Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawy

Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi (936 - 1013) also known in the West as Abulcasis, was an Andalusian-Arab physician, surgeon, and scientist. He is considered the father of modern surgery and as Islam's greatest medieval surgeon, whose comprehensive medical texts, Islamic medicine teachings, shaped both Islamic and European surgical procedures up until the Renaissance. His greatest contribution to history is the Kitab al-Tasrif ("The Method of Medicine"), a thirty-volume encyclopedia of medical practices.

Abu al-Qasim was a court physician to the Andalusian caliph Al-Hakam II. He devoted his entire life and genius to the advancement of medicine as a whole, and surgery in particular. His best work was the Kitab al-Tasrif. It is a medical encyclopaedia spanning 30 volumes which included sections on surgery, medicine, orthopaedics, ophthalmology, pharmacology, nutrition etc.

In the 14th century, French surgeon Guy de Chauliac quoted al-Tasrif over 200 times. Pietro Argallata (d. 1453) described Abu al-Qasim as "without doubt the chief of all surgeons". In an earlier work, he is credited to be the first to describe ectopic pregnancy in 963, in those days a fatal affliction. Abu Al-Qasim's influence continued for at least five centuries, extending into the Renaissance, evidenced by al-Tasrif's frequent reference by French surgeon Jaques Delechamps (1513-1588).

Kitab al-Tasrif, published in 1000, covered a broad range of medical topics, including dentistry and childbirth, which contained data that had accumulated during a career that spanned almost 50 years of training, teaching and practice. In it, he also wrote of the importance of a positive doctor-patient relationship and wrote affectionately of his students, whom he referred to as "my children". He also emphasised the importance of treating patients irrespective of their social status. He encouraged the close observation of individual cases in order to make the most accurate diagnosis and the best possible treatment.

Al-Tasrif was later translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona in the 12th century, and illustrated. For perhaps five centuries during the European Middle Ages, it was the primary source for European medical knowledge, and served as a reference for doctors and surgeons.

Not always properly credited, Abu Al-Qasim's al-Tasrif described both what would later became known as "Kocher's method" for treating a dislocated shoulder and "Walcher position" in obstetrics. Al-Tasrif described how to ligature blood vessels before Ambroise Paré, and was the first recorded book to document several dental devices and explain the hereditary nature of haemophilia.

Al-Qasim was a surgeon and specialized in curing disease by cauterization. He also invented several devices used during surgery, for the purpose of inspection of the interior of the urethra, applying and removing foreign bodies from the throat and for the inspection of the ear.

In his Al-Tasrif, he introduced his famous collection of over 200 surgical instruments. Many of these instruments were never used before by any previous surgeons. Hamidan, for example, listed at least twenty six innovative surgical instruments that Al-Qasim introduced, for example: the catgut, the forceps, the ligature and the surgical needles.

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