ABU MARWAN ABD AL-MALIK IBN ZUHR (Avenzoar)
(1091 - 1161 C.E.)

by
Dr. A. Zahoor

Ibn Zuhr, known in the West as Avenzoar, was one of the greatest physicians, clinicians and parasitologist of the Middle Ages. Some historians of science have declared him as the greatest among the Muslim physicians since Al-Razi (Rhazes) of Baghdad. Some of his contemporaries called him as the greatest physician since Galen.

Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik Ibn Zuhr was born at Seville, Spain in 1091 C.E. He graduated from Cordova (Arabic Qurtuba) Medical University. After a brief stay in Baghdad and Cairo, he 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 in Seville and died in 1161 C.E.

Ibn Zuhr confined his work only in Medicine, contrary to the prevailing practice of Muslim scientists typically working in several fields. However, by focusing in one field he made many original and long-lasting contributions. He emphasized observation and experiment in his work. Dr. Neuberger in History of Medicine writes that "Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) was proficient in the art of dissecting dead human bodies and knew anatomy in detail. His operative technique was superb."

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 in detail scabies, the itch mite, and is thus regarded as the first parasitologist. He was also the first to give a full description of the operation of tracheotomy and practiced direct feeding through the gullet in those cases where normal feeding was not possible. As a clinician, he provided clinical descriptions of intestinal phthisis, inflammation of the middle ear, peri carditis, and mediastinal tumors among others.

Ibn Zuhr wrote many monumental books for the medical specialist and for the common people. Several of his books were translated into Latin and Hebrew and were in great demand in Europe until the late Eighteenth century. Only three of his great books have survived. Ibn Zuhr wrote Kitab al-Taisir fi al-Mudawat wa al-Tadbir at the request of Ibn Rushd (Averroes). In English, it is entitled 'The Book of Simplification concerning Therapeutics and Diet. It contains many of his original contributions. This book discusses pathological conditions and therapy in detail. 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 the 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.

Ibn Zuhr's influence on the development of medical science was felt for several centuries throughout the world.

A Short List of References

Copyright © 1992, 1997 Dr. A. Zahoor
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