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Muhammad ibn Zakariya al­Razi; the magical alchemist of all eras

Celebrating the birth of al-Razi, one of the greatest Muslim scientists, Laleh Lohrasbi traces his life and achievements


he golden age of Islamic medicine is mostly marked by name of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), and his book, ‘Canon of Medicine’. However, many historians believe that Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi is the greatest physician of the whole era. Al-Razi – also known as Rhazes or Rasis - was born more than 100 years prior to Ibn Sina and was a Persian polymath, physician, alchemist and philosopher. Al-Razi was an oud player, a poet, a goldsmith turning to alchemy, finally moving towards medicine and philosophy after the age of forty. His major achievements in medical science, practice, teaching and writing, took place within a span of only 20 years which highlight his incredible ingenuity. Al-Razi lived in an era when science was more about guarding and interpretation of what ancestors had said, done or written. At the time when he was famous for alchemy, it was very hard to find critical thinkers. In fact, al-Razi's books and essays contained more words of doubt, contravention, criticism and dialectics than confirmation and acceptance of what once was done or accepted by the ancestors. One of the characteristics distinguishing al-Razi from his contemporary physicians is that he discussed the Greek scholars’ views while describing his own findings, in order to improve or decline those theories or propose new ones. And that is the reason his writings give the reader the tools to identify the


August 2017

superiority of his ideas in comparison to his ancestors. However, this manner was not accepted by most of the fanatic followers of old beliefs, so most of al-Razi's books in philosophy were destroyed and the remaining ones are mostly about medicine, pharmacology and food properties. His most famous book in medicine is Kitab al-Hawi fi al-tibb (The Comprehensive Book on Medicine) with twenty-five volumes. The extent of disagreement with his ways was such that the famous Persian polymath scholars and historians Ibn-Sina and Abu Rayhan Biruni later criticised some of his beliefs in philosophy. However, Ibn-Sina highly acknowledges al-Razi's work in medicine and uses many of his ideas from Al-Hawi in his ‘Canon of Medicine’. Biruni also introduces alRazi as his mentor and even in his history book, in a short biography of Razi, introduces his numerous works. Al-Razi wrote more than 230 books in different fields of science such as medicine, pharmacology, mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, theology and philosophy. He died at the age of sixty. After his death, al-Razi's fame spread beyond the Middle East to medieval Europe and lived on. In an undated catalogue of the library at Peterborough Abbey, most likely from the 14th century, al-Razi is listed as the author of ten books on medicine. Al-Razi was a successful doctor and served as the

Islam today issue 50 August 2017 issuu  
Islam today issue 50 August 2017 issuu