Al-T?abari, Abu?L-?asan A?mad Ibn Mu?ammad
AL-ṬABARī, ABUʾL-ḦASAN AḥMAD IBN MUḥAMMAD
(b. Tabaristān, Persia, first quarter of the tenth century: d. Tabaristān, fourth quarter of the tenth century)
philosophy, natural science, medicine.
Very little is known about al-Tabarīs parents or early life. Like his contemporary al-Majūs-ī (d. 994), he studied under the physician Abū Māhir Mūsā ibn Sayyār. After acquiring a good reputation as a physician, al-Tabarī became court physician to the Buwayhid king Rukn al-Dawla (reigned 932–976) and his vizier, the literary scholar Abu’l-Fadl Muhammad al-Khatīb ibn al-Amīd (d. 971). This was a period of great cultural and scientific productivity in Persia and Iraq under the Abbasid caliphate. Several medical authors won wide recognition, not least among them al-Tabarī–as is evident from the numerous extant copies of his only known literary contribution, al-Muālajāt al-Buqrātiyya, which consists of ten treatises on Hippocratic medical treatment.
The text of al-Tabarīs work sheds much light on his life. It shows that he was a Muslim, deeply influenced by Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism, who respected other religions in the region: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity. Unlike many of his contemporaries, al-Tabarī excluded much of the religious and Koranic phraseology and jargon used in similar works. He dealt objectively and open-mindedly with such topics as generation and corruption, life and death, marriage and family, vision and thought, pain and pleasure, matter and soul, time and space, temporal and eternal punishment and reward, and Godhood and resurrection. His approach is entirely free from religious bias and theological limitations, and he seems to have been well-acquainted with the writings of Greek philosophers and natural scientists. His treatment of diseases and their medical therapy also bears witness to his appreciation of and indebtedness to the Hippocratic and Galenic tradition.
Al-Tabarī nevertheless contributed original ideas and concepts of historical interest. His medical ingenuity led him to become the first practitioner to describe and recommend effective treatment for the itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei, the cause of scabies. His theories on health, deontology, medical theraphy, and psychotherapy showed his ability to think independently and to make personal observations unhampered by traditional doctrines.
Al-Tabarī’s only known work, al-Muālajāt al-Buqrātiyya, which exists in several copies, some incomplete, suggests his encyclopedic approach: treatise 1–definitions and interpretations of natural sciences and phenomena, professional deontology, social behavior, metaphysics, and classification of diseases; treatise 2–on skin diseases of the head and face, and their treatment: treatise 3–on disease of the head; treatise 4–on the anatomy and physiology of the eye, and its diseases; treatise 5–on diseases of the nose and ear; treatise 6– on the diseases of the mouth, teeth, tongue, uvula, larynx, pharynx, and neck (trachea); treatise 7–on skin diseases of the body; treatise 8–on diseases of the chest, lungs,bronichi, all other members of the respiratory system, diaphragm, and the heart, and their treatment: treatise 9–on the anatomy and physiology, and diseases of the stomach, and their diagnosis and treatment: treatise 10–on the anatomy and physiology of the liver, spleen, and intestines, their diseases, and the nutritional values of these same organs such as liver, kidneys, brain and viscera.
Several catalogs of library MSS and bibliogrpahies of literary contributions of this Islamic period list copies of al-Tabarīs al-Mu-ālajāt. They include Joseph Aumer Die arabischen Handschriften der K. Hof- und Staats-bibliothek (Munich, 1866), 357; and Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur, I (Leiden, 1943), 272. and Supplement, I (Leiden, 1937), 422: and “Firdaus’l- Hikmat of Ali b. Rabban al-Tabari”, in Zeitschrift Semitisch, 8 (1932), 270–288.
Ibn Abī Usaybi’a in his ‘Uyūn al-anbā’ 2 vols, (Cairo, 1882), I. 321. was probably the first of the few Muslim biographers to mention al-Tabarī. Brief nineteenth century biographies of al- Tabarī based on Ibn AbīUsaybi’a are L. Leclerc. Histoire de la mÉdecine arabe, I (Paris. 1876), 358; and F. Wüstenfeld. Geschichte der arabischer ärzte und Naturforscher (Göttingen, 1840). 56.
Julius Hirschberg, in Geschichte der Augenheilkunde bei den Arabern (Leipzig-Berlin, 1905), 107–108, brought out the importance of al-Tabarī’s work,especially on eye diseases and treatment. Later, Mohammed Rihab, in “Der arabische Arzt at-Tabarī”. in Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin, 19 (1927), 123–168, and 20 (1928). 27–81. stressed the importance of al-Tabarī’s contribution to medicine, especially his treatise on skin diseases and his discovery of the itch mite. For the latter see also R. Friedman, “The Story of Scabies: at-Tabari. Discoverer of the Acarus scabiei” in Medical Life. 45 (1936), 163–176.
For further information consult S. Hamarneh, Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts on Medicine and Pharmacy at the British Museum (Cairo. 1975).no. 70; and G. Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science. I. 677.and II. 233.