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Loud ethics and quiet morality among Muslim healers in Eastern Africa

  • David Parkin
Abstract
Abstract

The professional ethics of biomedicine in Eastern Africa are usually sharply distinguished from the everyday moral concerns of patients, who may interpret healthcare treatment differently from their doctors. Biomedical doctors’ pronouncements adhere to the ethical demands of formal training, while ordinary people form their own moral ideas about biomedicine, with the two discourses meeting only during medical-moral crises. The voice of biomedicine, therefore, is metaphorically loud compared with that of everyday talk. This hegemonic duality of biomedicine is less evident in traditional Islamic healing, where patients sometimes negotiate the moral implications of sickness with their healers, and where Islamic medical ethics may be transmitted to younger apprentices interpersonally through life histories and narrative. The differences in volume between healers’ and patients’ moral voices are thus less pronounced, though not absent. Nevertheless, both are subject to the higher authority of Islam, whose holy texts and clerics are the final arbiters of the symptoms, cause and consequences of sickness. It is speculated that the emerging power, influence and stronger voice of radical Wahhabism could create a hegemonic medical ethical duality based more strictly than at present on religiously prescribed practice.

Résumé

La déontologie biomédicale en Afrique de l'Est se distingue généralement nettement des préoccupations morales quotidiennes des patients qui peuvent interpréter un traitement de santé différemment de leur médecin. Les énonciations des biomédecins répondent aux exigences déontologiques de leur formation formelle, tandis que les gens ordinaires forment leurs propres idées morales sur la biomédecine, les deux discours ne se rencontrant que lors de crises médico-morales. La voix de la biomédecine est par conséquent métaphoriquement bruyante comparée à celle des propos quotidiens. Cette dualité hégémonique de la biomédecine est moins évidente dans la médecine traditionnelle islamique, dans laquelle les patients négocient parfois les implications morales de la maladie avec leurs guérisseurs, et l’éthique médicale islamique peut être transmise à de jeunes apprentis de manière interpersonnelle à travers des récits de vie et autres. La différence de volume entre les voix morales des guérisseurs et des patients est par conséquent moins prononcée, mais malgré tout présente. Néanmoins, toutes deux sont assujetties à l'autorité supérieure de l'islam dont les textes sacrés et les chefs religieux sont les arbitres ultimes des symptômes, des causes et des conséquences de la maladie. Il est spéculé que le pouvoir émergent, l'influence et la voix forte du wahhabisme radical pourraient créer une dualité éthique médicale hégémonique basée plus strictement qu'aujourd'hui sur la pratique prescrite par la religion.

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Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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