AL-RAZI (RHAZES) (865-925 C.E.)
The Greatest Physician Of The Islamic World
By Dr. Nizam Ajmir Mohammed
Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakarya Al-Razi, known in the Latin West as Rhazes, was the greatest clinical doctor of Islam. He was born at Rayy near Tehran, the capital of modern Persia. At first his chief interest was music and he skillfully played the lute. He then studied philosophy. In his youth he also practiced alchemy. Afterwards he devoted himself to medicine. He ultimately became the chief physician of the hospital at Rayy. Later on he was appointed chief physician at the great hospital in Baghdad. When this hospital was being constructed Razi was asked to select the most suitable site for the institution. This he did by hanging pieces of meat at various points in the city. He chose the site where the pieces of meat showed the least signs of putrefaction.
Many of Razi's writings have been lost. However, those that have survived give sufficient insight into his knowledge and powers of observation. He was the author of more than two hundred works on various subjects such as medicine, chemistry, philosophy and religion. Professor Browne considers him as
"probably the greatest and most original of all the Muslim physicians, and one of the most prolific as an author" ("Arabian Medicine").
Dr. Max Meyerhof in his "Legacy of Islam, says: "
His erudition was all-embracing, and his scientific output remarkable, amounting to more than 200 works, half of which are medical."
The most celebrated of Razi's medical works is his treatise on Small Pox and Measles entitled al-Judari wal-Hasbah ("On Small Pox and Measles"). This has been described as the most important original work on Small Pox and Measles, and is considered an ornament to the medical literature of the Muslims. In this book, the first clinic account of Small Pox is given and Razi deals with the distinction between Small Pox and Measles. His description of each disease, together with their distinguishing features is regarded as a medical classic. Only a short section need be quoted to illustrate his clinical acumen.
"The outbreak of Small Pox is preceded by continuous fever, aching in the back, itching in the nose and shivering during sleep. The main symptoms of its presence are: backache with fever, stinging pain in the whole body, congestion of the face, sometimes shrinkage, violent redness of the cheeks and eyes, a sense of pressure in the body, creeping of the flesh, pain in the throat and breast accompanied by difficulty of respiration and coughing, dryness of the mouth, thick salivation, hoarseness of the voice, headache and pressure in the head, excitement, anxiety, nausea and unrest. Excitement, nausea and unrest are more pronounced in Measles than in Small Pox, whilst the aching in the back is more severe in Small Pox than in Measles."
Razi gives sound medical advice to the treatment of these diseases. His methods of therapy display not primitive doctoring, but modern medicine. His treatise on Small Pox and Measles was translated into Latin in Venice in 1565 and later into several European Languages, and
"served to establish al-Razi's reputation as one of the keenest original thinkers and greatest clinicians not only of Islam but of the Middle Ages"
(History of the Arabs by P. K. Hitti. P. 366). The English version was printed forty times between 1498 and 1886.
His most famous work, however, is his Kitab al-Hawi, which is known in Latin as Continens. This book is the most voluminous medical work ever written in Arabic. It is encyclopaedic in its range of medical information, constituting the most basic source for the study of the clinical aspects of Islamic medicine. It was widely studied in the Western World from the 12th to the 17th century. It was first translated in Latin under the auspices of Charles I of Anjou in 1279, and as the Liver Continens. This greatest work of Razi was propagated in numerous manuscripts in the following centuries. From 1486 onwards it was repeatedly printed. Its influence on European medicine was enormous. In this book, Razi again showed that he was the greatest clinical observer in Islam and of the Middle Ages. He recorded several cases from his personal experience, giving full names of patients, symptoms of their disease, treatment and results. His skill in prognosis and his analysis of the symptoms of a disease, its manner of treatment and cure, have made his case studies celebrated among later physicians. In one of his studies, his patient had been suffering from intermittent and irregular attacks of fever preceded by slight rigours, which in a land infested with ague, were diagnosed and treated as malarial. However, because of his keen sense of observation, puss was noted in the patient's urine. Razi then correctly diagnosed the case as one of pyelitis, and treated it accordingly with success.
Razi was also proficient in psychosomatic medicine and psychology. He never separated the illness of the soul from those of the body. In his book, the English translation of which is called Spiritual Physick, Razi devotes twenty chapters to the various ailments that afflict the soul and body of man. For example, concerning drunkenness, he says.
"Chronic and habitual drunkenness is one of the evil dispositions that bring those indulging it to ruin, calamity and all kinds of sickness. This is because the excessive drinker is imminently liable to apoplexy and asphyxia, that filling of the inner heart which induces sudden death, rupture of the arteries of the brain, (and stumbling and falling into crevices and wells; not to mention various fevers; bloody clots and bilious swellings in the intestines and principal parts, and delirium tremens and palsy especially if there be a natural weakness of the nerves. Besides all this, drunkenness leads to loss of reason, immodesty, divulging of secrets, and a general incapacity to grasp even the most important mundane and spiritual matters; so that a man will hardly hold on to any cherished purpose or achieve any lasting happiness, but on the contrary he will go on slipping and sliding downwards.
In short, drink is one of the most serious constituents of passion, and one of the greatest disorders of reason. That is because it strengthens the appetitive and choleric souls and sharpens their powers, so that they demand urgently and insistently that the drinker shall embark precipitately upon their favourite course. Drink also weakens the rational soul and stultifies its powers, so that it is scarcely able to undertake careful thought and deliberation but rushes headlong to a decision and liberates action before its energy is firmly established. Hence the rational soul is led on easily and smoothly by the appetitive soul, until it is scarcely able to resist it or deny it anything. This is a sign of a departure from rationality, and of enrolment in the order of beast……"
While in Persia, Razi had written the Kitab al-Mansuri , or Liber ad Almansorem, a monumental work in ten volumes dealing with various branches of medicine. It was translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona in the twelfth century. Parts of it have been recently done into French and German. The ninth Book (Nonus Almansoris) was the most popular, dealing with the cure of diseases of the organs of the body. The Book also deals with such topics as "Medical Hints for Travellers", and "Bites of Venomous Beasts."
Besides medicine, Razi wrote on theology, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and the "natural sciences" (e.g., matter, time, space, motion, nutrition, putrefaction, meteorology, optics and alchemy). His contribution in the field of alchemy has come to light as a result of the recent discovery in the library of an Indian prince, of his great "Book of the Art (of Alchemy)" . He gave an exact classification of substances and a clear description of chemical processes and apparatus. He classifies chemical substances as vegetable, animal, or mineral, a conception which comes from him into modern speech.
Razi wrote 113 major and 28 minor works on medicine (12 of these deal with alchemy). All these works were translated into Latin and used in the medical schools of Europe. Razi also wrote on stone in bladder and kidneys, gout, rheumatism and colic and paediatrics; he advocated the use of the speculum for the gynaecoligical examination of patients; he practiced psychotherapy, and he recognised the curative value of sunlight and fresh air. He is considered the inventor of the seton in surgery.
Indeed as P. K. Hitti, in the "History of the Arabs" says:
"... These Medical works of al-Razi exercised for centuries a remarkable influence over the minds of the Latin West."
Dr. Max Meyerhof, in "The Legacy of Islam" says:
"Rhazes was undoubtedly the greatest physician of the Islamic world and one of the greatest physicians of all time."