Bukhara

Bukhara, a city in central Asia has a history indicative of a number of eastern Islamic cities. It produced important scholars, most famously Ibn Sina and the compiler of the most quoted source of sayings of Prophet Muhammad - Imam Bukhari

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Imam Bukhari Mausoleum

Bukhara is a city in Turkestan on the lower course of the Zarafshan river. The first Muslim armies who appeared before Bukhara in 674 CE were led by Ubaid bin Ziyad. It was, however, Kutaiba bin Muslim, who in 710 CE put the Muslim presence there on a strong footing. Due to its geographical position, Bukhara was much more closely linked to that other great city of Islam, Merv. It seems that the city experienced a period of splendour in the tenth century. The Great Mosque was near the fortress, and there were numerous smaller mosques, with markets, baths and open squares beyond count, and at the close of the 10th century the Government House stood immediately outside the fortress in the great square called the Rigistan.[1] Ibn Hawqal gives a detailed account of the chief canals which, starting from the left bank of the Sughd river, watered Bukhara and the gardens in the plain around the city.[2]The city experienced great economic prosperity, and also great scholarly activity, as will be explored further on. That lasted until the catastrophe of the Mongol invasion of 1220. In 1219 onwards, all eastern parts of Ferghana, Khwarizm, Herrat, and other parts were devastated by the Mongols led by Jenghis (Ghensi) Khan, every single piece of infrastructure was wiped out, and hundreds of thousands of people, even millions were slaughtered.[3]Marshman says:

`From the Caspian to the Indus, more than 1000 miles in extent, the whole country was laid waste with fire and sword by the ruthless barbarians who followed Ghensis Khan. It was the greatest calamity which had befallen the human race since the Deluge, and five centuries have been barely sufficient to repair the desolation.'[4]

An army under Jenghiz's son, Jagtai, captured and sacked Otrar, whilst another under Jenghiz himself, burned Bukhara to the ground, raped thousands of women, and massacred 30,000 men.[5]

Then, fifty years after, just as the city began to regain some semblance of life, the Mongols struck again. This time, they were the Mongols based in Iran led by Abaka. Abaka had succeeded Hulagu when he died in 1265 [6]and had converted to Christianity or had promised to convert to that faith. In May 1267, the Patriarch of Jerusalem wrote again to describe the desolation wrought by Sultan Baibars on the Crusaders in the plain of Acre, the death of John of Brienne, and the attack on the Crusader castle of Safed, asking help from where he could.[7]In August, Pope Clement IV wrote to Abaka - the Tartar prince - to praise him for a supposed conversion to Christianity,[8]and to ask for assistance against the Mamluks. Abaka, thus, made common cause with the Crusaders. Amongst Abaka's targets was Bukhara, which was to suffer immensely at the hands of his general, Nikpai Bahadur, who on 28 January 1273 took the city.[9]For seven days they plundered the city, destroying the whole city by fire and sword, and nearly exterminating the population.[10]From this devastation Bukhara was never to recover.

Before the Mongol onslaught, Bukhara produced some great minds, two of them, Ibn Sina, and Imam al-Bukhari, in their different ways, were to affect the whole history of Islam and its civilisation.

First, however, we briefly look at a third figure, a figure not originally from Bukhara, but from Yambo, near Mecca. Abu Dulaf Mistar ibn al-Muhalhal al-Khazraj al-Yanbu'i was born in Yambo, near Mecca and flourished in Bukhara at the court of the Samanid prince Nasr ibn Ahmad ibn Ismail, who ruled from 913 to 942.[11]A poet and a traveller, he returned to southern India across Tibet with the embassy of the Hindu prince Kalatli ibn Shakhbar and came back by way of Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Sijistan. [12]These travels are very important, for Al-Yanbu'i wrote his narratives "Marvels of the Countries" ('Aja'ib al-buldan) which gives an excellent insight on such episodes, and such times, and places. Extracts of Al-Yanbu'i's narrative of his journeys have been preserved by Yaqut al-Hamawi and Qazwini. [13]Al-Yanbui's accounts have, like much else, found great appreciation in the German language.[14] There is also a good account in French by Gabriel Ferrand.[15]

The second greatest figure of Islamic civilisation, generally put first, from Bukhara, is Ibn Sina. The achievements of this great man are described in detail in other articles. Ibn Sina was born near Bukhara in 980, and after the birth of his younger brother, the family moved to Bukhara itself, where a tutor was engaged to teach him the Qur'an and Arabic poetry.[16]His amazing memory showed itself when he memorized the Qur'an and could recite all of it by heart.[17] The boy's progress was so rapid that auxiliary teaching aids were soon required, and he was taught arithmetic by a greengrocer, law by an ascetic, and geometry and logic by a wandering scholar.[18] Ibn Sina was also self-taught. He studied rhetoric, and then algebra and arithmetic and astronomy. Within a year or two he began the study of theology.[19]At the age of sixteen he began the study of medicine under the physician, Ibn-Nuh al-Qamari, the court physician to Mansur Samani, the ruler of Bukhara.[20]At 16 he was so learned that qualified physicians came to learn from him.[21]It is known that every time he encountered a problem that was troublesome, he would go to the mosque and spend the day in prayer, after which he returned to his house, lit the lamp and set himself once more to study.[22]When he could not remain awake any longer, he puzzled over his problems in his dreams and sometimes solved them in his sleep.[23]

In his autobiography, Ibn Sina states that at first he treated the sick, not for fees but for his own instruction. [24]During this period he never passed night or day in any other occupation but study. In the early days of his practice the ruler, Mansur Samani, became ill. The regular physicians failed to cure him, and Ibn Sina was called in for consultation. As a result the ruler was restored to health. In appreciation of his services, the amir gave him a place of honour in the court, and gave him the right of access to the royal library, which was stocked with useful and rare manuscripts.[25]Of this experience, Ibn Sina said:

``I went there and found a great number of rooms filled with books packed in trunks. I then read the catalogue of the authors and found therein all that I required. I saw many books, the very titles of which were unknown to most people, and others which I never met with before or since."[26]

It is not necessary here to discuss all the medical writings of Ibn Sina, most of them in Arabic. His treatise on Cardiac Drugs is one of the most important of his contributions. His Qanun, or Canon as it was known to the European physicians, is by far the largest and most important of his works and the one that exerted the greatest influence in medieval medicine. Fortunately it is also the most accessible, both in the original Arabic and in Latin and European translations, including English. The English translation [with the exception of the section on anatomy] was made by Dr. O. C. Gruner, in 1930. [27]Gerard of Cremona made the first translation into Latin in Toledo.

The Canon is a monumental work containing about a million words, and is elaborately divided and sub-divided. The main division is into five Books, of which the first deals with genera1 principles; the second with simple drugs arranged alphabetically; the third with diseases of particular organs and members of the body, from head to foot; the fourth with diseases which, though local and partial in their inception, tend to spread to other parts of the body, such as fevers; and the fifth on compound medicines.[28]But book four deals also with critical days, prognoses, tumours and ulcers, fractures, dislocations and toxicology.

Bukhara Madrasa

Browne says this about the Canon:

`Its encyclopaedic character, its systematic arrangement, its philosophic plan, perhaps its dogmatism, combined with the immense reputation of its author in other fields besides Medicine, raised it to a unique position in the medical literature of the Muslim world, so that the earlier works of al-Razi and al-Majusi, in spite of their undoubted merits, were practically abrogated by it, and it is still regarded in the East by the followers of the old Greek Medicine, the Tibb-i-Yunani, as the last word on all matters connected with the healing art.'

In proof of this statement, and to show the extraordinary reverence in which Ibn Sina (Latinised as "Avicenna") is held, I will conclude with a quotation from that pleasant work the Chahar Magala, or 'Four Discourses', composed in Persian in the middle of the twelfth century CE, and dealing with four classes of men; Secretaries of State, Poets, Astrologers and Physicians, which were deemed by the author, Nizami-i-Arudi of Samarkand, indispensable for the service of kings. After enumerating a number of books which should be diligently studied by him who aspires to eminence in Medicine, the author says that if he desires to be independent of all other works he may be best satisfied with the Qanun.' [29]

There is no need to dwell further on the Canon except to give, as an illustration, this short outline on the surgical cure for cancer.[30] For Ibn Sina, cancer, al-Sarathan, is a cold tumour, which does not get inflamed, and which is painless at first; but certain forms become painful and often incurable when they reach an advanced level. Cancer grows from a centre just as the legs of a crab, from which it takes the name. The internal cancers appear without the patient being aware, and despite their pain, the patient can live quite long with them. The only forms of cancer upon which the surgeon can intervene are the `limited cancers.' Here, the incision has to be perfect, that is all ramifications of the tumour will be extracted. However, surgery is not always conclusive and definite, for the cancer can often reappear. Ibn Sina, in fact, advises against the amputation of the female breast, for it favours the spread of the disease.[31] Ibn Sina points out that Oxide of copper or lead, although unable to cure the disease, can be efficient in stopping the spread of the cancer.

The greatest figure from Bukhara, and possibly one of the most influential figures of Islamic civilisation is Imam Al-Bukhari born on 21 July 810 CE at Bukhara. He began at the age of ten to learn by heart the hadith (the sayings of Prophet Muhammad) and he seems to have been a precocious boy, for he is credited to have been able at an early age to correct his teachers.[32]He had a remarkable memory and his companions are said to have corrected hadith following what he recited by heart. At the age of sixteen he made his pilgrimage to Mecca. [33]He attended classes with the most famous teachers of hadith tradition at Mecca and Madina. Then he travelled to Egypt as a Talib al-Ilm and spent the next sixteen years, five of which were at Basra, wandering through all Asia, claiming to have heard tradition from over 1000 shaykhs.[34]He then returned to Bukhara where he died on 31 August 870 CE. His collection of tradition al-Djamii al-Sahih is a work which took him sixteen years to complete.[35]It is said that he selected his tradition from a mass of 600,000 and that he did not insert one tradition in the book without first washing and praying two raka'as.[36] To determine the reliability of a given tradition (hadith), the chain of transmission and the text were examined separately, although more attention was given to the individual transmitters and a seemingly reliable text was rejected because of a faulty chain of transmitters.[37]A perfect chain of transmission went back in uninterrupted succession to the Prophet (PBUH), each person, or link, in the chain actually heard the text from the person before him. [38]Multiple transmitters in each generation were desirable. Great focus was also placed on the personality of a particular transmitter, his reputation for integrity and piety and his capacity for transmitting accurately.[39]Sahih al-Bukhari is divided into 97 books with 3450 sections, including a total of 2760 hadiths, and contains only hadiths of the highest authenticity.[40]

The greatest contribution of al-Bukhari other than his collection of the Hadith, is that he initiated a tradition, which was to mark Muslim civilisation, and to affect the whole of civilisation and modern science. This was his insistence on the need for rigour. Under Al-Bukhari's influence, Spectorsky insists, strict rules were developed for accurate copying of manuscripts of tradition collections.[41] He insisted that that all texts be reproduced exactly as heard and that doubts about accuracy, textual criticism, and particularly critical comments on content be relegated to glosses and ascribed to the individual collector.[42]Indeed, referencing today is the proof of accuracy and fidelity to the source, of trust and of advanced scholarship. Before Islam this had never existed in the history of humanity. It is al-Bukhari who set a precedent, and then, his scrupulous manner was followed by every scholar of Islam, often with the referencing being longer than the relevant fact or quotation. The scholars of Islam, followed the tradition, and whether it was Yaqut al-Hamawi, or Ibn Khaldun, or one of the many scientists, none would tolerate anything to enter in their work unless it was fully referenced and proved. Anything they were unsure of, they always rejected, anything not confirmed by reliable sources, they rejected. This is how modern scholarship built possibly the best method for scientific advance, and al-Bukhari's work is a symbol of this approach. His rigour flowed from his deep religious conviction and the dedication to seeking truth above all else which it inspires. This is another good example of how the faith of Islam, directly impacted on the rise of modern science and the scientific method.

Bibliography

-Ibn al-Athir: Kitab al-kamil fi'l tarikh (the perfect in history).Edit, J. Tornberg, Leiden, 1851-1876.

-C. Brockelmann: Bukhara; Encyclopaedia of Islam; 1st series; Vol 1; pp. 776-83.

-E.G. Browne: Arabian medicine; Cambridge University Press; 1962.

-C.R. Conder: The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem; The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund; London; 1897.

-W. Durant: The Age of faith, Simon and Shuster, New York; 6th printing; 1950.

-C. Elgood: A Medical history of Persia; Cambridge University Press; 1951.

-G. Ferrand: Relations de voyages arabes, persans et turcs (vol. 1, 208 f., Paris, 1913).

-E.J. Holmyard: Makers of Chemistry; Oxford at the Clarendon Press; 1931.

-G. Le Strange: The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate; Cambridge University Press; 1930.

-J. Marquart: Das Itinerar des Mi'sar nach der chi nesischen Haupstadt, in Osteuropaische und ostasiatische Steifzuge; pp. 74-95, Leipzig, 1903.

-Baron G. D'Ohsson: Histoire des Mongols, in four volumes; Les Freres Van Cleef; la Haye and Amsterdam; 1834.

-J. Robson: Al-Bukhari: Encyclopaedia of Islam; New Series; Vol. 1; pp. 1296-7.

-F. Sanagustin: La Chirurgie dans le canon de la Medicine, Arabica; vol. xxxiii; 1986; pp. 84-122.

-G. Sarton: Introduction to the History of Sciences; in 3 vols.; The Carnegie Institution, Washington; 1927 ff; vol 1.

-Kurt de Schlozer: Abu Dolaf Misaris ben Mohalhal De itinere suo asiatico commentaries; Berlin, 1845.

-S. Spectorsky: Al-Bukhari; Dictionary of the Middle Ages; vol. 2; pp. 397-9.

-A. Whipple: The Role of the Nestorians and Muslims in the History of Medicine. Microfilm-xerography by University Microfilms International Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A. 1977.


[1] G. Le Strange: The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate; Cambridge University Press; 1930; pp. 461-2.

[2] G. Le Strange: op cit.; pp. 461-2.

[3] For the best historical accounts of the Mongol invasions, and their destruction of the Muslim realm, there is nothing better than the following two works:

-Ibn al-Athir: Kitab al-kamil fi'l tarikh (the perfect in history).Edit, J. Tornberg, Leiden, 1851-1876.

- Baron G. D'Ohsson: Histoire des Mongols, in four volumes; Les Freres Van Cleef; la Haye and Amsterdam; 1834.

[4] Marshman: History of India; vol I. P. 49. in R. B. Smith: Mohammed and Mohammedanism; Smith Elder; London; 1875; Note 1; p. 307

[5] W. Durant: The Age of faith, Simon and Shuster, New York; 6th printing; 1950. p.339.

[6] G. D'Ohson: Histoire; op cit.; p. 415.

[7] C.R. Conder: The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem; The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund; London; 1897. p.389

[8] C.R. Conder: The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem; p.389

[9] C. Brockelmann: Bukhara; Encyclopaedia of Islam; 1st series; Vol. 1; pp. 776-83

[10] C. Brockelmann: Bukhara; pp. 776-83

[11] G. Sarton: Introduction to the History of Sciences; in 3 vols; The Carnegie Institution, Washington; 1927 ff; vol 1; p. 637.

[12] G. Sarton: Introduction; vol. 1; p. 637.

[13] G. Sarton: Introduction; vol. 1; p. 637.

[14] Kurt de Schlozer: Abu Dolaf Misaris ben Mohalhal De itinere suo asiatico commentaries; Berlin, 1845.

J. Marquart: Das Itinerar des Mi'sar nach der chi nesischen Haupstadt, in Osteuropaische und ostasiatische Steifzuge; pp. 74-95, Leipzig, 1903.

[15] G. Ferrand: Relations de voyages arabes, persans et turcs (vol. 1, 208 f., Paris, 1913).

[16] E.J. Holmyard: Makers of Chemistry; Oxford at the Clarendon Press; 1931; p. 69.

[17] A. Whipple: The Role of the Nestorians and Muslims in the History of Medicine. Microfilm-xerography by University Microfilms International Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A. 1977; p. 43.

[18] E.J. Holmyard: Makers of Chemistry; p. 69.

[19] A. Whipple: The Role of the Nestorians and Muslims; op cit; p. 43.

[20] Whipple: op cit.; p. 43.

[21] E.J. Holmyard: Makers of Chemistry; op cit.; p. 69.

[22] E.J. Holmyard: Makers of Chemistry; p. 69.

[23] E.J. Holmyard: Makers of Chemistry; p. 69.

[24] A. Whipple: op cit.; p. 43.

[25] Whipple: op cit.; p. 44.

[26] C. Elgood: A Medical history of Persia; Cambridge University Press; 1951, p. 186.

[27] A. Whipple:  op cit.; p. 45.

[28] E.G. Browne: Arabian medicine; Cambridge University Press; 1962. pp. 61 f.

[29] Browne, op. cit.; pp. 61 f.

[30] Extracted from: F. Sanagustin: La Chirurgie dans le canon de la Medicine, Arabica; vol. xxxiii; 1986; pp. 84-122; pp. at .99-100.

[31] Ibn Sina; Canon, 111; p. 137.

[32] J. Robson: Al-Bukhari: Encyclopaedia of Islam; New Series; Vol 1; pp. 1296-7.p. 1296:

[33] J. Robson: op cit.; p. 1296:

[34] J. Robson: Al-Bukhari: 1296:

[35] J. Robson: Al-Bukhari: p. 1296:

[36] J. Robson: Al-Bukhari: p. 1296:

[37] S. Spectorsky: Al-Bukhari; Dictionary of the Middle Ages; vol. 2; pp. 397-9; at p. 398.

[38] S. Spectorsky: op cit.; p. 398.

[39] S. Spectorsky: Al-Bukhari: Encyclopaedia of Islam; New Series; Vol 1; .; p. 398.

[40] J. Robson: Al-Bukhari: Op cit; p. 1296:

[41] S. Spectorsky: Al-Bukhari; op cit; p. 398.

[42] S. Spectorsky: Al-Bukhari; p. 398.

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