Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi
Numerous “firsts” in medical research, clinical care, and chemistry are attributed to him, including being the first to differentiate smallpox from measles, and the discovery of numerous compounds and chemicals including alcohol, kerosene, among others.
Edward Granville Browne considers him as “probably the greatest and most original of all the physicians, and one of the most prolific as an author.
He was a Persian Muslim polymath, a prominent figure in Islamic Golden Age, physician, alchemist and chemist, philosopher, and scholar.
Born —-August 26, 865 Rey, Persia
Died —–October 15 925 Rey
Era —-Medieval era
Main interests —Chemistry, Medicine, Biology, Physics, Philosophy.
Razi made fundamental and enduring contributions to the fields of medicine, alchemy, music, and philosophy, recorded in over 200 books and articles in various fields of science.
He was well-versed in Ancient Persian, Greek and Ancient Indian medical knowledge and made numerous advances in medicine through own observations and discoveries.
Educated in music, mathematics, philosophy, and metaphysics, he chose medicine as his professional field. As a physician, he was an early proponent of experimental medicine and has been described as the father of pediatrics.
He was also a pioneer of ophthalmology. He was among the first to use Humoralism to distinguish one contagious disease from another.
In particular, Razi was the first physician to distinguish smallpox and measles through his clinical characterization of the two diseases. He became chief physician of Rey and Baghdad hospitals.
He traveled extensively, mostly in Persia.
While himself a Persian and part of a prolific generation of brilliant Persian scholars, he wrote his works exclusively in Arabic, at that time the language of scholarship in Iran.
Contributions to medicine
Smallpox vs. measles
“Smallpox appears when blood ‘boils’ and is infected, resulting in vapours being expelled. Thus juvenile blood (which looks like wet extracts appearing on the skin) is being transformed into richer blood, having the color of mature wine. At this stage, smallpox shows up essentially as ‘bubbles found in wine’ – (as blisters) – … this disease can also occur at other times – (meaning: not only during childhood) -. The best thing to do during this first stage is to keep away from it, otherwise this disease might turn into an epidemic.”
This diagnosis is acknowledged by the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911), which states: “The most trustworthy statements as to the early existence of the disease are found in an account by the 9th-century Persian physician
Rhazes, by whom its symptoms were clearly described, its pathology explained by a humoral or fermentation theory, and directions given for its treatment.”
Razi’s book: al-Judari wa al-Hasbah (On Smallpox and Measles) was the first book describing smallpox and measles as distinct diseases. It was translated more than a dozen times into Latin and other European languages. Its lack of dogmatism and its Hippocratic reliance on clinical observation show Razi’s medical methods.
“The eruption of smallpox is preceded by a continued fever, pain in the back, itching in the nose and nightmares during sleep. These are the more acute symptoms of its approach together with a noticeable pain in the back
accompanied by fever and an itching felt by the patient all over his body. A swelling of the face appears, which comes and goes, and one notices an overall inflammatory color noticeable as a strong redness on both cheeks and around both eyes. One experiences a heaviness of the whole body and great restlessness, which expresses itself as a lot of stretching and yawning. There is a pain in the throat and chest and one finds it difficult to breathe and cough.
Additional symptoms are: dryness of breath, thick spittle, hoarseness of the voice, pain and heaviness of the head, restlessness, nausea and anxiety. (Note the difference: restlessness, nausea and anxiety occur more frequently with ‘measles’ than with smallpox. At the other hand, pain in the back is more apparent with smallpox than with measles).
Altogether one experiences heat over the whole body, one has an inflamed colon and one shows an overall shining redness, with a very pronounced redness of the gums.”
Razi contributed in many ways to the early practice of pharmacy by compiling texts, in which he introduces the use of ‘mercurial ointments’ and his development of apparatus such as mortars, flasks, spatulas and phials, which were used in pharmacies until the early twentieth century .
Ethics of medicine On a professional level, Razi introduced many practical, progressive, medical and psychological ideas. He attacked charlatans and fake doctors who roamed the cities and countryside selling their nostrums and “cures”. At the same time, he warned that even highly educated doctors did not have the answers to all medical problems and could not
cure all sicknesses or heal every disease, which was humanly speaking impossible. To become more useful in their services and truer to their calling, Razi advised practitioners to keep up with advanced knowledge by continually studying medical books and exposing themselves to new information. He made a distinction between curable and incurable diseases. Pertaining to the latter, he commented that in the case of advanced cases of cancer and leprosy the physician should not be blamed when he could not cure them. To add a humorous note, Razi felt great pity for
physicians who took care for the well being of princes, nobility, and women, because they did not obey the doctor’s orders to restrict their diet or get medical treatment, thus making it most difficult being their physician.
He also wrote the following on medical ethics: “The doctor’s aim is to do good, even to our enemies, so much more to our friends, and my profession forbids us to do harm to our kindred, as it is instituted for the benefit and welfare of the human race, and God imposed on physicians the oath not to compose mortiferous remedies.”
Books on medicine
This is a partial list of Razi’s books and articles in medicine, according to Ibn Abi Usaybi’ah. Some books may have
been copied or printed under different names.
• al-Hawi (ﺍﻟﺤﺎﻭﻱ), al-Hawi al-Kabir (ﺍﻟﻜﺒﻴﺮ ﺍﻟﺤﺎﻭﻱ). Also known as The Virtuous Life, Continens Liber. The large
medical Encyclopedia containing mostly recipes and Razi’s notebooks.
• Isbateh Elmeh Pezeshki (Persian ﭘﺰﺷﻜﻰ ﻋﻠﻢ ﺍﺛﺒﺎﺕ), (“Proving the Science of Medicine”).
• Dar Amadi bar Elmh Pezeshki (Persian ﭘﺰﺷﻜﻰ ﻋﻠﻢ ﺑﺮ ﺩﺭﺁﻣﺪﻯ) (“Outcome of the Science of Medicine”).
• Rade Manaategha ‘tibb jahez
• Rade Naghzotibbeh Nashi
• The Experimentation of Medical Science and its Application
• The Classification of Diseases
• Royal Medicine
• For One Without a Doctor (ﺍﻟﻄﺒﻴﺐ ﻻﻳﺤﻀﺮﻩ ﻣﻦ)
• The Book of Simple Medicine
• The Great Book of Krabadin
The Little Book of Krabadin
• The Book of Taj or The Book of the Crown
• The Book of Disasters
• Food and its Harmfulness
• al-Judari wa al-Hasbah, Translation: A treatise on the Small-pox and Measles
• Ketab dar Padid Amadaneh Sangrizeh (Persian ﺳﻨﮕﺮﻳﺰﻩ ﭘﺪﻳﺪﺁﻣﺪﻥ ﺩﺭ ﻛﺘﺎﺏ) (“The Book of Formation of small stones
(Stones in the Kidney and Bladder)”)
• Ketabeh Dardeh Roodeha (Persian ﺭﻭﺩﻩ ﺩﺭﺩ ﻫﺎﻛﺘﺎﺏ) (“The Book of Pains in the Intestine”)
• Ketab dar Dard Paay va Dardeh Peyvandhayyeh Andam (Persian ﺍﻧﺪﺍﻡ ﭘﻴﻮﻧﺪﻫﺎﻯ ﺩﺭﺩ ﻭ ﭘﺎﻯ ﺩﺭﺩ ﺩﺭ ﻛﺘﺎﺏ) (“The Book of
Pains in Feet/Legs and Pains in Linked Limbs”)
• Ketab dar Falej
• The Book of Tooth Aches
• Dar Hey’ateh Kabed (Persian ﻛﺒﺪ ﻫﻴﺄﺕ ﺩﺭ) (“About the Liver”)
• Dar Hey’ateh Ghalb (About Heart Ache) (Persian ﻗﻠﺐ ﻫﻴﺄﺕ ﺩﺭ) (“About the Heart”)
• About the Nature of Doctors
• About the Earwhole
• Dar Rag Zadan (Persian ﺯﺩﻥ ﺭﮒ ﺩﺭ) (“About Handling Vessels”)
• Seydeh neh/sidneh
• Ketabeh Ibdal
• Food For Patients
• Soodhayeh Serkangabin (Persian ﺳﺮﻛﻨﮕﺒﻴﻦ ﺳﻮﺩﻫﺎﻯ) or Benefits of Honey and Vinegar Mixture
• Darmanhayeh Abneh
• The Book of Surgical Instruments
• The Book on Oil
• Fruits Before and After Lunch
• Book on Medical Discussion (with Jarir Tabib)
• Book on Medical Discussion II (with Abu Feiz)
• About the Menstrual Cycle
• Ghi Kardan or vomiting (Persian ﻛﺮﺩﻥ ﻗﻰ)
• Snow and Medicine
• Snow and Thirst
• The Foot
• Fatal Diseases
• About Poisoning
• Soil in Medicine
• The Thirst of Fish
• Sleep Sweating
• Warmth in Clothing
• Spring and Disease
• Misconceptions of a Doctors Capabilities
• The Social Role of Doctors
Razi’s notable books and articles on medicine (in English) include:
• Mofid al Khavas, The Book for the Elite.
• The Book of Experiences
• The Cause of the Death of Most Animals because of Poisonous Winds
• The Physicians’ Experiments
• The Person Who Has No Access to Physicians
• The Big Pharmacology
• The Small Pharmacology
• Al Shakook ala Jalinoos, The Doubt on Galen
• Kidney and Bladder Stones
• Ketab tibb ar-Ruhani,The Spiritual Physik of Rhazes.
Chemical instruments and substances
Razi developed several chemical instruments that remain in use to this day. He is known to have perfected methods of distillation and extraction. ar-Razi dismissed the idea of potions and dispensed with magic, meaning the reliance on symbols as causes. Although Razi does not reject the idea that miracles exist, in the sense of unexplained phenomena in nature, his alchemical stockroom was enriched with products of Persian mining and manufacturing, even with sal ammoniac a Chinese discovery. He relied predominantly on the concept of ‘dominant’ forms or essences, which is the Neoplatonic conception of causality rather than an intellectual approach or a mechanical one). Razi’s alchemy brings forward such empiric qualities as salinity and inflammability -the latter associated to ‘oiliness’ and ‘sulphurousness’. These properties are not readily explained by the traditional composition of the elements such as: fire, water, earth and air, as al-óhazali and others after him were quick to note, influenced by critical thoughts such as Razi had..
Major works on alchemy
Razi’s achievements are of exceptional importance in the history of chemistry, since in his books we find for the first time a systematic classification of carefully observed and verified facts regarding chemical substances, reactions and apparatus, described in a language almost entirely free from mysticism and ambiguity. Razi’s scheme of classification of the substances used in chemistry shows sound research on his part.
• The Secret (Al-Asrar)
This book was written in response to a request from Razi’s close friend, colleague, and former student, Abu Mohammed b. Yunis of Bukhara, a Muslim mathematician, philosopher, a highly reputable natural
In his book Sirr al-Asrar, Razi divides the subject of “Matter’ into three categories as he did in his
previous book al-Asrar.
1. Knowledge and identification of drug components of plant-, animal- and mineral-origin and the description
of the best type of each for utilization in treatment.
2. Knowledge of equipment and tools of interest to and used by either alchemist or apothecary.
3. Knowledge of seven alchemical procedures and techniques: sublimation and condensation of mercury,
precipitation of sulfur and arsenic calcination of minerals (gold, silver, copper, lead, and iron), salts, glass,
talc, shells, and waxing.
This last category contains additionally a description of other methods and applications used in
* The added mixture and use of solvent vehicles.
* The amount of heat (fire) used, ‘bodies and stones’, (‘al-ajsad’ and ‘al-ahjar) that can or cannot be
transmuted into corporal substances such of metals and Id salts (‘al-amlah’).
* The use of a liquid mordant which quickly and permanently colors lesser metals for more lucrative
sale and profit.
Similar to the commentary on the 8th century text on amalgams ascribed to Al- Hayan (Jabir), Razi
gives methods and procedures of coloring a silver object to imitate gold (gold leafing) and the reverse
technique of removing its color back to silver. Gilding and silvering of other metals (alum, calcium salts,
iron, copper, and tutty) are also described, as well as how colors will last for years without tarnishing or
changing. Behind these procedures one does not find a deceptive motive rather a technical and economic
deliberation. This becomes evident from the author’s quotation of market prices and the expressed
triumph of artisan, craftsman or alchemist declaring the results of their efforts “to make it look exactly
like gold!”. However, another motive was involved, namely, to manufacture something resembling gold
to be sold quickly so to help a good friend who happened to be in need of money fast. Could it be Razi’s
alchemical technique of silvering and gilding metals which convinced many Muslim biographers that he was first a jeweler before he turned to the study of alchemy?
Of interest in the text is Razi’s classification of minerals into six divisions, showing his discussion a modern
1. Four spirits (AL-ARWAH) : mercury, sal ammoniac, sulfur, and arsenic sulphate (orpiment and realgar).
2. Seven bodies (AL-AJSAD) : silver, gold, copper, iron, black lead (plumbago), zinc (Kharsind), and tin.
3. Thirteen stones : (AL-AHJAR) Pyrites marcasite (marqashita), magnesia, malachite, tutty Zinc oxide (tutiya),
talcum, lapis lazuli, gypsum, azurite, magnesia, haematite (iron oxide), arsenic oxide, mica and asbestos and glass
(then identified as made of sand and alkali of which the transparent crystal Damascene is considered the best),
4. Seven vitriols (AL-ZAJAT) : alum (al-shabb ﺍﻟﺸﺐ), and white (qalqadis ﺍﻟﻘﻠﻘﺪﻳﺲ), black, red (suri ﺍﻟﺴﻮﺭﻱ), and
yellow (qulqutar ﺍﻟﻘﻠﻘﻄﺎﺭ) vitriols (the impure sulfates of iron, copper, etc.), green (qalqand ﺍﻟﻘﻠﻘﻨﺪ).
5. Seven borates : natron, and impure sodium borate.
6. Eleven salts (AL-AMLAH): including brine, common (table) salt, ashes, naphtha, live lime, and urine, rock, and
sea salts. Then he separately defines and describes each of these substances and their top choice, best colors and
Razi gives also a list of apparatus used in alchemy. This consists of 2 classes:
1. Instruments used for the dissolving and melting of metals such as the Blacksmith’s hearth, bellows, crucible,
thongs (tongue or ladle), macerator, stirring rod, cutter, grinder (pestle), file, shears, descensory and
semi-cylindrical iron mould.
2. Utensils used to carry out the process of transmutation and various parts of the distilling apparatus: the retort,
alembic, shallow iron pan, potters kiln and blowers, large oven, cylindrical stove, glass cups, flasks, phials,
beakers, glass funnel, crucible, alundel, heating lamps, mortar, cauldron, hair-cloth, sand- and water-bath, sieve,
flat stone mortar and chafing-dish.
• Secret of Secrets (Sirr Al-asrar)
This is Razi’s most famous book which has gained a lot of recognition in the West. Here he gives systematic
attention to basic chemical operations important to the history of pharmacy.
Books on alchemy
Here is a list of Razi’s known books on alchemy, mostly in Persian:
• Modkhele Taalimi
• Elaleh Ma’aaden
• Isbaate Sanaa’at
• Ketabeh Sang
• Ketabe Tadbir
• Ketabe Aksir
• Ketabe Sharafe Sanaa’at
• Ketabe Tartib, Ketabe Rahat, The Simple Book
• Ketabe Tadabir
• Ketabe Shavahed
• Ketabe Azmayeshe Zar va Sim (Experimentation on Gold)
• Ketabe Serre Hakimaan
• Ketabe Serr (The Book of Secrets)
• Ketabe Serre Serr (The Secret of Secrets)
• The First Book on Experiments
• The Second Book on Experiments
• Resaale’ei Be Faan
• Arezooyeh Arezookhah
• A letter to Vazir Ghasem ben Abidellah
• Ketabe Tabvib
On existence Razi is known to have been a free-thinking philosopher, since he was well-trained in ancient Greek science and philosophy although his approach to chemistry was rather naturalistic. Moreover, he was well versed in the theory of music, as so many other scientists of that time.
His ideas on metaphysics were also based on the works of the ancient Greeks:
“The metaphysical doctrine of Razi, insofar as it can be reconstructed, derives from his concept of the five eternal principles. God, for him, does not ‘create’ the world from nothing but rather arranges a universe out
of pre-existing principles. His account of the soul features a mythic origin of the world in which God out of pity fashions a physical playground for the soul in response to its own desires; the soul, once fallen into the new realm God has made for it, requires God’s further gift of intellect in order to find its way once more to salvation and freedom. In this scheme, intellect does not appear as a separate principle but is rather a later grace of God to the soul; the soul becomes intelligent, possessed of reason and therefore able to discern the relative value of the other four principles. Whereas the five principles are eternal, intellect as such is apparently not. Such a doctrine of intellect is sharply at odds with that of all of Razi’s philosophical contemporaries, who are in general either adherents of some form of Neoplatonism or of Aristotelianism. The remaining three principles, space, matter and time, serve as the non-animate components of the natural world. Space is defined by the relationship between the individual particles of matter, or atoms, and the void that surrounds them. The greater the density of material atoms, the heavier and more solid the resulting object; conversely, the larger the portion of void, the lighter and less solid. Time and matter have both an absolute, unqualified form and a limited form. Thus there is an absolute matter – pure extent – that does not depend in any way on place, just as there is a time, in this sense, that is not defined or limited by motion. The absolute time of al-Razi is, like matter, infinite; it thus transcends the time which Aristotle confined to the measurement of motion. Razi, in the cases of both time and matter, knew well how he differed from Aristotle and also fully accepted and intended the consequences inherent in his anti-Peripatetic positions.” (Paul E. Walker) Wikipedia:Citing sources