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The Muslim World’s Contributions to Medical Science, Part II

Islam concerns itself deeply with the well being of believers, and the well being cannot be completed until disease-free life is there. The holy Qur’an has several verses in which the medical questions are discussed. For a believer, the Divine Wisdom the verses stimulate a positive curiosity in the topics of medical sciences and guide towards the thankfulness to Allah for the cure and good health. The holy Prophet (s) himself advised treatments for many diseases. There are several sayings attributed to holy Prophet (s) on the issues of health, sickness, hygiene and issues dealing with medicine. There is mentioning of diseases like leprosy, pleurisy, and ophthalmia in the traditions attributed to holy Prophet (s) and there are suggested treatments like cupping, cautery, and use of honey. Such sayings which relate to ailments, their cure, and medicine have been collected and compiled as the Tibb al-Nabi or Medicine of the Prophet (s) in English.


Besides, there are many medical books emanating specifically from the sixth Shia imam, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (as).

Islamic medicine had it’s own center of the city of Baghdad during the rule of Abbasid caliphs. This center received the medical expertise and knowledge from the schools of Jundishapur. In the beginning era of this center, Yuhanna ibn Musawaih (Mesue Senior or Janus Damascus in Latin) holds prominent position. He authored the first ophthalmological treatise in Arabic. There were many famous translators who translated the medical text from Greek and Persian schools into Syriac and Arabic. Among them more famous was Hunain ibn Ishaq or Johannitus Onan as he was known in the West. He was an excellent physician as well.

In 850 AD, Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari authored Paradise of Wisdom (Firdaus al-Hikmah). His work is a large compendium on medicine dealing with issues relating to pathology, pharmacology, and diet.

After al-Tabari, his student Muhammad al-Razi or Rhazes left a very significant legacy in medical science. Along with Ibn Sina, he is included among the greatest medical scientists of all time. Rhazes was director in chief of the main hospital in Baghdad. His skills in prognosis, his talent in analysis of symptoms of a disease, his manner and treatment of cure has made his case studies very valuable and sought after in the later physicians. One of his most famous works On Smallpox and Measles was published forty times between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries and was translated into Latin, English and many other Western languages. His work Al-Hawi (Comprehensive Book or Continents) is among the most extensive work written by a medical expert prior to the nineteenth century. Al-Hawi consists of twenty three volumes which is a very comprehensive encyclopedia of Greek, pre-Islamic near Eastern, Syriac, Indian, and Arabic medical knowledge. “He was the first to identify several important diseases, such as smallpox and to treat them successfully. To him is generally credited the isolation and use of alcohol as an anti-septic, and the first use of mercury as a purgative.” [1]

Abu Ali Sina or Avicenna is another one of the most significant and all time prominent philosophers and medical scientists belonging to the period whose contributions we’ll discuss separately in another full article dedicated to him.

In the second half of the tenth century, Ali ibn Al-Abbas Al-Majusi or Haly Abbas in Latin, made very significant contributions in medical sciences. His book Kitab al-Maliki (The Royal Book or Liber Regius), in which he discussed the Greek and Islamic physicians who preceded him, was regarded as the standard text until the works of Avicenna came upon the horizon and overshadowed everyone.

Egypt, due to it’s prevalence of eye diseases, witnessed a great advancement in ophthalmology. The words retina, cataract all owe their origin to Arabic. The book entitled Note-Book of the Oculists of Ali ibn Isa (Jesu Haly) is among the foremost important writings on the ophthalmology in tenth century. Shortly after The Book of Selections on the Treatment of the Eye was authored by Canamusali. These works reigned in the field of ophthalmology until the Kepler’s dioptrics was published. These works were consulted as late as the eighteenth century. In the same period ibn al-Haytham or Alhazen made great studies on structure and illness of eyes. Alhazen is regarded as one of the greatest opticians.  Ibn Nafis discovered secondary or lesser pulmonary circulation and made critical study of anatomical works of Galen and Avicenna.

In Islamic Spain, Arib ibn Saad al-Katib composed a treatise on gynecology. He was followed by Abul Qasim al-Zahrawi (Albucaisis) in eleventh century who was a famous surgeon.  Ibn Zuhr’s (in Latin Avenzoar) works specifically on anatomy and had considerable influence on medical practice in Medieval Europe. In the same period, Averroes composed medical encyclopedia entitled The Book of Generalities on Medicine. Besides, there were many other Spanish medical experts who made significant contributions in pharmacology and other medical sciences.

Besides, Muslim medical experts and physicians in Persia and India made vital contributions in the field of medical sciences.

This great progress made by Muslims in the medical science not only demonstrate their great talents but also their openness to accept and assimilate the knowledge of other civilizations. The progress made by Muslims in the fields of medical sciences, like many other branches of science, had direct influence on Europe which led to revival of sciences and intellectual revolutions resulting in Renaissance in Europe. Modern day medicine owes it’s origin to the Muslim world.

Editor’s note: Islamic Insights is honored to host a series on “The Muslim World’s Contributions to Science” by esteemed guest columnist Brother Asad Raza. His column will feature contributions from Muslims in different science fields. This article is focused on the great Muslim physicians.

[1] Science and Civilization in Islam by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

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About Asad Raza

A stimulated mind. An avid reader. An IT professional. A beleiver in Deen e Hanifa : "Then set your face upright for religion in the right state-- the nature made by Allah in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah's creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know--"(30:30)

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  • Ali A

    Thank you for sharing these points. I was hoping that you could also distinguish the ‘modern’ allopathic medicine (which reduces human beings to chemical and organic body system) and the traditional/spiritual medicine that is based on the intelligence/soul of the human body and its connection to the cosmos outside the body. The implications should be obvious, from the very basic question of defining ‘sickness’ (what is sickness?) to understanding different lifeforces within human beings that have a direct bearing on healing. Similarly, how do cosmic connections – sunlight, for instance – can affect the healing process.