Scientists & Thinkers Series
By Syed Aslam
Abu Bakr bin Zakaria ar-Razi also known in Europe as â€œRhazesâ€ was born at Rayy, Iran close to the city of Tehran, in the year 841 CE. He mastered a wide range of subjects, including science, philosophy, music, poetry, and logic. His interest in medicine started in his late thirties. He received his education in Baghdad where he practiced medicine and also served as a chief physician in the cityâ€™s hospital. Very little is known about ar-Raziâ€™s personal life, it is believed that he was often persecuted for his open mindedness and beliefs in equality. He rejected all forms of dogma as fanaticism, and argued that religious fanaticism breeds hatred and war. He believed that the knowledge of science is a continual process which is based on the accumulation of past knowledge, an idea so advanced of his time.
Ar-Razi is regarded as Islamâ€™s greatest physician and one of the most original thinker. He was a prolific writer, who wrote some 230 books, half of which dealt with medicine, 21 on chemistry and rest on physics, mathematics and astronomy. His books on the Diseases of Children was so authentic and original that he is regarded as the Father of Pediatrics. Ar-Razi was the first to identify hay fever and its cause. His work on kidney stones is still considered a classic. In addition, he was instrumental in the introduction of mercurial ointments to medical practice. Ar-Razi was a strong proponent of experimental medicine and the beneficial uses of previously tested drugs. After serving as a hospital director in Baghdad for sometime he returned to his home town Rayy Iran, where he continued his writing. His first major work is divided in ten parts and is called Al Kittab al Mansuri. He discussed in his book various subjects such as diets and drugs, and its effects on the human body and mental health. A useful knowledge about childcare, obstetrics, ophthalmology skin disease, general hygiene and hygiene of mouth can be found in those treatises. He was the first scientist of his time to shed light on the effect of the environment on health and the first person to write treatise on smallpox and measles and as such gave the concept of epidemiology. By his brilliant demonstration by clinical observation he proved that these two diseases are quite different from each other. He thus provided a valid guidelines for the treatment of both diseases.
Ar-Raziâ€™s most outstanding work is medical encyclopedia consisting of twenty-five books called Al Kittab al Hawi. He spent a good part of his life collecting data from the patients he examined and tried to find a pattern for a particular disease. He summarize all the medical knowledge of his time, and his own experiences and observations to complete the medical encyclopedia, which by any account, a tremendous work in the field of medicine. He also emphasized the need for physicians to pay careful attention about the patientâ€™s medical history which proved very useful in treating disease successfully.
The ar-Raziâ€™s work to future physicians proved to be a gold mine. His book Al Kittab al Hawi was translated in Latin and became one of the standard medical reference works in the universities of Europe. A portion of his work were used in European medical schools well into the 19th century. In this work, ar-Razi listed medical theories for each disease and its treatment from Indian, Persian, and Arabic medicine and then he added the current ideas and his own observations and opinions. He advocated simple remedies, including dietary supplements, and warned against the dangers of harsh medicine.
Ar-Razi was familiar with a wide range of chemicals, which he used in his medical work. Like many physicians of his time, he was also actively interested in alchemy. In one of his book on alchemy he provides a great deal of practical advice on chemical manipulations. He tried to classify all known substances, dividing them basically into animal, mineral, or vegetable categories.
Ar-Razi views sometimes got him into political trouble, and on several occasions he was forced to leave his native city. Medical care in those days was a luxury available mainly for wealthy and noble families but ar-Razi treated poor patients at no charge out of compassion. Being one of the brilliant physician of his time he acquired lot of wealth but died as popper because he distributed all his fortune among the less fortunate people.
Ar-Razi was way ahead of his age and is considered as one of the leading figure in the history of Islamic thought because of his outspoken and antiauthoritarian views on religion, politics, and science. He once said that all which is written in books is worth much less than the experience of one wise doctor. The well-known writer George Sarton says in his introduction to the History of Science that ar-Razi was the greatest physician of Islam and the Medieval Ages. In 1970 World Health Organization paid tribute to him by stating that his work on smallpox and measles and his essay on infectious diseases are the first scientific treatise on this subject.
Ar-Raziâ€™s other works include a book known in the European civilization as The Spiritual Physick of Rhazes, a combination of alchemy and ethics. Ar-Raziâ€™s philosophical writings were much less known.