Muslims’ Contributions to the Advancement of Medical Sciences
The story of Islam would remain incomplete without looking at all that it has brought to the world, both in the past and today, in the fields of the arts, sciences, mathematics and medicine. Arab scholars translated scores of learned works from Greek and Latin into Arabic. In this way the works of such thinkers as Aristotle, Plato and Euclid, among many others, had been preserved. The world’s early physicians, Galen and Hippocrates, were studied by Arab doctors who brought to medical science their own knowledge of drugs and medicines.
It is through these Arabic versions that European scholars first learnt much about the scientific knowledge of the ancient world, In fact, Arabs not only rendered scientific works into Arabic but also made huge contributions to them. Many modern scientific terms, such as chemistry, zero, and rocket, among many others, came from Arabic. What we call Arabic numerals today (1 , 2, 3, and so on), were actually invented in India, but it was Muslim scholars who worked out the full system of decimal calculation and passed it on to Europe.
In the field of medicine, Muslim physicians concentrated on the use of drugs and herbs. They knew about the importance of dieting, the climate and mental strain affecting the health of patients. Muslim doctors became experts in treating eye diseases. Muslims also set up public hospitals with highly trained, permanent staff, where young doctors could study and do research.
There are several verses of the Quran in which medical questions of general order are discussed. There are also many sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) dealing with health, sickness, hygiene and problems pertaining to the field of medicine. Diseases such as leprosy, ophthalmia are mentioned. This body of hadeeth on medical questions was systematized by later Muslim scholars and became known as at-Tibb an-Nabawee, or Medicine of the Prophet (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) once said, “There is a remedy for every disease, and when the remedy is applied to the disease it is cured with the permission of Allah, the Exalted and Glorious.” (Muslim)
Western Europe trusted the medical knowledge of the Muslim World. In the Middle Ages, France sold a very popular ointment called Blanc de Razes. It was named after a very famous doctor and scholar called ar-Raazee.
Abu Bakr ar-Raazee (known in the West as Razes), who came from near Tehran in Iran, wrote on almost every aspect of medicine. He died in 31 3 AH/925 AD. Ar-Raazee wrote the earliest book we have about infectious diseases in which he set out very clearly the differences between measles and smallpox.
Ar-Raazee also wrote two other books, which had been translated into Latin and became the main textbooks for medical students in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. Altogether ar-Raazee had written 1 75 books. Besides his medical works and the books on mathematics and philosophy, he experimented and wrote on chemistry and many other sciences. Among numerous medical works, ar-Raazee’s most important was Al-Haawee (The Comprehensive Book), an enormous medical encyclopedia originally in twenty volumes, of which ten have survived.
Al-Birunee also wrote on a wide variety of scientific subjects. His most important contributions as a scientist were his keen observations of natural phenomena, rather than theories. Sometimes called “the master,” he became one of the best-known Muslim scientists of his time.
The Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) have rendered a very significant contribution in the development of medical sciences. There are tomes of Arabic medical literature lying dormant in museums and libraries which contain ideas and knowledge on every conceivable field of medicine; from bacteriology, surgery, physiology, gynaecology, immunology, psychology, psychiatry and ophthalmology, which are not only valid today but in some cases far in advance of contemporary concepts held in the west.
The Arabs played a vital and dynamic role in medical history. Their discoveries covered such fields as surgery where the principles of suturing (stitches made in sewing up a wound) and wound treatment are still valid today, They were the first to establish hospitals, as we know them today, with separate wards for different diseases.
It is interesting to note that the scientists in Cordova with their seventeen libraries, one of which contained more than four hundred thousand volumes, enjoyed luxurious baths at a time when washing the body was considered a dangerous custom at the University of Oxford. In fact, free inquiry was considered a sin in Europe.
Consequently, great scientists were burnt alive, These include Bruno who believed in the revolution of the earth (a theory of Copernicus), and Galileo for their scientific beliefs. On the other hand, in Baghdad in 1 1 68 AD, there were about sixty well-organized medical institutions and the Mustansiriyyah Medical College, The College had a magnificent building, excellent furniture, a library with rare scientific books and a vast dining hall to serve food to the students, The hospitals had both outdoor and indoor departments. Female nurses served the patients.
Muslim anatomists carried out dissections of human bodies. They held that human skull consisted of eight bones while Galen had thought there were only seven bones.
The scholar Burhaanuddeen wrote in his book Sharf-ul-Asbaab that blood contains sugar. Ar-Raazee discovered a sour matter, acid, in the stomach. In his book Sharh Tashreeh al-Qaanoon, Ibn an-Nafees described pulmonary circulation centuries before the noted English physician William Harvey described the circulation of blood in 1628. His voluminous book on the art of medicine, titled al-Kitaab ash-Shaamil, featured sections on surgical techniques and the obligations of surgeons to their patients.
Ibn Seenaa (best known in the West as Avicenna) explained the digestive system and he discovered that the secretions in the mouth mixed with food and helped its digestion long before this was known in the west. He also excelled in bacteriology: the basis of modern medical science, which is a product of research on germs.
Measles and smallpox were regarded by ar-Raazee as two distinct diseases. He wrote a book on the subject. Muslims in Turkey treated smallpox through vaccination in 1679. The system reached Europe in the eighteenth century through Lady Montague, wife of the British ambassador in Turkey.
Abul-Qasim az-Zakraawee discovered the cause of paralysis due to injury to the spinal cord. Hay fever was first described by Bahaa-ud-Dawlah in 1507, which was discovered by the Europeans centuries later.
Tuberculosis was defined for the first time by Abul Hasan at-Tabaree as an inflammation that not only affects the lungs but also other parts of the body. He was the first physician who acquainted the world with scabies, a skin disease that makes one itch a lot.
Najid-ud-deen as-Samarqandee discovered nephritis, an acute inflammation of the kidneys, which is named for Richard Bright, centuries before he claimed he discovered it. As-Samarqandee also described albumen, which causes the body to swell if it passes through urine.
The skill of surgery reached its zenith with Arab surgeons. Abul Qaasim az-Zahraawee invented many surgical instruments. Anaesthesia was applied by Muslim physicians to keep the patient unconscious as long as seven days while conducting operations, Most highly developed was the surgery of the eye.
According to al-Bukhaaree and Muslim, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) approved of hijaamah (cupping) treatment, which is a method whereby polluted blood is drained from the body. The Prophet (pbuh), however, advised not to resort to hijaamah (cupping) without proper medical advice.
The list of Muslim contributions to the world of sciences is long and very interesting indeed! You will, inshaa Allaah, learn more about this in the years to come.