Source: National Geographic
The growth of Islam in the seventh century sparked a golden age of scientic discovery. Building on the wisdom of ancient civilizations, Muslim doctors pushed the boundaries of medical science into bold new places.
BY VÍCTOR PALLEJÀ DE BUSTINZA
SANCHO I, RULER of the kingdom of Léon in the north of modern-day Spain, was overthrown by rebel nobles in A.D. 958. Their motive, even by the turbulent politics of the day, was an unusual one: The king was unable to fulfill his regal duties with dignity, the rebels said, because he was too fat.
The relatives of Sancho acted quickly to restore his power. In an example of the lively interchange of ideas and loyalties in multicultural, medieval Spain, his grandmother, Queen Toda Aznar of the Christian kingdom of Navarra, sought help from another Spanish kingdom deep in Spain’s south: the Muslim Caliphate of Córdoba. Queen Toda approached Córdoba’s great ruler, the caliph ’Abd al-Rahman III, with two bold requests: help with a cure for her grandson’s morbid obesity and military support to regain the throne.
The caliph put the first matter in the hands of Hisdai ibn Shaprut, his Jewish physician, who put the Leonese king on a strict diet. Once Sancho slimmed down enough to be able to ride properly, he reclaimed his lost crown with the help of Muslim troops.
Physicians from Islamic countries during the late Middle Ages enjoyed great respect. Their reputation was well deserved, for the study and practice of medicine was then led by Muslim societies across their immense territory, which extended from modern-day southern Spain to Iran.
After the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632, Islam expands beyond Arabia to Persia, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and North Africa.
Caliph Harun al-Rashid founds the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. The city’s scholars translate many ancient manuscripts and medical texts.
Al-Razi (Rhazes) is born in Persia. Physician, chemist, and teacher, he writes many important medical works later translated into Latin and Greek.
Surgeon Al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis) is born in Córdoba. Inventor of many medical instruments, he writes the first illustrated surgical book.
In Baghdad, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) writes the Canon of Medicine, a five-volume work encompassing all known medical knowledge of the time.
Ibn Rushd (Averroës) is born. Philosopher, astronomer, and physician, he writes a medical encyclopedia known as the Colliget in Latin.
Ottoman Serefeddin Sabuncuoglu is born. A surgeon, he creates illustrated works showing the advanced procedures of Muslim medicine.