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The Basic Sciences in Islamic Medicine

Contarary to popular belief, basic Sciences were were highly developed in Islamic Sciences. For instance Oriental historians of Medicine have erroneously emphasised that science of anatomy, during the Islamic era was rudimentary ,and did not progress much further than the discoveries already made and desribed by the Greeks or 'the ancients'. It was popularly held that the Islamic physicians did not challenge the anatomic concepts of the 'ancients'. Secondary to the religious proscription of dissection and thus lacking in their own observations they relied heavily on observations of Galen, Aristotle, Paul of Agaeia and other Greek sources.

However after recent discoveries of manuscripts by an Egyptian Physician Mohiuddin al-Tatawi, that had been hetherto unsrutinized, it has become evident that Islamic Physicians not only possesed excellent knowlege of anatomy but they added some challenging new concepts that were revolutionary to the then understanding of anatomical concepts laid down by the 'ancients'.

The example that has now become well known is that of the discovery of the lesser or pulmanary circulation by Ibn Nafis( d 687 AH/1288 AD) Until then the credit of the discovery of the lesser circulation was given to Servetus and Colombo, who discribed it in much similar terms as Ibn Nafis only two hundred years later. The description given of the pulmonary circulation by Ibn Nafis challenged the fundamental concept held by Galen.

In fact it suggested that there existed a pulmonary capillary bed where the blood was 'purified ' before being brought back to the heart by the pulmonary artery, thus predating the discovery of pulmonary capillaries long afterwards, following the discovery of the microscope by Anthony Von Luwenheek.. It has to be noted that it has been documented that Ibn Masawaih or 'Masseuse Senior' his latinized name had with the special permission of the Caliph built a house on ther banks of the river Tigris where he dissected apes, to learn their anatomy and extrapolated the information to human anatomy.

That the knowlege of anatomy was pre-requisite for the surgeon has been emphasized by Al-Zahrawi in the surgical section of his book 'Tasrif' where he writes in the introduction:

'Now this is the reason why there is no skilful operator in our day: the art of medicine is long and it is necessary for its exponent, before he exercises it , to be trained in anatomy as Galen has described it, so that he may be fully acquainted with the uses, forms, temparament of the limbs; also how they are jointed, and how they may be seperated, that he should understand fully also the bones, tendons and muscles, their numbers and their attachments; and also the blood vessels both the arteries and the veins, with their relations. And so Hippocrates said: ' Though many are docotors in name, few in reality, particularly on the surgical side.'

As regards the physiological concepts embodied in the Islamic Medicine they were based on the Hippocratic and Galenic concepts of elements natrures and humors. The theory expounded being that harmony in the body prevails when all the humors are in proper balance and it is their imbalance that creates disease.

Under this principle then, disease is a state of imbalance of humours and needs the restoraion of balance, to bring the organism back to its normal healthy state. Under modern medicine such a concept would be unacceptable or at least untenable; because in modern medicine causation of disease is related to etilogical agents or factors. However it was Claud Bernard's concept of the 'milleu interior' which can in modern terms be compared to the Jabirean concept of innate harmony as exponded by Islamic medicine.

In order to further exemplify the factors affecting this balance the theory of Islamic Medicine expounds the concept of elements and temperaments. Basic elements are broken into: earth , fire, air and water and each of these is given a temperament: viz earth is dry and cold; water is humid and cold; fire hot and dry heat, air is humid and hot. Even further each of the four essential body fluids like blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile are assigned a respective temperament. Each dietary food, medicine or climatic environment can thus then modify or temper the humors of the body and it is an interplay of these that can restore health from sickness or cause the sickness to worsen.

Such a theory was understandably ill undeerstood and even laughed at and ridiculed by the scietists of the west. Yet the same scientists have now begun to look at the human organism from different insights. To give an example: until recently the theoritical basis of Accupuncture would not have been acceptable to any physician trained by principles of western or modern medicine and yet today this is being looked at with new insight and accepted because the application have shown practical results which would otherwise be unexplainable by modern principles of anatomy and physiology.For a further exposition of the theories of Islamic Medicine the reader is directed to read an exposition by O.C. Gruner and a desertation on the subject by Hakim Mohammed Said.

More importantly however it was the fundamental belief of a Muslim Physician that the organic body alone cannot manifest life being innate and devoid of a life force. That it was the instillation of this life force or 'Ruh' which give its vibrance and vitality of spirit.Thus without the 'ruh' no function of the body is possible. It is the 'Ruh' which descends from the Almighty to mix with the anatomic and physioogic body to make a complete human being.It is thus essential when treating a diseased state to take into consideratioin the 'Ruh' or the Soul, a concept totoally alien to the followers of Modern Medicine.

Adapted from the book: "Islamic Medicine" by: "Husain F.Nagamia"

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