The medical knowledge in the pre Islamic times was negligible, due to the unsettled, nomadic, desert environment the Arabs lived in. It is understandable that the only the only settlement was in towns such as Mecca, Medina and Al-Ta' if, in the vicinity of oases. The only contact of Arabs with the civilization of other countries came by the way of the trade caravans which made bi-annual trips from Mecca, traveling to Syria in the north and to Yamen in the south.
There were some medical practitioners in pre-Isalmic times, such as Ibn Huzeem, Harith Ibn Kalda al-Thaqafi, Ndr ibn Harith and others. The only drugs the Arabs knew at that time came from plants and the leaves of trees, certain pods, animal bones, and spice and incense. By and large, they tended to live frugally, and to eat a simple diet, and this may well have protected them against many diseases.
It is happened that in the first days of Islam, the ruler of the Copts in Egypt once sent presents, including an Egyptian doctor, to the Prophet Mohammed. The Prophet kept the presents but sent the doctor back, with this message: "We have no need of doctors, for we are people who eat only when we are hungry, and when we eat it is never to excess".
The Sources of Medical Knowledge for the Arabs:
The Arabian Peninsula was bounded by several states which had ancient civilizations, such as Egypt and the Byzantine and Persian empires:
Physicians among the ancient Egyptians had certain specialties: ophthalmology, gynecology, surgery and internal medicine. There were also medical schools attached to ancient Egyptian temples, and the physicians used to combine medicine with the priesthood. Medical knowledge was not all written down and there were parts of it which were considered secret, not permitted to be revealed, and each generation used to inherit this secret knowledge. In museums and in the drawings on tombs and in papyri, much has been discovered of what the ancient Egyptians knew about the practice of medicine. Physicians used to be attached to temples and used to examine and treat ordinary people without fee, and the state rewarded the physician for his services. The pharaohs had physicians attached to their courts. Medical knowledge flourished in ancient Egypt, and some of the drugs which were used then are still used now. There are in the medical papyri accurate descriptions of some of the drugs which were used then are still used now. There are in the medical papyri accurate descriptions of some diseases, their progress and method of treatment.
Among the ancient Greeks the first physician of prominence was Hippo crates, he considered to be the father of medicine; his descriptions of disease and his clinical talents earned him that title. Hippocrates was held to be the model physician, and the ethics practiced by him are reflected in the so-called "Hippocratic Oath" that doctors swear on starting their medical careers.
Egypt was the center of medical learning once again from the year 271 BC when the School of Alexandria was set up. Here Herophilus and Erasistratus taught, dissected, and investigated the functions of organs; they were particularly interested in the central nervous system, and they were able to distinguish the sensory from the motor nerves.
Greek medicine did not make its appearance in Italy until 124 BC, and this was largely due to Asclepiades, who became famous for his interest in mental diseases. Galen (AD131 to 201) is considered to be, without exception, the greatest of the Greek physicians after Hippo crates. It is said of him that he was the initiator of experimental physiology, and he was known to be widely traveled. He became the chief physician in Rome in AD164 and was renowned as a skilled physician and as a scholar. He built a medical system which allowed him to suggest an answer to every question and an explanation for every phenomenon.
The comprehensiveness of this system, and possibly also of Galen's teleology, were very appealing to the generations who succeeded him. As a result, there was a tendency for later physicians to neglect original investigation and to rely solely and the authority of Galen instead. For instance, Galen taught that blood passed from the right to the left ventricle of the heart through invisible pores, and was unaware of the pulmonary circulation; this, Ibn al-Nafis was to describe much later.
The Nestorian sect, founded in AD428 by Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, was a heretical sect. The Nestorians were persecuted and so they emigrated to the Syrian city of Al-Ruha (Edessa), where they founded their medical school. But persecution followed them, and the Byzantine Emperor expelled them in AD489. So they emigrated to Persia, where they were welcomed and treated well by the emperor, and they settled there and penetrated eastwards until they reached Jundi-Shapur. And so it was that the Nestorian center of learning moved from Syria to Jundi-Shapur in Persia, and there the Nistorians established a large hospital. Jundi-Shapur became the most prominent cultural center at the time of the Persian Emperor Kisra Anushirawan, who attracted to the city the most famous Indian, Jewish, Syrian and Persian physicians. Kisra used to send his physicians to India to look for medical books to translate from Sanskrit to Persian and Syriac, also the Greek books were translated; and so Jundi-Shapur acquired a large scientific library.
This is merely a brief sketch of the development of ancient times and of how medical knowledge was transferred to the lands boarding on the Peninsula, from which the Arabs were to draw their Medical knowledge when Islam appeared.
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