How a 10th-century surgeon revolutionised surgical procedures

The translations of Al Zahrawi’s work on surgeries were taught in European universities for several centuries.    Abu al Qasim al Zahrawi was a man ahead of his time. Known as the father of operative surgery, he invented over 200 surgical tools in the 11th Century, which saved millions of lives. He was not given enough credit for his discoveries, however.

One of Al Zahrawi’s highly acclaimed books is ‘Al Tasrif’, the first illustrated encyclopedia of surgical tools, which was used as a manual in European universities for over 500 years, influencing modern scientific perspectives on operative surgery and contributing to Europe’s Renaissance. The book has 30 chapters, a result of Zahrawi’s 50 years of medical practice and experience.

Commonly known by his Latin(ised) name Albucasis, al Zahrawi’s skills and knowledge of surgery earned him the title of the greatest medieval surgeon of the Islamic world and the Middle Ages. He pioneered the use of catgut for internal stitches and his surgical instruments are still used today. Al Zarhawi was influenced by the treatments of diseases as told by the Prophet Muhammed and used them to treat people.

He developed surgical tools for C-sections and cataract surgeries and was also the first to discover the root cause of paralysis. Before him, it was not known what exactly caused paralysis. Al Zahrawi explained how it comes from fracturing the spine. He’s also known for using a unique combination of chemicals for sterilisation of surgical tools, which had a similar impact to anti‐bacterial properties in our age.

Over a hundred years after Zahrawi’s death, the famous Italian translator of scientific manuscripts Gerard of Cremona arrived in Toledo, Spain, the birthplace of Zahrawi, and translated his work from Arabic to Latin. By 1250, England had its first, now oldest, medical manuscript and according to the British Medical Journal, it has a “startling similarity” with Al Zahrawi’s encyclopedia.

The period between the 8th Century and the 13th Century commonly known as the Islamic Golden Age has produced countless scholars.

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