Early Islam’s Contribution to Western Opthalmology
By Daren Lin
The Proceedings of the 14th Annual History of Medicine Days, ed. Dr. W. A. Whitelaw (University of Calgary, 2005)
Abstract: The conquests of Muhammad starting in the seventh century lead to the spread of Islam and the teachings of the Qur’an, a theology believing that genuine health and happiness is the natural state of existence. While medieval Europe rejected the medical knowledge of the pagan Greeks, the early Islamic world was eager to assimilate and expand the Hellenistic medical teachings, emerging as the collector and preserver of Western medicine.
The Royal Library in Baghdad became a centre for the Arabic translation of scientific and medical text from Greek, Persian, Syriac, Hebrew and Indian manuscripts. Under the common language of Arabic, an international community of physicians built upon these classical foundations, developing and writing their own original contribution to medical knowledge. For ophthalmology especially an extensive literature developed. The prevalence of eye diseases in the Islamic lands resulted in a particular interest in the skilful diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases.
Using the principles of clinical observation and codifying diseases, many ocular diseases were described or classified for the first time. Intricate surgical excision with an array of minute instruments was used in the treatment of several external diseases of the eye such as pannus and pterygium. Suction removal of cataracts using a hollow needle was also described. Their advances in the knowledge of optics, anatomy and physiology of the eye became major contributions to modern Ophthalmology. Latin translations of the extensive Arabic literature on Ophthalmology permanently influenced late medieval Europe. Through this route, many of these contributions of early Islamic empire remain today. Medieval Islam made these advancements because it eagerly encouraged knowledge and physician thinkers from all cultures.