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Friday, October 15, 2004


Jose Luis Barcelo

The objective of this work is to obtain a series of events, which show the decisive influence given by the Islamic science, in relation to the development of medicine. Its main objective is to state the real importance of the Islamic contribution, which when objectively considered, has enabled the present standards obtained by medicine. Such event has been injustly forgotton and generally unknown. It also attempts to help the creation of a correct idea about Islam, whose population and governments, after many years of wars and sufferings, feel a strong need for helping all countries, to ensure a common spirit of cooperation in the interests of humanity.



It is impossible to deny that the human personality presents great variety of thoughts and thinking habits within the boundaries of memory. The same applies to the collective personality of a community. In this case, the common tradition represents the collective memory which the common tradition, this is the collective memory. This rule overtake all geographic, ethical or racial national limitations or of any other type and can also be applied to civilizations.

Psychologically, a civilization is the total of the common traditions of a country, independently from its geographic or ethical conditions. Technically, a civilization is the combination of the progresses of th community in theoretical and applied science, industry, social organization, literature and fine arts br nches and in other intellectual activities.

This is civilization but not culture; the culture is not based on the intellectual acquisitions. It is a sp ritual state, a permanent condition of a personal soul or of a collective community soul. Culture is a purely ethical concept, is a totally spiritual residue, nonpalp~ble, although clearly sensed, formed in a so lor in a community, by continuous ideas and actions, in accordance with ethical principles. The civilization is a fertile soil for culture but frequently can exist without it. On the contrary a person or a commu .may show the maximum culture without civilization, that is, without what we generally call educatii and without knowledge of mechanics, science or literature.

Aeroplanes, fountain pens, anti-toxic serum are products of the civilization. The use of the aeroplane in the a ti-toxic serum transport or the use of a fountain pen in the signing of a cheque for hospital benefits re manifestations of culture.

In this ense, Islam has established a progressive civilization, at the present, one of the largest of all times, and has also accumulated a strongly developed culture. Without taking into consideration the appa ent decadence of the political power and the pretended desintegration the collective personality f Islam has survived to all types of changes, mainly because of; that the collective personality riterion of a common civilization. Common tradition was never extinguished. This is the spirit of Islam, hich has to be recognized by its maximum defamators.

Althou h the decadence of the Islamic worlds influential power on the development of all type of world even s is apparent, the survival of a large series of absurd mistakes and deceptions in the world of medicine has come to a bad establishment of false attitudes. It is our intention, therefore, to abolish such mista es which lead to the incorrect judgement on the civilized attitude of Islam.

For example, the story of the Caliph who gave the order to Amr ibn'AI'As to feed the stoves of the I baths of th city -during six long months -with the books and texts, coming from the famous library of Alexandria, where among others, were valuable medical texts, is one of those big false defamations. Such storie are used in the creation of pretty novels and bad history books. The famous library of the Ptolomeos had already been burnt by Julius Caesar in the year 48 B.C. And another one, also very important, known as the "Daughter Library" was destroyed around the year 389, as consequence of an order given y the Emperor Teodisio.

Therefore, it is completely false and wrong to blame the Arabs for the destruction of that scient!fic source, which was the famous library of Alexandria, though in history books, such lies are still being printed.

In the ame manner, true justice has not been done to prove the contrary and locate things in its place in the history of medicine. Thanks to the Islamic science, to the Arab Medicine the accident was able to obt in a large amount of knowledge, which enabled the posterior development of this science. Nobody should be kept from the truth, unless because of the continuous false propagation of information, practices and texts. From the Islamic world came knowledge to the Medieval Europe which was then in complete darkness. This work needing a deserved amplification, intends to prove in the following chapters the decisive influence of Islam to the progress of medical science.


Already, since its beginning, Islam had direct relations with four large civilizations; Bizantine, Sasanidopersian, Indhu, and Chinese. The Arabs, who had conquered a very large area between Gibraltar and China, had with them three very important factors; Intelligence, activity and spirit; The first of them was a sharp virgin intelligence, which looked for constructive means, the second was the spiritual impulse of religious enthusiasm and the third was an unnatural gift for beautifulness and for imaginational and expressive power, which without doubt, fomented the high degree standard of general appre iation to the intellectual and spiritual interests.

As a consequence of all these, after a century Islam came to be one of the most important civilizations and cultures. After the main phases of the Islamic expansion the Arab strong collective stimulus gave ay to recapitulation of technical, scientific, industrial, economical, hygienic, literary, artistic and philos phical achievements. In medicine, Islam came to be the leader of all countries and established, witho t doubt, the base of our existing culture and civilization.

It is generally known that the main points of contact between Islam and Occidental Europe were; The I erian peninsula, Sicily, Middle East and during the crusades also Syria and Palestine, where peace ul contact periods had political, economical and cultural impacts between the Islamic world and the s all states which settled for almost two centuries in those areas.

Precisely one of the main roles played by Islamic world in the scientific field, was the conservation, consolidation, coordination ,and development of ideas and knowledge which, ancient civilizations had compiled and to this the Arabs added many original and outstanding ideas.

Fortunately, it is being recognised that precisely medicine and pharmacy are those scientific branches in which the Islamic world has most decisively influenced our existing progress. The methodic translations of thousands of arabic works, was a prosperous industry which enabled the transfer of the Islami medical knowledge to Medieval Europe.

In the same manner, the Arabs established sufficiently equipped hospitals almost one thousand years before these started to be founded in the western world as official institutes. Baghdad had 6000 medical students and almost one thousand medical practitioners. And one hundred years later, Damascus had a central hospital which jointly supervised a large medical college. Also the main hospital of Cairo as established in sel/eral buildings, four large parks, music was also played for the entertainment of the ill. They paid five golden pieces to the patients who were cured to maintain themselves during convalescence. As it can be seen, the hospitals are of Islamic creation and after having been extended in the Arab world, were introljuced into Europe by the crusades.

Also the first pharmacies and chemists were established in the Islamic world, they could be counted by hundreds in Cordoba, Baghdad, Cairo and many other cities. The Arabs brought to Europe, drugs as Ruibarbo, Camphor, Mirra, Ginger and Vomica Nut, only to mention some of them; nobody then denies that they created the first pharmacies of history and in its medical classic work, Ibn Sina names more than 700 drugs.

All the strong Islamic science was passed to Europe, thanks to the Christians investigators, one of them oger Bacon, known as the creator of natural science in Europe and whose knowledge came from the Arabs; to Gerberto, whlo later became Pope Silvester II, who lived before Bacon and who was prove to live in Muslim Cordoba. He studied under Arab teachers. Albert the Great, in his works, makes constant observations of almost a dozen Arab scientific authors, whose books he knew well, through its Latin translations and finally not wanting to make this list too large, to our Raimundo Lulio, born in the Baleares. He knew perfectly the Arabic language and had in his library , hundreds of Islamic texts, from which he acquired his high scientific knowledge.

And the greatest encyclopedic works whose creation is wrongly attributed to the Christian occident, have its ori in in the long and hard labour of Islamic encyplopedic authors. The Occidentalists feel themselves pro d of the encyclopedia, spiritual daughter of that great spiritual century ; 18 + h Century; although the encyclopedic writers of the Islamic world lived, four, five: six or seven eight centuries before their European colleagues.

The first regular encyclopedia in Arabic was composed by a society, which had its best period in Basra, during the last period of the tenth century. These men divided in 4 orders, named themselves "Ikhwan as-Safa'", (Purity brothers). Their joint work, composed of 51 treatises, practically covers all the knowledge of the era about mathematics, medicine, natural science and theology. How many of their texts were later used by the Christians in their search for knowledge and truth.

The next two Arabic encyclopedias were much more larger and complete and each of them was the job of a single person. The author of the first, Nuwayri lived at the end of the 13th century. The creator of the other ibn Faddallah was his contemporary. Another encyclopedia was written by Qalqashandi, his work was printed in Cairo and was formed of 14 volumes.

With respects to dictionaries, another very important aspect of the Islamic scientific literature, the Islamic apportions are also unmeasured. An outstanding example is the Great dictionary in Arabic language equivalent to the "Oxford Dictionary", "Webster", or "Larrousse" which was ritten by Safidi, who lived during the fourteenth century. And a hundred years earlier, ibn Qifti, wrote an encyclopedic work, named "History of the Philologists", Jukut composed a large "Dictionary of Men and Letters", and the great ibn Abi Usaibi'a, the famous "Life of Doctors".


A long work would be to mention all the great figures preceding the Islamic Medicine but is also an injustice, not to remember them, even superficially, as testimony of our admiration.

At the Head of the list o fArab doctors, already in the first century of Islam, is al-Harith ibn Kaladh (died in 734), who had studied in Persia and who was the first scientifically educated in the peninsula and to obtain the honorary title of Tabib "Doctor" (Medicine) of the Arabs; according to the rules of the time, his successor was his son al Nadr whose mother was maternal aunt of the Prophet (pbuh).

Within the doctors of the Umayyas court, the most outstanding were: Ibn Uthal and Tayadhuq, some of his nomenclature has been kept up to our days, although not the three important books attributed to him; also, an important doctor of Persian origin, was Masarjawayh, who translated, from Syrian into Arabic, a medical treatise, orginally written in GReek, the work called "Ahrun" was the first scientific book written in Islamic language. The Caliph al-Walid separated people affected by leprosy and to give them a special treatment; and Umar II passed the medical Collges from Alexandria to Harran.

Al Razi, wa without doubt the greatest and most original of all the original Islamic doctors. Immediately after al Razi, the most known name is Ibn-Sina. Other outstanding figures of the Islamic medicine forgotton between the occidentals were Ali Ibn Isa, ibn-Jazhla who wrote and important thesis about therapeutics; and Ali ibn al Abbas.

This list could have been very long but we want to end it with a totally original contribution to the field investigation about Islamic medicine to show some works totally unknown attributed to Islamic scientists. Large number of investigations enabled me to verify that there exists in large quantities and still without detailed examination important works, many of them coming from translations of very ancient Gree texts. Here is an initial detail that can be and must be used as base for future investigations:

In the first place, the important work executed in Muslim Spain by the doctor Ibn-Zuhr, the most genui e continuation of Hipocratic tradition in Islam (525/1130) and whose important works has been partially diluted in the night of time. In the second place, the use of Causal, anomalistic and emoiric series, which differentiates the purel hermetic tendency of the Islamic scientists (same by the Kufa Arab Grammar School and the great importance which it would have in all types of Islamic scientific texts. And in the third place to consider the need to dedicate special attention to what we consider the unkn wn parts of Arab texts in relation to medicine and similar sciences from which we choose the following collection of works:

a) The group executed by Ibn-al-Nadim al-Warraq formed by 22 volumes
b) The texts attributed to Prince Khalid-b-Yazid-b Mu'Awiya dealing with the application of alchemy to medicine
c) The texts related to the relation of talismatic science to medicine, e.g. by Ahmad-b Muhammad Masmudi
d) The Arab translation of Persian executed in the medical center of Jundishapur of an important article of Hindu toxicology and stated by some writers as Stauss as "Toxic Manual of Canayka".
e) The texts executed by the Andalusian-lslamic Doctor Philosophist, Ibn Sab'in (668), partially compiled by Ibn Tulun and whose importance has not yet been determined.

From all what has been said the importance of the Islamic science of the past, has been in the progr ss of medicine in the future. The time has come to recognize such facts and to locate the Islamic world, in its place in the field of science, in the place that by justice it belongs. In the year 953, Otto the Great, King of the Germans, sent an Ambassador of his to Cordoba to a monk named John and who lived or over three years in the capital of the Iberian Caliphate. He learned Arabic to perfection and when back to his country took with him, hundredsof valuable medical scientific manuscripts, which helpe in the diffusion, all around Occidental Europe in a rapid and surprising way, the essence of the great rab Science.



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