Muslim Contributions to the Medical Science by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih II (ra)

Taken from the Review of Religions July 1933

Unlike other religions, Islam has ever remained a great champion of the acquisition and the diffusion and dissemination of learning and knowledge. In one of the Muslim expeditions, the prisoners of war were told by the orders of the Holy Prophet that they could purchase their freedom by teaching a fixed number of the young Muslims of Medina how to read and write. The Arabs were complete strangers to all branches of knowledge, especially to the science of medicine. Charms and amulets had more attraction for them and appealed more to their undeveloped minds than scientifically prepared medicines. They made use of the former in preference to the latter. But this strangeness to the medical science was not confined to the Arabs alone. The medical science did not seem then to have progressed very much. Even the most eminent physicians in the then civilized countries in which Greek and Vedic medicines were in vogue believed many diseases to be incurable. It was at such a time that the Prophet of Islam prophetically declared that for every disease except death God had created a cure, a remedy, a medicine. This saying of their Master which embodied a great scientific truth led the Muslims to take special interest in the development and diffusion of this science and its present highly advanced and progressive state is deeply indebted to Muslim endeavour. But it is to be very much regretted that in the day of their all-round degradation and decline the Muslims sadly neglected this, one of the most respectable of all human occupations and professions, with the result that it has now been completely monopolised by non-Muslim peoples.

To Omar, the Prophet’s great successor, most probably, goes the credit of introducing the wholesome innovation of sending physicians and surgeons with the armies. When the Muslim armies invaded Persia, on account of the fact that they had to march through marshes and places infested with epidemics, Hazrat Omar ordered that some physicians and surgeons should accompany them. In the reign of Walid bin Abdul Malik, the third Omayyad, Caliph in the year 88 (A. H.), only 78 years after the death of the Holy Prophet, were laid the foundations of a magnificent government hospital in a country to which the science of medicine was a totally foreign thing. It was included in the duties and obligations of the government to establish hospitals and dispensaries in the country under its control. The services of the most eminent and successful physicians and medical practitioners of the time were secured for this hospital and interpreters were appointed to translate into Arabic, Greek books on medicine and thus popularise this science among the Arabs. It was at the instance of the government that a Jew, named Fasurjuia, translated from Syriac into Arabic the Greek Ihran Qus’s well-known book no medicine which was accepted as a respectable addition to the royal library.

In the time of the Omayyad Caliph, Omar bin Abdul Aziz, many copies of this book were made and distributed among the students of medicine. During the brief space of a few years government and charitable dispensaries and hospitals became established throughout the length and breadth of the Muslim countries and in 108 A. H. within a century of the death of the Holy Prophet the monumental works of such eminent Greek physicians as Hippocrates and Galen (Jalinus) came to be translated into Arabic.

Before the advent of Islam, the science of Chemistry was yet in its infancy. A few chemical prescriptions were known only to those who wanted to manufacture gold. But Chemistry as a science was yet to be born. It was due to the great advancement and progress made by the Muslims in this department of man’s knowledge that it acquired the status of a science. The Muslim physicians made far-reaching discoveries in this connection which raised Chemistry to the position of a great science. Its present very advanced state owes a great deal to the interest the Muslims took in it and the valuable contributions they made to it. They discovered the properties of the different minerals and their various changes and in this way opened a new avenue for the progress and development of medicine.

The disease of small-pox with which the Hindus were to a certain extent familiar but which was absolutely unknown to the inhabitants of other countries was fully investigated into by a Muslim physician of Alexandria, Haroon by name, who made very useful researches into its nature, causes, development and cure.

The Muslim monarchs appointed regular incharges of government hospitals. The hospital at Jandiapur was reputed far and wide during the Abbaside regime. This hospital was, in its initial stages, in the charge of a Christian named Georges which fact demonstrates that the Muslims did not at all hesitate to seek the assistance and co-operation of foreigners and non-Muslims in the matter of learning and knowledge and appoint them to very responsible posts. This Georges wrote an exhaustive materia medica in the Syriac language which was translated into Arabic by Haneen bin Ishaq who was a physician of great eminence and reputation, at the court of the Abbaside Caliph, Mamun. Besides this, Haneen translated into Arabic some important books of Aristotle and Plato.

In the beginning, Greek medicine was only used and became popular in Muslim countries but gradually the Vedic system also attracted attention and in the time of Haroon-ur-Rashid government envoys were sent to India to investigate into the Vedic system of cure and to secure for the Abbaside Court the services of some very distinguished physicians. These envoys succeeded in taking with them three Vaids of great fame, knowledge and experience, Mankey, Saley and Dhan by name. Mankey translated many Sanskrit books on medicine into Arabic and Dhan was made the director of that famous charitable hospital which the house of Baramika whose members held the most important ministerial and administrative posts under the Abbaside Caliphs, had established for providing free medical advice and medicine to the destitute and the needy. Besides this hospital, there were many other government and private hospitals at that time in Baghdad, the seat of government of the Abbaside Princes.

Sushrat was a well-known physician of India. His book is acknowledged as an indisputable authority on the Vedic system of cure. Yahya Barmaki, who was the Prime Minister of Haroon-ur-Rashid, entrusted to Mankey the translation of this book into Arabic. When it was over he ordered that the book be used in all government hospitals as materia medica. Under the Abbaside regime the medical department had become a regular and recognised institution. An inspector-general was appointed by the government who was the administrative head of all government hospitals, dispensaries and medical institutions. In the time of Haroon-ur-Rashid hospitals were established in all parts of the country. Every hospital was placed in the charge of an experienced physician and all hospitals and physicians were again under the control of a yet higher official who was known as Rais-ul-Atibba. This exhalted post was first given in 174 A. H. to a Christian physician named Yashu. After him his son, Gabriel was elevated to this post.

Ahmad bin Tolun, that famous Abbaside governor, established a hospital in Egypt in 261 A. H. which should be regarded as a model hospital. A very distinctive feature of this hospital was that it was divided into different wards which were named after specific diseases. A patient suffering from a certain disease was treated in a ward set apart for the treatment of that very disease. Thus separate wards were established for all important diseases which were put in charge of physicians of very vast and varied knowledge and experience and of acknowledged reputation and authority. There was a special ward for the lunatics in which worked physicians well versed in knowledge about lunacy. This arrangement led to the production of specialists in different departments of medicine who did not exist before. Before that time scholars used to boast that they knew all sciences and according to the technicality then in vogue they were known as Hakims. This boasting about the possession of knowledge of all sciences was so much in fashion at that time that a man of Ibn Sina’s (Avicenna) very vast and deep learning wrote that he was only physician and not a Hakim because he did not know music quite well as if nobody was entitled to be known as an Hakim unless he knew music. And it is quite apparent that when there exists a general tendency among the members of a community to acquire proficiency in all the departments of different sciences, the delicacies and subtleties of those sciences would fail to attract their attention. It is the specialists who can find out these niceties because they devote their undivided attention to the investigation of only a few things. The one very substantial result of this change in the attitude of scholars was that in place of the essentials of sciences on finding out which the greatest stress was laid, their details and particulars also began to be known. Each physician selected a certain disease and gave his whole attention to investigating its nature, causes, cures, etc. The science of medicine in this way reached the acme of its development and progress and the different diseases, their kinds and peculiarities, their cures and remedies and the complications they develop after they pass the first stage, all began to be known in full details and their treatment became based on scientific foundations while it was founded before on mere guesses and conjectures. In some future article on the same subject we shall endeavour to show to what wonderful extent the Muslims developed the science of medicine.

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