Wednesday, December 25


Like many other Islamic activities Hijama, or cupping, has become a bit of a fashion over the past few years. The idea behind it (essentially of using low pressure to suck out blood via some minor incisions on your skin) is pretty blunt and maybe even a little gross, but the practise is a Sunnah which for many is enough to give it a go.

Our local mosque ran some Hijama sessions today, held by Dr Sheikh Muhammad Zaenal Arifin a local cupping expert whose reputation I had already heard heard about from some friends who had already visited him separately. But more on that later.

The cupping itself was more disconcerting than painful or uncomfortable. It went exactly as expected - horns were used in this session, with an initial (dry) cupping being used to draw blood to the surface, followed by a tirade of incisions by a blade to the prepared surface, after which the horns were reapplied to draw out the blood. Any weirdness I think was due to the unfamiliarity of the set up rather than any physical reason, and I was pretty astonished by the matter which was drawn out (think raspberry jelly and you wouldn't be far off).

As well as the cupping, Dr Arifin's reputation comes from the massage he applies after his Hijama sessions. I had already seen reactions of fully grown men to his touch (which pretty much consisted of lots of shouting in pain), and although that as a challenge itself was something I had convinced myself I wanted to try one day, I didn't realise that was going to be today until saw Dr Arifin apply the cups - by which point it was too late to reconsider my options. Dr Arifin is a small Indonesian chap who instantly reminded me of Mad Dog from The Raid, although I'm not sure if I had made that connection before or after I saw him work, live, on the guy who I had been paired up with.

I like to think that I can endure most kinds of everyday physical pain. Sure, I have no problem expressing that endurance with (lots of) noise and (lots of) flailing of limbs, but I'd never walk away from something which I knew was going to pass eventually. And although today's "massage" (yes, with quotes) was very painful and perhaps the most localised, deliberate and intense activity I've ever partaken in, it wasn't unbearable - I think a great component of my own reaction was due in the main to the stories I had heard and not knowing what would happen... I would imagine the second and subsequent goes would be a more tolerable experience for all the first timers today.

But what about the after effects of the today's treatment? If I'm totally honest, I don't think I'm entirely convinced that Hijama is for me as a regular preventative medical practise. I may have felt a bit looser and lighter, but that could equally have just been my imagination too. However Dr Arifin did suggest some lifestyle changes I could make in my life based on what he saw in the blood I had let, as well as what he felt while massaging - all very sensible and relevant so I will try to take those on board. The massage was more of a novel experience and challenge than a treatment, and I'm glad I did it for the experience.

Dr Arifin and his associates currently run sessions in Ilford and a clinic Forest Gate - if anyone is interested in cupping or their other services than please let me know.

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