Ummul Fazal, among first women hakims in post-colonial India, passes away

Her life represents an era of the first generation of women hakims who set a trend in Independent India. She joined Hamdard Dawakhana at Delhi and assisted Hakim Abdul Hameed in his daily clinic

Tabiba Ummul Fazal
Tabiba Ummul Fazal
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NH Web Desk

Former Deputy Director of the Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine (CCRUM), Tabiba Ummul Fazal (1934-2021) passed away on August 21 after battling post Covid complications for several months.

A well known and highly respected hakim, she was an inspiration and mentor to many. A keen student of Unani medicine, Tabiba Ummul Fazal remained engrossed in her pursuit of researching Unani medicine and its efficacy until even a few months before she passed away.

Born in Mahboobnagar, in what was then Andhra Pradesh, Ummul Fazal was the fifth daughter in a highly religious and modest family of seven daughters. She was the only one among her siblings who got an opportunity to study beyond school. Her father, Maulvi Mirza Razdar Baig, a scholar of Jamia Nizamia, Hyderabad, served in the Department of Education in the Nizam’s state.

After matriculation from Girls High School Husaini Alam, it was on her father’s sound advice that Ummul Fazal joined the Government Nizamia Tibbi College at Charminar, Hyderabad in 1951 for the four-year GCUM course and soon realised that it was a wonderful opportunity through which she could serve humanity.

She was a close associate of many stalwarts of that era like Hakim Kabiruddin, Hakim Abdul Hameed of Hamdard Dawakhana, Delhi, Hakim M. Tayyab of Aligarh, Hakim Abdul Wahab Zahoori and Hakim Mohammed Shibli of Hyderabad, Hakim Shakeel Ahmed Shamsi of Lucknow and Hakim Mazhar Subhan Usmani, many of whom were her teachers as well.

Tabiba Ummul Fazal, the first woman graduate in her family, completed her Unani degree (Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery) from Aligarh Muslim University and went on to establish a niche for herself in independent India, in a career path that was unusual for women in general and Muslim women in particular.

Married to Late Hakim Mohammed Abdur Razzack in 1956, Ummul Fazal followed her husband to Delhi foregoing a recent offer to join a government assignment in Hyderabad. She joined the Hamdard Dawakhana and assisted Hakim Abdul Hameed in his daily clinic following which the number of female patients at the clinic increased substantially.

In an interesting anecdote she had once recalled how she could negotiate a much higher salary than what was being given to other hakims at Hamdard because of the offer she had let go in Hyderabad. This also resulted in her salary becoming substantially higher than what her husband was drawing at that time in Hamdard as its Medical Superintendent.

At Hamdard Dawakhana, she was in charge of the Gynaecology Department (Unani) from 1959–1970. Many desperate female patients sought her treatment to help them conceive and could thereby fulfil their dreams of becoming mothers. She later went on to join the Central Council for Research in Indian Medicine and Homeopathy, Ministry of Health and Family Planning, Government of India (1970).

While there had been women hakims in universities and dispensaries before, she was one of the first women to get an assignment in the Central Government. Subsequently she went on to become the Deputy Director of the Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine (CCRUM), under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and also officiated as its Director briefly.

She, along with her husband Hakim Mohammed Abdur Razzack, worked passionately and tirelessly to ensure that the Unani system of medicine was given its due share and respect in India and helped the CCRUM establish itself as a premier research institution in the field of Unani Medicine. Both of them also worked hard to ensure that Unani medicine also flourished on the world map.

Ummul Fazal’s area of research included work on a number of diseases, including Bars (Vitiligo), Kasrat-e-Tams (Menorrhagia), Waja Mafasil (arthritis) and Chronic Dysentery, among others. She presented papers at several national and international conferences and was invited as an advisor by the governments of Iran and Kuwait to promote research in Unani Systems of medicine in the two countries.

Ummul Fazal was also appointed as a consultant by the WHO in the field of traditional medicine in 1993. She has written and edited a number of books on Unani medicine including The Concept of Birth Control in Unani Medicine (1993), CCRUM, and A Handbook of Common Remedies in Unani System of Medicine (1978) (CCRUM). The latter has been translated into several Indian languages and is widely read.

The life of Tabiba Ummul Fazal represents an era of the first generation of women hakims who set the trend in Independent India. A trailblazer in many ways, Tabiba Ummul Fazal inspired many young girls to take-up a career in Unani medicine, a profession largely dominated by men. Since then, the Unani system of medicine has provided career opportunity, employment and agency to many generations of women hakims and scientists across the country.

Her passing away is a huge loss to the Unani medicine fraternity.

A simple and pious lady, she always emphasised on putting others before self. She leaves behind a legacy of research, hard work, dignity and respect.

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