Medical sciences

Ibn Sina (980 – 1037) better known to the West as Avicenna, was perhaps the greatest physician until the modern era; devoted his life to the study of medicine, philosophy and other branches of science. He established free hospitals and developed treatments for diseases using herbs, hot baths, and even major surgery. His famous book “The Canon of Medicine” was translated into Latin in the 12th century and it was used in medical schools throughout Europe until the advent of modern science.  He was the first to put forward the theory of brain localization of external senses, i.e. sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. He also stated that digestion of food commences with the exudation of humidity in the mouth which is true especially for the carbohydrates. Other discoveries of Ibn Sina include:

  • Clinical description of meningitis.

  • Described two types of facial paralysis: central and peripheral.

  • He gave the most modern classification of jaundice.

  • The first to declare pulmonary tuberculosis and venereal diseases as contagious.

Blood circulation was discovered by Ibn al-Nafis (1208 – 1288), 300 years before Spaniard Miguel Serveto (Michael Servetus) (1509 – 1553) who is credited with this discovery. Likewise, the phenomenon of conditional reflexes was discovered by Al-Razi a thousand years before Sherington or Pavlov. Also, Al-Razi is famous for his classical monograph on smallpox and measles, “Kitab al-Judari wa al-Hasbah,” that was translated into Latin, then English and other European languages, and went through forty editions between the 15th and 19th century. Some of the achievements of Al-Razi in medical sciences include:

  • The first to use laboratory animals in medical research.

  • Introduced emetics to vomit out poisonous foods and drinks.

  • The first to introduce external use of arsenic, mercurial ointment and copper sulphate.

  • Rejected purgatives and preferred diet regulation.

  • The first to use cold water in treating Typhoid fever.

Other significant contributions made by Muslim physicians are: recognition that the cranium (skull) is composed of eight, not seven bones as suggested before. They also pointed out the three bones of the middle ear that are essential for hearing. In addition, Muslim physicians discovered that food is absorbed to a far greater degree from the intestine than from the stomach due to the presence of mesenteric veins (masariqa) with minute pores through which food is absorbed, a fact accepted in modern physiology. Furthermore, they found out that no organ can perform its function properly without the aid of another (organ) and the fact that disease is cured by the inherent resistance of the body and not by drugs. They were also the first to notice that a person does not suffer from smallpox twice in his life; long before Edward Jenner noticed this type of immunity in 1796.