Muhammad ibn Zakariyya Razi

Translated by Mahmood Alimohammadi

Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya Razi is an Iranian physician, philosopher and chemist. He has created enduring contributions to various fields including medicine, chemistry, and philosophy.  He is well known for his discovery of alcohol and sulfuric acid. He combined alcorous water and ammonium chloride to produce chloridric acid. He also combined vinegar with copper to make copper acetate (verdigris) to clean the wounds of his patients with it. He burned orpiment to synthesize arsenic oxide.  For the first time he produced citric acid from the sour orange. He was the first physician to make toxic alkaloid drugs.

George Sarten calls Razi the greatest physician of Iran and the world of Islam in the Middle Ages. Aburayhan Birooni states that Razi was born in Rey in 251 A.H. He spent the first years of his life in that city.  As a young man he used to play lute and compose poems. Later, he became a goldsmith and then an alchemist. As a middle-aged man, he studied medicine. Birooni holds that he turned to medicine as he was going to treat his eyes that had been seriously damaged by the compounds he had used as an alchemist. In Islamic books, it is recorded that Razi studied medicine at Baghdad Hospital. At the time, Baghdad was a great scientific center and a replacement for Jundishapoor. Razi travelled to Baghdad where he studied medicine and subsequently became the head of Baghdad Hospital. Afterwards he returned to Rey and presided over the Rey Hospital. He spent the remainder of his life curing the patients in that city. In the declining years of his life, Razi became blind.  The exact place of his grave is unknown.

Razi cared very much about his patients and would not dismiss them unless they were fully recovered. He was also kind to the poor and needy. Unlike other physicians who used to treat the kings and the high ranking officials of their time, Razi preferred to be at the service of common people. In Alfehrest, Ibn-Nadim states that Razi was kind to everyone, particularly the ill and needy. He would visit, take care of and financially support people who were sick or poor.  Razi was skilful in dealing with patients with particular diseases. For instance there was a patient who had suppurating wounds and a fever and the local physicians were unable to find a cure for him. After examining the patient, Razi diagnosed an ulcer in his kidney. Then he succeeded in curing him with herbal medicine. He also employed mental stimulus to treat patients complaining about physical problems. He is reported to have cured a nobleman suffering from paralysis and unable to walk. Razi took him to a bathhouse and dismissed his attendants. Holding a dagger in his hand, he attacked the patient. Suddenly the afflicted man stood up and hurriedly fled to save his life. Afterwards the cured man realized the hidden reason for the attack and gave Razi financial rewards.

Razi has written a book entitled Teb ol Nofoos or Teb ol Rohani in which he deals with the treatment of certain physical and mental diseases. There is no consensus of opinion regarding the number of his books. Ibn Nadim states that Razi has written 167works while Birooni reports 184 works. Meanwhile Mohammad Najmabbadi, professor of the University of Tehran, believes he has written 271 books, treatises or articles. Razi has a book titled Manafe ol Aghzieh va mazarha, which is a complete collection of hygiene and food. In this work, the author talks about the properties of wheat and other cereals, non-alcoholic beverages, fresh and dry meat and fish, etc. There is also a chapter on the causes of having a good appetite, digestion, exercise and diets. Generally, Razi believes in   proper nutrition for the prevention of diseases. At the next stage, he recommends simple or compound drugs. 

He has a book titled Alhavi, which is in itself an encyclopedia of clinical medicine. The views of predecessors are collected in this work. Razi spent 15 years for compiling Alhavi until he lost his sight. Then his disciples assisted him in finishing the work. Almansoori was written after Alhavi. It is his second important work in medicine, written in the name of Aboo Saleh Mansoor ibn Ishagh Ibn Ahmad Ibn Assad, the Governor of Rey. At the time of Razi, anatomical dissection was not a common practice. This was regarded as a disagreeable deed and in contradion with religious teachings. Instead practitioners used to dissect monkeys. Nevertheless, Razi describes human bones, muscles, brain, eyes, ears, heart, gall bladder, etc. He even explains how the spinal column and its different parts are arranged. He is the first physician to identify and describe the nervous system in the head and neck.

While Razi is well known as a physician, certain historians refer to him as a surgeon. He has written a book on the kidneystone and bladderstone and has stated in it that in case the administration of drug is useless there is a need for surgery. He even mentions the name of the instrument he used to perform the surgery. He also has talked about the joint tuberculosis. He is the first to distinguish between smallpox and measles. In his book on smallpox and measles, he describes the causes of smallpox and the way it is transmitted. He introduces the smallpox as an acute disease. He also describes the signs that indicate that this disease is or is not critical. He presents recommendations for taking care of such patients. He shows how to take care of the eyes, eyelids, throat and nose of such patients.

Razi’s works have been published in the West several times. The Western practitioners have benefited from Razi’s works.  Despite conflicting views of historians about Razi’s religious principles, no one doubts his high place as a physician.

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