Pharmacology in the Islamic Golden Age: Advancements in Medicine

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Updated: Mar 31, 2023
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The study of medicine has been around for many years. Through the years, the practice of diseases and illnesses has been more manageable, along with extending lives. Modern medicine is the science and practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of an illness. It also provides many healthcare practices to maintain and rehabilitate one’s health. The knowledge and values of the Islamic Golden Age shaped those of Modern medicine. Muslim physicians introduced several important innovations that are essential to modern medicine today.

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A few important innovations are that Islamic doctors developed new techniques in medicine, dissection, surgery, and pharmacology to extend one’s life. Another innovation is that Islamic physicians introduced training and translated and wrote encyclopedias of medical knowledge. The last innovation is the Islamic culture founded the first hospital to house the unhealthy. Never was there a more efficient method perfected or in demand, so much so that the study of medicine remained through history through so many hundreds of years.

The Islamic Golden Age dates from the 8th century through the 14th century, during which the Middle East made incredible advances in mathematics, philosophy, science, and medicine under the rule of various Islamic leaders. Baghdad, Jerusalem, Damascus, and Cordoba became intellectual and cultural centers affluent and influential to their culture. During the 6th century, Muhammad marked the first revelation. Muhammad and his followers spread the teachings of Islam. After the death of Muhammad, Islam was spread through trade and military expeditions, called the “future.” After Muhammad’s death, leaders were referred to as Caliphs.

The Islamic Golden Age is the era known for the Abbasid Caliphs’ ruling in Baghdad. Baghdad was established in the 7th century as the capital city of which is modern-day Iraq. A love for knowledge was evident in Baghdad. Philosophers, doctors, and scholars all gathered in this center of trade and cultural development. Many of them were fluent in Greek and Arabic and exchanged ideas and translated Greek texts into Arabic texts. The scholars would build on the information they translated from the Greeks and other languages, allowing them to advance in medicine. It was an ear when scholars thrived. The school of Alexandria in Egypt helped Islamic scholars advance in medicine. The school of Alexandria was the first Christian institution of higher learning and emphasized the literal interpretation of the Bible. Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen were physicians and scientists who translated Greek texts into other languages at the school’s library and spread the knowledge.

The Islamic achievements in medieval medicine were groundbreaking. There were many Islamic innovations in Medieval Medicine, such as recognizing infectious diseases, pharmacies, and surgery and surgical instruments. Before the 12th century in Europe, there were few new discoveries, and the Church considered disease a punishment from God. Doctors could do little for their patients. However, when new translations, books, observations, and methods from the Islamic world became known, Western medicine finally moved forward. Ideas, insights, and methods from Islamic doctors brought many new advances to European medicine, essentially forming the basis of modern medicine as we know it today. Islamic doctors developed a new techniques in medicine, including dissection, surgery, and pharmacology. Muslim physicians pursued the study of human anatomy, whose curiousness only strengthened their faith in God’s infinite wisdom and power. Muslim doctors also contribute to the Hippocratic Oath, which is to uphold ethical standards.

They observed the continuous change in one’s diet and regimen because that was the preferred practice that restored health. Muslim physicians were skilled observers and diagnosticians who relied heavily on listening to the pulse or analyzing the color of urine. They were the first to have been diagnosed with smallpox, measles, and hemophilia. Pharmacology and even advanced surgical techniques were also developed by Muslims. They developed new and less invasive techniques if other techniques were inadequate. Among many innovations in medical technology, tools were the development of the vaginal speculum and forceps, the use of animal gut in sutures, the use of cotton to dress wounds, and even a “concealed” surgical knife to allay patients’ anxieties as long as possible.

These tools assisted physicians like an Arabic doctor, Al Zahrawi. He established the basis of surgery in Al-Andalus in Cordoba. He worked as a doctor for Caliph Al-Hakam II and wrote a medical treatise that included a 30-volume book on medicine and surgery. He invented over 200 surgical instruments, including forceps, scalpels, surgical needles and retractors, specula, and catgut sutures. All of which are still used today. They studied diseases and found that they were infectious. This was proven through leprosy, smallpox, sexually transmitted disease, and tuberculosis. Avicenna was another Islamic doctor who studied the contagious effects of the diseases, the spread, and the necessary methods of quarantine. He also founded the tuberculosis disease. Islamic doctors brought many innovations to European medicine, essentially forming the basis of modern medicine as we know it today.

Medical education was empowered by the Islamic civilization. Known for innovating how Islamic physicians introduced medical training and encyclopedias of medical knowledge translating Greek medical books into the Arabic language. In the 7th century, the translation of medical texts from Greek, Syriac, Sanskrit, and Pahlavi languages was into Arabic. Later Arabic into Latin. When these Arabic scholars translated medical text, they also added their own observations and experiences, which were made into encyclopedias of medical knowledge. The Canon of Medicine, Libor Almartsoris, and Kitab al Tasirif are medical texts written by professional doctors. The respected doctors Avicenna, Rahazes, and Albucasis changed medical education for the world. Adding their own observations when translating the medical texts helped the physician introduce medical teachings. The Syrian Al-Nuri Hospital in Damascus was one of the leading medical schools. Scholars learned by mentoring experienced doctors and learning in libraries and lecture halls. Mentoring and lecturing provided scholars with the foundation for medical advances.

The innovation of the hospitals was another huge contribution to advancing Islamic medicine. The hospitals housed sick and mentally ill people, and the bigger hospitals housed schools and libraries. The schools and libraries in the hospitals help scholars advance their knowledge directly hands-on with patients. Like today, examinations were held for scholars, and they issued diplomas if they passed them. This was another important innovation the Islamic culture founded. The people that attended the hospital were examined and studied for the best optimal way to increase their health. The curing of diseases and the expansion and dissemination of medical knowledge made it faster to act upon similar situations. The hospitals were organized into departments such as systemic diseases, surgery, ophthalmology, orthopedics, and mental diseases. It was then subdivided into smaller departments dealing with fevers, digestive troubles, infections, and much more. This helped the physician group patients with the same illness to better supervise and care for the patients. The income of the hospitals came from wealthy men and rulers that donated property to the hospitals. Revenues would come from shops, mills, and or even entire villages. This funding was called waqfs. The patients that obtained services from the hospital were free, and the waqfs supported the money needed to sustain the establishment.

The Islamic golden age was an era of posterity because of the growth of medical knowledge. Many physicians adapted and translated numerous texts and even added their own experiences and observations to further advance medical studies. Some important innovations that have made an impact on today’s medical field were inspired by Muslim physicians. Islamic doctors developed new techniques in medicine, dissection, surgery, and pharmacology to extend one’s life. This is still advancing today with the same background the Muslims used. The Islamic physicians also introduced training, translated, and wrote encyclopedias of medical knowledge, and they were the founders of the first hospital to house the unhealthy. With these contributions, Muslim physicians set the standards that are still being improved for better health care today.

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Pharmacology in the Islamic Golden Age: Advancements in Medicine. (2023, Mar 31). Retrieved from