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Az-Zahrawi: The Great Muslim Surgeon

  • Az-Zahrawi was born in 938 in Cordoba, Andalusia
  • He wrote At-Tasrif, a medical encyclopedia covering various aspects of medicine, including obstetrics, maternal and child health, and surgery

The 10th century saw the zenith of the Umayyad golden age in Andalusia. Under the leadership of ‘Abd ar-Rahman An-Nasir (r. 912-961) and his son Al-Hakam II, this dynasty established sovereignty over the majority of the Iberian Peninsula.

The capital Cordoba developed into Europe’s greatest metropolis, a thriving city of half a million, where educational and religious institutions as well as trade and industry flourished in an atmosphere of intellectual ferment.

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Az-Zahrawi: The Great Muslim Surgeon - About Islam

In 936, An-Nasir began construction of a new capital, Az-Zahra, on the slopes of Al-Arus, a mountain six miles northwest of Cordoba.

Intended mainly as a political and military center, the new city became a monument to 10th century Muslim architecture. Its magnificent palaces, residential quarters, and splendid gardens have led some historians to dub it the “Versailles of the Umayyads.”

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Az-Zahrawi: The Great Muslim Surgeon - About Islam

At the same time, the Andalusian Umayyads provided generous patronage to the arts and sciences, including life sciences. As a result, a large number of eminent physicians were drawn to the capital and added to the advance of Islamic medicine and pharmacy with their writings and research.

It was in this royal city amidst this atmosphere of intellectual achievement that Abu al-Qasim Khalaf bin Abbas Az-Zahrawi, known to the West by his Latin name Albucasis, was born about 938. He was simply the greatest Muslim surgeon, with European surgeons of his time coming to regard him as a greater authority than even Galen, the ancient world’s acknowledged master.

Medieval European surgical texts quoted Az-Zahrawi more often than Galen. However, because Az-Zahra, the city of his birth, was destroyed in 1011, little is known with certainty about his early life.

Al Humaydi’s Jadhwat al-Muqtabis (On Andalusian Savants) contains the first existing (albeit, sketchy) biography of this great Islamic physician, listing only his ancestry, place of residence, and approximate date of death.

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