Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi : biography
Razi’s notable books and articles on medicine (in English) include:
- Mofid al Khavas, The Book for the Elite.
- The Book of Experiences
- The Cause of the Death of Most Animals because of Poisonous Winds
- The Physicians’ Experiments
- The Person Who Has No Access to Physicians
- The Big Pharmacology
- The Small Pharmacology
- Al Shakook ala Jalinoos, The Doubt on Galen
- Kidney and Bladder Stones
- Ketab tibb ar-Ruhani,The Spiritual Physik of Rhazes.
Quotes about Razi
- "Rhazes was the greatest physician of Islam and the Medieval Ages."– George Sarton
- "Rhazes remained up to the 17th century the indisputable authority of medicine."– The Encyclopaedia of Islam
- "His writings on smallpox and measles show originality and accuracy, and his essay on infectious diseases was the first scientific treatise on the subject." – The Bulletin of the World Health Organization (May 1970)
- "In today’s world we tend to see scientific advance as the product of great movements, massive grant-funded projects, and larger-than-life socio-economic forces. It is easy to forget, therefore, that many contributions stemmed from the individual efforts of scholars like Rhazes. Indeed, pharmacy can trace much of its historical foundations to the singular achievements of this ninth-century Persian scholar." — Michael E. Flannery
The Transmutation of Metals
Razi’s interest in alchemy and his strong belief in the possibility of transmutation of lesser metals to silver and gold was attested half a century after his death by Ibn an-Nadim’s book (The Philosophers Stone-Lapis Philosophorum in Latin). Nadim attributed a series of twelve books to Razi, plus an additional seven, including his refutation to al-Kindi’s denial of the validity of alchemy. Al-Kindi (801-873 CE) had been appointed by the Abbasid Caliph Ma’mum founder of Baghdad, to ‘the House of Wisdom’ in that city, he was a philosopher and an opponent of alchemy. Finally we will mention Razi’s two best-known alchemical texts, which largely superseded his earlier ones: al-Asrar (الاسرار "The Secrets"), and Sirr al-Asrar (سر الاسرار "The Secret of Secrets"), which incorporates much of the previous work.
Apparently Razi’s contemporaries believed that he had obtained the secret of turning iron and copper into gold. Biographer Khosro Moetazed reports in Mohammad Zakaria Razi that a certain General Simjur confronted Razi in public, and asked whether that was the underlying reason for his willingness to treat patients without a fee. "It appeared to those present that Razi was reluctant to answer; he looked sideways at the general and replied":
- "I understand alchemy and I have been working on the characteristic properties of metals for an extended time. However, it still has not turned out to be evident to me, how one can transmute gold from copper. Despite the research from the ancient scientists done over the past centuries, there has been no answer. I very much doubt if it is possible…"
According to one legend he could have been blinded by steaming vapors during an accident in one of his experiments. He managed to escape with no injuries.
Chemical instruments and substances
Razi developed several chemical instruments that remain in use to this day. He is known to have perfected methods of distillation and extraction. ar-Razi dismissed the idea of potions and dispensed with magic, meaning the reliance on symbols as causes. Although Razi does not reject the idea that miracles exist, in the sense of unexplained phenomena in nature, his alchemical stockroom was enriched with products of Persian mining and manufacturing, even with sal ammoniac a Chinese discovery. He relied predominantly on the concept of ‘dominant’ forms or essences, which is the Neoplatonic conception of causality rather than an intellectual approach or a mechanical one). Razi’s alchemy brings forward such empiric qualities as salinity and inflammability -the latter associated to ‘oiliness’ and ‘sulphurousness’. These properties are not readily explained by the traditional composition of the elements such as: fire, water, earth and air, as al-óhazali and others after him were quick to note, influenced by critical thoughts such as Razi had.