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Near East Collection: Muslim's Contributions to Medieval Medicine & Pharmacology

Muslims' Contributions to Medieval Medicine & Pharmacology

Muslims' Contributions to Medieval Medicine & Pharmacology

With the advent of Islam in the seventh century, the Arabs established their domain in the former regions which were parts of the Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine empires. As heirs to the civilizations, which flourished in these regions for millennia, the Arabs inherited medical and pharmacological knowledge which was eventually produced and formulated by Greek scholars.


As they were organizing the administration of their new empire, the Arab rulers realized the importance of medicine for the stability and progress of society. With the coming of the Abbasid dynasty to power in the middle of the eighth century and the building of Baghdad as the new capital of the empire, institutions were established to facilitate, organize and develop the scholarly and scientific knowledge, which was now in the custody of the Arabs. One of these institutions was a royal library by the name of Bayt al-Hikmah (The House of Wisdom), established in the ninth century in Baghdad to house the scientific and medical classics of the time.


In the course of the ninth century, a translation movement sponsored by various sectors of society led to the translation into Arabic of most of the Greek scientific works, including a large number of Greek works of medicine and pharmacology. Many of the early translators were Syriac-speaking Christians who were able to deal with Greek manuscripts either directly or through intermediary Syriac translations. Illustrious scholars like Hunayn ibn Ishaq, his son Ishaq and his nephew Hubaysh produced highly refined, precise, and scientific translations of numerous Greek original works of science medicine.


In addition to the major encyclopedic works produced by such scholars as al-Razi (Latin Rhazes, d. 925 AD) and Ibn Sina (Latin Avicenna, d. 1037 AD), whose works were translated into Latin as early as the twelfth century, and continued to be studied through the second half of the seventeenth century, the major Islamic discoveries and contributions to the field of medicine include:

1) The introduction of new fields of medical research and clinical practice such as maternity, gynecology, embryology, pediatrics, dietary medicine, public health, and psychic medicine.

2) The diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of many new diseases such as smallpox and measles.

3) The qualitative development of the field of pharmacology beyond the comparatively limited earlier state of knowledge.

4) In contrast to the Greek tradition which excluded it, Muslims incorporated surgery into the study of medicine, and developed its practice and techniques.

5) The structure and organization of modern hospitals follows patterns established as early as the ninth century. Islamic hospitals had open admission policies for patients of all economic background, and regardless of sex, religion, or ethnicity. They were run by large administrative staff and could accommodate as many as 8,000 patients. They were separated into different wards by sex and nature of illness. Moreover, hospitals had their own pharmacies and facilities in which medicines were prepared, and each hospital had its own apprenticeship program where students obtained practical experience under the guidance of a physician.


Kitab Kamil al-sinaah al-tibbiyah : al-maruf bi-al-Malaki / by al-Majusi, Ali ibn al-Abbas (10th/11th cent.)

An Arabic manuscript on general medicine. 497 leaves, copied in clear small naskh, 17 x 27 cm. The written surface measures 10.7 x 19.7 cm. The text is ruled with blue and gold lines. 29 lines per page. Catchwords on bottom of page. Headings and other catchwords in red. Laid paper is light brown and glazed. The leather binding has no flap. Consists of 2 parts each of which consists of 10 treatises. Table of contents precedes the text. The date in the colophon, 841 H. (1437 or 1438 CE) is questionable; it is added at the end of the text in a different hand. Gift of Harvey Cushing in 1939, who acquired it from Said Kurdustani (Correspondence included in ms.).

Historical Medical Library: Cushing Arabic Ms. 4.

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Majmu tibbi

Untitled medical text in nistaliq script. 463 folios, 26x16 cm., 9 lines per page. Written surface measures 8.5x15 cm. Main text in Arabic, some notes in Persian. The manuscript is difficult to date since the colophon is missing. Old red leather binding with some pieces replaced at some time in the past and colored to match. Author unknown. The introduction states that the treatise consists of four chapters: 1) On the basic principles of classification of medical sciences; 2) On medication and nutrition; 3) On diseases that infect certain body parts; 4) On diseases that infect other body parts. A printed note, probably clipped from an old catalog, is mounted on the last blank page states: "A very fine and unpublished Persian [sic] manuscript on medicine in red leather binding of 17th century." It is certainly in nice condition, but we cannot vouch for "unpublished" or "17th century."

Historical Medical Library: Cushing Arabic Ms.

Farah namah / by al-Yazdi, al-Mutahhar ibn Muhammad (fl. 1184)

Also known by the title Ajayib al-dunya (Wonders of the world). Persian manuscript, copied in 11th/17th cent., in large taliq. 156 leaves; written surface measures 14x24 cm., 14 lines per page. Illuminated with detailed multicolored illustrations of animals, birds, plants, stones and humans. Mounted unto thin yellow paper. Worming affecting text is crudely patched. European linen binding is gilt stamped. Ref.: BMP p. 465b; Fonahn, Zur Quellenkunde, # 287. Printed in Lucknow 1282/1865. Acquired: June, 1951.

Historical Medical Library: Persian Ms. S-6

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Kitab al-Dhakhirah / by Thabit ibn Qurrah al-Harrani (d. 901)

Written in Neat medium size naskh. 156 leaves, 15 x 25.5 cm. Written surface: 8 x 17.5 cm., 16 lines per page. Some interlinear and marginal corrections. Catchwords on bottom of page. Off-white paper is glazed. Leather binding flap is blind stamped. Contains 31 chapters, starting with hygiene and ending with sexual intercourse. Copied probably in the 16th cent. Bound with Sharh Urjuzat Ibn Sina fi al-tibb / by Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd (Averroes) (1126-1198). 113 leaves, in neat medium size naskh, 15x25.5 cm. Written surface measures 8x17.5 cm., 17 lines per page, some interlinear and marginal corrections, catchwords on bottom of page.

Historical Medical Library: Cushing Arabic Ms. 1.

Kitab Jalinus fi amal al-tashrih / by Galen ; translated from Greek into Arabic by Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-Ibadi (809?-873)

A work on human anatomy by the famous Greek physician Galen (Jalinus in Arabic), translated by the renowned translator of Greek medical texts Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-Ibadi. 99 leaves, in neat, medium size naskh; 10.5x18.5 cm.; the written sufrace measures 6.5x13 cm., 17 lines per page. Paper is brittle, light brown with some glazing. Date of copying 939 H/1532 or 1533 CE (but more likely 12/18 cent.)

Historical Medical Library: Cushing Arabic Ms. 8.

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Taqwim al-abdan / by Ibn Jazlah, Yahya ibn Isa (d. 1100)

Theraputics in form of tables copied ca. 10th cent. H./16th CE in clear naskh and nastaliq in medium size and large thulth in headings; 92 leaves, 20.5x28 cm.; written surface 18x25; 27 lines per page; laid paper is beige and lightly glazed; some text loss on lower right side fols. 80 to end; damp stained title page pasted over. Cardboard binding; Ref. GAL I 485; 8 # 1; Ullmann, Medizin p. 160.

Historical Medical Library: Cushing Arabic Ms. 11.

Kitab al-ghina wa-al-muna fi ilm al-tibb / by al-Qumri, Abu Mansur al-Hasan ibn Nuh (11th cent.)

An Arabic manuscript on general medicine. Copied in medium size naskh. The 213 fols. measure 15.5x24 cm.; the written surface measures 13x18.5 cm., 21 lines per page; catchwords on bottom of page; headings in red. The laid paper is light brown and not glazed. Damaged, poorly repaired leather binding with no flap. The year of copying is illegible, probably beginning of the 17th cent.

Historical Medical Library: Arabic Ms. S-3.

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Tashrih-i Mansuri / by Mansur ibn Muhammad ibn Ilyas (fl. 1384)

An illustrated Persian treatise on human anatomy, usually referred to as Tashrih-i Mansuri (Mansur's Anatomy), also known as Tashrih-i badan-i insan (Human anatomy); dedicated to the Sultan Pir Muhammad ibn Umar ibn Timur, the Timurid ruler of Fars from 1393-1409. Copied in ca. IX cent. H/XV cent. CE. 25 folios in medium size naskh, illustrated with 6 full page anatomical figures, pen drawn in various colors, among them being one representing the arterial system of a pregnant woman. The written surface measures 17x13 cm; 25 lines per page. Catchwords and headings in red; Indian influence noticeable; laid paprer is brown. Ref. Ullmann, Medizin, p. 180. Gift of John Farquhar Fulton.

Historical Medical Library: Cushing Persian Ms. 14.

Majmu tibbi

Six manuscripts: 1) Unidentified work on therapeutics, 58 leaves, 9.5x18.5 cm. 16 lines per page, copied by Muhammad ibn Safi at the end of Safar, 1069 H/26 November 1658. 2) al-Adwiyah al-mawjudah fi kull makan / by al-Razi, Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya (865?-925?), copied in Rabi al-Awwal 1069 H./Nov.-Dec., 1658 by Muhammad ibn Safi; 39 leaves; 14 lines per page. 3) Risalat Shifa ajil / by Sadr al-Din Muhammad Tabib. 43 leaves, 15 lines per page; catchwords on bottom of page. Ref. GAL S II 1028; NjP (Mach-Ormsby 1365). al-Dhariah and Mach-Ormsby attribute it to Sadr al-Din Ali ibn Muhammad al-Jilani. 4) Risalah-i Juriyah / by Ibn Sina; in Persian; 7 leaves; some marginalia; catchwords on bottom of page; Ref. Ullmann, Medizin, p. 336. 5) Jami al-fawaid / by al-Yusufi, Yusuf ibn Muhammad (16th cent.). In Persian; 80 leaves, 15 lines per page, catchwords on bottom of page; copied in 1067 H/1656-1657. 6) Taqwim al-abdan fi tadbir al-insan / Ibn Jazlah, Yahya ibn Isa (d. 1100) In Persian. 21 leaves in form of tables.

Historical Medical Library: Cushing Arabic Ms. 12

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Kitab al-Qanun fi al-tibb / by Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abd Allah ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037)

The complete Canon of medicine of Avicenna in five parts. The authoritative reference on medicine of the Middle Ages. Copied by Abd al-Karim al-Qutbi (?) al-Hanafi in 1006 H/1597 CE. 505 leaves in medium size naskh, 21.5 x 31 cm. Writing surface 14.7 x 22.5 cm. The text is gilt ruled, 39 lines per page. Catchwords and headings in red, blue and gold. The leather binding is gilt stamped. Includes two leaves of notes in Arabic and Persian at the end.

Historical Medical Library: Cushing Arabic Ms. 5.

Jawahir al-lughah / by al-Harawi, Muhammad ibn Yusuf (16th cent.)

A medical dictionary arranged alphabetically, covering anatomical and pathological terms and concepts and medicinal substances. Also known under the titles Jawahir al-lughah fi lughat al-tibb and Bahr al-jawahir. Composed 9 Shawwal 924 H/14 October 1518 CE. Copied 18 Dhu al-Hijjah, 1009 H/20 June 1601 by the physician Amin al-Din Muhammad in Ahmad ibn Ali al-Kashani. 244 leaves in clear medium size naskh, 12x18.2 cm., 16 lines per page.

Historical Medical Library: Cushing Arabic Ms. 2.

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Kitab al-Nuzhah al-mubhijah fi tashhidh al-adhhan wa-tadil al-amzijah / by al- Antaki, Daud ibn Umar (d. 1599)

An Arabic manuscript on medicine and therapeutics, copied Dec. 10, 1670, in neat, small naskh by Muhammad Tahir al-Asfahni. The 164 folios measure 15x23 cm. The written surface measure 9x17.5 cm., 24 lines per page; few marginalia; the catchwords on bottom of page are sometimes cropped; the paper is beige and glazed. Leather binding of European origin.

Historical Medical Library: Arabic Ms. S-1.

Khulasat al-tajarib / by al- Nurbakhshi, Baha al-Dawlah (d. ca. 1505)

A Persian manuscript composed in the year 907 H/1501 or 2 CE.. A general work on medicine, written in traditional form; at the end a special chapter is added on foreign medical technical expressions and on medical weights. It contains much that is noteworthy, such as the writings of the famous physician and scholar living in the 10th/16th century, Imad al-Din Mahmud ibn Masud of Shiraz (Cf. History of Iranian literature / by Jan Rypka, p. 474). 388 leaves written in elegant, rather small naskh; red binding; the written surface measures 10x18 cm., 28 lines per page; read headings and catchwords; catchwords on bottom of page. Laid paper is brown. Ref. Storey II pt., p. 23, incipit agrees; Browne, p. 186; Fonahn, Zur Quellenkunde # 28; Catalogue of Perisian manuscripts, India Office, no. 2955. The manuscript is from the library of Ibrahim Pasha son of Muhammad Ali the Khedive of Egypt. It was copied in 1071 H/1661 CE)

Historical Medical Library: Persian Ms. S-5.

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Kitab al-Hawi / by al-Razi, Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya (865?-925?)

Copied by the order of Sulayman, the Shah of Iran (1666-1694) for his chief physician Muhammad Riza Hakim probably in 1674. 343 leaves, in rather small naskh. The written surface measures 15x28.5 cm., 39 lines per page. Few marginalia; red used in catchwords and headings. Small blue and gold titles. Paper is glazed. The leather binding is blind stamped.

Historical Medical Library: Cushing Arabic Ms. 10.

Mr. Simon Samoeil, Curator for the YUL Near East Collection

Mr. Simon Samoeil, Curator for the YUL Near East Collection