World Health Day 7th April: Muslim Heritage in Medicine

by Cem Nizamoglu, Sairah Yassir-Deane Published on: 17th April 2015

4.9 / 5. Votes 154

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

World Health Day is celebrated on 7th April each year to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO (World Health Organisation) in 1948. During Muslim civilisation, various scholars made interesting observations alongside innovative discoveries and inventions concerning healthcare.

Dedicated to the memory of Prof Rabie E. Abdel-Halim (d. 15th April 2015)

BannerFigures of treatment of various illnesses (Source)

Medicine is a science, from which one learns the states of the human body … in order to preserve good health when it exists, and restore it when it is lacking” Ibn Sina from his book The Canon, 11th Century

World Health Day 7th April Muslim Heritage in Medicine
Explanatory drawing of Ibn Nafis that the pulmonary circulation of the blood. National Geographic History No. 130 September 2014, page 75 

World Health Day is celebrated on 7th April each year to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO (World Health Organisation) in 1948. World Health Day provides an opportunity for individuals worldwide to get involved in activities that encourage better health. Each year a theme is allocated that highlights a priority area of public health, this year’s World Health Day theme covers vector-borne diseases. *

During Muslim civilisation, various scholars made interesting observations alongside innovative discoveries and inventions. Amongst these scholars is the celebrated al-Razi (865-925 CE) who penned the renowned treatise entitled Kitab fi Al-Judari wa Al-Hasbah, or “A Treatise on Smallpox and Measles”. This treatise was the first comprehensive text on this disease which remained popular and in great demand for over a millennium, and was also repeatedly translated into many languages.

The science of medicine developed in the Muslim Golden Age is referred to as Muslim, Islamic or Arabic medicine – scholarly works written in Arabic, hence “Arabic medicine”, the lingua franca of Muslim civilisation. Different terms are employed however as Muslim Civilisation was diverse from religious, cultural and ethnic perspectives. In example, the Bakhtishu family (7th – 9th Century) were Assyrian Nestorian Christians who served as the personal physicians of Caliphs for six generations or for instance Ibn Maymun (Maimonides d.1204), an Arab of Jewish descent, who was a well-known physician from Al-Andalus, Muslim governed Spain and list goes on. Thus, reader must note that brackets have been added to the quotations by the composers of this article to show this diversity:

[Physicians from Muslim Civilisation] raised the dignity of the medical profession from that of menial calling to the rank of one of the learned professions; they were the first to introduce systematically arranged illustrations in their medical writings, and also gave us their system of numbering which has all but replaced the cumbersome Roman numerals. They also developed the science of chemistry as applied to medicine, and considerably improved the art of dispensing by the introduction of such elegant preparations as rose and orange water. To the [physicians from Muslim Civilisation] we owe the introduction of the idea of the legal control of qualifying examinations for admission to the medical profession, and though the idea of establishing hospitals did not originate with them, they were responsible for the establishment of a large number of these institutions…” Donald Campbel

Arabian Medicine and its Influence on the Middle Ages:, Volume 1, by Donald Campbell, Routledge, 2013

In those times medical care was free to all. Hospitals were built in many cities across the Muslim World, and cutting-edge treatments such as cataract operations, regular vaccinations, internal stitching, bone setting, and medical eduction in teaching hospitals were part of standard practice, as was the awareness of the importance of nutrition and exercise in maintaining life and preserving health.  

One of the main features of Italian trade with the Near East was the importation of Arabic drugs. [People from Muslim Civilisation] established the first apothecary shops and dispensaries, founded the first medieval school of pharmacy, and wrote great treatises on pharmacology. [People from Muslim Civilisation]  were enthusiastic advocates of the bath, especially in fevers and in the form of the steam bath. Their directions for the treatment of smallpox and measles could scarcely be bettered today. Anesthesia by inhalation was practiced in some surgical operations; hashish and other drugs were used to induce deep sleep. We know of thirty-four hospitals established in Islam in this period, apparently on the model of the Persian academy and hospital at Jund-i-Shapur; in Baghdad the earliest known to us was set up under Harun al-Rashid, and five others were opened there in the tenth century; in 918 we hear of a director of hospitals in Baghdad. The most famous hospital in [Muslim Civilisation] was the bimaristan founded in Damascus in 706; in 978 it had a staff of twenty-four physicians. Medical instruction was given chiefly at the hospitals. No man could legally practice medicine without passing an examination and receiving a state diploma...” Will Durant*

*The Age of Faith: The Story of Civilization, by Will Durant, Simon and Schuster, 2011

Looking after the health and wellbeing of humans is a key experience in the development of humankind. Many civilisations have contributed to the development of healthcare and medicine, and over one thousand years ago, Muslim Civilisation had an influential role in the development of this discipline.

[People from Muslim Civilisation] held high the torch of medical science in all parts of the Islamic world, from the river Oxus to the Guadalquivir. They added a new knowledge at a time when in the European countries a nearly complete darkness had settled. I would like to mention here only that the European ophthalmologists of the middle-ages had no other teachers than the [scholars from Muslim Civilisation].” Julius Hirschberg*

*The History of Ophthalmology, Volume II: The Middle Ages by Julius Hirschberg, J. D. Wayenborgh Verlag, Germany, 1985

Please find below several articles Muslim Heritage would like to share concerning discoveries and inventions scholars from Muslim civilisation undertook regarding vector-borne disease study, prevention, restraint and cure:

An Obituary: Professor Rabie El-Said Abdel-Halim by Salim Al-Hassani

We have just received the sad news of the passing of Professor Rabie El-Said Abdel-Halim. He passed away in his sleep this morning 15th April 2015 Wednesday. May he rest in peace, and may his family find solace and ease in his passing.


Medical Books on Healthy Living from Muslim Civilisation by Cem Nizamoglu

If you think medical advice on healthy living – good nutrients, exercise and stress free existence is a modern medical practice, you might want to think again and join us to discover 5 medical books from 1,000 years ago that explored those exact topics.


Historiography of Science and Medicine: Balancing Scholarship with Public Engagement by William R. Shea

In recent years, here at Fez and all over the world, distinguished scholars have rediscovered the immense importance of Islamic medicine which preserved, systematized and developed the medical knowledge of classical Antiquity. From the seventh century onwards, and for over 1000 years, Islamic physicians remained the main authority throughout the whole of Europe.


Ibn al-Nafis, the Pulmonary Circulation, and The Islamic Golden Age by John B. West

Ibn al-Nafis (1213-1288) was an Arab physician who made several important contributions to the early knowledge of the pulmonary circulation. He was the first person to challenge the long-held contention of the Galen School that blood could pass through the cardiac interventricular septum, and in keeping with this he believed that all the blood that reached the left ventricle passed through the lung. He also stated that there must be small communications or pores [manafidh in Arabic] between the pulmonary artery and vein, a prediction that preceded by 400 years the discovery of the pulmonary capillaries by Marcello Malpighi. Ibn al-Nafis and another eminent physiologist of the period, Avicenna (ca. 980-1037), belong to the long period between the enormously influential school of Galen in the 2nd century, and the European scientific Renaissance in the 16th century. This is an epoch often given little attention by physiologists but is known to some historians as the Islamic Golden Age. Its importance is briefly discussed here.


Albucasis: A Landmark for Arabic and European Surgery by Maria Do Sameiro Barroso

This article presents Abu’l-Qasim Khalaf ibn ‘Abbas al-Zaharawi, Arabic أبو القاسم خلف بن عباس الزهراوي, Latin Albucasis (936-1013 A.D.), one on the most outstanding Arabic physicians and the most remarkable Arabic surgeon. His work had a strong impact in middle ages. Greek-Roman surgery had almost ceased to be practiced, in the Western world, after Paul of Aegina (625-690 A.D.), the last Byzantine compiler. Albucasis took for himself the task of making of surgery an honorable art. He recovered ancient surgical texts from damaged scrolls, developed, expanded and refined Greek-Roman operations, adding his own pioneer techniques, procedures, and devising his own instruments. His clear and insightful teachings laid the foundations of accurate and safer surgical procedures that were adopted in the following centuries.


Ophthalmologists of the Medieval Islamic World by M. Zafer Wafai

The main purpose of this monograph is to review some of the contributions made by ophthalmologists from Muslim civilisation between the 9th century CE (early 3rd century AH) and the late 14th century CE (middle 7th century AH). The work is based upon my personal effort to collect microfilms and photocopies of Arabic manuscripts from public libraries in Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Rome, Paris, London, and El Escorial in Spain. The late Professor M. Rawwas Qal’aji and I had the opportunity to edit most of these manuscripts and publish them through different organisations.


Ibn Sina’s The Canon of Medicine by Cem Nizamoglu

The Sheikh al-Ra’is Sharaf al-Mulk Abu ‘Ali al-Husayn b. ‘Abd Allah b. al-Hasan b. ‘Ali Ibn Sina, in Latin he is know as Avicenna and his most famous works are those on philosophy and medicine. His philosophical views have engaged the attention of Western thinkers over several centuries, and his books have been among the most important sources in philosophy. In medicine, his encyclpedic book, al-Qanun (The Canon) – Al Qanun Fi Al-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine)- was translated into Latin towards the end of the twelfth century CE, and became a reference source for medical studies in the universities of Europe until the end of the seventeenth century.


Obesity: 1000 years ago by Rabie El-Said Abdel-Halim

I enjoyed Richard Barnett’s Historical Keywords piece on obesity (May 28, p 1843).[1] More clarification is needed regarding his statement that “obesity first appears in a medical context in Thomas Venner’s Via Recta (1620)”.


Ottoman Music Therapy by Nil Sari

Music has been used as a mean of therapy through the centuries to counter all kinds of disorders by various peoples. Physicians and musicians in the Ottoman civilization were aware of the music therapy in continuation of previous Muslim similar practices. There are numerous manuscripts and pamphlets on the influence of sound on man and the effect of music in healing, both in works on medicine and music. Ideas of Al-Farabi, Al-Razi and Ibn Sina on music were followed by several Ottoman physicians. This article presents a study of music as a therapeutic mean by Ottoman medical authors, and presents comprehensive information on their use of the effects of music on man’s mind and body.


The role of Ibn Sina (Avicenna)’s Medical Poem in the transmission of medical knowledge to medieval Europe by Rabie E Abdel-Halim

Were you aware that in the Medieval Islamic world, celebrated scientists such as Ibn Sina used to relay their teachings through  poetry? Poems structure and rhythm  aided the process of transmitting and memorising scientific and medical knowledge passed from teacher to student and rest of society. This article explores Ibn Sina’s (poem) Al-Urjuzah Fi Al-Tibb which consists of 1326 meticulously classified verses, and is considered as a poetic summary of his encyclopaedic textbook, “The Canon of Medicine”. Its popularity was widespread in the East and later in Europe  through Gerard of Cremona’s translation. As a result, it was said to be one of the most famous medical treatises in Europe, widely used in the universities of Salerno, Montpellier, Bologna and Paris up until the 17th century.


Women Dealing with Health during the Ottoman Reign by Nil Sari

In the history of Islamic civilization, many hospitals were founded by women, either as wives, daughters or mothers of sultans. All health personnel were male at these hospitals. In the Ottoman period, the female patients were treated either at their homes or at the residences of the medical practitioners until the 19th century. This feature somewhat explains the rich varieties of females practicing medicine both in and outside the Ottoman palace. In this article, Professor Nil Sari, provides information on the various medical practices dedicated to female patients under the Ottomans.


Women’s Contribution to Classical Islamic Civilisation: Science, Medicine and Politics by Salim Al-Hassani

While there are numerous works on the role of Muslim women in jurisprudence (fiqh) and literature and there are also studies on Muslim women in education and in medicine- although on a much smaller scale-, few sources mention the role of Muslim women in the development of science and technology. There are isolated references that mention some of the famous women who had a role in advancing science and who established charitable, educational and religious institutions. Some examples are: Zubayda who pioneered a most ambitious project of digging wells and building service stations all along the pilgrimage route from Baghdad to Mecca, Sutayta who was a mathematician and an expert witness in courts, Dhayfa Khatun who excelled in management and statesmanship, Fatima al-Fehri who founded the Qarawiyin mosque and university in Fez, and the astrolabe maker Al-‘Ijliya, the rulers and queens Sitt al-Mulk, Shajarat al-Durr, Raziya of Delhi, and Amina of Zaria. In view of the growing importance of the subject of gender and women in society, this report presents what is currently known about some famous Muslim women, in the hope of initiating debate and starting the process of unearthing what could be a most significant find.


Medieval Islamic Medicine by Peter E. Pormann and Emilie Savage-Smith

The book provides a new analysis that takes a fresh approach to the history of medical care in the lands of Islam during the medieval period (c. 650–1500). Drawing on numerous sources, many previously unpublished, the authors explore the development of medicine across the social spectrum, comparing and contrasting medical theories and treatises with evidence of actual practices, as well as folkloric and magical medical traditions. It is the story of contact and cultural exchange across countries and creeds, affecting many people from kings to the common crowd. In addition to being fascinating in its own right, medieval Islamic medicine formed the roots from which modern Western medicine arose. Contrary to the stereotypical picture, it was not simply a conduit for Greek ideas, but a venue for innovation and change.


Medicine in the Middle Ages: New Insights and a Call for Further Research by Rabie E Abdel-Halim

[Proceedings of the conference 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World organised by FSTC, London, 25-26 May 2010]. Aiming at restoring historical continuity to the currently available knowledge on medicine in the Middle Ages, the article summarizes some results from Prof. Abdel-Halim’s extensive primary-source studies of the original Arabic works of ten medieval Islamic medical scholars who lived and practiced between the 9th and 13th centuries and whose works represented original contributions to the progress of anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine and surgery. The article also highlights the importance of continuing research in this field, for the reason that the investigation about the transmission and translation movements that occurred during the Middle Ages are bound to emphasize the universality of knowledge and unity of mankind. Such an assumption will certainly boost cultural inter-appreciation around the world and help to strengthen mutual understandings between the West and the East and, thus, nurture the interaction between different faiths and various civilisations.


A Culture Devoted to Healing by Glen M. Cooper

Muslim Contributions to the Medical Sciences A Tribute to Dr Rabie E. Abdel-Halim


A Medical Classic: Al-Razi’s Treatise on Smallpox and Measles

Kitab fi Al Jadari wa Al Hasaba authored by the Muslim physician Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (d. ca. 925) is one of the books that remained popular and in great demand for over a millennium, and was also repeatedly translated into many languages.

Read more >>>

Al-Razi on Smallpox and Measles

This article by Dr. Abdulnasser Kaadan shows that as early as the 9th century, the well known Muslim physician al-Razi described, in his book Kitab al-Jadari wa ‘l-Hasba (The Book on Smallpox and Measles), the symptoms of smallpox and measles.

Read more >>>

Al-Razi the Medical Scholar

Al-Razi was “a writer of rare and incredible productiveness as well as the greatest clinician of Islam.” The great works of Al-Razi are of immense significance in the study of medicine.


Food as Medicine in Muslim Civilization

The subject of food and diet was very essential in the Islamic Cuisine. Both of them were very important in the most of the medical manuscripts in the Ottoman world. Balanced diet was also important rule for healthy life.


Highly Valued Virtues of Classical Ottoman Turkish Medical Ethics: A View From Past to Future

Virtues such as modesty, contentedness, fidelity and hopefulness expected from a physician must be perceived as general criteria of ethical standards, since principles are also the criteria for the preference of values, in a sense.


Ibn Zuhr and the Progress of Surgery

This study of the original Arabic edition of the book Al-Taysir fi ‘l-Mudawat wa’l-Tadbir (Book of Simplification Concerning Therapeutics and Diet) written by the Muslim physician Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar, 1093-1162 CE) aims…


Lady Montagu and the Introduction of Smallpox Inoculation to England

The English aristocrat and writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) is today remembered particularly for her letters from Turkey, an early example of a secular work by a Western woman about the Muslim Orient.


Medical Sciences in the Islamic Civilization

The medical sciences and related fields have enjoyed great peaks in achievement through Muslim scholarship, which raised both standards of practice and the status of the physician. This article delves…


image alt text

A parade of surgeons, on the left side. Ottoman miniature painting, from the Surname-i Vehbi (1720) at the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul.

  • Treat observing prudence and findings
  • Do not spoil the temperament by lack of knowledge
  • Behave as a guide of health
  • Do not be a cause of illness
  • Treat in accordance with medical rules
  • Do not sacrifice people for the sake of experiment
  • Do not shed blood ignorantly with a lancet
  • Do not be a robber of dear life
  • If his/her syrup relieves the humors
  • It balances the contrariness of nature
  • So do all the physicians of the time
  • Most are ignorant and don’t know qualities
  • If not necessary do not trouble the body
  • Do not make use of the body as if it was a guinea pig’

from Hayriyye-i Nabi, 17th Century

…and many more

4.9 / 5. Votes 154

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap