THE SURVIVAL OF GRECO-ISLAMIC MEDICINE

12 May

Islamic medicine (also known as yunani medicine) did not disappear  at the  end  of the  Middle  Ages but  continued  to  develop  and  spread  to other areas. During the nineteenth century, traditional practitioners came under  increasing  pressure  from  competing  Western-style  doctors  and

government officials. In 1838, the Ottoman Sultan, Muhammad II, estab- lished the first Western-style medical school and hospital in Istanbul  and staffed  it  with  French  doctors.   The  Sultan  asserted  that  traditional Islamic medicine had become stagnant  and sterile. Many other Muslim countries eventually followed this example and tried to ban the practice of traditional medicine.

Even  where  twentieth   century  laws  regulating   medical  practice drove  traditional  practitioners  underground,  diligent  explorers  could still find them. For example, in French-ruled Algeria, traditional healers and  their  patients  were reluctant   to  talk  to  outsiders  because  it  was illegal for people  without  the proper  French  qualifications to perform surgery. Nevertheless, yunani doctors  performed  eye surgery, tooth extractions,   cupping,   cautery,   bloodletting,  and   assisted  in  difficult births. Although  anesthetic drugs were available, most traditional practitioners did  not  use  them  before  surgery.  Some  healers  claimed that  their  methods  were so gentle that  the  patient  did  not  suffer,  but strong  assistants  were invariably  needed  to restrain  the patient.  Many people treated  themselves with yunani  drugs and cauterization in order to avoid the costs of seeing a doctor  and because of their faith in such remedies.

Under  British rule of the Indian  subcontinent, both  Muslim  and Hindu  traditional systems survived. In the 1960s, the Pakistani  govern- ment ordered the registration, licensing, and utilization  of hakims (traditional  scholar-physicians), because  Western   medicine  was  too expensive and  rarely  available  to  the  rural  population.  Western-style doctors  strenuously  objected  to this official recognition  of their rivals. With  official  recognition  by  the  governments  of  Pakistan   and  India and  regulations  administered through  the  Ministries  of Health,  male and  female yunani  practitioners, known  as tabibs and  tabibas,  respec- tively, flourished in urban and rural settings. Many practitioners learned the art  as apprentices,  but  others  enrolled  in yunani  medical  colleges where the curriculum  includes the Canon of Avicenna and the standard components  of modern  medicine. Yunani  doctors  still diagnose  illness by  inspecting   the   pulse,   urine,   stools,   and   tongue   and   prescribe traditional drugs and diets. Scientific analyses of yunani  remedies have confirmed  the  value  of  many  medicinal  plants,  but  hundreds  of  tra- ditional  drugs have not been investigated.  In general, however, modern Muslim societies have not succeeded in establishing the complete accul- turation of modern  medicine into Islam, despite the fact that  medieval Islam  successfully assimilated  Greek,  Persian,  and  Indian  medical tra- ditions.  Despite the explosive revival of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1980s, India and Pakistan  appear  to be the only nations where a serious effort  is being  made  to  incorporate Greco-Islamic  medical  traditions into modern  health care planning.

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