A Surgeon for All Times: Abu al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi


The pioneer of modern surgery, known in the West as “Abulcasis”, Abu al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi was not just a pioneer in surgical innovation; he was also a great teacher whose medical texts had shaped the European surgical procedures up until the Renaissance and later.

His most famous piece of work was the encyclopedia of medicine Al-Tasrif, which was divided into 30 volumes, each dealing with a different aspect of medicine, such as ophthalmology, pharmacology, nutrition, and more. In the field of pharmacology, he discussed the preparation of various medicines; he described the application of such techniques as sublimation and decantation. Al-Zahrawi discussed many diseases, their causes, and how to prevent them. He was the first to describe, in detai,l the haemophelia disease, explaining the hereditary factors accompanying it.

The most influential volume in this Encyclopedia is the 30th volume; the one dedicated to surgery, in which he explained in detail how to perform certain surgeries to cure certain ailments, and described all branches of surgery. Al-Zahrawi stressed on the importance of the study of Anatomy as a fundamental prerequisite to surgery. The book introduced more than 200 surgical instruments mostly invented by Al-Zahrawi himself, in addition to describing the use of these instruments. He devised an instrument for internal examination of the ear, and an instrument for internal inspection of the urethra, in addition to an instrument for adding or removing foreign bodies from the throat.

Al-Zahrawi pioneered many of the procedures and materials still used in operating rooms nowadays. He was the first to use catgut, which is a cord made from intestines of sheep and goat, as the thread for internal stitches. Cauterization was utilized by Al-Zahrawi, usually to treat skin tumors or open abscesses; he applied cauterization procedure to around 50 different operations.

Al-Zahrawi remarkably improved the techniques used in the extraction of bladder stones; he used a metallic bladder syringe and speculum instead of an instrument similar to a small spoon that goes around the stone and scoops it out. He was also the first to use forceps in childbirth, which greatly decreased the mortality rate of newborns and mothers at that time. He performed tonsillectomies with the same tongue depressors, hooks, and scissors used today.

One of the early leading plastic surgeries was performed by Al-Zahrawi. Moreover, in the field of dentistry, Al-Zahrawi sketched various instruments used in addition to describing many important dental operations. He also developed the technique of replacing defective teeth by artificial ones.

There is no doubt that Al-Zahrawi influenced the field of medicine and surgery very deeply, and the principles he laid down were recognized as authentic in medical science, and these continue to influence the medical world until now.


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