Abu Al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi belongs to the golden generation of Muslim scientists who made extensive forays into the world of science and made discoveries and inventions which are admired to this day. Known as The Father of Modern Surgery, Al-Zahrawi was a physician and arguably the most accomplished surgeon of medieval times.
Al-Zahrawi’s greatest work was his book about medical practices titled Al-Tasrif. Al-Tasrif consisted of 30 volumes. The 30th volume which was about surgery was perhaps the most influential of all. It was used as the standard book of surgery and taught in European universities and referred to by authors for more than 500 years. Many of the practices explained in the book remain useful even today.
Al-Zahrawi’s surgery techniques, as recorded in Al-Tasrif, were revolutionary. He discovered the use of catgut, a material obtained from intestines of animals, in internal stitching. It is the only known material which is absorbed by the body after stitching. This removes the need for a second surgery to remove the stitches. He described the ligaturing of blood vessels for the first time. So great were his discoveries that many are still in use in operation theaters, a thousand years after him. To describe all of his “firsts” would require a book of its own.
As a dentist, he developed techniques to treat deformed or non-aligned teeth and to replace defected teeth by artificial ones.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Al-Zahrawi was an inventor of medical equipment as well. He invented tools such as a tongue depressor and a tooth extractor. His use of forceps in childbirth significantly brought down the mortality rate. He drew pictures of more than 200 of these instruments in Al-Tasrif and explained their uses.
In Al-Tasrif, he also explains a disease which is transmitted from normal mothers to male children. Today, we call this disease Hemophilia. He discovered various techniques to set dislocated shoulders and amputate limbs. He even carried out mastectomies to women with breast cancer, a practice carried out today as well.
Al-Zahrawi devoted his whole life to the study of medicine in general and surgery in particular. By the time he wrote Al-Tasrif, he was a veteran surgeon with vast experience. He did not just describe surgical practices; he described them in vivid detail with illustrations and also commented on the skill level required for the surgery. He frequently instructed the reader to not carry out a surgery unless he has appropriate expertise.
As a person, Al-Zahrawi was someone who cared about his patients. He referred to them as “my children”. He tended to sick people regardless of their financial status. He cared about life and about trying to preserve it. He never carried out surgeries which he thought would be too painful for his patients.
Al-Zahrwai’s accomplishments are recognized by all who know about him. A genius of a man, few people have ever influenced medicine as much as him. His book Al-Tasrif is a testament to his legacy and he is going to be remembered through this great work for many centuries to come.