Al-Zahrawi was a great pioneer of the tenth century in Islamic Spain who gave a new direction to medical sciences inventing many surgical instruments and establishing innovative surgical procedures.
Before Al-Zahrawi medicine was considered as a branch of religion and pseudo-chemistry but he separated medical education from Alchemy and theology and emphasised the scientific nature of medicine.
He advocated the study of medicine by bright minds.
His encyclopaedic medical work, al-Tasrif, was a major textbook that was included in syllabi of the universities in Europe for several centuries.
Abul Qasim Khalaf ibn Abbas al-Zahrawi was born in 324 AH/936 CE at al-Zahra, near Qurtaba (Cordova), in Islamic Spain.
Al-Zahra was a satellite town built by Sultan Abd al-Rahman al-Nasir near Capital Qurtaba and named after his wife Queen Zahra.
Al-Zahrawi spent most of his life in Cordova and al-Zahra which were a major centre of education and culture in Europe during his time.
He hailed from a family of Ansars who came from Arabia to Spain when it was conquered by Muslims. He had a good early education and later he studied medicine and specialised in surgery.
After the completion of his studies, he joined one of the several government hospitals at Cordova where he practised medicine and surgery for the rest of his life.
After 40 years of professional experience, he wrote his famous book Al-Tasrif.
He died at al-Zahra in 404 AH/1013 CE at the age of 80. He is known as Abulcasis in Europe.
Al-Zahrawi has been greatly admired for the surgical section of his encyclopaedic work, al-Tasrif liman ajiz an al-talif. The book is a medical encyclopaedia which discusses various aspects of medical science, such as materia medica, pharmaceutical, dietetics, medical chemistry, therapeutics, psychotherapy, midwifery, diseases, surgical operations and surgical instruments.
Al-Tasrif was first translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona in twelfth century CE followed by several other translation and printings in Europe subsequently.
A large number of inventions and innovative procedures are attributed to him.
An important aspect of al-Zahrawi’s surgical study is the large number of surgical instruments that he used during surgical operation described graphically in his encyclopaedia.
He wrote about the manufacturing of instruments and provided over two hundred drawings of instruments in his book. He mentioned Cathers, knives, scissors, probes, saws, needles, syringes, forceps, scalpels, hooks, lancets and many other surgical instruments.
He mentioned several types of threads and catguts for suturing (stitching).
Al-Zahrawi performed various types of operations, including eye operations.
He was the one first to recommend surgical removal of a broken patella (knee-cap), first to perform lithotomy (removal of stone from the bladder). He described Haemophilia and tracheotomy.
He introduced ‘walcher position’ for women in childbirth and the removal of the dead foetus from the womb.