When Nazrul Islam was an undergraduate student, he came down with a case of bronchitis, and no Western medicine doctors could cure him. After searching around, he decided to try a homoeopathic doctor, and suddenly he was cured within two weeks, with the disease never re-emerging. Since then, Nazrul has gained an appreciation for Asian medicine and has dedicated much of his academic career to studying both Chinese and Indian traditional medicine. This is his story.




Even when Nazrul got sick a few years ago in Zhuhai, he first consulted with the hospital, who insisted he would have to do an operation. However, after going to Chinese medicine doctors, he received traditional herbs to treat his problem, which were once again able to cure him. Nazrul has personally seen the power that Asian medicine has, and decided to dedicate his life to promoting and sharing the wisdom of traditional medicine.

Born and raised in Faridpur, Bangladesh, into a family of educators, Nazrul always knew he wanted to do further education and teach one day. After completing his undergraduate in Social Anthropology, with a focus on medical anthropology, he was drawn towards pursuing further studies in traditional healing and medicine at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and the University of Hong Kong leading to his MSc and PhD.

Medical anthropology looks at cultural aspects of health, and traditional healing methods used in different communities. Nazrul had the opportunity to study many different communities, from research on reproductive health and healing choices in Bangladesh to traditional healing in the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as his current work in Indian and Chinese medicine.

There are many similarities between Chinese and Indian medicine. The herbs used are different, but the property of the herbs may be the same. Both are tied into the balance of your body and mind, and to a certain extent, religion. However, in trying to promote traditional medicine in the present day, many try to promote it as very secular to encourage a wider range of people to try it.

What does Nazrul think about the future of Chinese medicine development, now that China is a big player in the world? Nazrul looks at it with a critical eye, noting Chinese medicine has a history spanning over 1000 years. One of the major challenges in Chinese medicine today is that some prescriptions call for using rare animal parts, which is now seen as unethical in the public eye, and often illegal. For example, even in Indian medicine, mercury and snake poison were traditionally used, but now they cannot be.

People have the perception that Asian medicine does not have any side effects and that it’s all-natural, which is often the selling point. However, drug companies can’t use all the ingredients that traditional Chinese medicine used, so they have to use modern-day ingredients, combining Western and Asian medicine.

Much of the decline of Asian medicine in the 20th century is due to the fact that Western medicine, which is predominant globally, is based on experimental science. Asian medicine, however, was developed as an experiential science.

Nazrul explained that if someone these days wanted to be a Chinese medicine practitioner, then they must go to university and study for five years. However, this isn’t how it was traditionally done. Traditionally, Chinese traditional doctors would learn through an apprenticeship, with the skills being passed down through families. Traditional Chinese medicine involved lifelong learning, rather than a four to five-year programme in the current day. Asian medicine is individualistic medicine - you don’t treat just the symptom, instead, you treat the whole patient, which requires a lot of experience. However, due to the rapid population growth, Asian medicine is not seen as a feasible option, since it would be too time-consuming to give each patient individual attention and diagnosis.

Nazrul’s current research looks into how Chinese medicine can be used as a tool of cultural connectivity between China and Southeast Asia. Nazrul says his biggest challenge doing research in China is the language barrier.

Nazrul has been teaching at UIC since 2008 in the General Education Office (GEO), and one of the main reasons Nazrul has stayed at UIC so long is that UIC has given him the flexibility to propose his own courses, so he has largely been able to design his courses based on his own research and interests. One of his most popular courses is Asian Medicine and Globalization, as well as Indian Civilization and Society.

Nazrul’s proudest achievements to date have been the publications of his books, which he lovingly refers to as his ‘children’. Another very proud achievement of his was planning the GEO Interdisciplinary Forum, with the second iteration of it just happening recently. One of his books is a compilation of collected works from the first forum, and his other book is a discussion of Chinese and Indian medicine today.

Reporter/Photographer: Samantha Burns
Editors: Samuel Burgess, Deen He
(from MPRO)