Ezzat Abouleish, M.B., CH.B., D.A., D.M., M.D.

Medicine, as it stands today, did not develop overnight. It is the culmination of efforts of millions of people, some we know and other we do not. The flame of civilization,including medicine, started thousands of years ago, was passed on from one generation to another, and from one country to the other. Depending on who took the sacred responsibility of hosting it,sometime it glowed brighter and sometimes dimmer: it never died away, because if it did, it wouldhave been impossible to re-kindle it.

Between the ancient civilization, namely the Egyptians, Greek,Roman,Persian,Indian,and Chinese, and the Renaissance era in Europe, there was a gap, commonly called "the darkages", during which the flame was hosted, not by the West, but by another group of people called the Arabs or the Moslems. The term "the dark ages" reflects the civilization in Europe between the 7th and 13th centuries, but by no means does it express the state of affairs in the Arab world or the Islamic Empire at that time when the position of art and science were as bright as the middaysun. That era, unjustifiably, has been commonly neglected and passed over, as if it never existed. This paper is an effort to focus on some of the important events which took place during this period, including the accomplishments ofthe prominent physicians who lived at that time.

The Spread of Islam

In order to understand how medicine developed in the middle ages, we have to look at history and find out the important things that happened during the seventh century.
In 570 A.D., a man was born in a small city called Makkah in the Arabian Peninsula (Haykal 1976); his name was Mohammed. In 610 A.D. he started preaching a new religion, Islam. In 632 A.D., he died after uniting the Arab tribes who had been torn by incessant feuds, cycles of revenge, rivalries, and internecine fights. He transformed these mostly illitcrate nomadic people into a strong nation that encountered and conquered, simultaneously, the two known powers of the time, namely, the Persian and Byzantine Empires. Within a comparatively short space oftime, the Islamic Empire extended from the Atlantic Ocean on the west, to the borders of China on the east. In 71 1 A.D.. only 80 years after the death of the prophet, the Arabs had crossed over to Europe where they ruled Spain for more than 700 years. In 732 A.D., they threatened Paris before their thrust was stopped at Tours and Poiter (Eigeland 1976). In 831 A.D., the Muslims of North Africa invaded Sicily and ruled there for 200 years. By 846 A.D., they controlled the southern part of Italy and encountered Pome (Hitti 1977). The hold of the Moslems over Italy remained so firm that Pope John VIII (872-882 A.D.) deemed it prudent to pay tribute for two years (Hitti 1977). In 869 A.D., the Arabs captured Malta (ibn-Khaldun). In the tenth century, from Italy and Spain, the Arabs extended their raids through the Alpine passages into mid-Europe. In the Alps, ruins of a number of castles and walls which tourists' guides trace back to the invasion of the Moslems from Sicily still exist. In the southern part ofItaly and in Sicily, a great civilization prospered and through it, the torch of knowledge passed on to Europe, mainly through the University of Salerno in the southern part of Italy (Hitti 1977, Parente 1967).

The expansion of the Muslims in Europe was not limited to those from North Africa and Spain. The Moslems, under the Ottoman Empire, invaded Europe from the East. They occupied a large part of Middle Europe and besieged Vienna twice: during the reign of Sulayman I (1520-1566 A.D.), and during the reign of Mohammed IV (1648-1687 A.D.) (Hitti 1977).

Islam and the Promotion of Culture and Science

As the Muslims challenged the civilized world at that time, they pre served the cultures of the conquered countries. On the other hand, when the Islamic Empire became weak, most of the Islamic contributions in art and science were destroyed. The barbarous hordes of Mongols burnt down Baghdad (1258 A.D.), and later the Spaniards, in their hatred, destroyed most of the Arabicheritage in Spain. What distinguished the Arabs from their enemies was their beliefin Islam which:

I. Stressed the importance and respect for learning. In fact, the very first word revealed to the Prophet ofIslam was "Read". The Prophet freed an enemy captured in battle if he paid a ransom or taught writing and reading to ten Muslims. In their holy book, the Qur'an, the importance of knowledge has been repeatedly stressed: "Those who know and those who do not are not equal." The Prophet Mohammed stressed learning by saying, "One hour of teaching is better than a night of praying." One of the early princes, Khalid Ibn Yazid (end of the 7th century), gave up his treasure for the study of medicine and chemistry. He studied medicine under John the Grammarian of Alexandria, and chemistry under Merrinos the Greek (Haddad 1942). He also encouraged several Greek and Coptic medical books to be translated into Arabic.

2. Forbade destruction. On conquering Mecca, the Prophet Mohammed strongly forbade destruction of homes, animals, or trees. His followers faithfully followed these principles when they conquered other countries.

3. Encouraged cleanliness and personal hygiene. Islam instructed them to approach God in their prayers five times a day with bodies and clothes spotlessly clean.

4. Developed in them respect of authority and discipline. For example, realizing the scourges of plague, their Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h.) decreed that "no man may enter or leave a town in which a plague has broken out." And to make it all the more binding and effective, he promised heaven for those who die of plague, saying that such a death was that of a martyr (Haddad 1942). Thus Mohammed (p.b.u.h.) laid for the Muslims the laws governing cordon and quarantine for the first time in history and made them work.

5. Tolerated other religions. Islam recognizes Christianity and Judaism and considers their followers to be people with holy books like Muslims. In fact, they generously sheltered the Jews at an era when the latter were persecuted in Europe. Dr. Jacob Minkin, a reputable rabbi and scholar says "It was Mohammadan Spain, the only land of freedom the Jews knew in nearly a thousand years of their dispersion...while during the Crusades, the armored knights of the crossspread death and devastation in the Jewish communities of the countries through which they passed, Jews were safe under the sign of the Crescent. They were not only safe in life and possessions, but were given the opportunity to live their own lives and develop a culture so unique and striking that it went down in history as the 'Golden Age'. The Moors, the Muslim conquerors of Spain in 711, were not religious fanatics. They were strong in their faith but generous with regard to the religious convictions of others ... The Renaissance of Art in Italy, says George A. Dorsey, has blinded us to the Renaissance of Science in Spain, which fostered science, promoted culture, encouraged learning, and set a premium on intellectual pursuits, no matter whether the intellect was Moslem, Christian or Jew. Not since the days of Greece had the world kHown such thirst for knowledge, such passion for learning, such spirit shared by the prince and the courtier alike" (Minkin 1968).

The Arabs were assimilated by the vast new countries they reached. From this marriageof genuine character and righteousness with the ancient and well established civilizations, a great new nation was born. It is difficult to identify this new breed as Arabs, because although the language was Arabic, all the scientists were not necessarily from the Arabian Peninsula. It is also equally difficult to describe it as Islamic, because although the majority of the scientists were Moslems, sponsored by Moslem rulers, and governed by Islamic law, yet some scientists were Christians or Jews, especially during the early phase of the Islamic civilization: the period when works in foreign languages were translated into Arabic, and the period of its decline, when the Arabic books were translated into Latin and Hebrew. Therefore, in this article, the adjectives Arabic and Islamic will be used as synonyms.

Medicine Before Islam

In order to comprehend the contributions of the Arabs to medicine, we must have in our minds a picture of the condition of medicine before they arrived on the scene. Generally speaking, two elements are required for medical practice: manpower and hospitals.

A. Manpower before Islam. There were medical centers in different parts of the world which were later either underthe control of the Arabs or inluenced by them. For exampie, in Syria, medicine was advanced and was greatly influenced by the Byzantine civilization which affected also the economic and administrative systems (Hammarneh 1962). From the fifth century on, Greek was the language of learning in Syria. The knowledge of the Arabs of the Greek civilization was mainly through the Syrian scholars who translated it into Arabic. In Egypt, Alexandria was another center for culture. The Arabs came into contact with both the ancient Egyptian and Greek civilizations through the Egyptian scholars. In Persia, there was a medical school in a city called Jundi-Shapur in which medicine was highly developed (Fig. 1). The Abbasi Caliphs during the 8th century encouraged the Persian physicians to translate medical literature from the Persian language into Arabic, to build medical centers in Baghdad, the capital of their empire, and to run newly built hospitals. With further expansion east, the Arabs through contacts with India and China, obtained ideas and methods, not only in medicine, but also in mathematics, chemistry, philosophy, etc.

B. Hospitals before Islam. Hospitals, as we now know them, were probably not present. True, there were places forthe sick to stay, but these were mainly temples or buildings adjoining temples that were run by priests. Gods were supposed to play a major role in the art of healing. For example, the Goddess Toueris was the Egyptian symbol of fecundity who was the protectress of the pregnant and parturient. She was shown as a standing pregnant hippopotamus carrying the hieroglyph meaning protection in one paw and the sign of life in the other. Small figures of Toueris were popular as amulets (Speert 1973). In those days, sanctuary, prayers, incantation, and hypnosis were integral parts of the therapy.

Characteristic Feature of Hospitals in the Islamic Civilization

During the Islamic civilization, hospitals had developed and attained specific characteristics:

I. Secular: Hospitals served all peoples irrespective of color, religion, or background. They were run by the government rather than by the church, and their directors were commonly physicians assisted by persons who had no special religious color. In hospitals, physicians of all faiths worked together with one aim in common: the well-being of patients.

2. Separate wards: Patients of different sexes occupied separate wards. Also different diseases especially infectious ones, were allocated different wards.

3. Separate nurses: Male nurses were to take care of male patients, and vice-versa.

4. Baths and water supplies: Praying five times a day is an important pillar of Islam. Sick or healthy, it is an Islamic obligation. In either case one must offer prayer, but if one is sick one may pray lying in bed. Before praying, one must, however, wash the face, the head, the hands,and the feet, if possible. For certain conditions, a full bath is obligatory. Therefore, these hospitals had to provide the patients and employees with plenty of water and adequate bathing facilities.

5. Practicing physicians: Only qualified physicians were allowed by law to practice medicine. In 931 A.D., the Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadir, ordered his Chief Court- Physician SinanIbn-Thabit to screen the 860 physicians of Baghdad and to grant licenses to practice only to the ones who were qualified (Hamarneh 1962). The counterpart of Ibn-Thabit, AbuOsman Sai'd Ibn-Yaqub, was ordered to do the same in Damascus, Mecca, and Medina. The latter two cities werein need of such a screening because of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visiting them everyyear.

6. Medical schools: The hospital was not only a place for treating patients, but it also served as a school to educate and train medical students, imparting medical knowledge, and developing medicine as a whole. To the main hospitals, there were attached expensive libraries containing the most up-to-date books, auditoria for meetings and lectures, and housing for students and staff of the hospital.

7. Proper records of patients: These hospitals were the first in history that kept regular records of patients and their medical treatment.

8. Pharmacy: During the Islamic era, the science and the profession of pharmacy had developed to an outstanding degree. The Arabic materia medica became rich and many new drugs and compounds were added to it as the Muslims had access to all parts of the known world, either through control or trade. Their ships sailed to China and the Philippines, and their convoys exchanged trade with Africa, Europe and Asia. Chemistry became an advanced science, and a new specialization called pharmacy developed.

The hospitals built in medieval Europe were modeled after these Arabian hospitals. They also served as centers for medical education and students from all parts of the south and the west thronged to them in search forknowledge.

The Reasons for the High Standard of Islamic Hospitals

In the Islamic Empire, the hospitals reached their golden era unsurpassed in previous history. The reasons for this unprecedented progress may briefly be summed up as follows

1. Bring part of an ascendent civilization : The people were prosperous, and they were capable of taking care of their health seeking the best available treatment. Islam stresses the necessity of seeking treatment of every disease. The Prophet says "For every disease God has created a cure." The sciences related to a good medical care system were fairly advanced, e.g., the Arabs were very advanced in chemistry, mathematics, administration, pharmacy, medicine, etc. They gave the world a counting system which replaced the cumbersome Roman numerals. The world also owes to them the knowledge of many important chemical processes and reactions, namely, sublimation, precipitation, filtration, distillation, etc. The great Arab chemist Jabir Ibn- Hayan discovered sulphuric and nitric acids. According to Webster's Dictionary, words such as sugar, alcohol, alkali, syrup, coffee, cotton, are all Arabic in origin. Fielding H. Garrison, the author of the well-known work on the "History of Medicine" said:,..."The Saracens themselves were the originators not only of algebra, chemistry, and geology, but of many of the so-called improvements or refinements of civilization, such as street lamps, window-panes, firework, stringed instruments, cultivated fruits, perfumes, spices, etc..."

2. High prestige of physicians: The physicians in this era enjoyed high prestige. Although anyone, irrespective of his social status, could study medicine, the route was long and tedious. Before embarking upon his medical studies a student first had to study Islamics, philosophy, astronomy, art, chemistry. Only then was he admitted into a medical school. A physician was thus a highly cultured person who had wisdom and knowledge. In fact, the Arabic term for a physician is hakim or a sage. In the 9th and IOth centuries, the Court Physician was placed above the Chief Justice. Many eminent physicians, as we will see later, had enough talent, social knowledge, political ability and wisdom to be appointed by the caliphs as their prime minister (viziers). With their high position and social connections physicians could easily obtain generous funds for their hospitals.

3. Rulers involvement in public services: The caliphs of the Islamic empire built magnificent hospitals for one or more of the following reasons:
a. Religion: Their religion stated that money spent on charity is a good investment for life in the Hereafter.
b. Eternity: The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt sought eternity by building pyramids, the rulers oflslam sought the same by building mosques, hospitals, and schools carrying their names.
c. Politics: To show their people that they cared, and were interested in them, the rulers built hospitals. Whatever the motive of the ruler, the population benefitted and good hospital were erected.

4. Adequate financing to run the hospitals. The rulers set aside generous funds for running these hospitals. Also there were many philanthropists, who like their rulers, followed their religious beliefs and spent generously on charitable causes like building hospitals, etc. In Islam, there is a special system called Al-Waqf or endowments. One may donate part or all of his wealth to an endowment for any charitable cause. Usually the government takes care of such endowments, and the resultant revenues are used in maintaining and building mosques, hospitals, and schools. Another important source of funds and an important pillar oflslam is what is known as zakah or poor-due which is collected annually from prosperous people at a rate of two and a half percent of their surplus wealth. All funds thus collected go to the state treasury which uses them for well-defined charitable purposes. Very few hospitals in the Islamic era were private. In other words, income from patients' fees constituted a relatively unimportant source of funding.

Specific Hospitals

The capital of the Islamic empire kept changing with the change of rulers and dynasties. One result of this was that in all these capital cities important medical centers developed. By the end of the 13th century, there were many such medical centers throughout the Arab world. Because of the limitation of space and scope of this paper, we will confine ourselves to some of the important hospitals established in various regions.

1. In El-Sham
El-Sham included what is known now as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. Damascus and Jcrusalern were its important cities.

a. In Damascus. The first known hospital in Islam was built in Damascus in 706 A.D by the Umayyad caliph, AI-Walid (Hamarneh 1962). The most important hospiral built in Damascus in the Middle Ages was named Al-Nuri Hospital, after King Nur Al-Din Zinki, in 1156. This hospital was built during the Crusades to fulfill a need for a well-equipped and well-staffed hospital. It turned out to be not only a first class hospital, but also a first class medical school. The king donated to the hospital a whole library rich in medical books. Books were expensive and limited In number in the Middle Ages because they were hand-written as printing was not used until the middle of the fifteenth century. The hospital adopted medical records, probably for the first time in history. Many eminent physicians graduated from its medical school. An example is Ibn Al - Nafis, the eminent Scholar who discovered the pulmonary circulation. This hospital served the people fol+ seven cenhlries and parts of it are still extant.

b.In Jerusalem : In 1055 A.D., the Crusaders built Saint John Hospital. By the end of the eleventh century, it had grown quite large and included a hospital, a palace for large number of daily admissions of patients, pilgrims, and wounded soldiers. After the liberation of Jerusalem by Salah AI-Din in 1187 A.D., the hospital was renamed as Al- Salahani Hospital Salah Al-Din expanded the hospital and it continued to serve the people until its destruction by an earthquake in 1458 A.D.

2. In Iraq and Persia.
In 750 A.D., Baghdad was built as the capital of the new Abbasid dynasty by the Caliph Abu-Gaifar AI-Mansur. in 766 A.L)., he appointed the dean of the medical school of Jindi Shapur, Jurjis Ibn-Bakhtishu', as his Court Physician and instructed him to build more hospitals reflecting the true glory and prosperity of Baghdad. Later the caliph Harun AI-Rashid (786-809 A.D.) ordered his Court Physician, Jibril, the grandson of Ibn Bakhtishu, to build a special hospital called Baghdad Hospital. This hospital developed into an important medical center. One of its chiefs was Al-Razi, the eminent Internist.

In 918 A.D., the Caliph Al-Mugtadir built two hospitals in Daghdad. One was on the east side ofthe city which he named Al-Sayyidah Hospital, after his mother, and the other was on the west side which he named after himself, Al-Mugtadiri Hospital. Another important hospital was AI- Adudi Hospital. It was built in 981 A.D. and was named after King Adud AlDawlah. It was the most magnificent hospital built in Baghdad before modern times. The caliph wanted to outdo his predecessors. The hospital was furnished with the best equipment and supplies available at the time. It had Interns, residents, and twenty four consultants to care and look after the patients. Haly Abbas, the author of the famous book "Liber Regius (AlMalaki)", was one of its staff physicians. It was destroyed in 1258 when Holagu. the grandson of Chengiz Khan, invaded Baghdad.

3. In Egypt.
In 872 A.D., Ahmed Ibn-Tulun built a hospital called Al-Fustat Hospital in the City of AI- Fustat, now a part of old Cairo. It served the growing Cairo population for six centuries. It was divided into separate wards. On admission, the patients were given special apparel while their clothes, money, and valuables were stored away and returned to them at the time of their discharge.

In 1284 A.D., King Al-Mansur Qalawun built an important hospital, named Al-Mansuri Hospital. The story behind its construction is interesting. King Al-Mansur Qalawun was an officer in the Muslim army fighting the Crusaders. While in the Holy Land, he fell sick and was admitted to AlNuri Hospital. On recovery, he vowed that if he ever became the ruler of Egypt, he would build a hospital in Cairo even larger and more magnificent than Al-Nuri Hospital for the sick, poor, and rich alike.

It was the best hospital built then as reported by the contemporary historians such as Ibn- Battuta and El-Kalkashandi. It had different departments for different diseases. Music therapy was used as a line of treatment for psychiatric patients. It served four thousand patients daily. Not only was the patient's stay in the hospital free, but on his discharge, the patient was given food and money in compensation for being out of work during his stay in hospital. Al-Mansuri Hospital has continued to serve Cairo for the past seven centuries. Today it is used for ophthalmology and is called Mustashfa Qalawun. Its ancient door is preserved in the Islamic Museum of Cairo.

4. In North Africa (A I-Maghrib Al-Arabi):

a. Tunisia. In 830 A.D., Prince Ziyadat Allah I, built Al-Qayrawan Hospital in a district of the Qayrawan city called Al-Dimnah. Subsequently all hospitals in Tunisia were called Dimnah instead of Bimaristan as they were called in the East, which is a Persian word meaning a hospital. The Qayrawan Hospital was characterized by spacious separate wards, waiting rooms for visitors and patients, and female nurses from Sudan, an event representing the first use of nursing in Arabic history. The hospital also included a mosque for prayers.
b. Morocco: In 1190 A.D., the King Al-Mansur Ya'qub Ibn-Yusuf, built a hospital in the capital city, Marakesh, and named it Marakesh Hospital. It was a huge hospital beautifully landscaped with fruit trees and flowers. Water was carried by aqueducts to all sections. Patients were provided with special apparel: one for winter and another for summer. The pharmacy was taken care of by specialists called the Sayadlah. There was an expensive private section where a patient was charged what is equivalent to $150/day. One thousand years ago, this fee was quite expensive.

5. Al-Andalus (Spain).
In 1366 A.D., Prince Muhammed Ibn-Yusuf Ibn Nasr built the Granu~lrr HospitLII in the city of Granada which had a population of half a million. The hospital represented the beauty of the Arabic architecture in Spain and served the people until the fall of Granada in 1492 A.D.

Method of Therapy in Islamic Medicine

The patients were treated according to a well-defined treatment plan. It began with physiotherapy and diet; if this failed, drugs were used. Only as a last resort was surgery used. The physiotherapy included exercises and water baths. The Arabs had an elaborate system of dieting and were aware of food deficiencies. Proper nutrition was an important part of treatment plan.

Drugs were divided into two groups: simple and compound drugs. The Arabs were aware of the interaction between drugs. They used simple drugs first. If these failed, compound drugs made from two or more compounds were used. When all these conservative measures failed, surgery was performed.

Medical Ethics in Islam

The medical profession was a well respected area, and by laying down its own code of ethics it maintained its position of importance. Al-Tabari, the chief physician in 970 A.D., described the Islamic code of medical ethics as follows (Hamarneh 1971, Levy 1967):

1. Personal characters of`the physician:
The physician ought to be modest, virtuous, merciful, and unaddicted to liquor. He should wear clean clothes, be dignified, and have wellgroomed hair and beard. He should not join the ungodly and scoffers of truth, nor sit at their table. He should select his company from among persons of good reputation. He should be careful of what he says and should not hesitate to ask forgiveness ifhe makes an error. He should be forgiving and never seek revenge. He should be friendly person and a peacemaker.

He should not make jokes or laugh at the improper time or place.

II. His obligation towards patients:
He should avoid predicting whether a patient will live or die, only God (Allah) knows that. He ought not lose his temper when his patient keeps asking questions, but should answer them gently and compassionately. He should treat the rich and the poor, the master and the servant, the powerful and the powerless, the elite and the illiterate alike. God will reward him if he helps the needy. The physician should not be late for his rounds or his house calls. He should be punctual and reliable. He should not wrangle about his fees. If the patient is very ill or has an emergency, he should be thankful for what he is paid. He should not give drugs to a pregnant woman to induce an abortion unless it is necessary for the mother's health. If the physician prescribes a drug orally, he should make sure that the patient knows the name of the drug in case he asks for the wrong drug and get sicker. He should be decent towards women. He should not divulge the secrets of his patients.

III. His obligation towards the communitv:
The physician should speak no evil of reputable men of the community or be critical of any one's religious beliefs.

IV. His obligations towards his colleagues.
The physician should speak well of his acquaintances and colleagues. He should not honor himself by shaming others. If another physician has been called to treat his patient, he (family doctor) should not criticize his colleague even if the diagnosis and the recommendations of the latter differ from his own. However, he has the obligation of explaining the consequences of each method of treatment, since it is his duty to counsel the patient as best he can. He must warn him that combining different types of therapy may be dangerous because the actions of different drugs may be incompatible and injurious.

V. His obligations towards his assistants.
If his subordinate makes a mistake, the physician should not rebuke him in front of others, but correct him privately and cordially.


Medicine in Islam passed through three stages:

I.The first stage is the stage of translation of foreign sources into Arabic. It extends mainly
over the seventh and eighth centuries.
II.The second stage is the stage of excellence and genuine contribution. This is the time
when the Muslim physicians were the leaders and made original contributions to the
advancement of medicine. This stage is spread over the ninth through to the thirteenth
III. The third stage is the stage of decline where medicine, as well as other branches of
science, became stagnant and a process of deterioration set in. This stage begins
mainly after the thirteenth century.

During the first stage. Syrian and Persian scholars did a marvelous job of translating honestly the ancient Greek and Syriac literature into Arabic. They translated works on science, philosophy, astrology, and medicine. The works of Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), and Galen(131-210 A.D.) were among those translated. From Arabic, the lassic Greek literature was translated into Latin, then into Greek because most of the original scripts were lost and the only source was the Arabic translation. If the Arabs did only one thing, namely, preserve the ancient literature and hand it to Europe, that would have been a sufficient contribution in itself. The Muslim rulers encouraged translation, e.g., Caliph A1Maamun Al-Abbassi paid a translator the weight of his translation in gold (Haddad 1942). Among the eminent physicians of this first stage were JurJls IbnBakhtishu, his grandson Jibril, Yuhanna Ibn-Masawaya, and Hunain Ibn Ishak; most of them were Christians, yet they were respected and well treated by the Muslim rulers.

It is said, rightly or wrongly, that the history ofa nation is the sum total of the history of a few of its individuals. This is particularly true about the history of medicine during the Arab period. In every stage of its development we find men of outstanding repute, the sum total of whose efforts has constituted this magnificent chapter. It is impossible to give an account of all the important physicians of this era. We will restrict ourselves to some of the most outstandin8 physicians who were known to Medieval Europe and whose books affected its thinking and practice for centuries (Table I). I have chosen an internist, Al-Razi (Razes); a surgeon, Al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis); a physician-philosopher of Islam, Ibn-Sina (Avicenna); the philosopher-physician ofIslam, Ibn-Rushd (Averroes); a pioneer m physiology, Ibn-Al-Nafis: and a Jewish Arab, Ibn- Maimon (Maimonides).

Jurjis ibn Bakhtishu Jibril Yuhann ibn Masawayh Jurjis Bakhtishu Jibril Yuhanna ibn Masawayh 700-800 Translation from Greek and Syriac into Arabic Translation of Works of Hippocrates, Galen and Aristotle Baghdad
Al-razi Razes 841-926 (Ray-Tehran)

-Internal Medicine

- Epidemiology

- Opthalmology

- Chemistry

- Physics - Philosophy

Kitab Al-Mansuri (The Liber Al-Mansuris) Al-Murshid Al-Hawi (Continens) Al-Gudari wa Al-gudari (de Peste or de Pestilentia) Kharasan Baghdad
Ibn-Sina Avicenna 980-1037 (Bukhara)

-Medical Encyclopedia

- Philosophy

- Astronomy

- Poetry

100 books Al-Qanun (over million words) Hamazan Jurjan
Ibn-Rushd Averros 1126-1198

- Philosopy

- Medicine

- Law

Kitab al-Kulliat Al-Andalus
Ibn-Maimon Maimonides 1135-1208 (Granada)

- Philosophy

- Translations-Hebrew, Latin

- Poison

- Hygiene and Public Health

- Al-tadbir El-Sihhi - Mourshid EL-Hairan Cairo(saladdin's physician
Ibn Al-Nafis 1208-1288 (Damascus)

- Pulmonarycirc

- Blood supply to heart

- Sharh Tasrih al-Quran - Al-Mujaz Damascus Cairo

AL-RAZI (RAZES) 841-926 A.D

His full name is Abu-Bakr Mohammed Ibn-Zakaria AI-Razi, known to the Western World as Razes. He was born in Ray, a suburb of Tehran, the capital of modern Persia (Profile oflran 1977, Sarton 1950). He first stud led music which was his main interest in his early life, and was a skillful flutist. He then studied phil(lsophy. and later medicine. But he was a better physician than a philosopher (Figure 2).

He first became the Court Physician of Prince Abu-Saleh Al-Mansur, the ruler of Khorosan. Then he moved to Baghdad where he became the Chief Physician of the Baghdad Hospital and the Court Physician ofthe caliph. He had a good basis of physics and chemistry as well as medicine.

He published several books which were translated into Latin, French, Italian, Hebrew, and Creek. One of his main books is "AI-Mansuri" (Liber Al-Mansoris) which he dedicated to his patron Prince Al-Mansur. It was Composed of ten treatises and included all aspects ofhealth and disease. He defined medicine as "the art concerned in preserving healthy bodies, in combating disease, and in restoring health to the sick." He thus outlined the three aspects of medicine, namely public health, preventive medicine, and treatment of specific diseases. He listed seven principles for the preservation ofhealth:
1. Moderation and balance in motion and rest.
2. Moderation in eating and drinking.
3. Elimination of superfluous matter.
4. Improvement and regulation of dwelling places.
5. Avoidance ofexcesses before they become uncontrollable.
6. Maintenance of harmony in ambitions and resolutions.
7. Acqu isition of reticence through possession of good habits including exercise.

He also published another book called A-Murshid. In it, he emphasized the important lines of therapy that we mentioned earlier. He described the different types of fever including continuous, relapsing, and hectic. He stated that fever can be a symptom of a disease or a disease in itself. He introduced mercury as a therapeutic drug for the first time in history, which was later adopted in Europe. He realized that normally no man wants to get sick, and if he is, he wants to recover as soon as possible. However, if a patient lacks the will or the desire to get well, there is very little a physician can do to help him. He stressed the continued medical education of the physician. He advised him to record his own observations. He encouraged him to meet with other physicians to discuss medical problems. He recommended that physicians try solving these problems rather than depend on others for finding solutions.

Another book written by Al-Razi was named "Al-Hawi", which means the complete text. It was composed of 22 volumes, and it, especially its 9th volume on pharmacology, was used as one of the main text books in the medical school of Paris. He also wrote a treatise on measles and smallpox and called it "de Peste or de Pestilentia." It was translated into Latin in 1565 A.D. It is a masterpiece in clinical medicine (Browne 1962). It describes the clinical difference between the two diseases so vividly that nothing since has been added (Keys 1971).


His full name is Abu-Al-Qasim Khalaf Ibn 'Abbas Al-Zahrawi. He is known in the Western World as Abulcasis, Bucasis or Alzahravius. He is the famous surgeon of the Arabs. In 930 A.D., he was born in Al-Zahra, a suburb of Cordova. He attended the University of Cordova which had been established for one and a half centuries. At that time Cordova had a population of one million (Hitti 1977). It was the magnificent capital of AlAndalus where culture and science were at their peak in Europe. In military power the Muslims also reached their zenith, not only in Spain but also throughout Europe after King Abdel-Rahman III defeated the Spanish kings ofNavarre, Castile, and Leon in the north in 997 A.D.

Al-Zahrawi became an eminent surgeon. He was appointed as the Court Physician of King Abdel-Rahman III. He spent a productive life in practicing medicine, especially in surgery and medical writings. He died at the age of 83.

He authored four main works. One of these is "Al-Tasrif Liman Ajiz 'an AI-Ta'lif' which was the best medieval surgical encyclopedia and was used in Europe until the 17th century. Stressing the importance of basic sciences he says: ".....Before practicing, one should be familiar with the science of anatomy and the functions of organs so that he will under stand them, recognize their shape, understand their connections, and know their limitations. Also one should know the bones, nerves, and mus cles, their numbers, their origin and Insertions, the arteries and the veins, their start and end. These anatomicaI and physiological bases are impor tant, and as said by Hippocrates 'There are many physicians by title and a few by practice...'. A physician who does not understand the anatomy and physiology may commit a mistake I-esulting in the death of a patient. 1 have seen someone, who pretended to be a surgeon, incised an aneurysm in the neck of a woman, mistaking it for an abscess. The woman bled to death."

Heller stated that Al-Zahrawi described the ligature of arteries long before Ambrose Pare (Khairallah 1942). Al-Zahrawi also used cautery to control bleeding. He used wax and alcohol to stop bleeding from the skull during cranial surgery. Sprengel said that Al-Zahrawi was the first to the lithotomy position for vaginal operations (Khairallah 1942). AI~ Zahrawi also described the tracheotomy operation and performed it in an emergency on one of his servants. He was the first to write on orthodontia. He showed evidence of great experience from details of clinical picture and surgical procedures e.g. his description of varicose veins stripping, even after ten centuries, is almost like modern surgery (Al-Okbi 1971): "..... Have the leg shaved if it is very hairy. The patient gets a bath and his leg is kept in hot water Until it becomes red and the veins dilate; or he exercises vigorously. Incise the skin opposite the varicose vein longitudinally either at the ankle or at the knee. Keep the skin opened by hooks. Expose, dissect, and separate the.,in. introduce a spatula underneath it. When the vein is elevated above the skin level, hang it with a blunt rounded hook. Repeat the procedure about three fingers from the previous site and hang the vein with another hook as Previously done. Repeat the procedure at as many sites along the varicose vein as necessary. At the ankle, ligate and strip it by pulling it from the Inclsionjust above. When it reaches there, repeat at the higher incision until all of it is stripped. Ligate the vein and then excise it. If difficulty is encountered in pulling it, ligate its terminal part with a string and pass It under the spatula and dissect it further. Pull gently andavoid its tearing, because ifit does, it becomes difficult to strip all of it and can cause harm to the patient. When you have stripped it all, put alcohol sponges at the sites of the skin incisions and take care of the incisions until they heal. If the varicose vein is tortuous, you have to incise the skin more frequently, at each change of direction. Dissect it and hang it with the hooks and strip it as previously described. Do not tear the vein or injure it~ If this happens, it becomes difficult to strip it. The hooks used should be blunt, eyeless, and rounded. otherwise it can injure the vein."

He also wrote about fracture of the skull (AI-Okbi 1971): "...... The types of skull fractures are numerous, their shapes are different, and their causes are many. For example, some skull fractures are due to a blow by a sword that splits the whole skull and reaches the dura, the same as the axe does to the wood, therefore it is called axial~fl~actur+e. Sometimes th, sword does not split the skull completely, and it is called incomplete axial fracture. Such a fracture can be small or big. Another type is comminuted fracture which can be due to a hitby a stone or a fall on a stone; and this fracture can reach the dura or only bC limited to the outer part of the bone. This fracture can also be small or big. A third type is the hairytype skull fracture which is Very tiny and linear like a hair. A fourth type is the depressed fracture which occurs due to a fall or a blow depressing thr bone like a brass iar hit by, blunt instrument. This usually happens when the bone is soft as in children. The types of these fractures are diagnosed by examining the wound, 'emoving the debris and contused part of the scalp, exposing the skull, and feeling it by the spatulas. The hairy fracture is difficult to discover and can be diagnosed by exposing the skull. and smearing it with ink; the linear fracture threatment of fractures of the Skull, Al-Zahrawi w'ote: ".....If the patient shows serious signs such as high fever, repeated vomiting: exophlhalmos convulsions, and coma, do not touch himbecause he is probably going to die. Othenvise, treat him as follows first shave the patient's head. In comminuted depressed fractures, Lhese pieces of bone should be removed as will be explained. If in the process of the patient's examination or during Surgery bleeding occurs, it can be controlled by pressure using towels Soaked in alcohol and with Wax. Then after control of the bleeding, the small pieces of bone are removed using special forceps (see illustrations). To remove the depressed fracture, first, make trephines in the healthy bone around it. These trephine instruments should not Penetrate beyond the skull into the soft tissues underneath, thus they are called non-penetrating trephines. They have a rounded ring in their proximal end to prevent them from penetrating beyond certain depths. You should have a number of these trephines that can stop at different depths depending on the thickness of the skull (see illuslration). Connect the holes in the skull using special raws (see illustration). First, use a fine small saw, then larger ones. These should be sharp and made of steel. Avoid cutting the dura by the trephine saw. Once the depressed bone is freed, remove it gently, then smoothen the edges of the skull by special instruments (see illustration). Wash with and treat the wound with packs soaked with ointment."

Al-Zahrawi described many dental operations such as dental extractions, fixation, reimplantation, and artificial teeth. He described tooth pain and cautioned the physician against removal of the healthy tooth to which pain is referred. He used gold threads to fix teeth because other metals would tarnish and cause a reaction. Chapter 6 of his book was all devoted to foreign bodies of the ear and their treatment. He also devoted one whole chapter to midwifery, giving tips to midwives, and describing the problems of difficult labor and obstetrical maneuvers. He recommended decompression of the fetal head for obstructed labor and described the instruments used. He described the management of liver abscess by treatment in two stages (Khairallah 1942). In the first stage adhesions around it were formed, and then closed from the peritoneal cavity. The second stage was to incise it. .. "if the procedure is done in one stage, the pus may spread to the whole abdomen and the patient may die." He described a total of 200 surgical and dental instruments most of which were original (Fig. 3). He said "...Choose your instruments carefully beforehand according to the operation. However, you should design other devices if needed." Thus he encouraged the physician to be innovative. During the time of Al-Zahrawi, surgery in the Islamic world became a respected specialty practiced by reputable physicians. On the contrary in Europe, surgery was belittled and practiced by barbers and butchers. In 1163 A.D., the Council of Tours declared the following resolution "Surgery is to be abandoned by the schools of medicine and by all decent physicians."


Ibn-Sina's full name is Abu-Ali Husayn ibn-Abdullah Ibn-Sina, and his titles were Al- Shaykh Al-Rais (The Chief Master) or Al-Muallim Al-Thani (The Second Teacher), second to Aristotle (Browne 1962). He Is known in the Western World as Avicenna (Figure 4).

In 980 A.D., Avicenna was born in Bukhara which is now part of Russia and known as Uzben. By 10, he was already proficient in the Qur'an and Arabic classics. By 16, he finished Islamic law studies, geometry, anatomy, logic and philosophy. His metaphysics were influenced by an earlier Muslim philosopher, Al-Farabi. By 18, he completed the study of medicine. Soon after, he became the Prime Minister (the Vizier) and Court Physician of Prince Nuh-Ibn-Mansur, the Sasanid ruler of Bukhara.

The prince was impressed by the intelligence and endurance of his vizier and opened for him the royal library, which was unique in its literary richness. Ibn-Sina wrote his first book at the age of 21. Then he became Vizier of Ali ibn Maimun, the ruler of Khawarazm or Khiva. But he ultimately fled to avoid being kidnapped by Sultan Mohammed El-Ghazin. Ironically, fate played an important role in the life of Avicenna. The ruler of Hamadan, the southern part of Persia, who was called Amir Shamsu'dDawla, had renal colic. Ibn-Sina treated the amir's colic. The latter was very pleased and appointed Ibn-Sina, not only his Court Physician, but also his vizier. Avicenna was a proud and arrogant man. This created enemies; military leaders mutinied against him, resulting in his dismissal and imprisonment. Fortunately, the amir got renal colic once more and no one could relieve his pain. He thus summoned Avicenna who cured him. The amir apologized to Avicenna and reinstated him.

Avicenna's life during this time was extraordinarily strenuous. He was busy all day in the service of the amir. The great part of the night was passed in lecturing and writing his books, with intervals of wine drinking, music, and minstrelsy. After many vicissitudes, worn out by hard work and hard living, Avicenna died and was buried in Hamadan, Persia, in 1037 A. D. at a comparatively early age of 57. In his last illness, he treated himself unsuccessfully, so that it was said by his detractors that neither could his physics save his body nor his metaphysics save his soul (Browne 1962).

Avicenna wrote 100 treatises, 21 of them were major, of which 16 were on medicine. He wrote on philosophy, medicine, and named the book Al-Qanun fi Al-Tibb (Canon of Medicine). It was an encyclopedia containing more than one million words, composed of 5 volumes:
Volume 1 described the principles and theories of medicine.
Volume II contained the names of simple drugs arranged alphabetically.
Volume III described localized diseases of the body from the head to the toes.
Volume IV was addressed to general diseases ofthe body e.g., fevers.
Volume V explained compound drugs.

The Canon contained all medical knowledge up to the IOth century. It was translated into many languages and was a maJor source book for medical schools in Europe up to the 17th century. Although the Canon was a great book, it overshadowed the important earlier or later works written prior to it by Al-Razi and Al-Zahrawi, and subsequent to it by Ibn-Al-Nafis Ali Ibn- Abbas, and Halle Abbas (Haddad 1942).

Avicenna wrote Arabic and Persian poems. The last of his Arabic poem, which is considered a classical beauty, describes the descent of the Soul into the Body from the Higher Sphere which is its home (Browne 1962).

Avicenna is considered a great philosopher, and his writings affected the thinkers and influenced many of those who appeared after him. He was a unique man, not only because of his encyclopedic accomplishments in medicine, but also because of the versatility of his genius. He has been compared in this respect with Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, and Goethe (Keys 1971).


Ibn-Rushd, or Averroes as known in Europe, was born in Granada in 1126 A.D. He studied philosophy, medicine and law, and was appointed a judge in Seville in 1 169 A.D., where he stayed in office for a quarter of a century. He was greatly influenced by Aristotle on whom he wrote important commentaries (Black 1970, Al-A'sar 1972). In some of these interpretations he asserted that the human soul is not independent, but shares a universal mind. This belief caused a great controversy and was later declared heretical by both the Muslims and Christians alike because it contradicted the doctrine of personal immortality.

He was admired by the Jews of Spain who spread his philosophy into Europe especially into Italy and France after they were forced out of Spain. His followers interpreted some of his writings to mean that there are two kinds of truth, a philosophical and a religious truth. This implied a separation of reason and faith and influenced philosophical and theological speculation for many centuries. Because of his bold ideas, he was dismissed from his work and sent to Morocco where he was kept in prison till he died on December 12, 1198. His important contribution to medicine was "Al-Kulliyat fi Al-Tibb" (Colliyet). It was a summary of the medical science of that time and was composed of seven parts. He wrote another book, "AlTaisir" on practical medicine. It consisted of useful excerpts and a clinical description of diseases including serous pericarditis and mediastinal abscess. He personally suffered from the latter disease and left very careful records of his own symptoms. The book is not known in Arabic, but there are several Latin editions (Haddad 1942). Ibn-Rushd was another example of the cultured Muslim physician.


In 1135, Musa Ibn-Maimon (Moses Maimonides) was born in Cordova, Spain. (Minkin 1968). His father was a rabbi and had a great influence on Moses in his interests and future achievements. During that period, the Jews had a golden era in Spain. Minkin (1968), a renown scholar and an eminent rabbi wrote "it was Mohammedan Spain, the only land the Jews knew in nearly a thousand years of their dispersion, which made the genius of Moses Maimonides possible."

In 1160 A.D., Moses emigrated to North Africa to the city of Fas where he studied medicine. In 1165 A.D., he left for Palestine. However, he was dissatisfied with the cultural atmosphere there, so he went to Egypt where he stayed until he died in 1200 A.D. He was buried in Teberias, Palestine.

Maimonides started his career as the Rabbi of the Jewish Community of El-Fostat City, the capital of Egypt at that time and a part of old Cairo now. Later on in life, he practiced medicine, and became an eminent and respected physician. He served both King Salah El-Din (Saladin) and his elder son Sultan Al-Malik Al-Afdel during his short reign (1198-1200 A.D.). He had the confidence of both. During the crusades King Richard the Lion-Hearted, fell sick, Salah El-Din sent Ibn-Maimon to treat him. When Richard recovered, he asked Ibn-Maimon to join his court, but he politely declined and stayed with Saladin (Minkin 1968).

Ibn-Maimon' s impact on the Jewish religion is very very significant. He wrote a classical work in the Jewish religion besides codifying the Jewish laws (Black and Roth 1970). He also wrote on philosophy. His book, "Dalalat Al-Hai'ran" (The Guide of the Perplexed) is an important work which was welcomed not only by those of the Jewish faith, but also by Muslims and Christians alike. The book was in Arabic, and it was only after his death that a Hebrew translation of it was done. He was influenced by his contemporary Ibn-Rushd, and by Aristotle, but he tried to reconcile logic with faith.

In medicine Ibn-Maimon did two important things: First, he translated many Arabic books into Hebrew which were then translated into Latin and other European languages. An example of these books is the Canon or Avicenna. Second, he wrote a few books of his own. One of them is "Magala fi Tadbir Al-Sihha" (Regimen Sanitatis) which stressed proper diet, personal hygiene, and moderation in the pleasures oflife. It was written in the form of letters to Sultan Al-Afdel. The other was "Kitab" Al +Fusul fi Al-Tibb" (Fisul Musa). This was a collection of 1,500 aphorisms extracted from calen writings together with forty-two critical remarks. Moses also wrote a book on poisons and their antidotes (AI-A'sar 1971).

When he died, the Jewish Community in Egypt built a synagogue and named it after him. Some Jews, until now stay overnight in this synagogue in the hope of receiving healing through the spirit of this great physician (Minkin 1968).

IBN-EL-NAFIS 1208 - 1288 A.D.

In 1208 A.D., Ala EI-Deen Ibn-El-Nafis was born in a small town near Damascus called Kersh (Ibrahim 1971). He studied medicine and philosophy in Damascus and spent most of his life in Cairo. He was a physician, a linguist, a phi losopher, and a historian. He was the first chief of AI-Mansuri Hospital in Cairo and the Dean of the School of Medicine in 1284 A.D.

During this era, the medical profession together with other branches of science were facing a crisis. The Mongol Tartar invasion and destruction of Baghdad in 1258 A.D., caused an injury to the Islamic civilization from which it never recovered. It destroyed forever the Caliphate, symbolic unity of the Islamic Empire, and the pre-eminence of Baghdad as a center of teaming. The Islamic culture was also declining in Spain at the time. Now Cairo and Damascus were the two centers of education and medical science. The medical profession there enjoyed the freedom of discussion and expression of opinion, something new in medicine and not known in Europe until the 17th century when Sedenham introduced it to England (Ibrahim 1971).

Ibn-El-Nafis was a dedicated person. He used to start his day with dawn prayers after which he would make rounds at the hospital, followed by case discussions with students and colleagues, and then hospital administration. His evenings were spent reading, writing and discussing medicine and philosophy with frequent scholar guests at his home in the EI-Hussein District of Old Cairo. His house, made ofmarble with a fountain in the central hall. was a beautiful example of Arabic architecture.

In the history of mankind, there are persons whose importance is revealed with the flight of time and their truth glows with the passage of centuries. Ibn-El-Nafis is one of those. He wrote many books, ten of them on medicine and another one on philosophy. In the latter book "Fadel Ibn -Natik", he tried to counter the philosophical view of Aviccnna expressed in his book "Hai Ibn- Yakzan'. He was an authority in theology on which he wrote several books, e.g. "The complete Message of the Prophet" and "Al-Ragol Al-Kamel" (The Perfect Man), supporting unitarianism. The significance oflbn-El-Nafis's life and work lies in that he was a genuine scholar and not a mere follower. This is evident from his writings whether they are on philosophy or medicine.

On medicine he wrote many books, two of them are "Mujaz Al-Qanun" which means the "Summary of the Canon". In these two books which were based on Avicenna's writings, he criticized the shortcomings of Avicenna's work and of Galen's views and showed their weaknesses. That is why he was called by some as Avicenna the Second. For example he wrote "... We have relied chiefly on his (Galen) teachings, except for a few details which we think are wrong and were not given after a thorough investigation. In describing the function of the organs, we have depended on careful investigation, observation, and honest study, regardless of whether or not these fit with the teachings and theories of those who have preceded us."

Ibn-El-Nafis added to our knowledge of the physiology of the circulation. In ancient history, Erasistratus of the Alexandria School (310 B.C - 250 B.C.) believed that blood was contained only in the right side of the circulation, namely the veins and the right side of the heart. The left side of the circulation, namely the left side of the heart and the artenes were supposed to contain air because arteries were found empty when an animal was sacrificed, hence the name "arteria"

When Galen came (131 - 210 A.D.), he described blood to pass from the right side of the heart to the left heart to the left side through minute openings in the septum of the heart, then it mixed with air from the lungs, and subsequently distributed to the whole body. For centuries this was the prevalent belief and no one, including the Muslim physicians, even the most emi nent one, like Avicenna, could dare challenge this sancrosanct view. Ibn El-Nafis challenged this view. times he stated in unmistakable terms that "... the blood from the right chamber of the heart must arrive at the left chamber, but there is no direct pathway between them. The thick sep trrm of the heart is not perforated and does not have visible pores as some 8sople thought or invisible pores as Galen thought. The blood from the chamber must flow through the vena arteriosa (pulmonary artery) to lungs, spread through its substance, be mingled with air, pass through larteria venosa (pulmonary vein) to reach the left chamber of the " (Salem 1968). In describing the anatomy of the lung Ibn-El-Nafis "The lung is composed of: first, the bronchi; second, the branches arteria venosa; and third, the branches of the vena arteriosa; all of are connected by loose porous flesh.... The need of the lung for the vena arteriosa is to transport to it the blood that has been thinned and warmed in the heart, so that what seeps through the pores of the branches of this vessel into the alveoli of the lung may mix with what is of air there in and combine with it... and the mixture is carried to the left cavity of the heart by the arteria venosa" (Haddad 1936).

Ibn-El-Nafis also made other contributions in the circulation. Avicenna, following Galen's description of the anatomy, stated that the human heart has three ventricles. Ibn-El-Nafis rejected this and said " And his statement (Avicenna's) that the heart has three ventricles is not correct. as the heart has only two ventricles...." He was also the first to describe the coronary circulation: he wrote "... Again, his statement (Avicenna's) that the blood in the right side is to nourish the heart is not true at all, for the nourishment of the heart is from the blood that goes through the vessels that permeate the body ofthe heart...."

Three centuries after the discovery of the pulmonary circulation by Ibn-El-Nafis, others, such as Michael Servetus, Realdus Colombus, Carlo Ruini, Andrea Cesalpino, and Francois Rabelais, claimed the same thing (Mayerhof 1935). There is a strong suspicion that these authors obtained their knowledge from the Arabic literature which was available at that time to the European investigators but they failed to give due credit to Ibn ElNafis (Keys 1971, Haddad 1942). It is not a mere coincidence that Servetus discovered the pulmonary circulation, and also wrote a book, similar to the one by Ibn-EI-Nafis, on Unitarianism. Servetus was burnt with his book, "Restitu tio Christianismi" in Geneva in October 1553 on the orders of Calvin for his heretical views.


The Arabs were very interested in ophthalmology. In the ninth century, Hunayn Ibn-lshak (Joannitius) translated into Arabic the Greek literature on the eye. As mentioned before. Al-Razi described the changes in the caliber of the eye produced by relaxation and contraction of the iris. He also described the cataract operation.

In 1050 A.D. at Baghdad, Ali Ibn-Isa (Jesu Haly) wrote the classic book on ophthalmology, Tathkirat Al-Kahhalin (A Note for the Occulists). As stated by Cunistan(l921), it is the oldest book in its original language on diseases of the eye. Written in a clear and logical style, the author described trachoma, conjunctivitis, and cataract, and prescribed treatment (Keys 1971). Avicenna described the six extrinsic muscles of the eyeball.

In the thirteenth century, Ibn Abu-Al-Kawafer wrote a book on thcrapeutlc ophthalmology entitled "Natigat-El-Fikr fi Ilag Amrad El-Bassar", (Conclusions from Experience on Treatment of Diseases of the Eye). According to Kahil (1920), it is one of several textbooks on ophthalmology considered to be superior to any written in Europe up to the eighteenth century.


Being an obstetric anesthesiologist, I feel obligated to write a little more on the contributions of the Arabs to both anesthesia and obstetrics.

First, in anesthesia, the Arabs described in detail the pharmacology of important narcotics such as opium and other central nervous system depressants such as hyoscyamus and hashish (Khairallal 1942). Burton (1886 A.D.) stated that "anesthetics have been used in surgery throughout the East for centuries before ether and chloroform became the fashion in the civilized West. In a Treatise on the Canon ofMedicine by Gruner, it is stated by Avicenna under article 814 ANAESTHETICS: "If it is desirable to induce unconsciousness in a person quickly and without harming him, then add sweet smelling moss to the wine, or lignum aloes. If it is desirable to induce a deep unconscious state, so as to make the pain involved in painful surgery of an organ bearable place darnel-water into the wine, or administer fumitory, opium, hyoscyamus (half-dram doses of each); nutmeg, crude aloes-wood (4 grains of each). Add this to the wine, and take as much as is necessary for the purpose. Or, boil black hyoscyamus in water, with mandragore bark, until it becomes red. Add this to the wine."

The Arabs also introduced "the Soporific Sponge" which was commonly used for anesthesia in the middle ages. The sponge was soaked with aromatics and narcotics to be sucked and then held under the nostril to provide anesthesia prior to surgery (Keys 1971).

Avicenna wrote more than 1,000 years ago about the effect of pain on ventilation: "Pain dissipates the bodily strength and interferes with the normal functions of the organs. The respiratory organs are inhibited from drawing in air, and consequently the act of breathing is interfered with, and the respiration becomes intermittent, rapid, or altogether unnatural in rhythm" (Gruner 1930).


Hynayn Ibn-Ishak (Joannitius, 809-873 A.D.) translated the work of Greek pioneer in obstetrics, Paul of Aegina, into Arabic. Hunayn also into the Arab world most of the works of Hippocrates, Galen, and Ptolemy. He was a gifted physician and philosopher. Ali Ibn-Al-Abbas Al-Majusi (Halle Abbas) who died in 994 A.D. was the first to describe in his book "Al-Kitab Al- Malaki' (The Royal Book) that the uterine contractions are the cause of delivery of the fetus (Keys 1971). Before him, it was thoughtthatthe uterine contractions were only an indication of the onset of labor; subsequently the Fetus would swim its way out of the womb and birth canal.

Most of the deliveries were performed bq; midwives at home. For complicated obstetrics, Al-Zahrawi offered advice to midwives, as mentioned before, used fetal craniotomy for delivery of obstructed labor, and introduced the required instruments. The operation of cesarean section was described in 1010 in the Book of Kings by Abul Kasim Al-Firdaws as shown in figure 8 (Speert 1973). It described cesarean section practiced on R 'uda'ba. the mother of King Rustam at his birth. Another reference for cesarean section is written by Al-Biruni in his book, Al-Athar Al- Bahiyah dated 1307 A.D. (Hitti 1()77) as shown in figure 9 which is prcsen;ed in the library of the University of Edinburgh (Hitti 1977).

Ibn-Al-Quff(1233-1305) is another physician who contributed to perinatology. He was born in Jordan (Hamarneh 1971). In his book "Al-Jami", he presented original observations on embryology. He spoke of "... the formation of a foam stage in the first 6 to 7 days, which in 13 to 16 days, is gradually transformed into a clot and in 28 to 30 days into a small chunk of meat. In 38 to 40 days, the head appears separate from the shoulders and limbs. The brain and heart followed by the liver are formed before other organs. The fetus takes its food from the mother In order to grow and to replenish what it discards or loses ..... There are three membranes covering and protecting the fetus, of which the first connects arteries and veins with those in the mother's womb through the umbilical cord. The veins pass food for the nourishment of the fetus, while the arteries transmit air. By the end of seven months, all organs are complete .... After delivery, the baby's umbilical cord. four fingers from the body, is cut and tied with fine, soft wooden twine. The area of the cut is covered with a filament moistened in olive oil over which a styptic is sprinkled to prevent bleeding .... After delivery, the baby is nursed by his mother whose milk is the best. There after the midwife puts the baby to sleep in a darkened quiet room ....Nursing the baby is performed two to three times daily. Before nursing, the mother's breast should be squeeZed out two or three times to get rid of the milk near the nipple." These findings of Ibn-Al-Quff, appear basic and fun damental, but seven hundred years ago, they were new and different.


One cannot help but look with admiration upon the way the Muslims handled their responsibility towards mankind. They not only preserved, but also added to earlier achievements in medicine. They have kindled the flame of civilization, made it brighter, and handed it over to Europe in the best possible condition. Europe, in turn, passed it to the United States of America, and the cycle continues.
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