Islamic Perspectives

Muslim contribution to Science -iii

The Forgotten Scientific legacy of the Muslim World
Continued from the previous issue
What is taught:Modern anesthesia was invented in the 19th century by Humphrey Davy and Horace Wells.
What should be taught:Modern anesthesia was discovered, mastered and perfected by Muslim anesthetists 900 years before the advent of Davy and Wells. They utilized oral as well as inhalant anesthetics.
What is taught:The concept of quarantine was first developed in 1403. In  Venice , a law was passed preventing strangers from entering the city until a certain waiting period had passed. If, by then, no sign of illness could be found, they were allowed in.
What Should be Taught:The concept of quarantine was first introduced in the 7th century A.D. by the prophet Muhammad, who wisely warned against entering or leaving a region suffering from plague. As early as the 10th century, Muslim physicians innovated the use of isolation wards for individuals suffering with communicable diseases.
What is taught: The scientific use of antiseptics in surgery was discovered by the British surgeon Joseph Lister in 1865.
What should be taught: As early as the 10th century, Muslim physicians and surgeons were applying purified alcohol to wounds as an antiseptic agent. Surgeons in Islamic Spain utilized special methods for maintaining antisepsis prior to and during surgery. They also originated specific protocols for maintaining hygiene during the post-operative period. Their success rate was so high that dignitaries throughout Europe came to  Cordova ,  Spain , to be treated at what was comparably the “Mayo Clinic” of the Middle Ages.
What is taught:In 1545, the scientific use of surgery was advanced by the French surgeon Ambroise Pare. Prior to him, surgeons attempted to stop bleeding through the gruesome procedure of searing the wound with boiling oil. Pare stopped the use of boiling oils and began legating arteries. He is considered the “father of rational surgery.” Pare was also one of the first Europeans to condemn such grotesque “surgical” procedures as trepanning.
What Should be Taught: Islamic  Spain ‘s illustrious surgeon, az-Zahrawi (d. 1013), began ligating arteries with fine sutures over 500 years prior to Pare. He perfected the use of Catgut, that is suture made from animal intestines. Additionally, he instituted the use of cotton plus wax to plug bleeding wounds. The full details of his works were made available to Europeans through Latin translations. Despite this, barbers and herdsmen continued to be the primary individuals practicing the “art” of surgery for nearly six centuries after az-Zahrawi’s death. Pare himself was a barber, albeit more skilled and conscientious than the average ones.
What is taught:William Harvey, during the early 17th century, discovered that blood circulates. He was the first to correctly describe the function of the heart, arteries and veins.  Rome ‘s Galen had presented erroneous ideas regarding the circulatory system, and  Harvey was the first to determine that blood is pumped throughout the body via the action of the heart and the venous valves. Therefore, he is regarded as the founder of human physiology.
What should be taught:In the 10th century, Islam’s ar-Razi wrote an in-depth treatise on the venous system, accurately describing the function of the veins and their valves. Ibn an-Nafs and Ibn al-Quff (13th century) provided full documentation that the blood circulates and correctly described the physiology of the heart and the function of its valves 300 years before  Harvey . William Harvey was a graduate of  Italy ‘s famous  Padua University at a time when the majority of its curriculum was based upon Ibn Sina’s and ar-Razi’s textbooks.
What is taught:The first pharmacopeia (book of medicines) was published by a German scholar in 1542. According to World Book Encyclopedia, the science of pharmacology was begun in the 1900’s as an off-shoot of chemistry due to the analysis of crude plant materials. Chemists, after isolating the active ingredients from plants, realized their medicinal value.
What should be Taught:According to the eminent scholar of Arab history, Phillip Hitti, the Muslims, not the Greeks or Europeans, wrote the first “modern” pharmacopeia. The science of pharmacology was originated by Muslim physicians during the 9th century. They developed it into a highly refined and exact science. Muslim chemists, pharmacists and physicians produced thousands of drugs and/or crude herbal extracts one thousand years prior to the supposed birth of pharmacology. During the 14th century Ibn Baytar wrote a monumental pharmacopeia listing some 1400 different drugs. Hundreds of other pharmacopeias were published during the Islamic Era. It is likely that the German work is an offshoot of that by Ibn Baytar, which was widely circulated in  Europe .
What is taught:The discovery of the scientific use of drugs in the treatment of specific diseases was made by Paracelsus, the Swiss-born physician, during the 16th century. He is also credited with being the first to use practical experience as a determining factor in the treatment of patients rather than relying exclusively on the works of the ancients.
What should be taught:Ar-Razi, Ibn Sina, al-Kindi,  Ibn Rushd ,  az -Zahrawi, Ibn Zuhr, Ibn Baytar, Ibn al-Jazzar, Ibn Juljul, Ibn al-Quff, Ibn an-Nafs,  al-Biruni, Ibn Sahl and hundreds of other Muslim physicians mastered the science of drug therapy for the treatment of specific symptoms and diseases. In fact, this concept was entirely their invention.  The word “drug” is derived from Arabic. Their use of practical experience and careful observation was extensive. Muslim physicians were the first to criticize ancient medical theories and practices. Ar-Razi  devoted an entire book as a critique of Galen’s
anatomy. The works of Paracelsus are insignificant compared to the vast volumes of medical writings and original findings accomplished by the medical giants of Islam.
What is taught:The first sound approach to the treatment of disease was made by a German, Johann Weger, in the 1500’s.
What should be Taught:Harvard’s George Sarton says that modern medicine is entirely an Islamic development and that Setting the Record Straight the Muslim physicians of the 9th through 12th centuries were precise, scientific, rational and sound in their approach. Johann Weger was among thousands of European physicians during the 15th through 17th centuries who were taught the medicine of ar-Razi and Ibn Sina. He contributed nothing original.
What is taught: Medical treatment for the insane was modernized by Pilippe Pinel when in 1793 he operated France ‘s first insane asylum.
What should be Taught: As early as the 1lth century, Islamic hospitals maintained special wards for the insane. They treated them kindly and presumed their disease was real at a time when the insane were routinely burned alive in  Europe as witches and sorcerers. A curative approach was taken for mental illness and, for the first time in history, the mentally ill were treated with supportive care, drugs and psychotherapy. Every major Islamic city maintained an insane asylum where patients were treated at no charge. In fact, the Islamic system for the treatment of the insane excels in comparison to the current model, as it was more humane and was highly effective as well.(Concluded)
(From J W Draper, The Forgotten History of Muslims)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2013 on page no. 20

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