It is remarkable when a human being is deemed as one of the faces of civilization. We often ascribe civilization to the achievements of a group of people who have excelled in contributing to the knowledge of fields such as medicine, engineering, and architecture. The Islamic civilization introduced men and women who were figures of civilization to the extent that a study of their lives is actually a study of civilizations itself.
Islam has helped the progress of humanity in a broad spectrum of fields, with its followers representing all dimensions of civilization. One example is Al Razi (Rhazes) ,may Allah have mercy on him, who was not only a doctor and a teacher but a master in many other fields including ethics and religion. He excelled in these fields and was an eminent figure in religious and medical sciences becoming unquestionably one of the most important figures in Islamic civilization.
Al Razi : the Man
Abu-Bakr Muhammad Ibn-Zakariya Al Razi was born in the year 250 A.H (864 A.D) in the city of Rayy, six kilometers south east of Tehran. From an early age, he loved the study of science and scholarly discipline. In Rayy he studied law, medicine, and philosophy, but this did not satisfy his craving for knowledge. Although the city was full of scientists and scholars, it was not a city that embraced all the earth sciences at that time.
Therefore, Al Razi headed to the world’s center of knowledge, Baghdad, capital of the Abbasids Caliphate. He studied in an intensive exchange program and studied different sciences with a special focus on medicine. The first professor in that field was Ali Ibn-Zain at-Tabariyy, author of the first international medical encyclopedia named “Ferdaus al-Hikma” or the Paradise of Wisdom.
Passionate about Medicine
Al Razi was also interested in other sciences related to medicine such as chemistry and herbal medicine. He was interested in philosophy because it included the views of Greek philosophers, who were also students of medicine with his main teacher in philosophy, al-Balkhiyy. Al Razi, may Allah have mercy on him, devoted many years of his life, to learning all that he could about medicine until he excelled noticeably in that field.
After he had returned to Rayy from Baghdad, he became director of the hospital of Rayy, one of the most advanced hospitals known in Islam and gained an unrivalled reputation in terms of his success in treating previously incurable cases. His achievements were known to all and eventually the Prime Minister of the Abbasid State, Ibn-Boyeh invited him to become chief of medicine at the Adodiyy Hospital in Baghdad. At the time, this hospital was regarded as one of the biggest hospitals worldwide, employing over fifty doctors. It was an institute of science and an advanced school of medicine, as well as a hospital.
Al Razi, may Allah have mercy on him, became an incomparable scientific reference to not only Baghdad, but the entire world.
No Success without Effort
It is very important to stop and ask how Al Razi,may Allah have mercy on him reached such heights of glory and dignity. It is important to understand that such success is not coincidental; rather it is achieved due to great effort and sacrifice. Success never occurs randomly for it requires planning, discipline and skill. This is what characterized the life of Al Razi. He searched for knowledge from every source and exerted so much effort in order to learn as much as possible. This process was followed by careful thought, numerous experiments, and meticulous studies, to the extent that he was always analyzing, criticizing and modifying,theories, until he reached the stage of innovation and invention.
At the time of Al Razi, may Allah have mercy on him, the Greek, Persian, Indian and Egyptian forms of medicine,spread as a result of efforts to translate scientific literature from these nations. Al Razi read all these works but was not satisfied with just reading, preferring instead to observe and experiment before making any final deductions.
Al Razi and the Establishment of the Experimental Theory
Greek medicine was the most important form of medicine at that time, but it was dependent on untried theories. Greek doctors approved this approach and became known as philosophers of medicine because they rarely applied their theories. Even great figures of Greek medicine such as Galen and Hippocrates adopted this approach.
On the other hand, Al Razi believed that “when reality contradicts a prevailing theory, one should always accept reality no matter how great the scientist who coined it . He made his famous statement which is regarded as one of the laws of science in general, and medicine, in particular. He said, “Whenever a prevailing theorem and a real fact are contradictory, the latter is to be accepted as true no matter how wide the extent to which the theorem is acted upon is in advocation of the scientist who put it.” He believed that a scientist, no matter how famous, could not endorse a theory if it contradicts an actual observation, a real experiment or an existing fact. Therefore, Al Razi made his own deductions, based on fact and experimentation and not on hypothesis. He regularly criticized other scientist’s views and wrote one book refuting the views of Galen the eminent Greek doctor, named “Doubts about Galen”. In it he highlighted mistakes in Galen’s ideas, giving his own suggestions and describing the process by which he reached his conclusions
Al Razi was very keen on asking patients every detail about their disease, stating that a doctor should always ask his patient about every detail of his ailment. Medical history taking is the first step in the treatment of a patient in modern medicine as well as thorough knowledge of the disease itself and its causes. Al Razi would start to examine each patient by measuring his temperature and pulse to ascertain if they needed to be admitted into hospital. The patient would then be put under careful observation in order to record every single piece of information that might be useful in detecting the cause of the disease or in prescribing treatment.
Al Razi was renowned for his precision to an extent that astonished those who read his notes on pathological cases. What is more astonishing is that Al Razi was one of the first to carry out drug testing on animals such as monkeys to see how safe a drug was. Nowadays, most drugs are not approved unless they are first tested on animals
A Pioneer of Medicine
As a result of his unique scientific approach, Al Razi achieved unprecedented scientific breakthroughs in many different fields
He pioneered in the following achievements:
· The invention of a suture which he constructed from cat guts. This invention was used by doctors many centuries after his death, until the invention of an improved version at the end of the twentieth century.
· The invention of mercury ointments.
· The differentiation between venous and arterial hemorrhages, using the finger pressure to stop a venous hemorrhage and a bandage to stop the arterial one in the same way as modern medicine
· The description of cataract extraction
· The use of opium in treating dry cough.
· The introduction of laxatives to pharmacy
· Considering fever as a symptom, not a disease.
He also paid a lot of attention to descriptions of a patient’s urine and blood, treating it as useful information that could help the patient’s treatment. He avoided the use of chemical drugs if there was a chance that the patient’s ailment could be treated with herbal medicine or through a change in diet, as recommended by doctors nowadays. Al Razi was not an innovator in just one specialty of medicine but offered detailed commentary on internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, sexually transmitted diseases, ophthalmology and surgery.
Al Razi and the Gift of Intelligence
Al Razi, may Allah have mercy on him, was an extremely intelligent and gifted man. This is clearly illustrated in the process by which he chose the location to build a grand hospital in Baghdad. He picked four possible locations and in order to ascertain which the optimum location was. He placed a piece of fresh meat at each site and monitored their decay. The site where the meat decayed the slowest was chosen because it had the cleanest air, preferable for the location of a hospital where disease can be cured.
Al Razi: Teacher of Medicine
Al Razi was eager to disseminate his knowledge and experience. He taught medicine at the renowned medical school in the governmental hospital of Baghdad. His teaching methods involved two approaches; a theoretical and a clinical experimental approach. He taught his students medical books, giving lectures, holding scientific circles and taking his students on ward rounds to teach and explain certain cases.
He taught his students medicine in three years, starting with theoretical then scientific topics in exactly the same way that medicine is taught nowadays. At the end of the third year, he gave out an exam consisting of two parts. The first test was in anatomy and the second was a practical test of the student’s knowledge in treating patients. Those who failed the first part could not proceed to the second.
Al Razi was not content with simple teaching to convey his knowledge, so he paid great attention to recording information and wrote many medical books. In his book “Kitab al-Fihrist" or "The Index", Ibnul-Nadim stated that Al Razi had written a total of 113 books and twenty-eight theses. This number is very large, particularly since all the books were written on the subject of medicine.
The Great Legacy of Al Razi
One of the greatest books written by Al Razi, may Allah have mercy on him, is“Al-Hawi fi elm al- tadawi” or "The encompassing Book on Medicine", a complete medical encyclopedia of all medical information discovered during Al Razi’s era. In it he compiled information on all his clinical experiences.
This book was translated into more than one European language and was published for the first time in Brescia north Italy in 891 A.H (1486 A.D),. It was the biggest book ever printed after the invention of printers. It was printed in 25 volumes and reprinted many times in the Italian city of Venice in the 10th century of Hijrah (the 16th A.D). The historian Max Mayer Hoff mentioned that in 1500 A.D, there were five editions of this book and numerous publications containing extracts from it.
Another of Al Razi’s most famous books is “al-Tibb al-Mansouri" named after Mansour Ibn-Ishaq, ruler of Khurasan. The book tackled various medical issues on internal medicine, surgery, and ophthalmology. Al Razi intended to make it a concise work even though it was eventually ten chapters long! Many European scientists were therefore motivated to translate the book into different languages like Latin, English, German, and Hebrew. It was first distributed in Milan in 1481 A.D and remained a key reference text for European doctors up until the 17th century.
One of his most successful books was the book of “Smallpox and Measles” in which he recorded very important and precise notes about the differences between the two diseases and was the first to differentiate between smallpox and measles, . This book was reprinted in Europe four times between the years 903-1283 A.H, (1498-1869 A.D).
He also wrote a book titled “Al-Asrar fi al-Kimyaa” or "Secrets of Chemistry", which remained a fundamental reference for chemistry in eastern and western schools for many years. He also wrote another book named “At-Teb ar-Rawhani” or "Spritual Medicine” which aims to encourage people to respect the mind, repress whims and reject immorality in order to discipline the soul
Al Razi: An Ethical Perspective
Al Razi’s works were written with unique and complete scientific honesty. He always clearly referenced information if it had been discovered by others, which is why his books were full of names such as Galen, Hippocrates and Armansous He also mentioned modern doctors of his time such as Yehia Ibn-Masawhey and Hanin Ibn-Ishaq.
He urged his students to follow a certain approach in writing, stating “if a student reads a large number of books and understands their content, he should always seek to write a book that includes what others have neglected”. He advised his students to record information collected during their studies and practice so that other students could benefit from their knowledge and writings in the future.
Al Razi was not only a scientist but he was a very well-behaved man and was renowned for his generosity. He was devoted to his friends and acquaintances and was compassionate to the poor and sick, providing for them and in some cases giving them jobs. He advised his students to be motivated primarily by caring for patients and not by financial reward. He also encouraged them to give equal care and attention to the poor as well as the rich.
His interest in the medical treatment of the poor encouraged him to write a book titled “Teb al Fuqaraa” or “Medicine of the Poor”. In it he described different diseases and symptoms which afflict the poor and suggested different herbal and nutritional treatment methods instead of expensive drugs. This interest in good ethics led him to write a book called “Akhlak at-Tabeeb” or The Ethics of a Doctor in which he described the doctor-patient relationship in detail.
Al Razi: The Testimony of Scientists
All people acknowledge Al Razi’s excellence, greatness and unprecedented knowledge in the field of medicine Moreover, his works were translated to European languages and were reprinted many times. There are some recorded incidents and cases highlighting the importance of this great scholar and scientist. Among these incidents, is the fact that King Louis the 11th of France (ruler of France 1461-1483 A.D), paid gold in abundance for his doctors to make a special copy of the book “Al- Hawi" as his own reference text should he become afflicted with any disease.
Moreover, the old English poet “Geoffrey Chaucer” praised Al Razi in one of his famous poems in his celebrated work "The Canterbury Tales”. Also the American University of Preston still calls its biggest annex by Al Razi’s name. There is also a monument in Al Razi’s honor at the Paris University medical school and his portrait can be found on St German street in Paris.
Al Razi is a truly unique and magnificent face of the Islamic civilization rarely matched in history. He was a doctor, scientist, teacher and humanitarian. He lived his life serving Islam, science and humanity and died at the age of 60 in Sha’ban 311 A.H (November 923 A.D). . However, it is hard to say that he died because his achievements have immortalized him. .On this subject, Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) stated in a hadith that when a person dies, his deeds come to a halt except in three cases, one of which is when he bequeaths a knowledge that benefits humanity.