Medical Sciences in the Islamic Civilization: Scholars, Fields of Expertise and Institutions
FSTC Research Team*
1 | 2 | 3 | Next
Table of contents
1. Origins of Islamic Medical Tradition***
2. Two Famous Physicians: Ali Ibn 'Abbas and Ibn al-Quff
3. Al-Zahrawi the Genius Surgeon
4. Eye Diseases and their Treatments
6. Other Aspects of Islamic Medicine
7. Medical Institutions: Hospitals
8. Concluding Words on Islamic Medicine
1. Origins of Islamic Medical Tradition
Islamic medicine goes back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and it received its impetus from both his encouragement and example. Hareth Ibn Kelda was an Arab established at Mecca, and from him the Prophet obtained something more than the rudiments of medicine, an accomplishment which contributed greatly to his success . The Prophet attended the sick, gave consultations, and imparted his learning to his wives, and crucially, he recognized the paramount importance of hygiene, and inculcated its maxims upon every occasion . "God has not caused a single disease to descend upon men without providing a remedy," "Diet is the principle of cure, and intemperance the source of all physical ills," were some of the aphoristical sayings whose truth he constantly impressed upon his followers .
Following his example, his companions and early Caliphs gave great support to medical learning, teaching and practice, and by the high Middle Ages, Islamic medicine was ripe with accomplishments. Some such achievements are outlined by Campbell:
"The Arabians raised the dignity of the medical profession from that of menial calling to the rank of one of the learned professions; they were the first to introduce systematically arranged illustrations in their medical writings, and also gave us their system of numbering which has all but replaced the cumbersome Roman numerals. They also developed the science of chemistry as applied to medicine, and considerably improved the art of dispensing by the introduction of such elegant preparations as rose and orange water. To the Arabians we owe the introduction of the idea of the legal control of qualifying examinations for admission to the medical profession, and though the idea of establishing hospitals did not originate with them, they were responsible for the establishment of a large number of these institutions ."
Figure 1a-c: Three pages from Al-Juz' al-thalith min kitab al-Hawi fi al-tibb (The third part of the comprehensive book on medicine) by Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (ca. 865-ca. 925). (Source).
Durant makes another excellent summary of Islamic medical achievements, which is abridged here . The Muslims, he says "established the first apothecary shops and dispensaries, founded the first medieval school of pharmacy, and wrote great treatises on pharmacology. Muslim physicians were enthusiastic advocates of the bath, especially in fevers and in the form of the steam bath. Their directions for the treatment of smallpox and measles could scarcely be bettered today. Anesthesia by inhalation was practiced in some surgical operations…. No man could legally practice medicine without passing an examination and receiving a state diploma; druggists, barbers, and orthopedists were likewise subject to state regulation and inspection. The physician-vizier Ali ibn Isa organized a staff of doctors to go from place to place to tend the sick; certain physicians made daily visits to jails; there was an especially humane treatment of the insane ."
"The Arabs," in the words of Scott, "were the first to perform the important operation of lithotomy and to reduce old dislocations. They knew how to ligature the arteries four centuries before Ambrose Pare. They used hooks for the extraction of polypi. They made frequent and intelligent use of counter-irritants. The seton is their invention. The application of leeches in apoplexy was a common incident in their practice. They were familiar with the effects of caustics and acids as escharotics. They substituted refrigerants for tonics in certain affections of the nerve-centres. They understood the value of cold water in arresting hemorrhage. They originated the modern method of bandaging. The treatment of slow fevers, like typhoid, by baths of low temperature, was frequently employed by them; it was recommended by Razes nine hundred years before its announcement to the present generation as a new and remarkable discovery. To Ibn Zuhr medical science owes the operation of tracheotomy and the original description of pericarditis. Abulcasis, in explaining lithotomy, advises the section used by surgeons ever since he wrote, in the 10th century. Nor had the advantages derived from anaesthesia escaped the notice of these profound and ingenious observers. They suggest the administration, in decoction, of darnel—the Lolium Temulentum— and other plants of narcotic properties, until complete loss of consciousness and sensation is obtained, to facilitate the performance of severe operations. Even the results of microbial infection appear to have been recognized by them, although its cause remained unknown. Nor in that early day was the care of animals neglected, and the name of Abu Bakr Ibn Badr has descended to posterity as that of a famous veterinary surgeon ."
Muslim science and medicine in particular, were so much more advanced in comparison to Western Christian counterpart. The 12th century Muslim historian, Usama Ibn Munquidh, relates an anecdote on the authority of Guillaume de Bures, with whom he travelled from acres to Tiberias: "There was with us in our country,' said Guillaume, "a very doughty knight, who fell ill and was at the point of death. As last resource we applied to a Christian pries
by: FSTC Limited