Professor Tariq Al-Jabri: The Arab and Islamic medical heritage restores confidence to the emerging generation

Written By Mark

Arab and Muslim doctors had a fundamental role and a tremendous effort in establishing medicine as an experimental science. Western doctors relied on them and modern medicine was launched. Professor Dr. Tariq Al-Jabri stresses the importance of re-studying and disseminating the Arab and Islamic medical heritage and explaining it to future Arab generations to represent a confirmation and clarification of the constructive role of Arab and Islamic civilization in the cultural hierarchy. For humanity, and to restore confidence to the emerging generation of this nation’s people.

Professor Al-Jabri is Professor of Surgery at the Jordan University of Science and Technology, and Senior Consultant in General Surgery and Urology, at King Abdullah Founder Hospital in Jordan.

Al-Jabri believes that it is necessary to restore attention to the scientific cultural role of Arab and Muslim scientists in the eras of the Arab Islamic Renaissance, which are themselves the dark ages of Western European civilization, by highlighting the pioneering role of Arab medical scientists.

Professor Al-Jabri’s achievements were not limited to academic cognitive and clinical surgical work, as they extended to include the study of the history of medicine and surgery among Arab and Muslim doctors, taking it upon himself to introduce it and highlight its bright pages.

In his efforts to introduce medicine to Arabs and Muslims, Al-Jabri published two books, the first entitled “Abu Al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi, Dean of Surgeons… A Contemporary Scientific Study,” and the second entitled “Ibn Zuhr, the Wise Physician… A Contemporary Scientific Study.” There is a third author under publication, and a fourth in the process of being written.

“Al Jazeera Health” met with Professor Al-Jabri, who gave us an interesting and exclusive dialogue, in which he presented to us some of the most prominent achievements that Arabs and Muslims have brought to the world in the field of medicine, stressing that we are currently witnessing a restoration of the initiative in many parts of the Arab and Islamic world, including medical services, which holds good news. For the future, through achievements made by Arab and Muslim researchers, whether in their countries or in diaspora.

This is the text of the conversation with Professor Al-Jabri:

  • What is the birth date of medicine among the Arabs?

The Arabs practiced medicine since ancient times and before the emergence of Islam. They experienced cases of war injuries and those resulting from attacks by animals and reptiles. They had direct contact with animals and were informed of their organs, diseases, birth, and various plants. They experienced their effects on humans and animals, and all of this had an impact in enriching their medical experience.

Among the Arabs were those who were familiar with the medical sciences of other civilizations, such as the Persian and Greek. However, the nature of Arab life, which was characterized by travel, prevented the establishment of permanent treatment centers.

Biographies have given us the names of many who were famous for practicing medicine, but poor writing and documentation prevented us from knowing many of them. Among those who became famous in this field is Al-Harith bin Kalda Al-Thaqafi, who was summoned by the Messenger Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, to treat Saad bin Abi Waqqas when he was injured. He said, “Call Al-Harith bin Kalda for him, for he is a man of health.” He came to visit Khosrow and they had a long debate about medicine. Khosrow asked him at the beginning of the conversation, “What is your profession?” He said medicine.

Among the women is Rufaida al-Aslamiyah, whom the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, ordered to treat Saad bin Muaz, who was injured by an arrow in the Battle of the Trench.

Dean of Surgeons book

  • What is the influence of Muslims on medicine and medical ethics?

Muslims have advanced medicine at the levels of content and method. They began by translating what the predecessors had written, then they took center stage for an era of nearly 8 centuries that was characterized by correcting the sciences of the predecessors and then enriching medicine with their experiences, discoveries, inventions, and writings.

Among the most famous doctors who gained fame in the Arab East were Al-Razi (814-925), Ibn Sina (980-1037), Ibn al-Nafis (1213-1288), Ibn al-Qaff (1233-1286), and others. In Andalusia, there were Al-Zahrawi (936-1010), Ibn Zuhr (1094-1162), Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), and others.

The Arabs considered the medical profession linked to morals and human values, and subjected it to a system of control and accountability based on what is called the muhtasib. Al-Zahrawi says, “And keep yourselves away from what you fear will bring you into doubt in your religion and your worldly life, for it will preserve your prestige and raise your destinies in this world and the hereafter.” Ibn Zuhr says in his reference to the medical charter, “Sheikh Abu, may God have mercy on him, took it to me when I was a boy when I started reading medicine from him.” We find Ibn al-Qaf al-Karaki – from the city of Karak in Jordan – a Christian, who ends each of his chapters with phrases indicating God’s will, and sets recommendations for the treatment of women.

  • What are the most prominent contributions of Arabs to anatomy, pathology, diagnosis, epidemiology, community health, nutrition, and mental health?

In the field of anatomy, contrary to what is commonly reported in many books by Western historians about Arabs not practicing anatomy for religious reasons, some religious fatwas, whether Islamic or Christian, did not prevent Muslim doctors from drawing anatomical expertise from humans and animals.

All major Islamic medical books began with lengthy and detailed chapters on anatomy that were difficult to access without practice. Likewise, explaining the precise details of surgical operations could not be described or practiced without careful knowledge of the details. Ibn al-Nafis’s description of the minor blood circulation was a clear example of this. Al-Zahrawi says, “The reason there is no skilled craftsman in our time is because the medical industry is long-term, and its owner must first study anatomy.”

Ibn Rushd says, “The more a person knows about anatomy, the more his faith in God Almighty increases.” Ibn Zuhr says, “There is nothing a craftsman needs to know more than he needs to know anatomy and the benefits of organs so that he does not make a mistake.”

The book of the wise doctor


Muslim doctors described many previously undescribed diseases in addition to clarifying many of what had been described before. For example, Al-Razi distinguished between smallpox and measles, and Al-Zahrawi described for the first time the hereditary bleeding disease or hemophilia as a medical description, as well as the disease of ectopic pregnancy or ectopic pregnancy. Ibn Zuhr described for the first time cancer of the lower digestive system and infections of the pericardium and distinguished between its different types. He also described inflammation of the mediastinum, and he was considered one of the pioneers of pathology.


Muslim doctors stressed the importance of exhausting all means to reach an accurate diagnosis before treatment. Here is Al-Zahrawi saying, “The most informed of what is needed in treating diseases after complete knowledge of the art is good questioning of the sick person, and the most eloquent of that is the need for the sick doctor and observing his conditions.” He was the first to use a mirror to look at the uterus, and this is considered the first reference to internal endoscopy of the body. He invented a metal probe used to examine stones in the bladder before surgery.

Here Ibn Zuhr describes the patient’s history in detail. He describes the fever, examines the patient’s urine in terms of color and dregs, examines the pulse in detail in terms of its speed and strength, and even diastole and systole and the pause between them. He describes the details of what comes out with a cough, and describes the pus and stool in terms of color, smell, quantity, and any contents. unnatural.

Epidemiology and community health

Ibn Zuhr’s references to epidemic diseases were so numerous that the famous scientist J Theodorides devoted a long article in 1955 entitled Parasites and Animals in the Works of Ibn Zuhr. It is known that he was the first to describe the mite that causes scabies. He also devoted a chapter dedicated to maintaining health, which dealt with food, drink, movement, bathroom, clothing, customs, sexual relations, and the weather.


Ibn Zuhr wrote a special book called “The Book of Foods and Medicines,” in which he dealt with recommendations related to food, methods of preparing it, and the differentiation of some of them over others. He prescribed the appropriate food to eat to treat every disease. Ibn Zuhr had a precedent describing feeding through a tube inserted from the mouth into the stomach in cases of inability to swallow, which has become one of the foundations of modern practice. Ibn al-Qaf al-Karaki also wrote a special book on health matters entitled “A Book with a Comprehensive Purpose to Preserve Health and Ward off Disease.”

Psychological health

Muslim doctors paid great attention to this, and considered it an integral part of the patient’s treatment. Al-Zahrawi says, “Three quarters of the treatment is to preserve the patient’s strength so that it does not fall before the end, so provide him with whatever he desires, and whatever comfort, pleasure, and joy it is hoped will bring him, promise him speedy relief, make his illness easy for him, and give him proverbs by saying that so-and-so got rid of his illness that “It was worse than your illness.”

Ibn Zuhr wrote the book “The Book of Economics in Reforming Souls and Bodies,” and economics here means moderation and not extravagance, and it contains an introduction that talks about the relationship between psychological state and health. He says, “Make his food gentle as you do your best, and prevent him from moving, shouting, and loud speech, and keep him still and gentle. As for sleep, do not prevent him from doing so and do not burden him with it, and leave him to his nature. Soften his bed and keep him away from fatigue, comfort himself, and relieve him of everything that brings thoughts to him, and strive to do it gently, such as by occupying him with conversations.” The singer, and he must avoid fatigue and staying up late, calm the sick person’s anger, make him feel reassured, and make him behave in a kind of play in which the limbs move with the breath, such as shooting a crossbow.”

As for mental illnesses, the prevailing view of these patients in the West in the Middle Ages and the method of dealing with them was characterized by inhumanity, attributing what they suffered to causes beyond nature, such as demons and evil spirits. On the other hand, the region that flourished under the shadow of Arab civilization was full of hospitals that allocated special departments for such patients. There were even some hospitals designated for them, such as the Baghdad Hospital, which was founded in 705 and others. Even the famous doctor Abu Bakr al-Razi was personally responsible for the psychiatric unit. In Baghdad Hospital.

The idea of ​​considering these patients deserving of treatment and not being crazy, punished by factors beyond nature is in itself a qualitative shift in the field of neuroscience. The treatment of these patients in Arab and Islamic hospitals was done with medicines, water, music, and physical, behavioral, and psychological therapy. The doctor was called the spiritual doctor and the cardiologist. .

  • How did the Arabs influence modern medicine?

In terms of content, the Arabs added additions that are difficult to enumerate, as we have indicated in terms of new descriptions of diseases, correcting concepts about other diseases, inventing new tools such as those invented by Al-Zahrawi, and describing new operations and additions in the fields of anesthesia and pharmacy. The Arabs also established modern hospitals with therapeutic, educational and training missions, i.e. medical colleges affiliated with hospitals. They wrote educational medical books, such as the book “Al-Tasrif for those who are unable to compose” by Al-Zahrawi, “Al-Taysir fi Al-Dawaa wa Al-Tadar” by Ibn Zuhr, “Al-Umdah fi Sana’at Al-Sarrah” by Ibn Al-Quff, and others. Some of the works were specialized in certain branches of medicine, such as surgery, ophthalmology, and obstetrics, which introduced the principle of specialization in medicine, so Al-Zahrawi was considered, according to Western testimony, the father of surgery. Ibn Zuhr also established a training system that all future surgeons must go through before being allowed to practice surgery independently.

In terms of methodology, the Arabs introduced the concept of the experimental method in surgery, as Ibn Zuhr pointed out, ahead of the English philosopher Bacon Francis in the period (1561-1626), where he used animals for surgical experimentation, and he was the first to perform a tracheostomy. ) on goats, and practicing surgical training on animals has become the ideal approved method for surgical training in advanced surgical centers.

The Arabs also introduced post-mortem autopsies, such as what Ibn Zuhr performed on goats during his research on lung diseases, thus linking the results of the autopsy and the resulting signs to the diseases, their symptoms, and the results of treatment. Postmortem autopsy was subsequently used for various medical, forensic and educational purposes, and it became a medical and legal necessity to prove the causes of death in addition to its educational benefits, leading to the Frenchman Laennec (1781-1826), the first European doctor to adopt this approach.

These achievements explain why European universities have adopted the books of Al-Zahrawi, Ibn Zuhr, Ibn Rushd, Al-Razi and Ibn Sina as medical references for many centuries after they were translated into Latin.

  • Why did Arabs and Muslims later stumble in medical sciences?

It is not possible to isolate medicine, whether progress or decline in any human group and in any historical era, from the rest of the political, social, economic and scientific aspects of life in general. It is no secret to any student of the history of Arabs and Muslims that they entered an era of decadence and cultural decline after their golden age as a result of internal factors that require understanding through in-depth analytical studies, but which can be understood in general by any researcher, and clear external factors, namely the frenzied colonial attack that was accompanied by a military invasion. Cultural, economic, and civilizational dependence robbed the nation of the initiative, turned its individuals into subservient to Western civilization, and exhausted its energies in resisting that invasion.

What we are currently witnessing in terms of regaining the initiative and manifestations of scientific advancement in many parts of the Arab and Islamic world – including medical services – holds promise for the future and that the advancement movement has returned again.

Hence the importance of re-studying and disseminating the Arab and Islamic medical heritage, and exposing it to future Arab generations to represent a confirmation and clarification of the constructive role of Arab and Islamic civilization in the cultural hierarchy of humanity, and to restore confidence to the emerging generation of the people of this nation so that they realize that they are not the product of a cultural and intellectual vacuum, to increase their self-confidence and motivation. To play this role again.

  • You have published two books on medicine among Arabs and Muslims, and you have a third in print. Could you tell us about it?

These two books come within a critical scientific series that deals with Arab and Muslim doctors, and aims to restore interest in the scientific civilizational role of Arab and Muslim scientists in the eras of the Arab-Islamic Renaissance, which are themselves the Dark Ages of Western European civilization, by shedding light on the pioneering role of Arab physician-scientists.

The first book is “Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, Dean of Surgeons… A Contemporary Scientific Study,” and the second is entitled “Ibn Zuhr, the Wise Physician… A Contemporary Scientific Study.” Therefore, I cited them frequently during my presentation.

Each book aims to present the life of the physician scientist in a simplified and gradual manner, starting with a summary of his biography and the scientific and political reality of the period in which he lived, then talking about his writings, passing through his scientific achievements from the perspective of science and modern medical literature, and evaluating his critics, ancient and modern, and rehabilitating him in our present era.

As for the future, there is a book in print that deals with the physician Ibn al-Qaff, entitled “Ibn al-Qaff, the Jordanian physician from the thirteenth century… a contemporary scientific study,” and another book under writing entitled “Ibn Rushd, the physician… a contemporary scientific study.”