Islam and Medicine

Contributions Throughout History
October 2007 version


Modern medicine by in large came from European medicine, which had its origin in ancient Greco-Roman medicine. While this is true, it is over-simplified; most people, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, are unaware that western medicine would not be where it is today without numerous important contributions from the Mideast. Here are brief sketches of some contributions, followed by what the Qur'an and hadiths teach on medicine.

Medicine Prior to Islam

While the Arabs prior to Mohammed had primitive medical knowledge, the Egyptians, Byzantines, and Persians were very advanced. They did surgery, many medicines from herbs and other plants, set bones, understood some of sanitation, and isolated lepers. However, there was much superstition, and bad medicinal drugs too.

The first doctors in the Muslim world were predominantly Nestorian Christians such as the following. Jurji bin Bakhtishu' from western Iran (died 830 A.D. 215 A.H.) and his sons were doctors under caliph al Mansur. Yuhanna ibn Masawayh (died 243/857) Nestorian Hunayn ibn Ishaq (c.800- 873 A.D. (260 A.H.) was appointed by al Ma'mun as head of Dar al Hikmah (The House of Wisdom), and was one who translated many earlier medical and scientific works into Arabic. (See and

for more info.)

However, by 931 A.D., 869 doctors were at the licensing exam of Caliph al Muqtadir in 931 A.D. Science and medicine flourished under the Abbasids. While Muslims generally agree that the Abbasids were lax in their Islam (one ruler drowning in a pool of wine), under them tolerance, science, and medicine flourished.



The Six Most Important Muslim Physicians and Pharmacists

'Ali bin Radha al- Tabari (='Abdullah ibn Sahl Rabban) d.855 A.D.

Essentially started medicine in Islam by writing the medical encyclopedia The Paradise of Wisdom

Rhazes (Al-Razi)

A student of al-Tabari, he and Avicenna were the two most important doctors between the 5th and 18th centuries. Persian alchemist who made plaster of Paris and studied antimony

Albucasis (al-Zahrawi)
(died 1013 A.D.)

From Cordoba, greatest Muslim surgeon. Wrote the definitive book on surgery, 200 drawings.

(died 1051 A.D.)

Wrote the most complete pharmaceutical book

Avicenna (Ibn-Sina)
c.979/980-1037 A.D.

Also a scientist, philosopher, and logician who wrote almost 200 works. Albert Magnus in England learned much from him.

Averroes (Abu al-Walid Mohammed ... ibn Roshd) 1126-1198 A.D.

Commentator of Aristotle. Said much of the poverty and distress came from the way Muslims treated women

Drugs and Pharmacology

Ja'far al Sadiq (died 140/757) learned Greek medicine from the Muslims Khalid, who learned it from the Byzantine monk Maryanos / Marianos. Jabir ibn Hayyan, al Kindi, and al Razi all contributed to our knowledge of drugs. Al-Biruni (died 1051 A.D.), wrote the most complete book on drugs. Before then, Sabur ibn Sahl (died 255/868).

Of course we do not want to follow everything in Middle Eastern medicine. Persians puffed hashish, as well as swallowing it as pills or eating it with sugar like candy, according to Drugs p.59. It should be pointed out that this is not according to the hadiths though, because everything that causes intoxication is forbidden, in either large or small quantities. Ibn-i-Majah vol.4 no.3386-3391 p.496-498; vol.4 no.3393-3398 p.498-499. All intoxicating drinks are forbidden (Bukhari vol.1 book 4 ch.75 no.243 p.153)

'Ali ibn 'Abd al-'Azim al-Ansari (flourished 1268-1270 A.D.) wrote two works on antidotes for poisons. He mentioned "theriac", a universal antidote for poison.

Arab Hospitals

The Umawi caliph Walid ibn 'Abdul Malik built the first hospital in 706 A.D. Later they had different kinds of hospitals: mental disease, contagious disease, and non-contagious physical disease. Muslims also invented the "moving hospital". A hospital carried on camels in a caravan, food, water, medicines, operating and isolation rooms, and a crew of doctors, nurses, attendants, officers, and servants. The ambulant hospital traveled from city to city or village to village, to attend to epidemics and the victims of natural catastrophes. Muslim hospitals were also equipped with recreational materials and some employed musicians.

Ahmad ibn Tulun built one of the most famous hospitals in Cairo in 872 A.D.

Qalawun built Dar al Shifa' Hospital, built in Cairo in 1284 A.D., which was used until Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 A.D..

Al Muqtadir built a famous hospital in Baghdad in 915 A.D..


(Avicenna) Ibn Sina (979/980-1037 A.D.) was one of the two greatest Middle eastern medical doctors in history; Europeans called him "the prince of physicians". He wrote the most famous medical book in history: Canon of Medicine. It was the authoritative medical work in Europe for over 600 years until the 19th century. Avicenna discovered meningitis and many drugs. He saw that drugs and diet are related in treating medicine. He understood that some stomach ulcers were from physical causes, and others from mental worry and depression. Avicenna urged surgery to remove cancer and used music to help heal his patients. He often had to flee from where he worked and have his philosophy destroyed because it was not orthodox.

Arab drugs were not just individual plants that fortuitously helped an ailment; they were extensively manufactured. For example, Drugs p.22-23 gives an example of an Arab stomach remedy that was a mixture of myrrh, iris, white pepper and anise fermented for three days in a jug of wine. The wine was strained out and the medicine was drunk after exercise. Unfortunately Avicenna also prescribed gold and silver coatings on some of his pills. On the other hand, Abu Dawud vol.2 ch.1469 no.3861,3865 p.1086,1087 says nothing unlawful (such as wine) can be used in medicine.

An Unfortunate Legacy of Avicenna : Cauterization

Avicenna was so far ahead of his time that doctors for centuries never questioned his knowledge. That is bad in one way though, because in the Canon by Avicenna he thought that surgeons should not use knives, but rather cauterization with a hot iron. While Albucasis first suggested this in the 11th century, Avicenna's great influence in the 14th century spread this belief. The Physician p.33 said that the Catholic church adopted Avicenna's "wisdom" and cauterization became a cure-all. Persian doctors too treated leprosy and other illnesses with fire. However, the French doctor Ambrose Pare, in 1536, was treating the wounded when his cauterization oil was used up. Rather than do nothing, he applied a dressing of turpentine and oil of roses. The next day, much to his surprise, he found that those soldiers were much better than the cauterized ones.

Avicenna was not a very orthodox Muslim, drinking wine, and holding unorthodox beliefs. But if Avicenna had paid attention to the hadiths it would have helped here. While the hadiths incorrectly said that cauterization helps, Mohammed forbid it for his followers.

Cauterization [searing wounds with fire] works, but Muslims should not do it. Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 no.3489 p.32. In Abu Dawud vol.3 ch.1465 no.3857 p.1085 Mohammed cauterized Sa'd bin Mu'adh (who later died), but that was early in Mohammed's career.

"Healing is in three things: a gulp of honey, cupping or cauterizing. But I forbid my followers to use cauterization." Bukhari vol.7 book 71 ch.3 no.584 p.396. Sahih Muslim vol.3 book 24 no.5467,5468 p.1199,1200 teaches the same thing.

Rhazes and Other Physicians

(Rhazes, or Ibn Riza) Abu Bakr Muhammad al-Razi (855 -c.925/932 A.D.) was the other of the two greatest Muslim doctors. He was a lute player before studying philosophy under Abu Zayd al Balkhi, and then turned to medicine at the Baghdad hospital. In 902 A.D. at the request of the governor of Rayy, he left Baghdad and returned to Rayy, his hometown, to head up the hospital. He wrote more books, including one on psychiatry, and one on hygiene in hospitals. He used alcohol as an antiseptic and mercury as a purgative. Al-Razi made his students have continuing education. His best work, a medical encyclopedia titled Al Hawi fi al Tibb, (called Continens in Europe) was the first medical book printed in Europe in 1486 A.D. and used until the 18th century. Rhazes used music to heal his patients, and differentiated between smallpox and measles.

The Egyptian Fatimid caliph al-Hakim (855-c.925 A.D.) was very eccentric, burning down churches, and forbidding women to wear shoes, but he ensured that Cairo had many good hospitals. Famous doctors came from all over, including Ibn Butlan who wrote the Calendar of Health, and Ibn Nafis, who discovered pulmonary circulation of blood centuries before Michael Servetus.

(Albucasis) Khalaf ibn 'Abbas al Zahrawi (died 1013 A.D.), perhaps the greatest Muslim surgeon, was from Cordoba. He was nicknamed al-Zahrawi because he went to al Zahra', a new city constructed by the Umayyad ruler Al Nasir in Spain. He wrote a book on surgery, known in Europe as Concessio, with more than 200 drawings. European surgeons often quoted him to the end of the 16th century.

(Averroes) Abul Warid Muhammad Ibn Rushd (died 1198 A.D.) was born in Cordoba. He was a medical doctor, philosopher, as well as judge. He was the first to see the importance of physical exercise for good health.

During the middle 12th century, Jew Maimonides was a surgeon for Saladin.

In Spain the Ibn Zuhr family had several great physicians. Abu Marwan 'Abd al-Malik who was the Maghrib's most outstanding clinical physician. The well known Spanish philosophers, Ibn Tufayl and Ibn Rushd, were also outstanding physicians.

After the Mongols invaded the Mideast, Muslims were pointed to Chinese medicine and acupuncture.


As in Europe, the Middle Eastern world suffered through great plagues. Here are some of them.

Some Middle Eastern Plagues

6/627-628 A.D. Plague of Ctesiphon

638-640 A.D. Plague of 'Amwas & Syria

668-689 A.D. Plague of Basra

706 A.D. Plague of Maidens

716-717 A.D. Plague of Notables

1403-04 A.D. Black death in Mideast, 620K died

Some European Plagues

664-683 A.D. Black death (plague) England

740-744 A.D. Black death - Turkey & Greece 200K

1345-47 A.D. Black death in Russia

1347-51 A.D. Black death Western Europe 25-75M

1485-1550 A.D. English Sweats 3 M died

1493 A.D. Plague in Genoa (80% died)

1660-79 A.D. Black death in Europe 14.4 M died

While everyone suffered from plague, the Turks found a solution. They discovered that if a very small amount of pus from a blister was injected into a healthy person, the person would contract smallpox but survive 99% of the time. This was far better odds than if a person just caught smallpox the normal way.

Please forgive me if the preceding seemed tedious, but its lengthiness shows the contributions in medicine that Middle Eastern people can be proud of contributing to our world. These advances are all the more remarkable, in light of what the Sunni hadiths and the Qur'an teach.

When Did Mohammed Say to Dip a Fly in Your Drink?

"If a fly falls in the drink of anyone of you, he should dip (in the drink), for one of its wings has a disease and the other has the cure (antidote for the disease) (1). Footnote (1) says "See Hadith no.673 vol.7th (for details)" Bukhari vol.4 book 54 ch.15 no.531 prior p.335.

"Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, 'If a house fly falls in the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink), for one of its wings has a disease and the other has the cure for the disease." Bukhari vol.4 book 54 ch.16 no.537 p.338.

By the way, a well-fed fly defecates every five minutes according to

Abu Hureira had perfect memory: "Narrated Abu Huraira: I said to Allah's Apostle 'I hear many narrations (Hadiths) from you but I forget them.' Allah's Apostle said, 'Spread your Rida (garment)' I did accordingly and then he moved his hands as if filling them with something (and emptied them in my Rida) and then said, 'Take and wrap this sheet over your body.' I did it and after that I never forgot any thing." Bukhari vol.1 book 3 ch.43 no.119 p.89. Also Bukhari vol.4 book 56 ch.27 no.841 p.538; Bukhari vol.9 ch.23 no.452 p.332.

"Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, 'If a fly falls in the vessel of any of you, let him dip all of it (into the vessel) and then throw it away, for in one of its wings there is a disease and in the other there is healing (1) (antidote for it) i.e. the treatment for that disease." Bukhari vol.7 book 71 ch.58 no.673 p.452-453.

Footnote (1) says, "Medically it is well known now that a fly carries some pathagens on some parts of its body as mentioned by the Prophet (before 1400 years. approx. when the humans knew very little of modern medicine.) Similarly Allah created organisms and other mechanisms which kill these pathagens e.g. penicillin Fungus kills pathogenic organisms like Staphalococci and others etc. Recently experiments have been done under supervision which indicate that a fly carries the disease (pathagens) plus the antidote for those organ-isms. Ordinarily when a fly touches a liquid food it infects the liquid with its pathogens, so it must be dipped in order to release also the antidote for those pathogens to act as a counter balance to the pathogens. Regarding this subject I also wrote through a friend of mine to Dr. Muhammad M. El-SAMAHY chief of Hadith Dept. in Al-Azhar University CAIRO (Egypt) who has written an article upon this Hadith and as regards medical aspects he has mentioned that the microbiologists have proved that there are longitudinal yeast cells living as parasites inside the belly of the fly and these yeast cells in order to repeat their life-cycle protrude through respiratory tubules of the fly and if the fly is dipped in liquid, these cells burst in the fluid and the content of those cells is an antidote for the pathogens which the fly carries."

Note that the Bukhari footnote quotes this Dr. from the Hadith department; they did not get a quote from the medical or health department.

Almost all modern medical doctors, if they are not Muslim, would laugh at deliberately dipping a fly in your drink.

One wing of a fly has a disease, and the other the cure. Abu Dawud vol.3 no.3835 p.1080

If a fly falls in a drink, dip the other wing in the drink. Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 no.3504-3505 p.38-39

Mohammed on Clean Water

Sanitation: When people asked about drinking from a well with menstrual clothes, dead dogs, and stinking things in it, Mohammed said that water is pure and is not defiled by anything. Abu Dawud vol.1 ch.35 no.66-67 p.16-17

Use of Camel Urine as a Medical Cure

According to Mohammed, a person was tortured in their grave for soiling themselves with [their own] urine. Bukhari vol.1 book 4 ch.57 no.215 p.141; Bukhari vol. 1 book 4 ch.57 no.217 p.142

Yet Mohammed ordered some people to follow his shepherd and drink the camel's milk and urine. Bukhari vol.7 book 71 ch.6 no.589,590 p.398,399 and vol.7 book 71 ch.29 no.623 p.418

Mohammed also said that camel urine is good medicine. Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 book 31 no.3503 p.38

Some Muslims were told to drink camel urine, they became apostates and killed the shepherd. Mohammed had their hands and feet cut off, and their eyes burned out. Sunan Nasa'i vol.1 no.308-309 p.255-256. See also Bukhari vol.4 book 52 ch. 152 no.261 p.162.

Incantation Cures Scorpion Stings

Mohammed gave the Ansar people an incantation for remove the poison of scorpion stings. Sahih Muslim vol.3 book 24 no.5442-5444,5448 p.1192,1196

Mohammed's Other Cures

There are no incurable diseases according to Sahih Muslim vol.3 p.1199,1200

Allah has made a medicine for every disease except old age. Abu Dawud vol.3 no.3846 p.1083

Book 31 in Ibn-i-Majah (vol.5) is entirely on medicine. It says that every disease except old age has a remedy. Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 no.3436 p.1

Mohammed told people with a pain in their legs to dye themselves with henna. Abu Dawud vol.3 no.3849 p.1084

Collyrium sharpens the eyes and makes the hair grow. Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 book 31 no.3497 p.35. However, one should apply collyrium an odd number of times. Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 book 31 no.3498 p.35-36; Abu Dawud vol.1 book 1 no.35 p.8

Poison antidote: "He who eats seven 'Ajwa dates every morning, will not be affected by poison or magic on the day he eats them." Bukhari vol.7 book 65 ch.44 no.356 p.260 and Bukhari vol.7 book 72 ch.56 p.451; Sahih Muslim vol.3 book 21 no.5080 p.1129. vol.3 book 21 no.5081 also adds magic.

"'Aisha has narrated to me that she heard the Prophet saying, 'This black cumin is healing for all diseases except As-Sam.' 'Aisha said, 'What is As-Sam?' He said, 'Death.'" Bukhari vol.7 book 71 ch.7 no.591 p.400. Also vol.7 book 71 ch.7 no.592 p.400

and Bukhari vol.7 book 71 ch.10 no.596 p.402

Nigella Sativa cures everything except death. Sahih Muslim vol.4 book 24 no.5489-5490; Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 no.3447 p.8; vol.5 no.3449 p.9

A remedy for sciatica is the buttocks of a sheep. Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 no.3463 p.18-19

A remedy for pleurisy is [an herb called] wars, Indian aloeswood, and olive oil. Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 no.3467 p.21

See for how Mohammed said to cure the evil eye.

Mohammed's Advice on Cupping

Cupping is the archaic medical practice of placing heated cups over a sick person's skin. As the cup and the air in side them cools, it creates a vacuum that draws blood to the surface.

Mohammed said that the medical practice of cupping was a good remedy. Sahih Muslim vol.3 book 24 no.5467 p.1199; Sahih Muslim vol.2 book 7 no.2740,2741 p.594; Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 book 31 no.3476 p.24; vol.5 book 31 no.3478 p.25

Cupping is the best medicine. Abu Dawud vol.3 no.3848,2850,2851 p.1084.

Furthermore, Mohammed said that if anyone gets themselves cupped on the 17th, 19th, or 21 of the month, it will be a remedy for every disease. Abu Dawud vol.3 no.3852 p.1084

Abu Hind cupped Mohammed according to Abu Dawud vol.2 no.2097 p.562. See also Abu Dawud vol.3 ch.1464 no.3855 p.1085; Ibn-i-Majah vol.3 no.2162-2163 p.302-303; Bukhari vol.3 book 29 ch.11 no.361,362 p.38-39 Bukhari vol.7 book 71 ch.12-15 no.598-602 p.403-405. This was while fasting in ihram. Ibn-i-Majah vol.4 no.3081 p.330; Tirmidhi's Shamaa-il ch.49 no.1,2,3,4,5,6

Even the angels told Mohammed to get himself cupped. Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 no.3477 p.25 vol.5 no.3480-3481 p.26

Contrast with the Bible

Everyone knows that ancient medicine had many flawed beliefs, but did you know that Luke gospel writer who accompanied Paul, was a medical doctor? Yet we notice that none of Luke's medical advice or wisdom (incorrect though it might have been) found its way into the gospel of Luke or Acts. Luke was a careful, accurate historian, and if he had added things God did not want him to add, surely he would have added what he thought was good medical advice.

So while the hadiths are full of advice on cupping, how to avoid the evil eye, etc., the New Testament has no bogus medical advice. The only medical advice is when Paul told Timothy to take a little wine with his meals because of his frequent stomach illnesses. In the Old Testament explicit medical advice was not usually given (except for applying a poultice of figs to Hezekiah's boil), but the laws on clean and unclean can be seen to be very sanitary.

Of course, being clean and healthy on the outside is of small importance compared to also being clean and healthy on the inside. This must be done, but can only be done by the one we call "The Great Physician" - Jesus Christ. Ask Him to cleanse you and open your eyes to truth.

References and Further Reading

Al-Bukhari Sahih Al-Bukhari. (translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan published by al Maktabat Al Salafiat Al Madinato Al Monawart. (no date) (9 volumes) (The most authoritative collection of Sunni Hadiths)

Arbury, A.J. The Koran Interpreted. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1955. (Yusuf Ali's translation is apparently more accurate than this one.)

Campbell, William. The Qur'an and the Bible in the Light of History and Science. Arab World Ministries. 1986, 2002. Dr. Campbell is a medical doctor who speaks Arabic and has worked in North Africa.

>Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 1958 vol.13 p.7-8

>English Translation of the Meaning of AL-QUR'AN : The Guidance for Mankind. By Mohammad Faroog-i-Azam Malik. The Institute of Islamic knowledge 1997.

>Holy QUR-AN, The. (Arabic and English) Revised and edited by the Presidency of Islamic Researches, IFTA, Call and Guidance. King Fahd Holy Qur-an Printing Complex. (The English translation was by Abdullah Yusuf Ali) 1410 A.H.

Lee, Russel V. and Sarel Eimerl. The Physician. Time-Life Books 1967.

Modell, Walter and Alfred Lansing. Drugs. Time-Life Books. 1967.

Muslim, Imam. (rendered into English by 'Abdul Hamid Siddiqi) Sahih Muslim. International Islamic publishing House. (no date) (4 volumes)

Nasa'i, Imam Abu 'Abd-ur-Rahman Ahmad. Sunan Nasa'i translated by Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi. Kazi Publications. 1994

>Sunan Abu Dawud. Translated by Ahmad Hasan. Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers.1984-1996.

>Sunan Ibn-i-Majah. Translated by Muhammad Tufail Ansari. Kazi Publications. 121-Zulqarnain Chambers (Pakistan) 1994.

>World Book Encyclopedia. World Book, Inc. 1990

Yahya Bin Sharaf An-Nawawi, Imam Abu Zakariya (compiler), S.M. Madni Abbasi (translator) Riyadh-Us-Saleheen. International Islamic Publishing House. (no date) (2 volumes) for a history of medicine in the Arab/Persian world.

Defunct site (www)

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