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The Natural Factors (Umūr-i Ṭabī‘iyya)

Unani System of Medicine describes the man to be made up of the following seven factors:

  1. Elements (Arkān): What man and the Universe, both biological and non-biological, including drugs are made up of.

  2. Humours: (Akhlāt) The form taken up by elements in living things. Their balance is health while disbalance is a disease.

  3. Temperament (Mizāj): It is the general quality of man, drug etc. due to the quality of dominant elements. It is used as the qualitative yardstick for measuring health and deviation from it, and for identifying the drugs that can restore the balance. It is the basis of constitutional medicine.

  4. Organs (A‘ḍā’): The physical body.

  5. Pneuma (Arwāḥ): The subtle substance (i) having vitality and (ii) acting as a carrier

    of physiological powers.

  6. Faculties (Quwā): The physiological powers responsible for the corresponding basic functions of the organism i.e. life, nutrition, sensation, movement, and reproduction.

  7. Functions (Af‘āl): Functions of various organs.


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Arkan (Basic Elements)

Basic elements (Arkān)

Basic elements in Unani Medicine are simple indivisible matters which provide the primary components for the human body and others. They cannot be further resolved into simpler entities. The various substances (compounds) in nature depend for their existence on their chemical compositions (Imtizāj). Everything in the Universe is composed of four basic elements in varying amount and proportion. Each element has two sets of basic qualities (Kayfiyāt): Hot or Cold and Dry or Wet. The four elements are Fire (Nār), Air (Hawā’), Water (Mā’) and Earth (Arḍ). Their basic qualities are:


Fire: Hot & Dry

Air: Hot & Wet

Water: Cold & Wet

Earth: Cold & Dry


All things including man and drug are made up of these four basic elements combined in different amount and proportion. Each thing is characterized by a new quality arising from the proportion and interaction of its constituent elements. These individual qualities can be broadly classified into four basic groups: Hot &Dry, Hot & Wet, Cold & Wet, and Cold & Dry.

Brief Review of Arkan in Urdu is given below:

Basic elements (Arkan)
Mizaj (Temperaments)

Temperament (Mizāj):

Human Beings are classifiable into four types which characterizes their entire being: body, mind and pneuma. Each type is associated with a dominant humour and named accordingly as:


Sanguine (Damawī) : Hot & Wet

Choleric (Ṣafrāwī) : Hot & Dry

Phlegmatic (Balghamī) : Cold & Wet

Melancholic (Sawdāwī) : Cold & Dry

However, the temperament can also be described in terms of the basic qualities, as shown in the second column. A person’s well-being and proper treatment, in case of falling ill, depends upon eating, living and medicating in light of his/her temperament.

Drugs, diet, geographical regions, seasons, professional milieu and even the individual organs and body parts of man etc. all are characterized by respective temperaments. So, it is possible to make the necessary correlations between the temperament of man and the temperament of these factors. However, their temperament is expressed in terms of the basic qualities, whereas, man’s temperament is expressed in terms of humours, which, however, is easily translatable into basic qualities.

The temperament of man, can be diagnosed by ten categories of bodily and mental parameters (Ajnās ‘Ashara), e.g. complexion, texture, built, hair, dreams etc. The pathological change of temperament, in whole man or in particular body parts and organs, can also be diagnosed by changes in these parameters.


Humours (Akhlāt):

The Humours are the liquid fundamental substance of living things, made up by the mixing and organic transformation of elements and thereby obtaining the ability to support biological processes i.e. life, nutrition & growth, sensation & movement, and reproduction. Brief introduction of Akhlat and quotations of eminent Unani physicians and philosopher are given below in Urdu.


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Akhlat (Humours)

Types of Akhlāt:

The Humours are four in number and characterized by the dominant basic qualities:


Blood (Dam) : Hot & Wet

Phlegm (Balgham) : Cold & Wet

Yellow Bile (Ṣafrā’) : Hot & Dry

Black Bile (Sawdā’) : Cold & Dry


The Humours are formed within various organs, primarily in liver and run together in the blood vessels. They have both Subtle (Latīf) and Gross (Kathīf) components. Subtle components mix to form Arwāḥ (s. Rūḥ) or Pneuma while Gross components give rise to the A‘ḍā’ or physical organs and body. Although, each Humour (Khil\) is made up by the mixing of Four Elements but corresponds to a particular element on the basis of the dominant quality. Every individual has a unique humoral composition which represents his specific temperament. All human beings are accordingly classified on the basis of the dominant Humour into:


Sanguine (Damawī)         : Air       Hot & Wet

Phlegmatic (Balghamī) .  :Water    Cold & Wet

Choleric (Ṣafrāwī)           : Fire      Hot & Dry

Melancholic (Sawdāwī)   : Earth    Cold & Dry

However, these Temperaments show variations within a range depending on age, sex, race, geographical distribution, environment etc. The gross deviation from this unique balance due to any cause is a disease. The diseases can be classified according to the abnormally dominant humour. The correction of imbalance by applying drugs and other factors having the opposite temperament results in cure.

Flow chart of types of Akhlat and brief details in Urdu are given below: ​

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Organs (A‘ḍā’):

The physical body is made up of Organs/Tissues (A‘ḍā’). They are of two types: Simple (Basīt) and Compound (Murakkab). The simple organs are tissues like fat, bone etc. while compound organs are poly-tissue structures like heart, brain, liver etc.

A'za (Organs)

Pneumas (Arwāḥ):

The Rūḥ (p. Arwāḥ) is subtle, physical substance made from the subtle components of the humours. It possesses vitality and provides life to the organism. It also acts as the seat and carrier of the physiological powers or faculties (Quwā) which are responsible for producing the corresponding physiological processes, e.g. nutrition & growth, sensation & movement etc.

Man possesses three pneumas, each generated in a vital organ:

Vital pneuma (Rūḥ Ḥaywānī) : Heart

Psychic Pneuma (Rūḥ Nafsānī) : Brain

Natural Pneuma (Rūḥ Ṭabī‘ī) : Liver


Since, the faculties subsist in the pneuma, derangements of the temperament of the pneuma can vitiate the functions of the faculties and the restoration of the temperament of pneuma by drugs of opposite temperament will restore the function. Mind corresponds to the psychic faculty which subsists in psychic pneuma. So, Unani System of Medicine treats mental diseases mainly by using drugs to rebalance the temperament of the psychic pneuma. Thus, Unani System of Medicine is very successful in curing psychiatric diseases by treating the mind as a substance.

Arwah (Pneumas)

Faculties (Quwā):

These are the physiological powers that give rise to corresponding physiological functions. The faculties are non-substantial powers that can exist in the organism only by subsisting in the corresponding pneuma.

The faculties get drawn and attached to the corresponding pneuma as soon as the pneuma attains their proper temperament.

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Quwa (Faculties)
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Functions (Af‘āl):

They are the physiological functions and processes undergoing in organs and tissues due to the operation of faculties or physiological powers.

Af'al (Functions)

Source: Kulliyat-e-Nafeesi, Usool-e-Tibb, CCRUM data

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