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A World of ListsHealthHistory

The Journey of the First Islamic Hospitals in History

Since the dawn of humanity, health and the presence of disease have been constant companions throughout every era. Various beliefs about diseases have emerged over time. For instance, during the Middle Ages in Europe, it was believed that the origin of diseases lay in nature, and thus, it was commonly thought that diseases could not be controlled by humans. In ancient Indian civilization, health services were based on the teachings of Buddha.

However, the situation in the Islamic world took a different and more progressive path. Islamic faith places great importance on human health, emphasizes the significance of being healthy, and encourages seeking treatment when one falls ill. In this context, Muslim physicians considered the views of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), adopting a distinctly different approach. In contrast to many ancient civilizations, Islamic countries emphasized progress in healthcare and became pioneers in establishing well-equipped hospitals.

“The Most Gracious, Allah, who sends disease, also sends its cure.”

Tarihin Ilk Islam Hastanelerinin Seruveni 2

The foundation of the earliest known Islamic care center was laid during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In the course of the Battle of the Trench, wounded individuals received treatment in designated areas. Later, prominent figures further developed these pioneering makeshift infirmaries by adding medicines, food, drinks, clothing, doctors, and pharmacists, ultimately transforming them into fully equipped mobile medical units and infirmaries. The primary mission of these infirmaries was to fulfill the medical needs of communities distant from large cities and permanent medical facilities. By the early 12th century, these mobile hospitals had grown so large that they required 40 camels to transport.

“Allah, the Most High, has sent down both the illness and its cure. There is a remedy for every malady, so seek treatment. But do not treat sickness with something that is prohibited.” Ebu Dâvud, Tıbb 11, (3874)

Permanent Hospitals

Kalici Hastaneler

The first established Muslim hospital was constructed in the 8th century in Damascus by the Umayyads, primarily to treat leprosy patients. Generous properties and salaries were offered to the assigned physicians. Official records, however, indicate that the first hospital was built in Baghdad during the 8th century.

In the 10th century, five more hospitals were built in Baghdad, one of which was founded in the late 9th century under the supervision of Al-Razi. Al-Razi, initially, wanted to determine the healthiest location in the city and employed an innovative method to do so: he placed pieces of fresh meat in various neighborhoods and observed which one rotted the least. The hospital, when opened, had 25 doctors, including ophthalmologists and surgeons.

In Egypt, the first hospital was established in Fustat, a part of Old Cairo, in the 9th century by Ahmed bin Tulun. This hospital was remarkable in that it provided care for both general illnesses and mental conditions, making it one of the earliest facilities to address both types of ailments. Although established in the 8th century, in terms of patient care and services, it closely resembled the attributes of modern hospitals today, disregarding technical capabilities.

Hospital Organization

Hastane Duzeni

The earliest hospitals in the Islamic world were established to serve orphans, the poor, traders, and travelers away from home. Financial support for Islamic hospitals was provided by endowments from devout and respected families. The wealthy and leaders would donate properties or the revenue obtained from bequests for the construction and maintenance of these hospitals.

Since cleanliness holds great significance in Islam, it naturally extended to the hospitals. A health inspector responsible for cleanliness and hygiene practices was assigned in each hospital to ensure that cleanliness was always maintained.

Patients received a specific diet based on their condition and disease, with meals of high quality. The primary criterion for recovery was if a patient could consume the amount of bread and roasted bird meat that a healthy person could eat. If patients could digest this meal easily, they were considered healed and released. Those who had recovered but were still too weak for discharge had the right to rest in the convalescent ward until they regained sufficient strength. Needy patients were provided with new clothing, along with a small sum to help them reestablish their means of livelihood.

The Bimaristans

Bimaristanlar

Bimaristans, which began opening during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and were later called “darüşşifa,” were places that provided health services. The services they provided included a treatment center for the sick and injured, a resting place for those who had recovered or survived an accident, a sanctuary for those with psychological conditions, and a care home for elderly and disabled individuals who had no one to care for them.

Additionally, bimaristans also served as schools, where medical education was passed on to students. Senior physicians would pass on their knowledge and experiences to students, organizing exams and awarding diplomas to those who succeeded. Traditional bimaristans devoted significant efforts to improving the art of medicine during the Islamic Civilization of the Middle Ages. As a result, they played a crucial role in the advancement of health, the treatment of diseases, and the dissemination of medical knowledge in the field of medicine and psychiatry.

These historical institutions exemplify the enduring legacy of compassion and care, not just for the sick, but for society as a whole. Islamic hospitals, with their multifaceted mission, stand as a testament to the profound respect for human health, knowledge, and the importance of holistic care within the rich tapestry of Islamic history.

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