Muhammad Ibn Zakariya Al-Razi / RHAZES

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By Dr. Amer Rauf 

Abu Bakr Mohammad Ibn Zakariya al-Razi , who is known in west as Rhazes or Rasis was born in 864 C.E. at Ray, Iran . Razi was recognized as one of the best physicians of his time. Although he was a prominent doctor , chemist , philosopher, author , mathematician ,teacher and astronomer but his main contribution was in the field of medicine and chemistry. The practical experience that he gained at the well-known Muqtadari Hospital helped him in choosing the profession of medicine. At an early age he gained eminence as an expert in medicine and alchemy, so that patients and students flocked to him from distant parts of Asia.

Razi was first placed in-charge of the first Royal Hospital at Ray, from where he soon moved to a similar position in Baghdad where he remained the head of its famous Muqtadari Hospital and observed clinical cases. He moved from time to time to various cities, specially between Ray and Baghdad, but finally returned to Ray, where he died around 930 C.E. Today his name is commemorated in the Razi Institute near Tehran. 

In medicine, his contribution was so significant that it can only be compared to that of Ibn Sina. 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. Kitab al-Mansoori, which was translated into Latin in the 15th century C.E., comprised ten volumes and dealt exhaustively with Greco-Arab medicine. Some of its volumes were published separately in Europe. His al-Judari wal Hasabah was the first treatise on smallpox and chicken-pox, and is largely based on Razi's original contribution: At the Baghdad hospital Razi formulated the first known description of smallpox: His description of smallpox is acknowledged by the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911), which states: "The most trustworthy statements as to the early existence of the disease are found in an account by the 9th-century Arabian physician Rhazes, by whom its symptoms were clearly described, its pathology explained by a humoral or fermentation theory, and directions given for its treatment.". 

Written by Razi, the al-Judari wa al-Hasbah was the first book on smallpox, and was translated over a dozen times into Latin and other European languages. Razi was the first to distinguish the difference between smallpox and chicken-pox..  

Razi is known to have discovered allergic asthma, and was the first person to have ever written an article on allergy and immunology. In the article "Sense of Smell" he explains the occurrence of rhinitis. In the article, written on rhinitis , centuries before others, Razi talks of seasonal rhinitis, which is the same as allergic asthma or hay fever. Razi was also the first to realize that fever was a natural defense mechanism, the body's way of fighting disease. 

On the professional level, Razi introduced many useful, progressive, medical and psychological ideas. He also attacked charlatans and fake doctors who roamed the cities and the countryside selling their nostrums and 'cures'. At the same time, he warned that even highly educated doctors did not have the answers for all medical problems and could not cure all sicknesses or heal every disease. Humanly speaking, this is impossibility. Nonetheless, to be more useful in their services and truer to their calling, Razi exhorted practitioners to keep up with advanced knowledge by continually studying medical books and exposing themselves to new information. He further classified diseases into three categories: those which are curable, those that can be cured, and those which are incurable. On the latter, he cited advanced cases of cancer and leprosy which the doctor should not be blamed for if uncured. 

  Al-Hawi was the largest medical encyclopedia composed by then.. It contained on each medical subject all important information that was available from Greek and Arab sources, and this was concluded by him by giving his own remarks based on his experience and views. A special feature of his medical system was that he greatly favoured cure through correct and regulated food. This was combined with his emphasis on the influence of psychological factors on health. He also tried proposed remedies first on animals in order to evaluate in their effects and side effects. He was also an expert surgeon and was the first to use opium for anesthesia He is considered one of the greatest alchemists of all time and his work remained in use for over 10 centuries. He discovered alcohol and used the alcohol first time in the history of medicine.  

In addition to being a physician, he compounded medicines and, in his later years, gave himself over to experimental and theoretical sciences. Razi developed several chemical instruments that remain in use today. Rhazes is known to have perfected methods of distillation and extraction. This work led to his discovery of sulfuric acid (from the dry distillation of vitriol) and alcohol. These discoveries paved the way for the work of other Islamic alchemists, such as the discovery of several other mineral acids by Jabir Ibn Hayyam , who is known as Geber in Europe. It seems possible that he developed his chemistry independently of Jabir Ibn Hayyan. He has portrayed in great detail several chemical reactions and also given full descriptions of and designs for about twenty instruments used in chemical investigations. His description of chemical knowledge is in plain and plausible language. One of his books called Kitab-al-Asrar deals with the preparation of chemical materials and their utilization. Another one was translated into Latin under the name Liber Experi- mentorum, He went beyond his predecessors in dividing substances into plants, animals and minerals, thus in a way opening the way for inorganic and organic chemistry. By and large, this classification of the three kingdoms still holds. As a chemist, he was the first to produce sulfuric acid together with some other acids, and he also prepared alcohol by fermenting sweet products.  

His contribution as a philosopher is also well known. The basic elements in his philosophical system are the creator, spirit, matter, space and time. He discussed in detail the concepts of space and time as constituting a field is outstanding. He was the first person in the history who discussed, in one of his articles , the preliminary concept of the relativity. 

He was a prolific author, who has left monumental treatises on numerous subjects. He has more than 200 outstanding scientific contributions to his credit, out of which about half deal with medicine and 21 concern alchemy. He also wrote on physics, mathematics, astronomy and optics, but these writings could not be preserved. A number of his books, including Jami-fi-al-Tib, Mansoori, al-Hawi, Kitab al-Jadari wa al-Hasabah, al-Malooki, Maqalah fi al- Hasat fi Kuli wa al-Mathana, Kitab al-Qalb, Kitab al-Mafasil, Kitab-al- 'Ilaj al-Ghoraba, Bar al-Sa'ah, and al-Taqseem wa al-Takhsir, have been published in various European languages. About 40 of his manuscripts are still extant in the museums and libraries of Iran, Paris, Britain, Rampur, and Bankipur. His contribution has greatly influenced the development of science, in general, and medicine, in particular. His most famous book which has gained a lot of recognition in the west is Secret of Secrets in which he gives systematic attention to basic chemical operations important to the history of pharmacy. 

 It is amazing and encouraging that our Muslim ancestors were the pioneers and inventors of many theories , instruments, treatments ,medicines and chemicals . But one has to think that where we are standing now ? Why the Muslim world is not producing the scientists like Al Razi ? Why the potential of the present Muslim scientists is not used in the right direction? There is a need to look for the reasons for this sharp decline . There could be a number of reasons and solutions to overcome this situation. To improve this situation we have to look three things 1- People, 2- System and 3- Financial assistance . But most importantly there should be sincerity among the young Muslims to improve and change this situation. The young Muslim students should sincerely study to increase their knowledge ,skills and potentials . After their education they must work for the prosperity of Muslim Umma by inventing new theories, instruments , treatments, systems, processes and chemicals and they should not run after the money. There is also a financial requirement to support these young scientists. This financial support can be provided by either by the Muslim states or the sincere Muslim businessmen or industrialists. We need a long term planning and a system which should generate the persons that are required by the Umma. The long term planning and the systems should be monitor and run by the guidance of Ulamma. The Ulmma should make the strategies to produce the persons which are most required by Muslim Ummah.