The Survival Of Grecoislamic Medicine

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, established 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 government 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, respectively, 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 traditional drugs have not been investigated. In general, however, modern Muslim societies have not succeeded in establishing the complete acculturation of modern medicine into Islam, despite the fact that medieval Islam successfully assimilated Greek, Persian, and Indian medical traditions. 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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