Friday, January 10, 2014

Muslim Scientific Achievements


By David W. Tschanz

Arabic pharmacy (Saydanah)* as a profession and school of thought separate from medicine was recognized by the beginning of the ninth century CE (third century AH). Baghdad, the center of learning at the time, saw a rapid expansion of the number of privately owned pharmacy shops, a trend that quickly spread to the suburbs and other Muslim cities.
Traditional Pharmacy vs. Modern Pharmacy
The traditional style of pharmacy was modeled after the pharmacies of the IslamicWorld (still popular in Egypt). The style of the modern pharmacy has not changed much from back then. However, the traditional pharmacies were responsible for mixing their own pharmaceuticals. Nowadays, the mixing is done in factories and more chemicals are used rather than natural herbs and ingredients.
The pharmacists who managed these new shops were skilled in the apothecary's art and quite knowledgeable in the compounding, storing, and preserving of drugs. State-sponsored hospitals also had their own dispensaries attached to manufacturing laboratories where syrups, electuaries, ointments, and other pharmaceutical preparations were prepared on a relatively large scale.
A government appointed official, al-Muhtasib, and his aides periodically inspected the pharmacists and their shops. These state inspectors were responsible for assuring the accuracy of the weights and measures as well as the purity of the materials used to make the drugs. This served as a means of assuring quality and safeguarding the public.
This early rise and development of professional pharmacy in Islam -over four centuries before such development took place in Europe- was the result of three major occurrences: the great increase in the demand for drugs and their availability on the market; professional maturity; and the intellectual curiosity.
The ninth century marked the beginning of the Golden Age of Islamic learning, and just as Muslim scholars made significant gains in the physical sciences, so too did they learn, master and expand the arts of medicine and the science of pharmacy.
The prolific intellectual ferment that fired the Baghdad schools, support at the highest levels of government, and a craving for intellectual pursuits paved the way for a still greater harvest in the succeeding four centuries. Manuals on materia medica and references for instructing the pharmacist concerning the work and management of his shop began circulating in increasing numbers.
One of the contributors to Arabic pharmacy in the third/ninth century was the Nestorian physician, Yuhanna bin Masawayh (known in the West as Mesue, c.777-857). A second-generation pharmacist, Ibn Masawayh penned an early treatise on therapeutic plants, listing about thirty aromatics - including their physical properties, methods of detecting adulteration, and their pharmacological effects.
European depiction of Abu Bakr Al Razi. (Latin version: Gerard Cremona).
On ambergris, for example, he explains that there are many types, the best among them the blue or gray (gray-amber) and that fatty as-salahiti is used with the choicest of aromated mixtures (ghaliyyahs, perfumes, or medical cosmetics). Ibn Masawayh also recommended saffron for liver and stomach ailments.
He noted that sandalwood, whether yellow (the best), white, or red is brought from India where it is used in the manufacture of perfumes.
In his medical work, Ibn Masawayh recommended the use of well-known medicinal plants to build up a natural resistance to diseases. He urged physicians to prescribe one remedy for each disease, using empirical and analogous reasoning. He finally stated that the physician who could cure by using only diet - without drugs - was to be considered the most successful and skilled.
Another of Ibn Masawayh's books, Al-Mushajjar al-Kabir, is, to some extent, a tabulated medical encyclopedia on diseases and their treatment via drugs and diet. Other works are comprised of small treatises - such as one on barley water, explaining how to prepare it and its therapeutic uses.
A countryman and younger colleague of Ibn Masawayh was Abu Hasan 'Ali b. Sahl Rabban at- Tabari born in 808. At about thirty years of age, he was summoned to Samarra by Caliph al-Mu'tasim (833-842), where he served as a government officer and a physician.
At-Tabari wrote several medical books, the most famous of which is his Paradise of Wisdom, completed in 850. In addition to discussions on diseases and their remedies, the book contains discussions on the nature of man, cosmology, embryology, temperaments, psychotherapy, hygiene, diet, medical anecdotes, and abstracts and quotations from Indian source material.
The work also includes several chapters on materia medica, cereals, diets, utilities and therapeutic uses of animal and bird organs, as well as drugs and methods of their preparation.
At-Tabari urged that the therapeutic value of each drug be reconciled with the particular disease, urging physicians not to fall prey to the routine remedy. He identified the best source for several components, stating that the finest black myrobalan comes from Kabul; clover dodder from Crete; aloes from Socotra; and aromatic spices from India.
He was also precise in describing his therapeutics, e.g.:… a very useful remedy for swelling of the stomach; the juices of the liverwort (water hemp) and the absinthium after being boiled on fire and strained to be taken for several days.
Jabir ibn Hayyan by an Egyptian artist.
Also powdered seeds of celery (marsh parsley) mixed with giant fennel made into troches and taken with a suitable liquid release the wind in the stomach, joints and back (arthritis).
For storage purposes he recommended glass or ceramic vessels for liquid (wet) drugs; special small jars for eye liquid salves; and lead containers for fatty substances. For the treatment of ulcerated wounds, he prescribed an ointment made of juniper-gum, fat, butter, and pitch. In addition, he warned that one mithqal (about 4 grams) of opium or henbane causes sleep and also death.
The first medical formulary to be written in Arabic was by al-Aqrabadhin tly Sabur bin Sahl (d. 869). In it, he gave medical recipes stating the methods and techniques of compounding these remedies; their pharmacological actions; the dosages given of each; and the means of administration.
The formulas are organized in accordance to the types of preparations into which they fit, - whether tablets, powders, ointments, electuaries or syrups. Each class of pharmaceutical preparation is presented along with a variety of recipes made in a specific form; they vary, however, in the ingredients used, their recommended applications, and therapeutic effects.
Sabur's formulary-type compendium is unique in its organization and purposely written as a guidebook for pharmacists, whether for use in their own private drugstores or in hospital pharmacies. As such, it is the first true medical formulary.
A few books related to pharmacy were written by the famous scholar, Ya'qub bin Ishaq al-Kindi (d. 874). His contributions to philosophy, mathematics and astrology, however, were greater than those on medicine and therapy. Nevertheless, it is to his credit that he was an outspoken critic of alchemists and attacked their procedures and claims as deceptive under the circumstances.
Hunayn's book of the Ten Treatises on the Eye was completed in 245/860. After finishing the first nine treatises, the author felt the need for a closing treatise to be devoted to compounded drugs for eye medication.
In addition, as one example of the uses and therapeutic values of using compounded drugs, Hunayn gave the example of theriac, the universal antidote against poisoning. Hunayn, whose translations were literally worth their weight in gold, translated into Arabic the major part of Dioscorides' Materia Medica, undertaken by his associate Istifan bin Basil (in the mid ninth century). As a result, several books of materia medica were written in Arabic.
* In Islam, sandalwood first appears in pharmaceutical preparations in the early eighth century, or perhaps earlier. It soon became associated with the profession: and pharmacists were called as-saydanani or as-saydalani (he who sells or deals with sandalwood), and the word savdanah referred to a pharmacy.

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