Hospitals in Islamic civilization


Hospitals under the Islamic civilization

Perhaps one of the most important and greatest contributions of Muslims to the field of health is that they were the first to establish hospitals in the world. In fact, they preceded others in this matter by more than nine centuries. 


this was the Arabic term for hospital, derived from the Persian word for "place of the sick."

The emergence of hospitals forms a wonderful page in the history of Arab medicine, these hospitals were of two types fixed and portable (mobile).

Fixed hospitals

As for fixed hospitals, they have reached a very high level in major cities.

There was an Emphasis on Holistic Care Treatment encompassed physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, often incorporating music, aromatherapy, and hydrotherapy.

These giant hospitals were divided into departments according to specialization. There are departments for internal diseases, departments for surgery, departments for dermatology, departments for eye diseases, departments for psychiatric diseases, departments for bones and fractures, and others.

These hospitals were not just treatment homes, but were real medical colleges at the highest level, the specialist doctor - the professor - would go over the cases in the morning, along with the doctors who were in their first medical stages, and he would teach them, write down his notes, and prescribe treatment, while they watched and learned, then the professor would move to a large hall, and the students would sit around him, and he would read medical books to them, he explains, clarifies, and answers their questions, he even holds an exam for them at the end of every specific educational program they complete, and then gives them a degree in the branch in which they specialize.

Islamic hospitals had huge libraries inside them, containing a huge number of books specialized in medicine, pharmacy, anatomy, and physiology, in addition to jurisprudence sciences related to medicine, and other sciences of interest to the doctor.

It is noteworthy, for example - to understand the magnitude of these libraries - that the library of Ibn Tulun Hospital in Cairo contained more than one hundred thousand books.

Huge farms were planted next to hospitals, in which medicinal herbs and therapeutic plants grew. This is to supply the hospital with the medicines it needs. 

The measures that were taken in hospitals to avoid infection were of a special, unique type. If the patient entered the hospital, he would be given the clothes he had entered in, and then he would be given new clothes for free. To prevent transmission of infection through the clothes he was wearing when he became ill, each patient is then admitted to a ward specialized with his illness, and is not allowed to enter other wards. To also prevent transmission of infection, each patient sleeps on his own bed, with new sheets and special tools.

Features that distinguish Arab hospitals

  • The function of these hospitals was not limited to treating patients, but they were also scientific institutes and medical schools in which doctors, surgeons, and chemists graduated, such as the “Al-Nuri” Hospital in Damascus and the “Mansouri” Hospital in Cairo.

  • These hospitals did not serve a class or group of the Arab-Islamic society, but rather their doors were open to all members of society, the poor and the rich, Arabs and non-Arabs, Muslims and non-Muslims, etc.

  • The Arab and Muslim caliphs and sultans were very keen that hospitals be supervised and managed by the most scientifically and ethically qualified doctors. Al-Razi, for example, was chosen to head Al-Rai Hospital, and then he was chosen to head one of the Baghdad hospitals. Sinan bin Thabit also assumed the presidency of hospitals in Baghdad during the days of Caliph Al-Muqtadir Billah.

We can compare this to the hospital that was established in Paris centuries after these Islamic hospitals, patients were forced to stay in one ward, regardless of the type of their illnesses. they were even forced to sleep three, four, and sometimes five patients on one bed, you would find a smallpox patient next to fracture cases, next to a woman giving birth!

Also, doctors and nurses could not enter the wards except by wearing masks over the nose due to the strong putrid smell inside these wards! In fact, the dead were not transferred out of the wards until at least twenty-four hours had passed after death! We can imagine how dangerous this matter is for the rest of the patients. 

It is appropriate here to quote what the German Orientalist (Zegrid Honke) wrote in her book (The Arab Sun Rising to the West) about a patient who was being treated in one of Cordoba’s hospitals, he wrote a letter to his father describing what he found during his absence in the hospital, and he says:

“They registered my name there after the examination, and presented me to the chief physician, then a nurse carried me to the men’s department, gave me a hot bath, and dressed me in clean clothes from the hospital. When you arrive, you see to your left a huge library and a large hall where the president lectures the students, and if you look behind you, Your gaze is on a corridor that leads to the women's section, so you must keep walking towards the right, passing through the inner section and the outer section, passing by. If you hear music or singing emanating from a hall, enter it and look inside. Perhaps I was there in the convalescence hall where our ears hear the beautiful music. We spend time with useful reading. Today morning, the chief physician came as usual with a large group of his assistants. When he examined me, he dictated to the department doctor something that I did not understand, and after he left, the doctor explained to me that I could get up in the morning, and I could leave the hospital soon, my body healthy, and I, by God, hate this. The thing is, everything is very beautiful and very clean. The beds are soft and their covers are made of white damask, and the sheets are very soft and white like silk, and in every room of the hospital you will find running water as delicious as it can be, and on cold nights all the rooms are heated...”


Endowments were allocated to these bimaristans to spend its proceeds on the salaries of doctors and workers, and the treatment of patients, and a supervisor was allocated to manage it, who would oversee its affairs and the funds and endowments allocated to it, this position was one of the great civil servant positions in the state, and only competent people with ability and honesty could be chosen for it.

Mobile portable hospitals

If other civilizations knew fixed hospitals, then the Arabs were pioneers in creating portable hospitals... those that roam remote villages, deserts, and mountains, mobile hospitals were carried on a large group of camels, sometimes reaching forty camels, and this hospital consisted of a team of doctors and assistants who accompanied them with medicines, and these caravans were equipped with therapeutic machines and medicines. This type of hospital appeared during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadir. 

Choosing a hospital location

Hospitals in Muslim countries were built in the best environmental places and the furthest from the causes of pollution and change, this began from an early period. The first Bimaristan in Islam was a tent that was pitched in the mosque of the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace. The mosque is the purest place in Muslim land, as people gather in it to pray while they are purified. The beginning of that matter was after the Battle of the Ahzab, and the first to be treated were Wounded during this invasion, the tent was known by the name of its doctor, Rufaydah Al-Aslamiya, so it was called Rufidah’s tent. 

We see many hospitals in Islamic civilization built next to the mosque, and the matter becomes clearer if we know that the mosque was the center of the Islamic city and the best place in it, and sometimes they were built next to palaces or palaces were converted into hospitals, and there is no doubt that the palace was built in the best locations in the city, as is known, and expected, sometimes the sources do not skimp on us and describe the location of the hospital in more detail, and we find it on the shore of a river or on the shore of a lake or something similar.

From this is what was reported that Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan, may God be pleased with him, built a bimaristan “whose place was in the purified qiblah of the Umayyad Mosque” at the western minaret.  

The first known Bimaristan in Egypt was built in the Umayyad era, and it was in the Qandil Alley area, which is located on the edge of the Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque, and was inhabited by noble people, so that this alley was also called the Alley of Nobles. This alley aroused the admiration of geographers and travelers. 

Ahmed Ibn Tulun built the first large bimaristan in Egypt, and it was close to Birkat Qarun, which is a wonderful water lake on the sides of which gardens and orchards were built.

Bimaristan Al-Sayyida - who is Sayyida Shaghab, the mother of the eighteenth Abbasid Caliph: Al-Muqtadir Billah - was built on the shore of the Tigris River in an area called Souq Yahya, which is located between orchards called Basateen Al-Zahir, shortly afterward, Sinan bin Thabit - the chief physician of his time - suggested to Caliph Al-Muqtadir that he should take another place in Bimaristan, and he responded to that, so Sinan chose his location in Bab al-Sham region.

When Adud al-Dawla al-Buwayhi wanted to build the Great Bimaristan in Baghdad, he consulted Abu Bakr al-Razi, the brilliant physician, about it. Al-Razi ordered that a piece of meat be placed in each of the four directions of Baghdad. Whatever was slower in spoilage was evidence of a better environment, so he indicated building in this place. Which was on the western shore of the Tigris River, and in its place two centuries before that time was the Palace of Al-Khald, which was built by Abu Jaafar Al-Mansur - the second Abbasid Caliph - and he chose this place for it because it had fresh, good air, and it was the most honorable place in all of Baghdad.

The same experience took place when building the Nouri Bimaristan in Aleppo, they slaughtered a sheep and cut it into quarters, making a quarter in each side of Aleppo, then they chose to build a hospital where the meat remained in its condition and smell,  it was said in the description of this hospital:

"It is a blessed bimaristan for hospitalization. It is bright and bright, furnished with marble, and has two water pools to which pure water comes from the Hablan Canal"

This bimaristan - which is one of the most important Islamic hospitals - continued to operate until (1317 AH / 1899 AD), when a hospital for strangers was established nearby and it was called the Al-Hamidi Hospital - after the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II - and the new hospital overlooked the green meadow. 

In Egypt, Al-Aziz Billah - the fifth Fatimid Caliph - had built a luxurious hall in the Palace of Governance, designed with a technology such that one of its characteristics was that ants did not enter it. When Saladin ruled over the Fatimid state and learned about this hall and its characteristics, he said that - therefore - it would be suitable for a bimaristan, so the hall was transformed to the ancient Bimaristan. 

In the Islamic West, Al-Marrakshi describes the bimaristan built by Yaqub Al-Mansur Al-Mawhad - the third caliph in the Almohad state - in Marrakesh, he mentions that he chose its location in “a spacious square in the fairest place in the country,” and to increase precision and perfection, “he ordered the builders to perfect it in the best possible way.” They perfected the exquisite inscriptions and intricate decorations that went beyond the suggestion, he ordered that all trees be planted in it, and he made abundant water flow into it, circulating over all the houses, in addition to four pools in its middle, one of which was white marble. 

In the far west, in Andalusia, the historian of Granada, Ibn al-Khatib, described the Bimaristan of Granada, which was built by Muhammad V (Al-Ghani Billah) Al-Nasri, with many descriptions, from which we take that it was a miracle in that it was a luxurious house, many dwellings, a large courtyard, well-drained water, fresh air, and many reservoirs and ablutions. A bold and well-arranged launch brought relief to Egypt’s marstan with its wide arena, good air, flowing water from the sand pools, the blackness of the rock, the rippling of the sea, and the overhanging of the trees. The basin in the middle of the bimaristan received water from two springs, each of which represented a crouching lion like those in the AlhambraPalace.

We believe that this is sufficient to prove that the Muslims’ choice of hospital locations was not arbitrary, but was based on the rules of environmental consideration, and this was at a time when the environmental problem had not yet appeared. We have chosen examples from the East and West, large and small hospitals, and what remained of them and what not. Its effect is gone, proving that it is a common matter.



















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