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  • Date :
  • 8/28/2005

Abu Bakr Mohammad Bin Zakariya Razi

(born in Ray, Iran in the year 251/865.; died in Rayy, Iran, 313/925)

Abu Bakr Mohammad Bin Zakariya al-Razi, was a versatile Persian Philosopher, who made fundamental and lasting contributions to the fields of medicine, chemistry (alchemy) and philosophy. He is also known as Al-Razi, Ar-Razi, andBin Zakaria (Zakariya); or (in Latin) as Rhazes and Rasis.
Razi had no organized system of philosophy, but compared to his time he must be reckoned as the most vigorous and liberal thinker in Islam and perhaps in the whole history of human thought.

 He was a purerationalist, extremely confident in the power of reason, free from every kind of prejudice, and very daring in the expression of his ideas without reserve. He believed in man, in progress, and in God the Wise, but in no religion whatever.

He is credited with, among other things,the discovery of sulfuric acid, the "work horse" of modern chemistry and chemical engineering; and also of ethanol (in addition to its refinement) and its use in medicine.

Razi was a prolific writer, writing 184 booksand articles in several fields of science. According to historian Bin an-Nadim, Razi distinguished himself as the best physician of his time who had fully absorbedGreek medical learning. He traveled in many lands and rendered service to many princes and rulers. As a medical educator, he attracted many students of all levels. He was said to be compassionate, kind, upright, and devoted to the service of his patients, whether rich or poor.

The Razi Institute nearTehran, Iran was named after him (of course around one thousand years later).Razi Day (Pharmacy Day) is commemorated inIran every August 27.

In Persian, Razi means "from the city ofRay (also spelled REY, or RAI, old Persian RAGHA, Latin RHAGAE, formerly one of the great cities of World)" nearTehran, Iran, where he was born and (like Avicenna) did much of his work. Like many other Islamic figures who were Iranian he is often but incorrectly said to be an Arab in Western literature, despite the fact that he was Iranian.

In his early life, he was a jeweler, money-changer, or more likely a lute-player who first left music for alchemy, and then at the age of thirty or after forty left alchemy because his experiments in it gave him some eye disease, which obliged him to search for doctors and medicine. He was very studious and worked day and night. His master was "Ali bin Rabban al-Tabari, a doctor and philosopher. With bin Rabban al-Tabari, he studied medicine and perhaps also philosophy. It is possible to trace back Razi"s interest in religious philosophy to his master.

Razi became famous in his native city as a doctor. Therefore, he directed thehospital of Ray, in the times of Mansour bin Ishaq bin Ahmad bin Asad who was the Governor of Rayy from 290-296/902-908 in the name of his cousin Ahmad bin Isma"il bin Ahmad, second Samanian ruler. It is to this Mansour bin Ishaq bin Ahmad that Razi dedicated his al-Tibb al-Mansouri, as it is attested by a manuscript of this book, as against bin al-Nadim"s assumption, repeated by al-Qifti and bin abi Usaibi"ah, that this Mansour was Mansour bin Isma"il who died in 365/975. From Rayy Razi went to Baghdad during the Caliph Muktafi"s time and there too directed a hospital.

It seems that after al-Muktafi"s death (295/907) Razi came back to Ray. Here gathered round him many students. If someone came to ask something in science, the question was put to those of the first circle; if they did not know the answer, it passed on to those of the second, and so on till it came to Razi himself if all others failed to give the answer. Of these students we know at least the name of one, i.e., abu Bakr bin Qarin al-Razi who became a doctor. Al-Razi was generous, humane towards his patients, and charitable to the poor, so that he used to give them full treatment without charging any fee, and even stipends. When not occupied with pupils or patients he was always writing and studying.

It seems that this was the reason for the gradual weakening of his sight that finally brought blindness to his eyes. Some say that the reason for his blindness was that he used to eat too much of broad beans. It began with cataract which ended in complete blindness. They say that he refused to be treated for cataract saying that he "had seen so much of the world that he was fed up." But this seems to be more of an anecdote than a historical fact. It was one of his pupils from Tabaristan that came to treat him, but, as

Biruni says, he refused to be treated saying that it was useless as his hour of death was approaching. Some days after, he died in Rayy, on the 5th of Sha"ban 313/27th of October 925."

Razi's Masters

We have already mentioned that Razi studied medicine under "Ali bin Rabban al-Tabari. Bin al-Nadim says that he studied philosophy under Balkhi. This Balkhi, according to bin al-Nadim, had traveled much, and knew philosophy and ancient sciences well. Some even say that Razi attributed to himself some of Balkhi"s books on philosophy. We know nothing else about this Balkhi, not even his full name.

Contributions to medicine



Smallpox vs. measles


As chief physician at theBaghdad hospital Razi formulated the first known description of smallpox:

"Smallpox appears when the blood boils and infected so that extra vapors may be driven out to turn childhood blood, which looks like wet extracts, into youth blood, which looks like ripe wine. Essentially, smallpox is like the bubbles found in wine at this time ... this disease might also be present apart from such times. The best thing to do at such times is to avoid it, that is, when the disease is seen to become epidemic."

Written by Razi, the al-Judari wa al-Hasbah was the first book on smallpox, and was translated over 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:

Razi was the first to observe smallpox and measles. He also was the first to distinguish the difference between them.

Allergies and fever

Razi is known to have discovered allergic asthma, and was the first person to have ever written an article on allergy and immunology. In the Sense of Smelling he explains the occurrence of rhinitis when smelling a rose in the spring. In this article he talks of seasonal rhinitis, which is the same as allergic asthma or hay fever. Razi was also the first to realize that fever was a natural defense mechanism, the body"s way of fighting disease.


Razi contributed to the earlypractice of pharmacy by compiling texts, but also in various other ways. Examples are the introduction of mercurial ointments, and the development of apparatus like mortars, flasks, spatulas and phials, as used in pharmacies until the early twentieth century.

Books and articles on medicine

The Virtuous Life (al-Hawi)

This monumental medical encyclopedia in nine volumes — known in Europe also as The Large Comprehensive or Continens Liber — 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 from then on had considerable influence inEurope.

A medical advisor for the general public (Man la Yahduruhu Tab)

Razi was possibly the first Islamic 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 books on the same theme continued to be popular until the 20th century. In its 36 chapters, Razi described diets and drugs that can be found practically everywhere in apothecary shops, in the market place, in well-equipped kitchens, and in military camps. Thus, any intelligent mature person can follow its instructions and prepare the right recipes for good results.

Some of the illnesses treated are headaches, colds, coughing, melancholy, and diseases of the eye, ear, and stomach. In a feverish headache, for example, he prescribed, "two parts of duhn (oily extract) of rose, to be mixed with one part of vinegar, in which a piece of linen cloth is dipped and compressed on the forehead".

For a laxative, he recommended "seven drams of dried violet flowers with twenty pears, macerated and well mixed, then strained. To the filtrate, twenty drams of sugar are to be added for a draft". In cases of melancholy, he invariably recommended prescriptions including either poppies or their juices (opium) or clover fodder (Curcuma epithymum) or both. For an eye remedy, he recommended myrrh, saffron, and frankincense, two drams each, to be mixed with one dram of yellow arsenic and made into tablets. When used 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 strikingly revealed in this book. As quoted from G. Stolyarov II:

"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 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 swiftly convalesce."

In Doubts about Galen, Razi rejects several claims of the Greek doctor, from the alleged superiority of the Greek language to many of his cosmological and medical views. He places medicine within philosophy, inferring that sound practice demands independent thinking. His own clinical records, he reports, do not confirm Galen's descriptions of the course of a fever. And in some cases he finds that his clinical experience exceeds Galen's.

He also criticized Galen"s theory that the body was possessed by four separate "humors", liquid substances whose balance was the key to health and normal temperature; and that the sole means of upsetting such a system was to introduce into the organism a liquid of a different temperature, which would bring about an increase or decrease in bodily heat identical to the temperature of the particular fluid. In particular, Razi noted that a warm drink may heat the body to a degree much hotter than its own. Thus the drink must trigger a response from the body, rather than simply communicating its own warmth or coldness to it. (I. E. Goodman)


This line of criticism had the potential, in time, to bring down the whole of Galen's Theory of Humours, and the Aristotelian scheme of the Four Elements, on which it was grounded.

Razi's alchemical experiments suggestedother 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 schematism.

Razi's challenge to the current fundaments of medical theory was quite controversial. Many accused him of ignorance and arrogance, even though he repeatedly expressed praises 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. But all this reverence and appreciation will and should not prevent me from doubting, as I did, what is erroneous among his theories. I imagine and feel deep in my heart that Galen has chosen me to undertake this task, and if he was 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 to bring light out of darkness. Indeed I wish he was alive to read what I have published."

Thereafter, Razi, with a view to vindicate Galen"s greatness and to justify his criticism of him, lists four reasons why great men make more errors than lesser ones:


1.Negligence, as a result of too much self confidence.

2. Unmindfulness (indifference) which often leads to errors.

3.Temptation to follow one"s own fancy or impetuosity in imagining that what he does or says is right.

4. Crystallization of ancient knowledge and refusal to accept that new data and new ideas mean that present day knowledge must of necessity surpass that of previous generations.

Razi believed that contemporary scientists and scholars, because of accumulated knowledge at their disposal are, by far, better equipped, more knowledgeable, and more competent than the ancients. Razi"s attempt to overthrow blind reverence and the unchallenged authority of ancient sages encouraged and stimulated research and advances in the arts, technology, and the sciences.

Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Zakariya Razi - The third part of the comprehensive book on medicine (The virtuous Life)

This is a partial list of Razi"s books and articles in medicine, according to Bin Abi Usaybi"ah. Some books may have been copied or printed under different names.

·The Virtuous Life, The Continent, Continens Liber

·An Introduction to Medical Science


·The Classification of Diseases

·Royal Medicine

·For One Without a Doctor

·The Book of Simple Medicine

·The Great Book of Krabadin

·The Little Book of Krabadin

·The Book of the Crown

·The Book of Disasters

·Food and its Harmfulness

·The Book of Smallpox and Measles

·Stones in the Kidney and Bladder

·The Book of Tooth Aches

·About Heart Ache

·About the Nature of Doctors

·About the Ear whole

·Food For Patients

·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

·Snow and Medicine

·Snow and Thirst

·Fatal Diseases

·About Poisoning


·Sleep Sweating

·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 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


·The Doubt on Galen

·Kidney and Bladder Stones


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 Bin an-Nadim"s book (The Philosophers Stone). Nadim attributed a series of twelve books to al-Razi, then seven more, including his refutation to al-Kindi"s denial of the validity of alchemy. Last come 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.

Chemical instruments and substances

Razi developed several chemical instruments that remain in use to this day. Rhazes is known to have perfected methods of distillation and extraction.
This work led to his discovery of sulfuric acid (from the dry distillation of vitriol) and alcohol.
These discoveries paved the way for the work of other Islamic alchemists, such as the discovery of several other mineral acids by Jabir Bin Hayyam (known as Geber in Europe).


Razi"s alchemy, like his medical thinking, struggles within the cocoon ofhylomorphism. It dismisses the idea of potions and dispenses with an appeal to magic, if magic means relianceon symbols as causes.

But Razi does not reject the idea that there are wonders in the sense of unexplained phenomena in nature. His alchemical stockroom, accordingly, is enriched with the products of Persian mining and manufacture, and the Chinese discovery, sal ammoniac. Still reliant on the idea of dominant forms or essences and thus on the Neoplatonic conception of causality as inherently intellectual rather than mechanical, Razi's alchemy nonetheless brings to the fore such empiric qualities as salinity and inflammability-the latter ascribed to "oiliness" and "sulphurousness".

Such properties are not readily explained by the traditional fire, water, earth and air schematism, as al-óhazali and other later comers, primed by thoughts like Razi"s, were quick to note.



Books on alchemy

Here is a list of Razi"s known books on alchemy, mostly inPersian:

·Experimentation on Gold

·The Book of Secrets

·The Secret of Secrets

·The First Book on Experiments

·The Second Book on Experiments

Retrieved from:


Baghdad Hospital

The great Persian physician Razi (whose encyclopedic works influences the study of medicine throughout the Middle Ages) was once enlisted to select a site for a new hospital in Baghdad. Razi hung pieces of meat at various locations around the city and sited the hospital in the spot where the last piece went bad.

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