ARABS by adelaide17madette


Between the fall of Rome in the fifth century A.D. and the Renaissance in the fifteenth century, knowledge of medicine flourished in the Islamic Empire. Islamic medicine was highly eclectic, that is, it combined elements of a number of other systems. It was strongly influenced by Greek medicine, knowledge of which came by means of Nestorian monks; by the medical writings of the Talmud; and by astrologic teachings from Egypt and the orient to which addenda and commentaries were attached, especially concerning the use of drugs. The whole was codified in writing so that clinical trials could be evaluated to a limited extent. Basic chemical processes, including distillation, crystallization and sublimation, were discovered. Such Arabic words as aklaki, alcohol, syrup and drug are now widely used. The great physicians of the Islamic world included, in the eastern caliphate, Rhazes (860-930 A.D.), a Persian who distinguished smallpox from measles, and Avicenna, the ”Prince of Physicians,” who was the chief physician of the celebrated hospital in Baghdad. Avicenna’s medical text attempted the impossible, that is, he tried to codify all medicine while squaring its facts with the systems of Galen and Aristotle. This mélange nevertheless influenced European thought for centuries. In the western caliphate, under the Umayyad dynasty, the greatest clinicians were Avenzoar of Cordoba, (died 1162 in Seville) and Maimonides. Avenzoar was one of the few physicians in the centuries prior to the Renaissance with the courage to challenge the writings of Galen. Maimonides, a Jewish physician also of Cordoba, reacted to the increasing problems of being Jewish there and left for the greater freedom of the eastern caliphate where he became Saladin’s personal physician. Among his medical treatises is a text on hygiene that was highly influential. The Islamic civilization also established several hospitals. The greatest were the ones at Damascus (1160) which remained active for three centuries and the Al-Mansur Hospital in Cairo (1276). The latter was the first hospital to emphasize science, teaching and social service. It had separate wards for women, children and convalescents. There were wards dedicated to specific diseases, an extensive library and out-patient clinics. II The decline of learning in the collapsing Roman Empire might have led to the complete disappearance and oblivion of the Graeco-Roman heritage if it had not been for the rise and growth of the great Arabian civilization. The conquests of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries placed vast regions of southern Europe, North Africa and large portions of Asia under the rule of the caliphates. Surprisingly, this empire, based on fanatical conquest, proved highly tolerant of foreign teachings and traditions. The precious Greek and Roman manuscripts that were subject to burning and destruction at the hands of the early Christian mobs were salvaged and cherished by the Arabs and were translated, annotated and accepted as the foundation of science and philosophy. It must be understood that Arabian civilization was Arabian in language only. Many nations of the East and the West contributed to its development. Persians, Syrians, Spaniards, Christians and Jews were among its great luminaries.


The beginnings of Arabian medicine antedate the birth of Muhammed (57062 A.D.). The Nestorian sect of Christians, founded by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, was proclaimed heretical and had to flee in 431 to Edessa, a city in Asia Minor. There they founded a school of medicine of great reputation. Their persecution was resumed under Emperor Zeno (474-491) and now they fled to Gundeshapur (Jundishapur) in Persia. For the next two centuries they made this city a medical center. The Nestorians translated numerous Greek and Latin medical texts into Arabic. The most prominent among the Nestorian physicians was Hunain ibn-Ishaq (809-877) whose book Alteration of the Eye is the earliest known Arabic text on ophthalmology. Another great Arab physician of the ninth century was Rhazes, a Persian by birth, who wrote approximately two hundred works on medicine, including a tremendous medical encyclopedia known as the Continent of Medicine. This vast compendium lacked system and the fame of Rhazes rests more securely on his smaller treatise, On Smallpox and Measles which contains his classic distinction between the two diseases. Rhazes followed Hippocratic methods and was a good clinician. He is also remembered for his merciless exposure of quackery. Another important medical writer of the period was Isaac Judaeus (Isaac Ben Salomon Israeli c. 845-940), an Egyptian Jew whose books on diet, fevers and drugs were in great demand up to the seventeenth century. The trend toward medical encyclopedias was continued by Haly Abbas (Ali ibn al Abbas), another Persian of the tenth century. His Royal Book, a compendium of contemporary medical knowledge was much better arranged and presented than Rhazes’ Continent. Both were superseded by the celebrated Canon of Avicenna. This book, a summation of Graeco-Arabian medicine, dominated the medical schools of Asia and Europe for the next six centuries. Its author, Avicennna (980-1037), also a Persian, has been often called the “Prince of Physicians.” A colorful and adventurous personality and a brilliant physician, he strove, in his work, to reconcile the dogmas of Galen and Aristotle. The works of Avicenna mark the high point of development of Arabian medicine particularly in the East. In the tenth century, the center of Arabian civilization shifted to Spain, and there, in the Caliphate of Cordoba, Albucasis (936-1013 A.D.), the only Arabian specialist in surgery, practiced his profession. Until fairly modern times, surgery was regarded as inferior to medicine. This was true among the Arabs as well as in the Christian civilization. Albucasis, however, tried to raise the level of this neglected art. His treatise is one of the earliest known illustrated books on surgery. The surgical instruments depicted by him include not only a forceps but also a variety of dental tools. Albucasis was also the first to describe hemophilia. Another Arabian surgeon, Avenzoar, (1072-1162 A.D.) of Seville was responsible for popularizing the medieval fetish known as the bezoar stone. In spite of this superstitious streak, he was a good clinician. He diagnosed cancer of the stomach and was the first to use nutrient enemas. His pupil Averroes (1126-1198 A.D.) included the study of medicine among his many accomplishments. He wrote extensively on the subject but his fame rests more securely on his philosophic contributions. The combination of philosophy and medicine also marked the career of his great pupil, Moses Maimonides (11351204) which is important in that it marks the end of the period of tolerance and greatness of Arabian civilization. Maimonides refused to exchange Judaism for Islam and was banished from Spain. He became physician to Saladin and had


a flourishing practice in Cairo. To posterity, like Averroes, he appears greater as a philosopher than as a physician. III In the seventh century a vast portion of the Eastern world was overrun by Arab conquerors. In Persia, the Arabs learned of Greek medicine at the schools of the Nestorian Christians, a sect in exile from the Byzantine Empire. These schools preserved many texts that were lost in the destruction of the Alexandrian Library. Translations from Greek were instrumental in the development of a scientific revival and an Arabic system of medicine which was based on Greek and Roman thought spread throughout the Arab-speaking world. Followers of the system were known as Arabists. Important among the Arabist physicians were Rhazes (860-930), a famous clinician and writer who was the first to identify smallpox in 910 and measles and to suggest blood as the cause of infectious diseases; Isaac Judaeus (850-950), the author of the first book devoted entirely to dietetics; and Avicenna, whose famous Canon remained the standard synthesis of the doctrines of Hippocrates, Aristotle and Galen. Arabists of the twelfth century include Avenzoar (1090-1162) who first described the parasite causing scabies and was among the earliest to question the authority of Galen; Averroes, recognized as the greatest commentator on Aristotle; Averroes’ pupil Maimonides whose works on diet, hygiene and toxicology were widely read; and Al-Quarashi (1210-1288), also known as Ibn al-Nafis, who wrote commentaries on the writings of Hippocrates and treatises on diet and eye diseases, and most important, was the first to indicate the pulmonary transit of blood from the right to the left ventricle via the lungs. The Arabists did much to elevate professional standards by insisting on examinations for physicians before licensure. They introduced numerous therapeutic chemical substances. They excelled in the fields of ophthalmology and public hygiene. They were superior to the physicians of medieval Europe. IV The great Muslim empire extended from Persia to Spain. Although it is customary to speak of Arabian medicine in describing this period, it must be remembered that the physicians were not all Arabs or natives of Arabia. Nor, indeed, were they all Muslims. Some were Jews, some were Christians, and they were drawn from all parts of the great empire, extending along the entire northern coast of Africa and invading Spain. Only a few of the leading figures need be mentioned. One of the earliest was Rhazes (865-923), a Persian born near the modern Tehran who wrote a voluminous treatise on medicine, Al-Hawi (Comprehensive Book) but whose most famous work De variolis et morbilis (A Treatise on Smallpox and Measles) deals with the distinction between these two diseases and gives a clear description of both. Of later date was Avicenna (980-1037) who has been called, and not without good reason, “the prince of physicians.” Like Rhazes, Avicenna was a Persian. Born near Bukhara, at the age of eighteen he became court physician. His principal work, Al-Qanun fi’l-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine) became a classic and was used at many medical schools, for example, at Montpellier in France as late as 1650. The greatest contribution of Arabian medicine was in materia medica and chemistry. Many drugs now in use are of Arab origin, as also such processes as distillation and sublimation. Too often the chemistry of that time was mainly a search for the philosopher’s stone which supposedly would turn all


common metals to gold. Astronomers were astrologers and chemists were alchemists. It is, therefore, surprising that despite all this the physicians of the Muslim empire did make a noteworthy contribution to medical progress. At that period and, indeed throughout most historical times, surgery was regarded as inferior to medicine. One Arab surgeon, however, Abul Kasim (Albucasis) of Cordoba (936-1013) wrote the first illustrated book on surgery which was widely used. He was a careful and conservative surgeon who did much to raise the status of surgery in Cordoba, an important center of commerce and culture with a fine hospital and medical school equal to those of Cairo and Baghdad. Another great doctor of Cordoba was the Jew named Maimonides (11351204). Banished from the city because he would not become a Muslim, he eventually went to Cairo where the law was more lenient and where he acquired a reputation so high that he became physician to Saladin, the Saracen leader. A few of his works, written in Arabic, were eventually translated into Latin and printed.


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