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Medical Sects in Islam


            by  Dr. Mahdi Muhaqqiq  

The author is a well-known Iranian scholar who has edited, either alone or jointly with other scholars, numerous classics of Islamic philosophy, mysticism, jurisprudence, etc. Among these are: Sabzawari's Sharh Ghurar al-fara'id (1348 H.Sh)(which he, together with T. Izutsu has also translated into English), Nasir Khusro's Diwan (1357 H.Sh), `Abd al-Razzaq Lahiji's Shawariq al-‘ilham fi sharh Tajrid al-kalam, Shaykh Hasan ibn Zayn al-Din's Ma`alim al-din wa maladh al-mujtahidin (Ma`alim al-usul), Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr Tabrizi's Sharh-e bist-o panj muqaddameh-ye Ibn Maymun. 

The Empiricists - Ashab al‑Tajarib


The empiricists say that medicine is derived from experience, experience being the knowledge which is obtained through the senses. They also say that the principles and rules of medicine result from four things: incident (ittifaq),intention (iradah), comparison (tashbih), and the use of something in one case that was used in another similar case (naql min shay' iki shabihihi).


`Incident' is in turn divided into two parts: natural incident, such as a nosebleed, a sweat, vomiting, or something similar which occurs naturally and which brings either benefit or harm; and `accidental' incident, which occurs in a human being neither naturally nor through his intention, and which similarly results in either some benefit or some harm. An example of an accidental incident is when a sick person falls and blood flows out of him.


`Intention' means when something is experienced by choice; the motive for such an `experience' may be something seen in a dream or other similar thins.


`Comparison' is when the physician employs one of the three instances mentioned above (that is intention, natural incident, or accidental incident) when a new case presents itself. For example, when he sees that his patient, who has a bloody fever, obtains relief through a flow of blood from his nose, whether that occurs naturally, acciden tally, or through his personal will, then he will try drawing blood in similar illnesses.


Finally, naql is the method employed when the physician en counters an illness which he has not seen before, or which he has seen but for which there is no proven treatment. In this case he will resort to naql, that is he will use a medicine which has been proven in the case of one illness in a similar illness, or will use a medicine proven in the case of one organ of the body for another similar organ; or if he does not have access to the proper medicine, he will use a similar one

The Dogmatists - Ashab al‑Qiyas

 The dogmatists hold that there is no doubt that sense and experi ence are the root and principle of all sciences and arts, but these must be subject to the instruments of thought. They say that the rules of medicine and of other arts must be derived through thought and analogy; that is, the determination of unknown things through things which are known. It is through the use of thought and analogy that the various natures and constitutions may be known, and through which the faculties which are the cause of changes in the body may also be known.

Causes of changes in the body are of two types. One is that which necessarily results in alteration: such as climate, movement and rest, food and drink, sleep and wakefulness, and constipation and looseness, as well as mental occurrences such as sorrow or happiness, anger or joy. The second type of .cause is that which results in a change in the body without that change being necessary: such as the change which appears as the result of the blow of a sword, the attack of a wild animal, or burns inflicted on the body.

It is also necessary to know the type of illness which the physician intends to treat, for if it is not known it will not be possible to take it away from the body. Finally, one must know the extent of the illness in order that the type of treatment be determined. The extent will vary in accordance with the following factors: the bodily strength of the patient, age, temperament, the season in which the illness appears, the weather on the day it appears, the type of city the patient lives in, and his habits and profession.

The difference between these two sects is that when a patient comes to an empiricist he refers to his previous experience of persons who have had the same type of illness to the same degree, and who are of similar age and temperament. Then he prescribes the same medicine which proved effective in the past. The analogist will, however, on the basis of the same evidence ‑ that is age, temperament, habits, and residence ‑ envisage a general rule with regard to each type of sickness, and when he is presented with a new case will refer to that rule.

 The methodists - Ashab al‑Hiyal


As for the methodists, they examine neither the causes of illnesses, nor the habits and age of the patient, nor the times of the year, tempe rament and residence, bodily strength or the members of the body. They do not pay attention to each separate and particular case in itself, and they say that such cases are unlimited. Their attention is directed instead to a knowledge of the most general aspects which consist, according to them, either of `constipation' and `looseness', or a combi nation of the two. By `constipation' they mean the trapping of waste which should normally be eliminated from the body, such as the retention of urine and other such things. By `looseness' they mean an excess in the elimination of these same wastes, such as constant urination and the like. By a combination of the two, finally, they mean a sickness which combines both the conditions, such as an eye which is swollen but which is at the same time constantly tearing.

The methodists state that the treatment of these three general illnesses is accomplished either through the management of food and drink, through rest and movement, or through sleep and wakefulness.

Ibn Hindu finally declares that the dogmatists are correct, and goes on to demonstrate the invalidity of both the empiricist and methodist schools. He concludes that it is the dogmatists who hold out the possibility of progress in methods of diagnosis and treatment. The empiricists, because they do not believe in analogy, are extremely limited in this area As for the methodists, who do not deal at all with particularities but pay attention only to certain general aspects, are subject to many errors.

In this paper an attempt was made to show that the arguments of the three Greek medical schools were continued among the physicians of the Islamic world. In spite of the fact that among the Greeks atten tion was paid to experience and analogy together, it appears that Islamic physicians were more in favour of analogy. It can be suggested that this is due to the influence of logic in the centres of scholarship. The influ ence of logic is evident not only in medicine but also in Arabic grammar and Islamic jurisprudence. It is hoped that more research would be carried out on this point




1. Edited by Muhammad Salim Salim (Cairo 1978).


2. Edited by Richard Walzer (Oxford 1944 ).


3. Introduction of MS of Galen's "On Medical Sects," p.4.


4. Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Risalah ila `Ali ibn Yahya, fi dhikr ma turjima min kutub Jalinus, edited by Bergstrasser (Liepzig 1925) p. 4.


5. Ibn Jumay', Treatise to Salah ad Din on the Reviual of the Art of Medicine, edited and translated by H. Fahndrich (Wiesbaden 1983) p. 19.


6. Galen, "On Medical Experience," p.85.


7. Ibid., p.87.


8. Al Mas`udi, Muruj al‑dhahab, edited by Charles Pellat (Beirut 1973) vol.4, p.373.


9. Ishiq ibn Hunayn's Tariq al‑'atibba' by Franz Rosenthal, Oriens, No 7 (1954), pp. 75 and 77.


10. Ibid., p.77.


11. Ibid., p.78.


12. Ibn Abi ' Usaybi'ah, 'Uyun al‑'anba' fi tabaqat al‑ atibba; edited by Nidar Rich (Beirut 1963‑65) p.461.


13. Hippocrates, "Aphorisms", in The Genuine Works of Hippocrates,trans lated by Francis Adams (Baltimore 1936) p.292 and The MedicalWorks of Hippo crates, translated by John Chadwick (Illinois 1950) p.148.


14. Buqrat, Kitab al‑fusul (MS No. 5205, Astan‑e Quds Library, Mashhad, Iran).


15. Sharh Kitab al‑fusul, MS Osler Library, Montreal, No. 7785/66, p.3.


16. Edited by M. Mohaghegh and M. T. Danishpajuh (McGill Institute of Islamic Studies, Tehran Branch 1989).


17. M. Mohaghegh, Miftah al‑tibb wa minhaj al‑tullab(A summary translation) Medical Journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran, vol. 2, No. 1. (Tehran 1408/1988) pp. 61‑63.

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