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Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar-Razi

Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī (أبو بكر محمد بن زكريا الرازي, زكريای رازی Zakariā-ye Rāzi; Latin: Rhazes or Rasis) was a Persianalchemist, chemist, physician, philosopher and scholar. According to Biruni, Razi was born in Rayy, Iran in the year 865 (251 AH) and died there in 925 (313 AH).

Razi made fundamental and enduring contributions to the fields of medicine, alchemy, and philosophy, recorded in over 184 books and articles in various fields of science. He was well-versed in Persian, Greek and Indian medical knowledge and made numerous advances in medicine through own observations and discoveries. He was an early proponent of experimental medicine and is considered the father of pediatrics. He was also a pioneer of neurosurgery and ophthalmology.

Influence

As an alchemist, Razi is known for his study of sulfuric acid. He also discovered ethanol and refined its use in medicine.

Razi was a rationalist, and was very confident in the power of reason; he was widely regarded by his contemporaries and biographers as liberal and free from any kind of prejudice, very bold and daring in expressing his ideas without a qualm.

He traveled extensively and rendered service to several princes and rulers, especially in Baghdad, where his laboratory was located. As a teacher in medicine, he attracted students of all disciplines and was said to be compassionate and devoted to the service of his patients, whether rich or poor.

The modern-day Razi Institute in Tehran, and Razi University in Kermanshah were named after him, and 'Razi Day' ('Pharmacy Day') is commemorated in Iran every August 27.

Biography

In Persian, Razi means "from the city of Rayy (also spelled Ray, Rey, or Rai, old Persian Ragha, Latin Rhagae -formerly one of the great cities of the World)", an ancient town on the southern slopes of the Elburz Range that skirts the south of the Caspian Sea, situated near Tehran, Iran. In this city (like Avicenna) he accomplished most of his work.

In his early life he could have been a jeweller (Baihaqi), a money-changer (Cf. Ibn abi Usaibi'ah) but more likely a lute-player who changed his interest in music to alchemy (cf. ibn Juljul, Sa'id, ibn Khallikan, Usaibi'ah, al-Safadi). At the age of thirty (Safadi says after forty) he stopped his study of alchemy because its experiments caused an eye-disease (Cf. al-Biruni), obliging him to search for physicians and medicine to cure it. al-Biruni, Beyhaqi and others, say this was the reason why he began his medical studies. He was very studious working night and day. His teacher was Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari (Cf. al-Qifti, Usaibi'ah), a physician and philosopher born in Merv about 192 (808 C.E.) (d. approx. 240 (855 C.E.)). Razi studied medicine and probably also philosophy with ibn Rabban al-Tabari. Therefore his interest in spiritual philosophy can be traced to this master, whose father was a Rabbinist versed in the Scriptures. According to Prof. Hamed Abdel-reheem Ead, Professor of Chemistry at the Faculty of Science, University of Cairo (Cf. the Alchemy Website): " (...) Razi took up the study of medicine after his first visit to Baghdad, when he was at least 30 years old, under the well-known physician Ali ibn Sahl (a Jewish convert to Islam, belonging to the famous medical school of Tabaristan or Hyrcania). He showed such a skill in the subject that he quickly surpassed his master, and wrote no fewer than a hundred medical books. He also composed 33 treatises on natural science (not including alchemy), mathematics and astronomy (...)."

Razi became famous in his native city as a physician. He became Director of the hospital of Rayy (Cf. ibn Juljul, al-Qifti, ibn abi Usaibi'ah), during the reign of Mansur ibn Ishaq ibn Ahmad ibn Asad who was Governor of Rayy from 290-296 (902-908 C.E.) on behalf of his cousin Ahmad ibn Isma'il ibn Ahmad, second Samanian ruler. Razi dedicated his al-Tibb al-'Mansurito Mansur ibn Ishaq ibn Ahmad, which was verified in a handwritten manuscript of his book. This was refuted by ibn al-Nadim', but al-Qifti and ibn abi Usaibi'ah confirmed that the named Mansur was indeed Mansur ibn Isma'il who died in 365 (975 C.E.). Razi moved from Rayy to Baghdad during Caliph Muktafi's reign (approx. 289-295 (901-907 C.E.)) where he again held a position as Chief Director of a hospital.

After al-Muktafi's death in 295 (907 C.E.) Razi allegedly returned to Rayy where he gathered many students around him. As Ibn al-Nadim relates in Fihrist, Razi was then a Shaikh (title given to one entitled to teach), surrounded by several circles of students. When someone arrived with a scientific question, this question was passed on to students of the 'first circle'. if they did not know the answer, it was passed on to those of the 'second circle'... and so on and on, until at last, when all others had failed to supply an answer, it came to Razi himself. We know of at least one of these students who became a physician. Razi was a very generous man, with a humane behavior towards his patients, and acting charitable to the poor. He used to give them full treatment without charging any fee, nor demanding any other payment. When he was not occupied with pupils or patients he was always writing and studying.

Some say the cause of his blindness was that he used to eat too many broad beans (baqilah). His eye affliction started with cataracts and ended in total blindness. The rumor goes that he refused to be treated for cataract, declaring that he "had seen so much of the world that he was tired of it." However, this seems to be an anecdote more than a historical fact. One of his pupils from Tabaristan came to look after him, but, according to al-Biruni, he refused to be treated proclaiming it was useless as his hour of death was approaching. Some days later he died in Rayy, on the 5th of Sha'ban 313 (27th of October, 925 C.E.).

Razi's masters and opponents

Razi studied medicine under Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari, however, Ibn al-Nadim indicates that he studied philosophy under al-Balkhi, who had travelled much and possessed great knowledge of philosophy and ancient sciences. Some even say that Razi attributed some of al-Balkhi's books on philosophy to himself. We know nothing about this man called al-Balkhi, not even his full name.

Razi's opponents, on the contrary, are well-known. They are the following:

1. Abu al-Qasim al-Balki, chief of the Mu'tazilah of Baghdad (d. 319 AH/931 CE), a contemporary of Razi who wrote many refutations about Razi's books, especially in his Ilm al-Ilahi. His disagreements with Razi entailed his thoughts on the concept of 'Time'.

2. Shuhaid ibn al-Husain al-Balkhi, with whom Razi had many controversies; one of these was on the concept of 'Pleasure', expounded in his Tafdll Ladhdhat al-Nafs which abu Sulaiman al-Mantiqi al-Sijistani quotes in his work Siwan al-Hikmah. Al-Balkhi died prior to 329/940.

3. Abu Hatim al-Razi (Ahmad ibn Hamdan) became the most important of all his opponents (d. 322 AH/933-934 CE) and was one of the greatest Isma'ili missionaries. He published his controversies with Razi in his book A'lam al-Nubuwwah. Because of this book, Razi's thoughts on Prophets and Religion are preserved for us.

4. Ibn al-Tammar (seemingly being abu Bakr Husain al-Tammar, says Kraus) was a physician and he too had some disputes with Razi, which is documented by abu Hatim al-Razi in A'lam al-Nubuwwah. Ibn al-Tammar disagreed with Razi's book al-Tibb al-Ruhani but Razi counteracted this. In fact, Razi wrote two antitheses:

(a) First refutation of al-Tammar's disagreement with Misma'i concerning 'Matter'.

(b) Second refutation of al-Tammar's opinion of 'the Atmosphere of subterranean habitations'.

5.Following are authors as described by al-Razi in his writings:

(a) al-Misma'i, a Mutakallim, who opposed 'materialists', counteracted byan al-Razi's treatise.

(b) Jarir, a physician who had a theory about 'The eating of black mulberries after consuming water-melon'.

(c) al-Hasan ibn Mubarik al-Ummi, to whom al-Razi wrote two epistles with commentaries.

(d) al-Kayyal, a Mutakallim: al-Razi wrote a book on about his Theory of the Imam.

(e) Mansur ibn Talhah, being the author of the book "Being", which was criticized by al-Razi.

(f) Muhammad ibn al-Laith al-Rasa'ili whose opposition against alchemists was disputed by al-Razi.

6. Ahmad ibn al-Tayyib al-Sarakhasi (d. 286 AH/899 CE), was an older contemporary of al-Razi. Al-Razi disagreed with him on the question of 'bitter taste'. He moreover opposed his teacher Ya'qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, regarding his writings, in which he discredited alchemists.

  • More names could be added to this list of all people opposed by al-Razi, specifically the Mu'tazilah and different Mutakallimin.

Contributions to medicine

Smallpox vs. measles

As chief physician of the Baghdad hospital, Razi formulated the first known description of smallpox:

"Smallpox appears when blood 'boils' and is infected, resulting in vapours being expelled. Thus juvenile blood (which looks like wet extracts appearing on the skin) is being transformed into richer blood, having the color of mature wine. At this stage, smallpox shows up essentially as 'bubbles found in wine' - (as blisters) - ... this disease can also occur at other times - (meaning: not only during childhood) -. The best thing to do during this first stage is to keep away from it, otherwise this disease might turn into an epidemic."

This diagnosis is acknowledged by the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911), which states: "The most trustworthy statements as to the early existence of the disease are found in an account by the 9th-century Persian physician Rhazes, by whom its symptoms were clearly described, its pathology explained by a humoral or fermentation theory, and directions given for its treatment."

Razi's book: al-Judari wa al-Hasbah (The smallpox and the measles) was the first book describing smallpox and measles, and was translated more than a dozen times into Latin and other European languages. Its lack of dogmatism and its Hippocratic reliance on clinical observation shows Razi's medical methods. We quote:

"The eruption of smallpox is preceded by a continued fever, pain in the back, itching in the nose and nightmares during sleep. These are the more acute symptoms of its approach together with a noticeable pain in the back accompanied by fever and an itching felt by the patient all over his body. A swelling of the face appears, which comes and goes, and one notices an overall inflammatory color noticeable as a strong redness on both cheeks and around both eyes. One experiences a heaviness of the whole body and great restlessness, which expresses itself as a lot of stretching and yawning. There is a pain in the throat and chest and one finds it difficult to breath and cough. Additional symtomps are: dryness of breath, thick spittle, hoarseness of the voice, pain and heaviness of the head, restlessness, nausea and anxiety. (Note the difference: restlessness, nausea and anxiety occur more frequently with 'measles' than with smallpox. At the other hand, pain in the back is more apparent with smallpox than with measles). Altogether one experiences heat over the whole body, one has an inflamed colon and one shows an overall shining redness, with a very pronounced redness of the gums."

Razi was the first physician to diagnose smallpox and measles and the first one to distinguish the difference between them.

Allergies and fever

Razi is also known for having discovered "allergic asthma," and was the first physician ever to write articles on allergy and immunology. In the Sense of Smelling he explains the occurrence of 'rhinitis' after smelling a rose during the Spring: Article on the Reason Why Abou Zayd Balkhi Suffers from Rhinitis When Smelling Roses in Spring. In this article he discusses seasonal 'rhinitis', which is the same as allergic asthma or hay fever. Razi was the first to realize that fever is a natural defense mechanism, the body's way of fighting disease.

Pharmacy

Rhazes contributed in many ways to the early practice of pharmacy by compiling texts, in which he introduces the use of 'mercurial ointments' and his development of apparatus such as mortars, flasks, spatulas and phials, which were used in pharmacies until the early twentieth century.

Ethics of medicine

On a professional level, Razi introduced many practical, progressive, medical and psychological ideas. He attacked charlatans and fake doctors who roamed the cities and countryside selling their nostrums and 'cures'. At the same time, he warned that even highly educated doctors did not have the answers to all medical problems and could not cure all sicknesses or heal every disease, which was humanly speaking impossible. To become more useful in their services and truer to their calling, Razi advised practitioners to keep up with advanced knowledge by continually studying medical books and exposing themselves to new information. He made a distinction between curable and incurable diseases. Pertaining to the latter, he commented that in the case of advanced cases of cancer and leprosy the physician should not be blamed when he could not cure them. To add a humorous note, Razi felt great pity for physicians who took care for the well being of princes, nobility, and women, because they did not obey the doctor's orders to restrict their diet or get medical treatment, thus making it most difficult being their physician.

He also wrote the following on medical ethics:

Books and articles on medicine

  • The Virtuous Life (al-Hawi Arabic الحاوي).

This monumental medical encyclopedia in nine volumes — known in Europe also as The Large Comprehensive or Continens Liber (Arabic جامع الكبير) — 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 after which it had a considerable influence in Europe.

The al-Hawi also criticized the views of Galen, after Razi had observed many clinical cases which did not follow Galen's descriptions of fevers. For example, he stated that Galen's descriptions of urinary ailments were inaccurate as he had only seen three cases, while Razi had studied hundreds of such cases in Muslim hospitals of Baghdad and Rayy.

  • A medical adviser for the general public (Man la Yahduruhu Al-Tabib) (Arabic من لا يحضره الطبيب)

Razi was possibly the first Persian 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 similar books were very popular until the 20th century. Razi described in its 36 chapters, diets and drug components that can be found in either an apothecary, a market place, in well-equipped kitchens, or and in military camps. Thus, every intelligent person could follow its instructions and prepare the proper recipes with good results.

Some of the illnesses treated were headaches, colds, coughing, melancholy and diseases of the eye, ear, and stomach. For example, he prescribed for a feverish headache: " 2 parts of duhn (oily extract) of rose, to be mixed with 1 part of vinegar, in which a piece of linen cloth is dipped and compressed on the forehead". He recommended as a laxative, " 7 drams of dried violet flowers with 20 pears, macerated and well mixed, then strained. Add to this filtrate, 20 drams of sugar for a drink. In cases of melancholy, he invariably recommended prescriptions, which included either poppies or its juice (opium), clover dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) or both. For an eye-remedy, he advised myrrh, saffron, and frankincense, 2 drams each, to be mixed with 1 dram of yellow arsenic formed into tablets. 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 revealed in this book and G. Stolyarov II quotes:

"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 being 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 resulting in a speedy convalescence."

In his book Doubts about Galen, Razi rejects several claims made by the Greek physician, as far as the alleged superiority of the Greek language and many of his cosmological and medical views. He links medicine with philosophy, and states that sound practice demands independent thinking. He reports that Galen's descriptions do not agree with his own clinical observations regarding the run of a fever. And in some cases he finds that his clinical experience exceeds Galen's.

He criticized moreover Galen's theory that the body possessed four separate "humors" (liquid substances), whose balance are the key to health and a natural body-temperature. A sure way to upset such a system was to insert a liquid with a different temperature into the body resulting in an increase or decrease of bodily heat, which resembled the temperature of that particular fluid. Razi noted that a warm drink would heat up the body to a degree much higher than its own natural temperature. Thus the drink would trigger a response from the body, rather than transferring only its own warmth or coldness to it. (Cf. I. E. Goodman)

This line of criticism essentially had the potentiality to destroy completely Galen's Theory of Humours including Aristotle's theory of the Four Elements, on which it was grounded. Razi's own alchemical experiments suggested other 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 division of elements.

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

# Crystallization of ancient knowledge, and the refusal to accept the fact that new data and ideas indicate that present day knowledge ultimately might surpass that of previous generations.

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

  • The Diseases of Children

Al-Razi is considered the father of pediatrics for writing The Diseases of Children, the first book to deal with pediatrics as an independent field of medicine.

Books on medicine

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

  • al-Hawi (Arabic الحاوي), al-Hawi al-Kabir (Arabic الحاوي الكبير). Also known as The Virtuous Life, Continens Liber. The large medical Encyclopedia containing mostly recipes and Razi's notebooks.
  • Isbateh Elmeh Pezeshki (Persian اثبات علم پزشكى), An Introduction to Medical Science.
  • Dar Amadi bar Elmeh Pezeshki (Persian درآمدى بر علم پزشكى)
  • Rade Manaategha 'tibb jahez
  • Rade Naghzotibbeh Nashi
  • The Experimentation of Medical Science and its Application
  • Guidance
  • Kenash
  • The Classification of Diseases
  • Royal Medicine
  • For One Without a Doctor (Arabic من لايحضره الطبيب)
  • The Book of Simple Medicine
  • The Great Book of Krabadin
  • The Little Book of Krabadin
  • The Book of Taj or The Book of the Crown
  • The Book of Disasters
  • Food and its Harmfulness
  • al-Judari wa al-Hasbah, The Book of Smallpox and Measles
  • Ketab dar Padid Amadaneh Sangrizeh (‍Persian كتاب در پديدآمدن سنگريزه) (Stones in the Kidney and Bladder)
  • Ketabeh Dardeh Roodeha (Persian كتاب درد روده‌ها)
  • Ketab dar Dard Paay va Dardeh Peyvandhayyeh Andam (Persian كتاب در درد پاى و درد پيوندهاى اندام)
  • Ketab dar Falej
  • The Book of Tooth Aches
  • Dar Hey'ateh Kabed ‍(Persian در هيأت كبد)
  • Dar Hey'ateh Ghalb (About Heart Ache)
  • About the Nature of Doctors
  • About the Earwhole
  • Dar Rag Zadan (Persian در رگ زدن)
  • Seydeh neh/sidneh
  • Ketabeh Ibdal
  • Food For Patients
  • Soodhayeh Serkangabin (Persian سودهاى سركنگبين) or Benefits of Honey and Vinegar Mixture
  • Darmanhayeh Abneh
  • 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
  • Ghi Kardan or vomiting (Persian قى كردن)
  • Snow and Medicine
  • Snow and Thirst
  • The Foot
  • Fatal Diseases
  • About Poisoning
  • Hunger
  • Soil in Medicine
  • The Thirst of Fish
  • Sleep Sweating
  • Warmth in Clothing
  • Spring and Disease
  • Misconceptions of a Doctors Capabilities
  • The Social Role of Doctors

Translations

Razi's notable books and articles on medicine (in English) include:

  • Mofid al Khavas, 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
  • Gout
  • Al Shakook ala Jalinoos, The Doubt on Galen
  • Kidney and Bladder Stones
  • Ketab tibb ar-Ruhani,The Spiritual Physik of Rhazes.

Alchemy

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 Ibn an-Nadim's book (The Philosophers Stone-Lapis Philosophorum in Latin). Nadim attributed a series of twelve books to Razi, plus an additional seven, including his refutation to al-Kindi's denial of the validity of alchemy. Al-Kindi (801-873 CE) had been appointed by the Abbasid Caliph Ma'mum founder of Baghdad, to 'the House of Wisdom' in that city, he was a philosopher and an opponent of alchemy.
Finally we will mention 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.

Apparently Razi's contemporaries believed that he had obtained the secret of turning iron and copper into gold. Biographer Khosro Moetazed reports in Mohammad Zakaria Razi that a certain General Simjur confronted Razi in public, and asked whether that was the underlying reason for his willingness to treat patients without a fee. "It appeared to those present that Razi was reluctant to answer; he looked sideways at the general and replied":

"I understand alchemy and I have been working on the characteristic properties of metals for an extended time. However, it still has not turned out to be evident to me, how one can transmute gold from copper. Despite the research from the ancient scientists done over the past centuries, there has been no answer. I very much doubt if it is possible..."

Chemical instruments and substances

Razi developed several chemical instruments that remain in use to this day. He is known to have perfected methods of distillation and extraction, which have led to his discovery of sulfuric acid, by dry distillation of vitriol (al-zajat), and alcohol. These discoveries paved the way for other Islamic alchemists, as did the discovery of various other mineral acids by Jabir Ibn Hayyam (known as Geber in Europe).

Razi dismissed the idea of potions and dispensed with magic, meaning the reliance on symbols as causes. Although Razi does not reject the idea that miracles exist, in the sense of unexplained phenomena in nature, his alchemical stockroom was enriched with products of Persian mining and manufacturing, even with sal ammoniac a Chinese discovery. He relied predominantly on the concept of 'dominant' forms or essences, which is the Neoplatonic conception of causality rather than an intellectual approach or a mechanical one. Razi's alchemy brings forward such empiric qualities as salinity and inflammability -the latter associated to 'oiliness' and 'sulphurousness'. These properties are not readily explained by the traditional composition of the elements such as : fire, water, earth and air, as al-óhazali and others after him were quick to note, influenced by critical thoughts such as Razi had.

Major works on alchemy

Razi's achievements are of exceptional importance in the history of chemistry, since in his books we find for the first time a systematic classification of carefully observed and verified facts regarding chemical substances, reactions and apparatus, described in a language almost entirely free from mysticism and ambiguity. Razi's scheme of classification of the substances used in chemistry shows sound research on his part.

  • The Secret (Al-Asrar)

This book was written in response to a request from Razi's close friend, colleague, and former student, Abu Mohammed b. Yunis of Bukhara, a Muslim mathematician, philosopher, a highly reputable natural scientist.
In his book Sirr al-Asrar, Razi divides the subject of "Matter' into three categories as he did in his previous book al-Asrar.
# Knowledge and identification of drug components of plant-, animal- and mineral-origin and the description of the best type of each for utilization in treatment.
# Knowledge of equipment and tools of interest to and used by either alchemist or apothecary.
# Knowledge of seven alchemical procedures and techniques: sublimation and condensation of mercury, precipitation of sulfur and arsenic calcination of minerals (gold, silver, copper, lead, and iron), salts, glass, talc, shells, and waxing.

This last category contains additionally a description of other methods and applications used in transmutation:
* The added mixture and use of solvent vehicles.
* The amount of heat (fire) used, 'bodies and stones', ('al-ajsad' and 'al-ahjar) that can or cannot be transmuted into corporal substances such of metals and Id salts ('al-amlah').
* The use of a liquid mordant which quickly and permanently colors lesser metals for more lucrative sale and profit.
Similar to the commentary on the 8th century text on amalgams ascribed to Al- Hayan (Jabir), Razi gives methods and procedures of coloring a silver object to imitate gold (gold leafing) and the reverse technique of removing its color back to silver. Gilding and silvering of other metals (alum, calcium salts, iron, copper, and tutty) are also described, as well as how colors will last for years without tarnishing or changing. Behind these procedures one does not find a deceptive motive rather a technical and economic deliberation. This becomes evident from the author's quotation of market prices and the expressed triumph of artisan, craftsman or alchemist declaring the results of their efforts "to make it look exactly like gold!". However, another motive was involved, namely, to manufacture something resembling gold to be sold quickly so to help a good friend who happened to be in need of money fast. Could it be Razi's alchemical technique of silvering and gilding metals which convinced many Muslim biographers that he was first a jeweler before he turned to the study of alchemy?

Of great interest in the text is Razi's classification of minerals into six divisions, showing his discussion a modern chemical connotation:
# Four SPIRITS (AL-ARWAH) : mercury, sal ammoniac, sulfur, and arsenic sulphate (orpiment and realgar).
# Seven BODIES (AL-AJSAD) : silver, gold, copper, iron, black lead (plumbago), zinc (Kharsind), and tin.
# Thirteen STONES : (AL-AHJAR) Pyrites marcasite (marqashita), magnesia, malachite, tutty Zinc oxide (tutiya), talcum, lapis lazuli, gypsum, azurite, magnesia , haematite (iron oxide), arsenic oxide, mica and asbestos and glass (then identified as made of sand and alkali of which the transparent crystal Damascene is considered the best),
# Seven VITRIOLS (AL-ZAJAT) : alum (ak-shubub), and white (qalqadzs), black , red, and yellow (qulqutar) vitriols (the impure sulfates of iron, copper, etc.), green (qalqand).
# Seven BORATES : tinkar, natron, and impure sodium borate.
# Eleven SALTS (AL-AMLAH): including brine, common (table) salt, ashes, naphtha, live lime, and urine, rock, and sea salts. Then he separately defines and describes each of these substances and their top choice, best colors and various adulterations.

Razi gives also a list of apparatus used in alchemy. This consists of 2 classes:

# Instruments used for the dissolving and melting of metals such as the Blacksmith's hearth, bellows, crucible, thongs (tongue or ladle), macerator, stirring rod, cutter, grinder (pestle), file, shears, descensory and semi-cylindrical iron mould.
# Utensils used to carry out the process of transmutation and various parts of the distilling apparatus: the retort, alembic, shallow iron pan, potters kiln and blowers, large oven, cylindrical stove, glass cups, flasks, phials, beakers, glass funnel, crucible, alundel, heating lamps, mortar, cauldron, hair-cloth, sand- and water-bath, sieve, flat stone mortar and chafing-dish.

  • Secret of Secrets (Sirr Al-asrar)

This is Razi's most famous book which has gained a lot of recognition in the West. Here he gives systematic attention to basic chemical operations important to the history of pharmacy.

Books on alchemy

Here is a list of Razi's known books on alchemy, mostly in Persian:

  • Modkhele Taalimi
  • Elaleh Ma'aaden
  • Isbaate Sanaa'at
  • Ketabeh Sang
  • Ketabe Tadbir
  • Ketabe Aksir
  • Ketabe Sharafe Sanaa'at
  • Ketabe Tartib, Ketabe Rahat, The Simple Book
  • Ketabe Tadabir
  • Ketabe Shavahed
  • Ketabe Azmayeshe Zar va Sim (Experimentation on Gold)
  • Ketabe Serre Hakimaan
  • Ketabe Serr (The Book of Secrets)
  • Ketabe Serre Serr (The Secret of Secrets)
  • The First Book on Experiments
  • The Second Book on Experiments
  • Resaale'ei Be Faan
  • Arezooyeh Arezookhah
  • A letter to Vazir Ghasem ben Abidellah
  • Ketabe Tabvib

Philosophy

On existence

Razi believed that a competent physician must also be a philosopher well versed in the fundamental questions regarding existence:

"He proclaimed the absolutism of Euclidean space and mechanical time as the natural foundation of the world in which men lived, but resolved the dilemma of existent infinities by synthesizing this outlook with the atomic theory of Democritus, which recognized that matter existed in the form of indivisible and fathomable quanta. The continuity of space, however, holds due to the existence of void, or a region lacking matter... This is remarkably close to the systems yielded by the discoveries of such later European scientists as John Dalton and Max Planck, as well as the observational and theoretical works of modern astronomer Halton Arp and Objectivist philosopher Michael Miller. Progress, in the view of all these men, is not to be obstructed by a jumble of haphazard and contradictory relativistic assertions which result in metaphysical hodge-podge instead of a sturdy intellectual base. Even in regard to the task of the philosopher, Rhazes considered it to be progressing beyond the level of one's teachers, expanding the accuracy and scope of one's doctrine, and individually elevating oneself onto a higher intellectual plane." (G. Stolyarov II)

Razi is known to have been a free-thinking philosopher, since he was well-trained in ancient Greek science and philosophy although his approach to chemistry was rather naturalistic. Moreover, he was well versed in the theory of music, as so many other Islamic scientists of that time.

Metaphysics

His ideas on metaphysics were also based on the works of the ancient Greeks:

"The metaphysical doctrine of Razi, insofar as it can be reconstructed, derives from his concept of the five eternal principles. God, for him, does not 'create' the world from nothing but rather arranges a universe out of pre-existing principles. His account of the soul features a mythic origin of the world in which God out of pity fashions a physical playground for the soul in response to its own desires; the soul, once fallen into the new realm God has made for it, requires God's further gift of intellect in order to find its way once more to salvation and freedom. In this scheme, intellect does not appear as a separate principle but is rather a later grace of God to the soul; the soul becomes intelligent, possessed of reason and therefore able to discern the relative value of the other four principles. Whereas the five principles are eternal, intellect as such is apparently not. Such a doctrine of intellect is sharply at odds with that of all of Razi's philosophical contemporaries, who are in general either adherents of some form of Neoplatonism or of Aristotelianism. The remaining three principles, space, matter and time, serve as the non-animate components of the natural world. Space is defined by the relationship between the individual particles of matter, or atoms, and the void that surrounds them. The greater the density of material atoms, the heavier and more solid the resulting object; conversely, the larger the portion of void, the lighter and less solid. Time and matter have both an absolute, unqualified form and a limited form. Thus there is an absolute matter - pure extent - that does not depend in any way on place, just as there is a time, in this sense, that is not defined or limited by motion. The absolute time of al-Razi is, like matter, infinite; it thus transcends the time which Aristotle confined to the measurement of motion. Razi, in the cases of both time and matter, knew well how he differed from Aristotle and also fully accepted and intended the consequences inherent in his anti-Peripatetic positions." (Paul E. Walker)

Excerpt from The Philosophical Approach

"(...) In short, while I am writing the present book, I have written so far around 200 books and articles on different aspects of science, philosophy, theology, and hekmat (wisdom). (...) I never entered the service of any king as a military man or a man of office, and if I ever did have a conversation with a king, it never went beyond my medical responsibility and advice. (...) Those who have seen me know, that I did not into excess with eating, drinking or acting the wrong way. As to my interest in science, people know perfectly well and must have witnessed how I have devoted all my life to science since my youth. My patience and diligence in the pursuit of science has been such that on one special issue specifically I have written 20,000 pages (in small print), moreover I spent fifteen years of my life -night and day- writing the big collection entitled Al Hawi. It was during this time that I lost my eyesight, my hand became paralyzed, with the result that I am now deprived of reading and writing. Nonetheless, I've never given up, but kept on reading and writing with the help of others. I could make concessions with my opponents and admit some shortcomings, but I am most curious what they have to say about my scientific achievement. If they consider my approach incorrect, they could present their views and state their points clearly, so that I may study them, and if I determined their views to be right, I would admit it. However, if I disagreed, I would discuss the matter to prove my standpoint. If this is not the case, and they merely disagree with my approach and way of life, I would appreciate they only use my written knowledge and stop interfering with my behaviour."

"In the "Philosophical Biography", as seen above, he defended his personal and philosophical life style. In this work he laid out a framework based on the idea that there is life after death full of happiness, not suffering. Rather than being self-indulgent, man should pursue knowledge, utilise his intellect and apply justice in his life.
According to Al-Razi: "This is what our merciful Creator wants. The One to whom we pray for reward and whose punishment we fear."
In brief, man should be kind, gentle and just. Al-Razi believed that there is a close relationship between spiritual integrity and physical health. He did not implicate that the soul could avoid distress due to his fear of death. He simply states that this psychological state cannot be avoided completely unless the individual is convinced that, after death, the soul will lead a better life. This requires a thorough study of esoteric doctrines and/or religions. He focuses on the opinion of some people who think that the soul perishes when the body dies. Death is inevitable, therefore one should not pre-occupy the mind with it, because any person who continuously thinks about death will become distressed and think as if he is dying when he continuously ponders on that subject. Therefore, he should forget about it in order to avoid upsetting himself. When contemplating his destiny after death, a benevolent and good man who acts according to the ordinances of the Islamic Shari`ah, has after all nothing to fear because it indicates that he will have comfort and permanent bliss in the Hereafter. The one who doubts the Shari`ah, may contemplate it, and if he diligently does this, he will not deviate from the right path. If he falls short, Allah will excuse him and forgive his sins because it is not demanded of him to do something which he cannot achieve." (Dr. Muhammad Abdul-Hadi Abu Reidah)

Books on philosophy

This is a partial list of Razi's books on philosophy. Some books may have been copied or published under different titles.

  • The Small Book on Theism
  • Response to Abu'al'Qasem Braw
  • The Greater Book on Theism
  • Modern Philosophy
  • Dar Roshan Sakhtane Eshtebaah
  • Dar Enteghaade Mo'tazlian
  • Delsoozi Bar Motekaleman
  • Meydaneh Kherad
  • Khasel
  • Resaaleyeh Rahnamayeh Fehrest
  • Ghasideyeh Ilaahi
  • Dar Alet Afarineshe Darandegan
  • Shakkook
  • Naghseh Ketabe Tadbir
  • Naghsnamehyeh Ferforius
  • Do name be Hasanebne Moharebe Ghomi

Notable books in English are:

  • Spiritual Medicine
  • The Philosophical Approach (Al Syrat al Falsafiah)
  • The Metaphysics

On Religion

Razi wrote three books dealing with religion; they were: The Prophets' Fraudulent Tricks (Arabic مخارق الانبياء), The Stratagems of Those Who Claim to Be Prophets (Arabic حيل المتنبيين), and On the Refutation of Revealed Religions . He offered harsh criticism concerning religions, in particular those religions that claim to have been revealed by prophetic experiences. Razi asserted that "[God] should not set some individuals over others, and there should be between them neither rivalry nor disagreement which would bring them to perdition." He argued,

On what ground do you deem it necessary that God should single out certain individuals [by giving them prophecy], that he should set them up above other people, that he should appoint them to be the people's guides, and make people dependent upon them?

Concerning the link between violence and religion, Razi expressed that God must have known, considering the many disagreements between different religions, that "there would be a universal disaster and they would perish in the mutual hostilities and fighting. Indeed, many people have perished in this way, as we can see."

He was also critical of the lack of interest among religious adherents in the rational analysis of their beliefs, and the violent reaction which takes its place:

If the people of this religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed.

Al-Razi believed that common people had originally been duped into belief by religious authority figures and by the status quo. He believed that these authority figures were able to continually deceive the common people "as a result of [religious people] being long accustomed to their religious denomination, as days passed and it became a habit. Because they were deluded by the beards of the goats, who sit in ranks in their councils, straining their throats in recounting lies, senseless myths and "so-and-so told us in the name of so-and-so..."

He believed that the existence of a large variety of religions was, in itself, evidence that they were all man made, saying, "Jesus claimed that he is the son of God, while Moses claimed that He had no son, and Muhammad claimed that he [Jesus] was created like the rest of humanity." and "Mani and Zoroaster contradicted Moses, Jesus and Muhammad regarding the Eternal One, the coming into being of the world, and the reasons for the [existence] of good and evil." In relation to the Hebrew's God asking of sacrifices, he said that "This sounds like the words of the needy rather than of the Laudable Self-sufficient One."

On the Quran, al-Razi said:

You claim that the evidentiary miracle is present and available, namely, the Koran. You say: "Whoever denies it, let him produce a similar one." Indeed, we shall produce a thousand similar, from the works of rhetoricians, eloquent speakers and valiant poets, which are more appropriately phrased and state the issues more succinctly. They convey the meaning better and their rhymed prose is in better meter. ... By God what you say astonishes us! You are talking about a work which recounts ancient myths, and which at the same time is full of contradictions and does not contain any useful information or explanation. Then you say: "Produce something like it"?!

From the beginning of the human history, all of those who claimed to be prophets were, in his worst assumption tortuous and devious and with his best assumption had psychological problems.

Criticism

Al-Razi's philosophical and religious views were later criticized by prominent Persian philosophers such as Avicenna and Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī in the early 11th century. The Hermetical writings and religious views of al-Razi were criticized by al-Biruni, and during a debate between Avicenna and al-Biruni, Avicenna wrote the following criticism on al-Razi:

Quotes from Rhazes

Let your first thought be to strengthen your natural vitality.

Truth in medicine is an unattainable goal, and the art as described in books is far beneath the knowledge of an experienced and thoughtful physician.

Asked if a philosopher can follow a prophetically revealed religion, al-Razi frankly replies:

How can anyone think philosophically while listening to old wives' tales founded on contradictions, which obdurate ignorance, and dogmatism?

Gentility of character, friendliness and purity of mind, are found in those who are capable of thinking profoundly on abstruse matters and scientific minutiae.

Man should hasten to protect himself from love before succumbing to it and cleanse his soul from it when he falls.

The self-admirer, generally, should not glorify himself nor be so conceited that he elevates himself above his counterparts. Neither should he belittle himself to such an extent that he becomes inferior to his own peers or to those who are inferior both to him and to his fellowmen in the eyes of others. If he follows this advice, he will be freed from self-admiration and feelings of inferiority, and people will call him one who truly knows himself.

When questioned on the subject of 'envy', Razi answers:

It results from an accumulation of stinginess and avarice in the soul, being one of the diseases that cause serious harm to the soul.

Quotes on Rhazes

"Rhazes was the greatest physician of Islam and the Medieval Ages." – George Sarton

"Rhazes remained up to the 17th century the indisputable authority of medicine." – The Islamic Encyclopaedia

"His writings on smallpox and measles show originality and accuracy, and his essay on infectious diseases was the first scientific treatise on the subject." – The Bulletin of the World Health Organization (May 1970)

"In today's world we tend to see scientific advance as the product of great movements, massive grant-funded projects, and larger-than-life socio-economic forces. It is easy to forget, therefore, that many contributions stemmed from the individual efforts of scholars like Rhazes. Indeed, pharmacy can trace much of its historical foundations to the singular achievements of this ninth-century Persian scholar." — Michael E. Flannery

Notes

References and further reading

  • M. M. Sharif, A History of Muslim Philosophy
  • Paul Kraus, Opera Philosophica: this is the only edition of Razi's philosophical books and fragments still extant. Abi Bakr Mohammadi Filii Zachariae Raghensis or Opera Philosophica, fragmentaque quae superssunt. Collegit et edidit Paulus Kraus. Pars Prior. Cahirae MCMXXXIX. Only the first volume was published since Kraus's suicide prevented the publication of the second volume for which he already had gathered a great amount of material. This material was transferred, after his death, to the Institut Francais d'Archeologie Orientale, in Cairo; it still remains to be published.
  • Walker, P. "The Political Implications of al-Razi's Philosophy", in C. Butterworth (ed.) The Political Aspects of Islamic Philosophy, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 61-94.(1992)
  • Motazed, K. Mohammad Zakaria Razi
  • Stolyarov II, H. "Rhazes: The Thinking Western Physician", in: The Rational Argumentator, Issue VI.(2002)

Bibliography

Ancient sources

  • Ibn al-Nadim, Fihrist, (ed. Flugel), pp. 299 et sqq.
  • Sa'id al-Andalusi, Tabaqat al-Umam, p. 33
  • ibn Juljul, Tabaqat al-Atibba w-al-Hukama, (ed. Fu'ad Sayyid), Cairo, 1355/1936, pp. 77-78
  • al-Biruni, Epitre de Beruni, contenant le repertoire des ouvres de Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar-Razi, publiee par P. Kraus, Paris, 1936
  • al-Baihaqi, Tatimmah Siwan al-Hikma, (ed. M. Ghafi), Lahore, 1351/1932
  • al-Qifti,Tarikh al-Hukama, (ed. Lippert), pp. 27-177
  • ibn abi Usaibi'ah,Uyun al-Anba fi Tabaqat al-Atibba, Vol. I, pp. 309-21
  • abu al-Faraj ibn al-'Ibri (Bar-Hebraeus),Mukhtasar Tarikh al-Duwal, (ed. A. Salhani), p. 291
  • Ibn Khallikan, Wafayat al-A'yan, (ed. Muhyi al-Din 'Abd al-Hamid), Cairo, 1948, No. 678, pp. 244-47
  • al-Safadi, Nakt al-Himyan, pp. 249-50
  • Ibn al-'Imad, Shadharat al-Dhahab, Vol. II, p. 263
  • al-'Umari, Masalik al-Absar, Vol. V, Part 2, ff. 301-03 (photostat copy in Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyyah).

Modern studies

  • G. S. A. Ranking, The Life and Works of Rhazes, in Proceedings of the Seventeenth International Congress of Medicine, London, 1913, pp. 237-68.
  • J. Ruska, Al-Biruni als Quelle fur das Leben und die Schriften al-Razi's, Isis, Vol. V, 1924, pp. 26-50.
  • Al-Razi als Bahnbrecher einer neuer Chemie, Deutsche Literaturzeitung, 1923, pp. 118-24.
  • Die Alchemie al-Razi's der Islam, Vol. XXII,pp. 283-319.
  • Uber den gegenwartigen Stand der Razi-Forschung, Archivio di stori della scienza, 1924, Vol. V, pp. 335-47
  • H. H. Shader, ZDMG, 79, pp. 228-35 (see translation into Arabic by Abdurrahman Badawi in al-Insan al-Kamil,Islamica, Vol. XI, Cairo, 1950, pp. 37-44).
  • E. O. von Lippmann, Entstehung und Ausbreitung der Alchemie, Vol. II, p. 181.
  • S. Pines, Die Atomenlehre ar-Razi's in Beitrage zur islamischen Atomenlehre, Berlin, 1936, pp. 34-93.
  • Dr. Mahmud al-Najmabadi, Shah Hal Muhammad ibn Zakariya, (1318/1900) *Encyclopaedie des Islams, s. v. (by Ruska).
  • Gamil Bek, Uqud al-Jauliar, Vol. I, pp. 118-27.
  • Izmirli Haqqi, Ilahiyat, Fak. Macm., Vol. I, p. 151; Vol. II, p. 36, Vol. III, pp. 177 et seq.
  • Abdurrahman Badawi, Min Tarlkh al-Ilhad fi al-Islam Islamica, Vol. II, Cairo, 1945, pp. 198-228.
  • Hirschberg,Geschichte der Augenheilkunde, p. 101.
  • E. G.Browne, Arabian Medicine, Cambridge, 1921, pp. 44-53.
  • M. Meyerhof, Legacy of Islam, pp. 323 et seq.
  • F. Wüstenfeld, Geschichte der Arabischen Arzte und Naturforscher, ftn. 98.
  • L. Leelerc, Histoire de la medicine arabe, Paris, 1876, Vol. I, pp. 337-54.
  • H. P. J. Renaud, A propos du millenaire de Razes, in bulletin de la Societe Irancaise d'Histoire de la medicine, Mars-avril, 1931, pp. 203 et seq.
  • A. Eisen, Kimiya al-Razi, RAAD, DIB, 62/4.
  • Aldo Mieli, La science arabe, Leiden, 1938, pp. 8, 16.

Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam, see. Razes: The Secret of Secrets, p.273, also pp.197-200, and Anawati: L'Alchemie arabe in Rased.

  • A.J. Arberry (transl.), The spiritual Physik of Rhazes (London, John Murray 1950).

Editions of philosophical works

See C. Brockelmann for the manuscript of Razi's extant books in general, see Brockelmann, GAL, I, pp. 268-71 (second edition), Suppl., Vol. I, pp. 418-21. Cf. Paul Kraus: Abi Bakr Mohammadi Filii Zachariae Raghensis, Opera Philosophica, fragmentaque quae superssunt. Collegit et edidit Paulus Kraus. Pars Prior. Cahirae MCMXXXIX.

See also

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