The Millennium Anniversary of Al-Zahrawi (Albucasis): A Piece of Advice from Him to His Trainees

In the first book (Bab) I spoke of all diseases for which cauterisation is of value, either the actual cautery or that done with caustic medicines; and of their reasons and causes; also the instruments and the shapes of the cauteries. This I set out in chapters from head to heel.

 In this book, I shall proceed along the same route so that it will be easy for the enquirer to find what he is looking for. But before I begin this, you ought first to know, my sons, that in this book there is more risk than in the first, which treats of cauterisation. Wherefore, in this matter, there should be greater circumspection.  For in the course of the work of which this book treats, there often occurs effusion of the blood upon which life depends, in the opening of a blood vessel or the incision of a tumour or the perforation [drainage] of an abscess or the treatment of a wound or the extraction of an arrow or in the incising for a calculus or similar case; all of which are accompanied by uncertainty and fear; and in most death will supervene.

So I warn you against undertaking any case in which there is any element of doubt to you; for in the exercise of art you will be mobbed by all kinds of persons with all manner of affliction; some being so weary of their sickness that death itself is a relief on the account of the extent of their sufferings and the length of their miseries, their illness being so settled as to presage death. Some will lavish their wealth on you and enrich you, in the hope that they may be curable, when their disease is mortal. You should not assist any of this kind who approach you; let your caution be stronger than your greed and desire for gain and do not embark anything of this kind unless you have positive knowledge, which you judge adequate, about the way of bringing the patient a good outcome. In treating every patient be prescient  and foretell the means whereby health may be restored to him. That will help you to obtain renown, glory, fame and praise. May God inspire you, my sons, with His guidance and grant that you hit the mark and succeed; for it is in His hand; there is no God but He.

I have arranged this book in sections as I did with the previous book on cauterisation, from head to heel; so you will find in it what you seek [God willing]”.


Quotation from the Second Bab of the 30thMaqala of Kitab Al-Tasrif Liman A’jaz A’an Al –Ta’alif’ by Al-Zahrawi.

Translated from the original Arabic by Lewis MS and Spink IL[1].The bolding is by Abdel-Halim R E.


[1] Spink MS, Lewis IL. Albucassis on surgery and instruments (a definitive edition of the Arabic text with English translation and commentary). London : Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine; 1973. pp 166-169



A Quotation from Al-Zahrawi in a Letter to the BMJ Editor

Never perform an operation without first watching it performed by others and without having experience of the technique…

Davide Lazzeri, Plastic surgeon, Stefano Lazzeri*, Michele Figus*, Marco Nardi*, and Marcello Pantaloni, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Unit and *Ophthalmology Unit, 56100, Hospital of Pisa, Italy.
Letter to the BMJ Editor on 8th of January 2010 in response to:
How Islam Changed Medicine
Majeed A. How Islam changed medicine. BMJ. 2005 24; 331: 1486-7)

“….Embracing scientific knowledge received from the Nestorians allows Muslim medical culture to grow up exponentially, reaching its peak with the encyclopedic work on medicine and surgery El Tasrif or Tasrif (The Method) by Abul Quazim Khalaf Ibn’Abbas az-Zahrawi, better known as Albucasis (936–1013 A.D.) the greatest Arab surgeon in history.[6] Albucasis is considered to be one of the moving spirits behind the rebirth of surgery, because it was through his teachings that the practice spread from Cordoba across Western Europe. The book became rapidly the leading medical text in all European universities during the later Middle Ages. Its section on surgery contains illustrations of surgical instruments of elegant, functional design and great precision. Other chapters describe amputations, ophthalmic and dental surgery, and the treatment of wounds and fractures. He developed new surgical technologies and invented several devices used during surgery. “… Never perform an operation without first watching it performed by others and without having experience of the technique” was the basic principle of his modern medical teaching.”[5]

5. Santoni-Rugiu P, and Sykes P. The contribution of Arabs. In: A history of plastic surgery. The Springer-Verlag Berlin and Heidelberg GmbH& Co. KG; 2007: pp. 50-2.
6. Leclerc L. La chirurgie d’Albucasis. Bailliere, Paris, 1861

For the full text of the article including the rest of the references and contributions of some other scholars from the Medieval Islamic era, please click here.