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Rhazes (Razes, Al-Rāzī)


Rhazes is the Latin for al-Rāzī, physician, scientist, and philosopher whose full name in Arabic was Abū Bakr Muammad ibn Zakarîya al-Rāzī. The details of his life and the dates of his birth (c. 865) and death (923 or 925) are not well established.

Life and Works. His ethnic name, al-Rāzī relates to the city of Rayy, once Rages (Rhagae), which was important in the eastern caliphate under Islam; it was situated near Teheran, the present-day capital of Iran. Until the age of 30 (some say 40), Rhazes was interested in music and chemistry (alchemy). Thereafter, he became interested in medicine. According to some, this interest was brought about by the weakened condition of his eyes, variously attributed to his chemical experiments or to a lash of the whip. But according to his admirer, the great scientist al-Bīrūnī, Rhazes' blindness was due to deficiencies in his diet and to excesses in his way of life. This may explain the marked interest Rhazes had in matters of diet, as evidenced by the writings preserved in manuscript that he has left on this subject. Rhazes enjoyed a wide reputation as a physician; he was made head of a hospital in Rayy and later held a similar position in Baghdad.

Rhazes is the author of more than 100 works of various sizes, of which a work on alchemy, Kitāb alAsrār, and three on medicine, Kitāb al-āwī, Kitāb al-ibb al-Manūrī, and Kitāb al-Jadarī wal-aba, were widely known during the Latin Middle Ages. Kitāb al-Asrār (The Book of Secrets) was translated in the twelfth century by Gerard of Cremona. The āwī "Continens," was translated in the thirteenth century by Sālim ibn Faraj, under the title Liber Elhavi. The Manūrī, "Liber Almansoris, " so called because it was dedicated to a prince of the Sāmanid dynasty, Manūr ibn Isāq, has had several editions since the last part of the fifteenth century. The Kitāb al-Jadarī wal-aba was translated into Latin, Greek, French, and English; the last-named translation was by W. A. Greenhill, A Treatise on Smallpox and Measles (Sydenham Society, London 1848). Rhazes' treatise on stones in the bladder and kidneys was edited and translated into French by P. de Koning (Leiden 1896).

The following medical aphorisms are among those attributed to Rhazes: "Whenever you can treat medically with foods, do not use medicines; and whenever you can treat by using a simple medicine, do not use a compound." "When the physician is learned and the patient obedient, how short the malady's persistence!" "Let your treatment of an incipient illness be such that it will not cause the patient's strength to fail."

Philosophy. To the Arabs, Rhazes was known as al-abīb, "the physician," and not so much as a philosopher. This may be due to the fact that his writings belong overwhelmingly to the field of medicine; this in turn may account for the fact that the study of his philosophy was neglected until very recently. [See Schraeder, Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft 79 (1925): 228235; S. Pines, Beiträge zur islamischen Atomenlehre (Berlin 1936) 3436; Abu Bekr Muhammedis fil. Zachariae Rhagensis opera philosophica fragmentaque quae supersunt, ed. P. Kraus, Fuad I University, Faculty Publications, fasc. 22 (Cairo 1939)].

In Rhazes' metaphysics there are five eternal principles: the creator, the soul, matter, time, and space. Against the prevailing doctrine of the Muslim philosophers, and in agreement (though not intentional) with the Muslim theologians, he denies the eternity of the world. Metempsychosis, for which he was criticized by the Andalusian theologian Ibn Hazm (d. 1064), was a central doctrine in Rhazes' philosophy. The liberation of the soul from the body is brought about by the creator who endows the soul with intelligence (aql ) enabling it to study philosophy, the only means it has of liberating itself from the body. The end of the world will come about once all the individual souls have liberated themselves from their bodies. Rhazes' metaphysics manages to put him in simultaneous conflict with both philosophers and theologians in Islam.

Rhazes' cosmology is characterized by an atomic theory close to that of democritus, but differing from that of the later atomists of the Asharite school of Moslem theology [see asharĪ, al-]. For Rhazes, atoms have extension, and the void has a positive character. The elements (five in number) come into being from the different proportions in which the atoms and the voids have combined. The property of a body depends on the number of the atoms in proportion to the number of voids.

Rhazes' ethics commends a full life. While avoiding excesses, one need not condemn the passions. Pleasure does not have a positive character; it is merely the normal state after pain, as health after sickness. The highest form of living belongs to the philosopher, who, like the creator, treats men with justice and kindness. In contrast to the later averroËs (ibn rushd), Rhazes saw no possibility of conciliation between philosophy and religion. In the former he saw a supreme way of life, and in the latter the cause of wars.

See Also: arabian philosophy.

Bibliography: l. leclerc, Histoire de la médecine arabe, 2v. (Paris 1876). e. g. browne, Arabian Medicine (Cambridge, Eng.1921). g. sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, 3 v. in 5 (Baltimore 192748) 1:609. f. m. pareja, Islamologia (Rome 1951) 697. For fuller bibliog., c. brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur, 2 v. (2d ed. Leiden 194349) 1:267271; suppl. 1:417421. j. d. pearson, Index Islamicus (Cambridge, Eng.1958) 167168, studies by p. kraus, m. meyerhof, j. ruska, and others. al-rĀzĪ, The Spiritual Physick of Rhazes, tr. a. j. arberry (London 1950), a popular ethical work.

[g. makdisi]

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