Al-Razi Contributions to medicine مساهمات محمد زكريا الرازي في الطب
Hasan A. Yahya, Ph.Ds, Professor of Sociology-MSU
Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī (Mohammad Zakariā al-Rāzi: محمد زکریا الرازی), known as Rhazes or Rasis after medieval Latinists, (August 26, 865 – 925) was a Muslim Persian physician, alchemist and chemist, philosopher, and scholar . He was recognized as based on his writings, as “perhaps the greatest clinician of all times.” Numerous “firsts” in medical research, clinical care, and chemistry are attributed to him, including being the first to differentiate smallpox from measles, and the discovery of numerous compounds and chemicals including alcohol and kerosene, among others. Edward Granville Browne considers him as “probably the greatest and most original of all the physicians, and one of the most prolific as an author”.Al-Razi made fundamental and enduring contributions to the fields of medicine, alchemy, music, and philosophy, recorded in over 200 books and articles in various fields of science. He was well-versed in Persian, Greek and Indian medical knowledge and made numerous advances in medicine through own observations and discoveries
In this article we cover certain special medical areas where al-Razi was an expert in various diseases (smallpox, measles, allergies and fever, as well as writings on ethics in medicine.
One of al-Razi’s BooksThe Virtuous Life (al-Hawi الحاوي) on medicine is a monumental medical encyclopedia in nine volumes — known in Europe also as The Large Comprehensive or Continens Liber (الجامع الكبير) — contains considerations and criticism on the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, and expresses innovative views on many subjects. Because of this book alone, many scholars consider Razi the greatest medical doctor of the Middle Ages. The al-Hawi is not a formal medical encyclopedia, but a posthumous compilation of Razi’s working notebooks, which included knowledge gathered from other books as well as original observations on diseases and therapies, based on his own clinical experience. It is significant since it contains a celebrated monograph on smallpox, the earliest one known. It was translated into Latin in 1279 by Faraj ben Salim, a physician of Sicilian-Jewish origin employed by Charles of Anjou, and after which it had a considerable influence in Europe.
Al-Razi covered a large number of diseases of his time. For example, on Smallpox and Measles : Epidemics such as Smallpox and Measles were studied in detail by Al-Razi. He wrote:
“Smallpox appears when blood ‘boils’ and is infected, resulting in vapours being expelled. Thus juvenile blood (which looks like wet extracts appearing on the skin) is being transformed into richer blood, having the color of mature wine. At this stage, smallpox shows up essentially as ‘bubbles found in wine’ – (as blisters) – … this disease can also occur at other times – (meaning: not only during childhood) -. The best thing to do during this first stage is to keep away from it, otherwise this disease might turn into an epidemic.”
This diagnosis is acknowledged by the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911), which states: “The most trustworthy statements as to the early existence of the disease are found in an account by the 9th-century Persian physician Rhazes, by whom its symptoms were clearly described, its pathology explained by a humoral or fermentation theory, and directions given for its treatment.”
Razi’s book: al-Judari wa al-Hasbah (On Smallpox and Measles) was the first book describing smallpox and measles as distinct diseases. It was translated more than a dozen times into Latin and other European languages. Its lack of dogmatism and its Hippocratic reliance on clinical observation show Razi’s medical methods. For example:
“The eruption of smallpox is preceded by a continued fever, pain in the back, itching in the nose and nightmares during sleep. These are the more acute symptoms of its approach together with a noticeable pain in the back accompanied by fever and an itching felt by the patient all over his body. A swelling of the face appears, which comes and goes, and one notices an overall inflammatory color noticeable as a strong redness on both cheeks and around both eyes. One experiences a heaviness of the whole body and great restlessness, which expresses itself as a lot of stretching and yawning. There is a pain in the throat and chest and one finds it difficult to breath and cough. Additional symptoms are: dryness of breath, thick spittle, hoarseness of the voice, pain and heaviness of the head, restlessness, nausea and anxiety. (Note the difference: restlessness, nausea and anxiety occur more frequently with ‘measles’ than with smallpox. At the other hand, pain in the back is more apparent with smallpox than with measles). Altogether one experiences heat over the whole body, one has an inflamed colon and one shows an overall shining redness, with a very pronounced redness of the gums.”
On allergies and fever, al-Razi’s Recueil des traités de médecine translated by Gerard of Cremona, second half of 13th century. Razi is also known for having discovered “allergic asthma,” and was the first physician ever to write articles on allergy and immunology. In the Sense of Smelling he explains the occurrence of rhinitis after smelling a rose during the Spring: Article on the Reason Why Abou Zayd Balkhi Suffers from Rhinitis When Smelling Roses in Spring. In this article he discusses seasonal rhinitis, which is the same as allergic asthma or hay fever. Razi was the first to realize that fever is a natural defense mechanism, the body’s way of fighting disease.
On Pharmacy, al–Razi contributed in many ways to the early practice of pharmacy by compiling texts, in which he introduces the use of ‘mercurial ointments’ and his development of apparatus such as mortars, flasks, spatulas and phials, which were used in pharmacies until the early twentieth century.
On Ethics of medicine, al-Razi on a professional level, he introduced many practical, progressive, medical and psychological ideas. He attacked charlatans and fake doctors who roamed the cities and countryside selling their nostrums and “cures”. At the same time, he warned that even highly educated doctors did not have the answers to all medical problems and could not cure all sicknesses or heal every disease, which was humanly speaking impossible. To become more useful in their services and truer to their calling, Razi advised practitioners to keep up with advanced knowledge by continually studying medical books and exposing themselves to new information. He made a distinction between curable and incurable diseases. Pertaining to the latter, he commented that in the case of advanced cases of cancer and leprosy the physician should not be blamed when he could not cure them. To add a humorous note, Razi felt great pity for physicians who took care for the well being of princes, nobility, and women, because they did not obey the doctor’s orders to restrict their diet or get medical treatment, thus making it most difficult being their physician. On medical ethics, al-Razi wrote the following:
“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.”(1190 words)www.dryahyatv.com
Note: Bibleography may be found in the original copy.