By Neenah Payne
Ibn Sina/Avicenna: Founder of Western Medicine explains that we are told that Hippocrates (450 BCE to 380 BCE), a Greek physician, was the founder of Western medicine. Doctors today take “The Hippocratic Oath” which commits them to “First, do no harm”. However, 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization explains that during the Middle Ages, Christians saw illness as a curse by God and resorted to prayer as the only hope for cures while Muslims were making great strides in medicine.
Few Westerners have heard of Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al Razi (circa 865-925). Yet the multi-faceted pioneering work of this polymath, known in the West as “Al-Razi” or “Rhazes” established him as a father of Western medicine along with Ibn Sina/Avicenna. Al-Razi is widely regarded as one of the finest physicians who ever lived, one of the most important figures in the history of medicine, and one of the world’s first medical experts. Al-Razi is considered the father of pediatrics, psychotherapy, and psychology. His writings on medical science influenced the practice of medicine throughout the West until at least the 17th century.
Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakariya Al Razi (Rhazes): Philosopher, Physician and Alchemist says that while serving as the Chief Physician in Baghdad, Al Razi was the first to describe smallpox and to differentiate it from measles. Although his book was translated into Latin more than a dozen times, European physicians confused these illnesses until recently. The Encyclopædia Britannica acknowledged this diagnosis by Razi a thousand years later in 1911. Al Razi was a pioneer in applied neuroanatomy and in the treatment of mental illnesses. He made meaningful contributions to pharmacy and wrote the first monograph on pediatrics. Treating children differently from adults was a radical concept.
Wikipedia says about al-Razi:
Through translation, his medical works and ideas became known among medieval European practitioners and profoundly influenced medical education in the Latin West. Some volumes of his work Al-Mansuri, namely “On Surgery” and “A General Book on Therapy”, became part of the medical curriculum in Western universities. Edward Granville Browne considers him as “probably the greatest and most original of all the Muslim physicians, and one of the most prolific as an author”
Additionally, he has been described as the father of pediatrics, and a pioneer of obstetrics and ophthalmology. Notably, he became the first physician to recognize the reaction of the eye’s pupil to light.”
Al-Razi’s Amazing Innovations
Al Razi ( Rhazes ), a Miracle in Medicine Over Generations says Abu-Bakr Muhammad Ibn-Zakariya Al Razi was born in 864 A.D in the city of Rayy where he studied law, medicine, and philosophy. Al Razi headed to Baghdad, the world’s center of knowledge
Al Razi studied various sciences with a special focus on medicine. He was also interested in chemistry, herbal medicine, and philosophy. After he returned to Rayy, Al Razi became director of the hospital of Rayy, one of the most advanced hospitals in Islam and gained an unrivalled reputation in his success in treating previously incurable cases. The Prime Minister of the Abbasid State, Ibn-Boyeh, invited him to become chief of medicine at the Adodiyy Hospital in Baghdad, one of the world’s largest hospitals with over 50 doctors. It was an institute of science and an advanced school of medicine. Al Razi became an incomparable scientific reference not only to Baghdad, but to the entire world.
Greek medicine was the most important form of medicine at that time, but it was dependent on untried theories. Greek doctors became known as philosophers of medicine because they rarely applied their theories. Even great figures of Greek medicine such as Galen and Hippocrates adopted this approach.
However, Al Razi made his famous statement which is regarded as one of the laws of science in general, and medicine, in particular. He said, “Whenever a prevailing theorem and a real fact are contradictory, the latter is to be accepted as true no matter how wide the extent to which the theorem is acted upon is in advocation of the scientist who put it.”
Al Razi believed that a scientist could not endorse a theory if it contradicted an observation, experiment, or fact – the foundation of the scientific method. Therefore, he made his own deductions based on fact and experimentation and not on hypotheses. He wrote the book “Doubts about Galen” refuting the views of Galen. In it, he highlighted mistakes in Galen’s ideas, giving his own suggestions and describing the process by which he reached his conclusions.
Al Razi, renowned for his precision, astonished those who read his notes on pathological cases. He was one of the first to carry out drug testing on animals such as monkeys to see how safe a drug was. Nowadays, most drugs are not approved unless they are tested on animals. As a result of his unique scientific approach, Al Razi achieved unprecedented scientific breakthroughs in many different fields.
Al Razi pioneered in the following ways:
- The invention of a suture from cat guts which dissolve and don’t require removal. This invention was used by doctors for many centuries after his death until the invention of an improved version at the end of the 20th century.
- The invention of mercury ointments.
- The differentiation between venous and arterial hemorrhages, using the finger pressure to stop a venous hemorrhage and a bandage to stop the arterial one as does modern medicine.
- The description of cataract extraction.
- The use of opium in treating dry cough.
- The introduction of laxatives.
- Recognition of fever as a symptom, not a disease.
Al Razi avoided the use of chemical drugs if the ailment could be treated with herbal medicine or through a change in diet. Al Razi offered detailed commentary on internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, sexually-transmitted diseases, ophthalmology, and surgery.
When asked to choose the location to build a grand hospital in Baghdad, Al Razi, picked four possible sites. He placed a piece of fresh meat at each site and monitored their decay. He chose the site where the meat decayed the slowest because he reasoned that it had the cleanest air.
“The Encompassing Book on Medicine”, one of the greatest books written by Al Razi, is a complete medical encyclopedia of all medical information discovered during Al Razi’s era in which he compiled information on all his clinical experiences. It was the biggest book after the invention of printers and was reprinted many times in Venice in the 16th century.
One of Al Razi’s most successful books was the book of “Smallpox and Measles” in which he recorded very precise notes about the differences between the two diseases and was the first to differentiate them. This book was reprinted in Europe four times between 1498-1869. His “Secrets of Chemistry” remained a fundamental reference in eastern and western schools for many years.
King Louis the 11th, ruler of France 1461-1483 A.D, paid gold in abundance for his doctors to make a copy of Al Razi’s book “Al-Hawi” (“The Comprehensive Book of Medicine”) as a resource if he became afflicted with any disease. Even more influential in Europe was al-Razi’s Book of Medicine Dedicated to Mansur, a general textbook on medicine in 10 chapters. The treatise became one of the most widely read medieval medical manuals in Europe. The ninth chapter on therapeutics frequently circulated by itself. In the Renaissance, many editions were printed with commentaries by prominent physicians.
Al-Razi: Physician Philosopher
The father of pediatrics, immunology, and scientific medicine, Abu Bakr Al-Razi (known in the West as “Rhazes”) exploited his understanding of ancient Greek philosophy to advance the medicinal sciences by light years, in the early to mid-900s.
Al-Razi would be embrewed with controversy for his shift away from the works of Aristotle, towards the works of Plato. He would also be celebrated in his time, as a terrific doctor, earning the positions as the Head Physician of hospitals all across the Abbasid Caliphate. Al-Razi commitment to scholarship would contribute to an early decline, but not before he would scalp his name in the history books as one of the most innovative medical thinkers in the Medieval era and one of the most multitalented scholars of the Islamic Golden Age.
Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi was one of the most well-known and respected physicians during the 9th century A.D. because of his revolutionary contributions to medicine and psychiatry. al-Razi influenced several medical fields, including pharmacology, pediatrics, neurology, psychosomatic medicine, and medical ethics. He purified alcohol (ethanol) and pioneered its use in medicine.
He rejected the notion of the mind-body dichotomy and considered mental health and self-esteem as significant factors that affect a person’s health and well-being. With the idea of “sound mind in a healthy body,” he was able to help many of his patients to attain complete health. He was one of the first known physicians to describe the idea of psychotherapy. He used psychotherapy in a primitive but dynamic form in his practice.
Al-Razi: The Father of Pediatrics, Psychology, and Psychotherapy
The following video is in Arabic, but has English subtitles. It shows that al-Razi was the first doctor to use plaster of Paris to protect broken bones — still used today. He wrote 250 books, half of which were about medicine. “Al-Hawi” (“The Comprehensive Book of Medicine”) is his most famous. It consists of 20 volumes and is considered The Encyclopedia of Medicine. It was still being published in the 20th century. al-Razi’s initiated First Aid. His favorite hobby was playing the oud, the precursor of the guitar.
The article below discusses Al-Razi’s life as a doctor, teacher, and ethical visionary, his contributions to and writings on medicine, and his legacy.
Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakariya Al Razi is not a familiar name to most in the English-speaking world. But he was one of the most notable persons in the history of medicine. He was a renowned Persian alchemist, philosopher, and physician, and is particularly remembered today for all his contributions to the advancement of medicine. After becoming a successful doctor, he served at the Ray and Baghdad hospitals. The ideas and medical works of Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi were passed to, and adopted by medieval European practitioners, and significantly influenced the development of medicine in the West.
The Life of Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi
Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi was believed to be born between 864 to 865 AD, although the exact date is not known. He was born into a Persian Muslim family in the City of Ray, located on the Great Silk Road . When he was still a young man, he moved to Baghdad to study and practice in a local “bimaristan” (hospital). In Baghdad, he studied under the guidance of one of the disciples of Humayun ibn Ishaq, who was proficient in Indian, Greek, and Persian medicines. His studies included astronomy, philosophy, alchemy, and mathematics.
Later, al-Razi got an opportunity of visiting the well-known Muqtadari hospital, where he gained the practical experience that laid a solid foundation for his medical journey. At this time, he also started practicing as an alchemist, and soon gained a high reputation among the people.
Al-Razi learned a great deal of practical medicine from working in hospitals (manoscritti / Public Domain )
He became so popular that people from distant parts of Asia started coming to him. Later still, he was appointed as an administrator of a new hospital that was built in Ray.
Stained glass window of al-Razi at Princeton University, United States (David Keddie / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
In June 2009, Iran was in the news for donating the “Scholars Pavilion” to the UN office in Vienna. The pavilion has statues of Abu Rayhan Biruni, al-Razi, Avicenna, and Omar Khayyam. While speaking about Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, the Belgian American chemist George Sarton regarded him as the “greatest physician of Islam and the Medieval Ages.”
Even today, he lives on in history as one of the greatest medical geniuses of all time.
Science In The Golden Age of Islam
We explore the links between medical research in the Golden Age of Science and the modern practice of medicine today. Standing in one of the largest neo-natal units in the world at Hamad Hospital in Qatar, you would not immediately be able to draw a link between the pioneering medical research being conducted and the work of physicists from the 9th century.
In this episode of Science in the Golden Age, theoretical physicist Jim al-Khalili guides us through a journey of discovery where he highlights the links between medical research in the Golden Age of Science during the 9th and 14th centuries and the modern practice of medicine today.
At Hamad Hospital, a new treatment is being trialled for babies born with a neurological disorder called neo-natal encephalopathy. Senior consultant Dr Samawal Lutfi explains how the double blind placebo control method ensures the accuracy of the study. This notion of a control group goes all the way back over a thousand years to a Persian physician by the name of Al-Razi who built the first hospitals in Baghdad. He was an early proponent of applying a rigorous scientific approach to medicine and used a control group when testing methods to treat meningitis in the 9th century.
At Harefield Hospital in the UK, we meet Professor Magdi Yacoub, a pioneering transplant surgeon and one of the world’s leading heart specialists. Professor Yacoub explains how the 13th century Syrian scholar Ibn al-Nafis redefined the understanding of pulmonary circulation. He challenged the commonly accepted wisdom of the Greek scholar Galen, who had said that blood passes directly between the heart’s right and left ventricle through the septum, the dividing wall that separates them.
Ibn al-Nafis put forward the idea that blood could not pass directly between the right and left chambers of the heart — and that the lungs had a role to play in this process. Ibn al-Nafis’ description was not widely accepted at the time, and it wasn’t until his manuscript was re-discovered in the 20th century that his work was universally recognised.
From Al-Razi, to Ibn al-Nafis, to the 10th-century philosopher and physician Ibn Sina, Jim examines the most influential medics of the Golden Age. He shows us his personal copy of Ibn Sina’s Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (‘The Canon of Medicine’), a comprehensive text which was the pinnacle of medical knowledge at that time. It was widely copied and translated, becoming a standard medical reference across the world for centuries.
Jim ends his journey at the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, learning how the institute is using the latest equipment to map the human genome. The genome is the complex genetic code contained in every one of our cells and sequencing it can reveal possible diseases that are inherited. Focusing on genetic and hereditary diseases specifically affecting the Qatari population, scientists from around the world have come together to work on this ambitious project that some-what parallels Baghdad’s Bayt al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom), the renowned centre of learning that played an integral role in the Islamic world’s scientific advancement.
Al-Razi is best known for his role in medicine during the Golden age of Islam. He worked mainly on diseases in children and elders, chemicals used in making medicine, problems related to eye, and had a hospital built in Rey, Tehran. In short, he was a complete doctor. Al-Razi is also known as Rhazes in the west. He was given the title of ‘father of pediatrics’.
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Neenah Payne writes for Activist Post
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