Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi


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Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi

Al-Razi was one of the greatest eastern scholars, he made a lot of contributions which have a great impact on eastern society and many sciences. He was born in Rayy, Iran in the year 865 AD (251 AH), and died there in 925 AD. During his life Razi was physician, philosopher, and scholar who made fundamental and enduring contributions to the fields of medicine, alchemy, and philosophy, he wrote more than 184 books and articles in various fields of science, his most important accomplishment being the discovery of alcohol(Wikipedia,2006). He was well versed in Greek medical knowledge and added substantially to it from his own observations.
In Persian, Razi means "from the city of Rayy, an ancient town in the south of the Caspian Sea, situated near Tehran, Iran. In this city he accomplished most of his work. In his early life he could have been a jeweler, a money-changer but more likely a lute-player who changed his interest in music to alchemy. At the age of forty he stopped his study of alchemy because its experiments caused an eye-disease, obliging him to search for physicians and medicine to cure it. This was the reason why he began his medical studies. His teacher was 'Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari, a physician and philosopher born in Merv about 192 (Wikipedia, 2006). Al-Razi studied medicine and probably also philosophy with ibn Rabban al-Tabari. Therefore his interest in spiritual philosophy can be traced to this master, whose father was a Rabbinist versed in the Scriptures. Al-Razi took up the study of medicine after his first visit to Baghdad, when he was at least 30 years old, under the well-known physician Ali ibn Sahl. He showed such a skill in the subject that he quickly surpassed his master, and wrote no fewer than a hundred medical books. He also composed 33 treatises on natural science, mathematics and astronomy.
A lot of discoveries were made by Razi in many sciences. One of his contributions in alchemy was discovering of sulfuric acid, which became the "work horse" of modern chemistry and chemical engineering. Ethanol and its refinement and use in medicine were also firstly found by Razi (1001 Inventions, 2005). So it can be understood that he was one of the greatest Islamic scholars, and his discoveries had a great influence not only on Asia, but also had positive impact on European science and medicine.

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Al-Razi was the first in many areas of medicine and treatment and the health sciences in general. In particular, he was a pioneer in the fields of pediatrics, obstetrics and ophthalmology. According to Zahoor his contribution in medicine was so great that it can only be compared to that of Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Some of his works in medicine, e.g., Kitab al-Mansoori, Al-Hawi, Kitab al-Mulooki and Kitab al-Judari wa al-Hasabah earned everlasting fame. A special feature of his medical system was that he greatly favored cures through correct and regulated food. This was combined with his emphasis on the influence of psychological factors on health. He was also an expert surgeon and was the first to use opium for anesthesia.
As chief physician of the Baghdad hospital, Razi formulated the first known description of smallpox. Razi's book: al-Judari wa al-Hasbah was the first book describing smallpox, and was translated more than a dozen times into Latin and other European languages.
Rhazes contributed in many ways to the early practice of pharmacy by compiling texts, in which he introduces the use of 'mercurial ointments' and his development of apparatus such as mortars, flasks, spatulas and phials, which were used in pharmacies until the early twentieth century.
According to Zahoor on a professional level, Razi introduced many practical, progressive, medical and psychological ideas. He attacked charlatans and fake doctors who roamed the cities and countryside selling their nostrums and 'cures'. At the same time, he warned that even highly educated doctors did not have the answers to all medical problems and could not cure all sicknesses or heal every disease, which was humanly speaking impossible(1997). To become more useful in their services and truer to their calling, Razi advised practitioners to keep up with advanced knowledge by continually studying medical books and exposing themselves to new information. He made a distinction between curable and incurable diseases. Pertaining to the latter, he commented that in the case of advanced cases of cancer and leprosy the physician should not be blamed when he could not cure them. To add a humorous note, Razi felt great pity for physicians who took care for the well being of princes, nobility, and women, because they did not obey the doctor's orders to restrict their diet or get medical treatment, thus making it most difficult being their physician.
G. Stolyarov says about Razi “He proclaimed the absolutism of Euclidean space and mechanical time as the natural foundation of the world in which men lived, but resolved the dilemma of existent infinities by synthesizing this outlook with the atomic theory of Democritus, which recognized that matter existed in the form of indivisible and fathomable quanta. The continuity of space, however, holds due to the existence of void, or a region lacking matter... This is remarkably close to the systems yielded by the discoveries of such later European scientists as John Dalton and Max Planck, as well as the observational and theoretical works of modern astronomer Halton Arp and Objectivist philosopher Michael Miller. Progress, in the view of all these men, is not to be obstructed by a jumble of haphazard and contradictory relativistic assertions which result in metaphysical hodge-podge instead of a sturdy intellectual base. Even in regard to the task of the philosopher, Rhazes considered it to be progressing beyond the level of one's teachers, expanding the accuracy and scope of one's doctrine, and individually elevating oneself onto a higher intellectual plane."
It can be understood that he was one of the greatest eastern scholars whose works had a great impact on scientific world. Razi believed that contemporary scientists and scholars are by far better equipped, more knowledgeable, and more competent than the ancient ones, due to the accumulated knowledge at their disposal. Razi's attempt to overthrow blind acceptance of the unchallenged authority of ancient Sages, encouraged and stimulated research and advances in the arts, technology, and sciences.

Reference list

Wikipedia, 2006, ‘Al Razi’. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Razi [Accessed 21 March, 2007].

1001 Inventions, 2005, ‘Development of Chemistry’, Discover the Muslim Heritage in our World. Available:http://www.1001inventions.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=main.viewBlogEntry&intMTEntryID=2747 [Accessed 24 March, 2007]

Stolyarov G. (2002), ‘Rhazes: The Thinking Western Physician’, Geocities. Available: http://www.geocities.com/rationalargumentator/Rhazes.html [Accessed 20 March, 2007].


Zahoor, A. 1997, ‘ABU BAKR MUHAMMAD BIN ZAKARIYA AR-RAZI (Rhazes)’, Unhas. Available: http://www.unhas.ac.id/~rhiza/saintis/razi.html [Accessed 25 March, 2007].


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