Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the Islamic Medical Revolution
By Safiyyah Sabreen Syeed

How the Prophet ﷺ inspired a great medical revolution in history

Published in: History, Science
Date: 14 / 11 / 20

The Quran has another name. It’s called Ash Shifa- The Cure, meaning it is a cure for every ailment- spiritual or physical, for an individual or a civilization. This attribute of the Quran will be manifest as we explore the biggest international medical revolution and see how the Prophet (saw) and the Quran directly influenced this landmark in human history. In order to bring this to light, we will concentrate on three accomplishments of the Islamic Medical Revolution : 

The emphasis on experimental and observational medicine.

The Hospital becomes an important public institution.

Healthcare becomes a truly noble, philanthropic practice. 

Experimental approach

If there is one thing that sets Islamic Science apart from science developed in other civilizations- it is the Muslim scientists emphasized on observation and experimentation. The question is why would they do that?

Take the case of Ibn Nafis, a 13th century Muslim Physician, who was a Shafi'i Jurist and a Hadith scholar as well, he is the first to discover the minor circulation of the blood.

How did he do that? He studied the ancient Greek physician Galen' s theory that blood flows between the right and left ventricles through holes in the walls of the heart and put it to the test of observation. He concluded that the great Greek Physician was wrong and that blood reaches the left ventricle through the lungs, thus providing the first explanation of the minor circulation of blood, 300 years before William Harvey. 

Another example comes from the 12th century Physician, Abd alLatif al Baghdadi. He wrote a description of a famine that occurred in Egypt in the 1200's. And after examining a large number of skeletons, asking other people to conduct their own independent examinations, he arrived at the conclusion that Galen's description of the bones of the lower jaw was erroneous. 

Demonstrating the Muslim approach of questioning great scientists and their theories on the basis of experimental examination.

The big question is why are Muslim Scientists emphasizing on observation and experimentation? This is the central pillar of Modern science, and what is it that inspired the Muslim scientists to become the founders of this approach? 

The answer is simple: Muslim scientists of the Golden Age for the most part were even religious scholars as well. And Islamic science developed based on the general Islamic and Quranic worldview of the Muslims of that era. The Quran almost on every page directs the reader to observe and contemplate on nature. Throughout the Quran, Human observation of nature is preferred numerously over hypothetical theories that people hold on to. 

Allah says in the Quran: "Travel through the earth and observe how He began creation?"(29:20) or He says,

“Indeed in the creation of the universe and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are Signs for those who understand”. (3:190)

What are signs? These are things to be observed, these are things to be seen.

This Quranic emphasis on careful observation of physical phenomena led Muslim Scientists to lay down the principles of what we now call Modern science. 

As Muzaffar Iqbal sums it up well:

"It was the Quran's urgent invitation to act that provided the earliest stimulus for reflection on nature. The Quran contained a large number of verses that called attention to the harmony, symmetry and order present in the natural world. This invitation to reflect on nature was such an insistent theme of the Quran that no one could ignore it, not even those who did not believe in its message. One cannot overemphasize the central position that the Quran holds in the development of the Islamic Scientific tradition”.

The advent of Hospitals (Bimaristans)

Medicine was one the first few sciences, along with Astronomy that developed very early on, in the very lifetime of the Prophet (saw). A new kind of medicine emerged known as “prophetic medicine”. a collection of hadith that outlined general hygienic practices,recommended treatments for some diseases,and some rules related to eating, drinking, and other activities. The famous scholar Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya compiled all of these in his book -Tibb al-Nabawi (Prophetic Medicine) that is the primary source of Islamic homeopathy. 

But one of the greatest achievements of Islam and its significant contributions to the modern world  is the Hospital. The United States National Library of Medicine, credits the institution of a hospital as being an invention of the Islamic civilization. [reference] But did you know that the first hospital in Islam was the mobile hospital, located in a tent during the Battle of Khandaq (627 CE) set up by the instruction of the Prophet himself (saw).  

Quickly the idea of mobile hospitals evolved into fully functional hospitals in all big cities of the Muslim world. Between the 9th and 13th centuries five hospitals were built in Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Rayy, Mecca and Medina . These were called Bimaristans. Resembling the modern hospital complex, these Bimaristans were the first to require medical diplomas to license doctors. Medical students were given rigorous training both in theory and practice by the chief physician of the Bimaristan and only after passing the final exam would receive a licence to practice medicine. It was during this period that specializations began to emerge, such as general practitioners, surgeons, ophthalmologists, gynecologists, psychiatrists, dentists and even something niche like Biomedical Engineering. Al Zahrawi was the first Biomedical Engineer. 

The Bimaristans had separate wards for different diseases, a library for doctors a pharmacy and a laboratory within the building. Every department had an officer-in-charge and a supervising specialist. By the 10th century laws were passed to keep hospitals open 24 hours a day. Baghdad was also known to have a separate hospital for convicts.

Now how did the concept of a hospital go on to become the global necessity it is now. It was not until the 13th Century, that Europe finally began to adopt the Islamic Hospital .

In the words of Historian George Sarton, “We have reason to believe that when, during the crusades, Europe at last began to establish hospitals, they were inspired by the Arabs of the Near East. The first hospital in Paris, was founded by Louis IX after his return from the Crusade of 1254-1260”.

The Islamic Hospital- A Philanthropic Institution

But while the 'hospital may be a Muslim invention, there is a big difference between the Islamic hospital and the modern hospital and healthcare in general. The Islamic hospitals or Bimaristans were 100% free, complete philanthropic institutions. Even though the budgets were high for the maintenance of these complexes, the salaries of the doctors. All of that was taken care of by state endowments. On the contrary modern healthcare is a big money making machine.

So right now a simple procedure like extracting a tooth in the US may cost on an average $700. In the Golden age of Islam, complicated treatments like removing tumors, gynaecology and treatment of contagious diseases was done for no cost.

All this because the Prophet (saw) in many of his sayings emphasized that care for the patient was one of the most noble acts in Islam and the alleviation of any physical harm from people was a deed most beloved to Allah.

Now you Know

The Quran and the Hadith provided the necessary stimulus for a great revolution in Medical Science in the Muslim world.

The Quran emphasized on 'observation' of nature which led Muslim scientists to pioneer clinical and experimental medicine.

Experimentation and observation is the central pillar of modern science, which was a Muslim/Quranic contribution.

Hospitals were a Muslim invention. They were called Bimaristans.

These Bimaristans greatly resemble modern hospitals in their functionality.

Inspired by Prophet Muhammad's teachings, Islamic hospitals were complete philanthropic institutions that charged no fee.

Safiyyah Sabreen Syeed

About the author

Safiyyah Sabreen studied Mechanical Engineering and is currently pursuing her Master's in Philosophy. She is the Content Director for KNOW. Being interested in the field of Islam and Science and Islamic Eschatology, she produced a documentary on the Golden Age of Islam and directs the Second Golden Age series.

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