Arab Psychiatry in Medieval Times and Its Impact on Humanity

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Psychological disorders are as old as Man himself. In Ancient Times, it was believed they happened due to supernatural powers, evil spirits, and black magic. Consequently, they were treated by charms, amulets, and spells, according to the spiritual and social beliefs.

In the Ancient Greek civilization, it was believed that people suffering psychological disorders should sleep in a special shrine, where they would be cured by a miracle during the night. Afterwards, Hippocrates and Galen started to study those disorders depending on clinical skill and experimental experience; both of them believed psychological disorders were not caused by evil spirits, unlike what was commonly believed at the time

Arab Psychiatrists Contribution to the Treatment of Psychological and Mental Illnesses

Psychiatry is one of the fields that were improved and developed by Arabs during Medieval Times (7th to 16th century CE). Medieval Arab physicians realized the importance and effect of the psychological status on the functions of the body’s organs; melancholy, cheerfulness, sadness, grief, and shyness directly affect the human behavior and the bodily functions, and might lead to insanity.

Many physicians dedicated themselves to treat those illnesses; hundreds of books that included their theories and ideas were written, but unfortunately only few have survived. Moreover, there are many historical evidences that the Arabs pioneered in this field of medicine.

As a matter of fact, Arabs dedicated a special section for psychological disorder patients in each Bimaristan—a Persian word, meaning Hospital—in Baghdad, Cairo, Cordoba, and Damascus, where patients were treated in a decent and proper manner, receiving special medical care by the best and the most talented psychiatrists. Abu Bakr al-Razi succeeded in curing some illnesses that were believed by his predecessors to be incurable, such as melancholia and epilepsy. He dedicated his book Spiritual Medicine to reform the soul through ethics and morals.

One of the most important psychiatrists who contributed to this field, Jibril ibn Bakhtishu managed to treat a girl who suffered from a special type of schizophrenia “Catatonia”, using what is currently known as “Behavior Therapy” that is concerned mainly with the apparent symptoms.

Ibn Sina (Avicenna), on the other hand, succeeded in recognizing “Function Illnesses” caused by psychogenesis, such as depression, insomnia, schizophrenia, mania, obsession, megalomania, oppression, paralysis, and brain stroke. Moreover, three chapters of Ibn Sina’s book The Canon of Medicine were dedicated to psychiatry and neurology, with a detailed description of schizophrenia.

As for Awhad al-Zaman al-Baladi, he used “psychological persuasion” to treat hallucination; a method used to help the patient get rid of his bad belief. We can certainly say that Arab scientists were pioneers in psychiatry in Medieval Ages, while Europeans still believed mental and psychological disorders to be caused by God to punish sinners, or caused by a demon living in the person’s body.


References


1. خالد أحمد حربي، إبداع الطب النفسي العربي الإسلامي، دراسة تأصيلية مقارنة بالطب الحديث، الكويت، ط 1، 2007.
2. طارق بن علي الحبيب، لمحة موجزة عن تاريخ الطب النفسي في بلاد المسلمين، الرياض، 1999.
3. عبد العزيز يوسف الأحمد، موسوعة علوم وعلماء العرب والمسلمين، ط1، الكويت، 2006.
4. عبد السلام السيد، موسوعة علماء العرب، ط2، الأردن، 2007.
 

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