Since medicine is "about humans" and "for humans", it may be the oldest scientific discipline and method in history

MAGAZINE 18.03.2021, 10:34

Medicine is defined in the dictionaries as "all the techniques and scientific studies that are used to heal, alleviate or prevent diseases and its most striking feature is that it puts the "human body" as its object. With this aspect in mind, and since it is "about humans" and "for humans", it may be the oldest scientific discipline and method in histo- ry. What we mean by "Islamic Medicine" is all the medical studies performed in the Islamic Geography, regardless of any ethnic or religious origin. The reason why I mentioned the ethnic or religious origins is that non-Muslim subjects also made significant contributions to medicine in the Islamic geography as well as Muslims.

Medical knowledge in ancient cultures had been handed over and over again, first in Greek, then in Arabic, and then in Latin, with an indefinite continuity. In the Middle Ages also mistakenly called the dark ages Arabic had become the lingua franca over time for scientific and technical research in the geographies that Islam spread. Accepting only the political conquests as the underlying reasons for Arabic's dominion in the intellectual arena will surely lead to denying the importance of science, intellect, and scholars.


The torch, which was kindled in Baghdad in the VIIIth century, led to enlightenment and the emergence of new centres in both the East and the West. In this context, Isbiliyye (Sevilla), Cordoba, Kairouan in the West, and Merv, Samarkand, Bukhara, and similar cities in the East had turned into attraction centres, gathering different cultures in the same pool. However, the expression of Islamic medicine remains rather general and superficial. It should be noted that there are processes that differ in their times and places under this general expression as we go deeper and deeper. When it comes to medical studies and service, 3 different types of knowledge attract our attention. The classification of scientific knowledge, which was put forward by Aristotle and further developed by Muslim philosophers such as Farabi and Avicenna, has its best examples in medicine. Accordingly, medicine has its theoretical, practical, and applied aspects. Discussion and/or explanation of concepts such as diseases and health make up the theoretical part of medicine. The knowledge of which treatment will be applied in which disease, the books on simple and com pound drugs, and the preparation of drugs constitute the practical part of medicine. All kinds of surgical procedures that lead to intervention in the patient's body as well as the process of conducting a treatment suitable for the body fall under the applied part of medicine. This tripartite information theory in the history of medicine also applies to most aspects of modern medical studies.


We find many manuscripts in Anatolia that indicate these three different types of medical knowledge that I mentioned above. The Islamic civilization had a large volume of books on medicine theory and philosophy. This is followed by books that provide information on the production and use of drugs, and finally, books illustrating the forms and uses of surgical instruments. As an example, if we are talking about Islamic medicine, we have to mention famous XIth century philosopher and physician Avicenna, respected in the East and the West alike, and his voluminous work al-Qanun fi't Tıbb (The Canon of Medicine). This work consists of

five chapters named the "book". In the first book, he lists the general definitions, principles, theories, and structural features of the body. The second book focuses on the simple drugs (materia medica) that falls within the field of pharmacy. The third and fourth books examine different diseases by grouping them. The fifth book also deals with compound drugs in the field of pharmacy. Al-Qanun fi't Tıbb is now known as one of the most read, studied, and reproduced works in its field, having been translated into different languages for centuries.

The most competent work on simple medicines was compiled by the famous XIIIth century pharmacist Ibnu'l Baytar. Ibnu'l Baytar had set off from Andalusia and arrived at Damascus along the Mediterranean shores. And he became one of the best in the premodern era for his contributions to drugs in the Mediterranean basin. On the subject of surgical instruments, the famous Andalusian surgeon Al-Zahrawi, who compiled the knowledge of this ancient period and depicted the scheme of many medical instruments, including the instruments he produced in his precious work Kitab al-Tasrif is also worth mentioning.

In Anatolia, we see that Turkish physicians studied the above-mentioned works during the XIVth and XVth cenuries. To sum up, the Ottoman Empire and certain Principalities before that synthesized the medical knowledge needed in the period of its establishment by using both the Eastern and Western sources of the Islamic Geography.

İstanbul Medeniyet University, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Lecturer at History of Science Department Doç. Dr. Mustafa Yavuz

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