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hospitals
When I read about the Islamic libraries, I would just absolutely amazed. However, when I read about the hospitals I was so beyond amazed…there is not a word for it. If it weren’t documented so well, I would say it was too good to be true.

When you think about it, many of the acts of worship in Islam all work towards good health. Prayer, fasting, and many of the verses of the Quran and Hadith all work towards preservation of good health and prevention of disease. As the early Muslims used to take the verses and Hadith about gaining knowledge very seriously with their libraries, they also took the verses and Hadith that have to do with health very seriously. The Muslims were the first ever in history to require doctors to be licensed and take exams and they established the very first hospitals.

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During the Prophet’s ﷺ time, the very first hospital was a mobile hospital that was created by Rufaydah Al Aslamiyah. From then, the mobile hospitals started to grow and started to be used outside of battle to provide medical care to people living outside major cities. During the times of the Caliphs, the mobile hospitals were equipped with medicines, food, drink, clothes, doctor, and pharmacists. At the time of Seljuk Sultan Mahmoud, there were mobile hospitals that were so large that they required 40 camels for transportation.

In regards to stationary hospitals, there were many kinds. Every mosque had an emergency station and there were emergency stations at any place where there were large crowds. The Muslims (1,000 years ago) understood that any large gathering of people could cause some to get claustrophobic or dizzy and they made sure they were prepared. There were army hospitals and even hospitals for prisoners. The leader, Ali ibn Eesa ibn Al Jarrah wrote to the head doctor in Baghdad, Sinan Ibn Thabit, telling him about the necessity of providing daily medical care to sick prisoners:

“I thought about the issue of those who are in jail, and that because their numbers are so large and the places in which they stay are so rough, many of them get sick. We should appoint doctors for them, to visit them every day and give them medicines and potions; these doctors should go around to all the prisons, treating the sick people there.”

Lets talk about the public hospitals. First of all, they were completely, 100% free to anyone and everyone. They were separated into two sections, one for the women and one for the men. The Muslims realized that you couldn’t put people with different diseases in the same area, so they were the first to introduce wards. There were wards for maternity, internal disease, mental health (a first here as well), orthopedics, eyes, wounds, broken limbs, etc. In addition, each ward was divided further into more specialized units, like for internal disease, there was a unit for diarrhea and a unit for fever, etc.

The Muslims were also the first to have female doctors because there was a female ward for every disease and it needed to completely staffed with women. Each unit had a head doctor and head nurse and the there was a head doctor of the hospital who was called a sa’ur. All the doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, assistants, etc. worked in shifts and had large salaries. (Sounds like a hospital today-except this was 1,000 years ago!) Each hospital also had a pharmacy that was completely staffed and full of different kinds of medicines, treatment and potions (not magic potions-medical potions), jams and perfumes. Every hospital also included a library. The Ibn Tulun hospital in Cairo had a library that contained more than 100,000 books on all branches of science.  There was a hospital in Cairo that could hold about 8,000 patients!

The most interesting things is that these hospitals were all university hospitals-the first university hospitals. Before this time, people just studied under a medicine man and learned from them until they could also do the same job. The Muslims started requiring examinations and licensing in order to be a doctor, which didn’t exist anywhere else at the time. Just like university hospitals today, a senior doctor would go around the hospitals with his students and check on patients and discuss with them each one. In fact, there was an area designated in every hospital room specifically for this purpose. Ibn Abu Usaybiah, who was a medical student in Al Noori Hospital in Damuscus said:

“I used to go around with the doctor Muhadhdhab Ad Din and the doctor Imran when they treated inpatients, then when we finished, I would sit with Shaykh Radiy ad Din Ar Rahbi to learn how to diagnose diseases, and I discussed a lot of diseases and their treatment with him.”

After a doctor finished school, he/she was not allowed to open their own private practice unless getting an addition license which involved taking an exam before a panel of the senior scholars of the state and presenting a thesis in the field he/she wanted to practice in. During the time of the Caliph Al Muqtadir in the year 319 H (931 CE), there was a team of doctors that had made a mistake that resulted in a man’s death. The Caliph issued orders that all the doctors in Baghdad be reexamined. There were a total of 860 doctors in Baghdad alone, not including the doctors who had not yet been certified.

When a patient is admitted into the hospital, they would first be checked in the outer ward. If all they need is medicine, they are given it free of charge. If a person was sick enough where they needed to be hospitalized, then they would be taken to a bathroom and given free hospital clothes and their own clothes would be put safely away in a special storage area. Then they would be taken to the ward to which their illness belonged. A patient had their own bed, with nice linen and warm covers, and each room had running water. The hospitals were extremely clean and finely furnished. There were inspectors that would evaluate the cleanliness of the hospital daily and often the Caliph himself would make his rounds in the hospital to make sure the patients were getting the best care from the staff.

The patient would be given medical care and nutritional care that would restore his/her health. The food in these hospitals was of the highest quality and included chicken and poultry, beef and lamb, and fresh fruits and vegetables. One way hospital staff would know a patient was recovered was when they at a whole chicken and whole loaf of bread in one sitting (think fresh normal, small chicken of a 1000 years ago not super harmonized big chicken of today). When a patient was recovered, they would go to a recovery ward. Upon discharge, a patient would get a new set of clothes and enough money to sustain their personal expenses until they were able to work again. The hospital made evaluations for each person on a case by case basis on how long it would take them to get back on their feet and gave them money accordingly.

Now lets talk about some hospitals in specific.

The Adadi Hospital in Baghdad:

This hospital was built in the year 371 AH by Adad Al Dawlah ibn Bawayh. He appointed Ar Razi, a famous doctor, to choose the location, which he did in a very interesting way. He placed four pieces of meat in different places in Baghdad during the night and in the morning looked for the piece that smelled the best. When he found that piece, he told Adad to build the hospital in that location, because the air was cleaner than the others. Adad didn’t spare any money when building this grand hospital, which had a scientific library, pharmacy, kitchens and stores. This hospital was renovated in the year 449 AH by Caliph Al Qa’im bi Amrallah who brought some of the rare medicines and potions that were hard to get by. He brought new beds, linen and covers, medicinal perfumes, and increased the employees including the doctors and cleaners. This hospital also had gates and gatekeepers and bathrooms as well as a garden with all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables for the patients.

Al Noori Hospital in Damascus:

(Do you all remember the Al Noori library? It was the same ruler who built this hospital Mashallah)

King Noor Ad Din Ash Shahid built this hospital in the year 549 AH (1154 CE) and it was the most beautiful hospital ever built. He preferred it to be for the needy but everyone and anyone was welcome. In the year 831 AH, a non Arab man of fine manners was traveling in Damascus when he became impressed with the amount of doctors, fine care for the sick, exceptional food, and all the other nice things he found in the hospital. He decided to test the doctors and pretended to be sick. The head doctor would come and check on him daily and he realized he wasn’t sick but let him stay anyway. He prescribed for him good food and sweets and fruits. After three days, the head doctor wrote him a note that said, “For us, hospitality lasts three days.” The man realized they knew all along he wasn’t sick yet still showed him hospitality and didn’t turn him away. This hospital continued his service until only about a hundred years ago! It was replaced by the Al Ghuraba Hospital which is currently part of the Medical College of the Syrian University. The old Noori hospital building is now used as a school.

The Mansuri Hosptial (Qalawun Hospital)

Before Mansur Sayf Ad Din Qalawun was a king, he was leading a campaign against the Romans in 1275 CE in the days of Adh Dhahir Baybars. He fell sick in Damascus and was treated at Al Noori hospital and he loved the treatment so much he vowed that if he ever became sultan, he would build a hospital just like it. When he did become sultan, he built a hospital that was considered one of the miraculous wonders of the world for its system and organization. Just like the other hospitals, it was free and open to the public and the hospital covered all expenses, including funeral expenses. There were doctors that worked in various fields. Each patient had a bed with full bedding and two people to serve him/her. Each group of patients were given their own space. This hospital did not just treat those that were staying in the hospital but had an incredible outpatient service. An eye doctor said that he treated about four thousand patients, inpatient and outpatient, every day! Of course, each patient that was discharged was given new clothes and money to take care of finances while he/she recovered.

(Here comes the good part * excited *) Stated in the Waqf contract, each patient was to be given food on his/her own plate that was not used by anyone else and must be covered as it moves through the hospital (remember….800 years ago!) For patients who suffered from insomnia (here we go!) there was a designated hall that had different rooms. There were rooms with beautiful, calm music, rooms where you could listen to stories told by storytellers, rooms with amusing plays or folk dancing (local to their village). The Muaddhins also sing nasheed to help the pain of those who couldn’t sleep. What is interesting is that they used to call the prayer to Fajr two hours early to allow the patients enough time to get up.

Here are some excerpts from the Waqf contract for this hospital.

In regards to who is admitted:

“…..People enter the hospital in flocks or individually, old and young, adults and children, women and infants. The sick among the poor, men and women alike, stay there to receive treatment until they recover. They are given the things that are prepared for their medical treatment, which is distributed to those who come from near and far, to local people and strangers, to the strong and weak, low class and high class, important figures and insignificant people, rich and poor, subjects and rulers, blind and seeing, inferior and superior, famous and unknown, noble and ignoble, those who have a life of luxury and those who have little, slave and master, with no condition of payment and no objection to the fact that there is no payment. Rather it is all done purely for the sake of Allah in the hope of receiving His reward and bounty…..”

The Waqf contract also demands a respectful treatment from the doctors:

“…The doctors deal with the sick and mentally ill, both men and women, who are in the hospital, working together or taking shifts as agreed amongst themselves, or by permission of the one who is in charge. They ask the patients how they are and what is new with them, whether they are getting better or getting worse, and they prescribe whatever each patient needs of food and drink, etc. on a piece of paper so that the patient may have the prescription made up….

The Waqf contract for this hospital also requires that if anyone is sick in their house, the hospital should provide all medical care to them at home:

“…….If a person is sick in their own house and is poor, the one who is in charge of the Waqf may spend whatever this patient needs of potions, medicines, ointments, etc, from the income of this hospital, without deducting costs for the inpatients. If that person dies among family, the one who is in charge of the Waqf spends on what is needed to wash him, shroud him, carry him to the graveyard and bury him in his grave in an appropriate manner and according to the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ….”

The French had to ruin it though. Their invasion in the year 1798 CE ended all of this, but they were so amazed by it that they wrote about it too.

There was also a hospital in Tripoli where a waqf was set up to hire two people to walk through the hospital. Their job was to get within earshot of a patient and speak quietly about how much better they are looking and how much they improved. This practice was done to help the patient’s self esteem because the Muslims knew that emotional and mental recovery was just as important as physical recovery.

The Hospital of Marrakesh

This was built by one of the kings of Maghreb (Morroco), Amir Al Muminin Al Mansur Abu Yusuf, who personally chose the area of the hospital. He ordered for it to be built in the best way, with trees, herbs and edible plants planted inside the hospital and a waterway that flowed through all the buildings of the hospitals as well as pools made out of marble. He furnished it with the finest furnishings of the best fabrics and prepared different clothing for the sick for different seasons. The king visited the hospital every Friday to talk to the patients.

These are four hospitals out of hundreds of hospitals in the Islamic empire. The Islamic Empire was where people travelled to get exceptional medical care. There were no formal hospitals in Europe until about three centuries ago. In Europe a ‘hospital’ was just a ‘house of kindness’. The only real example of a hospital was Hotel Dieu in Paris. It contained 1200 beds but only 486 of them were single beds. The others were about 5 feet wide and had about 3 to 6 patients on them from old men to young children and a blend of diseases. It was damp, moldy and dark and there were hundreds of sick people piled on the floor. You would find a woman in labor, next to a child with typhus next to a man with a skin disease covered in blood and pus next to a dead corpse (I wont go into any more details because….ew). The conditions were the complete opposite of the Islamic hospitals and the dirty environment only led to more sickness.

A German Orientalist named Max Meyeroff had this to say about the European hospitals compared to the Islamic hospitals:

“The Arab hospitals and the health system in the ancient Islamic world teach us a hard and bitter lesson which we cannot appreciate fully unless we compare them with European hospitals of the same period.”

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*The Muslims were the first to discover how important entertainment, comedic literature and positive thinking was to healing the sick. We did everything for the sake of Allah, using our religion to take us to the greatest levels of success and productivity. We did nothing halfway but perfected all our actions, only hoping to please Allah. How ironic now that our hospitals today are nothing like how they were. Not so ironic when you consider how much we have strayed from our deen. What we can take from this is that anything done for the sake of Allah, should be and would be done well. I mean, 8,000 patients in one hospital! Even the largest hospital here only handles about 800. Imagine how grand they were and how much Baraka Allah brought to these institutions.

*I am so amazed by our history and becoming overly frustrated that it is not taught for what it is in the history books. Credit should be given where it is due.

*I actually love the fact that there were two different sections in the hospitals for men and women. I have worked in a hospital and sometimes you could be walking by a woman’s room who was sleeping and her hospital gown is open and she doesn’t notice. It happens all the time to men and women, especially if they are older. (Is this a good time to mention I didn’t enjoy working in the hospital?) And not just for that reason, there are so many other reasons why its better to be checked on and treated by women. The hospital is just not a place where you want any men to see you and I think it is more comfortable to know that the staff around you is only women. I’m sure the same goes for men.

Sibāʻī, Muṣṭafá. Civilization of Faith: Solidarity , Tolerance and Equality in a Nation Built on Shari’ah : A Journey through Islamic History. Riyadh: International Islamic House, 2005. Print.

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Comments

  1. […] of information you can find in this incredible book, check out my posts on Islamic Libraries and Ancient Islamic Hospitals which I wrote using this book as a reference. Inshallah, throughout Ramadan, I will be writing […]

  2. […] The fields of science and philosophy were greatly influenced by the Muslims. In fact, the Muslims were the teachers of Europe for over 600 years. Ibn Sina’s book on medicine, Al Qanun, and Al Razi’s (Rhazes) book Al Hawi, were translated in the 12th and 13th centuries and continued to be the basis of teaching medicine in European universities until the 16th century. Remember the groundbreaking Islamic hospitals? […]

  3. Soubhanallah ! I absolutely want to work in a place like that ! Thank very much for this article . May God bless you

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