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Medicine and Pharmacology

The sources that are available regarding the importance of these fields of knowledge with the pre-Islamic Iranians can be classified into three categories. The first are the references made in the religious books of the Iranians like Yashts and Yasnas as well as other sources related to the ancient Iranians; the second are the Iranian works that were translated into Arabic during the Islamic Period, reference to which is made in various Islamic sources; and, finally, the extensive and detailed information available on the activities of the scholars of the Jondi Shāpur University and Hospital that proves that this center of knowledge had served as the most important source for the transition of pre-Islamic medicine to Baghdad and the foundations of the Islamic medicine. Moreover, the existence of many Fārsi terms in the various branches of this science, particularly pharmacology and ophthalmology, indicate that the pre-Islamic period Iranians had a lot of experience in medicine and its various branches. For instance, the pharmacological works of such Islamic scholars as Ghāfeqi, Ibn Bitār, Ibn Hamādush, and Ibn Jazzār who lived in the western part of the Islamic world contain more of Persian than Greek and Arabic terms and phrases. The use of the Fārsi term “bimārestān” (hospital) and the titles of those who served in hospitals throughout the Islamic world prove the influence of the Iranian medical tradition on the medicine of the Islamic era.

The first independent books of the Islamic world in the field of medicine were written by the Muslim scholars of the Jondi Shāpur University of which mention can be made of the “Qarābāzin” of Shāpur bin Sahl, the “Daghal al-‘Ein” of Ibn Māsuyah Ahvāzi, and the “Al-‘Ashr Maqālat fi al-‘Ein” of Honain bin Eshāq. Moreover, it has been recorded that Jerjis bin Jebrā’il (d. after 152 AH), the chancellor of the Jondi Shāpur University was the first renowned Iranian physician who migrated to Baghdad and, thus, paved the path for the migration of other scholars of Jondi Shāpur to the capital of the Islamic world. Jebrā’il bin Bakhtishu’ was the most prominent of these scholars who lived during the peak period of the great translation movement in the Islamic world, who besides translating a number of important works had also appointed other proficient translators for this purpose. ‘Isā bin Sahār Bakht (or Chāhār Bakht) of Jondi Shāpur authored his famous book “Qawi al-Adwiyah al-Mofradah” during this period. Similarly, Māsuyeh Ahvāzi was one the greatest pharmacologists and pharmacists of Baghdad during the same period. His son, Yuhannā, too, was one of the most renowned physicians of Jondi Shāpur who had written and translated many books in the field of medicine. His book, “Daghal al-‘Ein” is considered to be the oldest text in ophthalmology of the Islamic era and served as the textbook for the students of this discipline for a long time. Moreover, he carried out valuable researches on eye diseases as well as embryology.

Honain bin Eshāq was another scholar from Jondi Shāpur who had proved to be the most proficient translator of medical works. He had also written one the most important medical books of his times entitled “’Ashr Maqālāt fi al-‘Ein”. His son, Eshāq bin Honain, too, was a renowned physician. During the 3rd Century AH/ 9th Century AD ‘Ali bin Raban Tabari wrote his book, the “Ferdos al-Hekmah”, which besides medicine, contained important information on world natural history etcetera. Shapur bin Sahl’s book, “Qarābāzin” comprised 22 unique articles on medicine and greatly impacted the medical books written later. Another proficient physician of this period was Ahmad bin Tayyeb Sarakhsi but, unfortunately no information is available about his works on medicine.

Mohammad bin Zakariyā al-Rāzi was the greatest clinical physician of the medieval ages whose enormous encyclopedic work “Al-Hāwi” (originally in 20 volumes, of which 10 have survived) was the undisputed source book of medicine for a long period of time. Moreover, in another of his famous works, the “Resālah al-Jadri wa al-Hasbah” (A Treatise on Smallpox and Measles), Rāzi gives the earliest known description of smallpox. Rāzi also made important contributions to chemistry and presented some noble ideas in the field of medicine in his other works, most of which are lost.

The most prominent follower of Rāzi’s school was Akhwini Bokhāri whose book “Hadāyah al-Mota’allemin” is considered to be the oldest Persian work on medicine. The book is specifically important since it contains many Persian terms. The next renowned physician of this period was Abu Māher Musā, the author of the book “Amrāz al-‘Ein” followed by Ibn Sayyār Shirāzi, the most prominent ophthalmologist of the 4th Century AH/10th Century AD who trained three of the most renowned Iranian physicians viz. Abu al-Hasan Tabari, Ibn Manduyah Esfahāni, and ‘Ali bin Abbas Majusi Ahvāzi. Abu al-Hasan Tabari was the author of the book “Al-Mo’ālejat al-Boqrātiyah” (lit. Treatments of Hippocrates) who according to some scholars was the first physician (much before Ibn Zahr) to have identified the parasite causing scabies. Ibn Manduyah worked in a hospital in Esfahān and later on joined the Azodi Hospital on the invitation of Azad al-Dolah. Ahvāzi authored his famous book “Kāmel al-Sanā’ah” towards the end of the 4th Century AH/10th Century AD which served as a reference among the Islamic physicians. It has been recorded that two different Latin translations of this book found their way to the West and that this book was so popular that a person by the name of “Qostantin (Constantin) Afriqi” had falsely claimed to have written it; a false claim that was exposed by Estefān Antāki (Stephen of Antakya).

From among the physicians of the 4th and 5th Centuries AH/ 10th and 11th Centuries AD mention must be made of Ibn Sinā (Avicenna) who is considered to be one the greatest physicians of all times. His great medical encyclopedia “Al-Qānun fi al-Teb” (The Canon of Medicine) was the most eminent medical source, both, in the Islamic world as well as in Europe for six centuries. It is significant as a systematic classification and summary of medical and pharmaceutical knowledge up to and including Avicenna’s own times and had overshadowed the works of Rāzi (Al-Hāwi), Ahvāzi (Kāmel al-Sanā’ah), and Galen to a large extent. The most important topics discussed in details in this book include the diagnosis of pleurisy and mediastinitis, the contagiousness of tuberculosis, the spread of diseases through water and soil, skin diseases, sexual disease and perversions, and psychoneurotic disorders. In the section pertaining to medicine, besides briefly discussing the various methods of pharmacology, Ibn Sinā also introduces 760 different types of medicines. As regards the references used for writing “Al-Qānun” even though very few research works have been carried out on the subject, there is no doubt that Ibn Sinā has borrowed a considerable part of the fifth chapter from Ibn Sarābiyun’s work “Al-Kanāsh al-Saghir” without mentioning his name in particular. It appears that Esmā’il Jorjāni (d. 531 AH), the great Iranian physician was the first person to have discovered this fact since in many cases and while discussing a cetain topic he has made references to the similar views expressed in both the books.

Abu Mansur Mowaffaq Heravi’s book, the “Al-Abniyah ‘An Haqāyeq al-Adwiyah”, in the field of medicine written in the 5th Century AH/11th Century AD contained concise but valuable pharmacological and chemical information. Contrary to the common belief among many scholars, this book is not the oldest medical text written in Persian. There are many evidences to indicate that Heravi had frequently accessed Ibn Sina’s “Al-Qanun fi al-Teb” without making a single mention of it. Moreover, Heravi’s claim to have written a comprehensive book on medicine and having complete knowledge of Indian medicinal herbs is found to be false.

Although Abu Reihān Biruni was not a physician he succeeded in writing a valuable book on simple medicine entitled “Al-Sidanah”. Like Al-Biruni’s other works, besides being valuable for its essence, this book is considered to be an important source in the history of knowledge since it contains the views of many prominent scholars. It is important to note that the focus of the book has mainly been on the etymology and names of the medicines in various languages rather than their medicinal properties and value. In the year 480 AH/1088 AD Abu Ruh Mohammad bin Mansur Jorjāni authored an important treatise – on the instructions received from Malek Shah – on ophthalmology in Persian entitled “Nur al-‘Oyun”. Besides including new and unprecedented information in the book, the author has also included some parts of Honain bin Eshāq’a book “Al-‘Ashr Maqālat fi al-‘Ein” to the extent that some scholars have preferred to refer to it as a commentary of Honain’s book. Esmā’il Jorjāni is considered to be the most renowned Iranian physician of the 6th Century AH/12th Century AD whose valuable works that were written in Persian such as “Zakhireh Khwārazmshāhi”, “Al-Aghrāz al-Tebbiyah”, and “Khafi ‘Alā’i served as medical textbooks for a long time.

Some of the noteworthy Iranian physicians of later periods include Najib al-Din Samarqandi, the author of “Al-Asbāb wa Al-‘Alāmāt”; Qotb al-Din Mahmud Shirāzi, the renowned student of Khwajah Nasir al-Din, who practiced medicine in the Shirāz hospital for ten years; Najm al-Din Mahmud bin Elyās Shirāzi (d. 720 AH), the author of “Al-Hāwi fi ‘Elm al-Tadāwi” popularly known as “Al-Hāwi al-Saghir”; Ibn Kotobi, the author of “Mā Lā Yas’ al-Tabib Jahlah”; Hāj Zein al-‘Attār Shirāzi, the author of the Persian book “Ekhtiyārāt-e Badi’i that was on simple and compound medicines (to which his son had added notes after his death); Borhan al-Din Nafis bin ‘Ewaz Kermāni, who wrote a valuable commentary on the book “Al-Asbāb wa Al-‘Alāmāt” and enriched its section on ophthalmology; Chaghmini, who was basically a mathematician who had also authored the renowned book “Qanuncheh” (lit. “The Concise Canon”) which was a concise version of Ibn Sinā’s “Al-Qānun fi al-Teb”; Mohammad bin Yusof Heravi, the author of “Bahr al-Jawāher”; and Yusof bin Mohammad, the author of “Tebb-e Yusofi”.

The last of the noteworthy physicians and pharmacologists that at times came up with some innovations included Bahā’ al-Dolah Hoseini Nurbakhsh, the author of “Kholāsah al-Tajārob”, who lived during the Safavid period; Mohammad bin Mo’men Tonkāboni, the author of “Tohfahe-ye Hakim-e Mo’men” or “Tahfah al-Mo’menin” – co-authored by his son; and ‘Aqili Khorāsāni, the author of “Makhzan al-Adwiyah”. It is interesting to know that the last two books are still popular among the traditional herbal pharmacologists as well those who practice alternative medicine.

* source: Keramati , yunes " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.395 - 396

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