|Biographical detail : ||The greatest physician of the Middle Ages.
Al-Razi’s writings on small pox and measles are still considered a medical classic. Diet was a fundamental therapeutic procedure in his medical methodology. He stressed the importance of doctor-patient relationship and a cheerful countenance necessary for the doctors.
Al-Razi was a pioneer in many areas of medicine and treatment and the health sciences in general and in the fields of paediatrics, obstetrics and ophthalmology in particular.
Al-Razi’s writings numbered over 230 and ranged in subjects from medicine to mathematics, chess and music. But his works in medicine such as ‘Kitab al-Mansoori’, ‘Al-Hawi’, and ‘Kitab al-Judari wa al-Hasabah’ earned him everlasting fame. About 40 of his manuscripts are still extant in the museums and libraries of Iran, Paris, Britain, and Rampur (India).
Al-Razi’s ‘Kitab al-Mansoori’ was dedicated to Mansur the Governor of Ray in 903. It was translated into Latin, in the 1480s known by the title ‘Liber Almansoris’ 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 devoted a whole chapter on anatomy 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 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. The translation formed a part of the medical curriculum of almost every European university through the 16th century.
Al-Razi’s another important works was considered to be ‘Kitab-Al-Hawi’ a medical encyclopaedia, later translated in Latin, in 1279 and was repeatedly printed from 1488 onwards – ‘Continens’ in its Latin translation, one of the most valuable books of antiquity.
Al-Razi’s treatise on small pox, measles (al-Judari wa al Hasabah) was rightly considered an ornament to the medical literature, translated into Latin in 1565 and other European languages between 1498 and 1866. This treatise established his reputation as the most original thinker of the Middle ages.
Al-Razi’s ‘Kitab-al-Asrar’ deals with the preparation of chemical materials and their utilisation, translated into Latin as ‘Liber Experimentorum’. As a chemist, he was the first to produce sulphuric acid together with some other acids, and he prepared alcohol (derived from the Arabic word Al-Kuhl) by fermenting sweet products.
A special feature of al-Razi’s medical system was that he greatly favoured cures through correct and regulated food. This was combined with his emphasis on the influence of psychological factors on health. On the importance of doctor-patient relationship and a cheerful countenance necessary for the doctors, he used to advice his patients – “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 physician.”
He also proposed remedies first on animals in order to evaluate their effects and side effects. He was also the inventor of the Seton in surgery.
Al-Razi was the first person to introduce the use of alcohol for medical purpose and the first to use opium for anaesthesia. He was again the first to give an account of the operation for the extraction of a cataract and also the first to discuss the papillary reaction or the widening and narrowing of 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.
Al-Razi influenced Western medicine for centuries. The Bulletin of the World Health Organisation (WHO), May 1970, pays tribute to him by stating: “His writings on smallpox and measles show originality and accuracy, and his essay on infectious diseases was the first scientific treatise on the subject.” His portrait along with Ibn Sina’s exhibits the Great Hall of the School of Medicine at the University of Paris.
Al-Razi whose full name was Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakariya Ar-Razi was born at Ray near Tehran. It is said that early in his life al-Razi was interested in singing and music. But his eagerness of knowledge drove him to study alchemy and chemistry, philosophy, logic, mathematics and physics. It was in the field of medicine that he spent most of his life, in Baghdad, practicing it, studying it and writing about it.