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Parasitology Established by Muslim Hands

Ibn Zuhr, known in the West as Avenzoar, was one of the greatest physicians, clinicians and parasitologists of the Middle Ages.

Some historians of science describe him as the leading Muslim physician after Al-Razi (Rhazes) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), while some of his contemporaries called him the greatest physician since Galen.

Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik Ibn Zuhr was born in Seville, Spain in 1091 C.E.

He graduated from Cordoba Medical University and after a brief stay in Baghdad and Cairo, returned to Spain and worked for Almoravides as a physician.

Later, Ibn Zuhr worked for ‘Abd al-Mu’min, the first Muwahid ruler, both as physician and a minister. He devoted his career to Seville and died in 1161 C.E.

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Ibn Zuhr confined his work only to medicine, contrary to the prevailing practice of Muslim scientists who typically worked in several fields.

Still, by focusing in one field he made many original and long-lasting contributions. He emphasized observation and experiment in his work.

Ibn Zuhr made several breakthroughs as a physician. He was the first to test different medicines on animals before administering them to humans.

Also, he was the first to describe scabies and the itch mite in detail, and is thus regarded as the “Father of Parasitology.”

He was also the first to give a full description of the tracheotomy operation and practiced direct feeding through the gullet in those cases where normal feeding wasn’t possible.

As a clinician, he provided clinical descriptions of intestinal phthisis, inflammation of the middle ear, pericarditis, and mediastinal tumors among others.

Ibn Zuhr wrote a number of important books for both the medical specialists and the common people.

Several of his books were translated into Latin and were in great demand in Europe until the late 18th Century, unfortunately only three of his greatest books have survived.

Kitab al-Taisir fi al-Mudawat wa al-Tadbir, (The Book of Simplification concerning Therapeutics and Diet) was written at the request of Ibn Rushd (Averroes).

The work contains many of Ibn Zuhr’s original contributions, particularly in its detailed discussions of pathological conditions and therapy.

The second book, Kitab al-Iqtisad fi Islah Al-Anfus wa al-Ajsad (translated as the Book of the Middle Course concerning the Reformation of Souls and the Bodies), summarizes different diseases, therapeutics and the hygiene. It also discusses the role of psychology in treatment.

This book is written in an easy to understand format for the nonspecialist. The third book,Kitab al-Aghziya (Book on Foodstuffs), discusses numerous drugs and the importance of food and nutrition.


This article was first published in 2003 and is currently republished for its importance.