Rate this article:
In 2013, the world community of scholars celebrated a millennium after the death in 1013 of the renowned Andalusian physician- surgeon Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis)....
Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi is considered one of the Muslim World’s greatest doctors who excelled in various fields of medicine, such as surgery, pharmacology, anatomy, and pediatrics. He had summed up his medical experience in his huge thirty chapters book Al-Tasrif Li-man ‘Ajaza ‘An al-Ta’alif (The disposal of medical knowledge to he who is not able to get it by himself). To celebrate his work, we compile and republish in this folder articles originally published in www.rabieabdelhalim.com.
The year 2013 was the millennium anniversary of the death of the distinguished surgeon Abul-Qasim Khalaf Ibn Abbas Al-Zahrawi, who lived in the period from 930-1013. However, still little is known about his pivotal role, like other medieval Islamic scholars, not only in preserving and critically evaluating the surgical and medical heritage of the ancient and Greco-Roman civilizations but also in having integrated surgery into scientific medicine through his careful observations, vast personal experience and documented original contributions.
The year 2013 was the millennium anniversary of the death of the distinguished surgeon Abul-Qasim Khalaf Ibn Abbas Al-Zahrawi, who lived in the period from 930-1013. However, still little is known about his pivotal role, like other medieval Islamic scholars, not only in preserving and critically evaluating the surgical and medical heritage of the ancient and Greco-Roman civilizations, but also in having integrated surgery into scientific medicine through his careful observations, vast personal experience and documented original contributions.
Al-Zahrawi was born and raised in Al-Zahra’, a suburb of the town of Qurttoba (Cordova) in Andalucia (now in Spain). It is narrated that his family tree was originally from Al-Ansar of Al-Madina Al-Monawara (now in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). He is known in the Western literature as Albucasis, Abulcasis, Bucasis (Latinized forms of his Arabic nickname Abu al-Qasim).
He was an innovative surgeon who added many original contributions to surgery and medicine. During his lifetime, doctors used to travel from faraway places in order to learn from him. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Europe, he remained a renowned teacher of surgery through his well-known single, practical and encyclopaedic work Al-Tasrif Li-man ‘Ajaza ‘An al-Ta’alif (The disposal of medical knowledge to he who is not able to get it by himself from the other compilations), particularly its 30thvolume (treatise or maqala) devoted to surgery and operative intervention. That volume is a landmark in the history of surgery. It is the first rational and complete illustrated treatment of its subject, and the many surgical procedures and instruments described and illustrated in it do not appear in any other work at or prior to his time. It was translated to Latin in 1150 CE by Gerard of Cremona, thus helping its spread to all of Europe, where it remained, through several famous printings, the most important reference book on surgery until the end of the 18th century. Its first translation to a modern European language was by Lucien Leclerc French version published in Paris in 1861 as La Chirugie d’ Albucasiswith an introduction that, interestingly enough, ended with the closing remark ‘el hamdu Lillah’!
The original Arabic text of the 30th volume of Al-Tasrif was made available with an English translation and a commentary in 1973 through the classic work of Lewis and Spink Albucassis on Surgery and Instruments, published by Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine (London, UK). Another printing of the Arabic text of volume 30 of Al-Tasrif was published in Riyadh in 1993 as Al-Jiraha: Al-Maqala Al-Thalathun, Al-Tasrif Li-man ‘Ajaza ‘An Al-Ta’lif edited by A. al-Naser and A. al-Twaijri, and published by Al-Farazdaq Press, and sixteen years later in Damascus as Kitab Al-Zahrawi fi al-Tibb Li-‘Amal al-Jarrahin, edited by M. Y. Zakoor and published by the Syrian Ministry of Culture.
Furthermore, the operative technique of Al-Zahrawi as documented in the 30th volume of his Al-Tasriftogether with his contributions to the progress of general surgery and its various branches were critically evaluated in several studies performed and published by surgeons interested in the history of medicine during the second half of the last century. A good example of those studies is the work done by Prof. Rabie E. Abdel-Halim at the urology departments of King Abdel-Aziz and King Saud Universities, with results published in the years 1985-2003. In a modest effort to commemorate the millennium anniversary of the death of Al-Zahrawi, it is a great pleasure for the editorial board of the MuslmHeritage.com to republish, in a special memorial page, some of those above-mentioned studies with due acknowledgment to the original publishers and authors. This Millennium Memorial page also includes links to other articles as well as a selected bibliographic list about Al-Zahrawi’s massive contributions to the progress of surgery and other medical sciences.
It is also to be noted that in the published editions of the 30th volume of Al-Tasrif (the operative surgery section of the book), there are still many general and special surgical topics not yet subjected to contemporary evaluation. The volume contains the operative parts of general surgery, pediatric surgery, gynecology and obstetrics as well as orthopedics including, in each entry, the indications, the operative procedures in details, the possible complications and recommended management, in addition to the rest of post-operative care in a style not much different from any current operative surgery manual.
Similarly, although 1000 years had passed since the death of Al-Zahrawi, it was only the 30th volume (maqala) of his book al-Tasrif that became edited and, thus, made available for researchers and academicians. Other than Maqala no. 28 on the preparation of different types of simple drugs, which was the subject of a Latin translation towards the end of the 13th century (the famous pharmaco-chemical Liber Servitoris) followed, like the Latinized 30th maqala, by several printings in various parts of medieval Europe, the other 28 maqalas remained totally inaccessible being in the form of unedited manuscripts dispersed all over the world. However in 1963, Sami Khalaf Hamarneh and Glen Sannedecker, in their classic work A Pharmaceutical View of Abulcasis Al-Zahrawi in Moorish Spain, translated and commented on excerpts of the 25th maqala of Al-Tasrif dealing with the ingredients and manufacturing of ointments (adhan) and its uses in medical treatment, thus raising fresh interest in the medical therapy, material medica and pharmacy aspects of Al-Tasrif, almost overlooked by the widespread fame of the surgical aspects of its 30th maqala. Still, until now, there are 25 more pharmaceutical maqalas in the Al-Tasrif encyclopedia of Al-Zahrawi not yet fully edited or studied.
It is welcomed news, hence, that in 2004 the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences published the first and second maqalas of Al-Zahrawi’s Al-Tasrif as edited by Dr Sobhi Mahmoud Hamami. This is a remarkable step forwards in the study of the anatomical and pathophysiological basis of Al-Zahrawi’s surgical and medical practice as well as the clinical methods he used. Furthermore, the study of those two maqalas will help in identifying the scientific method used by Al-Zahrawi and discovering the reasons behind his ingenuity and originality. All this will open up a multitude of research opportunities that will help to restore continuity to the progress of medicine, surgery and pharmacy as a joint global contribution of the whole world. Phase after phase, the progress circles of medical theory and practice continued to expand. Indeed, as Durant put it,“civilizations are units in a larger whole, whose name is ‘history’; they do not disappear. The past always rolls into the present”.
In the first book (Bab) I spoke of all diseases for which cauterisation is of value, either the actual cautery or that done with caustic medicines; and of their reasons and causes; also the instruments and the shapes of the cauteries. This I set out in chapters from head to heel.
In this book, I shall proceed along the same route so that it will be easy for the enquirer to find what he is looking for. But before I begin this, you ought first to know, my sons, that in this book there is more risk than in the first, which treats of cauterisation. Wherefore, in this matter, there should be greater circumspection. For in the course of the work of which this book treats, there often occurs effusion of the blood upon which life depends, in the opening of a blood vessel or the incision of a tumour or the perforation [drainage] of an abscess or the treatment of a wound or the extraction of an arrow or in the incising for a calculus or similar case; all of which are accompanied by uncertainty and fear; and in most death will supervene.
So I warn you against undertaking any case in which there is any element of doubt to you; for in the exercise of art you will be mobbed by all kinds of persons with all manner of affliction; some being so weary of their sickness that death itself is a relief on the account of the extent of their sufferings and the length of their miseries, their illness being so settled as to presage death. Some will lavish their wealth on you and enrich you, in the hope that they may be curable, when their disease is mortal. You should not assist any of this kind who approach you; let your caution be stronger than your greed and desire for gain and do not embark anything of this kind unless you have positive knowledge, which you judge adequate, about the way of bringing the patient a good outcome. In treating every patient be prescient and foretell the means whereby health may be restored to him. That will help you to obtain renown, glory, fame and praise. May God inspire you, my sons, with His guidance and grant that you hit the mark and succeed; for it is in His hand; there is no God but He.
I have arranged this book in sections as I did with the previous book on cauterisation, from head to heel; so you will find in it what you seek [God willing]”.
Quotation from the Second Bab of the 30th Maqala of Kitab Al-Tasrif Li-man ‘Ajaza ‘An Al –Ta’alif by Al-Zahrawi. Translated from the original Arabic by M. S. Lewis and I. L. Spink, Albucasis on Surgery and Instruments, London, 1973). The bolding is by Rabie E. Abdel-Halim.
Two photos for the front and back of an interesting Al-Zahrawi bronze medal recently acquired from e-Bay yet with no available information on its date or occasion of issuing, neither from the vendor nor from the internet. The front engraving shows Al-Zahrawi holding an instrument in his right hand, perhaps his invented straight catheter. He is surrounded by a group of six persons seated at a slightly lower lever, most probably being his students. In front of one of them is a pot on a stand. It is not clear what the contents are and hence the purpose of the pot cannot be reasonably guessed.
Inscribed on the back of the medal is the following text: “Albucasis (cc. 936 A.D. – 1009 A.D.) He preserved the surgical knowledge of the Greco-Roman culture and transferred it to a reawakened West.” . Although the more accurate date of Al-Zahrawi’s death is 1013 and despite the fact that he was not a mere compiler or just a transferor of knowledge, that medal is worth including with the other material in this Al-Zahrawi Millennium page.
It is very much appreciated if any of the respected visitors who have more information about that medal could kindly contact us..
Al-Zahrawi’s Catheter Plaque:
A memorial plaque commemorating Al-Zahrawi invention of the straight urethral catheter made of silver. A model of the catheter is shown together with the page from an original manuscript of the thirtieth maqala of Kitab Al-Tasrif showing the illustration of a straight catheter and other instruments together with the text describing, in details, the technique of catheterisation. The plaque was presented as a gift to guest speakers at the 18th Saudi Urological Conference held at King Abdel-Aziz University, Jeddah Saudi Arabia (21st-23rd February 2006).
Al-Zahrawi’s Michaab Plaque:
A memorial plaque commemorating Al-Zahrawi invention of the Michaab, a primitive lithotrite he used to crush an impacted urethral stone without the need for cutting. A model of the catheter is shown together with the text in Arabic with an English translation describing the operative technique introduced by Al-Zahrawi’s Tasrif (the Arabic text includes an original illustration for the Michab). The plaque was presented as a gift to guest speakers at the 17th Saudi Urological Conference held at The Military Hospital, Al-Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (7th – 10th March 2005).
I. Links to full-text articles about Al-Zahrawi published by Prof. Rabie Abdelhalim and available at: rabieabdelhalim.com:
II. Links to other full-text articles about Al-Zahrawi previously published by other scholars and available at: MuslimHeritage.com: