ABU BAKR MUHAMMAD BIN ZAKARIYA AR-RAZI (Rhazes)
(864 - 930 C.E.)
George Sarton in the Introduction to the History of
Science says that "Rhazes was the greatest physician
of Islam and the Medieval Ages." The Encyclopedia
of Islam remarks that "Rhazes remained up to the
17th century the undisputable authority of medicine."
The Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO),
May 1970, pays tribute to him by stating that "His
writings on smallpox and measles show originality and
accuracy, and his essay on infectious diseases was the
first scientific treatise on the subject."
Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakariya Ar-Razi was born at
Ray near modern Tehran in 251 A.H. (864 C.E.) It is
said that early in his life al-Razi was interested in
singing and music besides other professions. Because
of his eagerness for knowledge, he became more interested
in the study of alchemy and chemistry, philosophy, logic,
mathematics and physics. It was the field of medicine
that he spent most of his life, practicing it, studying
and writing about it. Due to his fame in medicine he
was appointed head of the physicians of the Ray Hospital,
and later put in charge of the Baghdad main Hospital
during the reign of the Adhud-Daulah.
An interesting episode of Al-Razi's remarkable method
of choosing the right spot for the Baghdad main hospital
is described as follows. When Adhud Daulah asked Al-Razi
to build a hospital, he had pieces of fresh meat placed
at various parts of the city of Baghdad. Some time later,
he checked each piece to find out which one was less
rotten than the others, and he chose the spot of the
least rotten pieces of meat a site for the hospital.
Ar-Razi was a pioneer in many areas of medicine and
treatment and the health sciences in general. In particular,
he was a pioneer in the fields of pediatrics, obstetrics
and ophthalmology. In medicine, his contribution was
so significant that it can only be compared to that
of Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Some of his works in medicine,
e.g., Kitab al-Mansoori, Al-Hawi, Kitab al-Mulooki and
Kitab al-Judari wa al-Hasabah earned everlasting fame.
A special feature of his medical system was that he
greatly favored cures through correct and regulated
food. This was combined with his emphasis on the influence
of psychological factors on health. He also tried proposed
remedies first on animals in order to evaluate in their
effects and side effects. Ar-Razi was the first person
to introduce the use of alcohol (Arabic Al-Kuhl) for
medical purposes. He was also an expert surgeon and
was the first to use opium for anaesthesia.
Ar-Razi was the first to give an account of the operation
for the extraction of a cataract and also the first
scientist to discuss the pupillary reaction or the widening
and narrowing of the pupil of the eye. He explained
that the reaction was due to the presence of small muscles
which act according to the intensity of light. The current
understanding on this subject confirms his work.
The greatest medical work of Ar-Razi (Rhazes), and
perhaps the most extensive ever written by a medical
man, is al-Hawi, i.e., the "Comprehensive Book,"
which includes indeed Greek, Syrian, and early Arabic
medical knowledge in their entirety. Throughout his
life Ar-Razi must have collected extracts from all the
books available to him on medicine. In his last years,
he combined these with his medical experience into an
enormous twenty volume medical encyclopedia. Al-Hawi
was the largest medical encyclopedia composed by then.
It was translated into Latin under the auspices of Charles
I of Anjou by the Sicilian Jewish physician, Faraj ibn
Salim (Farragut) in 1279 and was repeatedly printed
from 1488 onwards. Al-Hawi was known as 'Continens'
in its Latin translation. "By 1542 there had appeared
five editions of this vast and costly work, besides
many more of various parts of it. Its influence on European
medicine was thus very considerable." (The Legacy
of Islam, pp. 323-5). Another scholar points out that
Ar-Razi's "al-Hawi was one of the nine volumes
constituting the whole library of the Paris Faculty
of Medicine in 1395." (Durant; Haider, Bammate,
Kitab al-Mansoori, which was translated into Latin
(known by the title 'Liber Almansoris') in the 1480s
in Milan, comprised ten volumes and dealt exhaustively
with Greco-Arab medicine. Some of its volumes have been
published separately into German and French. The ninth
volume of the translation made by Gerard of Cremona
the "Nonus Al-Mansuri," was a popular text
in Europe until the sixteenth century (Durant, p247).
Ar-Razi in Al-Mansoori devoted a whole chapter on anatomy.
In it he has presented a detailed description of the
various organs of the human body, and sensory and motor
parts. He has also given elaborate descriptions of the
intervertebral foramina and the spinal chord, and correctly
asserted that an injury either to the brain or spinal
chord would lead to paralysis of the parts of the organs
whose nerve supply was damaged or destroyed.
His al-Judari wa al-Hasabah was the first treatise
on smallpox and chickenpox, and is largely based on
Razi's original contribution. It was first translated
into Latin in 1565 and later into several European languages
and went into forty editions between 1498 and 1866.
It was translated into English by William A. Greenhill,
London, 1848. Through his treatise Razi became the first
to draw clear comparisons between smallpox and chickenpox.
Ar-Razi gave many valuable pieces of advice to practicing
physicians: "A physician should not forget to ask
his patient all sorts of questions pertaining to the
possible causes of his illness, both internal and external....If
a physician can treat a patient through nutrition rather
than medicine he has done the best thing. A physician
should always try to convince his patient of improvement
and hope in the effectiveness of treatment, for the
psychological state of the patient has a great effect
on his physical condition. He used to advise his patients
thus: "Whoever seeks treatment with too many physicians
might suffer the risk of the faults of each one of them.
A patient should restrict consultation to one trustworthy
Ar-Razi also compounded medicines and took keen interest
in experimental and theoretical sciences. It is conjectured
that he developed his chemistry independently of Jabir
Ibn Hayyan (Geber). He has discussed several chemical
reactions and also given full descriptions of and designs
for about twenty instruments used in chemical investigations.
His description of chemical knowledge is in plain and
plausible language. One of his books Kitab-al-Asrar
deals with the preparation of chemical materials and
their utilization. Another one was translated into Latin
under the name Liber Experimentorum. He went beyond
his predecessors in dividing substances into plants,
animals and minerals, thus in a way opening the way
for inorganic and organic chemistry. By and large, this
classification still holds. As a chemist, he was the
first to produce sulfuric acid together with some other
acids, and he also prepared alcohol by fermenting sweet
His contribution as a philosopher is also well known.
The basic elements in his philosophical system are the
creator, spirit, matter, space and time. He discusses
their characteristics in detail and his concepts of
space and time as constituting a continuum is outstanding.
Ar-Razi was a prolific author, who has left monumental
treatises on numerous subjects. He has more than two
hundred outstanding scientific contributions to his
credit, out of which about half deal with medicine and
twenty-one on Alchemy. He also wrote on physics, mathematics,
astronomy and optics, but these writings could not be
preserved. A number of his other books, including Jami-fi-al-Tib,
Maqalah fi al-Hasat fi Kuli wa al-Mathana, Kitab al-Qalb,
Kitab-al-Mafasil, Kitab-al-'Ilaj al-Ghoraba, Bar al-Sa'ah,
and al-Taqseem wa al-Takhsir, have been published in
various European languages. About 40 of his manuscripts
are still extant in the museums and libraries of Iran,
Paris, Britain, and Rampur (India). His contribution
has greatly influenced the development of science, in
general, and medicine in particular.
Like other great scholars of Islamic history, Razi's
erudition was all-embracing and his scientific work
remarkable. The foregoing description represents only
a part of the great legacy left by Ar-Razi. He died
in 930 C.E. Razi's portrait adorns the great hall of
the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Paris.