Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi
August 26, 865 - 925
European depiction of the Persian
(Iranian) doctor Al-Razi, in Gerardus Cremonensis "Recueil des traités
de médecine" 1250-1260. Gerardus
Cremonensis "Recueil des traités de médecine" 1250-1260. Reproduction
in "Inventions et découvertes au Moyen-Âge", Samuel Sadaune. Author
Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi
Persian scholar Medieval era
Notable ideas: The discovery of alcohol, first to produce
acids such as sulfuric acid, writing up limited or extensive notes on diseases
such as smallpox and chickenpox, a pioneer in neurosurgery and ophthalmology,
making leading contributions in inorganic and organic chemistry, also the
author of several philosophical works.
Full Name: Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī
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.
Colophon of Razi's Book
of Medicine in Arabic
Smallpox vs. measle
Allergies and fever
Ethics of medicine
Books and articles
Books on medicine
instruments and substances
Major works on alchemy
Books on alchemy
from The Philosophical Approach
Books on philosophy
Quotes from Rhazes
Quotes on Rhazes
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.[citation
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's masters and opponents
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
Razi, treating a patient.
Abu al-Qasim al-Balki, chief of the Mu'tazilah
of Baghdad (d. 319 AH/931 CE), a contemporary of Razi who wrote many refutations
about Razi's books, especially in his Ilm al-Ilahi. His disagreements
with Razi entailed his thoughts on the concept of 'Time'.
Shuhaid ibn al-Husain al-Balkhi, with whom Razi had many
controversies; one of these was on the concept of 'Pleasure', expounded
in his Tafdll Ladhdhat al-Nafs which abu
Sulaiman al-Mantiqi al-Sijistani quotes in his work Siwan al-Hikmah.
Al-Balkhi died prior to 329 AH/940 CE.
Abu Hatim al-Razi (Ahmad ibn Hamdan). an Isma'ili missionary,
was one of his most influential opponents (d. 322 AH/933-934 CE). He published
his controversies with Razi in his book A'lam al-Nubuwwah. Because
of this book, Razi's thoughts on Prophets and Religion are preserved to
the present time.
Ibn al-Tammar (seemingly being abu Bakr Husain al-Tammar,
according to Kraus) was a physician who had some disputes with Razi, as
documented by Abu Hatim al-Razi in A'lam al-Nubuwwah. Ibn al-Tammar
disagreed with Razi's book al-Tibb al-Ruhani but Razi rebutted him
in two antitheses:
First refutation of al-Tammar's disagreement with
Second refutation of al-Tammar's opinion of 'the Atmosphere
of subterranean habitations'.
Following are authors as described by al-Razi in his writings:
al-Misma'i, a Mutakallim, who opposed 'materialists',
counteracted byan al-Razi's treatise.
Jarir, a physician who had a theory about 'The eating
of black mulberries after consuming water-melon'.
al-Hasan ibn Mubarik al-Ummi, to whom al-Razi wrote two
epistles with commentaries.
al-Kayyal, a Mutakallim: al-Razi wrote a book on
about his Theory of the Imam.
Mansur ibn Talhah, being the author of the book "Being",
which was criticized by al-Razi.
Muhammad ibn al-Laith al-Rasa'ili whose opposition against
alchemists was disputed by al-Razi.
Ahmad ibn al-Tayyib al-Sarakhasi (d. 286 AH/899 CE), was
an older contemporary of al-Razi. Al-Razi disagreed with him on the question
of 'bitter taste'. He moreover opposed his teacher Ya'qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi,
regarding his writings, in which he discredited alchemists.
More names could be added to this list of all people opposed
by al-Razi, specifically the Mu'tazilah and different Mutakallimin.
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:
"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. 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
Al-Razi's Recueil des
traités de médecine translated by Gerard
of Cremona, second half of 13th century.
Allergies and fever
Photographed at Musee de
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.
hazes 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
Books and articles on medicine
The Virtuous Life (al-Hawi Arabic الحاوي).
This monumental medical encyclopedia in nine volumes
— known in Europe also as The Large Comprehensive or Continens
Liber (Arabic جامع الكبير) — contains considerations
and criticism on the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, and expresses
innovative views on many subjects. Because of this book alone, many scholars
consider Razi the greatest medical doctor of the Middle Ages.
The al-Hawi is not a formal medical encyclopedia,
but a posthumous compilation of Razi's working notebooks, which included
knowledge gathered from other books as well as original observations on
diseases and therapies, based on his own clinical experience. It is significant
since it contains a celebrated monograph on smallpox, the earliest one
known. It was translated into Latin in 1279 by Faraj ben Salim, a physician
of Sicilian-Jewish origin employed by Charles of Anjou, and after which
it had a considerable influence in Europe.
The al-Hawi also criticized the views of Galen,
after Razi had observed many clinical cases which did not follow Galen's
descriptions of fevers. For example, he stated that Galen's descriptions
of urinaryailments were inaccurate as he had only seen three cases, while
Razi had studied hundreds of such cases in Muslim hospitals of Baghdad
A medical adviser for the general public (Man
la Yahduruhu Al-Tabib) (Arabic من لا يحضره الطبيب)
Razi was possibly the first Persian doctor to deliberately
write a home Medical Manual (remedial)
directed at the general public. He dedicated it to the poor, the traveler,
and the ordinary citizen who could consult it for treatment of common ailments
when a doctor was not available. This book, of course, is of special interest
to the history of pharmacy since similar books were very popular until
the 20th century. Razi described in its 36 chapters, diets and drug components
that can be found in either an apothecary, a market place, in well-equipped
kitchens, or and in military camps. Thus, every intelligent person could
follow its instructions and prepare the proper recipes with good results.
Some of the illnesses treated were headaches, colds,
coughing, melancholy and diseases of the eye, ear, and stomach. For example,
he prescribed for a feverish headache: " 2 parts of duhn (oily extract)
of rose, to be mixed with 1 part of vinegar, in which a piece of linen
cloth is dipped and compressed on the forehead". He recommended as a laxative,
" 7 drams of dried violet flowers with 20 pears, macerated and well mixed,
then strained. Add to this filtrate, 20 drams of sugar for a drink. In
cases of melancholy, he invariably recommended prescriptions, which included
either poppies or its juice (opium), clover dodder (Cuscuta epithymum)
or both. For an eye-remedy, he advised myrrh, saffron, and frankincense,
2 drams each, to be mixed with 1 dram of yellow arsenic formed into tablets.
Each tablet was to be dissolved in a sufficient quantity of coriander water
and used as eye drops.
Doubts About Galen (Shukuk 'ala alinusor)
Razi's independent mind is revealed in this book and
G. Stolyarov II quotes:
"In the manner of numerous Greek thinkers, including
Socrates and Aristotle, Razi rejected the mind-body dichotomy and pioneered
the concept of mental health and self-esteem as being essential to a patient's
welfare. This "sound mind, healthy body" connection prompted him to frequently
communicate with his patients on a friendly level, encouraging them to
heed his advice as a path to their recovery and bolstering their fortitude
and determination to resist the illness and resulting in a speedy convalescence."
In his book Doubts about Galen, Razi rejects
several claims made by the Greek physician, as far as the alleged superiority
of the Greek language and many of his cosmological and medical views. He
links medicine with philosophy, and states that sound practice demands
independent thinking. He reports that Galen's descriptions do not agree
with his own clinical observations regarding the run of a fever. And in
some cases he finds that his clinical experience exceeds Galen's.
He criticized moreover Galen's theory that the body
possessed four separate "humors" (liquid substances), whose balance are
the key to health and a natural body-temperature. A sure way to upset such
a system was to insert a liquid with a different temperature into the body
resulting in an increase or decrease of bodily heat, which resembled the
temperature of that particular fluid. Razi noted that a warm drink would
heat up the body to a degree much higher than its own natural temperature.
Thus the drink would trigger a response from the body, rather than transferring
only its own warmth or coldness to it. (Cf. I. E. Goodman)
This line of criticism essentially had the potentiality
to destroy completely Galen's Theory of Humours including Aristotle's theory
of the Four Elements, on which it was grounded. Razi's own alchemical experiments
suggested other qualities of matter, such as "oiliness" and "sulphurousness",
or inflammability and salinity, which were not readily explained by the
traditional fire, water, earth, and air division of elements.
Razi's challenge to the current fundamentals of medical
theory were quite controversial. Many accused him of ignorance and arrogance,
even though he repeatedly expressed his praise and gratitude to Galen for
his commendable contributions and labors. saying:
"I prayed to God to direct and lead me to the truth
in writing this book. It grieves me to oppose and criticize the man Galen
from whose sea of knowledge I have drawn much. Indeed, he is the Master
and I am the disciple. Although this reverence and appreciation will and
should not prevent me from doubting, as I did, what is erroneous in his
theories. I imagine and feel deeply in my heart that Galen has chosen me
to undertake this task, and if he were alive, he would have congratulated
me on what I am doing. I say this because Galen's aim was to seek and find
the truth and bring light out of darkness. I wish indeed he were alive
to read what I have published."
Crystallization of ancient knowledge, and the refusal
to accept the fact that new data and ideas indicate that present day knowledge
ultimately might surpass that of previous generations.
Razi believed that contemporary scientists and scholars
are by far better equipped, more knowledgeable, and more competent than
the ancient ones, due to the accumulated knowledge at their disposal. Razi's
attempt to overthrow blind acceptance of the unchallenged authority of
ancient Sages, encouraged and stimulated research and advances in the arts,
technology, and sciences.
Books on medicine
Al-Razi is considered the father of pediatrics for
writing The Diseases of Children, the first book to deal with pediatrics
as an independent field of 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.
(Arabic الحاوي), al-Hawi al-Kabir (Arabic الحاوي الكبير).
Also known as The Virtuous Life, Continens Liber. The large
medical Encyclopedia containing mostly recipes and Razi's notebooks.
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
The Classification of Diseases
For One Without a Doctor (Arabic من لايحضره
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
Ketabeh Dardeh Roodeha (Persian كتاب درد
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
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
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)
Mofid al Khavas, The Book for the Elite.
The Transmutation of Metals
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
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 Philosophorum
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.
Finally we will mention Razi's two best-known alchemical
texts, which largely superseded his earlier ones: al-Asrar ("The
Secrets"), and Sirr al-Asrar ("The Secret of Secrets"), which incorporates
much of the previous work.
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":
"I understand alchemy and I have been working on the
characteristic properties of metals for an extended time. However, it still
has not turned out to be evident to me, how one can transmute gold from
copper. Despite the research from the ancient scientists done over the
past centuries, there has been no answer. I very much doubt if it is possible..."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
This last category contains additionally a description
of other methods and applications used in transmutation:
* The added mixture and use of solvent vehicles.
* The amount of heat (fire) used, 'bodies and stones',
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 great interest in the text is Razi's classification
of minerals into six divisions, showing his discussion a modern chemical
Four SPIRITS (AL-ARWAH) : mercury, sal ammoniac,
sulfur, and arsenic sulphate (orpiment and realgar).
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
Seven VITRIOLS (AL-ZAJAT) : alum(ak-shubub),
and white (qalqadzs), black , red, and yellow
(the impure sulfates of iron, copper, etc.), green (qalqand).
Seven BORATES : tinkar, natron, and impure sodium
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.
Razi gives also a list of apparatus used in alchemy.
This consists of 2 classes:
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.
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)
Books on alchemy
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.
Here is a list of Razi's known books on alchemy, mostly
Ketabe Sharafe Sanaa'at
Ketabe Tartib, Ketabe Rahat, The
Ketabe Azmayeshe Zar va Sim (Experimentation
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:
"He proclaimed the absolutism of Euclideanspace and
mechanical time as the natural foundation of the world in which men lived,
but resolved the dilemma of existent infinities by synthesizing this outlook
with the atomic theory of Democritus, which recognized that matter existed
in the form of indivisible and fathomable quanta. The continuity of space,
however, holds due to the existence of void, or a region lacking matter...
This is remarkably close to the systems yielded by the discoveries of such
later European scientists as John Dalton and Max Planck, as well as the
observational and theoretical works of modern astronomer Halton Arp and
Objectivist philosopher Michael Miller. Progress, in the view of all these
men, is not to be obstructed by a jumble of haphazard and contradictory
relativistic assertions which result in metaphysical hodge-podge instead
of a sturdy intellectual base. Even in regard to the task of the philosopher,
Rhazes considered it to be progressing beyond the level of one's teachers,
expanding the accuracy and scope of one's doctrine, and individually elevating
oneself onto a higher intellectual plane." (G. Stolyarov II)
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 Islamic scientists of that
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)
from The Philosophical Approach
"(...) In short, while I am writing the present book,
I have written so far around 200 books and articles on different aspects
of science, philosophy, theology, and [[hekmat]] (wisdom). (...)
I never entered the service of any king as a military man or a man of office,
and if I ever did have a conversation with a king, it never went beyond
my medical responsibility and advice. (...) Those who have seen me know,
that I did not into excess with eating, drinking or acting the wrong way.
As to my interest in science, people know perfectly well and must have
witnessed how I have devoted all my life to science since my youth. My
patience and diligence in the pursuit of science has been such that on
one special issue specifically I have written 20,000 pages (in small print),
moreover I spent fifteen years of my life -night and day- writing the big
collection entitled Al Hawi. It was during this time that I lost my eyesight,
my hand became paralyzed, with the result that I am now deprived of reading
and writing. Nonetheless, I've never given up, but kept on reading and
writing with the help of others. I could make concessions with my opponents
and admit some shortcomings, but I am most curious what they have to say
about my scientific achievement. If they consider my approach incorrect,
they could present their views and state their points clearly, so that
I may study them, and if I determined their views to be right, I would
admit it. However, if I disagreed, I would discuss the matter to prove
my standpoint. If this is not the case, and they merely disagree with my
approach and way of life, I would appreciate they only use my written knowledge
and stop interfering with my behaviour."
"In the "Philosophical Biography", as seen
above, he defended his personal and philosophical life style. In this work
he laid out a framework based on the idea that there is life after death
full of happiness, not suffering. Rather than being self-indulgent, man
should pursue knowledge, utilise his intellect and apply justice in his
Books on philosophy
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)
This is a partial list of Razi's books on philosophy.
Some books may have been copied or published under different titles.
The Small Book on Theism
Notable books in English are:
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
Razi wrote three books dealing with religion; they
were: The Prophets' Fraudulent Tricks (Arabic مخارق الانبياء),
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
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.
Truth in medicine is an unattainable goal, and
the art as described in books is far beneath the knowledge of an experienced
and thoughtful physician.
Asked if a philosopher can follow a prophetically revealed
religion, al-Razi frankly replies:
How can anyone think philosophically while listening
to old wives' tales founded on contradictions, which obdurate ignorance,
Gentility of character, friendliness and purity
of mind, are found in those who are capable of thinking profoundly on abstruse
matters and scientific minutiae.
Man should hasten to protect himself from love
before succumbing to it and cleanse his soul from it when he falls.
When questioned on the subject of 'envy', Razi answers:
The self-admirer, generally, should not glorify
himself nor be so conceited that he elevates himself above his counterparts.
Neither should he belittle himself to such an extent that he becomes inferior
to his own peers or to those who are inferior both to him and to his fellowmen
in the eyes of others. If he follows this advice, he will be freed from
self-admiration and feelings of inferiority, and people will call him one
who truly knows himself.
Quotes on Rhazes
It results from an accumulation of stinginess and
avarice in the soul, being one of the diseases that cause serious harm
to the soul.
has a collection of quotations related to: Muhammad
ibn Zakariya al-Razi
"Rhazes was the greatest physician of Islam and
the Medieval Ages." – George
"Rhazes remained up to the 17th century the indisputable
authority of medicine." – The Encyclopaedia
"His writings on smallpox and measles show originality
and accuracy, and his essay on infectious diseases was the first scientific
treatise on the subject." – The Bulletin of the World
Health Organization (May 1970)
"In today's world we tend to see scientific advance
as the product of great movements, massive grant-funded projects, and larger-than-life
socio-economic forces. It is easy to forget, therefore, that many contributions
stemmed from the individual efforts of scholars like Rhazes. Indeed, pharmacy
can trace much of its historical foundations to the singular achievements
of this ninth-century Persian scholar." — Michael
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
Inventions et decouvertes au Moyen-Age, Samuel Sadaune,
Robinson, Victor (1944), The story of medicine, New
York: New Home Library
Porter, Dorothy (2005), written at New York, Health,
civilization, and the state : a history of public health from ancient to
modern times, Routledge (published 1999), p. 25, ISBN 0415200369
History of civilizations of Central Asia, Motilal Banarsidass
Publ., ISBN 8120815963, vol. IV, part two, p. 228.
Browne (2001, p. 44)
Hakeem Abdul Hameed, Exchanges
between India and Central Asia in the field of Medicine
David W. Tschanz, PhD (2003), "Arab Roots of European
Medicine", Heart Views 4 (2).
S Safavi-Abbasi, LBC Brasiliense, RK Workman (2007), "The
fate of medical knowledge and the neurosciences during the time of Genghis
Khan and the Mongolian Empire",
Neurosurg Focus 23 (1), E13, p.
Boyce, Mary; Frantz, Grenet (1982). History of Zoroastrianism:
Under The Achaemenians. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9004065067. p. 8. See also
( Gnoli, Gerardo. "AVESTAN
GEOGRAPHY". Encyclopaedia Iranica. 3. ISBN 0710091214 excerpt:
"the question of the identification of Avestan Raya with the Raga in the
inscription of Darius I at Bīsotūn [...] with Ray[...] has by no means
Bakr Mohammad Ibn Zakariya al-Razi (c. 864-c. 930) - Crystalinks,
Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar- Razi Biography (c. 850-c. 932) -
Free Health Encyclopedia, 2006
the Clinician - U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1998
BAKR MUHAMMAD BIN ZAKARIYA AR-RAZI (Rhazes) - Dr. A. Zahoor, 1997
Science, the Scholar and Ethics - Foundation for Science Technology
Emilie Savage-Smith (1996), "Medicine", in Roshdi Rashed,
of the History of Arabic Science, Vol. 3, p. 903-962 . Routledge,
London and New York.
A Treatise on the Small-pox and Measles, Translated by
Alexander Greenhill, Published by Printed for the Sydenham Society
[by C and J. Adlrd], 1848, pp. 252, URL
Jennifer Michael Hecht, "Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters
and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson
and Emily Dickinson", pg. 227-230
Nasr (1993), An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines,
p. 166. State
University of New York Press, ISBN 0791415163.
Rafik Berjak and Muzaffar Iqbal, "Ibn Sina—Al-Biruni
correspondence", Islam & Science, December 2003.
Vaccine & Serum Research Institute
Edward Granville (2001). Islamic Medicine. Goodword Books Pvt. Ltd..
Richter-Bernburg, Lutz. "AL-ḤĀWI".
Encyclopaedia Iranica. 1. ISBN 0933273541
M. M. Sharif, A History of Muslim Philosophy
Paul Kraus, Opera Philosophica: this is the only
edition of Razi's philosophical books and fragments still extant. Abi Bakr
Mohammadi Filii Zachariae Raghensis or Opera Philosophica, fragmentaque
quae superssunt. Collegit et edidit Paulus Kraus. Pars Prior. Cahirae MCMXXXIX.
Only the first volume was published since Kraus's suicide prevented the
publication of the second volume for which he already had gathered a great
amount of material. This material was transferred, after his death, to
the Institut Francais d'Archeologie Orientale, in Cairo; it still remains
to be published.
Walker, P. "The Political Implications of al-Razi's Philosophy",
in C. Butterworth (ed.) The Political Aspects of Islamic Philosophy,
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 61-94.(1992)
Motazed, K. Mohammad Zakaria Razi
Stolyarov II, H. "Rhazes: The Thinking Western Physician",
in: The Rational Argumentator, Issue VI.(2002)
Ibn al-Nadim, Fihrist, (ed. Flugel), pp. 299 et
al-Andalusi, Tabaqat al-Umam, p. 33
ibn Juljul, Tabaqat al-Atibba w-al-Hukama, (ed.
Fu'ad Sayyid), Cairo, 1355/1936, pp. 77–78
al-Biruni, Epitre de Beruni, contenant le repertoire
des ouvres de Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar-Razi, publiee par P.
Kraus, Paris, 1936
al-Baihaqi, Tatimmah Siwan al-Hikma, (ed. M. Ghafi),
al-Qifti,Tarikh al-Hukama, (ed. Lippert), pp. 27–177
ibn abi Usaibi'ah,Uyun al-Anba fi Tabaqat al-Atibba,
Vol. I, pp. 309–21
abu al-Faraj ibn al-'Ibri (Bar-Hebraeus),Mukhtasar
Tarikh al-Duwal, (ed. A. Salhani), p. 291
Khallikan, Wafayat al-A'yan, (ed. Muhyi al-Din 'Abd al-Hamid),
Cairo, 1948, No. 678, pp. 244–47
al-Safadi, Nakt al-Himyan, pp. 249–50
Ibn al-'Imad, Shadharat al-Dhahab, Vol. II, p.
al-'Umari, Masalik al-Absar, Vol. V, Part 2, ff.
301-03 (photostat copy in Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyyah).
Editions of philosophical works
G. S. A. Ranking, The Life and Works of Rhazes,
in Proceedings of the Seventeenth International Congress of Medicine, London,
1913, pp. 237–68.
J. Ruska, Al-Biruni als Quelle fur das Leben und die
Schriften al-Razi's, Isis, Vol. V, 1924, pp. 26–50.
Al-Razi als Bahnbrecher einer neuer Chemie, Deutsche
Literaturzeitung, 1923, pp. 118–24.
Die Alchemie al-Razi's der Islam, Vol. XXII,pp.
Uber den gegenwartigen Stand der Razi-Forschung,
Archivio di stori della scienza, 1924, Vol. V, pp. 335–47
H. H. Shader, ZDMG, 79, pp. 228–35 (see translation
into Arabic by Abdurrahman
Badawi in al-Insan al-Kamil,Islamica, Vol. XI, Cairo, 1950,
E. O. von Lippmann, Entstehung und Ausbreitung der
Alchemie, Vol. II, p. 181.
S. Pines, Die Atomenlehre ar-Razi's in Beitrage zur
islamischen Atomenlehre, Berlin, 1936, pp. 34–93.
Dr. Mahmud al-Najmabadi, Shah Hal Muhammad ibn Zakariya,
(1318/1900) *Encyclopaedie des Islams, s. v. (by Ruska).
Gamil Bek, Uqud al-Jauliar, Vol. I, pp. 118–27.
Izmirli Haqqi, Ilahiyat, Fak. Macm., Vol. I, p.
151; Vol. II, p. 36, Vol. III, pp. 177 et seq.
Badawi, Min Tarlkh al-Ilhad fi al-Islam Islamica, Vol. II, Cairo,
1945, pp. 198–228.
Hirschberg,Geschichte der Augenheilkunde, p. 101.
E. G.Browne, Arabian Medicine, Cambridge, 1921,
M. Meyerhof, Legacy of Islam, pp. 323 et seq.
Wüstenfeld, Geschichte der Arabischen Arzte und Naturforscher,
L. Leelerc, Histoire de la medicine arabe, Paris,
1876, Vol. I, pp. 337–54.
H. P. J. Renaud, A propos du millenaire de Razes,
in bulletin de la Societe Irancaise d'Histoire de la medicine, Mars-avril,
1931, pp. 203 et seq.
A. Eisen, Kimiya al-Razi, RAAD, DIB, 62/4.
Aldo Mieli, La science arabe, Leiden, 1938, pp.
Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam, see. Razes:
Secret of Secrets, p. 273, also pp. 197–200, and Anawati:
arabe in Rased.
A.J. Arberry (transl.), The spiritual Physik of Rhazes
(London, John Murray 1950).
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.