Before the seventh century, Islamic healing consisted merely of a collection of popular health rules, or hadiths, known as "Muhammad's medicine" for use by devout Muslims living on the Arabic peninsula. In accordance with basic religious and philosophical ideas, this system was holistic, emphasizing both body and soul. However, as the Islamic Empire gradually expanded, a comprehensive body of Greco-Roman medical doctrine was adopted together with an extensive Persian and Hindu drug lore.

The collection, preservation, and eventual transmission of classical medical knowledge went on for several centuries. Even before the Arab conquest of 636, Nestorian Christians in Jundishapur, Persia, had played a prominent role in safeguarding Greek learning by translating many Greek works into the Syriac language. Later, under Islamic rule, these Nestorian physicians wielded great influence over the early caliphs, conducting searches for additional

Greek manuscripts in the Middle East and directing a massive translation program of scientific texts from Syriac into Arabic.

Islam's political supremacy and commercial networks made possible the collection of medicinal plants from the Mediterranean basin, Persia, and India. The eleventh-century author Abu al-Biruni composed a treatise on pharmacy in which he listed about 720 drugs. In addition, Islamic alchemy furnished a number of metallic compounds for the treatment of disease. Such expansions in materia medica and the compounding of remedies led to the establishment of a separate craft of pharmacy.

In medical theory, authors writing in Arabic merely followed and further systematized classical humoralism. Whereas al-Razi, or Rhazes, of the ninth and early tenth centuries contributed a number of original clinical works such as his treatise on smallpox and measles, the Canon of Medicine composed in the early eleventh century by the Persian physician Ibn Sina, or Avicenna, became the leading medical encyclopedia and was widely used until the seventeenth century. Finally, Moses Maimonides, a Jewish physician and prolific author, wrote on clinical subjects and medical ethics.

Islam significantly influenced hospital development, creating secular institutions devoted to the care of the sick. The first bimaristan - a Persian term meaning "house for the sick" - was established in Baghdad before the year 803 by Ibn Barmak, the famous wazir of Harun al-Rashid. It was based on Byzantine models transmitted to Jundishapur. Unlike previous and contemporary Christian institutions devoted to medical care, bimaristans were private hospitals symbolizing royal prestige, wealth, and charity. Their selected inmates came from all sectors of the population and included mentally disturbed individuals. Operated by a director together with a medical staff, pharmacist, and servants, bimaristans offered comprehensive medical care and educational opportunities for students serving apprenticeships. In fact, the hospitals had their own libraries, which contained copies of medical texts translated from the Greek and Syriac.

In addition to providing clinical training, medical education became more formalized. Small private schools offered a flexible curriculum of lectures and discussions, generally under the direction of famous physicians. In recognition of these cultural apprenticeships, the state issued licenses for practicing medicine to students who had successfully completed a course of theoretical and clinical studies. The traditional Islamic hisbah system of codes and regulations designed to enforce law and order according to the mandates of the Koran gradually extended its jurisdiction over multiple healing activities. Physicians, surgeons, bonesetters, and pharmacists were examined by the caliph's chief physician or an appointed inspector before receiving permission to practice. Unquestionably, such official efforts to establish ethical and practical standards for medical conduct and action were important steps in the professionalization of medicine.

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