Medical Science in Medieval Period

The  contributions  that  the  medieval  Muslims  played  in  the  invention  of  new  drugs  and  therapeutic agents are  great  in  number  as  well  as  in  value.  The following passages will shed some light on the real contribution of the prominent Muslim scientists and philosophers in the relevant field.

Abu `Ali al-Husayn ibn `Abd Allah Ibn Sina (980-1037): Ibn Sina is regarded as the ‘Father of Early Modern Medicine’, particularly for his introduction of systematic experimentation and quantification into the study of physiology, his discovery of the contagious nature of infectious diseases, the introduction of quarantine to limit the spread of contagious  diseases,  the  introduction  of  experimental  medicine,  evidence-based  medicine, clinical  trials,  randomized  controlled  trials, efficacy  tests, clinical  pharmacology, neuropsychiatry, risk  factor  analysis,  and  the  idea  of  a  syndrome, and  the  importance  of dietetics and  the influence of  climate and  environment  on health.

He is also considered the ‘Father  of  the  Fundamental Concept  of  Momentum  in Physics’, and  regarded  as  a  pioneer  of aromatherapy neuropsychiatry, risk  factor  analysis,  and  the  idea  of  a  syndrome, and  the  importance  of Dietetics and the influence of climate and environment on health. He  is  also  considered the father  of  the  fundamental  concept  of  momentum  in  physics, and  regarded  as  a  pioneer  of aromatherapy.

The Canon of Medicine (Al-Canon fi al-Tibb) : The Canon of Medicine (in 14 volumes) was a standard medical text in Europe and the Islamic world up until the 19 century. The  book  is  known  for  its  introduction  of  systematic experimentation and quantification into the study of physiology, the discovery of contagious  diseases and sexually transmitted diseases, the introduction of quarantine to limit the spread of  infectious  diseases,  the  introduction  of  experimental  medicine,  clinical  trials, neuropsychiatry,  risk factor analysis, and the idea of a syndrome in the diagnosis of specific diseases, and hypothesized the existence of microorganisms.

The Canon of Medicine was the first book dealing with experimental medicine, evidence-based medicine,  randomized  controlled  trials, and  efficacy  tests, and  it  laid  out  some  rules  and  principles for testing the effectiveness of new drugs and medications, which still form the basis  of clinical pharmacology and modern clinical trials.

Ali ibn Rabban al Tabari (838–870): The author of the first major work of Islamic medicine was `Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari, a convert to Islam, who wrote his “Paradise of Wisdom” (Firdaus al-hikmah) in 234 AH/850 AD. In 360 chapters, he summarized the various branches of medicine, devoting the last discourse, which consists of 36 chapters, to a study of Indian medicine.

The work, the first large compendium of its kind in Islam, is of particular value in the fields of pathology, pharmacology and diet, and clearly displays the synthetic nature of this new school of medicine, now coming into being.

Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya Razi (846–930): Razi, al-Tabari’s student, was without doubt the greatest clinical and observational physician of Islam, and along with Avicenna, the most influential both in the East and the West. Attracted  late in life to medicine, Razi became the director of the hospital in his native city of Rai, and  later  the  director-in-chief  of  the  main  hospital  at  Baghdad.  He  thus  gained  much  practical  experience,  which played  no  small  part  in  making  him  the  greatest clinician  of  the  medieval  period.

As a chief physician of the Baghdad hospital, Razi formulated the first known description of smallpox. His al-Judariwa al-Hasbah was the first book describing smallpox and measles, and was translated more than a dozen times into Latin and other European languages. Its lack of dogmatism and its Hippocratic reliance on clinical observation shows Razi’s medical methods. Razi is also known for having discovered “allergic asthma,” and was the first physician ever to write articles on allergy and immunology.  Razi was the first to realize that fever is a natural defense mechanism, the body’s way of fighting disease.

Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni (973-1048): In the biomedical sciences, al-Biruni’s Kitab al-Saidana fi al-Tibb was an extensive medical and pharmacological encyclopedia which synthesized Islamic medicine with Indian medicine. His medical investigations included one of the earliest descriptions on Siamese twins. The Kitab-al-Saidana was also a material medica which was celebrated for its in-depth botanical studies of minerals and herbs. It was the earliest to describe the eating of several fungi, including truffles, which are a type of hypogenous fungi.

Ibn al-Baitar (1248): Ibn  al-Baitar  was  a  famous  medieval  Muslim  scientist.  He  is  considered  one  of  the  greatest botanists;  however,  he  has  also  marked  excellence  in  Medicine.  His  major  contributions  are  Kitabal-Jami fi al-Adwiya al-Mufrada and Kitab al-Mughni fi al-Adwiya al-Mufrada.

Al-Kindi (801-873): Al-Kindi was known as a philosopher, scientist, physicist, astrologer, astronomer, cosmologist etc. There are more than 30 treatises attributed to al-Kindi in the field of medicine, in which he was partly influenced by the ideas of Galen, and partly by his own personal experience and other Muslim physicians in his time. Al-Kindi’s  most  important  work  in  this  field  is  De  Gradibus,  in  which  he  demonstrates  the application  of  mathematics  and  quantification  to  medicine,  particularly  in  the  field  of  pharmacology.

In his Treatise on Diseases Caused by Phlegm, he provided the first-hand scientific explanation and treatment for epilepsy. In  his  Aqrabadhin  (Medical  Formulary), he  describes  many  pharmaceutical  preparations, including  simple  drugs  derived  mostly  from botanical  sources  as  well  as  animal  and  mineral sources.

Ibn-Rushd (1126-1198AD): Ibn Rhshd wrote a medical encyclopedia called Kulliyyat (“Generalities”, i.e. general medicine), known in its Latin translation as Colliget. He also made a compilation of the works of Galen (129-200) and wrote a commentary on The Canon of Medicine (Qanun fit-tibb)  of Ibn Sina  (980-1037). In urology, Ibn-Rushd identified the issues of sexual dysfunction and erectile dysfunction, and was among the first to prescribe medication for the treatment of these problems.

Ibn al-Jazzar (979): Ibn al-Jazzar is also considered as a Physician. He led an austere life, devoting himself to the study and practice of medicine. Ibn al-Jazzar was a prolific author in the field of medicine; his writings earned him great fame and made him very influential in medieval Western Europe. His “Kitab al-adwiyah al-mufradah” (Treatise on Simple Drugs) was translated into Greek, Latin and Hebrew and was frequently copied. But its Latin translation by Constantine, under the title “Liber de gradibus”, was of special importance, since it was in this version that the text became one of the most popular pharmacopoeias in the Latin West.

His Tibb al-fuqara ‘waal-masakin  (Medicine for  the Poor)  represents  a  literary topic which became especially popular during the  Middle Ages,  when works of  this type were written  by  different authors, as for instance, al-Razi and Peter of Spain.

Ibn al-Nafis (1213-1288): Ibn al-Nafis made remarkable contribution to Medicine.  Al-Shamil  fi  al-Tibb  (The Comprehensive  Book  on  Medicine)  is  a  prominent  medical  encyclopedia  which  Ibn  al-Nafis begun  immediately  after  completing  his  Commentary  on  Anatomy  in  Avicenna’s  Canon  in 1242. Even in its incomplete state, however, The Comprehensive Book on Medicine is one of the largest known medical encyclopedias in history, and was much larger than the more famous The Canon of Medicine by Ibn Sina. However, only several volumes of The Comprehensive Book on Medicine have survived.

He also wrote a short book on Medicine titled “Al-Mujaz fi al-Tibb (A Summary of Medicine). In this  book,  he  introduced  the  use  of  vinegar,  which  is  still  used  for  ear  infections  in  modern times. His other medical works include the Risalat al-A’ada’a (An Essay on Organs) and Al-Shamil fi al-Tibb (Reference Book for Physicians).

Ibn Zuhr (1091-1161): Ibn Zuhr performed the first parenteral nutrition of humans with a silver needle, and wrote a book on it entitled The Method of Preparing Medicines and Diet. He also developed the drug therapy and medicinal drugs for the treatment of specific symptoms and diseases like other Muslim scholars. His use of practical experience and careful observation was extensive.

By: Ahanat Zannat, MBBS (Final Year)

Prime Medical College & Hospital, Rangpur


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