Salerno Anno I, № 4, pp. 7-21, 1967


Bologna and Salerno



A great deal has been written about the Schools of Salerno and Bologna. Individual scholars have expressed their opinions based upon arguments or documents which are more or less probative, but the question per se is still open.

It is therefore opportune to quote what Sorbelli wrote about the School of Bologna, which is applicable to Salerno too: "When a school rises spontaneously from the heart of the people, without an explanation or clarification of all the causes, and without a document to show the way, a legend comes to life" (1).

I have already had occasion, at Salerno, to mention the facts and legends regarding the origins of the School although without explaining, except in a hypothetical way, the profound reason that may have led to its formation (2). In fact, with regard to the late Middle Ages, we must consider that perhaps too exaggerated an idea may have been formed of the devastation caused by the Barbarians. They were very far from destroying everything and, once organized, they came back to rebuild. Their laws were favourable to science and studies medicine was very much appreciated.

There is another fact to reveal: The Middle Ages revolved on an axis that we call Christianity and in certain periods Europe enjoyed a spiritual unit that we may look for in vain today. In fact, those who speak of European civilization undoubtedly refer to a particular aspect of spiritual life that appeared from the eleventh century in Western Europe.

It is obvious that a new period began after 1100. "It sounds like a buzz of life, still timid and occult, which will then burst forth in a thunder and lightning of thoughts and works", Carducci.

An when, on looking back, we refer to the successive centuries with the words the Duecento, the Trecento, the Quattrocento and so on, we almost seem to enumerate the successive stages of our evolution and formation in the second millenium after Christ. This prospect is also applicable to all branches of our knowledge, from historical studies to philosophy, literature, the arts and sciences, medicine and to the School of Salerno itself.

Western Europe, or rather, that Europe which in spite of her divisions or diversity tended to be a civilized union, was the result of a gradual amalgamation of the spirit of individual peoples in a universal concept of science and the arts. The phenomenon, however, way be considered in different ways, and there are also those who have come to the opposite point of vie. It is however certain that after such comings and goings the lives of the native peoples and the descendants of the invaders were so closely interwoven by 1100 that it is now impossible to separate their interests and they therefore share in the creation of a common culture.

Before 1100 the various streams of knowledge were not extinguished. It only seems difficult to reach concrete results from such a webb of legendary, distorted or genuine historical facts.

I wanted to take into consideration the influence and relations that Salerno may have had on the medical teaching of the University of Bologna and this I have done.
In 1200, Salerno, like Bologna, Paris and Orleans was a European city and with the above mentioned cities constituted what may be defined as a quadrilateral of culture.

Geoffrey de Vinsauf, Gaufrido di Vinesauf, Gualfredus de Anglia (These are the names by which he is remembered) who in a certain may succeeded in being considered the Horace of the Middle Ages as he wished, was a great expert on the culture of his time and as such he described what might be considered a quadrilateral of culture in 1200:

"In morbis sanat medica virtute Salernum aegros;

in causis Bononia legibus ornat nudos;

Parisius dispensat in artibus illos panes, unde cibat robustos;

Aurelianis educat in eunis auctorum laete tenellos (3).

This learned Englishman, who may have taught the ars dictaminis at Bologna too, evidently considered not only as a result of the experience that comes from culture but also from having travelled much Salerno, Bologna, Paris and Orleans at the essential centres of mediaeval civilization. And to those who have simply glanced at the most varied 13th century manuscripts, that evaluation will seem like a fact which was accepted at the time.

And as such we may say that it was confirmed by Doctor Angelico, St. Thomas of Aquinus, who was a priest at Montecassino and began his studies at the University of Naples finishing them in Paris. In fact in his De virtutibus et vitiis we read: "Quattuor urbes caeteris praeminentes: Parisium in scientiis, Salernum in medicinis, Bononia in legibus, Aurelianis in auctoribus" .

In this way the concept of a city of philosophy, of medicine, law and literature came to be definitely established. The School of Salerno is therefore the exponent of medicine in this period, and it is the most typical and evident exponent. The best then existing was collected and established in a school the medicine of which was secular. What the School of Salerno was, is well known. The literature on this subject is considerable and the studies of De Renzi, Del Gaizo, Henschel, Sudhoff, Haeser, Daremberg, Puccinotti, Pakard, Giacosa, Scalinci, Creutz, Capparoni, Pazzini, Kristeller and many others, even though of different opinions have contributed to enlightening us on general and particular problems. But perhaps already at the beginning of the XIIIth century they reacted against the generalization that I have mentioned. And it must not be forgotten that too rigorous an analysis of manuscripts, which like the tiles of the mosaics of the time —, give life to a certain type of literature, makes, perhaps, too much distinction between the world of the scholars and that of the people, the world of clerics and that of laymen, the Latin world and the rest.

In conclusion, the results of an accurate analysis may preclude the vision of a complex life that beat profoundly in the ancient town and spread throughout Italy and Western Europe.

To understand fully the medical life of Salerno, which appears after 1000, it is necessary to hear the different voices of its teachers, to hear them once more in the dialogue and chorus that they so effectively composed, and to follow their distant echoes. The connection between theory and practice accounts for the name that Salerno had.

Town of medicine, Civitas ippocratica, are synonyms for the School of Salerno but the name Salerno School must not lead us into making vague evaluations. The facts we find spread everywhere relative to Salerno and to her School do not mention famous teachers but excellent doctors who were famous for their cures.

In speaking of Salerno medicine we have come, once more, to the origins, we have come that is to the study of the sick and to clinical studies. Salerno has passed down to us her Greco-Latin doctrine free from dialectic, but in essential practice so extremely Hippocratic.

Sarti and Fattorini in their work on the History of Bologna University (4) affirmed that it is barely credible, given the close relationship that existed between philosophy and medicine, that there was no school of medicine in Bologna when an illustrious School of Philosophy flourished there.

It can also be admitted and affirmed that the practical Salerno doctrine was also Taddeo’s doctrine and quite obviously that of the doctors who preceded him. But Taddeo, the first to be called a famous teaching Doctor is also a physicist, that is, a student of nature, a philosopher who included the study of nature and man in the doctrine of the Universe, besides being and Artist, that is, one who practises an Art.

In the XIVth century too, medicine at Bologna clung to the Hippocratic Galenic and Salerno tradition with occasional lapses into the fields of Arabic naturalism or alchemy or astrology.

Health is a treasure which is important to us all; the way to preserve it by prevention of disease or by adequate treatment in case of illness concern all of us. With regard to this, the Regimen sanitatis, the author of which is unknown, arose from the close relationship between learned and popular literature. Its rules have spread outside the frontiers of Italy. There is a spirit of solidarity or class in that Anglorum Regi scribit tota Schola Salerni which has been handed on to us, the writing too may be attributed to one initial author with later additions by others.

For the purpose I have in mind I want to mention, though not in detail, the work of my pupil Greco (5) and a short treatise on philology and glottology which was written by Guido Bertoni (1878 - 1942) in 1908-10 and which may be found in the Campori Foundation of the Biblioteca Estense in Modena.

The treatise is composed of 25 short chapters written in the Bologna dialect. The rules of hygiene as recorded by the anonymous editor come from "de libri maximorum medicorum ".

Reading these 25 short chapters immediately makes us think, if not of the style, then of the spirit of Regimen sanitatis salernitano. It is neither a translation nor a free transcript but a record inspired by it. The analogy of thought is evident. In the book, before the collection of political and historical letters of Bologna begins, the first verses of the Regimen... are recorded as an appendix preceded by a dedication to the King of England and with this introduction: Regula bona ad conservationem sanitatis corporis transmissa per medicos de Salerno Regi anglico.

The treatise and the reference to the medical work of Salerno show how well and to what an extent the precepts of Salerno were known. I cannot close this short note without mentioning the revival of surgery that took place at the beginning of the XIIth century. We find important works and names. It is worth remembering above all that De Renzi affirms that the School of Salerno did but reduce practical surgery, practiced by tradition, to a written form, that is, it reduced empiricism to precepts of art (6).

Ruggero was certainly not from Salerno and belonged to one of those medical schools, probably a Bishop’s school, which flourished in Northern Italy. In a larger field he did what De Renzi records for the School of Salerno: he collected the practical knowledge of scholars which he freed from every authority and erudite research which were certainly superfluous or at least unsuitable in a simple collection of facts. He does not cite any authors because this was not his aim as he was writing about traditional surgery, not erudite surgery.

Ruggero’s was in any case the first Italian text of surgery written in the late Middle Ages. His fame was such, also owing to the spirit that animated his writing, that he was considered a Salerno man, also perhaps because he may have taught or been to that town.

We shall not linger over the work of Rolando whose activities in Bologna have been well recorded. We shall only mention that to his surgery which follows that of Ruggero he adds cases taken from his personal experience.

But as Bologna had adopted the medical books of Salerno at the beginning of 1200, on which Taddeo gave his lessons, so did Salerno adopt the texts of Ruggero and Rolando. What Tiraboschi wrote about Rolando at the end of the 18th century is still valid today; "We have copies of surgery written by him, in several editions, which was so much esteemed that four learned Doctors of Surgery commented on it, as may be seen from a manuscript which has for its title: Glossula seu Apparatus quatuor Magistrorum super Chirurgiam Rolandi ".

The above mentioned Guido di Chauliac mentions these four teachers again. Only from a manuscript, it seems, can we learn that they were of the Salerno School: Expositio quatuor Magistrorum Salerni super Chirurgia Rogeri, and they were probably the same who commented on that of Rolando (7).

Salerno and Bologna. Two beacons of knowledge and civilization. Practical schools and academic schools. I have tried to clarify, if only briefly, their early relations and cultural exchanges in such an interesting period of the Middle Ages.

(1) SORBELLI A., Storia dell’Universita di Bologna. Vol. 1 page II. Bologna, Zanichelli, 1940.

(2) BUSACCHI V., Le basi formative della Scuola di Salerno. Lectures at the Xth Congress by doctors "Sanniti" and at the International Congress for the Study of Medicine in the late Middle Ages (Benevento - Salerno 19-22 October 1958). Rivista di storia della medicina 1959.

(3) FARAL E., Les arts poetiques dix XII e XIII siecle. Paris, 1923, page 194 and cont.  See also: FORTI F., Cultura e poesia intorno allo studio in Bologne duecentesca in: Dissertationes historice Columbian Universitatem  ...Missae. Bologna, 1956.

(4) SARTI M. and FATTORINI M., De claris Archigymnasii Bononiensis professoribus a saeculo XI usque ad saeculum XIV. Bononiae, 1888, page 519.

(5) GRECO E., Su di un inedito trattatello di carattere igienico del secolo XIII in volgare bolognese. Notes on the 4th Biannual Congress at "Marca" for the history of medicine. Fermo, 1961.

(6) Da RENZI S., Storia documentata delta Scuola di Salerno, 2nd edition, Naples, 1857, page 358.

(7) TIRABOSCHI G., Storia della litteratura italiana. Book IV, Modena, 1788, page 239.



Salerno Anno I, № 4, pp. 67-71, 1967


Influence of Avicenna on western medicine in the Middle Ages

from Mirko Drazen Grmek


There is no doubt that all the cultures which flourished in the lands around the Mediterranean have common features. The tradition of learning runs unbroken on these shores. In the course of thousands of years the cultural centre has shifted across this sea, which separates the lands but unites the peoples. It shifted from the Nile Valley to Ionia and Attica, to Alexandria, Carthage, Rome, Constantinople and Bagdad, finally returning full circle to the northern shores. Regardless of differences in period and in the ethnic substratum of the various peoples who held the stage, all the Mediterranean scientific achievements and trends of thought have been inspired by a single common genius loci . The serene and lucid horizons of the Mediterranean call for clarity and lucidity of thought, for precision and simplicity of form. The scholars and artists from the shores of that blue sea do not possess the rich, splendid, unbridled imagination of the east, not yet the twilit mysticism of the north, pedantic and synthesising at the same time. Mediterranean art and science is dominated by that feeling for measure, for simple proportions, combined with clarity of concept and purity of form, that architectonic feeling for the Universe . Each cultural sphere possesses its own specific values. An important influence on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean was represented by oriental culture, especially from India, just as the northern shores were much affected by ideas and ways of thinking of the nearby children of the north, the Slav and Germanic peoples.

The link between the manifestations of Mediterranean culture at different times and in different places cannot be explained in spiritual terms. There was always a material, economic, commercial or other such base underpinning the unity of Mediterranean culture. A detailed account, a catalogue of historical examples, would fill some sizeable volumes, so we shall confine ourselves to a single example taken from the history of medicine. Our paradigm will be Abu-Ali al-Husain ibn Abdullah ibn Sina, commonly called Avicenna, the most celebrated physician of Arabic medicine. In a few words I should like to describe the influence of classical Greek medicine on the work of Avicenna, and then the influence of Avicenna’s books on the development of western medicine in the Middle Ages.

The life of Avicenna has been related many times and it is unnecessary to repeat facts which are common knowledge. He lived from 980 to 1037. He was of Persian origin but was a typical representative of Arabic culture. Avicenna was a profound and original thinker, a tireless worker and scholar, at times almost obsessed by work, a voracious taster of all earthly joys, in short one of those rare universal geniuses who are learned in almost all fields of knowledge without losing their tremendous creative impetus. He was a restless traveler, lover of wine and women, but one of the most skilful masters of philosophy and one of those most deeply versed in the human soul.

For the east Avicenna is above all the greatest philosopher, the representative of rationalism and of Arabic Aristotelianism; the west knows him and esteems him as a physician. For us Avicenna, together with Hippocrates and Galen, makes up the triumvirate of the greatest physicians of all times. Avicenna figures as "princeps medicorum" , not only throughout mediaeval medical literature but also in the fables of the 1001 nights and in Dante’s description of Limbo (Iinferno, IV, 143).

Avicenna was a prolific writer; there is mention of 105 different works. Many of these have been lost, many were of ephemeral value, but one work, "Al-Qanun fi'l-Tibb" (The Canon), may be considered an unparalleled achievement in the history of medicine, a gigantic effort to put in systematic order the entire body of medical knowledge and to codify the immutable laws of medicine. No medical writer has ever equaled the clear and logical sequence, the brilliance of form and imaginative style, the unity and universality, which we find in Avicenna’s Canon.

To catalogue the contents of each chapter in the Canon would be not merely a long and tedious task but also superfluous, for a single sentence suffices: the Canon embraces the whole of medicine at that time, starting from the definition of medicine and the exposition of basic theories, through anatomy, pathology from A to Z , pulse taking and urine examination, diet, hygiene, therapy, pharmacology, physiology, surgery, cosmetics, etc., etc., down to the description of antidotes and compound medicaments.

Avicenna’s medical concepts are not original. That imposing edifice, the Canon, is topped with a few Arab tiles; the foundations and the bulk of material used in its construction are of Greek origin. The foundations are laid on Hippocrate’s doctrine of humours, and Aristotle’s philosophy. Most of the building material is quarried from the books of Galen.

Arabic medicine was not an indigenuous plant but came of Greek stock. The social and political decline of the Roman Empire drained the vitality of classical Greco-Roman medicine. In the 5th century the centre of Mediterranean medicine shifted to Byzantium, Syria and Persia. The first contact between the Arabs, victorious conquerors, and Hellenic medicine occurred in the Mediterranean land of Syria. In 637 the Arabs took Gendischapur, seat of the famous school of Hippocratic medicine. In 643 they entered Alexandria. Within a few centuries almost all the books of classical medicine were translated from Greek or Syrian into Arabic. The writers most in favour were Aristotle and Galen.

Thus began on the eastern shores the revival of Mediterranean medicine which was to culminate in Avicennas Canon. The Canon is the final codification of Hellenic medical doctrines, enriched with the clinical experience of Arab physicians and with the lessons of oriental pharmacology. The Canon, as we have said, is not only a collection of known medical doctrines and observations, a great compilation such as had already been produced by the Byzantine writers Oribasius and Paul of Aegina, but a harmonious edifice, an extraordinary synthesis, a most typical product of that Mediterranean architectonic feeling.

The life and personality of Avicenna recall the celebrated Greek itinerant doctors. The resemblance to Galen is evident. Both shone while still very young for their amazing memory and their encyclopaedic knowledge, both wrote immense tomes though leading eventful lives, both expounded and systematised the profound concepts of Hippocrates. Not only can one find many parallels between the career of Avicenna and those of certain Greek doctors, but even the legends told by Arabic writers are basically Hellenic. We only quote here the episode of the diagnosis of "amor insanus" (lovesickness), which Avicenna achieved by careful observation of the pulse. This same anecdote occurs in the biographies of Hippocrates and Erasistratus.

The charges of lack of originality made against the Arabs by medical historians are unfounded. To accept Hellenic medicine was, for the Arab physicians, both an historical necessity and at the same time one of the mainsprings of further progress. The development of Arab medicine clearly reveals to a close observer the mental alertness and originality of its practitioners. Modern historians have often wrongfully accused Avicenna of being a compiler, a scholar without personal scientific experience, a mere arranger of Greek medical thought. These accusations have no foundation in historical fact. That Avicenna could not step outside the limits of his age was only natural; he was bound to reflect the cultural environment in which he lived. Though based on foreign concepts Avicenna’s writings contain personal clinical observations and many important discoveries. A few example taken at random from his works will suffice. He was the first to propose intubation of the larynx when there was risk of imminent suffocation. In the Canon we find many descriptions of hitherto unknown symptoms of various illnesses, e. g. mental disorders, pleurisy, etc; and there is mention of delivery of babies using a type of forceps, surgical treatment of empyema, etc. Avicenna’s psychiatric experience was vast, perhaps unexampled before his time. His anatomical knowledge, too, was significant; we know for example that he was acquainted with the six muscles of the eye. Galen only knew of four, and as late as the 14th century Realdo Colombo boasted of having discovered a fifth. We do not know whether Avicenna practice dissection on dead bodies, a thing he obviously could not mention since dissection of the dead was forbidden in the Muslim world for religious reasons. However, his works contain allusions suggesting that, to improve his knowledge, he made use not only of Greek inspired works on anatomy but also of the knife. Among the lost works of Avicenna there is a medical book of primary importance, namely, a collection of clinical observations written as a practical appendix to the theoretical studies. Should this book turn up in one of the unexplored eastern libraries we may be sure that the opinion of many modern historians on Avicenna’s lack of originality will be upset.

We are only now approaching our main theme, but without this background it would have been impossible to explain the influence which Avicenna’s writings had on western medicine for a number of centuries. The Canon marks the peak in the development of Arabic medicine, the most perfect achievement in that cultural field. but the peak also signifies the beginning of decline. The end of the 11th century saw the caliphate begin to go downhill economically and politically, and Arabic learning followed the same path. The time had come for the centre of Mediterranean medicine to shift to Latin lands. Just as the writings of Hippocrates, Galen and other Greek writers had once won an enthusiastic following on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, so now did Arabic medicine, and especially Avicenna’s Canon, raise profound echoes on the western shores, surviving the break-up of the major Muslim states.

Avicenna’s Canon had gained great authority as a code of medicine, and was already the subject of wide comment in the Arab world (for example, Ibn an-Nafis described pulmonary circulation in his Comments on the Anatomy of Avicenna long before this was discovered in the west), but his greatest success was reserved for Europe, where the Canon became the infallible text of scholastic medicine and of authoritarian dogmatios.

There is no need to describe the state of medicine in Christian countries after the fall of the Roman Empire, since it is presumably common knowledge that all sciences were in eclipse at this period. Scientific medicine (though this is almost a misnomer) lingered on in the monasteries. There were then three points of contact between western physicians and Greco-Arabic medicine. The first of these was in Sicily and Southern Italy, the second in the Holy Land and the third in Spain. Towards the end of the Middle Ages there was also some contact in the Balkans, but this remained of rather local importance.

Sicily had been under the sway of the Saracens for two centuries so Arabic medicine was well known and practised there. The Normans then took possession of the island, Robert Guiscard entering Palermo in 1071. Secretary at the court of that Norman ruler was Costantino the African, a most learned man. thoroughly versed in oriental languages. In his native town of Carthage, as likewise in Sicily, he could easily get his hand on Arab texts. Retreating to the cloisters of Montecassino, Constantine made the first translations of Arabic medical texts into Latin. The translations he turned out before his death in 1087 were somewhat garbled, but this initial contact with Arabic medicine was most fruitful for the first, and raised the medical school at Salerno to unexpected glory.

Of utmost importance to our thesis is the fact that Constantine did not translate any of Avicenna’s works. Down to the 11th and 12th century the Salerno school remained totally unaffected by Avicenna, but this is not surprising as the west was not yet ready to gather or digest the choicest fruits of Arabic culture. Such leaps do not happen in cultural history. Europe was just beginning to rediscover, through translations from the Arabic, the forgotten Greco-Roman medical doctrines. For Constantine and the western physicians of his day Avicenna was still a closed book.

It was at the very time of the Crusades and the wars against the east that the desire to learn more of Arabic science grew stronger in Europe. Arab civilization penetrated into western Europe just when the Arabs started to go into political and cultural decline. The task begun by Constantine the African was picked up at Toledo (regained to Christianity in 1085) by Gerard of Cremona (1114-1187), another philologist without any special medical education.

"Al-Qanun fi'l-Tibb" (The Canon) was translated in 1284 by Armengaud, son of Blaise, a master of medicine at Montpellier. (Apparently this translation was not done straight from the Arab text but from the Jewish translation of Moses ibn Tibbon). The translation also contains the comments of the celebrated ibn Rushd (Averroes); it was printed for the first time in Venice in 1484. This work is the quintessence of the Canon, being an explanation of the main medical and philosophical doctrines of Avicenna in a condensed, aphoristic and as indicated by the title poetic form. The style is supremely authoritarian, admitting of no doubts; because of its formal elegance certain passages could easily be committed to memory, which explains the popularity of this work in the mediaeval universities.

"Al-adwija al-qualbijja", or "De viribus cordis" , was translated in Barcelona by the celebrated physician and astrologer Arnald of Villanova (1238-1311). This translation was printed in Padua in 1476.

"Kitab al-shifa", Avicenna’s commentary on Aristotele's writings concerning animals, was translated by Michael Scot under the title "Liber de animalibus" .

Of lesser importance were the books "Metaphysica", "Tractatus de removendis nocumentis" and "De Syrupo acetoso".

All these mediaeval Latin translations have been criticised in modern times. In the past they had already been branded as "pervesiones", but one must not forget that it was precisely through these corrupt translations that Arabic medicine influenced western medical thought.

To explain the influence of Avicenna’s Canon in mediaeval times one would have to analyze the roots of scholasticism, that important historical phenomenon which laid down the general lines along which western culture developed for a few centuries. "Arabism" was a most important element but not the intrinsic cause of scholasticism. Numerous factors tended towards the same end and mutually strengthened each other.

Why did Arabic science have such a resounding and lasting effect on Europe? Because Europe had need of a logically perfect scientific training. Working for a period of fifty years at Toledo, with its wealth of Arab libraries, Gerard translated a surprising number of Arabic books including Avicenna's Canon. From this, the first translation into Latin, Avicenna's influence on western medicine began to make itself felt.

Gerard’s translation was immediately copied with great diligence, as testified by the numerous contemporary manuscripts which have come down to us. In the 15th century the printing press accelerated the spread of the Canon, and in the space of a few years 15 incunabula editions emerged from the wooden presses. The first printed edition of the Canon came out in Strasbourg; from the house of Adolf Rusch. The exact date is not known, but it was certainly before 1473. I do not know why so many writers state that the first edition of the Canon was the Jewish edition printed in Naples in 1491. Rusch’s Latin edition was followed by others at Milan (1473), Padua (1476, 1479), Pavia (1483), Lyons (1498) and particularly at Venice (1482 - 1483, 1486, 1490, 1491, 1495, 1500), etc.

As soon as we reach the 16th century we find critical editions, outstanding examples being the beautiful Venetian editions printed by the Giunta family and Valgrisio, containing the text of the Canon as done by Andrea Alpago of Belluno. During the two centuries following the invention of printing there were some thirty editions of the Canon, a record achieved by scarcely any other medical work. In 1593 a fine Arabic edition was printed by the Medici press in Rome. The Canon was thus the first Arabic medical book in the world to be printed in Arabic. An excellent Latin edition, unfortunately incomplete, was published by Vopisco Fortunato Plempio in 1658, but Avicenna’s Canon had already had its day and no other edition followed.

What were the scientific connotations of the Canon? As can be seen in the growth of religion, the principles of Christianity were linked to the philosophic system of Aristotle. For political and economic reasons, and for reasons inherent in the structure of mediaeval society, there was a need for dogmatic and immutable scientific concepts. The universities created in the Middle Ages aimed at teaching definitive knowledge. There was no wish to seek out new things, but rather to analyze as subtly as possible the existing writings, which were taken as final truth. Avicenna’s Canon perfectly answered the spiritual needs of the time. The Canon was the text of authoritarian scholastic dogmatism par excellence. It covered everything, explained everything; and if it distorted nature a little; it mattered not; and if nature strayed from its assigned limits, so much the worse for nature. A vicious circle was formed: the Canon met the desires of the time, and under its influence these desires were strengthened in the mediaeval physicians. Avicenna, the virtuoso of syllogism , fascinated the physicians of the day. We may recall Petrarch’s apothegm for these doctors: "Silogizant, non curant".

A grandiose work like the Canon, with its logical perfection, its systematic ordering of an immense mass of empirical material into a self-contained unit, must by its very perfection have had an extremely strong influence, both for better and for worse. From Avicenna the west learned many new medical ideas and became re-acquainted with ancient doctrines, but above all it benefited from an immense amount of clinical experience. To accept Arabic medicine, especially Avicenna’s Canon, was a true stop forward for Europe. Unfortunately there was the other side of the picture; slavish imitation became the obstacle to further progress.
Instead of exploring the book of nature the mediaeval scientists produced commentaries on the old writings. The first important commentator on Avicenna’s Canon was the celebrated physician Taddeo Alderotti of Florence (d. 1303). Famous commentators in the 14th century were the Florentine Dino del Garbo (d. 1327), dubbed "expositor Avicennae"
, and Gentile of Foligno (d. 1348), a most erudite physician known as "anima Avicennae" . These were followed in the 15th century by the extensive commentaries of Giacomo della Torre of Forli, Matteo Ferraro of Grado, Ugo of Siena and Jaques Despars of Tourney (d. 1547), who did not get to the end of his comments and glosses on Avicenna’s Canon during his twenty years of university teaching in Paris.

The Canon, together with Galen’s Articella and the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, was the main compulsory medical text in all the universities. Every mediaeval student of medicine had to know almost by heart those parts of the first and fourth books of the Canon covering general pharmaceutical treatment and the description of the various forms of fever.

The first fen ("fen" being Arabic for "treatise") in the first book of the Canon had a particular influence on the philosophic concepts of a number of scholars. Let us quote only two examples, from opposing schools: Peter of Albano (1250-1316), an expounder of Arabic thought who attempted to reconcile the teachings of Arabic medicine with those of philosophic speculation; and Roger Bacon (1214-1292), the famous Franciscan philosopher who, though an opponent of scholasticism, drew many of his concepts from the study of Avicenna’s works.

The hygienic and prophylactic precepts given in the third fen of the first book in the Canon were the mainspring of all mediaeval books on hygiene. The fourth fen of the first book, describing general therapy, remained one of the basic medical texts until the Renaissance. The other parts of the Canon were also of great importance, especially the fifth fen of the fourth boo, a systematic treatise on the whole field of surgery. The most famous surgeon of the Middle Ages, Guy de Chauliac (d. 1367), quotes Avicenna no less than 661 times in his "Surgery", a book recognized as a classic on the subject. Many other mediaeval books on surgery, such as that by Pietro d’Argellata (d. 1423), are based essentially on the works of Avicenna and other Arab physicians (e. g. Abu’l Quasim), etc.

The story is told of Paracelsus, that restless wanderer, mystic and revolutionary of medical science, typical representative of the Nordic spirit, who began his medical lessons at Basle University in 1527 by publicly burning Avicenna’s books. Perhaps this anecdote does not correspond to the truth, but it proves that the books of Avicenna were considered as the symbol of western medicine in the Middle Ages. Paracelsus denide Avicenna’s Canon because he wanted to refute the existing school of medicine, of which Avicenna was indeed one of the cornerstones.

Before Paracelsus the works of Avicenna had been considered in the west as the ultimate truth. In the 14th century Simon of Genoa, in his book "Clavis sanationis", ventured to point out certain errors of Avicenna. Niccolo Leoniceno did likewise in the 15th century, but these were voices in the wilderness. The opposition of Simon of Genoa and Leoniceno was not directed against Avicenna’s philosophic system, or his medical doctrines; they only picked out a few errors, a few incorrect observations of minor importance. But one extraordinary opinion was voiced by Arnold of Villanova (C. 1240-1311), when he wrote of Avicenna: "qui in medicina majorem partem medicorum latinorum infatuat". It is curious that this was the same Arnold who translated one of Avicenna’s books from the original Arabic. However, his statement shows that already by the late 13th century most Latin physicians had entirely accepted Avicenna’s medical doctrines. Arnolds criticism had no effect on other physicians. The reaction against Avicenna’s domination of western medicine did not begin before the 16th century, and only triumphed in the 17th century.

A famous Istrian physician, Santorio Santorio (1561-1636), in his book Commentaria in primam fen primi libri Canonis Avicennae", described many new medical theories and in particular many new instruments, such as the trocar, thermometer, hygrometer, etc. Santorio’s inventions were much influenced by reading Avicenna, but already one is aware of the gap between modern science and the old school. Santorio uses the text of the Canon primarily as a vehicle for his own thoughts, and his new and original concepts. In the conservative universities (e. g. Montpellier, Louvain, Padua, etc.) lessons on Avicenna’s Canon continued for a decade or so, but then these works fell into oblivion, or became an object of scorn.

Yet the medicine of Avicenna still lives on in Europe. To this very day in Bosnia popular medical lore shows evident signs of Avicenna’s influence, and indeed his books could still be found in practical use until a very short time ago. This fact was not sufficiently known to modern historians; much research and methodical study remain to be done. Avicenna’s books arrived in Croatia by two different routes. In the 14th century the Latin translations arrived in manuscript from France and Italy. Thus the Bishop of Zagreb, James of Piacenza (a physician), brought several Latin manuscript translations of Avicenna’s works from Avignon to Zagreb in 1343. A mediaeval inventory of Zagreb Cathedral lists three manuscripts of Avicenna’s works, the "Cantica", "De viribus cordis" and "De animalibus". Two of these precious manuscripts are still in Zagreb Metropolitan Library, catalogued as MR 154 ("Cantica canticorum Avicennae cum commento Averrois") and MR 144 ("Liber de animalibus). Some manuscripts of the Canon are mentioned in the wills of mediaeval physicians in Ragusa. In the 15th century the Turks, an Islamic race, captured part of Croatia, bringing not only sword and fire but also scientific Arabic books. In the occupied part of Croatia these works, in the original Arabic, held a dominating position until recent years. Many Arabic manuscripts of Avicenna’s works can be found in Bosnia, as for example in Sarajevo, Kladanj, etc. In the library of Lujo Thaller, a former professor of the history of medicine at Zagreb, there is an Arabic transcription of the seventh fen of the fourth book of the Canon (the part concerning cosmetics), written in Bosnia in the 19th century. As a final curiosity we may note that the books which Turkey obtained in past centuries through the city of Ragusa included the Latin translations of Avicenna’s Canon.




Hamdard Medicus Vol. XL, № 1, pp. 5-16, 1997


Ibn Masawayh (Mesue the Elder): On Medicine, Therapy and Pathology

from Sami K. Hamarneh



Among the pioneers who encouraged, promoted and reshaped the development of medicine in medieval Islam was the physician, therapist and medical educator, Abu Zakariya Yahya Ibn (or b. meaning son of) Masawayh (Latin Mesue, the Elder). He was born about 162 H/778, in the renowned city of Jundisabur (Arabic Junday Sabur) or JundaShapur (soldier’s camp of Shapur I), the founder of the Sassanid dynasty (reigned, 240-272). In 266, Shapur captured and devastated the Syrian capital city of Antioch; and about four years later, he defeated, captured Emperor Valerian (253-60) and ruthlessly slew him thus putting an end to an impending fall of the Western Roman Empire.1

This monarch shortly founded Jundi-Shapur and called it: “Veh Antiok Shapur”; meaning, “Shapur’s Antioch had become by far the better one.” The city was soon populated thereafter by Greco-Roman refugees and other ethnic groups to become a sizable and significant center of learning and culture. It is still considered a recognized site at al-Ahwaz in Khuzistan province, in south-west Iran. The grandson, Shapur II (309-79) was an ambitious and enterprising leader who lived long as a great monarch, although he apparently persecuted both Jews and Christians alike.

However, the great grandson, Khosrow I Anushirvan (Arabic Kisra Anushirwan, 531-79), the just, was by far more tolerant and liberal than his predecessors. During his unprejudiced reign, the Sassanian Dynasty reached the apogee of its prosperity, prestige and power. Being so highly reputed reformer, administrator and patron of science and literature, this great monarch established an academy for medicine, natural history and philosophy that flourished for over three centuries. It then operated privately, more or less, under the administration and supervision of the Nestorian Christians, who taught these disciplines in their mother tongue, the Syriac.2

A scion of this multilingual learned community, most of whom invariably knew Greek, Persian, Syriac and Arabic was a certain man, whose name was Masawayh. Of his ancestral lineage, we know almost nothing except that he adhered to the Nestorian faith of Christianity. And here at Jundisabur, together with the medical academy, the Nestorians established a prototype hospital or a bimarastan (a bimar-khanah, an infirmary, as an abode or house for the healing of the sick). From the 7th to the 10th centuries, this institute won excellent reputation far and wide in the region.

Here in its pharmacy shop, connected with the hospital, enrolled young Masawayh, an apprentice with no formal education whatsoever. He started his career by digging crude drugs, mixing them together in prescribed formulas to prepare from them all kinds of medications and recipes for the patients at the hospital: those who came to it within the outpatient clinics, or among the clients in the hospital wards.

However, through natural inclination, in time, the brilliant, industrious and persevering Masawayh became acquainted with all the familiar remedial agents at the shop, or those obtained from herbalists (attarin). He gradually developed familiarity and understanding in choosing the best kinds of drugs, and rejecting the inferior or the adulterated. He also gained the know-how and the skill regarding the dispensing of these remedies adequately. Through trials, experiences and accurate observations, also as an oculist, he excelled in learning all about the eye, its ailments and treatment, just as he did well in the art of the apothecary, the compounding and management of preparing prescriptions, and all kinds of medicinal recipes.3

The dean of Jundisabur’s medical college and the chief director of the hospital at the time was the highly reputed physician, Jurjis b. Bakhtishu (Syriac Bakhti-Yashu, meaning the servant of Yasu). He, his son and grandson tried hard to help Masawayh by paying to him special attention, so that he could get along in learning the trade and mastering the drug business.4

Fortunately just in time, the hospital and its staff had received a very special recognition. For it came to pass that in 148H/765, the Caliph al-Mansur had a severe stomach ailment that baffled the court’s physicians and all the eminent physicians at the Abbasid capital which the Caliph built. He, therefore, summoned Ibn Bakhtishu from Jundisabur to come to his palace at the capital, seeking his help for recovery. After arriving and caring for his health condition, the Caliph was cured from his afflictions. For a generous reward, the Caliph appointed this senior doctor in the court for four years, to be the physician in ordinary for the entire royal family. Immediately thereafter, because of old age, he was allowed to return home to Jundisabur, where he shortly died in the year 154H/771.

In like manner, Caliph al-Mahdi (775-85) did summon this time the son, Bakhtishu to care for the health of al-Hadi. The latter vas also cured. At that time, however, Abu Quraysh Isa al-Saydalani was the court physician serving the queen mother Khuzayran, yet was not invited to care for her son al-Hadi. The Caliph apparently tried to get the best possible medical care by the hands of Bakhtishu, while Abu Quraysh had not the same caliber and was academically unable to match Bakhtishu’s qualifications. Nonetheless, there were jealousies and disputations that climaxed with the dismissal of the eminent physician for the mother queen’s sake. Bakhtishu thus returned to his place, in heading the Jundisabur Hospital and the College.6

About 171H/787, the influential Vizier Jafar b. Yahya al-Barmaki summoned Bakhtishu, this time to be his court physician. In view of his skill, medical worth and great learning, the Caliph Harun al-Rashid soon welcomed him at the palace as well. Here he performed many medical feats: on one hand, he successfully treated a favorite bondmaid at the palace and on the other, he treated several among the royal family with excellent results by curing them. He continued under this patronage until Rakhtishu’s death in 185H/801.

The grandson, Jibril b. Bakhtishu who headed the College and the Hospital after the absence of the father, he too was invited to al-Rashid’s court about 188H/804. He continued at the same position during the reign of al-Amin, then al-Mamun until Jibril’s death in 213H/828.8

Here we resume the story of Masawayh. In late 804, after serving the Jundisabur’s pharmacy hospital with distinction in accordance with his ability for over three decades, Masawayh and his family including his two sons: Yahya (or Yuhanna) and Mikhail left for good to the Abbasid capital for better opportunity and for the education and upbringing of his two sons. The friendly Jibril, as was his father before him, turned away from helping Masawayh to get a better career as a practitioner. He was now approaching the end of the fifth decade of his life and needed a good job to support his big family.9

Disappointed and desperate, upon recommendation from a friend, he approached al-Fadi b. al-Rabi, the philanthropist and generous Vizier of Caliph al-Rashid. Soon Masawayh was engaged in treating the ailing eye of the Vizier’s servant. In view of his past experience and know-how, Masawayh successfully healed him. Whereupon, he was appointed a court practitioner-therapist at the Vizier’s court. After the death of al-Rashid in 809, the Vizier continued serving al-Amin faithfully. He died during the reign of al-Mamun in 208H/824, and Masawayh who continued in his service until then, died shortly thereafter.10

Masawayh’s younger son was Mikhail, a physician who excelled by following the Greek methods of treatment and manipulations. Caliph al-Mamun depended on him not only as his court physician, but as his faithful adviser. The Caliph would not allow having any medication or special diet but prepared by his physician Mikhail, or at least taken under his supervision. Although he never abandoned following the Greek methodology in therapy and practice, nevertheless, Mikhail’s professional reputation continued without reproach. Because of his good deeds and ethical behavior, Mikhail was liked among Baghdad’s physicians, and beloved by many others, for his dedication in helping the sick and the excellence in the care he skillfully applied in their treatment. However, to our knowledge, no literary contributions are attributed to him.11

Yahya b. Masawayh: The most illustrious physician of Masawayh’s family was none other than the aforementioned major figure of this survey, Abu Zakariya Yahya b. Masawayh. His contributions regarding the entire fields of the healing arts as then known were outstanding and enduring. It reached not only the Arab-Islamic world but Europe also. A great number of his medical works were translated into Latin and the vernaculars, and were widely distributed and read for centuries, affecting deep-felt impact throughout the medical circles, until the European renaissance and beyond.

Young Yahya came with his parents to the Abbasid capital when he was a young lad. Brilliant and determined, he continued his study and training in medicine, excelling his peers during the time of the Caliphs — al-Rashid and al-Amin (786-813). Besides mastering Syriac and Arabic (two languages in which he authored medical texts), Yahya knew also Persian and some Greek.12

His star began to shine brightly during the reign of Caliph al-Mamun (813-33), more than his brother Mikhail’s did. Because of his erudition, the Caliph appointed him in 215H/830, to direct the Bayt al-Hikmah for the translation, transmission and advanced research in all fields of knowledge, including the medical and the natural history sciences.13

Meanwhile, at the Caliph’s palace, he regularly attended with leading sages and physicians the systematic meetings held in the Caliph’s presence including constructive dialogues and discussions which he actively participated in. These were indeed great times, suggestive of the high calibres achieved, not only under the supervision of the rulers, but throughout the other educational and cultural centers and institutions in Islam. The levels of education and intellectual standards that were attained and had been aspired at, flourished in a remarkable manner during the climax of this exciting and highly productive period.14

At the same time, it became obvious that there was a need for academic teaching and training in the healing arts. The prototype was the one founded by al-Hakam al-Dimashqi, who lived to ripe old age and died in Damascus in 210H/825. Al-Hakam during his practice, trained medical apprentices in the general skills of practitioners. To name such disciplines: barber surgeons, bone setters, phlebotomists and those healers using venesections and cupping based not on formal academic teaching, reading medical compendia, and surgical performances and manipulations, but rather on the bases of general apprenticeship, technical skills, experimental training and keen observations.15

Because of his wide learning, great experience and know-how, Ibn Masawayh established a truly private medical college, the first of its kind known in Islam. In this private institution, Ibn Masawayh was himself the teacher as well as its chief director and manager of both the students and their activities. In so doing, Ibn Masawayh paved also the way for the rise of other public and private medical colleges that followed later on in other cities such as Rayy, Bukhara, Samarqand, Damascus, Cairo, and Cordoba to name a few. Among the pioneer students under Ibn Masawayh’s instruction and supervision, we can recognize at least two of them who became well known hence.16

The first was the assiduous, indefatigable translator and eminent physician-author, Abu Zayd Hunayn b. Ishaq al-Ibadi (born in al-Hirah 809, and died in Baghdad 873). He and his associates at the Abbasid capital performed outstanding services in rendering the most important Greek medical legacy of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Galen from Greek and Syriac into the language of the Holy Quran. Ibn Masawayh became thereafter indeed not only a great admirer of al-Ibadi, but also a very trusted translator of the ancient works which the latter ably accomplished.17

The second faithful student of Ibn Masawayh in Baghdad was Ibrahim b. Isa (died in al-Fustat, Egypt in 260H/872), who became also a man of letters as well as a scribe. Importantly, he served as physician to Ahmad b. Tulun when the latter was first an army general in Bilad al-Sham and later as the founder prince and ruler of the Tulunid dyhasty (868-84), when he reigned over Egypt and parts of Bilad al-Sham.18

Ibn Masawayh, in his accumulated learning and great eloquence reached a high intellectual stature in his time hardly attained before him in Arab-Islamic medicine. He helped to renew ancient Greek medical learning and was highly reputed in health care and professional skills. Yet many physicians, however, were jealous of his achievements and opposed his ideas and claims. Nevertheless, the scions of the Bakhtishu family were most interested and appreciative of his learning, and enjoyed his prudence and erudition in lecturing, useful discussions and his expositions of important medical matters.19

Furthermore, Ibn Masawayh encouraged and at one time directed al-Rashid’s hospital at Madinat al-Salam — of which Jundisabur’s Bimaristan was only a prototype or a model. The latter bimaristan was decidedly restricted by religio-ethnic organizational system and in a community that adhered to the Nestorian denomination.

Therefore, about 188H/804, under the influences of Arabic, Greek, Syriac, Persian and Indian collaborations, al-Rashid’s hospital was established.20 It fulfilled the three requirements that a hospital organization or an institute of the type will stand for, namely:

1. A safe dwelling place, or an edifice to house and care for the sick, body and soul, with the aims of restoring the well-being, fitness and the healing performances of those individuals from all walks of life, who come to the hospital for cures.

2. A place where people regardless of age, sex, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds can have and receive good medical and nursing care and compassionate. attention.

3. A center for medical research, good training and practice, and for the accumulation or dissemination of information: such as in teaching, publishing data or lecturing for the diffusion of useful knowledge in all fields of the health sciences.21

In 215H/830, it was reported by AbuI-Hasan Yusuf b. Ibrahim ibn al-Dayah (whose mother was a nurse-midwife) that al-Rashid during his reign (786- 809) decided to start this hospital. He ordered the Indian physician Dahashatak of the Jundisabur’s hospital to help in organizing Baghdad’s hospital. He declined the offer, in order to leave the matter within the professional authority and supervision of Jibril b. Bakhtishu’. It is possible that Masawayh (the father) was also called to serve in the hospital’s pharmacy shop. If so, he apparently never continued in the service, especially when he turned to receive a generous patronage from the Vizier Ibn al-Rabi.22

Another compeer of the Masawayh family was the physician Salmawayh b. Binan (d. 840). He first served in the court of Caliph al-Mamun, but soon became the most favored one, during the reign of Caliph al-Mutasim (833-42). Salmawayh and al-Ibadi both recognized the great learning of Ibn Masawayh gained not only from the books of the ancients, but also through training and long experiences, and were thus appreciative of his erudition, sagacity as well as his methods of treatment. For it is reported that Ibn Masawayh always recommended to all his patients that if they had a high fever, they should use cold medication and diet, and those having cold temperaments or ailments, should use hot diets or medications.23

In 223H/838, it came to pass that Caliph al-Mutasim, with very huge highly equipped army, won the greatest victory in Asia Minor over the Byzantines during the conquest of Ankarah (ancient Ancyra), Ammuriyah (ancient Amorium) and the neighboring cities. All the parchment books and manuscript volumes that were gathered from library deposits there had been sent to, and placed at the Bayt al-Hikmah institute, to enrich these priceless collections for the purposes of research and translation into Arabic.24

During the reign of al-Mutasim, there were routine meetings at the royal palaces and mansions in which medical dialogues and discussions had been debated. Likewise, there were similar gatherings during al-Mamun’s reign before him, in which it was reported that the Bakhtishus had much in common with Ibn Masawayh. The latter being witty and sometimes humorous, they discussed many things related to medical matters from clinical medicine to therapy. In one of them the brilliant, resourceful Ibn Masawayh was even critical of his own son, who unlike the father, was apparently not very bright. In this case, Ibn Masawayh wished if it was possible, to dissect this unintelligent son of his, as did Galen in dissecting monkeys and human beings. Through this anatomical procedure, the father argued that he may be able to find out the causes of his son’s stupidity, and in so doing researchers and anatomists can find cures for such cases.

Ibn Masawayh’s star shone still brighter during the five years short reign of al-Wathiq (842-7), who was his best friend, confident and counselor on health matters not for the Caliph only, but also for the entire royal family. He served them faithfully as therapist-physician as well as a dietitian so that no food or drink was offered to the Caliph and his family before being checked and approved by him. The utensils, special drug jars and vessels in which food was cooked, as well as the foods and victuals offered to the royal family were likewise carefully prepared, supervised and personally inspected for safety, and presented in accordance to the various seasons.26

His services did continue during the reign of al-Mutawakkil, in whose time Ibn Masawayh died in Samarra at an old age, in 243H/857. There were not many during this period, who served four caliphs so faithfully and with distinction as Ibn Masawayh had. Albeit, there were many critics and hostile colleagues who were envious of his excellent credentials: in Bayt al-Hikmah, al-Rashid’s hospital, the medical college and the good reputation that was accorded to a person who came from a not well known origin, yet through hard work, diligence and perseverance accomplished so much that his works were well received during the entire Arab-Islamic Golden Age, and for centuries when translated in Europe.


Ibn Masawayh’s Medical Literary Contributions:

It is of interest to note that Ibn Masawayh’s total published works and known literary contributions were all on themes related to the healing arts: from medicine, hygiene and therapeutics, to aromatic materia medica, dietetics and surgery. For over four decades, Ibn Masawayh had served this noble profession by practicing the art and taught, wrote and authored in the field continuously. Indeed, this kind of specialization in intellectual activities can be considered noteworthy, particularly in an age where leading sages and physicians taught and authored on more than one field. Some of them even mastered several subjects and disciplines such as al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and al-Biruni to name a few, who branched in many fields.28

Here are some of Ibn Masawayh’s important original works briefly mentioned and evaluated. In conclusion the focus will then center on the pathological discussions of his al-Kunnash al-Mushajjar al-Kabir (meaning charted, or with figures and tabloids). Following are several of his writings:

1. Kitab al-Hummayat (Mushajjar): on fevers, its various therapeutic kinds, causations (etiology) and treatment. In accordance with the author’s thinking, fevers were considered both as symptoms and/or diseases as the cases may be. Of this work, which is written in chart forms, there were few copies including the following copies:

The Rampur copy in India; and within the Taymur collection — Dar al-Kutub in Cairo, no. Tibb 11 in 78 fols., dated 7th H/l3th c.; and another copy at the Tibb Halim collection in the same Library, no. Tibb. 22; and the Rabat, Biblioth. Generale, D. 404 (2), in 40 fols. copied by Nasir al-Din Muhammad b. Khadr, written for Abd al-Qadir b. Muhammad al-Jaziri al-Kahhal in 863 H. A copy of this work is found within the writer’s microfilm collection in Washington, D.C. After quick browsing, it seems that there are much similarities with the last (80th.) chapter of the Kunnash al-Kabir, the latter had been abbreviated and edited under a separate title in view of the importance of the subject. In Latin, the book is entitled: De Febribus, and some of the later incunabula have some commentaries.29

2. Kitab Al-Judham: on the disease and treatment of elephantiasis and certain kinds of leprosy, a treatise considered the first in Arabic on this topic. This writer had not seen any copy of it yet. However, the same topic is found in couple of pages (chapter 72), within the Kunnash al-Mushajjar al-Kabir (see below no. 12).30

3. Kitab MaaI-Shair (the barley water): a treatise of which a few mss. are found: in Algiers, no. 1746 (2), fols. 76-113, dated 10th. c.H.; and in Cairo. This treatise was edited by Paul Sbath with French translation under the title: “Le livre sur l’eau d’orge,” Bull. Inst. d’Egypte, Cairo, 21 (1939), pp. 1324.31

However, the first detailed description of this discussion is found in al-Risalah al-Haruniyah, authored by Abul-Hasan Isa b. al-Hakam al-Dimashqi (d. 225H/840), a senior compeer of Ibn Masawayh, and whose contributions were published over thirty years before that of the latter, but the discussions were of course more detailed.32

4. Kitab al-Azminah: on medical astrology, a field developed in the first B.C. Millennium in Mesopotamia and, the entire Near East region, promoted in Greco-Roman medicine and had many advocates in Arabic medicine such as al-Tabari, Ibn Butlan, Ibn al-Ayn Zarbi, and Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar, d. 1162), although others, such as Ibn Rushd and Ben Maymon (Maimonides), vehemently opposed these pseudo sciences. This small treatise was found in many mss. copies, including that in Cairo, no. Miqat 4; and was edited there also by Sbath, same ref., Bull. Inst. Eg., 15 (1933), 235-57.33

5. Kitab al-Nawadir al-Tibbiyah (or al-Fusul al-Hikamiyah wal-Nawadir al-T.) in the form of list of about 132 aphorisms, or axioms and medico-philosophical proverbs dedicated to the author’s long time student and now confident friend, Hunayn al-Ibadi mentioned above. Manuscript copies of this work are found in several libraries: in El Escorial, Istanbul, Leiden, Goettingen, the Rabat ms., no. D 404 (3), 41- 64 dated 863 H. copied by Al-Tabib Nasir al-Din Muhammad b. Khadr; Madrid Bibi. Nac., Ms. 5240 in 9 fols. in a collection, dated C.E. 1424 by the Andalusian Garcia Joan; and al-Azhar Library in Cairo.

It was known in Latin since the time of Constantine Africanus, and printed as one of earliest cunabulum of its kind under the Latin title: Joh. Mesue, Opera medicinia parva, Francesus de Seneto, 1478; and Aphorismi Johannis Damascenei, published in Bolognia, Italy, 1489; and was edited by P. Sbath in cooperation with Numan Jirjis Thamar, in Cairo, Dalta Comm. Inst., 1934, commemorating Sbath’s father; and edited with French translation and useful introduction by Danielle Jacquart and Gerard Troupeau, under the title: Le Livre des axiomes medixaux (Aphorismi), Geneva, Librairie Droz, 1980.34

Among the most meaningful of the quoted aphorisms are the following:

a. Medicine and the practicing of the art have taken thousands of years to develop until the author’s time, and it took ten thousands of doctors to reach its climax (and so it was then, now and so it will be in the future).

b. The truth in exploring the healing art is not an easy matter to comprehend. Then to prescribe medication without considering what has been said and tried, can be hazardous and risky, and should not be haphazardly ventured. It is always good for the physician to ask about his patient’s general condition; his history, the circumstances and ethical attitudes he reached and his pains and hopes for recovery. The physician should explain all that to him and describe the situation as accurately as possible, and confidently encourage him how to get well as soon as is feasible.

c. It is good and prudent for the physician to care for the patient, hope and wish him well and encourage him to get better by and by, although recovery is not always certain. It is body’s temperament that certainly follows the tendency of the soul, so the refined instinct and the managing nature both eventually help the physician to perform well his duties as professionally as possible.

d. The physician should not answer all questions spontaneously. Let him think it over, lest he be wrong and thus be misjudged.

e. There is no easy way out as far as the complexities of the medical arts are concerned. Accordingly, a physician may consider a certain medical case as an easy one to treat; yet after much research, it will be found one of the most difficult and obscure; while another case, thought to be very difficult to solve and diagnose, yet after investigation, it might turn out to be easy to treat and cure.

f. If a disadvantaged patient had a handicap or an impediment in one or more parts of his body, even after being successfully treated and cured, he should not expect better health than before and consider himself fortunate if he barely returned to normal, physically. Any injured part that recovered will be at most, as equally healthy as it used to be, not better. Each human character, body and soul, like his moral and physical talents are inherited from the person’s ancestors. Also, the chronic diseases, especially those of the main bodily parts are likewise inherited.

g. The caring physician, in treating his client should start with the diets first; this is the best for him. However, if more is required, then he can resort to drugs and further medical therapy.

6. Kitab Daghal al-Ayn: on the eye, its anatomy, its ailments and treatment, a book which is considered as a first attempt on the subject in Arabic. Because of this, naturally it happened to be very brief, disorganized and incoherent. It is found in several copies: for example in Cairo, Taymur Tibb 100, in 25 fols., dated 592 H. This short book apparently was translated into Latin by Constantine Africanus (d. 481H/1087); and was edited with introduction by C. Pruefer and M. Meyerhof. See also S. Hamameh, Cairo’s National Library Index, 1967, Tibb Halim, pp. 22, and 64.36 There is a chapter on eye diseases and their treatment found also in the Kunnash al-Mushajjar, being brief and to the point.

7 Kitab Mihnat al-Kahhalin: on the examination of oculists, the importance of the profession and the treatment of the eyes. Few copies are found: in Cairo, Petersburg and other libraries. It was studied and evaluated by Pruefer and Meyerhof.37

8. Kitab Fi al-Siwak wal-Sununat: on mouth hygiene, and the use of the tooth brush tree, and dentifrices. This treatise has a timely importance because of the subject matter, and was widely referred to and described in the literature up to our time, as mentioned by Hirschberg, Nashat al-Hamarnah, al-Wafai, Brockelmann, Sezgin and others.38

9. Kitab Fi Jawahir al-Tib al-Mufradah: on aromatic materia medica: its synonyms; descriptions and identifications; properties, and their indigenous origins. There are known copies in several libraries: Garrett in Princeton, N.J. no. 2154(2) dated 590 H.; University of Cairo’s Library; and Tehran, Malik 1569 in 6 fols., 11th c.H. It was edited by Sbath, “Traite sur les substances simples aromatiques”, Bull. Inst. Eg., 19 (1937), 5-27; and by Martin Levey, Jour. Hist. Med., 16 (1961), 394-410.39

10. Kitab al-Munjih fi al-Tadawi min Sunuf al-Amrad wal-Shakawi: on the treatment of certain kinds of diseases and afflictions, a work of which few copies are available such as the one in Cairo, Tibb 27, in 143 fols., dated 9th c.H.40

11. Kitab al-Adwiyah al-Mushilah wa-Islahuha: on the amelioration and improvement of laxative and purgative remedial agents; diets, including fruits; and aromatic drugs. This writer knows of one ms. and is found in the Venice Library, Italy; and a fragment of 9 pages in Maghribi script in his microfilm collection.41

12. Al-Kunnash al-Mushajjar al-Kabir: a tabloid or charted manual on the diseases of the body, their etiology, diagnoses and treatment. This is the last work to be mentioned here concerning Ibn Masawayh’s literary contributions. Copies of this work, it is hoped, will come to light. Meanwhile, this writer will attempt to discuss the contents in some detail, based on three known mss. in the following order:

1. The Rampur copy,1:494 Tibb 204, in 156 fols., dated 1086 H.

2. The Bankipore copy, IV, I, no. 2167, in 117 fols. incomplete, housed at Khuda Bakhsh Library, Patna-Bihar in India. It is written in a good, bold vivid Naskh script, 22 lines p. page, size 11.5 x 15 cm, dated from the 9th c.H/l5th — a microfilm copy is found in this writer’s collection.42

3. No. 208 Tibb, at the Library of Mawlana Barakat Ahmad courtesy of Mawlana Mahmud al-Barakat, in Tunak, India. It is written in a beautiful Naskh script, 152 fols., size 18 .x 24 cm., dated and executed with charts in 9th of Jumada I, 597 H/1201, by the physician Abul-Muzaffar b. Ali b. A. al-Futuh al-Qurashi (born in Homs, and studied practiced the art in Damascus and served the Nuri Hospital al-Kabir, and d. in 612H/1215). Most of the discussions and evaluation here, will be based on the last two microfilm copies in my collection in D.C., courtesy of the above mentioned libraries. A detailed notation in the colophon of the last copy explains that, Ibn Masawayh completed the work originally in Syriac, and had been left as such to be consulted by any reader when needed. It was later discovered by the physician (al-mutatabbib) Abu Isa Daniyal who knew Syriac well. He reported the news to his patron, Mansur b. Talhat, a minister (vizier) to the Abbasid Caliph (al-Mutawakkil?). After seeing this beautiful charted manual, Mansur ordered Daniyal to translate the work into Arabic. The latter was not sure from the terminologies and the exact phraseologies in the text. He, therefore, requested scholars who were more competent in the Arabic language and syntax to decipher these difficult expressions and words. He had help from Ghassan b. Muhammad al-Qadi of al-Kufah and Abd Allah (Mahmud) b. Misab and others.43

The above explanation throws much light on the book and its author, with information not known in the leading bibliographic references and historical catalogues. It also became clear, that this book is one of the author’s best works and possibly of the finest in its field, in the 3rd/9th c. His importance became the more relevant, when we consider that this Kunnash was completed and its author flourished one hundred years before Abu Bakr al-Razi and was quoted by him; 150 years before Ali b. Abbas b. al-Majusi (d. 994); and about two centuries before al-Shaykh al-Rais Ibn Sina’s time (d. 428H/1037).44

This manual is written in charted forms and with no usual introduction as expected in such important texts. It immediately starts with the first chapter on Alopecia (Gr. alopekia), a disease in which the hair falls out from skin areas where normally it is present. The author suggested that it is congenital ailment, and considered the types related in its causation and effect, as pertaining to the humoral theory. The text also differentiates between alopecia and ichthyosis, which is characterized by the dryness of the skin and described it like a fish-skin.45

Chapter 2, on dandruff (al-hazaz), or ringworm in view of its shape and color. It describes the dryness, scaly materials that are desquamated from the scalp and the forms of treatment.

Chapter 3, on pimples, pustules, the projections or festers of tumors, abscesses, ulcers, sores and similar afflictions. The author recommends medical as well as surgical treatments, such as the relying on venesection.46

Chapter 4, on head, pubis, or other locations in the body where hairs can be present and are infested with lice. The methods of cleaning and treatment are discussed: using salt and borax waters, and then washing the whole body with clean water well.

Chapter 5, on headache and causations: from fever, sun, heat, drinking too much wine, or from the main organs of the body. The author also described migraine, causes and the treatment.47

Chapter 6, on amnesia (Arabic, al-subat, Gr. meaning forgetfulness), lack or loss of memory, especially the inability to remember past experiences.

Chapter 7, on lethargy (al-subat al-sahari), or drowsiness, a condition characterized with many types such as: being hypnotic, hysteric, and having loss of will power with consequent inability to act, yet consciously.

Chapter 8, on vertigo, an illusion of movement, or a sensation as if the external world were revolving around the person, or the result of small irritations or afflictions, as noticed by the author. It involves nausea as well as stomach movements that excite a person to vomit.

Chapter 9, on meningitis, a swelling of the brain only, or by inflammation of the membranes of the brain or spinal cord (meninx). The author suggests exudation into brain cavity and upon its surfaces (the membranes or covers), either as acute or chronic processes. The symptoms associated with it are: severe headache, yelling and assaulting; stupefied, restlessness, vexation and oppression; frenzy delirium (sarsam) associated with hypochondria (iltihab sihai).48

Chapter 10, the phlegmon pain, cellulitis (translated, phalghamuni) or the diffuse inflammation of the infected areas of body’s tissues, which the author limits to hot swellings of the brain with severe head pain, pressing on brain’s coverings causing delirium, as well as the exciting to vomiting.

Chapter 11, on carbuncle or related to the phlegmonous pains and swellings, and according to the author, the location is in the brain. These ailments are associated with severe headache, high temperature and fever, dryness and coldness of the face. It can be also related to erysipelas as a contagious disease of the skin and subcutaneous tissues.49

Chapters 12 and 13, on fatigue, languor, lethargic slumber, and too much stupor beyond the natural and normal condition; afflictions that accompany sensual and motor unconsciousness; 1ver and frequently occurring strange fearful dreams.

Chapter 14, on melancholia (Gr. melancholy), a severe depression, usually of psychotic proportion (Arabic waswas), but without fever necessarily. It is a mental problem, accompanied either specifically with the brain, or with other parts of the body and is known as the emanating hypochondriasis (al-muraq al-nafih). It is generally associated with false, incredible suspicions, fear of death, self disgust, and hostility to others.50

Chapter 15, on hydrophobia (lyssa), is originally from the Greek, the morbid fear of water, affrighted by rabies. It is an acute infectious disease, usually fatal in mammals, such as dogs. The human infection results from bites of a rabid animal (e.g. a dog) causing convulsion or paralysis in the spine as in the cases of paralytic rabies.51

Chapter 16, on delirium, a severely disordered mental state characterized by confusion, disorientation, distorted sensations, fears, hallucinations, illusions, incoherence, excitement and restlessness.

Chapter 17, on epilepsy or seizure, a paroxysmal, transient, abnormal sensory, psychic or motor disturbances and perturbations of brain function that may be manifested as episodic impairment or loss of consciousness. It is regarded: generic, idiopathic, cryptogenic, essential or systematic whether organic, or acquired.
It was objectively discussed in the Hippocratic corpus (about B.C. 5th c.), commented upon by Galen and others and known in Arab-Islamic medicine in a rational manner since Ibn Masawayh and his compeers such as al-Tabari and al-Ibadi, who described it very accurately and well. Many later authors copied from them.52

Chapters 18 to 21, on rash; levity and frivolity (ruunah), thoughtlessness; involutional melancholy and the manic-depressive illness (al-qutrub) originated in the brain; as well as passionate, inordinate or ardent love (al-Ishq), and the methods of treatment especially by meeting and associated with the lover.

Chapter 22, on stroke (saktah qalbiyah) as cerebrovascular, sudden onset involving the two sides of the brain (apoplexy); the hemiplegia or the paralysis of one side of the body (left or right); and the languish, relax, flaccid or opulence conditions.

Chapters 23 to 26, on Bell’s facial paralysis. Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish physiologist (1774-1842) practiced in London, who described this unilateral peripheral palsy due to lesion of facial nerve. The true credit should be attributed to physicians in the Arab-Islamic Golden Period, who explained the disease fully and accurately. Ibn Masawayh reported its relaxing state on one side of the face and its inclination and propensity to the other sound healthy side. He also proposed and described the incurable types of this morbid disease. He also discussed the symptoms of spasm (al-tashannuj) in its various situations, and the methods of treatments. Also its expansion in the nerves or muscles of the spine or other parts of the body: such as in the occiput (ultimate), or in front of the head. The author further discussed cases of the trembling, quiver, convulsions and even mentioned the senile tremors.54

Chapters 27 to 32, on ailments of the eyes; ears; nose and nostrils; tongue, mouth and teeth; uvula, palate and tonsils, their kinds of afflictions and treatment.

Chapters 33 to 37, on colds, coughs, expectorations, and the influenzas as acute, viral respiratory infections with sudden onset of headaches, myalgia and fevers, lung afflictions, and hemoptysis (nafth al-damm).

Chapter 38, on pleurisy (barsam or dhat al-janb), an inflammation of the pleura, the serous membrane enveloping the lung and internal surface of the thoracic cavity, symptoms, and treatment.55

Chapters 39 to 43, on the heart, its failure and other ailments; also the breast; on fetid smell of the arm-pits, as well as bad odors from too much sweating, and how to rely and use deodorants; the stomach and its digestive system, afflictions and treatments; and the liver ailments, symptoms and treatments.

Chapters 44 and 45, on jaundice symptoms of the yellowness of the skin mucous membranes; the crises as a turning point for better or worse in acute diseases and fevers and the effects on other bodily organs; as well as dropsy, the abnormal accumulation of serous fluid in body tissues and cavities (istisqa or al-tawbal), kinds, symptoms and treatment.56

Chapters 46 to 51, on ailments of the spleen immediately below the diaphragm on body’s left side, being the largest lymphatic organ, and its drug and diet treatments; the variations, contradictions and dissimilarities concerning ailments of the stomach, the liver and the intestines and their treatment; hepatic, renal and intestinal colics and gripes either in specific situations or in connection with related ailments including ulcers, tumors and debilitating, languid afflictions; and worms of all types that afflict the body as the ascarides and thread worms, how they enter in it, and the vermifuges to get rid of them.57

Chapters 52 to 59, on the kidneys, bladder and ureters of the urinary system, their ailments and treatment; urine, urinalysis as practiced by physicians in Islam since Ibn Masawayh’s time, retention cysts, fistulas, infiltration, diseases and obstructions; urogenital organs; dysuria concerning painful or difficult urination, dripping, diabetes (mellitus) as an inherited chronic disorder causing coma if not controlled; seminal dripping; and sexual inversion, genital reflexes, and coitus problems and treatment.

Chapters 60 to 64, on the diseases of the uterus, pregnancy and embryology, problems, symptoms and treatment. The author also discussed the diseases of the rectum and the coccyx, fistulas, and hemorrhoids in the lower rectal wall or piles and their treatment medically and surgically.

Chapter 65, on gout as an inborn error of metabolism characterized by hyperuricemia and recurrent attacks of acute arthritis, especially the great toe. Also sciatica (hip-gout, irq al-nasa) pertaining to neuralgic pain along the course of the sciatic nerve, dependent upon inflammation or injury to the nerve or its roots, commonly due to a herniated disk of the lower lumbar or upper sacral spine. The symptoms are: numbness, tingling, and tenderness that can lead to loss of the ankle jerk and wasting of the muscles innervated by it; and followed by treatments.59

Chapters 66 to 72, on impetigo (qawba), as an acute inflammatory skin disease that may occur over the skin, especially in the head, characterized by subcorneal sacs or bullae that rupture, developing into tremendous number of crusts that cause itching; albino that is marked by congenital absence of coloring pigment in skin and hair (albinism), including the white freckles of pigmented muscles throughout the body; and vitiligo (bahaq), a disease characterized by an acquired achromia in various shapes and sizes pertaining to absence of pigment from skin, hair and eye. Also concerning erysipelas (al-humrah) with its various kinds: diffused or by spreading widely and wandering as well as those forming ballae on the skin; and on the numbing in the limbs, fingers, and deficiency of sensation according to the author due to extreme cold, cracking in the skin and pains of the nails.60

Chapters 73 to 75, on leprosy as a chronic infectious disease manifested with cutaneous and neural lesions of varied kinds; flesh growing on the roots of hand and feet finger nails; on scrofula skin disease of the lymph nodes and a morbid with glandular swellings; on elephantiasis (from the Greek) a chronic enlargement and thickening of the subcutaneous and cutaneous tissues caused by lymphatic obstruction and edema where the legs and scrotum are most commonly affected; and warts as any hard excrescences, rough-surfaced skin papule caused by its abnormal growth.61

Chapters 76 to 80, on itching as sensation of tickling or desire to scratch (pruritus or prurigo) a contagious disorder; while the small-pox is a highly contagious infectious viral disease with febrile illness and vesicular and pustural eruption or variola; measles as an acute infectious viral disease associated with morbilliform eruption and catarrhal inflammation of the conjunctiva and air passages with symptoms include also severe fever and headache, cough, and chill; cancer as any malignant tumor burned by fire or depilatory paste; stinging scorpions, snakes, hornets and wasps, or biting of rabid dog; potent and toxic drugs; and finally on fevers, its kinds, symptoms and medical treatments.62

The above works by Ibn Masawayh, especially the latter manual, Kunnash, explain and emphasize the, importance of this pioneer physician and his contributions to the healing arts, with detailed evaluation of his sizable charted manual. The latter contains many noteworthy, accurate and useful observations, experimentations and empirical regulations and axioms that surpassed others in their originality, farsightedness and usefulness.

In many of these documented observations, he was copied by many latter authors through the succeeding, long centuries. However, these refined ideas quoted by historians from the 3rd. H/9th c. on, were actually his.

Ibn al-Nadim lists twenty of his works; about five more in al-Qifti (d. 1248); and almost double of that number by Ibn Abi Usaybiah (d. 668 H/1270), as well as by Sezgin. All these sages and many other medical historians, East and West, testify and confirm his outstanding erudition and contributions to the healing arts in Islam and to his time.



1. Edward Gibbon, (1737-94). The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1, 2nd ed., Encyclopedia Britannica, The Univ. of Chicago, 1990, pp. 102-10; and Will Durant, The Age of Faith, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1950, P. 143.

2. John W. Limbert, Iran, Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press, 1987, pp. 59-63, A. Bauthstrak, Syrische Literatur, 1922, pp. 161-9; and E. Wallis Budge, Syrian Anatomy, Pathology and Therapeutics, Vol. 1, Syriac text; and Vol. 2, translation and indexes, London, 1913.

3. Jamal al-Din Ali al-Qifti (d. 1248), Tarikh at-Hukama, Leipzig ed., 1903, pp. 328-9, and 380-91.

4. Ibid., pp. 158-60; and Ahmad b. Abi Usaybiah, Uyun al Anba, Cairo, Bulaq ed. 1882, Vol. 1:119-27, 149-52, and 170-83.

5. Abul-Faraj Ibn al-Nadim (d. 385H/995), al-Fihrist, Beirut ed., Dar al-Marifah, 1978, pp. 295.6; and G. Ibn al-Ibri (d. 1285), T. Mukhtasar al-Duwal, Beirut, Catholic Press, 1958, pp. 124, 131-144, and 227.

6. Qifti, Tarikh, 100-1; and Fuat Sezgin, G.A.S., Leiden, Brill, 1970, Vol. 3:209-13, and 228-9.

7. Louis Cheikho, Les Savants Arabes C. en Islam, ed. by C. Hechaime, Lebanon, 1983, pp. 102-4; George Sarton, Introduction to the Histoiy of Science, Krieger’s ed., Vol. 1, N. York, 1975, pp. 417-9, and 435; and Shams al-Din Ahmad b (for ibn) Khallikan (d. 681 H.), Wafayat al-Ayan, ed. by Ibn Abbas, Vol.1, Beirut, Dar Sadir, 1972, pp. 328-46, 4:29 and 6:219.

8. Qifti, Tarikh, pp. 132-47; Cheikho, Las Savants, Pp. 119-8; 210-2; and Encyclopedia of Islam, New Ed., Vol. 2:1338.

9. Lucien Leclerc (1816-86), Histoire de la medecine arabe, Paris (Rabat ed., 1980), Vol. 1:105-11; and Umar R. Kahhalah, Mujam al-Muallifin, vol. 13, Damascus, Ubayd, 1960, PP. 263-4.

10. Ibn Khallikan, Wafayat, vol. 2:294-9; and 4:37-40; F.Ibn al-Bustani ed., Dairat al-Maarif, Beirut, 1956, Vol. 4:13; and Ibn Abi Usaybiah, Uyun, 1:175-5.

11. Ibid., pp. 183-4; Sezgin, GAS., 3:229; and Mari b. Sulayman, Akhbar Batarikat K al-Mashriq, ed. H. Gismond, Roma, 1899, pp. 75-6.

12. Sulayman b. Hassan b. Juljul, Tabaqat at-Atibba’ wal-Hukama’ ed F. Sayyid, Cairo, I.F.A.O., 1955, pp. 65-6; and Khayr al-Din al-Zir Kili, 3rd. ed., Beirut, 1969 or 1980, p. 279.

13. Said al-Duyuhji, Bayt al-Hikmah, 2nd. ed., Dar al-Kutub, Univ. of al-Mawsil, 1972, pp. 31-9; Sarton, Introduction, 1:574; and F. Wuestenfeld, Gesch. d. arab. Aerzte, Goettingen, 1840, p. 23.

14. P.K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, London, Macmillan, 1963, ed., pp. 302-11; and John Globb, A Short History of the Arabs, New York, Stein and Day, 1970, pp. 106-12.

15. Ernst, J. Gurlt, Geschichte der Chirurgie, Berlin, 1890, 1:622-4; Sami K. Hamarneh, History of Arabic Med., Yarmouk University, Vol. 1, 1986, pp. 121-2; and al-Dimashqi and his Epistle al-Haruniyah (Arabic), Bilad al-Sham During the Abbasid Period, Proceedings, ed. by M.A. al-Bakhit et a!., Amman, The University of Jordan, 1992, pp. 540-55.

16. S. Hamarneh, History of Nursing (Arabic), Al-Quds al-Sharif, Vol. 4, no. 55 (1989), pp. 63-9; and No. 57, pp. 63-4; and al-Manahij, al-Quds al-Sharif, No. 60 (1990), pp. 65-7; and D.M. Dunlop, “Bimaristan: 1. Early period and Muslim East,” Encyclopedia Islam, Vol. 1, (1960), 1223-4.

17. D.M. Dunlop, J. Mesue and his Work, Bull. British Society for the History of Science, 1952; and Encyclopedia of Islam, 3:896-7; and Hist. of Arab. Med., Yarmouk University, 1986, 1:159-69.

18. Ibn Abi Usaybiah, Uyun, 2:83; Cheikho, Les Savants, p. 39; Leclerc, Histoire, 1:182; Bustam, Dairat, 3:409; Georg Graf, Gesch. der christlichen arabiechen Literatur, Roma, 1949, 2:113-4; and Hitti, History, pp. 309, 452-5.

19. Kamal al-Samarai, M. Tarikh al-Tibb al-Arabi, Vol. 1(1984),. pp. 414-27;and Ibn al-Ibri, Tarikh, pp. 124, 130-8, 140-4.

20. S. Hamarneh, Al-Bimaristanat,  Al-Fikr al-Arabi, No. 49, December, 1987, Vol. 8:121-34; and ibid, Vistas of Arabic Healing Arts, Hamdard Medicus, Vol. 32, No. 3 (1989), 12-15.

21. Ibid., History of Nursing, al-Quds al-Sharif, no. 55 (1989), pp. 61-7; and Ibn Abi Usaybiah, Uyun, 1:130-5, 165- .71, and 383-4.

22. Ibid., and Hamarneh, Al-Bimaristanat, 1987, P. 125.

23. Cheikho, Les Savants, pp. 170-2; Qifti, Tarikh, pp. 207-8, 385.

24. Ibid., p. 380; and Ibn Abi Usaybiah, Uyun, 1:202.

25. Ibid., 1:177-9; Qifti, Tarikh, pp. 380-91; and J. Pagel, Die angebtiche Chirurgie des J. Mesue, Berlin, A. Hirschwald, 1893.

26. J.C. Sournia and G. Tropeau, Medecin arabe: Biographies critiques, Clio Medica, Vol. 3 (1968), 109-17; and A. Mieli, De la anatomia arabe,  Aracheion, 24 (1942). pp. 438-44.

27. Cheikho, Les Savants, pp. 210-12; Sarton, Introduction, 1574; and Amin A. Khairallah, Arabic Contribution to Medicine, Beirut, American Press, 1946, pp. 103-6. Concerning Masawayh’s contribution to embryology, see Ursula Weisser, “The Embryology of Y. b. Masawayh,” Jour. History of Arabic Science, University of Aleppo, Vol. 4, No. 1 (1980), 9-22; and Arabic text, pp. 94-100.

28. S. Hamarneh, Arabic Medicine, vol. I, Yarmouk University, 1986, pp. 146-55; and Catalogue of Mss. at the British Library, 1975, pp. 40-2, 93-110; Sahban Khlaifat ed., Al-Farabi on al-Saadah, Amman. The University Press, 1987, 11-26; and Introduction to Al-Biruni’s Book on Precious Stones and
Minerals (al-Jamahir fi Marifat al-Jawahir), Karachi, Hamdard Foundation Press, 1988, pp. 3-9.

29. Ibn al-Nadim, al-Fihrist, 411-2; Hamarneh, Index of Mss. Natn. Library, Cairo, 1967, p. 64; and Sezgin, GAS., 3:233. It is an enlargement of the Chapter No. 80, in al-Kunnash al-Mushajjar.

30. This short book can be an enlargement of the above work. It was mentioned by Sbath, Index, 1:19, al-Jarrah, Aleppo, No. 102.

31. It is mentioned by al-Razi and many latter authors in Islam.

32. al-Dimashqi, Bilad al-Sham Proceedings, 1992, pp. 553-7; and M. Ullmann, Die Medizin im Islam, Leiden, Brill, 12970, p. 29.

33. Sezgin, GAS., 3:234. It is mentioned by al-Qifti, Ibn Abi Usaybiaah and al-Samaraj; Hellmut Ritter, in Oriens, Vol. 3 (1950), p. 103; and a copy of this work is housed at the Municipal Library of Alexandria, Egypt No. 3328 (2), dated 1245 H.

34. The best known copies of this al-Nawadir (Aphorisms) are: Leiden, Or. 128 (2), ff. 141-6, dated 724 H.; Goettingen, No. 99 (2), 170-6; and Madrid, Biblioteca Nacion, No. 601 (10), dated 9th c.H.

35. Other copies and annotations are found in Jacquart and Troupeau, ibid., see also pp. 5-19, 106-18, and 144-8.

36. Nashat al-Hamarnah, Tarikh Atibba al-Uyun, part 1(1989), pp. 47-8; and C. Pruefer, and M. Meyerhof, Die Augenheilkunde des J. Masawayh, Islam, Vol. 6 (1916), 217-56.

37. Sezgin, GAS., 3:233; not mentioned in Ibn al-Nadim.

38. M.R. El-Moslehy et al., Siwak — an Arab Health Device, Intern. Conf. on Islamic Med., Proceedings, Vol. 1, (1981), pp. 344-52; and Ibn al-Quff al-Karaki, Jami al-Gharad, Amman. The University of Jordan, 1989, pp. 505, 575-7. This work is mentioned also in Ibn al-Nadim and most other bibliographers.

39. Hitti, et at., Catalogue of the Garrett Collection, Princeton University, 1939, no. 2154 (2), dated 590 H.

40. Mentioned by al-Razi in his al-Hawi al-Kabir, and also by al-Biruni in his K al-Saydanah fi al-Tibb, ed. by Hakim Mohammed Said, Hamdard Foundation Pakistan, 2 Vols., 1973. The Cairo copy in 143 ff., dated 9th c.H. is the only one known by this writer.

41. This writer had a microfilm fragment under the title: Quwa al-Adwiyah al-Mushilah; on the faculties of laxative drugs, their properties, temperaments and treatments, in 9 pages in Maghribi script, not fully identified.

42. Ibrahim Shabbuh ed., Microfilm Index, Cairo, Arab League Mss. Dept., Vol. 3 (2), pp. 158-9, 231, and 173, described the two latter Nos. 208 and 231 considering them as two different ones. In a future discussion it is my hope to establish the identities of both, since at the first glance there are many similarities yet differences, errors and omissions of the charts. As regard to the copyist of Ms. No. 208, Ibn Abi Usaybiah, Uyun, 2:201, identified him as being Kamal al-Din al-Homsi (Hums or ancient Emesa a leading city in Syria) Abu (Mansur) al-Muzaffar al-Qurashi. He was praised for his erudition studying under the highly reputed al-Shaykh Radi al-Din al-Rahbi, dean of the physicians in Damascus in his time, and others. He was interested in commercial transactions beside his medical profession. He was recognized as a leading medical authority and served the profession with distinction in the great al-Nuri hospital, as well as in clinics and during his visitations at homes until his death in the Syrian capital in 1215 during the reign of the Ayyubid’s Sultan Abu Bakr al-Adil (reigned, 1199-1218).

43. The inscription is not all together legible since some of the words and phrases obliterated or were over-exposed, and need further study. But no doubt it shed a light on the authenticity and publication of this noteworthy pathological compendium. This Mansur b. Talhat can be identified as grandson of Tahir b. al-Husayn, a family that stood firmly and sincerely on the side of Caliph al-Mamun. This grandson served at the Caliph’s palace under al-Mutawakkil and his successor; see Ibn Khallikan, Wafayat, 2:521-2.

44. Hamarneh, Arabic Medicine, Yarmouk University, 1986, pp. 189-99, and 248-50; and ibid, Vistas, Hamdcsrd Medicus, 32 (3, 1989), 12-2 1.

45. This and other techno-medical words and terminologies were utilized for information from Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, Philadelphia, PA., Saunders: Blakiston’s Gould Medical Dictionary, and Mosby Medical Encyclopedia, New York, New American Library, 1985, or more recent editions.

46. Ibid., and R.L. Sutton et at., Diseases of the Skin, 10th ed., St. Louis, Mosby, 1939.

47. Ibid., and Marcus A. Krupp et al., eds., Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment, Los Atlos, California, Lange Medical Publications, 1975.

48. For explaining Arabic and Persian medical words and terminologies see Husni Sabah, Polyglottic Medical Dictionary, Damascus, Arab Academy, 1983; Elias A. Elias, Modern Dictionary, Arabic-English and English-Arabic, any recent editions; and J.G. Al-Faraid, Arabic-English Dictionary, Beirut, Catholic Press, 1964.

49. S.K. Hamarneh, Catalogue of The British Library, 1975, pp. 129-3 1; and Arabic Medicine, Yarmouk University, 1986, pp. 268-71 and 14-17.

50. Ibid., and Muhadhdhab al-Din Ibn Hubal al-Baghdadi (d. 610H/1213), K. al-Mukhtarat, Pt. 3, Hyderabad-Deccan, India, Osmania Or. PubI. Br., 1363H/1944, pp. 23-79.

51. Cases of infections due to the bites of mammals had writings in many manuals published in Arabic during the Islamic period since the 3rd/9th c. on. See for example Jonathan C. Meakins, The Practice of Medicine, 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mosby, 1940, pp. 1249-54.

52. Ibid., pp. 1100-7; and Hamarneh, Vistas, Hamdard Medicus, 32 (no. 3, 1989), 3-6; and Arabic Medicine, Yarmouk U., 1986, pp. 74-5.

53. F. Steingass, Percian-English Dictionaiy, 5th impression, London, Routledge & K. Paul Ltd., 1963, pp. 224, 373, 850, according to the alphabetical order.

54. Ibid., laqwah, a disease (distortion) of the mouth, peripheral facial paralysis; spasmodic contraction of the muscles, spasms or cramps (tashannuj) as in epileptic fits of children or fainting fit of pregnant women, pp. 303 and 1127.

55. Ibid., p. 174, barsam, a pain in the breast, an oppression, swelling in the stomach; and nafth al-damm, p. 1414.

56. Ibid., pp. 52, 809, 983-4, and 1530, especially istisqa and yaraqan.

57. Ibid., 411, 551 on the kinds of worms mentioned.

58. Abu Zayd Hunayn al-Ibadi, al-Masail fi al-Tibb, ed. by M.A. Abu Rayyan et at., Dar al-Jamiat al-Misriyah, 1978, pp. 288-303, and Hamarneh, Medical Technology in Ibn al-Quff's Surgery, Proceedings of Islamic Medicine, 1981, pp. 171.6 (Arabic text, 130-9).

59. Hamarneh, Early Independent Treatise on Gout, Physis (Firenze, Italy), 20 (1978), pp. 31-47.

60. Steingass, Dictioaary, p. 211, on bahaq; and on infectious diseases, Krupp, Current, pp. 65, 52, 370-1, 430, 640 and 803.

61. Ibid., on heredity metabolic disorders (diseases), see for example pp. 65 and 766, and Steingass, Dictionary, on scrofula, especially the glandular swelling in the neck, p. 475.

62. Abu Zayd Hunayn al-Ibadi, Masail, 1878 ed., pp. 259-70 on fevers and infections



Hamdard Medicus Vol. XL, № 1, pp. 17-27, 1997


Causes and Remedies for the Decline of Islamic Medicine in the Last Five Centuries



The period between the 9th and the 15th century AD spotlights a bright era when, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Arabs extended their field of activity right up to Spain. They played the pivotal role of guardians and caretakers of scientific thought, achieving supremacy especially in biological sciences. Indeed, biology came to be known as an ‘Arab Science’. In the 19th Century and afterwards, and during the five decades of the 20th Century, the World of Islam has surprisingly neglected its great men of medicine and science, philosophers, mathematicians, critics, commentators, statesmen and men of letters. It completely overlooked the fundamental achievements of those great scholars. It is really the limit that the pioneering work in science and technology, accomplished during that glorious period between the 9th and 15th centuries, was lost sight of and not the slightest heed was paid to the three million manuscripts of that illustrious era that remain ‘preserved’ in several libraries of the world. These three million manuscripts contain creative works, researches, discoveries and inventions of the Muslims and Arabs. It can be asserted without fear of contradiction that the entire infrastructure of all the scientific and technological advancement of today is based upon the groundwork of those ancients.

I lave beforehand, presented to the esteemed participants of this world conference copies of an article of mine which narrates the story of the decline from the 15th to the 18th century. This dissertation is worth your deep thought. There is not enough time for this keynote address to go into greater details, and I shall therefore restrict myself to some salient remarks in the light of the contemporary situation. Copies are available here of the paper “Science, Modernity and Religion” that I had prepared for the symposium held in Malaysia last year. In this paper, I have presented the current declined state of thought, skill and action among Muslims and have given solutions to resolve this situation. This paper may be considered as a part of this keynote address.

Persistent oversight and negligence of the germinal contributions made by Muslim scholars in various fields of knowledge resulted into a state that the new generations find themselves in the iron grip of a depressing sense of inferiority. Consequently, when the torch of learning passed into the hands of the West and its glare came to be felt in the East then every student, scholar, author and learned person of the East began to regard the West as his preceptor, cowering down to the superiority of the West.

This sense of inferiority produced dire results. The worst that could happen was that the Muslim world became incapable of serious thinking, objective research, analytical inquiry and inventive creativity giving way easily to the excellence of the West and underestimating or rejecting the role of their own great ancestors. The situation today is reflected by the Muslims’ nondescript disregard of these three million manuscripts, wiping completely off the slate the very existence of those master minds who produced this immense treasure.

So devastating is this inferiority complex that it has put blinkers even on the eyes of petro-dollars against Islamic science and technology. This feeling of inadequacy in the field of education, science and medicine and this perpetual heedlessness has ensnared the Arab and Muslim world in social and economic despondency to the detriment of their society and culture. As the sun of Islamic civilization began to set, every conceivable malediction of the world descended upon Islamic communities and every calamity resulted in a chain of enslavement. After the ebb and tide of temporary waves of freedom, the chain of bondage has clanked once again and today the Arab and Muslim world has been partly or wholly enslaved by the West. Portents are that the next one hundred years would pass in this stage of dejection unless some true Muslim appears on the scene to invoke the spirit of Islam and the whole Muslim world rallies round the call of pan-Islamic union.

The present situation is that the summits so far held under the Organization of Islamic Conference, Jeddah, have only brought about discord instead of accord, and that every meeting of the Muslim Foreign Ministers has collapsed under the pressure of alien forces. Surprisingly, learning and erudition have never been the major items on the agenda of these meetings. This grand neglect can only serve to hasten disaster.

Allow me to say that a ‘Voice of Hamdard’ has been heard echoing from Pakistan during the past four decades, exhorting that every broken chain of the Arab and Muslim contributions to the history of science must be rejoined. Hamdard initiated researches beginning with Ibn al-Haitham (the Father of Optics), and included work on al-Biruni. Subsequently, Hamdard secured the cooperation of Unesco and that of Iran in reviewing the history and philosophy of science in the light of Arab and Muslim contributions. Credit for it goes to Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr. But, in spite of all this, I faced a great set-back in eliciting the willingness of the Arab and Muslim world to start work on rendering these three million manuscripts in contemporary languages. In this scholastic assembly you will find my booklet “In Search of Manuscripts”. I had despatched copies to every Islamic organization of the world and to every Muslim Minister for Education and Culture, but no one took any notice of my appeal to collect these scattered manuscripts and to make them subjects for doctoral studies.

At the closing of the 1400 Years of Islam and the beginning of the 15th century Hijra, I had suggested to the World of Islam that this special event must not be wasted on jubilations and that the historic event ought to be marked by bringing these three million manuscripts into limelight for the benefit of the Ummah in order to pull it out of a state of stagnation and despondency. Unfortunately, even today, I must admit my failure in this respect.

The work of collecting and publishing manuscripts under the aegis of the King Faisal Foundation is rather limited and ineffective. King Hasan II of Morocco possesses a large collection of manuscripts. There are some four hundred thousand manuscripts in Turkey. Libraries in Iran are full of manuscripts. Afghanistan’s stock of manuscripts has been transferred to India. Russia and the Central Asian countries have a large quantity. Princeton’s list of manuscripts has been compiled in two volumes by Philip Hitti. The stock at the Escorial is closed. The British Museum and the Library of Congress contain large numbers of them. The National Library of Medicine in America contains large stocks and so does the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. Libraries in India are full of them, especially the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library in Patna, but all of them are termed as ‘preserved’. These are the references to which I am an eye-witness.


Indifference to History

History reveals that people’s indifference to their past invites indolence and inertia. To build a better present and to be able to look ahead, one must look back also. This is what is happening in the field of medicine and I can affirm that one of the main causes of the decline of Islamic Medicine is our indifference towards our history.

For instance, let me ask you ladies and gentlemen a few questions.

* What are the sciences and technologies to which these three million manuscripts are devoted?

* Have you considered who are the authors of these manuscripts?

* Do you know who authored the Al-Qanoon fi al-Tibb which till the 18th century remained a medical textbook in the West, and what happened to its author? This book has been translated into the Russian and Uzbek languages, and now the English translation is underway at the National Library of Medicine.

* Do you know who wrote the 25-volumes of Al-Hawi, the man whose work on smallpox led to the discovery of the vaccine for smallpox?

* Do you know who wrote Kitab al-Tasreef (comprising 30 sections); its most important part is the surgical, which was modern in Spain yesterday and which remains modern today. He was the man who invented almost every instrument of surgery.

* Do you know that Kitab al-Manazir is the first book which describes the working of human vision. Who was its author, and who was the forerunner of the camera-obscura?

* Do you know the original Arab exponent of the circulation of the blood? Was he William Harvey?

* Do you know the great man who, from the fort in Nandana (now in Pakistan) was the first to measure the dimensions of the earth? Amazingly this measurement has been accepted as accurate.

* Can you name the medical expert who discovered a cure for bodily lacerations in the useful fungus found on trees in the rainy season — the secret which led Alexander Fleming to the discovery of penicillin?

* Do you know the ecclesiastic writer who, from his prison deep down in a well in Bokhara dictated 27 volumes of his book to his disciples sitting and listening on the rim of the well above? These tomes are considered to be some of the most authentic ones in the study of Fiqh.

* Do you know why the name of Jalinoos (Galen) was expunged from the 26th edition of the world famous Gray’s Anatomy?

* Do you know who was the original author of the “Tract on Cardiac Drugs”, the man who gave the most appropriate concept of cardiovascular diseases.

* Do you know who established the relation between the four elements and human health and disease? Late in the day, four international conferences on Elementology have been organized to confirm the elements of Islamic Medicine.

I can ask a thousand questions like these and I know that except Hakim Abdul Wahab Zahoori and Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr no one can give correct answers to all the questions. In fact this supports my view that indifference to one’s own history tends to push people into the serfdom of aliens — a situation which we are facing currently.


The Field of Botany

It cannot be denied that the Muslim people’s great urge for knowledge has been greatly influenced by the Holy Quran, the Sunnah and the Traditions of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him). In the field of medicine they also kept before themselves the guidelines provided by the Holy Quran and the Sunnah and preferred herbs for the treatment of disease. The stupendous amount of the ancients’ observations of, and experiments with herbs resulted in multi-encyclopaedic works, leaving an extremely rich legacy, but we have failed to make good use of this great bequest We chose to follow the West instead, and treated the human body as merely a mass of flesh and bones, giving little or no place to man’s soul. We therefore gave no consideration to the spiritual attribute of the human body, outstepped the limits of nature and depended on antimicrobials as our sheet-anchor.

In the world of medicine, this precisely is the dividing line between the Islamic and Western medicine. A Muslim cannot deny the existence of the soul, and this view is absolutely correct. Denial of the soul means denial of psychology, and the exclusion of psychology from medicine clearly endangers medicine. Putting this complicated debate aside, I wish to invite your attention towards the importance and need for the treatment of disease through herbs.

In the high noon of Islamic Medicine, the physicians who discovered chemical substances, designed surgical instruments, described surgical procedures, carried out pharmacognostic studies on thousands of herbs and used this knowledge to establish pharmacological effects which have not been contradicted to this day, could have also isolated active principals from compounds and extracts of a plant, but they desisted deliberately from transgressing the limits of nature, accepting the human body as it was created by nature, and treated it in nature’s way. With success they fought diseases for centuries together.

The modern man who has conquered the moon seems rather helpless before the power of microorganisms. He has therefore started finding refuge in herbs again. The modern man who claims to be the master of science and technology, has openly admitted that he is unable to completely understand the working of the human mind and body. Certainly he cannot ‘predict for sure the effects of a medical preparation introduced into the human body. He was presumptuous over the superlative performance of his laboratories but thousands of the so-called ‘perfect’ medicines perfected in the so-called ‘perfect’ laboratories had to be withdrawn for having subjected human health to a worse condition. Today’s man is therefore again seeking security in treatment with herbs. Modern man tried to fight psychosomatic disorders, including tension and depression, with tranquillizers, sedatives and hypnotics giving no thought to psychological factors and to the soul of man. As a result a thousand-bed hospital in Boston was found inadequate to meet the demands of mental patients and another hospital of the same size is under construction. This is only an example of one city in one state.

Love for luxury at the expense of self-respect is certainly one reason for the decline of the world of Islam. Self-dignity has been put under the hammer in the Arab and Muslim world, striking a deadly blow to the honour and respect of the Muslim community. Aversion to simplicity and contentment has polluted politics and made national security a commodity for sale. The heart of the Muslim has become void of Faith. This is a curse which has let loose so many evils in the Arab and Muslim world — evils which have put health and education on the downgrade. The need for excellence in knowledge and education is no longer essential. In 1990, thousands of scientific conferences were held throughout the world where some two and a half million learned papers were presented. The papers presented by Muslims could number only one thousand. In the past two centuries significant research contributions were almost nil from the Arab and Muslim world. No new breakthrough has been recorded in the fields of medicine and science.


Some Suggestions

While coming to a conclusion here, let us all ponder what must be done to pull ourselves out of this heartbreaking and distressing state of affairs. My suggestions would be that:

* We Muslims must sincerely return to the teachings of the Holy Quran and make Quranic tenets our guide.

* Let us find the light of wisdom in the life of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him). Let us learn the lesson how poverty could not hold him back from becoming the greatest of men and how his life and thought made such a deep and indelible impression on world civilizations and cultures.

* Insights ought to be gained from our history and we should consider what charismatic qualities made Muslims the world leaders for centuries.

* Let us accept the fact that the Islamic teachings are firmly based on realities. Mobilize the hidden forces of Faith to regain our lost glory.

* Let us agree once and for all that greatness cannot be achieved without giving prime importance to knowledge, its attainment and dissemination and holding erudition in high esteem.

* Let us protect our dignity and self-respect and not sell it away at any cost.

* Let individuals in the society learn to respect humanity following the Quranic injunction of unity among themselves, holding fast to the rope of Allah.

* Let the whole world of Islam bring educational curricula in line with the Islamic way of life and introduce an overriding unity in the curricula to foster pan-Islamic Unity.

* Let our educational system be based entirely upon our own resources, eschewing dependence on others as a matter of our prestige.

* Let liberty rule supreme in every country big or small. Indeed, freedom was tasted by many of us, but why was it so short-lived? The 21st century seems to push us back into serfdom once again. The situation must be assessed realistically in the light of what freedom really demands and how the spirit of independence can thrive. Perhaps, only then can the followers of Islam hope to regain the torch of learning to lead the way.

This cannot be done without firmly believing that slavery is a curse deadly opposed to the spirit of Islam.



First of all, let us define the oft-debated triangle formed by science, modernity and religion in order to make our horizons clear.

The aim of the science is to find reliable knowledge about the world but, let us agree, science cannot specify how exactly life came into existence, nor can histoiy tell how long ago the planet earth was blessed with the gift of pulsating life.

Modernisation is a continuous process of change for the sake of change, even at the cost of being unnatural, and change occurs because human behavior is never static. It is continually being modified or reduced by new circumstances.

Religion exists in two kinds: Revealed Religion, which is knowledge of God revealed to man, and Natural religion, which is knowledge of God derived from studying nature. The essential element of religion is to constantly ennoble the lives of all human beings.

In this widely accepted triangle formed by the basic concepts of science, modernity and religion, the holistic nature of Islam covers all major and minor aspects of life eliminating the conflicts between the spiritual and temporal needs of man. It inspired a glorious tradition of learning and the result was an extravaganza of intensive research at a time when the Dark Ages surrounded the rest of the world.

In this perspective, is it not relevant to ask what causes quickening to the embryo in the womb? Here science has nothing to say because this process is nature’s doing. In common parlance this inception of life is called spirit which, in the human context, the faithful call the soul. The soul occupies the heart so long as it throbs, and when the heart beats no longer, the soul departs to where it came from.

No creature (except man) and not even the universe itself has the intelligence to know that the universe is the product of an Intelligent Design. Such a comprehension was bestowed upon the human mind alone together with the capability of exercising his own intelligence leading to observations and experiments which form the very foundations of science.

The function of this sagacity, or science, is to strike a balance with a sense of tolerance among civilizations and to discover, for the ascent of humanity, whatever exists between the earth and the skies to get a better idea of Divine Creation. This would take centuries and not decades but, ultimately, the search will confirm the existence of the Eternal Divine Wisdom which is given the name of Allah.

Recorded history witnesses that a struggle has existed and still continues to exist, between detached scientific curiosity and the All-knowing, All-powerful Creative Being.

The warmth emanating from the sun, the fecundity of dry earth and the life-giving properties of water, the production of chlorophyll from carbon dioxide and the preparation of carbohydrates with the help of chlorophyll is all a natural process. Man has not yet been able to set this process in motion on his own accord. Sustenance and life itself are beyond his mastery. If such a man lays claim to triumph over nature, he is surely crossing the limits.

Whenever science has disregarded religion and proceeded towards Godlessness, man has misappropriated the status of God. History has always witnessed a frightful end of such man-gods. In the recent past, the man-gods of Russia have faced such a demolition and the future of Godlessness can be no different evidently.

How can a scientist expect to see the unseen God when he himself cannot show his inner anguish to another man? He knows that other solar systems exist in addition to the one on which he himself breathes. But he knows very little about the other solar systems. On what logic therefore can he reject God outright? He is unable to fully comprehend the exact reactions of a medicine introduced into a living body. Had it been so, many a drug would not have been withdrawn. For a scientist who has not yet unlocked the mysteries of his own physique, it is too tall a claim to unlock the mysteries of the universe in the next twenty years’ time.

This symposium feels that religion’s status lies in its commitment to seek the deepest possible level of understanding and that it is a quest which unites science and theology. Up to this point I agree. Science must clearly determine its limits. The symposium also feels that the world of Islam is today hemmed in by social and economic imbalances attracting the challenges of modernity. It is suggested that there seems to be no escape and the situation ought to be faced realistically.

I am of the opinion that the world of Islam is neither faced with economic crises nor with social problems. If volcanic eruptions are seen here and there, the reason is the lack of faith and unity. It has severed its ties with learning and with Allah. This alone is the reason for the apparent triumph of modernity. The world of Islam is overpowered by a sense of inferiority, and herein lies the true challenge which must be analyzed and understood.

Today, the scientist is less powerful than the national politician who has overcome every reformer and philosopher and the civilizing effects of peace, giving way to the new order of modernity to defeat humanity, probity and uprightness, unleashing the opposite forces, handing over the whole world to the care of ignobility.

This villainy has fractured humanity’s mutual love and tangled up the skein of morality. Let us concede that when politicians assume such a role in which ever country they may be, their mental health becomes doubtful. They should be removed from the corridors of power and put into hospitals.

I have seen the list of guest-speakers and studied their topics. In this light I felt that I should adopt a theme concerning religion. World religions still lack mutual understanding. The effects thus created are not influenced by science. The differences between the East and West demand attention because they are the main cause of bloodshed destroying world peace, depriving man of his right to live on this planet of ours.



It is rather an interesting occurrence that the uproar about modernism made tremendous echoes when the West had overwhelmed the East. Europe ransacked Great China until American influence put an embargo upon those aspects of learning which had distinguished the Chinese heritage. For instance, the four thousand years old Chinese medicine was declared redundant. Great and peerless Chinese civilization and culture were countermanded. Japan could not resist the inroads and traditional Japanese learning breathed its last. Korea stood nowhere but restrictions and constraints were put upon it by Western powers. South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent were pushed into serfdom by the East India Company. The Mogul Sultanate was crushed down. The last of the Mogul emperors, Bahadur Shah Zafar and his wife were extradited to Rangoon where they lie buried. Their progenies are famished, down and out.


Definition of Modernism

In the lexis, disagreement exists regarding the meanings of modernism, and its definitions vary in our own time. Considered in the context of the East-West conflict, its connotations today are something like this:

* The superiority of the West has the right to trample down Eastern values.

* Western predominance has the privilege to incarcerate every human being in the East.

* The West’s upper hand means a disrespect of Eastern erudition, with the right to make people in the East turn their faces from their own cultural heritage.

* The Western blitz has every right to obliterate the vestiges of the East to the extent that Bosnia is treaded upon and her children’s heads are kicked about like footballs.

* The West had the privilege to obtain Hitler’s atom bomb from Norway, to be dropped on Eastern cities killing millions.

* The West has the freedom to use its limitless power to create rift among Eastern nations, especially among the Muslims, and to watch the outcome as a spectator.

* The West has the license to export its lewd culture to the East, persuading the East to slander and impair its own culture.

* The Western supremacy has the liberty to pack the East’s educational system and textbooks with a sense of inferiority to subvert the Eastern thinking and distort its way of life.

* The Western domination has the permit to suppress the names of Eastern heroes and men of learning and substitute them by Western masters in textbooks to break the continuity of Eastern history of science to befog Eastern minds with inferiority complex.

* The Western stampede has the sanction to belittle Eastern learning in spite of having itself benefited from it, and to deprive the East of fresh thinking and contemporary learning.

* The West has the warrant to continually produce literature to debase and revoke Eastern and Islamic values.

Whenever I study East and West I derive similar meanings of modernism which indeed is a challenge worth accepting with all energy we can call up. We must bring to full play the dormant powers which have pulled out South Africa from the Western yoke.


A Ruinous Neglect

Westerners, specially the intellectual ones, describe the period from the 9th to the 15th Century as the Dark Ages, and every piece of Western writing has owned it. This in fact is the very period which reflects the glow of Islam’s high-noon of learning. About three millions of books and manuscripts, written during this period, are lying scattered in different libraries of the world. They do not include some of the valuable ones which have been destroyed, set to fire or thrown away into the river. This was the period when learning was banned as a culpable activity in the West. Scientists and masters were either put behind the bars or put to the stake. From such a Western World, plunged into utter darkness, no protection of the instruments of erudition could have been expected.

Roger Bacon’s translation of Ibn al-Haitham’s book al-Manazir was a destructive one which did little justice to the book, and he projected himself as a great ophthalmologist. Ibn al-Nafis’s researches in the circulation of the blood were destroyed and Sir William Harvey was installed as a pioneer of research in this field. By putting the first sputnik into orbit, Russia conceded that it was the outcome of original Arab technology, but then silence prevailed. The West then sent man to the moon but nothing was said further about the trail blazed by Arab technology.

This was Western modernism which was essentially a challenge the East failed to accept. The Arab world and the world of Islam clearly neglected it and the neglect continues to this day.

What treatment have the Arab World and the world of Islam meted out to those three millions of manuscripts? Is it not a kind of challenge to modernism? Is it enough for the Arab world and the world of Islam to collect them and put them away in museums as pieces of exhibition? Was it, or is it not, necessary to investigate this treasure of wisdom to affirm that today’s magnificent edifice of discoveries and inventions stands high on the foundations provided by researches hidden in these manuscripts?


The Challenge of Modernity

Today, the way of thinking in the Arab world and the world of Islam is such that I have to mention “the Arab world and the world of Islam” time and again instead of imply saying “the world of Islam”. To insist on this division is in itself a challenge all the same, denote as it does the denial of the unity of Islamic thought. Can there be a greater challenge than this? This, in fact, is an affirmation of the fact that every Muslim of today has forgotten the holy Address of the Hajjat ul-Wadaa and, distanced himself from the tenets of the Holy Quran and guidance of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) as he stands at a point where he is not prepared to cast a glance back at them.

One of the challenges of modernity is underlined by the fact that, in world science conferences held in 1992, some two and a half million papers were presented while those presented by Muslims numbered about nine hundred only. Why is it so? The challenge remains that the whole of the Muslim world stands still in the field of science. Why has it disassociated itself from at least 727 verses of the Holy Quran which are scientific in nature? Why has the world of Islam bidden farewell to the Quranic injunction exhorting the followers to ponder and reflect?

After the passage of fourteen centuries, when we Muslims were entering the fifteenth, did we pause to reflect on the happenings of the past century to prepare a plan of action for the 15th Century Hijra? We did not accept the challenge and turned that occasion into jubilation, throwing away an opportunity to ponder and reflect. Since then we have been indulging ourselves vehemently in rhetorics and have also claimed that we have jolted the palaces of the West with our call of the Takbir. But actually we were distributing copies of the Holy Quran copiously to be stored in the nation’s cupboards without an effort to try and comprehend the Divine Message. We are feeling proud at such a vast distribution of copies of the Holy Quran, whilst Islamic learning is being ridiculed within the universities of the world of Islam itself. Doors are being shut down on reformed teaching and learning while arrangements continue to be made for the propagation of unbeneficial learning. We lack the courage to review the textbooks being used in educational institutions of the Islamic world and to lay the foundations of a revolutionizing curriculum. We are building up mosque upon mosque, but attendance in our mosques is getting thinner and thinner. And then mosques are attracting gunfire uniformly and mosque-goers are being gunned down whether it is Cairo or Pakistan, Tunis or Algiers. What is all this? Why is it not considered as a challenge of modernism? Why are we not thinking about it?

The Holy Quran is inviting people to hold fast to the rope of Allah. The teachings of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) echo the call for unity among Muslims, but Muslim countries are locked in conflict with one another. Look at the map. One country is in a state of war with another brother country. What is the reason? Why is it so?

Can there be a greater challenge for the Arab and Islamic world than to sit down together and delve deep into the causes of strife and bloodshed among Muslims? There is another challenge, posed by Islamic summits ending up in a state of chaos and disagreement in spite of the fact that they were convened for the unity and brotherhood of Muslims. There is a dire need for a united Muslim block to stand up against the West to counter its machinations. Such a summit has not been held for several years now. Why?

Another great challenge of our times is to find why erudition is becoming less popular in the Arab world and in the world of Islam, and why is the matter being neglected. Why are Muslims of the world avoiding research? Why is the old passion for learning cooling down? Why do we not pay attention to the three million manuscripts mentioned earlier? In the field of education and science, why don’t we translate great works into contemporary languages to excite the curiosity of the Arab world?


East and West

In today’s situation, Western domination defeated the East first in the field of education and science, and then in the field of economy. The East has been given the begging bowl, and the super power of West has thus completed its total subjugation of the East. Happenings in the Gulf are a concern of the Arab world, and now every Arab country is under the influence of the West. The West controls their means of production, and without the permission of the West., they cannot draw upon their own treasuries.

Is it not a challenge that, when foreign ministers of Muslim countries meet for discussions, their power of decision is limited and they cannot act without the advice of the West? In the context of Bosnia, every meeting of foreign ministers was silent. Malaysia was the only country which boycotted British goods. The rest of the 62 Muslim countries are compelled to consider West as beneficial as mother’s milk!

Is it not a challenge for us that, in the East, China and Japan have openly defied the West and stand firmly on their own feet in spite of the fact that the American flag still flutters on several military buildings in Japan. How did Japan get the courage to refuse to play to America’s tune, and how China restrained the West from playing with its destiny again?


How to Get Free?

First of all, the Arab world and the world of Islam should bridge the gulf between Arabs and non-Arabs, making the Khutba Hajjat ul-Wadaa their guiding principle. The Islamic world must understand that, in terms of world population, one man out of every five is a Muslim. This one man must learn to live decently and honorably with the other four. World peace demands that instead of trying to overpower each other, these five should live peacefully. In the past, men like Alexander the Great, Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, etc., set out to conquer the world. Remembering their destiny, we must realize that, according to the law of nature, everything that goes up must come down. A super power’s desire to conquer and subjugate the world is a vain one. Downfall becomes evident when a super power’s morality slides downwards, marriage becomes a meaningless institution, homosexuality becomes legalized and luxury becomes its way of life.


Ways of Thinking and Acting

Today, for the world of Islam, the greatest challenge of all is to determine the lines of positive action. I have some views in this respect, and here I want to put them down briefly:

* The very first step is to review educational curricula. No positive results can be expected without doing so.

* Foreign (non-Islamic) elements must be eliminated from the educational format in preference to Muslim leaders of thought. Authors of the three million manuscripts are Muslims and their works can make up a unified curricula.

* The educational format must necessarily be based on Islamic thought for maximum benefit.

* On this subject, an Islamic Summit must be held with a view to developing a unified educational curriculum for the Arab world and the world of Islam. This will centralize the Ummah’s thinking.

* Educational gatherings should be held at regular intervals throughout the Arab world and the world of Islam to ensure unified educational development and growth.

* One of the priorities is to classify and catalogue the three million manuscripts scattered in different libraries of the world. Determining their subjects, these manuscripts should be translated into contemporary languages at the doctorate level in universities in Muslim countries. A summit conference can decide the mod us operandi, delegating one responsibility each to a Muslim country. This will change the history of science when the world will know that today’s startling discoveries, erroneously claimed by the West, had their origin in Muslim minds. This will pull out Muslim students and scholars from the stupor of their inferiority complex, levelling the paths for progress in keeping with contemporary advances, connecting the past with the present in an unbroken chain. It will give pioneering Muslim scholars their rightful place.

* Pioneering research in botany goes to the credit of scientists in the Arab and Muslim world. If work on botany alone is culled out of the three million documents and analyzed in 63 Muslim countries within a period of, say, five years, a great new corpus will be found for medicine. The future of medicine is already linked with herbs. This will provide the Arab and Muslim world with an opportunity to make great contributions. This effort alone will be a benefiting answer to the challenges before us.

* Moral declination is a heart-rending challenge before the Islamic world and the need is to find causes which are influencing us so uniformly. One of the reasons surely is the educational curriculum in the Arab World and the World of Islam. The curricula in use have thrown moral considerations to the wind. But there could be other reasons too which have usurped Muslims of- their morel values. Why does the whole world feel that every Muslim is an ill-mannered person?

* Leadership, journalism and politics occupy a sacred place in the Islamic system. They have wrought revolutions and, in several cases, elevated the concept of Islam. One of the challenges of today is that the state of these three institutions is not only feeble but also that they are controlled from outside. Almost everywhere in the Arab world, and in the world of Islam, these three institutions are lacking dynamism and the respect they deserve. Consequently, the body- politic is coming to grief. We are losing our identity and selling our personalities cheaply, leaving ourselves bereft of our distinction.

* Political involvement in education is a sombre tragedy in the Arab world and the world of Islam. Such a state of affairs has not only given the student a political tone and temperament, but it has also weakened his quest for education. On the whole, universities in the Arab world and the world of Islam have become picnic spots or clubs where students come for enjoyment and politics rather than learning. Another tragedy is that over-spending on higher education has left primary education in the lurch. The opposite should have been the case. As a result, higher education is not being taken advantage of, while primary education is slipping out of hand.

* Whatever is admissible in the West, is not permissible in the East. Their cultures and civilizations have hardly any points of contact. Nevertheless, the world of Islam generally and the Arab world particularly, stands at the receiving end of a Western cultural blitz. This is a formidable challenge. Our cherished values will be greatly imperiled if this storm is not severely checked. Leadership, journalism and politics are the three main forces which can thwart this onslaught, but these three defending forces have turned weak: they have been sold away or led astray.



Dear Friend,

Muslim domination in the realm of knowledge ranged from the ninth century to the fourteenth, and it is has transmitted far and wide — the radiance of learning establishing beyond doubt that man is the vicegerent of God on earth and His surrogate, acknowledging His sovereignty without reservations through the exercise of his intellectual prowess and reach.

According to conservative estimates that have so far been made about the number of manuscripts written or compiled by the Muslims during the period of their ascendancy, these number at least 3,000,000. They lie scattered in different parts of the world. They are displayed with pride by public and government libraries from time to time; they are kept as objects of pride (even if they are of no use) by the owners of libraries and collectors of rare manuscripts; and, what is perhaps most tragic, have been left to moulder in subterranean vaults. They have as a result, been lost to the scholars, palaeographists, and historians who could derive benefit from them and present a pictorial representation of the early Middle Ages. But God Himself has said that any people who have lost utility and the sense of history are relegated to the limbo of oblivion as the froth of water is segregated from it — discarded, unnamed, and useless. When, therefore, Muslims decided to keep the dissemination of knowledge elitist, when they refused to accept printing by the cast-iron movable type even though their Greek and Armenian subjects employed letter-press printing — they forewent God’s Bounty; and He transferred the function of the dissemination of knowledge to other (non.Muslim) hands. And these selfsame nations are today on the way to piercing the secrets of Nature, charting paths in space never known before, and are coming with new undreamt of technological breakthroughs.

How can we accept as a sop for our ego the fact that the number of books written in Europe between the millennium that supervened from the early Middle Ages to the modern comprised only two hundred manuscripts at the most? Should we not, in all fairness, admit that the scholars of the West have salvaged many of the most precious works of Islamic heritage, edited them, and in many cases have made them accessible to the world at large by even translating them; and in most cases they are among the first to do so.

When on October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union sent its Sputnik into space, the first announcement celebrating the IGY (International Geographical Year) said that it was a human achievement. This achievement was the end rather than the beginning of an evolution, to which the Muslims contributed their full share. And then we saw that the foreground which the Greeks and Muslims had prepared resulted in the conquest of space. And now we are thinking of moving beyond the closest planets. It might be claimed that this achievement is that of the present day West; but does this bespeak any justification of the contribution of Muslim scientists? If we ignore the past, we have broken the links which connect us to the past and dissociate ourselves from history. When we speak of renaissance and a newly-realized sense of responsibility with regard to knowledge, we have to forge our links with the past.

Is it not then a justifiable action on the part of the thinkers and planners in the Islamic world to chalk out a phased programme for forging links with the past, of systematically working out the evolutionary history of thought, science and technology, and plan the routes of the future?

In our century — the 15th century A.H. and the 20th century A.D. — technology has touched the highest limits of which man is capable both on earth and the outer space through the harnessing of the forces of the atom and the voyage of the Pioneer. We, Muslims, on the other hand, have located our “greats” beyond what can be counted on the tips of the fingers. And we are not alone in this. Their greatness has been etched by the Orientalists as well. Omar Khayyam was catapulted into fame by Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of his quatrains. This is only one example out of many. But we also realize that the greatness of these pioneers — pioneers like Ibn Yunus, al-Biruni, Ibn al-Haitham, Ibn Sina, al-Jazari, Ibn Rushd, and others — is being progressively appreciated.

Many views current until now are being revised in the light of the new knowledge that has come down to us or has been revealed. One such discovery is that Ibn al-Nafis in the 13th century had explained correctly the circulation of blood by showing how the lesser pulmonary system works.

But the Muslim world should not feel smug about all this. We have, as noted earlier, about three million manuscripts and the writers of these manuscripts represented different fields and disciplines, and, if they wrote and took pains to write, they must have written something new, something original. There are myriads of writers who need to be studied. Their greatness lies enshrouded by darkness. They poured their heart and soul into these writings which are crying to be studied and examined. The world of Islam is in a state of trance, of stupefaction, with its ears plugged to these wails and echoes.

During the last four decades — especially since the end of World War II, the world has shrunk and the Muslim world, particularly since 1973, has come into a changed perspective. The contributions of Muslim scholars are not less important than those of the Orientalists. Many manuscripts have been edited and fresh work has been done upon Muslim masters. The Orientalists have also undergone a change in viewpoint. Their focus has become more objective. Another happy corollary of this is that religious prejudices have been defeated, and the present state is moving towards approximation to the state when the Muslims held the reins of power and patronage and dissemination of knowledge. This was the age of Gerard of Cremona, Vitellus and others who, despite being Christians, were broad-minded enough to translate tracts by Muslim writers of the Medieval Age faithfully. We need a repetition of the same type of approach today. Three million manuscripts attest amply to the greatness of the Muslim past.

With the knowledge possessed by the man of today, it is not difficult for him to undertake studies of these manuscripts. With the facilities and funds available to the Islamic world, we should strike while the iron is hot, otherwise possibly no greater tragedy is imaginable.

The rise of Islam and the phenomenal progress that it achieved shows that Iqra (Read or Proclaim) was the linch-pin round which the axle of their thoughts and acts revolved. The pen and the book were the basic tools that governed their attitude to life, and the run of Islam was a manifestation of this outlook. This historical fact should not be forgotten and we ought to adopt an approach that would correspond to that adopted in the pristine age of Islam. This alone would lead to sovereign power and true greatness.

The present position with regard to manuscripts is that certain institutions in the West, e.g., libraries, museums, etc., have compiled their holdings and have adopted modern systems to indicate the disciplines. Many catalogues have been published and many more are under publication. This is a remarkable advance that demands our thanks and praise.

But, in general, in the West — and more so in the East — still much more work remains to be done, and, since union catalogues of manuscript holdings have yet to be published, we can neither locate the manuscripts nor know what we have to study.

The lines of approach therefore that need to be adopted are:

i) Critically edited edition of manuscripts that have been catalogued should be brought out. They should be printed in the languages in which they have been edited and wherever possible, translated alongside the original. The translations should be in languages that have gained international currency, e.g., English, Spanish, German, French, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Persian, etc. Naturally such editions need the fullest documentation and this effort, Herculean and laborious though it would be, will bring the past and the present together. Another desideratum of the age is the assignment of the subjects of doctoral theses to young scholars.

ii) Arrangements should be made to mount investigations upon manuscripts which have been identified but have not yet been edited or studied. The following steps could be taken to bring this about:

a) Scholars, librarians, palaeographists, and cataloguers should be engaged by the Ministries of Education and Culture of the countries where these manuscripts are housed. Such countries should prepare union catalogues of manuscripts which should be distributed the world over.

b) Libraries owned by individuals and Foundations having such holdings should also publish such catalogues.

c) UNESCO should, in particular, set up a division to look to this aspect and the Muslim countries should extend to it their full support.

d) Muslim countries should activate their scholars and draw their attention to such holdings and donate certain amounts towards the cost of printing and honorariums to scholars on full pay if engaged on full-time basis.

e) An international Islamic organization should be established for this purpose having a representative from each Muslim country and having regional offices in every country.

f) A union catalogue, which would be the consolidated catalogue of different Muslim countries having manuscript holdings should be prepared and the responsibility for the publication of such a catalogue should be taken up by a country of the Arab world.

g) If necessary, national or international seminars and symposia should be held with regard to manuscripts, having manuscripts as the themes, i.e., the papers presented should be concerned with a newly discovered manuscript. Such symposia should be able to promote the programme. It should be the inter-Islamic
organization that is to be charged with the holding of such conventions.

I am sorry for taking up so much of your time with this letter which I am forwarding for your kind attention and action.

With best regards,

Yours sincerely,

(Hakim Mohammed Said)



* Cyril Elgood, Medical History of Persia and the Eastern Caliphate, Cambridge University Press, 1951, p. 589.

“... But the Basic ideas of the Persians, that Man is a distinct individual, that no two men are exactly alike, that a disease is a disease of the whole and not of a part, these views are also the views of the modern thinking man”.

* Ibid., pp. 590-591.

“But the truth or falsity of the theory (Humoural Theory) is of no importance. It served the Arabs and the Persians for five hundred years. It had served the Greeks and the Romans for a thousand years. The physicians of all these peoples had found it necessary in their approach to disease to classify first their patients into various types before they could attempt to recognize the maladies from which they were suffering. Only then could they give the appropriate treatment. Modern physicians, more especially modern psychiatrists, have the same need. Only the technical terms have changed. It is as important to us as it was to them.

The Persians pushed this theory a stage further. To them these humours represented both a physiological and a metaphysical conception. They were conceived of as corresponding closely to the four elements. Just as everything in nature is composed of the four elements — air, fire, earth and water — so the personality of man, his ego, is the resultant of the four humours. And these correspond to the elements. Perhaps it is not too inexact to express the idea in Aristotelian language. The substance of Man is formed by the elements, the accidents of Man by the humours. From this arose the further doctrine that Man represents in himself a microcosm, that he is the World in miniature. The humours are, therefore, sometimes called the Daughters of the Elements. And it is not difficult to see that this theory of the temperament of the humours links up the humoural theory with the homeo and allopathic theory of disease and hence is fundamental to one of the great unorthodox systems of Medicine of today”.

* Ibid., pp. 594-595.

But even in clinical medicine, problems arise which are out of reach of experiment. Man is so much more than flesh and blood. In such realms the Arab and the Persian can speak with an authority equal to that of the German and the Frenchman. He puts forward opinions which should be set beside those of Greek and Roman philosophers. Did Avicenna approach nearer to what we now believe to be the true aspect of disease than did Galen? Did Rhazes give to clinical symptoms a juster appreciation than did Hippocrates? This surely, is a fundamental question which only a study of the Arabian School of Medicine can answer”.

* Ed., W.F. Bynum, E.J. Browne, Roy Porter, Macmillan Dictionary of the History of Science, Paperback reprinted 1985, Macmillan Press, London, p. 217.

The period after the 12th century is commonly regarded as one of decline (of Islamic Science)”.

* Ibid., p. 217.

“The period of decline came in the post-Columbian era with the European conquest of the New World. Islamic powers lost their control of world trade. Economic decline was accompanied by a process of cultural stagnation and increasing intellectual isolation. What is remarkable is the fact that the influence of Islamic scientific ideas did not decline and disappear completely”.

* Ibid., p. 217.

In the 16th and 17th centuries when its scientific and intellectual creativity was dead, the Islamic impact on Europe was greater than at any other time since the Middle Ages. This was chiefly due to the fact that Europe was now Intellectually ready to assimilate the earlier Islamic achievements in optics, mathematics, astronomy, etc., which it had failed to appreciate before”.

* Fuad Sezgin. ‘The Position of Islamic Civilization in the History of Sciences (Urdu translation of his lectures under the title Tarikh-i-Ulum men Tahzib-e-Islami Ka Muqam), published by Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University, Islamabad., 1994, p. 219.

“In the past few years whenever I had an occasion to lecture in different universities of the Arab countries ...almost every time I was asked about the causes that led to cultural stagnation of Islamic culture.

* Ibid., p. 219.

“For example they ask, if according to your assertion, Muslims had a high place in the history of civilization, then what is the reason of that much backwardness of the present Muslim Society”.

* Ibid., p. 221.

“On the other hand, in the opinion of traditionalists the of backwardness and inertia in the Islamic culture gems from its inadequate attachment to laissez teachings and failure to put them into effect completely in all spheres of life”.

* Ibid., p. 231.

“History of Sciences leaves no doubt in the fact that a feeling of stagnation was manifest in the early ninth omtuiy of Hijrah. It is very difficult to determine causes of inertia but its emergence is a reality and that it kept on increasing as the time went by”.

* Ibid., p.234.

“... We cannot ascribe all causes of inertia to just one external factor (political and military whatsoever). Doubtlessly it included several internal causes for example sectarian differences, the unrest caused by Mongols in the east and by Berbers in the west, continuous crusades which left a negative effect on the scientific progress. Over and above them there are other factors for example the end of patronization of scholars and knowledge, the destruction of books, the lack of contact among educational institutions and the scholars and the lack of transfer of important discoveries from one part of the Muslim world to other parts”.

* Ibid., p. 237.

“Now that we are fully aware of what befell upon us (even after accepting modem foreign values we could not achieve any success) it is incumbent upon us to accept reality and without any fear of criticism we should try to find real causes. In the blind imitation of Western systems and institutions, the objective aimed at, has neither been achieved nor will ever be achieved in the future”.

* Ibid., p. 239.

“In the end I would like to say very briefly that if we present a general interpretation of inertia of Islamic civilization we will have to admit it as a historical fact faced by every other civilization in the course of history. Those who are devoted to Islamic civilization and long for their past glory should try to find out the exact causes of inertia”.

* Professor Maqbool Ahmad, Unani Medicine and Allopathy — a Comparative Study, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna (India), 1985, p. 13.

“The causes of the general stagnation of the Islamic Sciences from the 12th century downwards were in my opinion: (1) growth of orthodoxy in Islam from the time of al-Ghazzali, (2) change of educational systems. (3) rise of fundamentalism in Islam from the time of the Turkish invasions, (4) lack of patronage on the part of the Muslim rulers, of the sciences ..., and (5) the entry of Portuguese in the Indian Ocean.

* George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, Vol. I, Carnegie Institution of Washington, p. 28.

“Before the twelfth century, one of the Eastern groups, the Muslim, was considerably ahead of all others, East and West. Muslims were then in the van of mankind. From the twelfth century on, the supremacy passed gradually to the Latin world, but this process was not completed until the end of the Renaissance when the laicization of the Western science was well under way. Until the sixteenth century (included), there is good reason to consider both Eastern and Western developments, but after that time Western science an to grow at an accelerated pace, while Eastern civilization remained at a standstill, or even deteriorated”.

* Ibid., p. 29.

“Western and Eastern peoples were subjected to the great scholastic trial, but the Western people weathered it, while the Eastern failed. The Western people found the cure, the only cure, the experimental method; the Eastern people did not find it, or did not fully understand it, or neglected to apply it”.

* Ibid., p.28.

“The great intellectual division of mankind is not along geographical or racial lines, but between those who understand and practice the experimental method and those who do not understand and who do not practice it”.


Source: ***. Arab Medicine. ~ Two articles with editorials from the scholarly journals "Salerno", 1967 and "Hamdard Medicus", 1997