From Aztecs and A-list celebrities, the ancient healing practice of cupping has such a diverse fanbase and illustrious history that it’s hard to credit one culture with its conception. The practice is believed to date back to thousands of years with evidence of the method amongst medicinal traditions of the Egyptians, Chinese and Greeks.
The holistic therapy consists of heating small round cups on an open flame and placing it on the skin which creates a vacuum that sucks up the skin and encourages blood flow. The most popular form of cupping in the Muslim world is ‘wet cupping’ where small incisions are made to the skin after cupping to draw out blood.
How Hijama Is Done
Wet cupping or ‘Hijama’, which comes from the Arabic word for ‘sucking’, took on particular importance in the Arab world after the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said: “Healing is in three things: in the incision of the cupper, in drinking honey, and in cauterizing with fire, but I forbid my Ummah (nation) to use cauterization.” (Al-Bukhari) Although over time the popularity of cupping has waned significantly, Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa carry out wet cupping to soothe their aches and pains till this day.
Wet cupping has been credited in the Islamic faith as a cure for various ailments such as headaches, stomach problems, poisoning and alleviating pain. As Abu Zakariya, a Hijama practitioner in the UK explains, “Hijama is like an oil change for the human body- if you compare the body to a car- you remove the old dirty (oil-blood), so the body can replenish the circulatory system with clean blood. Hijama helps to remove impurities and stimulate the bone marrow to produce new, healthier blood and increase blood circulation.”
Hijama, which is basically a combination of cupping and blood-letting, also has the added benefits of these two therapies. Cupping is widely used to treat pain and muscular aches, indigestion, colds, fever and even arthritis. Whilst blood-letting is credited with removing toxins, excess iron and excess red blood cells from the body.
Leeches which were used in the past to aid blood letting appear to have made a comeback in recent times as they are now used in hospitals to clean wounds and improve blood circulation in damaged tissue.
Although the practice has an important place in most Muslim communities, there does tend to be a DIY attitude to the whole thing with people using the ‘guy down the street’ to carry it out.
This probably stems from the fact that traditionally it was the barber who carried out the practice, along with other small operations such as circumcisions, but my advice is to seek a professionals or registered practitioner who will ensure that the hijama is carried out in a sterile environment. Abu Zakariya’s advice is to make sure the practitioner is medically qualified and follows strict universal cross infection control procedures (ie all cups are disposable and single use).
Despite the alien-like bruises that this alternative therapy leaves behind, the procedure for wet cupping is quite straight forward and consists of encouraging blood circulation using suction and pressure combined with small incisions. The bruising which occurs due to the suction from the cups fades within days and I have been told repeatedly that cupping looks a million times more painful than it actually is. Most people say that they find the procedure soothing and effective form of pain relief which helps them detox.
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