Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakaria al-Razi



Physician, philosopher, alchemist, musician and mathematician, born in Rayy, Persia. He was Islam's greatest physician and is considered the father of Arab medicine. He made significant contributions to philosophy, music, physics, mathematics, zoology, botany, and chemistry, was the author of more than 200 books including the first pediatric work, the first treatise on measles and smallpox, and a 25-volume medical survey.


He began his career as a musician playing the oud before studying medicine in his 30s or 40s.


He was a student of  al-Tabari.

He was appointed by the caliph head of the main hospital in Baghdad and court physician. When consulted to choose a site in Baghdad for a hospital, he hung pieces of meat in different locations of the city. He picked the location in which the meat was least disintegrated.

He wrote a total of 200 books, about 100 are on medicine. One was the first manuscript on pediatrics, ”Diseases in Children”.

Best known of his books is al-Hawi fil Tibb (Liber Continens), a 25 volume medical encyclopedia. In Volume 1 he deals with brain disorders and he described 7 cranial and 31 spinal nerves, and assigned them the order of Galen and made the following observations:


*Nerves have motor and sensory functions.


*Nerves originate in pairs from the brain or spinal cord.


*Nerves are covered by two membranes


*Importance of anatomic dissection to understand function.


*Recording of patient’s history as related by the patient.


*Importance of doctor-patient relationship.


*Importance of communication between physicians.

Al-hawi fil Tibb contains translation of some works of Greek and Indian physicians, as well as Arab authors interspersed with his own experience. The book was published (after Razi’s death) by a friend of his (Ibn al-Amid) who obtained chapter drafts from al -Razi’s sister for a price, paid medical students to edit and organize the chapters and got it published.

Some of his other known books: Al-Jami’ (The Compendium), Al-Madkhal (The Introduction), Al-Kafi (The Sufficient), Al-Muluki (The Royal), Al-Fakhir (The Splendid), Al-Mansouri (Liber Al Mansouri),after Amir Al Mansour Governor of Khorasan.

Famous Sayings of al-Razi:

*When possible treat with nutrition not drugs.


*Stick with monotherapy when you have to use drugs.


*Illness lasts least when the physician is learned and the patient compliant.


*Surgery is a handcraft unworthy of medical honor.


*Some diseases form in days and are cured in an hour.  


He was an innovator in medical education. Patients with mild disease were seen first by a circle of junior medical students. They were then managed by an inner circle of more experienced students if their condition was found to be complicated. The most challenging cases were left to al-Razi himself.

Al-Razi considered good knowledge of anatomy a pre-requisite to practice good medicine. He refused to allow cataract surgery to be performed on him when he found that the doctor had not mastered eye anatomy, and he remained blind from cataract until his death at the age of 84.

Reference: Al-Mahi,T. History of Arab Medicine,1959; Souayah, N. et al. Neurology 65:125, 2005.