Scientific and Literary Legacy

It is generally proclaimed that the Muslims after translating Greek science into Arabic language have made no original contribution to the spread of knowledge and sciences. However, after scrutinizing this proposition on the bases of historical evidences a contrary scenario emerges. Muslims not only preserved the Greek science and philosophy but also made original contribution to almost all aspects of these subjects.

It is an established fact that the different sciences especially medical science developed a great deal at the hands of Arabs and Muslims. They flourished it with great zest and zeal and made spectacular achievements and consequently its paramount influence in almost all branches connected with the curative science namely medicine, pharmacy, surgery and organization of hospitals etc.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) laid the foundation for a social order in which every Muslim for that matter every human being was advised to maintain healthy life physically, psychologically, and spiritually. According to Douglas Gutrie, “great advances in medicine made by Muslims of middle age were mainly due to the impact of sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).” After Prophet (pbuh) the four pious Caliphates concentrated their wisdom over making Shari’ah the law of land and to create a society in which all individual lives in dignity, freedom and with option of Allah, the exalted.

During Umayyads the science of medicine reached the pinnacle of its glory. Khalid bin Yazid acquired vast scholarships in chemistry and medicine and wrote several books on them. He is said to have been the first in Islam to translate Greek science into Arabic. Umer II patronized learning and is said to have transferred the schools of medicine from Alexandria to Antioch. With the advent of Abbasids in power the Islamic Empire opened a new era in the domain of science and literature. By the beginning of Abbasid age the many sided cultural influences produced the early phase of the real scientific age of Islamic culture. The science of medicine flourished during the reign of Abbasids. During the reign of Al-Mamun (813-33) the new learning reached its climax. The king created in Baghdad a regular school for translation (Bayat-ul-Hikmah). Harun appointed learned translators of all the nationalities and creeds. Al Mansur called to Baghdad from Jundishapur a Christian physician of Persian origin Jarjis ibni Bakhtyishu who remained in charge of hospital until (756-66). Jarjis came with two of his pupils and remained attached to the court of Abbasid caliphs and exerted a great influence on the progress of Islamic medicine in the eight and ninth century. Jurjis is said to have been the first to translate some medical works into Arabic. Let’s have a glimpse of some of the prominent physicians and their contribution towards medicine.

The most illustrious physician of the ninth century was Abu Bakr Mohammad Ibn Zakariyya Al-Razi. He was the greatest clinician of Middle Ages and one of the great physicians and a prolific author. Sir Thomas Arnold comments in “the Legacy of Islam” that “Rhazes was undoubtedly the greatest physician of Islamic world and one of the greatest physicians of all times”. His most important work is Kitab-ul-Hawi (continence) and Kitab-ul-Mansoor. His works “ sum up the knowledge of Arabs possessed at the time of Greek, Persian and Hindu medicine and adds some fresh contributions, printed when printing was still in its infancy, these medical works of Al-Razi which exercised for centuries a remarkable influence over the minds of Latin world.”

Another great scientist of all times was Ali Hasan Ibn Abdullah Ibni Sina commonly known in the West as Avicenna. He was one of the greatest men this world has ever produced. He was hailed by the scholars as Al-Shaykh al-Rais (The great teacher). In the words of George Sarton, he is the most famous scientist and philosopher of Islam and one of the greatest of all races, places and times. His magnum opus is Al-Qanun fit-Tibb (Canon of Medicine) divided into five parts  deals with a variety of medical subjects, including general medical principles, material medica, specific diseases, the impact of diet, climate and environment on health and medication. Al-Qanun remained a medical Bible in the West for centuries together. About the epoch making authority of Al-Qanoon, Chambers encyclopedia writes: “The Persian Avicenna (989-1036) composed his vast medical encyclopedia or canon (Qanun) which was the chief text book of medicine in the Arabic East Latin West until the 17th century.” His other famous works include Kitab-u-Shifa (the book of healing) the bulk of which was known to late medieval thinkers.

Another important physician and surgeon of 11th century was Abu-ul-Qasim Ibn Abbas al-Zahrawi. He was born at Al-Zahra in the suburb of Cendora (Spain), the centre of Western Muslim Empire. He studied medicine and other sciences with learned scholars of his time, and due to his talents and abilities Hakim II made him his court physician. Ibn Zuhr wrote two important works on medicine, one on dietetics and nutrition and the other on therapeutic and medication. He wrote a book entitled Al-Tasrif which is an encyclopedic work comprising all branches of medicine and surgery. Al-Tasrif the masterpiece of Al-Zahrawi held its place for centuries as the manual of surgery in the Islamic world as well as in Europe.

The most famous and illustrious member of the greatest medical family of the Muslim Spain was Abu Marwan Abd al Malik Ibn Zuhr. He was born at Seville Spain where he wrote his main work Kitab-ul-Taysir. The Taysir is a book on pathology with a collection of prescriptions.  Another book of Ibni Zuhr is “Kitab-ul-Aghzia” (Book of food stuffs) which was written for the first Muwahhid ruler Abd al-Mumin. This book deals with various kinds of food and their use according to seasons, with simple drugs and hygiene. It also shows the usefulness of various bezel stones.

Towards the end of 12th century a familiar botanist Diya-al Din Abdullah Ibni Ahmad Ibn-al-Betar emerged in Malaya in (1197-1249 AD). He is considered as the father of Botany. His main work in the form of complete book of several drugs (Al-Mughni fil adwiya al Mufradah) containing details of 1400 drugs was received by the world of medicine as the extra ordinary medical dictionary.

The greatest physician of 13th century was Ala-ud-Din Abu-ul Hasan, Ali Ibni Abi- Hazm Ibni al-Nafis al-Qurashi who was born in Damascus in 1210 AD and died at the age of eighty. Al-Nafis is remembered for his very original thoughts on pulmonary circulation of blood. Sixteenth and seventeenth century medical men of Europe like William Harvey could do lot of work on blood circulation mainly inspired by Al-Nafis. Ibni Nafis is one of the fore runners of William Harvey and the greatest physiologist of the middle ages in the West.

To sum up, it can be said that Muslims made rich, voluminous and extraordinary contribution in the field of medicine. The intellectual and scientific movement, which blossomed in the Islamic world, played a key role in ushering the Renaissance in Europe.

Dr. Aashiq-ul-Islam teaches at Department of Islamic Studies, GDC Pampore.