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Al Zahrawi

23/06/2004 12:00:00 AM GMT   Comments ()     Add a comment   Print     E-mail to friend

Abu al-Qasim Khalaf bin Abbas Al-Zahrawi (A.D. 936-1013), known to the West by his Latin name Albucasis, was born in Al Zahra’a , six miles northwest of Cordoba in Andalusia.

He was simply the greatest Muslim surgeon, with European surgeons of his time coming to regard him as a greater authority than even Galen, the ancient world's acknowledged master. When reading Al Zahrawi’s life history and his writings, it is clear that he devoted his entire life and genius to the development and enhancement of medicine as a whole and surgery in particular.

He is best known for his early and original breakthroughs in surgery. What is known about Al Zahrawi is contained in his only written work: At-Tasrif liman 'Ajiza 'an at-Ta'lif (The Method of Medicine). At-Tasrif is a medical encyclopedia compendium of 30 volumes compiled from medical data that Al-Zahrawi accumulated in a medical career that spanned five decades of teaching and medical practice. Although he traveled very little, he had wide experience in treating accident victims and war casualties. Gherard of Cremona was the first one to translate Al-Tasrif into Latin in the Middle Ages. The several other editors in Europe followed him. The book contains numerous diagrams and illustrations of surgical instruments, in use or developed by Al Zahrawi, and comprised a part of the medical curriculum in European countries for many centuries.

Al Zahrawi was described by Pietro Argallata (died 1423) as "without doubt the chief of all surgeons". Jacques Delechamps (1513-1588), another French surgeon, made extensive use of At-Tasrif in his elaborate commentary, confirming the great prestige of Al Zahrawi throughout the Middle Ages and up to the Renaissance.

Al Zahrawi invented several surgical instruments, of which three are notable: An instrument for internal examination of the ear, an instrument for internal inspection of the urethra, and instrument for applying or removing foreign bodies from the throat. Al Zahrawi has specialized in curing disease by cauterization and applied the technique to as many as 50 different operations.

He was the first to detail the classic operation for cancer of the breast, lithotrities for bladder stones, and techniques for removing thyroid cysts. Also he was considered one of the early leading “plastic surgeon” as he performed many plastic surgery procedures.

In his book Al-Tasrif, Al-Zahrawi discusses the preparation of various medicines, in addition to a comprehensive account of surgical treatment in specialized branches, whose modern counterparts are E.N.T., Ophthalmology, etc. In connection with the preparation of medicines, he has also described in detail the application of such techniques as sublimation and decantation.

Al Zahrawi was also an expert in dentistry, and his book contains sketches of various instruments used thereof, in addition to a description of various important dental operations. He discussed the problem of non-aligned or deformed teeth and how to rectify these defects. He developed the technique of preparing artificial teeth and of replacement of defective teeth by these. In medicine, he was the first to describe in detail the unusual disease, hemophilia.

There can be no doubt that Al Zahrawi influenced the field of medicine and surgery very deeply and the principles he laid down were recognized as authentic in medical science, especially surgery, and these continued to influence the medical world for five centuries. According to Dr. Cambell (History of Arab Medicine), Al Zahrawi’s principles of medical science surpassed those of Galen in the European medical curriculum.

Al Zahrawi was the physician of King Al-Hakam-II of Spain. After a long medical career, full of rich and significant contributions, Al Zahrawi died in 1013 C.E.

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