daily walk, a daily painting session, or daily meditation. Your spirituality is the foundation of your health. And if you’re not nourishing that, then you can take all the herbs you want and eat all the things you should be, but it won’t make a difference, because spiritually you are holding onto a lot of anger or grief, or you’re not loving yourself or others in the right way.
- Go through a regular detox of body/mind/soul, and, of course, exercise.
Walk me through a detox.
A detox will vary depending on the person. Back in the day, many cultures had detoxes once a week. For example, in my Caribbean culture, every Sunday we would drink cerasee tea, which is an excellent liver herb and draws out all the toxins. It’s funny because they would detox spiritually by going to church and then come home and do a physical detox with the tea but then stuff themselves with a feast, which defeats the purpose of a detox, but the intention was there.
Ideally, every week we would have a detox, and that can be by detoxing foods or teas. An easy way to do this is through daily lemon water, which is excellent for the liver, or dandelion root tea, burdock, cleavers, nettle–these are all teas that are cleansing and detoxifying. You can do a detox where you are consuming the teas and just vegetables [under the supervision of a doctor]. The month of Ramadan–which is our yearly detox of the physical, emotional and spiritual–is the time for the body, mind, and spirit to heal itself and everything connected to it. That is why we often feel refreshed during that month, and after a week of fasting it becomes easy–because that is our natural state. We want to have that space and openness to connect. A lot of food grounds us, but not in a good way. It ties us into a materialistic mindset.
With our consumption of food, we aren’t really eating just to nourish ourselves but we end up overeating instead.
Because now our relationship with food is that of pleasure. We have voids in our lives, whether mentally or spiritually, so we try to find a way to fill those voids in. But on the other hand, we need to look into the barakah [blessings] of food, which is what truly nourishes us and makes us feel full physically and spiritually. We aren’t really thinking about that, if you see how the animals are raised or even how food is being cooked.
I look at the prophets and the saints to use as examples. They would always look at who is cooking the food, because whoever is cooking while in a state of shukr [gratefulness] and dhikr [remembrance], that would go into the food. They would make sure that the money used to buy the food is from a 100% halal [spiritually lawful] source, otherwise the haram [forbidden] element would effect your spirituality. My sheikh [spiritual teacher] constantly advises me to try not to eat out, not just from a money saving perspective, but also because spiritually we don’t know anything about who is preparing our food. For example, some chef may have cursed and shouted and screamed all over your food, and you are going to sit there and eat it?
One of my herbalist mentors said that he once ate at a restaurant, and afterwards, he had specific unique pain to the left of his stomach. He just dismissed it as being a bit of food poisoning. He went back to the restaurant 2-3 weeks later and the manager introduced him to the chefs as an herbalist. One of them said, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to speak to someone about this; I’ve got an ulcer on the left side of my stomach.” He was in awe. This is the reality of it: Everything ends up in our food.
We don’t’ treat food as a living thing, because the meat is already chopped up and the vegetables picked. When you mentioned barakah, I think about myself coming home after a long day at work rushing to get food together. I don’t necessarily put that mindfulness in.
That’s why I think that the mindfulness movement in coming back. We are going through life like robots just to get things done. People are starting to realize more and more the value of mindful tea drinking or mindful walking. It is about bringing not only your mind but also your intentions to the present moment. The more we remind ourselves, the more it becomes a habit, and the more we can slow down a little bit. It also comes into play in our spiritual practice. Part of being a Muslim is witnessing God’s creation and mercy, and I don’t think that we are taking the time to do so. Witnessing is part of our shahada [statement of faith] and it is something that should be renewed as you embrace and love the religion more and more.
As women, we take on so many roles and responsibilities, which is great because we get so much reward in return. But how do we maintain that balance in our life?
One of the key things that we struggle with as women is realising that everything that needs us is actually a part of us. When we work, we need to reflect on what we are doing, spiritually, emotionally and physically. If the work we are doing is not nourishing us, we might have to stop and take a minute and ask God to open up another way for us. Although it would be nice to just up and quit, we have to be realistic. We need to look at all the aspects of our lives, all the roles we play, as being part of a whole, not separated parts.
Spiritually, women don’t often get the chance to sit in a masjid [mosque] for hours. We don’t have that luxury. However, everything we do and carry is ultimately an act of worship; it is ultimately nourishing us spiritually, and it should. If it’s not, we have to sit and re-evaluate everything so that what we do is a source of nourishment. Even the stress that comes with a family will turn us back to God. The difficulty of work will turn us back to Him, the difficulty of love will turn us back to Him. It is easier said than done, but everything is a means of turning us back to God. Even joy and sadness can turn our faces to God–in everything I experience, as long as I’m seeking God, there is going to be a balance.
One of my patients is a mother of two and she is going through a few different things. I sat her down and told her that she needs to find time for herself. She was feeling guilty that she was taking supplements and spending money on herbs and on the gym. And I had to explain to her that this is somewhat beautiful because it is the nature of women, always putting others first. But we have to redefine that now and realise that’s what our mothers and grandmothers did, but they were living in a very different world. We can still put others first, but it’s essential to put ourselves into the equation.
What about using herbal medicine for psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, etc.?
Most of the plants we use are flowers, such as lemon balm and chamomile. Back in the ’30s in England, they used to prescribe nature as a remedy for a lot of mental health patients: Just go sit out and be in nature, because it helps so much for your mental health. When we look at beautiful things, it reminds us of beauty and of God’s beauty. Research has shown that spending time around trees improves your mental health.
I always thought of chamomile as being a relaxing bedtime drink.
It is, and that’s how it is taken commercially, but it is a very powerful tea.
What benefits does it have?
Obviously, the relaxing/sleeping effect, but we use it a lot for anxiety, to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and as a liver tea. It’s powerful, but it’s gentle enough to work for children.
With teas, are you getting the full benefit from a commercial tea bag, or is it better to get the loose tea?
If you can use fresh plants or the dried loose teas, that’s better. Two things about tea bags: If you are in need of proper medicinal benefits, you would need 2-3 tea bags in one cup because most tea bags have “tea dust” in them (what is found in the bottom of a jar that has dried herbs), and therefore you aren’t getting the full potency. Also, be aware that they bleach the bags for some reason.
As women, we go through so much health-wise, what herbs would you recommend for our specific issues?
Rosemary is one of my favourite herbs to prescribe for women. There is an old folk tale that if you see rosemary growing outside a house, that means that the women in the house are very strong and powerful and that you shouldn’t marry from that house. We use it for its anti-fungal properties, and to treat migraines, headache, memory problems, or thrush. I also prescribe it when I feel like a particular person needs to connect to their “strong feminine.” We use willow for period pains and a lot of ginger–most people in this country should be drinking ginger. Garlic is another amazing natural supplement which I would prescribe to everyone if I could!
Here are a few more recommended herbs:
Nettle grows everywhere. It is nutrient-dense, and it is one of the best plants in this country to nourish the body, especially for women suffering from anemia and a weaker temperament. It helps with the removal of toxins from the body and traditionally has been used to stop heavy menstrual bleeding, but can also be used to bring on an absent or delayed period. Especially in spring, I feel that everyone should be drinking nettle tea to maintain good health and nourish the body.
Calendula is such a pretty orange flower; just looking at it will have a therapeutic benefit! The flower is a powerful antiseptic and is great in cases of thrush or herpes. It has a special attraction to the uterus and traditionally is known to be a tonic for the area. It’s also know to balance out hormones and promote uterine contractions.
One of the many things I learned from Rabiah during this interview and at her seminar is the idea of the Oneness of God. We should feel His presence everywhere we look and within everything we do. While praying and fasting are essential to our spirituality, there is so much more to be taken into consideration which would make us better believers. Our relationship with our bodies and health are one of the many things that we will be accountable for. Let’s all follow Rabiah’s advice and try to slow things down to take everything in…after all, it’s all about the balance.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.