The Modern Medical Science: a Journey Through History

The history of Medical Science is very interesting. Centuries before the advent of Islam the Arabs had their own system of medicine in the form of herbs and shrubs (‘Aqaqir wa’l Hashä’ish) which was based on Chaldean medicine and on their own experience. Their first physician was Luqmân and the second Khuzaim. Gradually, Greek medicine attracted their attention. Harith Ibn Kaldah was the first to introduce Greek medicine to the Arabs. After that some books began to be written on the subject. Tiazauq composed a few treatises on pharmacology, and Khalid Ibn Yazid Ibn Mu’awiyah got some Greek and Egyptian books translated into Arabic. This was the condition during the rule of Banu ‘Umayyah. But the science of medicine flourished during the reign of the ‘Abbasis.1
At first the Muslims made arrangements for the translation of Greek, Indian, Persian and Chaldean medical works into Arabic, and thus gained the knowledge of the medical systems of these nations. But they did not accept as such what these systems had offered. They made researches in various branches of the medical science, and accepted what was found to be useful. Besides, they made many valuable new discoveries in the theory and practice of medicine. Then, combining their discoveries and the material sorted out of these systems, they evolved an entirely new system of medicine. When the Europeans learnt this system from the Muslims, generally through the Arabic medical literature, they properly called it Arabian Medicine, acknowledging on the one hand their indebtedness to the Muslims, and on the other putting a seal of testimony to the gigantic and original contributions of the Muslim scientists to medicine. Since the medical knowledge was primarily borrowed from the Greeks, the new system was named by the Muslims of the South Asian Sub-Continent Tibb-e-Yunãni(Greek Medicine). This act gives a proof of the Muslim spirit of liberalism.
When the Muslim world was producing most distinguished medical theoreticians and practitioners in history, the state of medicine in Europe was very poor. The Muslims who came in touch with Frank physicians during the Crusades expressed much scorn for their ignorance and barbaric practices. Thabit, a Christian physician of the Syrian prince Usãmah, observed two cases (C. 1140) ending fatally on account of the barbarous surgery of a Frank. The study of Islamic medicine was made for centuries in all the Western countries, particularly in France, and the Arabic medical writings formed the core of the European medical literature. Until the 17th century these writings were included in the syllabi of the European universities. In France the Arabian Medicine was studied from 1410 to 1789. In Vienna in 1520, and, in Frankfurt on the Order in 1588, the medical curriculum was still largely based on Ibn Sinä’s ‘Qãnun’ and on the ninth book of al-Rãzi’s ‘Al-Mansuri.’ The introduction of this science into Europe is an interesting chapter of history.
According to Dr. Robert Briffault, an eminent western scholar, the Allopathic system of medicine is the outcome of Arabian Medicine. He remarks:
“The Pharmacopoeia created by the Arabs is virtually that which but for the recent synthetic and organotherapic preparations, is in use at the present day; our common drugs, such as Nux vomica, Senna, rhubarb, aconite, gentian, myrrh, calomel, and the structure of our prescriptions, belong to Arabic Medicine”
He also discloses that the medical schools of Montpellier, Padua and Pisa were founded on the pattern of that of Cordova under Jew doctors trained in Arab schools, and the Qãnün of Ibn Sina and the Surgery of Abu’l-Qasim al-Zahrawi, remained the text books of medical science throughout Europe until the seventeenth century.2
The Arabs had a fair knowledge of anatomy as it is obvious from the names of the internal and external organs of the human and animal bodies, found in the literature of the pre-Islamic Arabia. When they became acquainted with the Greek anatomical descriptions, they made investigations on them, pointed out many errors in the work of their predecessors, and made many fresh discoveries in this field. In order to verify the Greek anatomical ideas prevailing at that time Yuhanna Ibn Mäsawaih made dissection of the apes which were supplied to him by the order of the ‘Abbasi Caliph Mutasim Billah. After this verification he composed his work on anatomy. The works of some Muslim physicians and surgeons, like Tashrih al-Mansuri by Mansur Ibn Muhammad contain illustrations of human organs, which are not found in the Greek works. These illustrations also throw light on the Muslims’ practical knowledge of anatomy.3
In opposition to Galen who thought that the human skull consisted of seven bones, the Muslim scholars held that it had eight. They believed that there were ossicles in the ear, which facilitate the hearing capacity.4 The work of the Muslim physicians in the field of physiology, too, is quite valuable. For instance, Ibn Nafis al-Qarshi of Damascus explained the theory of the minor circulation of blood three centuries before William Harvey to whom this discovery is ascribed. Al-Qarshi also suggested that food is fuel for the maintenance of the body’s heat. Abu’l-Faraj held that there are canals in the nerves through which sensations and movements are transmitted.
The contributions of Muslims in the field of bacteriology are quite revolutionary. According to Browne, Muslims were fully aware of the theory of germs. Ibn Sinã was the first to state that bodily secretion is contaminated by foul foreign earthly bodies before getting the infection. Ibn Khätimah of the 14th century stated that man is surrounded by minute bodies which enter the human body and cause disease. In the same century when the great plague ravaged the world, and the chief causes of it, based on superstition, were said to be either the Jews or volcanic eruptions or the birth of a calf with two heads, two Muslim doctors, Ibn Khatib (1313-1374) and Ibn Khätimah (1323-1369), wrote on it treatises which were based on scientific observations.5
Some Muslims also gave new suggestions regarding the treatment of diseases. In this connection Abu’1 Hasan, the physician of Adud al-Daulah introduced the process of bleeding as a treatment of cerebral hemorrhage which is often due to blood pressure. Al-Razi suggested nourishing food for the treatment of general weakness. The Muslim physicians were the first to use the stomach tube for the performance of gastric lavage in the case of gas poisoning. They were fully aware of the principles of opotherapy centuries before Browne Sequard to whom this method of treatment is ascribed. Said Ibn Bishr Ibn ‘Abdus suggested light food and cold producing medicines for the treatment of general paralysis and facial paralysis. Ibn al-Wãfid gave emphasis upon the treatment of diseases through food control. They discovered the treatment for epidemic jaundice, and suggested a reasonable quantity of opium as a treatment of mania. For epistaxis they suggested the pouring of cold water on the head.6
The investigations of Muslim physicians on the causes, symptoms and effects of some diseases are highly remarkable. Al-Razi was he first physician to differentiate between smallpox and measles. His Greek, Indian and other predecessors were unable to differentiate between these two diseases. Abu’l-Hasan al-Tabari was the first to regard tuberculosis as an infiltration, and stated that it affects not only the lungs but also the other organs. The Bright’s disease, the discovery of which is ascribed to Dr. Richard Bright of the 18th century, was in fact discovered by Najib al-Din al-Samarqandi centuries before him.7
In the science of surgery, too, much advancement was made by Muslims. They introduced the cauterizing agents in surgery. They were the first to apply the method of cooling to stop the haemorrhage, and to start the suturing of wounds with silken threads. Ibn Zuhr (11th century) gave a complete description of operation of tracheotomy, which was not mentioned by the Greeks. Abu’l-Qasim al-Zahrawi invented many surgical instruments illustrated in his book ‘al-Tasrif’. In the same book he described the methods of operations for various diseases. While describing the operations of skull and its parts, the Muslim surgeons made a mention of the operation of uvula and nasal polynus. They used the method of tonsillectomy and paracentesis of the drum of the ear. They were also the first to perform the operation of peritoneal cavity, and to use the method of Trocar and Canula for the special drainage. They made use of anesthetic substances in surgery. While performing major operations they kept their patients unconscious for long time, sometimes even for days.8
The Muslim opticians did valuable and original work in the treatment of eye diseases and in the surgery of the eye. All the operations of the eye which are performed these days were performed by the Muslim surgeons of Mediaeval Ages. The method of the operation of cataract was first described by them. They knew that cataract was due to the incapacity of the eye lens. Ibn al-Haitham described the structure of the eye. He gave the revolutionary ideas as regards the mechanism of sight, and described various types of lenses. Later on these descriptions served as the basis for the invention of spectacles used as a remedy for such eye diseases as short-sightedness and long-sightedness. The Muslims wrote valuable books on the treatment of eye diseases.
The art of midwifery was highly developed by Muslims. In this connection Abu’l-Qasim al-Zahrawi was the first to describe the Walcher’s position. He invented the method of Cranioclasty for the delivery of dead foetus and he himself applied it. A book entitled Al-Athär al-Bãqiyyah in the University of Edinburgh contains an illustration showing an Arab physician performing Caeserian operation. A number of new drugs and therapeutic agents were discovered by Muslims, and many herbs particularly those of India were included in their practice. The pharmacology of rhubarb, senna and camphor was discovered, and hyoscyamus was used by them for medical purposes.
The Muslims introduced pharmacopoeia in medical science. Ibn Sahl was the first to write a book on pharmacopoeia. The recipes contained in the writings of Da’ud al-Antaki (16th century) and others were adopted by European druggists. Arabian pharmacology survived in Europe until the beginning of the 19th century. Some of the original Arabic or Persian names of some drugs and chemicals, such as syrup from the Arabic word Sharab, rab’ for a particular mixture of honey and fruit juice, and julep from the Persian word julläb’ (a particular aromatic drink) were included in European languages.
The Muslims wrote books on those branches of medical science on which their predecessors did not. Among such books Yühann Ibn Maswaih’s book on leprosy, Al-Razi’s books on smallpox and measles, Abü Müsä Ibn ‘Isã’s book on piles, and Qusta Ibn Luqa’s book on sudden death are highly valuable.
From the time of the Banu Umayyah rule the Muslims developed the institution of hospitals. During the reign of the ‘Abbasi Caliph Harün al- Rashid, a hospital was built in Baghdad, which was the first in the history of this city. Many new hospitals were established shortly afterwards. Some of them had their own gardens in which the medicinal plants were cultivated. The large hospitals had medical schools attached to them. Beside such hospitals there were a large number of traveling hospitals in the Muslim world.9
The Muslim hospitals served as models for the hospitals established in different parts of Europe particularly in Italy and France. The establishment of hospitals throughout Europe in the 14th century was partly due to the influence of Crusades. The first hospital in Paris, Quinze Vingt, was set up by Louis IX after his return from the Crusades of 1254-60. The Crusaders were inspired by the magnificent hospitals (Bimaris-tans) of the Seljüq ruler Nur al-Din in Damascus, and those of the Mamluk Sultan Al-Mansur Qala’un in Cairo.
Practical education used to be imparted to Muslim medical students in the hospitals. It is said that there as no arrangement for such education in Alexandria before the Muslim era. According to Al-Razi, a physician had to, satisfy two conditions for selection: firstly, he should be well versed in new and old medical literature, and secondly, he must have worked in hospitals as a house surgeon.10
The second ‘Abbãsi Caliph Al-Mansür called to Baghdad from Jundishapur a Christian physician of Persian origin, named Jarjis Ibn Bakhtyishu who remained in charge of the hospital of that city until 765-6. His arrival at Baghdad with two of his pupils marked the beginning of a great activity in the field of medicine. He seems to be the earliest member of the famous Bakhtyishu family of medical practitioners. This family remained attached to the court of a number of ‘Abbãsi caliphs, and exerted a great influence on the progress of Muslim medicine in the eighth and ninth centuries. Jarjis is said to have been the first to translate some medical works into Arabic. The translations were made by the order of the Caliph. 11
In the ninth century of the Christian era the greatest medical activity was shown by the Arabic speaking peoples. Much activity was devoted to translating the Greek medical works into Syrian and into Arabic. All the translators were Christians. One of them, Ibn-Sahda translated some works of Hippocrates into Arabic. Jibril Ibn Bakhtyishu (d. 828-29) patronized the translators, and worked hard to obtain Greek medical texts. He also wrote some medical works of his own. He made a great contribution to the progress of science in Baghdad. He was the most prominent member of the Bakhtyishu family. A Christian Physician, Salmawaih Ibn Bunan. (d. 839-40) helped Hunáin to translate Galen’s medical works. Salmawaih showed that the use of aphrodisiacs, so common in the East, was dangerous. He flourished under Al-Mä’mün. Later he became physician in ordinary to Al-Mutasim.12
Another translator, Ibn Masawaih (d. 857) translated various Greek medical works into Syrian. His own medical writings were in Arabic. His treatise on ophthalmology called Daghal al‘Ayn (disorder of the eye) is the earliest work extant in Arabic on the subject.13
Another important translator of Greek medical works into Arabic was Ayyub al-Ruhawi, a contemporary of the ‘Abbasi Caliphs Al-Mutawakkil and Al-Mu’tazz (d.869). The translation of 35 works of Galen, a Greek physician, is ascribed to him.14
So far as the physicians of the ninth century ate concerned, an important one was Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali Ibn Sahl Ibn Rabban al-Tabari. He was also a physicist, and had knowledge of the Bible. He was born in Tabaristan where he was brought up. He belonged to a Jewish family, but he accepted Islam at the hand of the ‘Abbsi Caliph Al-Mu’tasim, who made him his courtier. Ali Ibn Rabban is the author of many works, but his main work is an encyclopedia called Firdaus al-Hikmah. It deals chiefly with medicine, but also with philosophy, meteorology, zoology, embryology, psychology and astronomy. It is mostly based on Greek and Hindu sources, and contains a summary of Hindu medicine at the end. His other medical works are on hygiene, and on the use of food stuffs, drinks and herbs.15
The most illustrious physician of the ninth century was Abü Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakariyya al-Ràzi, (Latin Rhazes). He was the greatest clinician of the middle Ages and probably the greatest Muslim physician. He was also a philosopher and chemist. He was born in Ray (Persia); hence called Al-Razi. The date of his birth is uncertain. He died in 923. In his early age Al-Razi was very fond of music, and used to play flute (‘Ud). When he was of mature age he wished to acquire the knowledge of medicine. His interest in medicine was aroused by an old druggist or dispenser whom he frequently met in the hospital. At last Al-Razi became such an expert physician that he was appointed as the chief physician at the hospital of Ray. Al-Razi regularly attended the hospital, surrounded by his pupils. Whenever any patient came to him he was first examined by his pupils. If the case was found to be complicated, it was passed on to Al-Razi.
Al-Rãzi also served as the chief physician of the hospital of Baghdad which was founded at his own advice. When Al-Rãzi was asked to select some suitable site to build the hospital there, he got some pieces of meat suspended in various localities of the city. The place where the meat deteriorated in the last was selected as the site for the hospital.
Al-Rãzi was the author of 113 major and 28 minor works and of two poems. Some of them have been published in original, and translated into Latin and vernacular languages. Al-Rãzi’s unpublished works are present in the libraries of Asia and Europe. Most of his works have been lost, but from those which are extant one can estimate the depth of his knowledge and ability. His writings are full of personal observations and valuable information. The most important of his monographs is a treatise on smallpox and measles. This work is a masterpiece of Muslim medical literature. It was translated into Latin and English, and enjoyed a great popularity in Europe. It has been published in original, with a French translation in Leyden in 1896.
One of Al-Rãzi’s treatises is on the stone in the kidney and urinary bladder. It has been published in original, with a French translation in Leyden in 1896.
The most important book of Al-Rãzi is Al-Häwi (Continens). It is an enormous encyclopedia of medicine, which contains many extracts from Greek and Hindu medical works. It was translated into Latin. The anatomical part was translated into French and published along with the original Arabic text.
Another important medical work of this author is the Kitab al-Mansüri (Latin Almansoris) named after Mansür Ibn Ishaq, the ruler of Khurasan, who patronized Al-Rãzi while he was living in Persia. This book is largely based on Greek medicine. The French translation of the first part along with the Arabic text has been published. Its ophthalmologic part was translated into German. The second part of the book deals with temperaments and physiology. This subject was of extremely great importance during the Middle Ages.
Al-Rãzi made a valuable contribution to gynecology, obstetrics and Ophthalmic surgery. He also made a considerable contribution to the development of Chemistry, both theoretical and practical. He was the first to apply Chemistry to the preparation of drugs. He is the ancestor of the European iatrochemists of the 16th century.16
Al-Rãzi made a few discoveries in the field of medical science, and invented some drugs. He stated that a sour matter is found in the stomach. He was the first to introduce wet cupping for the treatment of apoplexy and to apply cold water in typhoid. He invented the mercury ointment.17
Al-Rãzi’ was a brilliant and conscious physician. He followed Hippocrates, and was free from the feelings of prejudice and obstinacy. During the reign of the Caliph Al-Mu’tadid (829-902), his stable master, Abü Yusuf Ya’qub Ibn akhi Hizäm wrote a treatise on horsemanship which is entitled as Kitab al-Furusiyyah. It contains some rudiments of veterinary art. It is the first Arabic work of its kind.
Under the patronage of Banü Musä (the sons of Musä) and the Caliph Al-Mutawakkil a Christian physician, Hunayn Ibn Ishaq translated the medical and other scientific works of the Greeks. Banu Musä employed him for the acquisition and translation of Greek manuscripts. The Caliph also appointed him in a school established by him, and ordered him to get these manuscripts translated under his supervision. He became the foremost translator of medical works. The translation made by Hunayn and his disciples was a milestone in the history of the development of science. Hunayn also wrote many medical and astronomical worko.18
In the tenth century nearly all the creative work on medicine was done in the Muslim world, but not by Muslims alone. Some non-Muslims, too, made valuable contributions to the development of this science. But all of them wrote in Arabic. Towards the middle of the tenth century, the number of physicians grew surprisingly large. The research on medicine was carried out throughout the Muslim world. In Muslim Spain the work on medicine was of the same level as in the domain of Eastern Caliphate. Sometimes it was even superior to that.
The Fatimi Caliph Ubaid Allah al-Mahdi (908-934), ordered his physician Ishaq al-Isrã’ili, a Jewish physician and philosopher to compose some medical writings in Arabic. He wrote a medico-philosophical treatise on the elements and another on definitions. His main works are on fever, simple drugs, temperaments, dentology and urine. The last work seems to be the most elaborate mediaeval treaties on the subject. These writings were translated into Latin, Hebrew and Spanish. They exerted a great influence on the progress of medicine in Europe.l9
A great Muslim physician of the tenth century was Abü Sa’id Sinãn Ibn Thãbit Ibn Qurrah. He was also a mathematician and astronomer. He flourished at Baghdad where he died in 943. He embraced Islam in middle age. He was greatly honored by the Abbasi Caliph Al-Muqtadir who appointed him as the chief physician. At that time there were 860 persons of the medical profession in Baghdad. They were forbidden by the Caliph to practice unless they had been examined by Sinãn and received a certificate of registration from him. Besides serving Muq’tadir, Sinãn also served two other successive Caliphs, Qadir Billãh and Radi. Sinãn tried to raise the standard of medical profession, and organized a brilliant administration of the Baghdad hospitals. He is the author of many works on different subjects.20
Another great physician of this period who was one of the three greatest physicians of the Eastern Caliphate was ‘Ali Ibn ‘Abbãs al-Majüsi (Latin Haly Abbas). He was the native of Ahwãz in South-West Persia. He was a close associate of ‘Adud al-Dawlah for whom he wrote an encyclopedia called ‘Kitab al-Maliki or Kämil al-Sanãah al-Tibbiyyah. The people intensely studied it until the appearance of the ‘Qãnün’ (Canon) of Ibn Sinã, which usurped its popularity. It is more practical than the ‘Qãnün’ and more systematic than Razi’s Hawi. The Maliki is divided into 20 discourses, of which the first – half deals with the theory and the rest with the practice of medicine.
The second and the third discourses of Al-Ma1iki deal with anatomy. The French translation of this part of the book has been published along with the Arabic text. The 19th discourse is devoted to surgery. The introduction of this book consisting of three chapters of the first discourse is highly remarkable. The part of the introduction consisting of the criticism of the ancient medical works is particularly interesting. The author explains the plans of his book in which he tries to give a moderate description of the subject treated, and illustrates his method by a specimen description of pleurisy. He begins with the definition of the disease and its aetiology. Then he mentions the four constant symptoms, fever, cough, pain and dyspnoea; whence he proceeds to the prognosis and specially the indications furnished by the supta, and finally give the treatment. In his book the author describes the importance of attending the hospital regularly. He writes: “And of those things which are incumbent on the student of this Art are that he should constantly attend the hospitals and sick houses, pay unremitting attention to the conditions and circumstances of their inmates, in company of the most acute professors of Medicine; and enquire frequently as to the state of the patients and the symptoms apparent in them, hearing in mind what he has read about their Variations, and what they indicate of good or evil. If he does this, he will reach a high degree in this Art. Therefore, it behooves him who desires to be an accomplished physician to follow closely these injunctions, to form his character in accordance with what we have mentioned therein, and not to neglect them. If he does this, his treatment of the sick will be successful, people will have confidence in him, and he will win their affection and respect and a good reputation; nor will he lack profit and advantage from them. And God Most High knoweth best”.
The best parts of the book are those which are devoted to dietetics and ‘materia medica.’ It contains the rudimentary conception of the capillary system. It also includes some interesting clinical observations, and gives the proof of the theory that the womb moves during parturition i.e., the child is pushed out. It does not come out itself.21
Another physician of this period, who made pharmaceutical experiments was Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Sa’id al-Tamimi al-Muqaddasi. He was born in Jerusalem, and in 970 he went to Egypt. He wrote on materia medica and other branches of medical science. His main work is a guide (Murshid) on materia medica which supplies valuable information on plants, minerals and other things.22
A Christian physician named Abu Yüsuf Ben Issac Ben Ezra Hasdai flourished at Cordova at the court of ‘Abd al-Rahman III and Al-Hakam II. He was a translator of Greek works into Arabic and a patron of science. He was physician to the Caliph. He discovered a panacea called ‘Al-Fãruq.’ He translated with the help of the monk Nicolas a manuscript of Dioscorides. This manuscript dealing with plants was presented to ‘Abd al-Rahman III by the Emperor Constantinos VII.23
Another physician, patronized by these rulers, was Arib Ibn Sa’id al-Kãtib who died in 976. He was also a historian and wrote a chronicle of Muslim Spain and Africa. He also wrote a treatise on gynecology, the hygiene of the pregnant women and infants, obstetics and calendar. 24
Another treatise on the hygiene of the pregnant women and of babies, entitled Kitab Tadbir al-Habalah wa’l Atfal, was written by an Egyptian physician named Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Yahyã al-Baladi. He flourished under the wazir Yaqub Ibn Kils (d. 990).25
A famous physician and historian of the tenth century was Abu Jafar Ahmad Ibn Ibrãhim Ibn Abi Khalid, commonly known as Ibn al-Jazzar. He flourished in Qairawan, Tunis, and died in 1009. He is the author of many works on medicine, history and other subjects. His most important work is Zäd al-Musäfir. It was translated into Latin, Hebrew and Greek, and was extremely popular. It includes a remarkable discussion on smallpox and measles. He also wrote on simple and compound drugs, the cause of plague in Egypt and the way of treating it.26
In the eleventh century, too, real advancement in the field of medicine was made only in the Muslim world. In the same century the school of Salerno, the scientific school of Christian Europe showed some activity in this field. But the literary works produced there were far inferior to the contemporary ones written, in Arabic. Constantine, the African, made intensive efforts to translate Arabic works into Latin. These translations were helpful in the development of medicine in Europe.
An important physician and surgeon of the 11th century was Abu’l-Qasim Khalaf Ibn Abbas al-Zahräwi. He was born at Al-Zahra in the suburb of Cordova (Spain), the centre of Western Muslim Empire. He was educated in a distinguished university of Cordova. He studied medicine and other sciences with the learned scholars of his time, and increased his knowledge and experience by working in great hospitals. Due to his ability Al-Hakam II made him his court physician. He wrote a book entitled Al-Tasrif, which is an encyclopedic work comprising all branches of medicine and surgery. This book, unparalleled in the medieval times, is considered to be the only source of modern surgery. It is divided into two parts; theoretical and practical. Each part consists of 15 chapters. The last section of the book sums up the entire surgical knowledge of that time, and contains illustrations of more than 300 surgical instruments which are used even today. This section is divided into three parts. The first part deals with cauterization (of wounds) and the instruments used for that purpose. This type of treatment was very popular in Arabia. The advantages of fire have also been fully explained in it.
The second part deals with common surgical operations. It gives the methods for crushing and removing the stone from the urinary bladder, the operations of eyes and teeth, and cutting the organs of the body. It also discusses bandages and the treatment of ulcers and wounds.
The third part deals with bone fractures and the problems of joints. An account of the paralysis caused by some defect in the spinal cord has also been given. In this part the author has given a discussion on midwifery and a description of various stages of the embryo in the womb of the mother, and has mentioned the method for taking out the child from the womb of the mother with the help of instruments.
In the 12th century the book Al-Tasrif was translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona; and its various editions were published at Venice in 1497, and at Basel in 1541. In 1778 it was published at Oxford along with the original Arabic text. One copy of this edition is present in the British Museum and one in Bodleian Library. Its English translation was published in 1861, and French translation in 1881. The Arabic text of the book was published at Lucknow (India) in 1908, and to explain the difficult words and the complicated terms used in it, an Arabic-Urdu dictionary entitled Lughat-e-Qutbiyyah, was composed and published.
This masterpiece of Al-Zahrawi held its place for centuries as the manual of surgery at Salerno, Montpelliers and other early schools of medicine in Europe. The great European historians admit that for her primary advancement in surgery Europe is indebted to Al-Zahrawi. Dr. Edward Browne and Dr. Joseph Heres have recognized Abu’l Qasim al-Zahrawi as an eminent surgeon. In his book Arabian Medictne, Dr. Arnold Campbell has written a large treatise on Al-Zahrawi, which reveals, the importance of this name in the West. He disclosed that the Western scholars Roger Bacon (1214-49) and Goe De Scholeic (1300-68) gained the knowledge of medicine and surgery from the books of Al-Zahrawi and Ibn Rushd.
Roger Bacon, John Tchanning and other scholars remarked that Al-Zahrawi’s work helped in laying the foundation of surgery in Europe. For centuries the Western scholars made references to this work in their books. It has influenced Muslim scholars also, and it is still being referred to and taught at the centers of Arabian Medicine in the East.27
A great scientist of the 11th century and one of the greatest scientists of all times was Abu Ali Husain Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Sina, commonly known in the West as Avicenna. He was one of the greatest men that this world has ever produced. Although he did not belong to an influential family, and was unable to get the facilities of life, yet he became, while still a youth, the author of an encyclopedic work. His life was full of events, and circumstances often obliged him to travel from court to court where sometimes honours were showered upon him, and sometimes he was cast into prison. But whatever the situation may be, he occupied himself in reading, writing and teaching, and remained always surrounded by a group of his pupils. He was a philosopher, physician, scientist, poet, philologist, logician, statesman and thinker, who made research, and contributed to the development of all sciences, and through whose efforts medicine, recorded an unprecedented progress. He was hailed by the scholars as Al-Shaykh al-Ra’is (the Great Teacher). He possessed so many qualities that, while discussing his life history, we almost fail to decide as to what aspect of his life should be more particularly discussed.
Ibn Sinã, the ‘Prince of Physicians’ as he was called throughout the medieval times, was born in 980 at a village in the Persian Province of Balkh where his father lived. In 985 his family moved to Bukhãrã where, at the age of five, he started his education. At the age of 10 years he had already completed his basic education, and also learnt the Qurãn by heart. He was, then, sent to various teachers under whom, for the next six years, he studied algebra, arithmetic, astronomy, logic, philosophy and theology. At the age of 16 he turned to medicine. In the course of his study of philosophy, Ibn Sinã was confused by those problems which were related to metaphysics, but ultimately he got rid of his difficulties with the help of a commentary by a distinguished philosopher, Al-Färàbi, Ibn Sinä was an industrious student who never spent a whole day or a whole night in sleep or in any other occupation but study, and whenever he came across some obscure point he would go to a mosque where he prayed to Allah to remove his confusion.
Ibn Sinã states that at first he practiced medicine, not for the sake of money; but for his own experience and instruction. He was just 18 years old when he became so much popular as a medical practitioner that he was summoned for the treatment of Nuh Ibn Mansür Sãmäni, when the other physicians failed to cure him. When Nuh Ibn Mansür had recovered he was so much pleased with Ibn Sina that he allowed him to visit the royal library which was well stocked with rare and valuable books, and Ibn Sinã derived the fullest benefit from this opportunity.
At the age of 21 Ibn Sina was to be found at the court of ‘Ali Ibn Ma’mun, the King of Khwärizm, who’s prime minister was a man of scholarly taste. Here Ibn Sina was treated with great respect. At last he fled from there, for the king Mahmud Ghaznawi wanted him at his court, but he preferred liberty to the court of the king. Then hearing about the scholarly taste of Qabus, the ruler of Jurjan, he set out for Jürjan where he eventually reached after undergoing great hardships. But he was too late, because shortly before his arrival Qäbüs was deposed. Ibn Sinä gave expression to his misfortune in a poem which he composed at this occasion. He says: “When I became great no country had room for me; when my price went up, I lacked a purrchaser”.
At last, circumstances caused Ibn Sina to leave this country too. Turning Westwards he came to Ray where a woman named Sayyidah was ruling on behalf of her infant son, Majd al-Dawlah Daylami. Here he was treated with great respect and the young prince appointed him as his minister. The mother being angry at this appointment, Ibn Sinã was obliged to flee once more.
Now Ibn Sinã reached Hamadan and treated Shams al-Dawlah, the ruler of the country, who was suffering from colic. When he recovered he appointed Ibn Sinã as his minister. But only a short while had passed when mutiny broke out among the soldiers, which caused his dismissal and imprisonment. But very soon Shams al-Dawlah was again attacked by severe colic. He, therefore, summoned Ibn Sinã back to undertake his treatment, apologized to him, and restored him to his office of state. The death of Shams al-Dawlah led Ibn Sinä to trouble, for his successor; Taj al-Dawlah did not like him. Ibn Sinä fled and hid himself in a house. His flight gave rise to suspicion with the result that he was sought after and imprisoned. But after four months he escaped in disguise and came to Ispahan where ‘Ala al-Dawlah, often known as Ibn Käküya, was reigning.
Here Ibn Sinã was welcomed by Ala al-Dawlah, and became his confidential adviser. Thus once again he overcame his misfortune, and began to lead a very active life. During the day he attended to the matters of the state, and spent a great part of the night in delivering lectures and in writing his books. At last Ibn Sinã, who was tired of activities and was weakened by overwork, died in 1036 of colic at the early age of 58 years. His tomb lies in the city of Hamadan.
Ibn Sinã was a remarkable scholar who began to write before he was 17, and wrote almost on all subjects. Numerous works are ascribed to him, many of which are voluminous. Brocklemann enlists 99 of his extant works but he is known to be the author of 200 works. Out of these 68 are on theology and metaphysics, 11 on astronomy, philosophy and physics, four on poetry, and 16 on medical science. He wrote mainly in Arabic but his two Persian works are also known. One of them named Danishnama-e ‘Alài which was dedicated to Ala al-Dawlah, is a manual of philosophy. It deals with natural science, philosophy, logic, mathematics, music, metaphysics and astronomy. The other is a small treatise on pulse.
Among the 16 medical writings of Ibn Sinã, eight are versified treatises. They deal with such matters as the 25 signs indicating the fatal end of illness, hygienic precepts, proved remedies, anatomical memoranda, and similar other topics. Among his books the most important and popular is Al-Qãnün (Canon). This is a comprehensive book and contains about a million words. It has been excessively and beautifully divided into major and minor sections. The whole work has been divided into five parts. The first part deals with the general principles of medical treatment, the second describes the simple drugs in alphabetical order. The third part discusses the diseases of all the organs of the human body, and the fourth consists of the description of those diseases which are local in the beginning, and finally affect all parts of the body. The final part is on materia medica. The Qãnün was translated into Hebrew in 1270. It was also translated into Latin by the two Gerard of Toledo, and about 30 editions of this work were published in Europe. Many commentaries on the work were written in the 15th century. A beautiful Arabic edition of the book was published in Rome in 1593. Another edition was published in Egypt a few years ago. The translation of the first volume of the book, with the exception of the anatomical part, was made into English in 1930 by Dr. O.C. Gruner and was commented by him and by Dr. Soubiran in 1935.
Ibn Sinã surpassed both Aristotle and Galen in dialectical subtlety, and his way of reasoning appealed to the scholastics of the middle Ages. The Qãnün formed half the medical curriculum of the European universities in the latter part of the 15th century, and continued as a text book up to about 1650 in the universities of Montpellier and Louvain. It is still the reference book of the men of medical profession in the East. After the appearance of Qãnün, the study of the books of Al-Rãzi and the Kämil al-Sana’at of Al-Majusi, which were standard works, was almost completely abandoned.
Nizãmi Arüdi Samarqandi in his ‘Chahãr Maqalah’ (Four Treatises) after narrating various works, the deep study of which is essential for the acquisition of full knowledge of the medical science, remarked “Whoever has thoroughly understood the first volume of the Qãnün, to him nothing will remain hidden of the fundamental principles of medicine, and were it possible for Hippocrates and Galen to return to life it is sure that they would do reverence to this book”.
Among the other medical writings of Ibn Sinã are Al-’Urjuzah Fi’l-Tibb, and his treatise on cordiac drugs. The latter lies probably second in importance to the Qãnün. Two other minor works, namely, Qawanin or ‘The Laws’ and the Hudüd al-Tibb (The limitations of medical science) are also known. Ibn Sinã also wrote a treatise on Colic. He is also the author of a book called Mabda’wa’l-Ma’àd, which contains an interesting chapter on the possibility of the production of exceptional psychical phenomena.
Beside Al-Qãnün some other works of Ibn Sinã have also been translated into Latin, and thus they influenced the development of science and philosophy in Europe. In his ‘Arabian Medicine’, Dr. Campbell enlists these translations in detail.28
Another Muslim physician of this period, who also had a knowledge of astronomy, mathematics and literature, was Abu’l-Salt Umayyah Ibn Abd al-Aziz Ibn Abi’l Salt. He was born in 1067-68 at Denis, and lived in Seville. He traveled Eastwards and came to Egypt where he stayed for 20 years. In the middle of this period he was imprisoned and banished by the Emperor Afzal. He went to Alexandria and thence to Mehdiya where he became an associate of Yahyã Ibn Tamim, the ruler of that territory.
About the end of the 11th century he tried to raise a ship sunk at Alexandria but could not succeed. He was the author of several medical, astronomical and mathematical works. He also wrote some treatises called Rasã’il al-Misriyyah which contains his observations on the people and things in Egypt. His main and important works include a treatise on simple drugs (translated into Latin), a treatise on Logic (translated into Spanish) and a treatise on astrolabe. He also composed some verses which are said to be very appealing. Abul-Sa1t also wrote a treatise on music which was translated into Hebrew.29
Now we mention some members of Ibn Zuhr family which was the greatest medical family of Spain. This family belonged to the tribe of Banü Azd. At the beginning of the tenth century it established itself at Shätibah (Jativa) in the East of Spain. The Spanish ancestor of this family was named Zuhr, hence the patronymic Ibn Zuhr.
The most illustrious member, except Ibn Zuhr, of this great medical family of Muslim Spain, was Abu’l-Ala Zuhr Ibn Abu Marwan ‘Abd al-Malik Ibn Muhammad Ibn Marwan al-Ishbili. Abul-Alã’ flourished in Eastern Spain. He lived in Cordova. He engaged himself in the study of Hadith and literature. Later he turned towards medicine. He was a distinguished physician, and had a comprehensive knowledge of medicine. The people of Maghrib felt proud of him and of his family. He was the courtier of Al-Mutamid, the last Abbsi king of Seville, who ruled from
1068-1091. When Seville was conquered by the Berber Murabitin (Almoravides) in 1091, he became wazir to the conqueror Yüsuf Ibn Tashfin who ruled until 1106. His usual name, Al-Wazir Abu’l Ala Zuhr was corrupted in Latin translations in many ways; such as Alguazir, Albuleizer. He died in Cordova in 1130. His body was carried to Seville where he was buried.
Abu’l Ala Zuhr is the author of many medical works. One of them is Kitab al-Nukat al-Tibbiyyah (main principles of medicine) which is a practical guide containing special references to climatological and pathological conditions in Marrakush. It supplies complementary information on deontology and various other medical subjects.30
The most famous and illustrious member of the greatest medical family of the Muslim Spain, Ibn Zuhr family is Abu Marwan ‘Abd al-Malik lbn Abi’l-Ala’ Ibn Zuhr, commonly known as Ibn Zuhr (Latin Avenzoar). He was born about 1091-1094, and died in 1161-62. He was a native of Seville (Spain), and was the greatest physician of his time, both in the East and in the West. He is distinguished from other physicians in that he devoted his entire attention to the study of medicine. He served under Al-Murabitün and when they got defeated by the Almohades (Al-Muwahhidun) he became a physician and Minister to the first Muwahhid ruler (1130-1163) Abd al-Mu’min Ibn ‘Ali. He was the author of at least six medical works. One of these is the Kitàb al-Iqtisad fi Islah al-Anfus wa’l-Ajsäd. It was written for the ‘Murabit’ prince Ibrahim Ibn Yüsuf Ibn Tashfin who was the son of the minister. As the title suggests, it deals with souls as well as with bodies. In the beginning it gives a summary of psychology. Further it deals with therapeutics and hygiene.
The second book which is the author’s most important work is the Kitäb al-Taisir fi’l Mudãwat wa’l Tadbir (Book of simplification concerning therapeutics and treatment) which was written at the request of his friend and admirer, Ibn Rushd. It deals with generalities of medicine and some special topics. It contains an elaborate study of pathological conditions and relevant therapeutics. At the end of this book the author gave an antidotory or formulary called Jämi’ (collector) in which he had collected recipes. The Taisir was translated into Latin and Hebrew.
The Taisir contains many clinical descriptions such as mediastinal tumors, pericarditis, intestinal phthisis, pharyngeal paralyses, inflammation of the middle ear and scabies. The author recommends tracheotomy and artificial feeding through the gullet and rectum. He recognized that the air coming from marshes is nocuous. He greatly advocated venesection. He was the first to describe itch-mitl. (Acarus scaliei). Thus he was the first important parasitologist since Alexander of Taralles (second half of the sixth century).
The third book of Ibn Zuhr is Kitäb al-Aghdhiyyah (Book of the food stuffs) which was written for the first Muwahhid ruler ‘Abd al-Mu’min who ruled from 1130 to 1163. This book deals with various kinds of food and their use according to seasons, with simple drugs and hygiene. It also shows the usefulness of various bezel stones.31
Until the end of the 11th century, all the medical works in the Muslim world were written in Arabic. Arabic language was the only medium for expressing religious and philosophical ideas throughout the Muslim world. Even the works of non-Muslims were written in Arabic. But for the first time, in the 11th century, medical literature was produced in Persian as well. A physician, Zain al-Din Abu’l-Fada’il Ismã’il Ibn al- Husain came to the court of Khwärizm and wrote some works on medicine in Persian. He also wrote in Arabic. Among these the most important was a medical encyclopedia, the Dhakhira-e-Khwarizm Shahi, the treasure of the king of Khwãrizm. It was written for Qutb al-Din Muhammad Shah (1097-1127).
The Dhakhira consists of about 450,000 words. It is very carefully divided into various headings and sub-headings. Primarily, it is divided into nine books. A tenth book on simple drugs had been added later. Secondarily, it is divided into 75 discourses and 1107 chapters. Six chapters of the eighth discourse of the sixth book are devoted to the local diseases of heart, and a part of the 13th discourse deals with Istisqä. The Tadhkirah was translated into Hebrew. A lithographed Urdu translation of this book is used in India and Pakistan.
The author compiled some other comparatively short books. For the wazir of Qutb al-Din successor. He composed a treatise entitled Aqhrad
ai-Tibb. He compiled another treatise on drugs and pharmacy. He also wrote a condensed edition of Tadhkirah entitled Khafi ‘Alä’i. Khafi is a derivative of Khaf, meaning a riding shoe. The book was written in two long volumes so that the traveler could take each one of these volumes in a riding shoe. Ismãil Ibn al-Hunayn is also the author of some other works.32
The greatest physician of the 13th century was ‘Ala al-Din Abu’l-Hasan Ali lbn Abi’l-Hazm Ibn al-Nafis al-Qarshi, who was born in Damascus and died at the age of 80, probably in 1288-1289 in Egypt, He wrote many works on medicine and other subjects. As the source of his writings he used his memory, experience, observations and deductions, and relied very little on other sources. He was often quoted by other writers. He set up an endowment for the Mansuri hospital in Cairo.
Ibn al-Nafis is the author of many commentaries on the Al-Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and on the medical writings of Hippocrates, Hunayn Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Sinã. He also wrote some medical works. One of them is a treatise on eve diseases and another on diet entitled Kitab al-Mukhtar min al-Aghdhiyyah. Among all his writings the best is his commentary on the Qãnün, Kitab Mu’jiz al-Qãnün (also called Al- Mujiz fi’l-Tibb). It is divided into four sections, (1) generalities on the theory and practice of medicine; (2) victuals and drugs, simple and compound; (3) diseases of the individual organs; (4) other diseases, their causes, symptoms and cures. This book enjoyed much popularity. Many commentaries •were written on it. It was translated into Turkish and Hebrew.
Ibn al-Nafis wrote another commentary on the anatomical part of the Qãnün. It is extremely interesting from the physiological point of view. Ibn al-Nafis describes Ibn Sinã’s view on circulation in heart and lungs, and repeats the Galenic fragments as described by Ibn Sinã. He then vigorously contradicted these views. He stated that the venous blood cannot pass from the right to the left ventricle through visible or invisible pores in the septum, but must pass through the venous artery to the lungs, mingled there, with air, pass through the ‘arterious vein’ into the left vertical and form there the “vital spirit”. Ibn Nafis theory is of extreme importance. Ibn Nafis is one of the main for runners of William Harvey and the greatest physiologist of the Middle Ages in the West.33

1, Wasiti, Hakim Nayyr, Tibb al-Arab, (Urdu translation of Arabian Medicine, by Edward G. Browne, Lahore, 1954, p. 368.
2. Briffault, Robert, The Making of Humanity, Islamic Foundation, Lahore, 1980, P. 201.
3. Sarton, George, Introduction to the History of Science, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1950, Vol. III, p. 1729.
4. Wasiti, Hakim Nayyr, Muslim Contribution to Medicine, Lahore, 1962, p. 2.
5. Landau, Rom, Islam And the Arabs, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., London, 1958, p.178.
6. Wasiti, op. cit., p. 4.
7. Ibid.
8. Elgood, Medical History of Persia And Eastern Muslim Caliphate, p. 179.
9. Arnold & Guillaume, The Legacy of Islam, Oxford. 1949, p. 221.
10. Wasiti, op. cit., p. 10.
11. Al-Qifti, ‘Ali Ibn Yusuf, Tãrikh al-Hukama, Leipzig, 1903, p. 158.
12. Sarton, op. cit., p. 573.
13. Ibid. p. 574.
14. Ibid.
15. Wasiti, Tibb al-Arab, pp. 52-56.
16. Ibid., p. 609.
17. Ibid., Wasiti, op. cit., p. 65.
18. Al-Qifti, op. cit., p. 171. Vol. I, p. Sarton, op. cit.
19. Ibid., p. 639.
20. Wasiti, op. cit., pp. 56-57. A1-Qif;i, op. cit., p. 190.
21. Wasiti, pp. 73-77.
22. Sarton, op. cit., p. 679.
23. Ibid., p. 680.
24. Ibid., Haji Khalifa, Kashf al-Zunun, Istanbul, p. 949.
25. Ibid., p. 679.
26. Haji Khalifa, Kashf al-Zunun, Istanbul, 1943, VoL I p. 946.
27. Ibid, p. 411. Wasiti, op. cit. pp, 343-362.
28. Al-Qifti, op. cit., p. 413.; Elgood, op. cit., pp. 203, 205.
29. Al-Qifti, op. cit., p. 80. ; Sarton, op. cit., Vol. 11, Part I, p. 230.
30. Ibid.,
31. Ibid, pp. 231-233.
32. Ibid, p. 234 ; Wãsiti, op. cit., p. 128.
33. Ibid., p. 447. ; Sarton, op. cit., Part II, p. 1099.

Md. Wasim Aktar

  • Honey and its miracles?Honey is a remarkable viscous liquid, prepared by the bees from the nectars of various plants. It has occupied a prominent place in traditional medicines throughout world history. The ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans employed honey for wounds and diseases of the gut. When the Children of Israel were in Egypt or journeying through the desert, their promised goal was a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’.

    Both the holy Qur’an and Hadith refer to honey as a healer of disease.

    ‘And thy Lord taught the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees and in (men’s) habitations….. there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for mankind. Verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought’.
    (Translation of Quran 16:68-69)

    In addition, the Prophet (PBUH) said:

    ‘Honey is a remedy for every illness and the Qur’an is a remedy for all illness of the mind, therefore I recommend to you both remedies, the Qur’an and honey.’

    In recent years, scientific support is beginning to emerge confirming the beneficial effects of honey on certain medical and surgical conditions. These effects may be summarised as follows:
    Antibacterial and antifungal properties

    These properties of honey are well established. Undiluted honey inhibits the growth of bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, certain gut pathogens and fungi such as Candida albicans. At a concentration of 30-50%, honey has been shown to be superior to certain conventional antibiotics in treating urinary tract infections. The exact mechanism of the anti-microbial effect of honey remains obscure. Low pH, osmotic disruption of pathogens and the
    presence of bactericidal substances, collectively called inhibine may all play a part.
    Anti-diarrhoeal properties

    At a concentration of 40%, honey has a bactericidal effect on various gut bacteria known to cause diarrhoea and dysentery such as Salmonella, Shigella, enteropathogenic E. coli and Vibrio cholera. In one study, honey given with oral rehydration fluid was shown to reduce the duration of bacterial diarrhoea in infants and children.
    Wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties

    Honey is of value in treating burns, infected surgical wounds and decubitus ulcers. Honey is very viscous, enabling it to absorb water from surrounding inflamed tissue. For example, a study in West Africa showed that skin grafting, surgical debridement and even amputation were avoided when local application of honey to wound promoted healing, whereas conventional treatment failed.

    In another study, wound healing was accelerated by application of honey in women who had undergone radical vulvectomy for vulval cancer. Also, it has been suggested that honey may be useful in the treatment of chronic, foul smelling ulcers seen in leprosy.
    Anti-tussive and expectorant properties

    These anti-cough properties of honey are related to its capacity to dilute bronchial secretions and improve the function of the bronchial epithelium.
    Nutritional properties

    Uncontaminated honey is a healthy, easily digestible, natural and energy rich food. It contains carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, enzymes and vitamins. One tablespoon of honey provides 60 calories and contains 11g of carbohydrates, 1mg of calcium, 0.2mg of iron, 0.lmg of vitamin B and 1mg of vitamin C.

    Honey is widely available in most communities but its medical potential remains grossly underutilised. Its mode of action remains incompletely understood and the healing properties of honey in other clinical and laboratory situations requires further evaluation. The miraculous beneficial properties of honey, so beautifully ex-pressed in the holy Qur’an and Sunnah 14 centuries ago expose the reluctance of modern science to accept and exploit this ‘traditional remedy’.

  • Jazak Allah Kheir

    Thank you for the information on this remarkable and sweet gift from Allah…

    Your such a honey for sharing!so sweet of you!References :

  • assalamo alaykom.

    i really felt happiness while reading about honey and its very beautiful…sobhana LLAH

    alhamduli LLAH for everything…jazaka LLAH khayran for sharing.

    may Allah increase ur knowledge so u post more and shate with us.

    assalamo alaykom bro.References :

  • This is a very interesting read.
    I’ve always been enticed by honey and its ‘healing’ properties.
    Did you know in my culture when a newborn is born it is given a little lick of honey?
    But health experts tell us not to give babies under 1 years honey, as it causes infant botulism.
    Have you heard of that? I read up on it and it scared me out.
    I never gave my baby honey except the first time.
    Im not sure if i should or not.References :

  • This is a very interesting read.
    I’ve always been enticed by honey and its ‘healing’ properties.
    Did you know in my culture when a newborn is born it is given a little lick of honey?
    But health experts tell us not to give babies under 1 years honey, as it causes infant botulism.
    Have you heard of that? I read up on it and it scared me out.
    I never gave my baby honey except the first time.
    Im not sure if i should or not.References :

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