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Muslims produced female physicians 700 years before Americans got one

Saturday January 6, 2018 12:14 PM, Zohair M Safwan,

Muslim Female Doctors

Though the history of women in surgery in Western civilization dates to 3500 before common era (BCE), the Muslim world produced female medical doctors or physicians 700 years before Americans got the one.

"Ibn Zuhr established surgery as an independent field by introducing a training course designed specifically for future surgeons before allowing them to perform operations independently. He differentiated the roles of a general practitioner and a surgeon, drawing the metaphorical "red lines" at which a physician should stop during his management of a surgical condition, thus further helping define surgery as a medical specialty.

"Not least, by seeing to it that both his daughter and his granddaughter went into medicine, he became a pioneer in a different way. Though largely limited to obstetrics, these women began a tradition in the Muslim world that accepted females as medical doctors 700 years before Johns Hopkins University graduated the first American female physician", David W. Tschanz wrote in an article published in January/February 2011 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.

For Americans, Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D. (1821-1910) is considered as the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States and is often thought of as America's first woman doctor.

However Ibn Zuhur's daughters practiced medicine and surgery long before Elizabeth. David Tschanz is not alone who has acknowledged this fact.

"Ibn Zuhr’s daughter and her daughter were famous lady physicians; “âlimatin fi sina’at al tibb wa al-mudawah” (two lady scholars in medicine and therapeutics), with good experience in the treatment of ladies", Ibn abi Usaybi’a, the famous 13th century medical historian, is quoted by Nizar Reda, ed. Beirut: Dar Maktabat al-Hayat, 1965.

Ibn Zuhur, Latinized to Avenzoar, was born in 1091 CE in Seville. He belonged to the Banu Zuhr family, known for producing two generations of physicians.

"Ibn Zuhr, however, did not merely follow in his ancestors' footsteps. He became the first Muslim scientist to devote himself exclusively to medicine, and his several major discoveries were chronicled in his books Kitab al-Taysir fi 'l-Mudawat wa 'l-Tadbir (Practical Manual of Treatments and Diets) and a treatise on psychology whose title translates Book of the Middle Course Concerning the Reformation of Souls and Bodies, as well as Kitab al Aghdiya (Book on Foods) that describes the health effects of diets, condiments and drinks", David Tschanz wrote.

He was also among the first to use anesthesia, performing hundreds of surgeries after placing sponges soaked in a mixture of cannabis, opium and hyoscyamus (henbane) over the patient's face.

Interestingly, while the Muslim world was laying the foundation of modern medicine, it was considered a sin for females to practice as a physician in the Western world.

"Regulations for the practice of surgery were widely recognized and often barred women. In 1313, women were banned from the practice of surgery in Paris unless examined by a competent jury", according to Lipinska M. Les femmes et le progres des sciences medicales.

"In the 14th century, King Henry VIII was quoted as saying “No carpenter, smith, weaver or women shall practise surgery", according to Mead KC. A history of women in medicine from the earliest times to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

These facts give a rosy picture of the Muslim world, now plagued by rampant violence - literally unable and struggling to carry forward the shining legacy of their ancestors. It’s time for them to introspect and learn lessons from the past.

“Muslims should realize that all the hullabaloos surrounding them are solely because of their extraordinary past. Their enemies are not only jealous but are scared of this bright history. They know that Muslims have potential and allowing them to live in peace will give them a chance to repeat what their ancestors has done”, Anika Sabahat, a researcher, said.

“Muslims should realize that the coordinated efforts world over to demonize them and rampant hate attack against them have the same agenda”, she added.

“It is why Muslims should, ignoring such distracting tactics, focus and concentrate on their path to knowledge and wisdom”, she said.

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