Abu al- Qassem Khalaf ibn Abbas al- Zahrawi
Abu al- Qassem Khalaf ibn Abbas al- Zahrawi, known as Albucasis, was the greatest surgeon of the
Islamic period and the Middle Ages (476-1500). Although he is an ever-glittering star of the world of
medicine, little information is available on his life. He was born in the 10th century A.D. in Al- Zahra, a
place neighboring Cordova in southern Spain. He practiced medicine during the reign of Abd al- Rahman
III, the Omavid caliph of Spain (reigned 928-961) and years after him in Cordova. He was the special
physician of Mansur the Omavid Army' great commander. He lived a long life and according to Leon's
African, he was killed in the Cordova war. Albucasis wrote the voluminous book of Al- Tasrif leman
Adjaza an al- Ta'leef (A Practical Guide for Those Who Are Unable to Use a Complete Medical
Collection) in 30 volumes, which is another medical encyclopedia. The chapter on surgery in Al- Tasrif
was translated into Latin in the 12th century by the Italian Gérard de Crémone. Later on, all the 30
volumes were translated and published several times under the title of "Alsahravius". The Arabic version
and the Latin translation of the 30th volume, which is on surgery, were published in Oxford in 1878.
A major part of the Al- Tasrif deals with the compound drugs. The first part of the book contains
theoretical discussions or the general medicine with views of the predecessors such as Rhazes. The
second (the practical) part of the book discusses man's diseases from head to toe and concludes by
discussions on child nutrition, the nutrition of the elderly, gout, abscesses, pains, and fevers. The 30th
Volume on surgery should be considered the masterpiece of Albucasis. Albucasis mostly relies on his
own experiences and findings. The real science of surgery was introduced to Europe after the translation
of Al- Tasrif and saved millions of lives during centuries. The history of French literature indicates that
due to revolts and conflicts in Italy in 13th century, a number of scientists from that country migrated to
France and introduced Albucasis's way of surgery. Lanfranc who visited France in 1290, said: "The
French surgeons are almost all fools who hardly understand their own language. All of them are deceitful
laymen. In the schools of France, instructors used to put Albucasis in the same level as Hippocrates and
The world of Islam did not use the surgical knowledge of Albucasis and Rhazes. Due to side effects of
the surgery, they neglected this branch of medicine. Europe, however, paid more attention to surgery and
used works of Rhazes and Albucasis.
Views of the Grand Surgeons
Rhazes considered special significance to surgical operations. He wrote a book on the way of using
metal instruments in surgery and orthopedics. He has explained various surgeries such as rooting out
trichiasis (additional hair in the eye); laryngotomy and prevention of suffocation. He has mentioned
lithotomy and calicectomy, and has suggested catheter for urodynia. Calicectomy was performed by some
other surgeons in the past but Avicenna opposes the idea and instead he suggests catheter: "Some
physicians cut the dorsal part or flank of the patient on the occasion of calix of kidney, which is very
dangerous and a wise man never does this. In case of bladderstone cathaterization is recommended."
Some Wonders of Surgery in Iran
Iranian surgeons were called Ostad (master) in the past and sometimes they performed astonishing
surgical operations. We gave a few examples before. Mahmoud Vasifi (d. 1552) the author of Badaye al-
Vaqaya (Interesting Events) says Master Sheikh Hassan the surgeon, sewed the bowls of one of the
commanders severely injured by a dagger by jaws of ants and cured him. This should be taken as the first
type of the absorbale surgical sutures. This book also writes about Master Zeyn al- Abedin the orthopedist
that cured dislocated illium of women without touching her. The story was this that he kept a cow thirsty
for three days feeding it with dried straw. Then he put the women on the cow and fastened her feet hard
below the abdomen of the animal. Then he gave buckets of water to the animal. The cow's abdomen
swelled as it drank water and pressed the illium of women and located it on the place.
Applying Surgery in Iranian Veterinary Medicine
Unlike physicians, Iranian veterinary surgeons were interested in carrying out minor and major
surgeries and had no fear of the probable complications. Some of them were skilled in their job. In the
following lines we will refer to some of the surgical treatments.
Treating Lameness and Hoof Tenderness: They treated lameness by massage, revulsive poultices, dry
cupping, and operative surgery in some cases. They treated hoof’s lesions by rubbering out and scraping
damaged zone and application of caustic materials such as lime, then applying softening ointments such
as sheep fat, sugar, etc., and in some cases by cauterization.
Osteopathia: Osteoma, osteoblastoma, osteoclasis and abnormal vertebra were treated by surgical
operations such as ostectomy, vertebrectomy, application of slat, haemostasis and roller bandage.
Hydrarthrosis used to be treated by applying cold bathing, prescribing corrosive poultice, dry-cupping and
deviation of blood flow from an area to another. They considered the incision of the lesion a dangerous
practice and preferred cauterization.
Colitis: In cases of severe colic, suppositories and enemas containing onion juice, garlic or soap were
employed. A piece of band was placed around the body at the neck and back, and pulled tight to evacuate
intestinal gases, or a reed-pipe was placed in the rectum to allow a continuous flow of gases. When the
urethra was obstructed and the bladder was full, this was massaged through the vagina or rectum until
empty. Various hernia such as abdominal hernia and inguinal hernia were important in surgery. In the
case of bovine abdominal hernia if the intestine was perforated the sick animal was incurable but if it was
not injured, they washed the intestine and returned it to abdomen and sutured the area.