Print PDF

Summary of 8.8  "Muslim Contribution to Mathematics and Physics"


The eighth program focused on Muslim contributions to the fields of mathematics and physics.  In mathematics we spoke of the introduction of Arabic numerals and the concept of zero which lead to a revolution in mathematics.  We examined some particular fields such as Algebra which was initiated by al-Khwarismi and from whose name came the term logarithm.  We looked at their contributions to areas such as geometry and trigonometry.  The Muslims were the first to use sine and cosine and they had contributions in the field of Calculous and commercial arithmetic.


In the area of physics we spoke of Ibn-Alhaitham or Alhezen’s work in optics which was the basis for research done in this area for several centuries and had far reaching influence on Bacon and Kepler.  Finally, we briefly discussed the invention of the compass and briefly we covered their contribution to hydrostatics and hydraulics.

8.9       Muslim Contribution to Medicine


Host:  In what way are the contributions to the field of medicine may be related to Islamic teachings?


Jamal Badawi:

The interest of Muslims in the field of medicine is related to Islamic teachings in more than one way.  First of all, it is related to the ethics of Islam and that the human body is regarded as a trust in our hands given by God so that we can fulfill our trusteeship on earth.  As such and in accordance with Islamic ethics we have no right to destroy the body (suicide is forbidden in Islam) and we have no right to abuse the body (thus the prohibition of drinking and pork).  Not only this but there are some preventative measures that Islam taught which have some bearing on medicine.  For example it encourages people to seek a cure when they are sick as is narrated in Bukhari, Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood.  There is a saying of the Prophet that says that if the plague spreads in one place that the people should not leave it and others should not enter it.  This is like the modern concept of a quarantine.  Also the recommendation the Prophet made to give attention to the body when he said that the body has a claim on you.  Even in the simple rituals (prayers for examples) we find that it is connected with personal hygiene, cleanliness, ablution, frequent bathing, encouragement of exercise and fasting which also has beneficial health benefits.  In more than one respect medicine is tied with the overall outlook of Islam towards the human body and healthcare and protection.


Host:  When did the contribution to the field of medicine first begin?


Jamal Badawi:

Ever since the days of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) there have been increasing interest in health (immediate and preventative).  There was a doctor during that time Al-Harith Bin-Kilda and the Prophet used to recommend that when people get sick that they seek a cure.      This was when people elsewhere believed in miracle cures.  Even in the 8th century we find beginnings of scientific interests in medicine began to emerge and many of the old works in medicine were translated.  A prominent translator was Ibn Almuqafa’a.  In  the 9th century we witnessed a great deal of development in medicine and perhaps the most prominent name of that time was Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi who is known in English as Rhazes.  He was the chief physician in the main hospital in Bagdad and as historians describe him, he was perhaps the greatest historian of the Middle Ages.  He wrote a voluminous encyclopedia which was described by John Draper as “an immense medical encyclopedia which remained for 600 hundred years as one of the main and primary sources of knowledge about medicine in Europe.  According to Draper Al Rhazes book on measles and smallpox was regarded as one of the most authoritative writings in its field and remained in use in Europe for nearly 800 years.  Surprisingly until the 18th century (in 1745) his book was still being translated and used as a basis for understanding these types of diseases.  Al-Rhazes was inspired by the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) narrated in Bukhari and Muslim where the Prophet recommended the use of cold water to deal with persistent fever which he used quite effectively.  He introduced the use of mild purgatives and cupping.  According to George Sarton says that “many contributions to gynecology, obstetrics and ophthalmic surgery can be traced back to him.”  In the tenth century we find that these contributions continued by other Muslim physicians.  One of the famous names is Areeb Bin-Saad who was the first to write in a systematic way on the subject of pediatrics in addition to gynecology and obstetrics.  Some of his works were later translated into Hebrew and Latin.  In the same period during the 10th century Al-Mardini, a famous physician, was particularly known for his ability to prepare medicines.  George Sarton says (Volume 1. Pg. 699) “that he compiled a dispensary which was immensely popular in dealing with Medieval Europe.  For centuries it remained the standard work on the subject.”


Host:  Many historians mention Avicenna as a legend in the history of medicine; can you tell us about him and how he acquired his fame?


Jamal Badawi:

Avicenna is the English name but in Arabic it is Ibn Sina who is a legend.  He was a scientist, philosopher and  physician.  I am not evaluating him as a philosopher and in fact many Muslims may have some reservations about his philosophical ideas but looking at his contribution as a scientist and physician it really helps us to understand the kind of atmosphere that existed in the Glorious Muslim days where scientific investigation was encouraged and where freedom of thought was highly valued.  Ibn Sina lived in the 11th century of the Christian era.  Among his most important works in medicine was called Qanoon fi Altib which is Canon in Medicine which was composed of five volumes covering subjects such as: physiology, hygiene, pathology and therapeutics.  According to George Sarton “for six hundred years this Canon in Medicine by Ibn Sina remained as the supreme authority in medicine.”  And “it was the basis of all medical studies in all French and Italian universities.  In fact it is surprising to notice that some of the works of ibn-Sina in medicine were translated and used in European universities as late as the 18th century and according to some historians as late as the early19th century.  This is almost 800 years after his death.  He also wrote a pharmacopeia which included 760 drugs and how they can be prepared which reflected the excellence that Muslim scientists achieved in Chemistry and its application in Pharmacology.


Host:  When did Muslims get involved in surgery?


Jamal Badawi:

They got involved in surgery as early as the 11th century.  They may have had earlier involvement but this is the time when they have historical accounts of surgery to extract cataract by extracting the crystalline lens.  They were also able to treat hemorrhages and they were particularly skillful in the use of cauterization.  Among the most famous surgeons in the entire Middle Ages is Abu al-Qasim Khalaf Ibn al-Abbas whose name is adulterated in English to Abulcasis.  He lived in Cordoba in Muslim Spain under Muslim rule towards the end of the 11th century and early 12th century.  Abulcasis Sarton in his first volume (pg. 699) says that “he exerted a very deep influence upon the development of European surgery down to the Renaissance.”  John Draper says that “the surgical works by Abulcasis continued to be used in Europe as late as 1497.”  This is the very end of the 15th century.  Abu al-Qasim also wrote a medical encyclopedia composed of thirty sections covering a wide variety of problems but he was was particularly known for his surgical treatment of eyes, ears and teeth.  At the time they did not have separation between dental and general medicine.  In the writings of Averroes (a doctor and philosopher) during the 12th century he gives illustrations of sections of the brain and eyes.  He also shows the nerves in the eyes and some of the surgical instruments used by some of the Muslim surgeons.


Host:  Most people believe that anesthetics are relatively new in the field of medicine yet you are mentioning surgeries in those early times; what did physicians use to render their patients unconscious?


Jamal Badawi:

There is clear evidence that they were able to do this because one can not go through some of these surgeries without some form of anesthesia.  According to John Draper Muslim physicians knew about anesthesia and they used a kind of plant Darnel which they administered gradually until the patient became totally unconscious.


Host:  Are there any other notable contributions?


Jamal Badawi:

My best recommendation would be to refer to the excellent work by George Sarton in The Introduction to the History of Sciences where there are loads of names and their contributions.


In Muslim Spain one of the notable physicians was Ibn Zuhr with the Latinized name of Avenzoar who was the first to write about Bronchotomy and he was outstanding in the treatment of skin diseases (dermatology), dislocations and fractures.


A famouse Muslim physician by the name of Ibn Al-Nafis lived in Syria and wrote a great deal about hygiene and diet.  Some people regard to be a relatively new field but it really is not.  He wrote about diet and health and he demonstrated the circulatory system which was in the 13th century.  This was three hundred years before the Portuguese physician Servetus (also Miguel Servet) was able to demonstrate it as many people think he discovered it when in fact he did not!


Muslim physicians showed interest and competence in Psychopathology.  They were successful in the treatment of psychological issues for some of their patients.


Host:  When was the first hospital built by Muslims?


Jamal Badawi:


When we deal with hospitals we should make a distinction between the two types: mobile hospital and permanent ones.  If we take the mobile hospitals we can say that Muslims used this from as early as the 7th century, during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  For example in the famous battle of The Trench (Alkhandaque) when Muslims were in Madina and the Pagans were going to attack them and the Prophet ordered that they dig a trench around the city in order to defend it.  In preparation for the battle he ordered that a big tent was set up so that casualties and the injured could be taken care of in it.


During the time of peace the concept of mobile hospitals was used effectively.  As a side note recently many viewers in this area were impressed by a recent TV program that followed a medical doctor who took his mobile home and toured remote areas that did not have access to doctors and stayed there for some time and treated the people.  This is a very admirable, humanitarian gesture.  It is not however the product of the 20th century.  In fact Muslims extensively used mobile hospitals to look after the needs of people in rural areas.  In fact in the first half of the tenth century (1000 years ago).  We find that there is historical narrative about a minister, Isa bin-Jarrah, who wrote a letter to the chief physician in Bagdad, Sufyan bin-Thabit, that there were many people in the area who did not have access to health care and that he should send them a mobile hospital, medicines and physicians.  It is stated that there were quite a few of the mobile hospitals touring different places.  Historians describe them as “well equipped hospitals.”  Even though these hospitals were carried on camels they were the best that they could provide since they did not have the mobile homes we have today.  The mobile hospitals included everything from food, drugs, surgical instruments as well as physicians who accompanied  the mobile hospital.  In fact one historian says that during the time of the Siljuk rulers this mobile hospital was so big that one of them required 40 camels to carry its equipments, medicines and other things that they needed.  In addition to this in many of the mosques they used to have a small pharmacy and during the day there would be an attendant so that if someone was passing by during the day who needed medicine one could go and get them.  On Friday, during the congregational prayer when lots of people came to the Mosque, a doctor would come and after the prayer would examine anyone who needed medical attention.  This was the case with the Mosque of Ibn-Tulun in Cairo.

Host:  Can you give a description of the permanent hospitals?


Jamal Badawi:

The permanent hospitals did not take long to be known amongst Muslims.  It is believed that the first one was built in Bagdad during the Caliphate of Walid Ibn-Abd al-Malik during the first half of the 8th century.  Muslim hospitals used to have two wings: one for females and one for males.  In every wings sections which were assigned to a particular disease.  The hospital administration each wing had a chief physician, support staff, nurses, people who cleaned and prepared food.  It was said that many times the Caliph himself would visit spontaneously in order to make sure that people were treated humanely and were looked after properly.  They had the same system we have today with the resident physicians taking shifts and being available all the time in case of an emergency.  The interesting thing is that the hospital was viewed as we view many hospitals today, as a research institute.  Historians say that in Muslim hospitals after doctors finished their rounds they would meet in big lecture halls where the chief physician, other physicians and medical students would have open discussions of cases and how diseases were diagnosed.  These were a very stimulating discussion.  Permanent hospitals spread in Muslim lands and it is said that in Cordoba, Spain alone there were as many as 50 hospitals.  Remember we said that there were nearly one million inhabitants in Cordoba during the glory of its rule.


In many of these hospitals there used to be a small farm attached to it where fresh vegetables, fruits were planted so that people could eat fresh food directly from the hospital land.  Some hospitals had artificial lakes.  This shows that hospitals were not institutions used to process people but as a very comfortable place, with its furnishing, aesthetic beauty and layout.  These hospitals used to have humorous skits played in order to cheer up the sick.  Mustafa al-Sibai wrote that he heard about a special trust in Tripoli of Greater Syria which is now in Lebanon.  This trust supplied funds to hire two people who’s duty was to go around and visit hospitals and talk to each-other about the patients and how well they were doing which takes into account the physiological aspect of treatment.

Host:  How were hospitals paid?


Jamal Badawi:

Treatment for patients was free in all of these hospitals.  This included strangers, travelers and passers by.  When a person entered the hospital was examined in an outside hall if his case was simple and then was directed to the pharmacy where he could get medicine and go home.  Otherwise he would be admitted.  Historians say that even in “The Middle Ages” a person’s name was recorded and had to bathe before he was admitted and his clothes are taken are taken and locked up and he would be given special clean hospital clothing.  Then he would stay there get medical care, food and people would look after his clothes.  If a person starts to heal he is removed to another place which is designated for convalescent patients.  Some historians said that the sign that he was cured was when he would be able to eat a whole loaf of bread and a whole chicken.  When the person was discharged from the hospital, if he was poor he would be given new clothes and in some cases some money which would help him till he fully recovered and was able to earn his own living again.  If the patient happens to die then he is washed, his coffin is prepared for burial.  Another interesting feature was that those who preferred to get their treatment at home were allowed and medicine was sent to them and if they were poor food was sent to them.  In fact, one visitor came in the 12th century to the hospital in Bagdad and wanted to test the treatment and care so he pretended to be sick, was admitted, the doctor measured his pulse.  After about three days of him staying there being fed and taken care of they wrote him a note that “we host people only for three days” which is the Arab custom.  This let him know that they knew he was not sick but it was clear indication of the kind of care given to patients.


| + - | RTL - LTR
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU/GPL License.