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'Al-Zahrawi was greatest Muslim surgeon, greater authority than even Galen'
Tuesday December 17, 2013 12:10 PM, Pervez Bari,

On the second day of the three-day International Conference on "Revisiting Abul Qasim Al-Zahrawi's Legacy in Medicine and Surgery" here at the India Islamic Cultural Centre in all eight sessions along with poster presentation were held which highlighted the various aspects of achievements of Al-Zahrawi in the field of medicine and surgery.


[Photo Caption: Prof. Hamidullah Marazi of Srinagar being presented memento by Prof. Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. Faculty of Medicine, King Fahad Medical City, Riyadh, KSA and Major Zahid Aki Khan of Chennai]

There were four Business sessions on Saturday where eminent doctors, surgeons, medical scientists, experts of Tib and scholars from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Libya along with from Indian cities of Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Srinagar, Patna, New Delhi, Chennai, Aligarh, Lucknow, Aurangabad etc. presented their papers on (a) The relevance of al-Zahrawi's clinical methods and surgical procedures and instruments to modern medicine and surgery; (b) Al-Zahrawi's holistic vision of health and disease and its relevance in the contemporary medical discourse, Islamic concept of physical health; (c) Al-Zahrawi's contribution to orthopaedics and its contemporary relevance; (d) Al-Zahrawi's contribution to gynaecology and obstetrics and its enduring significance. While four parallel sessions were also held on Al-Zahrawi's contributions to (i) ophthalmology; (ii) Cupping (Hijama); (iii) Surgery and (iv) Dentistry.

Dr. M. Yousuf Azam Professor of Surgery, Hyderabad, chairing a parallel session on Al-Zahrawi's contribution to Surgery said that the Muslim Ummah in the last 1000 years after Al-Zahrawi has not persevered enough and taken initiative to produce such an intellectual giant once again.

Dr. Azam said Allah has given us wisdom but we have not explored it. We need to wake up from nostalgia and analyse to do some pioneering work for humanity at large to uplift it from the morass of ignorance, illiteracy and poverty.

Prof. Hamidullah Marazi (Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi), Director, Shah-I-Hamdan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, in his comprehensive paper titled "Al-Zahrawi's monumental contribution to medicine and surgery in a comparative perspective!" said Abu al-Qasim Khalaf bin Abbas Al-Zahrawi (A.D. 936-1013), known to the West by his Latin name Albucasis, was by all standards the greatest Muslim surgeon, as the European surgeons of his time regarded him as a greater authority than even Galen, the ancient world's acknowledged master. It is clear from Al-Zahrawi's life history and from his writings that he devoted his entire life and genius to the advancement of medicine as a whole and surgery in particular. His monumental work At-Tasrif liman 'Ajiza 'an at-Ta'lif (The Method of Medicine). The complete meaning of the title of the book will be: The disposal of medical knowledge to those unable to get it from the other compilations". This 30 volume medical treatise covers surgery, medicine, orthopaedics, obstetric and gynaecology, ophthalmology, pharmacology, nutrition, etc. The book was completed by the year 1000 AD. It was the outcome of almost fifty years of learning practicing and teaching the art medicine. Al-Zahrawi wrote: "Whatever I know, I owe solely to my assiduous reading of books of the ancients, and to my desire to understand and appropriate this science. To this I have added the observations and experience of my whole life."

Prof. Marazi stated that Al-Zahrawi's writings were translated into Latin and were used as the standard book of medicine in Europe for several centuries. His writings on anatomy and surgery raised him to the level of Hippocrates and Galen. In fact his work represented the first step of surgery as an independent specialty away from medicine, grounded on the knowledge of anatomy. Al Tasrif became famous in the universities of Europe in the middle ages and was the chief reference work for surgery in the universities of Italy and France. Al-Zahrawi was one of the first scholars in Islam to promote nursing and encouraged women to become midwives.

With the reawakening of European interest in medical science, At-Tasrif quickly became a standard reference and was translated into Latin five times .It was the first independent surgical treatise ever written. The famous French surgeon Guy de Chauliac wrote: "it was nothing less than the greatest achievement of medieval surgery", he quoted Al-Tasreef over 200 times. Thus, it can safely be said that his greatest contribution to the history of medicine is his famous book "Kitab-al-Tasrif", a thirty volume encyclopaedia on medicine which is based on his personal experiences in practice of medicine for 50 years, Prof. Marazi pointed out.

Summing up he said that Al-Zahrawi was the first to: 1- Use cotton (in surgical dressings, in the control of haemorrhage and as padding in the splinting of fractures; 2- Describe in details the unusual disease, haemophilia. 3- Use cautery, wax and alcohol to control bleeding from the skull during cranial surgery and described the ligature of arteries long before Ambrose Pare. 4-Teach the lithotomic position for vaginal operations. He was the first surgeon to describe ectopic pregnancy; 5- Describe the tracheotomy operation and performed it as an emergency on one of his servants; and 6- Write on orthodontic and described how to treat misaligned teeth.

Prof. Dr. Maher Abd Elkader M. Aly, Professor of History of Science, Faculty of Arts in Alexandria University, Egypt, presenting his paper said it is internationally known that Gerard de Cremona had translated the book of Al-Zahrawi known as ALTASREIF into Latin in the twelfth century. This translation influenced the main scientific career in Europe in the studies carried out by Latin scientists, generations of physicians, pharmacists and surgeons benefited from the Book in its Latin translation. From this book quoted the French surgeon Guy De Chauliac, who died in 1369, a lot of information in his book (Chirurgia Magna). Prof. Lucien Leclerc mentioned, a number of authors of the fifteenth century in Europe who quoted from the book of Al-Zahrawi, among those Ferrari (known as Mathieu de Gradibus), and others who took many things from the Al-Zahrawi. Check has published a book in the year 1619 and mentioned the name of the Al-Zahrawi frequency , who's book was in France in the second half of the 13th century, through Italy and Salerno school.

Aligarh-based Dr. Mohsin Raza, a senior Consultant General Surgeon, presenting his ppt said that Al-Zahrawi (Albucasis) was the greatest Muslim surgeon. European surgeons of his time regarded him as a greatest authority. Al Zahrawi was described by Pietro Argallata (1423) as "without doubt the chief of all surgeons". Another French surgeon Jaques Delechamps (1513-1588), made extensive use of At-Tasrif in his elaborate commentary, confirming the great prestige of Al Zahrawi throughout the Middle Ages and up to the Renaissance. He devoted his entire life to the advancement of medicine as a whole and surgery in particular.

Dr. Raza said Al-Zahrawi was the first author to describe illustrations of instruments and explanations of their use in surgery. These instruments were mostly invented by Al-Zahrawi himself. There are approximately 200 such drawings ranging from a tongue depressor, a tooth extractor, forceps, scissors, pointed knives, catheter and obstetric instruments. Many modifications of his instruments are in use today. He described many operations and techniques, which are the basis of modern Surgery today.

While describing malignant breast tumour, Al-Zahrawi dictated that, it should not be cut through. It must be removed from its root. Cutting through will spread and fungate the tumour, revealed Dr. Raza.

Dr. Albina Shamsi, Guest Faculty, Deptartment of Jararhat, Ajmal Khan Tibbia College, AMU, Aligarh, in her paper said Al-Zahrawi's first surgical techniques were developed to treat injuries and trauma like suturing lacerations, amputation and draining and cauterizing the open wounds. The oldest operation for which the evidence exist is Trepanation (hole is drilled into the skull for exposing duramate). Since then with the course of time some great physicians were involved in developing the surgery like Homer, Hippocrates, Herophilus, Erasistratus, Galen. Al-Zahrawi was one among them. He was the physician to King Al-Hakam-II of Spain. (

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