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Medical Sciences

Rhazes Anatomy Smallpox Antiseptic Psychosomatic Medicine

The Paradise of Wisdom (Firdaws al-hikmah ) by 'Ali ibnRabban al-Tabari, who synthesized the Hippocratic andGalenic traditions of medicine with those of India andPersia. His student, Muhammad ibn Zakariyya' al-Razi (theLatin Rhazes), was one of the greatest of physicians whoemphasized clinical medicine and observation. He was amaster of prognosis and psychosomatic medicine and alsoof anatomy. He was the first to identify and treatsmallpox, to use alcohol as an antiseptic and makemedical use of mercury as a purgative. His Kitab al-hawi(Continens) is the longest work ever written in Islamicmedicine and he was recognized as a medical authority inthe West up to the 18th century.

The Canon of Medicine and Meningitis

The greatest of all Muslim physicians, however, was IbnSina who was called "the prince of physicians" in theWest. He synthesized Islamic medicine in his majormasterpiece, al-Qanun fi'l tibb (The Canon of Medicine),which is the most famous of all medical books in history.It was the final authority in medical matters in Europefor nearly six centuries and is still taught whereverIslamic medicine has survived to this day in such landsas Pakistan and India. Ibn Sina discovered many drugs andidentified and treated several ailments such asmeningitis but his greatest contribution was in thephilosophy of medicine. He created a system of medicinewithin which medical practice could be carried out and inwhich physical and psychological factors, drugs and dietare combined.

Pulmonary Circulation

After Ibn Sina, Islamic medicine divided into severalbranches. In the Arab world Egypt remained a major centerfor the study of medicine, especially ophthalmology whichreached its peak at the court of al-Hakim. Cairopossessed excellent hospitals which also drew physiciansfrom other lands including Ibn Butlan, author of thefamous Calendar of Health, and Ibn Nafis who discoveredthe lesser or pulmonary circulation of the blood longbefore Michael Servetus, who is usually credited with thediscovery.


As for the western lands of Islam including Spain, thisarea was likewise witness to the appearance ofoutstanding physicians such as Sa'd al-Katib of Cordobawho composed a treatise on gynecology, and the greatestMuslim figure in surgery, the 12th century Abu'l-Qasimal-Zahrawi (the Latin Albucasis) whose medicalmasterpiece Kitab al-tasrif was well known in the West asConcessio. One must also mention the Ibn Zuhr familywhich produced several outstanding physicians and AbuMarwan 'Abd al-Malik who was the Maghrib's mostoutstanding clinical physician. The well known Spanishphilosophers, Ibn Tufayl and Ibn Rushd, were alsooutstanding physicians.

Islamic medicine continued in Persia and the othereastern lands of the Islamic world under the influence ofIbn Sina with the appearance of major Persian medicalcompendia such as the Treasury of Sharaf al-Dinal-Jurjani and the commentaries upon the Canon by Fakhral-Din al-Razi and Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi. Even after theMongol invasion, medical studies continued as can be seenin the work of Rashid al-Din Fadlallah, and for the firsttime there appeared translations of Chinese medicine andinterest in acupuncture among Muslims. The Islamicmedical tradition was revived in the Safavid period whenseveral diseases such as whooping cough were diagnosedand treated for the first time and much attention waspaid to pharmacology. Many Persian doctors such as 'Aynal-Mulk of Shiraz also travelled to India at this time tousher in the golden age of Islamic medicine in thesubcontinent and to plant the seed of the Islamic medicaltradition which continues to flourish to this day in thesoil of that land.

Major Hospitals

The Ottoman world was also an arena of great medicalactivity derived from the heritage of Ibn Sina. TheOttoman Turks were especially known for the creation ofmajor hospitals and medical centers. These included notonly units for the care of the physically ill, but alsowards for patients with psychological ailments. TheOttomans were also the first to receive the influence ofmodem European medicine in both medicine andpharmacology.

In mentioning Islamic hospitals it is necessary tomention that all major Islamic cities had hospitals; somelike those of Baghdad were teaching hospitals while somelike the Nasiri hospital of Cairo had thousands of bedsfor patients with almost any type of illness. Hygiene inthese hospitals was greatly emphasized and al-Razi hadeven written a treatise on hygiene in hospitals. Somehospitals also specialized in particular diseasesincluding psychological ones. Cairo even had a hospitalwhich specialized in patients having insomnia.