McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster physician asks: Has the world forgotten Islam's contribution to medicine?

Published: May 10, 2007
Dr. Aliya Khan
Dr. Aliya Khan, an osteoporosis specialist and professor of clinical medicine at McMaster University.

A McMaster University researcher says the world has forgotten many of the major contributions that Muslim physicians have made to medical science.

Dr. Aliya Khan highlights these important medical advances in a paper published today (Tuesday, May 8) in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

"A particularly fruitful period for advancement in medical science emerged with the rise of Islam," said Dr. Khan, an osteoporosis specialist and professor of clinical medicine at McMaster University.

"For the most part," Western scholarship belittles the contribution of the physicians of the Islamic world.  They are usually perceived as simple purveyors of Greek science to the scholars of the Renaissance.  However, the facts show otherwise," she writes.

For example:

  • A radically new concept of human vision was developed by the 11th-century Iraqi scientist Ibn al-Haytham.
  • The description of pulmonary circulation by 13th-century Syrian physician Ibn al-Nafis was a breakthrough in the understanding of human anatomy and physiology.
  • The fact that surgery became integrated into scientific medicine, instead of being a practice left to cuppers and barbers is due to the work of 10th-century physician Abu 'l-Qasim al-Zahrawi from Muslim Spain who was frustrated by the state of surgery during his time.

Dr. Khan is a Canadian Muslim who grew up in Ottawa and attended medical school there. She co-authored the CMAJ paper with Ingrid Hehmeyer, a professor of history at Ryerson University, who brought a wealth of information and knowledge to their paper on Islam’s major, but forgotten, contributions to medicine and science.

Both believe their paper in the CMAJ might become an important avenue for increasing Canadians’ awareness.

"This was all done," Dr. Khan said, "under the Islamic rule where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in an environment of collaboration, open dialogues, discussion and brotherly love.

"We thought this is something the world needs today because we live in times of animosity, stereotyping and hate mongering (and) this would be a thought-provoking discussion on the major contributions of Muslim physicians to bring to Canadian readers," she said.

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