Make use of medical treatment, for Allah has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease: old age.These wise words were those of the founder of Islam, Prophet Muhammad. This message served as an impetus to the growth of early Islamic medicine and guided the attitude of local medicinal practitioners who often relied on traditional practices like the use of honey or olive oil to treat a variety of illnesses. In order to understand the contribution of the Islamic world to the world of medicine, it is important to retrace our steps and go back to the start ” the beginning of it all.
An empire that itched to expand, the Islamic empire soon had numerous places, including Greece under its control. This expansion which led to contact with different cultures, especially the Greco-Roman culture, fuelled their desire to know more about the science of the ancients ” which included disciplines such as philosophy, medicine and technology.
This drive to further their knowledge had long lasting ramifications for which the world today is greatly indebted to them. The acquisition of cities like Alexandria in Egypt and Gondeshapur in Persia allowed for cross cultural exchange which greatly influenced Islamic understanding of medicine. This is why the foundation of Arabic medicine is deeply rooted in the Greek sciences. The effort put in by the Muslim elite to not only further their knowledge of Greek medicine and learning, but also build on it is testimony to their commitment to learning. This was evident in their insistence to not only revive but also spread what was once taught at the Academy in Athens which was closed down by the emperor Justinian. It is safe to say that the Islamic world was far ahead of the West that still attributed illnesses to evil spirits. Muslim physicians, unlike their Western counterparts, viewed the stresses and strains in a person’s life through the humoral framework developed by Hippocrates ” the four humours melancholic, sanguineous, choleric and phlegmatic in the proper balance maintained good health. This logical approach towards illnesses helped them come up viable solutions for treatment like going on diets and purges. This also explains the emphasis placed by Islamic medicine on hygiene and diet. What is important to note, however, is that part of the reason the Muslim world could achieve this level of advancement was because of its policy of inclusion. While the Christian world, especially the Eastern Roman Empire, was on a quest to drive away pagans ” mostly Syrian Nestorians ” and shut down pagan institutions, the Islamic world was accepting them with open arms. Two of the most important scholars who fled to Persia were Yahya ibn Masawayh and Hunayn ibn Ishaq. Their superior knowledge of Greek and Syriac allowed them to translate Greek medical texts into Arabic which acted as a reference guide for medical students. By combining the medical practices of the Greek thinker Galen with the philosophy of Aristotle, Ibn Sina revolutionised the way of thinking for future generations. As a consequence of this, Islamic medicine had achieved the kind of sophistication that was difficult to outdo by the 900’s. The Muslim world also produced two of the greatest polymaths the world has ever seen ” Al Razi and Ibn Sina ” whose contributions alone revolutionised the Islamic medical field and made it the greatest of its time. Al Razi was the first to distinguish measles from small pox and the first to identify fever as a defence mechanism against infections and diseases and was known as the Father of Pediatrics. He pioneered the field of ophthalmology and was the first person to write about immunology and allergy. He also established ethical standards for practicing medicine and said The doctor’s aim is to do good, even to our enemies, so much more to our friends, and my profession forbids us to do harm to our kindred, as it is instituted for the benefit and welfare of the human race, and God imposed on physicians the oath not to compose mortiferous remedies. Having established the stage for success, the world of medicine is introduced to Ibn Sina also known as Avicenna. His book The Cannon of Medicine, divided into five volumes, covers a variety of topics ranging from anatomy, diseases, hygiene to disorders of the arm and leg and cosmetics. He was also believed to be a pioneer in psychology and perceived a connection between emotional and physical states. The greatness of his contributions to the field of medicine is attested by the fact that some principles of the Cannon of Medicine are taught at Yale University in the United States. Other scholars who shaped modern understanding of medicine include Ibn al-Nafis who came up with refined version of the cardiovascular system based on his experience of dissections. Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi physician countered Galen’s theory and claimed that the lower jaw consists of only one bone. His claim was based on his observation of the 2000 people who had starved to death in Egypt. Islamic scholars followed the principles of science to the t and backed their research with sufficient evidence gathered through research and observation which gives it greater legitimacy. One of the most important factors that helped Islamic medicine reach the pinnacle of success was the founding of hospitals which were funded by donations called waqf. While medieval Europe heavily relied on monasteries and religious orders to fill in for hospitals and focused on treating a patient’s spiritual needs, Muslims had proper institutions that combined their organisational and superior surgical skills to treat the sick and house mentally ill. The first hospital was built in the 8th century during the reign of Caliph al-Rashid. All hospitals had separate wards for female and male patients. Special wards were available for people with mental illnesses and those with communicable diseases. The layout of a traditional hospital was ahead of its times. This combined with the fact that hospitals also served as research centres attracted only the best of teachers, doctors and books looking to further their career. The Syrian Al-Nuri Hospital in Damascus had an impressive library where medical students were mentored by experienced doctors. Hospitals also had lecture halls where talks and readings of classical manuscripts took place. These hospital cum universities paved the way for future medical advancements which contributed to the greatness of Islamic medicine.