Medicine in the medieval Islamic world

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This article is about Historic practice of "Rational medicine". For Islam in medicine, see Prophetic medicine. For the contemporary practice, see Unani.
A Latin copy of the Canon of Medicine, dated 1484, located at the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

In the history of medicine, Islamic medicine, Arabic medicine, Greco-Arabic and Greco-Islamic refer to medicine developed in the Islamic Golden Age, and written in Arabic, the lingua franca of Islamic civilization. The emergence of Islamic medicine came about through the interactions of the indigenous Arab tradition with foreign influences.[1] Translation of earlier texts was a fundamental building block in the formation of Islamic medicine and the tradition that has been passed down.[1]

Latin translations of Arabic medical works had a significant influence on the development of medicine in the high Middle Ages and early Renaissance, as did Arabic texts which translated the medical works of earlier cultures.[2]

The mind-body connection is inherent to Islamic medicine, whose foundations are Imaan (faith) and Tawakkul (trust). According to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad: "There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its remedy." (Bukhari).[3] Indeed, this lay the foundations for early medical science, for "the Prophet not only instructed sick people to take medicine, but he himself invited expert physicians for this purpose".[4] Around the ninth century, the Islamic medical community began to develop and utilize a system of medicine based on scientific analysis.[5] The importance of the health sciences to society was emphasized, and the early Muslim medical community strived to find ways to care for the health of the human body. Medieval Islam developed hospitals, expanded the practice of surgery. Important medical thinkers and physicians of this time were Al-Razi (Rhazes) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Their knowledge on medicine was recorded in books that were influential in medical schools throughout Muslim world and Europe, and Ibn Sina in particular (under his Latinized name Avicenna) was also influential on the physicians of later medieval Europe. Throughout the medieval Islamic world, medicine was included under the umbrella of natural philosophy, due to the continued influence of the Hippocratic Corpus and the ideas of Aristotle and Galen. The Hippocratic Corpus was a collection of medical treatises attributed to the famous Greek physician Hippocrates of Cos (although it was actually composed by different generations of authors). The Corpus included a number of treatises which greatly influenced medieval Islamic medical literature.


Some consider the label "Arab-Islamic" as historically inaccurate, arguing it does not appreciate the rich diversity of scholars who contributed to Islamic science, many of whom were neither Arab nor Muslim.[6][7]


Medicine was a central part of medieval Islamic culture. Responding to circumstances of time and place, Islamic physicians and scholars developed a large and complex medical literature exploring, analyzing, and synthesizing the theory and practice of medicine.[8] Islamic medicine was initially built on tradition, chiefly the theoretical and practical knowledge developed in Arabia and was known at Muhammad's time, ancient Hellenistic medicine such as Unani, ancient Indian medicine such as Ayurveda, and the ancient Iranian Medicine of the Academy of Gundishapur. The works of ancient Greek and Roman physicians Hippocrates,[9] Galen and Dioscorides[9] also had a lasting impact on Islamic medicine.[10] Ophthalmology has been described as the most successful branch of medicine researched at the time, with the works of Ibn Al-Haitham remaining an authority in the field until early modern times.[11]

Medical ethics[edit]

The earliest surviving Arabic work on medical ethics is Ishaq ibn 'Ali al-Ruhawi's Adab al-Tabib ("Practical Ethics of the Physician" or "Practical Medical Deontology") and was based on the works of Hippocrates and Galen.[7] Al-Ruhawi regarded physicians as "guardians of souls and bodies", and wrote twenty chapters on various topics related to medical ethics.[12]

Evan Mohammed appreciated a scientific knowledge of medicine and in the Koran stated: "He who restored life to a man shall be accounted as if he had restored life to humanity." (Koran, Chap 5, v 35. ) [13] Although with the growth of Islam many folkloric practices were attacked, medicine itself was not called into question since, Islam taught that: "God sends down no malady without also sending down with it a cure." [14] Thus, to the Moslem, the study of medicine was an act of piety.[13]


The first encyclopedia of medicine in Arabic language[15] was by Persian scientist Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari's Firdous al-Hikmah ("Paradise of Wisdom"), written in seven parts, c. 860. Al-Tabari, a pioneer in the field of child development, emphasized strong ties between psychology and medicine, and the need for psychotherapy and counseling in the therapeutic treatment of patients. His encyclopedia also discussed the influence of Sushruta and Chanakya on medicine, including psychotherapy.[16][verification needed]

Major contributors to Muslim medicine[edit]

A manuscript of Al-Risalah al-Dhahabiah by Ali al-Ridha, the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims. The text says:"Golden dissertation in medicine which is sent by Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha, peace be upon him, to al-Ma'mun.

The art of healing was dead, Galen revived it; it was scattered and dis-arrayed, Razi re-arranged and re-aligned it; it was incomplete, Ibn Sinna perfected it.[17]

Ali ibn Mousa al-Ridha[edit]

Ali ibn Mousa al-Ridha, the eighth Imam of shia (765-818), was at the top of the scientists of his time in medical science, and his treatise in medicine is regarded as most precious Islamic literature in the science of medicine. It has been called the Golden Dissertation.[18][19]

Ali ibn al-'Abbas al-Majusi[edit]

'Ali ibn al-'Abbas al-Majusi (died 994 AD), also known as Haly Abbas, was famous for the Kitab al-Maliki translated as the Complete Book of the Medical Art and later, more famously known as The Royal Book. This book was translated by Constantine and was used as a textbook of surgery in schools across Europe.[20] One of the greatest contributions Haly Abbas made to medical science was his description of the capillary circulation found within the Royal Book.[13]

Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi[edit]

Zakariya Razi, commonly known as Rhazes, was a Persian physician, alchemist and chemist, philosopher, scholar, and a prominent figure in Islamic Golden Age. He was the chief surgeon in many hospitals in the cities of Rey and Baghdad, and he became an advisor to caliphs and rulers of the time.[21] Thanks to his authority and achievements in medicine, he was considered as the father of Islamic medicine, "the greatest physician of the Muslim World",[21] as well as a respected philosopher. He believed in the existence of God and the soul but rejected prophetically revealed religion and ritualism, believing instead that anyone could use reason to understand the world.[22]

He is known for separating the "science of physic"[21] into two different aspects: physical and spiritual. The physical dealt with the "physiological diseases"[21] while the latter dealt with the spiritual self. He felt that in order to completely understand the science of the body, a doctor needed to be a master of both the physical and spiritual knowledge regarding the body.[21] Al-Razi was also interested in medical ethics, about which he wrote Ahlaq al-Tabeeb.[21] In Ahlaq Al-Tabeeb (Medical Ethics) al-Razi wrote about the importance of morality in medicine. He presented the first model for ethics in Islamic medicine. He felt that it was important not only for the physician to be an expert in his field, but also to be a role model. His ideas on medical ethics were divided into three concepts: the physician's responsibility to patients and to self, and also the patients’ responsibility to physicians.[21]

In addition to being a famous physician, al-Razi is known for being an encyclopedic scholar,[17] compiling more than 200 works during his lifetime, half of them on medicine. He wrote the Comprehensive Book of Medicine in the 9th century. The Large Comprehensive was the most sought after of all his compositions, in which Rhazes recorded clinical cases of his own experience and provided very useful recordings of various diseases. Al-Razi was "the first of the (physicians of medieval Islam) to treat medicine in a comprehensive and encyclopedic manner, surpassing probably in voluminousness Galen himself...Rhazes is deservedly remembered as having first described small-pox and measles in an accurate manner".[23]

The kitab-al Hawi fi al-tibb (The Comprehensive book of medicine, Continens Liber, The Virtuous Life) was one of his largest works, a collection of medical notes that al-Razi made throughout his life in the form of extracts from his reading and observations from his own medical experience.[24][25][26][27] In its published form, it consists of 23 volumes. Each volume deals with specific parts or diseases of the body, although the groupings of ailments are often idiosyncratic.[24] Al-Hawi remained a textbook on medicine in most European universities, regarded until the seventeenth century as the most comprehensive work ever written by a medical man.[17]

al-Mansuri (Liber almansoris, Liber medicinalis ad almansorem) was written for "the Samanid prince Abu Salih al-Mansur ibn Ishaq, governor of Rayy."[28][29] It consists of ten books based mainly on Greek science. It was a prescribed textbook for medical students for centuries.[17] "The ninth section of the book, a detailed discussion of medical pathologies of the body from head to toe, became particularly famous and circulated in autonomous Latin translations as the Liber Nonus."[29][30]

Another work of al-Razi is called the Kitab Tibb al-Muluki (Regius). This book covers the treatments and cures of diseases and ailments, through dieting. It is thought to have been written for the noble class who were known for their gluttonous behavior and who frequently became ill with stomach diseases.

Other works include A Dissertation on the causes of the Coryza which occurs in the spring when roses give forth their scent, a tract in which al-Razi discussed why it is that one contracts coryza or common cold by smelling roses during the spring season,[17] and Bur’al Sa’a (Instant cure) in which he named medicines which instantly cured certain diseases.[17]

Abu-Ali al-Husayn ibn Abdullah ibn-Sina[edit]

Ibn Sina, more commonly known in west as Avicenna was a Persian polymath and physician of the tenth and eleventh centuries. He was known for his scientific works, but especially his writing on medicine.[31] He has been described as the "Father of Early Modern Medicine".[32] Ibn Sina is credited with many varied medical observations and discoveries, such as recognizing the potential of airborne transmission of disease, providing insight into many psychiatric conditions, recommending use of forceps in deliveries complicated by fetal distress, distinguishing central from peripheral facial paralysis and describing guinea worm infection and trigeminal neuralgia.[33] He is credited for writing two books in particular: his most famous, al-Canon fi al Tibb (The Canon of Medicine), and also The Book of Healing. His other works cover subjects including angelology, heart medicines, and treatment of kidney diseases.[31]

Avicenna’s medicine became the representative of Islamic medicine mainly through the influence of his famous work al-Canon fi al Tibb (The Canon of Medicine).[31] The book was originally used as a textbook for instructors and students of medical sciences in the medical school of Avicenna.[31] The book is divided into 5 volumes: The first volume is a compendium of medical principles, the second is a reference for individual drugs, the third contains organ-specific diseases, the fourth discusses systemic illnesses as well as a section of preventative health measures, and the fifth contains descriptions of compound medicines.[33] The Canon was highly influential in medical schools and on later medical writers.[31]

Medical contributions from Medieval Islam[edit]

Human anatomy and physiology[edit]

It is claimed that an important advance in the knowledge of human anatomy and physiology was made by Ibn al-Nafis, but whether this was discovered via human dissection is doubtful because "al-Nafis tells us that he avoided the practice of dissection because of the shari'a and his own 'compassion' for the human body".[34][35]

The movement of blood through the human body was thought to be known due to the work of the Greek physicians.[36] However, there was the question of how the blood flowed from the right ventricle of the heart to the left ventricle, before the blood is pumped to the rest of the body.[36] According to Galen in the 2nd century, blood reached the left ventricle through invisible passages in the septum.[36] By some means, Ibn al-Nafis, a 13th-century Syrian physician, found the previous statement on blood flow from the right ventricle to the left to be false.[36] Ibn al-Nafis discovered that the ventricular septum was impenetrable, lacking any type of invisible passages, showing Galen’s assumptions to be false.[36] Ibn al-Nafis discovered that the blood in the right ventricle of the heart is instead carried to the left by way of the lungs.[36] This discovery was one of the first descriptions of the pulmonary circulation,[36] although his writings on the subject were only rediscovered in the 20th century,[37] and it was William Harvey's later independent discovery which brought it to general attention.[38]

According to the Ancient Greeks, vision was thought to a visual spirit emanating from the eyes that allowed an object to be perceived.[36] The 11th century Iraqi scientist Ibn al-Haytham, also known as Al-hazen in Latin, developed a radically new concept of human vision.[36] Ibn al-Haytham took a straight forward approach towards vision by explaining that the eye was an optical instrument.[36] The description on the anatomy of the eye led him to form the basis for his theory of image formation, which is explained through the refraction of light rays passing between 2 media of different densities.[36] Ibn al-Haytham developed this new theory on vision from experimental investigations.[36] In the 12th century, his Book of Optics was translated into Latin and continued to be studied both in the Islamic world and in Europe until the 17th century.[36]

Ahmad ibn Abi al-Ash’ath, a famous physician from Mosul, Iraq, described the physiology of the stomach in a live lion in his book al-Quadi wa al-muqtadi.[39] He wrote:

“When food enters the stomach, especially when it is plentiful, the stomach dilates and its layers get stretched...onlookers thought the stomach was rather small, so I proceeded to pour jug after jug in its throat…the inner layer of the distended stomach became as smooth as the external peritoneal layer. I then cut open the stomach and let the water out. The stomach shrank and I could see the pylorus…"[39]

Ahmad ibn Abi al-Ash’ath observed the physiology of the stomach in a live lion in 959. This description preceded William Beaumont by almost 900 years, making Ahmad ibn al-Ash’ath the first person to initiate experimental events in gastric physiology.[39]

According to Galen, in his work entitled De ossibus ad tirones, the lower jaw consists of two parts and it can be proven by the fact that it disintegrates in the middle when cooked.[7] Al-Baghdadi[disambiguation needed], while on a visit to Egypt, encountered many skeletal remains of those “who had died from starvation or had been eaten by their fellows” near Cairo.[7] He examined the skeletons and established that the mandible consists of one piece, not two as Galen had taught.[7] He wrote in his work Al-Ifada w-al-Itibar fi al_Umar al Mushahadah w-al-Hawadith al-Muayanah bi Ard Misr, or “Book of Instruction and Admonition on the Things Seen and Events Recorded in the Land of Egypt”:[7]

What I saw of this part of the corpses convinced me that the bone of the lower jaw is all one, with no joint nor suture. I have repeated the observation a great number of times, in over two thousand heads…I have been assisted by various different people, who have repeated the same examination, both in my absence and under my eyes...[7]

Unfortunately, Al-Baghdadi’s discovery was ignored by any medical superiors or literature after his time. This was probably because the information was published in a book about the geography of Egypt.[7] The ignorance of this discovery could also have been because the medical establishment was not yet ready to give prominence to observation over the word of ancient authority.[7]


Medical contributions made by Medieval Islam included the use of plants as a type of remedy or medicine. Medieval Islamic physicians used natural substances as a source of medicinal drugs—including Papaver somniferum Linnaeus, poppy, and Cannabis sativa Linnaeus, hemp.[40] In pre-Islamic Arabia, neither poppy nor hemp was known.[40] Hemp was introduced into the Islamic countries in the ninth century from India through Persia and Greek culture and medical literature.[40] The Greek, Dioscorides,[41] who according to the Arabs is the greatest botanist of antiquity, recommended hemp’s seeds to "quench geniture" and its juice for earaches.[40] Beginning in 800 and lasting for over two centuries, poppy use was restricted to the therapeutic realm.[40] However, the dosages often exceeded medical need and was used repeatedly despite what was originally recommended. Poppy was prescribed by Yuhanna b. Masawayh to relieve pain from attacks of gallbladder stones, for fevers, indigestion, eye, head and tooth aches, pleurisy, and to induce sleep.[40] Although poppy had medicinal benefits, Ali al-Tabari explained that the extract of poppy leaves was lethal, and that the extracts and opium should be considered poisons.[40]


The development and growth of hospitals in ancient Islamic society expanded the medical practice to what is currently known as surgery. Surgical procedures were known to physicians during the medieval period because of earlier texts that included descriptions of the procedures.[1] Translation from pre-Islamic medical publishings was a fundamental building block for physicians and surgeons in order to expand the practice. Surgery was uncommonly practiced by physicians and other medical affiliates due to a very low success rate, even though earlier records provided favorable outcomes to certain operations.[1] There were many different types of procedures performed in ancient Islam, especially in the area of ophthalmology.


Bloodletting and cauterization were techniques widely used in ancient Islamic society by physicians, as a therapy to treat patients. These two techniques were commonly practiced because of the wide variety of illnesses they treated. Cauterization, a procedure used to burn the skin or flesh of a wound, was performed to prevent infection and stop profuse bleeding. To perform this procedure, physicians heated a metal rod and used it to burn the flesh or skin of a wound. This would cause the blood from the wound to clot and eventually heal the wound.[42]

Bloodletting, the surgical removal of blood, was used to cure a patient of bad "humours" considered deleterious to one’s health.[42] A phlebotomist performing bloodletting on a patient drained the blood straight from the veins. "Wet" cupping, a form of bloodletting, was performed by making a slight incision in the skin and drawing blood by applying a heated cupping glass. The heat and suction from the glass caused the blood to rise to the surface of the skin to be drained. “Dry cupping”, the placement of a heated cupping glass (without an incision) on a particular area of a patient’s body to relieve pain, itching, and other common ailments, was also used.[42] Though these procedures seem relatively easy for phlebotomists to perform, there were instances where they had to pay compensation for causing injury or death to a patient because of carelessness when making an incision. Both cupping and phlebotomy were considered helpful when a patient was sickly.[42]


Surgery was important in treating patients with eye complications, such as trachoma and cataracts. A common complication of trachoma patients is the vascularization of the tissue that invades the cornea of the eye, which was thought to be the cause of the disease, by ancient Islamic physicians. The technique used to correct this complication was done surgically and known today as peritomy. This procedure was done by "employing an instrument for keeping the eye open during surgery,a number of very small hooks for lifting, and a very thin scalpel for excision."[42] A similar technique in treating complications of trachoma, called pterygium, was used to remove the triangular-shaped part of the bulbar conjunctiva onto the cornea. This was done by lifting the growth with small hooks and then cut with a small lancet. Both of these surgical techniques were extremely painful for the patient and intricate for the physician or his assistants to perform.[42]

In medieval Islamic literature, cataracts were thought to have been caused by a membrane or opaque fluid that rested between the lens and the pupil. The method for treating cataracts in medieval Islam (known in English as couching) was known through translations of earlier publishings on the technique.[42] A small incision was made in the sclera with a lancet and a probe was then inserted and used to depress the lens, pushing it to one side of the eye. After the procedure was complete, the eye was then washed with salt water and then bandaged with cotton wool soaked in oil of roses and egg whites. After the operation, there was concern that the cataract, once it had been pushed to one side, would reascend, which is why patients were instructed to lie on his or her back for several days following the surgery.[42]

Anesthesia and antisepsis[edit]

In both modern society and medieval Islamic society, anesthesia and antisepsis are important aspects of surgery. Before the development of anesthesia and antisepsis, surgery was limited to fractures, dislocations, traumatic injuries resulting in amputation, and urinary disorders or other common infections.[42] Ancient Islamic physicians attempted to prevent infection when performing procedures for a sick patient, for example by washing a patient before a procedure; similarly, following a procedure, the area was often cleaned with “wine, wined mixed with oil of roses, oil of roses alone, salt water, or vinegar water”, which have antiseptic properties.[42] Various herbs and resins including frankincense, myrrh, cassia, and members of the laurel family were also used to prevent infections, although it is impossible to know exactly how effective these treatments were in the prevention of sepsis. The pain-killing uses of opium had been known since ancient times; other drugs including “henbane, hemlock, soporific black nightshade, lettuce seeds” were also used by Islamic physicians to treat pain. Some of these drugs, especially opium, were known to cause drowsiness, and some modern scholars have argued that these drugs were used to cause a person to lose consciousness before an operation, as a modern-day anesthetic would. However, there is no clear reference to such a use before the 16th century.[42]

Muslim scholars introduced mercuric chloride to disinfect wounds.[43]


Many hospitals were developed during the early Islamic era. They were called Bimaristan, which is a Persian word meaning "house [or place] of the sick."[44] The idea of a hospital being a place for the care of sick people was taken from the early Caliphs.[45] The bimaristan is seen as early as the time of Muhammad, and the Prophet's mosque in the city of Madinah held the first Muslim hospital service in its courtyard.[46] During the Ghazwah Khandaq (the Battle of the Trench), Muhammad came across wounded soldiers and he ordered a tent be assembled to provide medical care.[46] Over time, Caliphs and rulers expanded traveling bimaristans to include doctors and pharmacists.

Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik is often credited with building the first bimaristan in Damascus in 707 AD.[47] The bimaristan had a staff of salaried physicians and a well equipped dispensary.[46] It treated the blind, lepers and other disabled people, and also separated those patients with leprosy from the rest of the ill.[46] Some consider this bimaristan no more than a lepersoria because it only segregated patients with leprosy.[47] The first true Islamic hospital was built during the reign of Caliph Harun al-Rashid.[45] The Caliph invited the son of chief physician, Jabril ibn Bukhtishu to head the new Baghdad bimaristan. It quickly achieved fame and led to the development of other hospitals in Baghdad.[45]

Features of bimaristans[edit]

As hospitals developed during the Islamic civilization, specific characteristics were attained. Bimaristans were secular. They served all people regardless of their race, religion, citizenship, or gender.[45] The Waqf documents stated nobody was ever to be turned away.[46] The ultimate goal of all physicians and hospital staff was to work together to help the well-being of their patients.[46] There was no time limit a patient could spend as an inpatient;[47] the Waqf documents stated the hospital was required to keep all patients until they were fully recovered.[45] Men and women were admitted to separate but equally equipped wards.[45][46] The separate wards were further divided into mental disease, contagious disease, non-contagious disease, surgery, medicine, and eye disease.[46][47] Patients were attended to by same sex nurses and staff.[47] Each hospital contained a lecture hall, kitchen, pharmacy, library, mosque and occasionally a chapel for Christian patients.[5][47] Recreational materials and musicians were often employed to comfort and cheer patients up.[47]

The hospital was not just a place to treat patients, it also served as a medical school to educate and train students.[46] Basic science preparation was learned through private tutors, self-study and lectures. Islamic hospitals were the first to keep written records of patients and their medical treatment.[46] Students were responsible in keeping these patient records, which were later edited by doctors and referenced in future treatments.[47]

During this era, physician licensure became mandatory in the Abbasid Caliphate.[47] In 931 AD, Caliph Al-Muqtadir learned of the death of one of his subjects as a result of a physician's error.[5] He immediately ordered his muhtasib Sinan ibn Thabit to examine and prevent doctors from practicing until they passed an examination.[5][47] From this time on, licensing exams were required and only qualified physicians were allowed to practice medicine.[5][47]


The birth of pharmacy as an independent, well-defined profession was established in the early ninth century by Muslim scholars. Al-Biruni states that "pharmacy became independent from medicine as language and syntax are separate from composition, the knowledge of prosody from poetry, and logic from philosophy, for it [pharmacy] is an aid [to medicine] rather than a servant". Sabur (d. 869) wrote the first text on pharmacy.[48]

Women and medicine[edit]

During the medieval time period Hippocratic treaties became used widespread by medieval physicians, due the treaties practical form as well as their accessibility for medieval practicing physicians.[49] Hippocratic treaties of Gynecology and Obstetrics were commonly referred to by Muslim clinicians when discussing female diseases.[49] The Hippocratic authors associated women’s general and reproductive health and organs and functions that were believed to have no counterparts in the male body.[49]


The Hippocratics blamed the womb for many of the women’s health problems, such as schizophrenia.[49] They described the womb as an independent creature inside the female body; and, when the womb was not fixed in place by pregnancy, the womb which craves moisture, was believed to move to moist body organs such as the liver, heart, and brain.[49] The movement of the womb was assumed to cause many health conditions most particularly that of menstruation was also considered essential for maintaining women’s general health.

Many beliefs regarding women’s bodies and their health in the Islamic context can be found in the religious literature known as "medicine of the prophet." These texts suggested that men stay away from women during their menstrual periods, “for this blood is corrupt blood,” and could actually harm those who come in contact with it.[50] Much advice was given with respect to the proper diet to encourage female health and in particular fertility. For example: quince makes a woman’s heart tender and better; incense will result in the woman giving birth to a male; the consumption of water melons while pregnant will increase the chance the child is of good character and countenance; dates should be eaten both before childbirth to encourage the bearing of sons and afterwards to aid the woman’s recovery; parsley and the fruit of the palm tree stimulates sexual intercourse; asparagus eases the pain of labor; and eating the udder of an animal increases lactation in women.[51] In addition to being viewed as a religiously significant activity, sexual activity was considered healthy in moderation for both men and women. However, the pain and medical risk associated with childbirth was so respected that women who died while giving birth could be viewed as martyrs.[52] The use of invocations to God, and prayers were also a part of religious belief surrounding women's health, the most notable being Muhammad's encounter with a slave-girl whose scabbed body he saw as evidence of her possession by the Evil Eye. He recommended that the girl and others possessed by the Eye use a specific invocation to God in order to rid themselves of its debilitating effects on their spiritual and physical health.[53]


It has been written that male guardians such as fathers and husbands did not consent to their wives or daughters being examined by male practitioners unless absolutely necessary in life or death circumstances.[54] The male guardians would just as soon treat their women themselves or have them be seen by female practitioners for the sake of privacy.[54] The women similarly felt the same way; such is the case with pregnancy and the accompanying processes such as child birth and breastfeeding, which were solely reliant upon advice given by other women.[54] The role of women as practitioners appears in a number of works despite the male dominance within the medical field. Two female physicians from Ibn Zuhr's family served the Almohad ruler Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Mansur in the 12th century.[55] Later in the 15th century, female surgeons were illustrated for the first time in Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu's Cerrahiyyetu'l-Haniyye (Imperial Surgery).[56] The treatment provided of women by men was justified to some, whom were believers, through the ideals of the Prophetic medicine (al-tibba alnabawi) other wise known as "medicine of the prophet" (tibb al-nabi) which provided the argument that men can treat women, and women men, even if this means they must expose the patients genitals in necessary circumstances.[54]

Female doctors, Midwives, and wet nurses have all been mentioned in literature of the time period.[57]

Role of Christians[edit]

A hospital and medical training center existed at Gundeshapur. The city of Gundeshapur was founded in 271 by the Sassanid king Shapur I. It was one of the major cities in Khuzestan province of the Persian empire in what is today Iran. A large percentage of the population were Syriacs, most of whom were Christians. Under the rule of Khosrau I, refuge was granted to Greek Nestorian Christian philosophers including the scholars of the Persian School of Edessa (Urfa)(also called the Academy of Athens), a Christian theological and medical university. These scholars made their way to Gundeshapur in 529 following the closing of the academy by Emperor Justinian. They were engaged in medical sciences and initiated the first translation projects of medical texts.[58] The arrival of these medical practitioners from Edessa marks the beginning of the hospital and medical center at Gundeshapur.[59] It included a medical school and hospital (bimaristan), a pharmacology laboratory, a translation house, a library and an observatory.[60] Indian doctors also contributed to the school at Gundeshapur, most notably the medical researcher Mankah. Later after Islamic invasion, the writings of Mankah and of the Indian doctor Sustura were translated into Arabic at Baghdad.[61] Daud al-Antaki was one of the last generation of influential Arab Christian writers.


An illustration by Arthur Rackham from the 1001 Nights depicting medieval physicians.

Medieval Islam’s receptiveness to new ideas and heritages helped it make major advances in medicine during this time, adding to earlier medical ideas and techniques, expanding the development of the health sciences and corresponding institutions, and advancing medical knowledge in areas such as surgery and understanding of the human body, although many Western scholars have not fully acknowledged its influence (independent of Roman and Greek influence) on the development of medicine.[36]

Through the establishment and development of hospitals, ancient Islamic physicians were able to provide more intrinsic operations to cure patients, such as in the area of ophthalmology. This allowed for medical practices to be expanded and developed for future reference.

The contributions of the two major Muslim philosophers and physicians, Al-Razi and Ibn Sina, provided a lasting impact on Muslim medicine. Through their compilation of knowledge into medical books they each had a major influence on the education and filtration of medical knowledge in Islamic culture.

Additionally there were some iconic contributions made by women during this time, such as the documentation: of female doctors, physicians, surgeons, wet nurses, and midwives.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Pormann, Peter E.; Savage-Smith, Emilie (2007). Medieval Islamic Medicine. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-2066-4. 
  2. ^ Siraisi, Nancy G. (2001). Medicine and the Italian universities 1250–1600. Leiden: Brill. p. 203. ISBN 90-04-11942-6. 
  3. ^ Rassool, G.Hussein (2014). Cultural Competence in Caring for Muslim Patients. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 90–91. ISBN 978-1-137-35841-7. 
  4. ^ D.o.H. p.50, As-Suyuti’s Medicine of the Prophet p.125
  5. ^ a b c d e Shanks, Nigel J.; Dawshe, Al-Kalai (January 1984). "Arabian medicine in the Middle Ages" (PDF). Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 77 (1): 60–65. PMC 1439563. PMID 6366229. 
  6. ^ Broumand, Behrooz. "The contribution of Iranian scientists to world civilization" (PDF). Arch Iranian Med 2006 9 (3): 288–290. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Prioreschi, Plinio (2001). A History of Medicine: Byzantine and Islamic medicine (1st ed.). Omaha, NE: Horatius Press. p. 394. ISBN 1-888456-04-3. 
  8. ^ National Library of Medicine digital archives.
  9. ^ a b Matthias Tomczak. "Lecture 11: Science, technology and medicine in the Roman Empire.". Science, Civilization and Society (Lecture series). 
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