October 17, 2012 [MEDIEVAL ISLAMIC MEDICINE]
The Rise of Islam
Rose as a result of Muhammad 570-632 CE.
o First year of the Islamic calendar.
o Muhammad was driven away by the tribal authroities in Mecca and did not appreciate the
new religion he was promoting. He was invited to Medina where they needed a political
leader. A small number of people followed him there, and there he grew a huge
o Built an army and conquered the city.
Why was Islam so successful?
Why did the religion rise?
o Mecca and Medina: regions in transition.
Why did it spread so quickly?
o Demographic and political events: the Justinian Plague and internecine war.
How did it survive so long?
o Adoption and adaptation, both religious and political.
Explanations to its rising:
Traders of silk brought their goods to the Greek and Roman Empires, and Mecca and Medina
were right along the trade routes. Thus, the normally nomadic people would settle in these areas.
Cities built up around these areas, and nomads became settled and structures developed.
Muhammad was the one that worked hard for equality and thus gained many followers.
Why did it spread so quickly?
No one had expected the arabs, and the Romans saw it as a place of no value. It was unconquered
and they snuck up. Their fighting style was by horseback with arrows, unfamiliar to the other
Major Empires of the time: Mizantine and Sasanians. Their warfare was getting more out of
hand, and the Bizantines were arguing over Christianity. There is a lot of instability.
Justinian Plague: Form of the bubonic plague, killing to 30-60% of the population. The
depopulation damaged both empires, and many theories suggest that nomadic people are not as
affected by plagues (don’t rely on grain or live near rats).
How did it survive? Why was it so successful?
Religious Reason: Islam adopted and adapted the existing religions, making it not so difficult to
convert to. E.g. the Pilgrimage. Mary is worshiped, accepted food laws of Judaism.
Political Reason: The expansion adopted the political structures that existed (Byzantine and
Sasanian), maintaining their currencies, taxation system, laws, etc.
Abbasid Caliphate: The Golden Age of Islam October 17, 2012 [MEDIEVAL ISLAMIC MEDICINE]
Ended around 900 A.D. when the empire fragmented. It split into multiple kingdoms and there
was no longer continuity.
Lots of texts
o Important to determine the truth from fiction.
o Stand in the way of learning about the Islamic history (in the Western tradition).
Orientalism – Edward Said, 1978
o Up until this point, the Western view of Islam was very patronizing and a borderline
racist approach. We have an innate bias coming from the Christian perspective.
Medicine under Islam
Translation and Synthesis
Islamic Synthesis – Medicine
o Pre-Islamic Bedouin Tradition
o Sassanian Zoroastrian Tradition
o Greek Humoral Theory
o Indian and Chinese Medicine
Pre-Islamic Folk Medicine
o Poetry and Archaeology
o Superstition, animism
o Cauterization, cupping, herbal remedies, camel urine (remedy for ringworm).
o Women – practitioners were mostly women, true for most of their history
o Zoroastrian belief system
o Greek texts from Alexander 323 B.C.
o Greek texts from Nestorians, 451 CE
Galen’s Humoral Theory
o Very important to Islamic study of medicine.
Indian and Chinese Medicine
o Thorough trade and travel
Abbasid regime funded the translation of texts into Arabic. Why? They were the first non-Arab
dynasty. They were Persian and made up of all minorities that had been placed as second-class
citizens in previous regimes. It was important to emphasize their Sasanian links and portray
themselves as their successors. The capital was moved to Baghdad.
Movement began with Calip al-Mansur (d. 775)
Calip Ma’mun (813-833)
o Mutazillit branch of Islam – believed that Greek knowledge was religiously
correct/consistent with Islam. October 17, 2012 [MEDIEVAL ISLAMIC MEDICINE]
o Orthodox Islam – anything that was not Islam was bad.
“House of Wisdom”
o Unrivaled centre of science and humanities in the centre of Islam, for the translation of
texts. It was a library. Drew on Greek, Persian, and Indian texts.
o Scholars are starting to believe that the House of Wisdom is a myth – it did happen, but
probably not all in one place as this.
o Nestorians were responsible for translating – spoke Syriac, Greek, Persian, and Arabic.
o Strived for philological and stylistic accuracy.
Practise of Islamic Medicine
Practised in (highly sophisticated) hospitals: Bimristan
o “Gundeshapur” – a teaching hospital that is believed to be the Persian basis of all other
hospitals. However likely a myth.
Complex code of e