Science: Medicine Surgery – Albucassis

Albucassis, born near Cordoba in 936AD, was one of the greatest surgeons of his time. His encyclopedia of surgery was used as standard reference work in the subject in all the universities of Europe for over five hundred years.

The Muslim Scientists, Avicenna, Al-Razi and Zahrawi Abul-Oasim (also known as Albucasis or Al-Zahrawi) are among the very first of those who worked in the field of medicine. They have presented scientific treasures to the world, which are today still considered important references for medicine and medical sciences as a whole. Al-Zahrawi Abui-Qasim Khalaf ibn Abbas (Abuicasis or Albucasis) was born at Medinat al-Zahra near Cordoba in Islamic Spain on 936 A.D. and died in 1013 AD. He descended from the Ansar tribe of Arabia who had settled earlier in Spain. His outstanding contribution in
medicine is his encyclopedic work ‘at-Tasrif li-man ajiza an Al-talif’ in thirty treatise. His at-Tasrif completed about 1000 AD was the result of almost fifty years of medical education and experience in his own word…

“What ever I know, I owe solely to my assiduous reading of books of the ancients, to my desire to understand them and to appropriate this science; then I have added the observation and experience of my whole life” Albucasis.

At-Tasrif is an illustrated practice of medicine and surgery. As a miniature encyclopedia of 1500 pages it that shows Albucasis was not only a medical scholar, but a great practicing physician and surgeon. It influenced and progressed surgery in Europe. At-Tasrif comprises 30 discourses and was intended for medical students and the practicing physician, for whom it was a ready and useful companion in a multitude of situations since it answered all kinds of clinical problems. At-Tasrif contains the earliest picture of surgical instruments in history, about 200 are described and illustrated. In places the use of instrument – i.e. the surgical procedure itself is shown. Discourse l and 2, were translated into Latin as “Liber Thoricae”, which was printed in Augusburg in 1519. In them, Abuicasis classified 325 diseases and discussed their symptomatology and treatment. In folio 145, he described, for the first time, in medical history, a haamorrhagic disease transmitted by unaffected women to their male children; today we call it hemophilia. Discourse 28 is on pharmacy and was translated into Latin as early as 1288 as “Liber Servitoris”.

Of all the discourses of Albucasis’s Al-Tasrif, discourse 30, on surgery, became the most famous and had by far the widest and the greatest influence translated into Latin by Gerard Cremona (1114-1187) it went into at least ten Latin editions between 1497 and 1544. The last edition was that of John Channing in Oxford (I778) this contains both the original Arabic text and its Latin translation on alternate pages. Almost all European authors of
surgical texts from 12th to the 16th centuries referred to Albucasis’s surgery and copied from him. They included Roger of Salerno (d. 1180), Guglielmo Salicefte (I201-1277), Lanfranchi (d.1315), Henri de Mondeville (1260-1320), Mondinus of Bologna (1275-1326), Bruno of Calabria (1352), Guy de Chaulliac (1300-1368), Valescus of Taranta (1382-1417), Nicholas of Florence (d. 1411), Leonardo da Bertapagatie of Padua (d. 1460).

The 300 pages of Abulcasis’s surgery represent the first book of this size devoted solely to surgery, which at that time also included dentistry and what one may term surgical dermatology. Here in Albucasis developed all aspects of surgery and various branches; ophthalmology diseases of the ear, nose, and throat, and of t he head and neck, general surgery, obstetrics, gynecology; military medicine, urology, and orthopedic surgery. He divided the discourse into three part : (i), on cauterization (56 sections); (ii) on surgery (97 sections), and (iii) on orthopedic (35 sections). It is no wonder then that Albucasis awakened in Europe a prepossession in favour of Arabic medical Literature, “that his book reached eminence
as the foremost text book in Western Christendom”.

Serefeddin Sabuncuoglu (1385-1468) was a surgeon who lived in Amasia in central Anatolia, he wrote his book Cerrahiye-tul- Hanniyye in 1460 at the age of 80 after serving as a chief surgeon in Amasiya Hospital (Darussifa) for years, his text Cerrahiye- tul- Hanniyye was presented to Sultan Mohammad, the conqueror, but the manuscript disappeared afterwards till its emergence in 1920s. The book is roughly a translation of al-Tasrif of al-Zahrawi but over the translation he added his own experiences and brought interesting comments on previous application and every surgical procedure is illustrated in this work.

William Hunter (1717-1783) used Arabic manuscripts brought from Aleppo for his study on Aneurysm. In the University of Glasgow one can find a paper written under the title ‘William Hunter and his Arabic Interest’. There was also a chapter in Sir Charles lllingworth’s biography of William Hunter entitled ” The story of William Hunter published from Edinburgh by E. S. Livingstone published in 1967. Chapter 9 page 58 was devoted on flavour of
Arabic work of Albucasis which has been in his study and was obtained on his behalf from Aleppo in Syria an Arabic manuscript of al-Tasrif.

The oldest medical manuscript written in England around 1250 according to British Medical Journal has startling evidence. In reference to Albucasis’ volumes:

“This interesting relic consists of eighty-nine leaves of volume, written in beautiful gothic script in the Latin tongue. The work contains six separate treatise, of which the first and most important is the DE CHIRURGIA OF ALBU-MASIM (Albucasis, Albucasim ). This occupies forty four leaves, three of which are missing, it may be contended that, if this really is the oldest extant medical textbook written in England.” Nova Vetera BMJ July 8, 1939 pp 80-81. Thus it is in conclusion that “Albucasis was not only one of the greatest surgeon of medieval Islam but a great educationist and Psychiatrist as well. He devoted a substantial section in the Tasrif to child education and behaviour table etiquette school curriculum and academic specialisation.” Professor S. Hamarneh (Health Sciences in Islam).

In his native city of Cordoba there is a street called ‘Al-Bucasis’ named after him. Across river Wadi Al-Kabir on the other side in the Calla Hurra Museum his Instruments are displayed in his honour and a tribute in gold 200 surgical instruments constructed by Professor Fuad Sezgin was exhibited in 1992 Madrid Archaeological Museum and a catalogue in El-legado scientifico Andalusi has good colour photos and manuscripts published by the museum.

Hakim Saead in Karachi Pakistan Hamdard foundation has permanent display silver surgical instruments of albucasis in the library and also published in colour a booklet. Professor Ahmed Dhieb of Tunis has also studied the surgical instruments and constructed them which were displayed in the 36th International Congress for the History of Medicine held in Tunis City in Tunisia. Ahmed Ohieb has published and has illustration of all surgical instruments of Albucasis in detail in three languages, French Arabic and English under the title Tools of Civilisation.

Author : Dr Ibrahim Shaikh