Medicine and Science
In the Odyssey
Homer lauded the efficiency of the Egyptian doctor. Herodotus mentioned
many times that they cured a great variety of diseases in which they specialized
and excelled. He wrote once that Qorsh had invited an oculist from Egypt,
and that Dara had admired and praised them very much. The Greeks know «Amhoteb»
father of wisdom in Old Cairo, and used to call him in their own language
«Amotycos». They learned from Egyptian Medicine a great number
of cures and copied the Egyptian's surgery instruments as they were, with
out effecting any change in them.
Greeks also learned some medicine from the Chaldeans in ancient times,
when it was mixture of witchcraft and incantation.
the wheel of human culture turned a complete cycle in this profession,
which all people need. The Greeks returned to the Egyptians all they had
taken from them with their own additions, that took place in the age of
the Alexandria School. The Greeks also returned what they had taken from
the Chaldeans and the Assyrians by the end of the East Romanian Empire.
At that time there was leftover a portion of the heritage of the Monasteries
and their priests. It was being taught to the students of science in Greek
and Latin, who were mostly theologians
The Persians invoked the help of the Assyrian and Roman doctors, who established
the School of Medicine and Hospital called «Jindisabur». All
the surrounding peoples depended on this medical school and Hospital for
completing their medical studies and learning the methods of medical treatment practiced
by other. One of its talented Arab students was Al-Hareth Ren-Kelda
who had learnt medicine before Islam, then adopted the Islamic faith.
treatment was practiced by the Arabs many ages before Islam. They followed
the Bedouin method of mixing medicine with sooth-saying, and cured diseases
in primitive ways. Each tribe had its own fortune-teller, whom they consulted
on all occurrences, including sickness and complaints.
A verse was
said in this connection
shall recognize the sagacity of the Fortune-tellers of Yamama and Najd,
If they ever cure me».
used in their medical treatment, charms, incense and drugs which were often
accompanied by incantations and spells. Besides the fortune- tellers, there
were specialist doctors who did not practice sooth- saying or hoodwink
the patient by uttering names of ginns or idols. They used to treat patients
by bleeding, cauterizing, supping, putting them on diets and prescribing
some drugs and herbs which used to grow in Arabia or be imported from India
and China. The recommendations of these doctors reflect their skill in
curing the body. As Al-Hareth Ben-Kelda put it.
wants to live long must observe the following advice, Failing which there
is no longevity. Take Lunch early; put on light clothes; and minimize intercourse
him : « what is Medicine, Hareth? Hareth replied, «Hunger,
Moawia. Hareth advised not to take a bath after eating and minimizing debts
and worries. The doctors had an effective method for treating difficult
cases. They used to take the patient to the Caravan routes where he could
be seen by persons who had suffered the same disease. Then they would tell
him the cure that had healed them.
It seems that the occupation of the Arabs with cattle grazing for a long
time alienated them from witchcraft medicine and drew them nearer to medicine
based on practical experiments. They watched pregnancy, birth, growth and
the relevant stages of life evolution. They fixed the parts of the body,
and had an almost correct knowledge of the location and function of its
organs. With this knowledge they could nearly specify the disease and its
When Islam came, it wiped
out witchcraft and opened the door wide for physical medicine. Islam tabooed treatment by witchcraft and superstition. It did not replace soothsayers
and fortune-tellers with a new class that practiced that line of business
in the guise of religion. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be with him) permitted the
consultation of doctors though they were non-Muslims. When Saad Ibn
Abi Wakas fell sick during his farewell pilgrimage, the Prophet sent him
back saying «I pray to Allah to restore your
health so that you may strike the bad peoples and benefit the good ones».
Then he said to Hareth Ben Kelda, «Treat Saad», and Hareth
was a non-Muslim. Loqman the Wise was mentioned in the Quran with what
means "We conferred on Loqman wisdom so that may
thank- Allah. Medical treatment was over and above other though it was
not a vocation for religious people".
this reason Christian doctors multiplied in the Islamic State. Oriental
Christian Doctors made many achievements in medicine while the European
Church was banning the medical trade on the pretext that illness was a
punishment meted out by Allah, which man should not interfere with. Medicine
remained banned until the end of the so-called (Age of Faith», viz.
at the beginnings of the 12th century A.D., dawn of the Andalusian civilization.
900 doctors were invited to sit for exam. in Baghdad during the reign of
Al-Moqttader Bellah; in addition there were the professors, who were authorities
in medicine and thus above examination. This points out great care for
medicine and hygiene that had no parallel in any other ancient civilization.
The great number of doctors and teachers of medicine imply that medicine
was being studied to cater for a whole society and not on individual initiative.
It is possible that at the beginning kings called in famous doctors; it
is also possible that some Syrian and Byzantine monks and Savants were
devoted to the study of science; yet the capital could not be served by
more than one thousand doctors, all at one time, unless they needed to
serve an extensive society. The Assyrians and Romans were tied down to
their places during the reigns of the Caesars and Chosroes. They used to
live among their peoples, relatives, books and possessions and had not
moved away. Knowledge did not record such an achievement and living did
not rise such a high standard under the banners of the Romans or the Persians.
But the new thing to notice is the favorable reaction on society which
was brought about by the rise of the new state, founded by Islamic ingenuity
and on the tolerance of the tolerance of the new religion.
Industry was not in itself the target of that great movement of development
and the wide range of education. Doctors used to add to the science of
medicine other branches such as philosophy, engineering, astronomy, and
chemistry. They so wrote books on these different branches of science and
sought information on them wherever it was.
Some courses were sufficient to quality a student to
practices the medical
trade in those ages. But science we learnt for science's sake. The students
were not satisfied with the books of the ancient Greeks, Persians and Indians.
They referred to all information that could enlarge the scope of their
research-work. They made equal treatises on books of medicine, engineering,
They wrote down all their readings and translations and compiled them in
books. The result was the appearance of treatises that comprised Indian
formulae besides the Arabian, or Persian or Greek ones. They were deep
academic works, not written for making profit.
The under mentioned books were great treatises on Islamic medicine. They
were unparalleled in their deep research and academic scope. These treatises
were wholly translated into Latin. Consequently that trade was taken up
by European doctors from time to time. Until the dawn of modern ages there
had been no European scientists who hold a candle to the Arab authors in
that branch of science. The Europeans are fond of alleging that they seek
science for science's sake and accuse the Easterners of seeking science
for money's sake. But this is not the case. The European doctors read Arabic
reference books in order to derive there from the greatest benefit in making
money. The monks and priests were an exception. They renounced mundane
life, and not overtly seek money through practicing med and other trades.
The Book of Law by Ibn-Sina in the 12th century was translated. This book
is a thesis on all the findings in medicine reached by the Arabs, Greeks,
Indians, Assyrians and Anbath.
The `Magician' book by Al-Razi in 1279 was also translated. It is bigger
and wider in range than the Book of Law. This book was completed by the
disciples of Al-Razi after his death, because it was a work that could
not be undertaken by one individual alone.
All the Books by Ben-Haitham were translated in that age. They were references
in optics for all succeeding Europeans.
It has been found from the records of Louvan University that Al-Razi and
Ibn-Sina books had been considered by the professors of that university
as the only authentic references until the beginning of the 17th century.
Further supplies came from Arabian Andalusia. Andalusia supplied Europe
with the lengthiest reference book in surgery and the setting of Broken
Bones. This book is entitled «Knowledge for Those Who Do not Have
It» (Al-Taarif Liman Agaza An Al-Tasrif) by Abu-El- Kassem Khalaf
Ben Al-Abbas. It was printed in Latin in the 15th century. Before it was
put in print, it existed as loose-leaf lessons that were handed round by
those who practiced in the trade to which they had referred in their surgical
work, particularly in opening the bladder and extracting stones. The Great
Physicist Haller said in the story of Gustav Lobon that books of Abu-Al
Kassem were references for all the surgeons after the 14th century. He
left a booklet on all the surgical instruments. The booklet showed drawings
of these instruments, and explained how they were used.
Hospitals spread throughout the Islamic State after the third century A.H.
The Arabs followed a clever system to ensure healthy air and a suitable
location for the construction of hospitals, thus doing without the modern
scientific methods adopted after the discovery of germs and the system
of analysis wherever there was decay, they shunned the place and
moved to another place where there were less signs of decay.
The Arabs took up medicine when it was in the course of its long transition
between the ancient theories and the modern ones. There was the theory
enunciated by Bokrat, viz. the cardinal humors were four blood, phlegm,
gall and black bile; that illness was due to the disproportion of those humors, and that remedy thereof was effected by restoring their original
proportion. Galen enunciated the theory that humors were four : they were
heat, coldness, dryness and moisture. He who was hit by heat was to be
remedied by coldness, and he who was hit by moisture was to be remedied
by dryness. Thus each case of sickness was treated on these lines. But
critics of these theories, particularly Bokrat's theory, multiplied among
the students of the Alexandria School. Erasistratus condemned that theory
and advised his followers to ignore it, and gave preference to close observation.
Their successors wrote prescriptions in the light of information they obtained
from the patients they had interviewed, and comparing the latter's cases
with other patients. They put on record the symptoms of all cases.
When the Arabs took up medicine that trade was at cross-roads between oblivion
into which it was falling and the new theories which were appearing. Science
as a whole had not completely developed to devise new theories. They therefore
relied on observation and experiment and did not completely depend on theories
and invent new ones. They laid out remedies. They did not stick to Galen's
theory of curing coldness with heat and vice-versa. Some used to remedy
coldness with coldness in some cases, or combine heating, cooling and moistening.
Said Ben Bashar, Principal of the First Aid Hospital in Baghdad used to
do so. They also remedied by transplanting as could be inferred from their
discourses on the functions of animal's organs.
They anticipated the Europeans in describing leprosy, small pox and measles
and remedying eye-diseases. They broached the theory of Freud in psychological
therapy and its connection with sexual matters. Their approach was made
on experimental basis that deserves to be followed in collecting information
and writing down observation. It is related that once the mistress of Al-Rashid
had stretched out her hand beyond limit. She could not reflex it back to
its proper place, and the hand remained stretched out. It was treated by
rubbing over an ointment and fats, but that did not avail. Al-Rashid consulted
Gabriel Ben Bakhtaishouh who explained as follows «If his highness
the Commander of the Faithful will not get angry at me, may I try a trick?
Al-Rashid replied, «And what is it?» Gabriel said «The
concubine comes over here in the company of some people. Then I shall do
with her what I like; please give me a chance and do not attack me».
Al-Rashid ordered that the concubine be brought over to Gabriel. when she
came, Gabriel strode toward her, lowered his head, and held the tail of
her dress as if he wanted to strip her of it. The concubine was greatly
upset, flung her hand downward and held back her tail. Then Gabriel told
the Caliph of the Faithful, «She healed». Caliph of the Faithful
asked him how that happened. Gabriel said, «This concubine is cold
in her physical organs during intercourse; she needs light caressing, and
generation of heat for a while; the abrupt end of intercourse freezes the
remaining beat inside the nerves; it is unfrozen by a similar action. Heat has been evened, the frozen remainder has been unfrozen and now
she is fit and sane».
Another story is related about Ibn Sina. He was once called to examine
a young man, whose disease was unknown to the doctors. Ibn Sina gave order
to bring a fortune-teller from the town. when the fortune-teller came,
Ibn Sina held the hand of the young patient in order to feel his pulse
and observe his face. Meanwhile, he asked the fortune-teller to enumerate
the different quarters of the town. The fortune-teller enumerated them
until he came to the name of one quarter. Then, the man's pulse increased.
Ibn Sina asked the fortune-teller to enumerate the houses of that quarter,
then the fortune-teller mentioned one particular house amongst them, the
man's pulse increased more, Ibn Sina asked the fortune-teller about the
female inmates of the house. Then he told the man's parents (Marry him
to that girl because she is his remedy».
Arab Doctor used to treat mental incapacity in the same way as they treated
physical disease Mental incapacity used to be called by the Franks
«divine disease or devilish disease» because they believed
it was inflicted by spirits or devils.
The Arabs' researches in medicine went hand-in- hand with their researches
in chemistry. The Europeans greatly benefited from their researches in
that new field and perhaps the benefits they derived from the Arabs' research
in alchemy exceeded the information they gained from the Arabs in medicine.
The chemical term (alkali» is originally the Arabic word for silver
wash, a most important acid used in chemical experiments, was not defined
in any book before that of «Gaber Ben Hayyan». The credit for
discovering ammonia, gold wash, potassium, sulphuric acid and other poisons
known to the Europeans goes to him. His books «The Seventy»
and «Chemical compositions» were translated into Latin at the
beginning of the 12th century. His books remained reference authorities
for the Europeans until the end of the 17th century, when his book; «Consummation»
was translation into French in 1672.
The Books of «Al-Razi» and «Gaber Ben Hayyan» were
copied. The Europeans learnt from these books the division of chemical
substances into botanical zoological and mineral; and the most accurate
sub-divisions of minerals ever known in the middle ages. The European history
was not so much effected by Arabs' mineral discoveries as by their discovery
of gun-powder which the Europeans used in manufacturing war missiles and
In physics the Arabs defined the specifies gravity of a great number of
substances and precious stones. They reproduced the Greeks' concept of
gravity and the cause of weight. It consists in the concept that heavy
bodies gravitate towards their original minerals lying in the center of
the Earth, and that ethereal bodies gravitate towards their origin in the
sky. But Al-Biruni was doubtful of this concept and put a question to Ibn
Sina which implied his inclination to the belief that all ethereal bodies
gravitate towards the center of the Earth. The question reads as follows
: «which of the two propositions is correct : 1) that water and earth
converge on the center whereas air and fire diverge from it, 2) All these
elements converge on the center, but the heavier precedes the lighter in
All those views had paved the way for Newton's discovery of the Law of
Gravity and lying down the causes of weightiness on the modern scientific
Al-Biruni has the credit of being the first scientist to study liquids
in springs on land and up-hill, and the forces that govern their flow in
equilibrium and on heights. The sons of Moussa Ben Shaker, authors of the
Book «Tricks» which is considered an original reference in
«mechanics» before its last evolution in the machine age, were
devoted readers of these research-works in Arabic.
Although the research-works on alchemy before the 18th century were simple,
the Arabs' books and treatises were considered the best references in those
sciences by Europeans and non-Europeans. They collected the different ancient
information on zoology and botany and expanded and added to it. They imported
information from India, Chaldea, Greece and Anbath. They relied on observation
in their country and outside their country. Dia' El- Din Al-Malqi, known
as Ibn-Bitar, is a case in point. He was born at Malqa and toured the Islamic
world. He went as far as the farthest end of the Roman Empire in quest
of herbs and other plants. The Impeccable Ayoubi appointed him head of
Herbalists in the Egyptian State. That post corresponded with actual combined
functions of a botanist and pharmacologist. He wrote a book entitled «The
singular cures». That book contained the selected information accumulated
in his time on that point.
It is mentioned in the book «European Civilization
and Culturally» by the Professors of Philosophy James Westphal Tosson,
Franklin Charles Bam and Fan Nostrand that, «Most of the Greek»
legacy of science was copied in Arabic in about two centuries Cairo, Baghdad,
Qairawan and Carthage became outstanding centers of science and its education,
The Greco-Arab culture began to infiltrate into Western Europe by the end
of the 11th and 12th centuries.
Its infiltration was not a result of the Crusades invasions. It actually
moved from Sicily to Italy; from Islamic Spain to Christian Spain and thence
to France Quick-witted people vied with each other in proceeding to Palermo
and Toledo, to learn the Arab language and other branches of Arab science.
The striking thing about these people was that they were mostly English
nationals such as Edillard Of Bath, Daniel Of Murley, Roger of Hertford
and Alexander Nickouam. Edillard Of Baths' treatise on physical questions
was the first scientific work ever produced by Western Europe in the Middle
Ages. Some students stayed many years in Spain they passed the rest of
their lifetime in translating the Arabs' scientific books into Latin. Gerard
of Crimona, who died in 1187, translated 71 different books of those works
at the age of 73. Plato of Tiffoli was next to Gerard in the abundance
of production. And in this way Europe had acquired all the Greco-Arab output
Scientific education at the modern
universities became established. The pre-eminent scientists in the age
of English Friars (1292 1214) was Roger Bacon, and he was not less glorious
than Albert the Great. Both of them taught at the University of Paris.
The thirteenth century hardly turned its fifties when a collection
of those different branches of knowledge was compiled in a big Book by
Vincent Of Bovis, which he called «Mirror of Nature» That Book
contained all the information that had been collected in that age about
Medicine, Cosmology, Astronomy, Geography, the Atmosphere, the Strata of
the Earth, Minerals, Animals, Anatomy, etc.
The significance of the effect of these cultural work on Europe is not
limited to the enumeration of information collected; to how much information
the Arabs had given to or taken from the Europeans. The important thing
to notice is that the Europeans had taken over the torchlight of science
from the Arabs. With it they dispelled their obscurity and in its light
they have made great achievements in modern science. Had not the Arabs
carried that torchlight Eastward and Westward, the Europeans would have
encountered many great difficulties in rekindling it. And had they succeeded
in rekindling it, its light would have hardly lasted for three centuries.
Man would not have attained that glorious achievement which has taken tens
of conturies of human labor to materialize.