August 26, 865 - 925
Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī (Zakariā-ye Rāzi: Persian: زكريای رازی), known as Rhazes or Rasis after medieval Latinists, (August 26 865, Rayy - 925, Rayy) was a Persian alchemist, chemist, physician, philosopher and scholar. He is recognised as a polymath and often referred as "probably the greatest and most original of all the Muslim physicians, and one of the most prolific as an author
He made fundamental and enduring contributions to the fields of medicine, alchemy, music, and philosophy, recorded in over 184 books and articles in various fields of science. He was well-versed in Persian, Greek and Indian medical knowledge and made numerous advances in medicine through own observations and discoveries.
Well educated in music, mathematics, philosophy, and metaphysics, he finally chose medicine as his professional field. As a physician, he was an early proponent of experimental medicine and is considered the father of pediatrics. He was also a pioneer of neurosurgery and 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. And as an alchemist, Rhazes is known for his study of sulfuric acid and for his discovery of ethanol and its refinement to use in medicine. He became chief physician of Rayy and Baghdad hospitals.
Rhazes was a rationalist and very confident in the power of ratiocination; he was widely regarded by his contemporaries and biographers as liberal and free from any kind of prejudice and very bold and daring in expressing his ideas without a qualm.
He traveled extensively but mostly in Persia. As a teacher in medicine, he attracted students of all disciplines and was said to be compassionate and devoted to the service of his patients, whether rich or poor.
Rhazes was born on 28 August 865 AH and died on 6 October 925AH. His name Razi in Persian means from the city of Rayy, an ancient town called Ragha in old Persian and Ragâ in Avestan. It is located on the southern slopes of the Elburz Range situated near Tehran, Iran. In this city (like Ibn Sina) he accomplished most of his work.
In his early life he could have been a musician or singer (see Ibn abi Usaibi'ah) but more likely a lute-player who shifted his interest from music to alchemy (cf. ibn Juljul, Sa'id, ibn Khallikan, Usaibi'ah, al-Safadi). At the age of 30 (Safadi says after 40) he stopped his study of alchemy because his experimentation had caused an eye-disease (Cf. al-Biruni), obliging him to search for physicians and medicine to cure it. al-Biruni, Beyhaqi and others, say this was the reason why he began his medical studies.
He studied medicine under Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari, known as Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari or Ali ibn Sahl, (Cf. al-Qifti, Usaibi'ah), a physician and philosopher born in Merv about 192 AH (808 C.E.) (d. approx. 240 AH (855 C.E.)). Ali ibn Sahl belonged to the famous medical school of Tabaristan or Hyrcania). This teacher was a Jew who had converted to Islam in conjunction with taking an appointment to the court of the Abbassid caliph Al-Mu'tasim (833-842 C.E.).
Razi became famous in his native city as a physician. He became Director of the hospital of Rayy (Cf. ibn Juljul, al-Qifti, ibn abi Usaibi'ah), during the reign of Mansur ibn Ishaq ibn Ahmad ibn Asad who was Governor of Rayy from 290-296 AH (902-908 C.E.) on behalf of his cousin Ahmad ibn Isma'il ibn Ahmad, second Samanian ruler. Razi dedicated his al-Tibb al-'Mansurito Mansur ibn Ishaq ibn Ahmad, which was verified in a handwritten manuscript of his book. This was refuted by ibn al-Nadim', but al-Qifti and ibn abi Usaibi'ah confirmed that the named Mansur was indeed Mansur ibn Isma'il who died in 365 AH (975 C.E.). Razi moved from Rayy to Baghdad during Caliph Muktafi's reign (approx. 289-295 AH (901-907 C.E.)) where he again held a position as Chief Director of a hospital.
After al-Muktafi's death in 295 AH (907 C.E.) Razi allegedly returned to Rayy where he gathered many students around him. As Ibn al-Nadim relates in Fihrist, Razi was then a Shaikh (title given to one entitled to teach), surrounded by several circles of students. When someone arrived with a scientific question, this question was passed on to students of the 'first circle'. if they did not know the answer, it was passed on to those of the 'second circle'... and so on and on, until at last, when all others had failed to supply an answer, it came to Razi himself. We know of at least one of these students who became a physician. Razi was a very generous man, with a humane behavior towards his patients, and acting charitable to the poor. He used to give them full treatment without charging any fee, nor demanding any other payment.
Some say the cause of his blindness was that he used to eat too many broad beans (baqilah). His eye affliction started with cataracts and ended in total blindness. The rumor goes that he refused to be treated for cataract, declaring that he "had seen so much of the world that he was tired of it." However, this seems to be an anecdote more than a historical fact. One of his pupils from Tabaristan came to look after him, but, according to al-Biruni, he refused to be treated proclaiming it was useless as his hour of death was approaching. Some days later he died in Rayy, on the 5th of Sha'ban 313 AH (27th of October, 925 C.E.).
Razi studied medicine under Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari, however, Ibn al-Nadim indicates that he studied philosophy under al-Balkhi, who had travelled much and possessed great knowledge of philosophy and ancient sciences. Some even say that Razi attributed some of al-Balkhi's books on philosophy to himself. We know nothing about this man called al-Balkhi, not even his full name.
Razi's opponents, on the contrary, are well-known. They are the following:
Contributions to medicine
Smallpox vs. measles
Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar-Razi before 1970 Iranian 2nd year of Rahnamai textbook
As chief physician of the Baghdad hospital, Razi formulated the first known description of smallpox:
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. For example:
"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 breath and cough. Additional symtomps 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."
Photographed at Musee de Cluny
Razi is also known for having discovered "allergic asthma," and was the first physician ever to write articles on allergy and immunology. In the Sense of Smelling he explains the occurrence of 'rhinitis' after smelling a rose during the Spring: Article on the Reason Why Abou Zayd Balkhi Suffers from Rhinitis When Smelling Roses in Spring. In this article he discusses seasonal 'rhinitis', which is the same as allergic asthma or hay fever. Razi was the first to realize that fever is a natural defense mechanism, the body's way of fighting disease.
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 and articles on medicine
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.
Isbateh Elmeh Pezeshki (Persian اثبات علم پزشكى), An Introduction to Medical Science.
Dar Amadi bar Elmeh Pezeshki (Persian درآمدى بر علم پزشكى)
Rade Manaategha 'tibb jahez
Rade Naghzotibbeh Nashi
The Experimentation of Medical Science and its Application
The Classification of Diseases
For One Without a Doctor (Arabic من لايحضره الطبيب)
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 كتاب در پديدآمدن سنگريزه) (Stones in the Kidney and Bladder)
Ketabeh Dardeh Roodeha (Persian كتاب درد رودهها)
Ketab dar Dard Paay va Dardeh Peyvandhayyeh Andam (Persian كتاب در درد پاى و درد پيوندهاى اندام)
Ketab dar Falej
The Book of Tooth Aches
Dar Hey'ateh Kabed (Persian در هيأت كبد)
Dar Hey'ateh Ghalb (About Heart Ache)
About the Nature of Doctors
About the Earwhole
Dar Rag Zadan (Persian در رگ زدن)
Food For Patients
Soodhayeh Serkangabin (Persian سودهاى سركنگبين) or Benefits of Honey and Vinegar Mixture
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 قى كردن)
Snow and Medicine
Snow and Thirst
Soil in Medicine
The Thirst of Fish
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:
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.
The Transmutation of Metals
Razi's interest in alchemy and his
strong belief in
the possibility of transmutation of lesser metals
to silver and gold was
attested half a century after his death by Ibn
an-Nadim's book (The Philosophers Stone-Lapis
in Latin). Nadim attributed a series of twelve
books to Razi, plus an additional
seven, including his refutation to al-Kindi's
denial of the validity of alchemy. Al-Kindi
(801-873 CE) had been appointed
by the Abbasid Caliph Ma'mum founder of Baghdad,
to 'the House
of Wisdom' in that city, he was a
philosopher and an opponent of alchemy.
Apparently Razi's contemporaries believed that he had obtained the secret of turning iron and copper into gold. Biographer Khosro Moetazed reports in Mohammad Zakaria Razi that a certain General Simjur confronted Razi in public, and asked whether that was the underlying reason for his willingness to treat patients without a fee. "It appeared to those present that Razi was reluctant to answer; he looked sideways at the general and replied":
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, which have led to his discovery of sulfuric acid, by dry distillation of vitriol (al-zajat), and alcohol. These discoveries paved the way for other Islamic alchemists, as did the discovery of various other mineral acids by Jabir Ibn Hayyan (known as Geber in Europe). As a pioneer of Alchemy and chemistry in medieval Islam, Razi was the first to distill kerosene and petroleum.
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.
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.
In his book Sirr al-Asrar, Razi divides the subject of "Matter' into three categories as he did in his previous book al-Asrar.
Knowledge of equipment and tools of interest to and used by either alchemist or apothecary.
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.
* 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?
Seven BODIES (AL-AJSAD) : silver, gold, copper, iron, black lead (plumbago), zinc (Kharsind), and tin.
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),
Seven VITRIOLS (AL-ZAJAT) : alum(ak-shubub), and white (qalqadzs), black , red, and yellow (qulqutar)vitriols (the impure sulfates of iron, copper, etc.), green (qalqand).
Seven BORATES : tinkar, natron, and impure sodium borate.
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 various adulterations.
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.
Books on alchemy
Here is a list of Razi's known books on alchemy, mostly in Persian:
Ketabe Sharafe Sanaa'at
Ketabe Tartib, Ketabe Rahat, The Simple Book
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
A letter to Vazir Ghasem ben Abidellah
Razi believed that a competent physician must also be a philosopher well versed in the fundamental questions regarding existence:
His ideas on metaphysics were also based on the works of the ancient Greeks:
Excerpt from The Philosophical Approach
According to Al-Razi: "This is what our merciful Creator wants. The One to whom we pray for reward and whose punishment we fear."
In brief, man should be kind, gentle and just. Al-Razi believed that there is a close relationship between spiritual integrity and physical health. He did not implicate that the soul could avoid distress due to his fear of death. He simply states that this psychological state cannot be avoided completely unless the individual is convinced that, after death, the soul will lead a better life. This requires a thorough study of esoteric doctrines and/or religions. He focuses on the opinion of some people who think that the soul perishes when the body dies. Death is inevitable, therefore one should not pre-occupy the mind with it, because any person who continuously thinks about death will become distressed and think as if he is dying when he continuously ponders on that subject. Therefore, he should forget about it in order to avoid upsetting himself. When contemplating his destiny after death, a benevolent and good man who acts according to the ordinances of the Islamic Shari`ah, has after all nothing to fear because it indicates that he will have comfort and permanent bliss in the Hereafter. The one who doubts the Shari`ah, may contemplate it, and if he diligently does this, he will not deviate from the right path. If he falls short, Allah will excuse him and forgive his sins because it is not demanded of him to do something which he cannot achieve." (Dr. Muhammad Abdul-Hadi Abu Reidah)
Books on philosophy
This is a partial list of Razi's books on philosophy. Some books may have been copied or published under different titles.
Response to Abu'al'Qasem Braw
The Greater Book on Theism
Dar Roshan Sakhtane Eshtebaah
Dar Enteghaade Mo'tazlian
Delsoozi Bar Motekaleman
Resaaleyeh Rahnamayeh Fehrest
Dar Alet Afarineshe Darandegan
Naghseh Ketabe Tadbir
Do name be Hasanebne Moharebe Ghomi
The Philosophical Approach (Al Syrat al Falsafiah)
Razi wrote three books dealing with religion; they were: The Prophets' Fraudulent Tricks (Arabic مخارق الانبياء), The Stratagems of Those Who Claim to Be Prophets (Arabic حيل المتنبيين), and On the Refutation of Revealed Religions (Arabic نقض الادیان). He offered harsh criticism concerning religions, in particular those religions that claim to have been revealed by prophetic experiences. Razi asserted that "[God] should not set some individuals over others, and there should be between them neither rivalry nor disagreement which would bring them to perdition." He argued,
On what ground do you deem it necessary that God should single out certain individuals [by giving them prophecy], that he should set them up above other people, that he should appoint them to be the people's guides, and make people dependent upon them?Concerning the link between violence and religion, Razi expressed that God must have known, considering the many disagreements between different religions, that "there would be a universal disaster and they would perish in the mutual hostilities and fighting. Indeed, many people have perished in this way, as we can see."
He was also critical of the lack of interest among religious adherents in the rational analysis of their beliefs, and the violent reaction which takes its place:
If the people of this religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed.Al-Razi believed that common people had originally been duped into belief by religious authority figures and by the status quo. He believed that these authority figures were able to continually deceive the common people "as a result of [religious people] being long accustomed to their religious denomination, as days passed and it became a habit. Because they were deluded by the beards of the goats, who sit in ranks in their councils, straining their throats in recounting lies, senseless myths and "so-and-so told us in the name of so-and-so..."
He believed that the existence of a large variety of religions was, in itself, evidence that they were all man made, saying, "Jesus claimed that he is the son of God, while Moses claimed that He had no son, and Muhammad claimed that he [Jesus] was created like the rest of humanity." and "Mani and Zoroaster contradicted Moses, Jesus and Muhammad regarding the Eternal One, the coming into being of the world, and the reasons for the [existence] of good and evil." In relation to the Hebrew's God asking of sacrifices, he said that "This sounds like the words of the needy rather than of the Laudable Self-sufficient One."
On the Quran, al-Razi said:
You claim that the evidentiary miracle is present and available, namely, the Koran. You say: "Whoever denies it, let him produce a similar one." Indeed, we shall produce a thousand similar, from the works of rhetoricians, eloquent speakers and valiant poets, which are more appropriately phrased and state the issues more succinctly. They convey the meaning better and their rhymed prose is in better meter. ... By God what you say astonishes us! You are talking about a work which recounts ancient myths, and which at the same time is full of contradictions and does not contain any useful information or explanation. Then you say: "Produce something like it"?!From the beginning of the human history, all of those who claimed to be prophets were, in his worst assumption tortuous and devious and with his best assumption had psychological problems.
Al-Razi's philosophical and religious views were later criticized by prominent Persian philosophers such as Avicenna and Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī in the early 11th century. The Hermetical writings and religious views of al-Razi were criticized by al-Biruni, and during a debate between Avicenna and al-Biruni, Avicenna wrote the following criticism on al-Razi:
Or from Muhammad ibn Zakariyyab al-Razi, who meddles in metaphysics and exceeds his competence. He should have remained confined to surgery and to urine and stool testing—indeed he exposed himself and showed his ignorance in these matters.
Quotes from Rhazes
Let your first thought be to strengthen your natural vitality.
Quotes on Rhazes
The modern-day Razi Institute in Tehran, and Razi University in Kermanshah were named after him, and 'Razi Day' ('Pharmacy Day') is commemorated in Iran every August 27.
References and further reading
Editions of philosophical works
See C. Brockelmann for the manuscript of Razi's extant books in general, see Brockelmann, GAL, I, pp. 268–71 (second edition), Suppl., Vol. I, pp. 418–21. Cf. Paul Kraus: Abi Bakr Mohammadi Filii Zachariae Raghensis, Opera Philosophica, fragmentaque quae superssunt. Collegit et edidit Paulus Kraus. Pars Prior. Cahirae MCMXXXIX.
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