Abul Qasim al-Zahrawi

Al-Zahrawi was the great surgeon of Islam and one of the great medical scientists of the world for all time, giving new direction to medical science and inventing hundreds of surgical instruments still used in medical surgery. His encyclopedic medical work, al-Tasrif, was a major textbook and was included in the syllabus of the universities in Europe for several centuries. It describes a number of surgical operations and instruments and contains ideas from several regions.

Abul Qasim Khalaf ibn Abbas al-Zahrawi was born in 324 AH/936 CE at al-Zahra, near Qurtaba (Cordoba), in Islamic Spain. Al-Zahra was a satellite town built by Sultan Abd al-Rahman al-Nasir near the capital Qurtaba and was named after his wife Queen Zahra. Al-Zahrawi spent most of his life in Cordoba and al-Zahra which were major centres of education and culture in Europe those days. He hailed from a family of Ansars who came from Arabia to Spain when it was conquered by Muslims. He had a good early education. Later, he studied medicine and specialized in surgery. After the completion of his studies he joined, one of several government hospitals at Cordoba, where he practised medicine and surgery for the rest of his life. After 40 years of experience, he wrote his famous book Al-Tasrif. He died at al-Zahra in 404 AH/1013 CE at the age of eighty lunar years. He was known as Abulcasis (from Abul Qasim) in Europe.

Al-Zahrawi has been greatly admired for the surgical section of his book al-Tasrif liman ajiz an al-talif. A large number of inventions and innovations are attributed to him. The book is a medical encyclopaedia which discusses various aspects of medical science, such as Materia Medica, pharmaceutical, dietic, medical Chemistry, therapeutics, psychotherapy, mid-wifery, diseases, surgical operations surgical instruments, etc.

Al-Zahrawi performed various types of operations, including eye operations. He was the first to recommend surgical removal of a broken patella (knee-cap), first to perform lithotomy (the removal of a stone from the bladder) on women. He was the first to describe haemophilia and to describe tracheotomy. He introduced the ‘Walcher Position’ for women in child birth. He described the removal of a dead foetus from the womb. He mentioned several types of threads and catguts for suturing (stitching). An important aspect of al-Zahrawi’s surgical study is the large number of surgical instruments that he used during surgical operations described graphically in his encyclopaedia. He wrote about the manufacturing of surgical instruments and provided over two hundred drawings of instruments in his book. He mentioned catheters, knives, scissors, probes, saws, needles, syringes, forceps, scalpels, hooks, lancets, etc.

Before Al-Zahrawi, medicine was considered a branch of theology and chemistry; he separated medical education from alchemy and theology, and emphasized the scientific nature of medicine. He advocated the study of medicine by intelligent men. Al-Tasrif was first translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona in the twelfth century CE and this was followed by several other translations and printings in Europe.  It was translated into English in 1881 CE.


Ibn Hazm

A great Muslim jurist, born in the city of knowledge of Islamic Andalusia and who wrote more than four hundred books, was the sources of inspiration for thousands of people in his time as well as in the modern era. He extensively contributed to Islamic Jurisprudence, human psychology and ethics. Still he is frequently quoted in the literature of fiqh, ethics and human behavior.


Some writers on Islamic history have believed that Ibn Hazm wrote around 400 books on philosophy, theology, law, psychology and education. What he wrote 1000 years ago looks modern even today.  Abu Mohammed Ali ibn Ahmad ibn Said Ibn Hazm was born in Cordoba in 384HA/ 994 AD. He lived at a time when Islamic Spain was in political turmoil. Petty factionalism was tearing the estate apart with one Muslim faction seeking the Support of Christians against another Muslim faction, which event will lead to the overthrow of Muslim rule in Spain.

He hailed from a family of rich landlord and bureaucrats. He led, a very comfortable life and had a good education. His teachers include Abdul Qasim Abdul Rahman al Azdi al-Misri, Abu Khayr al-Lughawi, Ibn al Farzi and Ahmad al-Jasur.  He was a well-read person with an extraordinary memory. He was eighteen when his father died in the disturbance that shook Cordoba. His family house was destroyed. They left Cordoba going to live in Murcia. He joined the army of Abd al-Rahman to regain Cordoba but failed. He was imprisoned more than once.

Later realizing that active politics was not suitable for a scholar, he settled down to a life of scholarly pursuit, teaching and writing. But peace still eluded him. On account of his political and religious views, other scholars colluded with the ruler to malign him. His books were sought after to be burnt. He died in his native village at Manta Lisham in 456 AH/1064AD.


Ibn Hazm was a great thinker, who wrote on theology, philosophy, ethics, law, comparative religion, education, the theory of language, logic and psychology. According to his son, Abu Rafi’ he wrote about 400 books. Some of his important books are: Tawq al-hamama (regarding psychology), Madawat al-nafs, al-Muhalla (on law), Kitab al-akhlaq wal siyar(on ethics), Jamharat al-ansab al-arab (on history), al Taqrib li had al-mantiq (on logic), and Fisal fil milal wal ahwal nihal (an encyclopaedia of religious thought).

A passion for truth, an acute sense of reality, a system of logic subordinate to the words of God, the power of reason, an emphasis on action, the depth of knowledge and the originality of thought are some of the features of his writing. He had a scientific approach. In fact, his studies in linguistics, psychology, logic and ethics are directed towards evolving a scientific approach to Quran, Hadith and belief. He believed that problems arising out of changing times could be solved with the help of the Quran and the tradition. His remarkable knowledge of the Quran and Hadith enabled him to evolve a dynamic interpretation of Islamic Law.

His theory of language stressed that speech should facilitate mutual comprehension through clarity of expression without any hidden meaning. This emphasis on clarity (zahir) leads to the Zahiriya fiqh. Ibn Hazm was the codifier of the Zahiriya fiqh.

He advocated the rights of women and the right of a worker to the fruits of his labor; he debunked magic and sorcery; he said that in the next world men would experience the vision of God through a faculty which they do not possess in this world; he rejected the theory of hidden meaning in languages; he opposed analogy (qiyas); he evolved a new educational system involving  spiritualism;, and he recommended the preservation of the cultural heritage.


Ibn Rushd

Ibn Rushd, the Islamic thinker who ‘enlightened the West’ and inspired the European current of thought called ‘Averroism,’ was a great philosopher, theologian and medical scientist. Known in the West as Averroȅs, he also wrote on Quranic sciences, astronomy, physics and biology.


Abul Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rushd was born in 520 AH/1126 AD in Cordoba, Spain. He belonged to a family of scholars and judges. His grandfather had been qadi and Imam of the great mosque of Cordoba. He himself served as qadi of Seville and Cordoba. One of his many sons was a royal physician, and others became scholars and judges. Ibn Rushd had a slim body and an exceptional mind. He studied under his father, Abu Abd Allah Marzi, and Hafiz Abu Muhammad ibn Rizq. He also had a number of disciples, including Abu Abd Allah al-Drumi and Abul Qasim Tailsan. He lived during the Muwahhideen rule (the Almohad Caliphate) who patronized philosophers and scientists.

At the age of eighteen, he went to Marrakech, Morocco. The renowned Philosopher Ibn Tufail played a major role in his career. First, he introduced him to the Caliph Abu Yaqub who made him the royal physician, and later, when the Caliph wanted a better explanation of Aristotle to be written, he recommended Ibn Rushd.

In his last years, Ibn Rushd fell into disgrace. Rival scholars held him guilty of un-Islamic views and he was humiliated and put under house arrest. However, the Caliph soon revoked his orders and restored Ibn Rushd to his former position of honour. He died in 959 AH/ 1198 AD at Marakush. He was first buried in Marrakech and later his remains were shifter to his family graveyard at Cordova where Ibn al-Arabi participated in his funeral prayers.


Ibn Rushd wrote more than 78 books, most of which are available, but a few of them in their Hebrew and Latin versions. His important works are: Fasl ul-maqal wa taqrib ma bain al-shariah wal hikma min al-ittisal, kashf al-manahij (regarding theology and philosophy); Tahafut al-tahaful (his response to Imam Ghazali’s Tahaut al-falasifa); Tafasir mabad al-tabiyat (regarding metaphysics); Muqaddimat al-mumahhidat (regarding Maliki law); al-Kulliyat (regarding medicine). He wrote the Kulliyat as a complement to his friend Ibn Zuhr’s al-taisir, the two books forming a comprehensive text book on medicine. It deals with anatomy, health, disease, symptoms, drugs, food, hygiene, and therapeutics

Ibn Rushd attempted to solve the problem of the relation between philosophy and Islamic society with the help of theology, law and philosophy.  The divine law ensures the happiness of all and, therefore, all must have faith in it and perform the duties ordained by it. Those with higher faculties are required to pursue philosophy which better understands the divine law. While according great respect for Aristotle’s logic, Ibn Rushd maintained that logical reasoning cannot answer all questions that baffle man thereby upholding the validity of the Prophet and the revealed truth. He believed in a future life which he held was not against reason even though reason did not prove its features.

He considered such issues as the connection between religion and sciences, the relationship between revelation and reason, immortality of the soul and creation. His writings were translated into European languages soon after his death. The Kulliyat was translated into Latin in Padua in 1255 AD and was printed in 1482 followed by several editions. His thoughts became highly influential in Europe where they generated a school of thought which came to be known as, ‘Averroism.’ European scientists, like Tycho Brahe, Copernicus and Galileo were inspired by him.


Irfan Shahid

Irfan Shahid, Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University (USA), is a traditional Shari'ah scholar and an expert on Islamic Economics. He is specialized in Quranic Studies, Arabic Literature, Islamic History and Economics.

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