Here at Ummahsonic Towers, we’re delving into the past to pick out forgotten Muslim pioneers from a bygone era who achieved incredible things to form the future that we’re living in right now.
So welcome to Part One of our Muslim Pioneers season. This time: Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi.
Never heard of him? Well, neither had we. But he’s often referred to as ‘the father of surgery’. A man who, way back in the mid-to-late 900s, was performing surgical procedures that had never been even imagined before.
It’s perhaps strange to think about a world without surgery. A place where if you had something wrong inside your body it would have been unimaginable to cut you open and fix it.
Al-Zahrawi lived in what is now Cordoba in Spain. At the time, Spain was an Islamic country ruled by many Muslim leaders. Al-Zahrawi’s medical genius did not go unnoticed by these ‘kings’ and rulers, who recognised his revolutionary ideas and procedures and asked him to be, in effect, their personal doctor.
He pioneered many surgical procedures that are still performed today. He was the first person to use forceps in childbirth (a tool to help guide a baby out of the birth canal) – this helped countless babies to be born safely and reduced the death rate of mothers and babies. He performed mastectomies – the procedure of removing a woman’s breast if she had cancer – for the first time. He developed the use of anaesthetics, so patients didn’t feel pain when being operated on. He also detailed how to set bone fractures, amputate limbs, and even how to crush bladder stones.
He is now regarded as Islam’s greatest medieval surgeon.
It’s said that to describe all his ‘firsts’ in medicine would take a book of its own. In fact, Al-Zahrawi did write a guide to his medical breakthroughs.
The resulting encyclopaedia of medicine is divided into 30 volumes – with the most influential volume dedicated to surgery.
But despite his huge contributions to the field of surgery, his work did not spread out as fast as you might imagine. In fact, it wasn’t until the 19th century (around 900 years after his death) that surgery as a distinct medical discipline emerged in Europe and the Western world.
Al-Zahrawi’s legacy benefits us all. We all know someone who’s had surgery. Maybe we have ourselves. Often, it has saved the lives of people we love. The fact that he was pioneering these procedures 1,000 years ago is, frankly, pretty amazing.
He truly is ‘the father of surgery’ and someone we should all know of and be thankful to.