Abu Qasim ibn al-Zahrawi, also known in West as Abulcasis, was born in the town of al-Zahra, close to Cordoba, Spain, in 993 CE. His ancestors were Ansar Arabs, who settled in Spain in the 8th century. He lived most of his life in Cordoba, where he received his education. As he finished his education, he started teaching and practicing medicine. With his surgical skills, he became the physician of Caliph al-Hakim II in Cordoba. He died there in 1064 CE. The street where he lived is named after him (Calle Abulcasis), and his house has been preserved by the Spanish government in his honour.

Al-Zahrawi is considered to be the father of modern surgery. As a physician and surgeon, he also had an interest in chemistry and cosmetology. His 30-volume encyclopaedia of medical practices (“Kitab al-Tasrif”) is considered to be his greatest contribution in the field of medicine and surgery. The encyclopaedia included a large section on surgery and covered also such medical topics as orthopaedics, pharmacology, ophthalmology, nutrition, dentistry and childbirth.

Al-Zahrawi emphasized the importance of a good doctor-patient relationship and took great care to ensure the safety of his patients and win their trust irrespective of their social status. His clinical methods showed foresight and promoted close observation of patients. He warned against dubious practices adopted by some physicians for purposes of material gain and warned against deviation from medical ethics. He also cautioned against quacks, who claimed surgical skills they did not possess. His treatise contains many original observations of great interest in the field of medicine. He has given great importance to the causes and symptoms of diseases.

There is no doubt that al-Zahrawi was a rare genius in the field of medicine. His treatise was translated into Latin in the 12th century and became the standard book in the universities of Europe for the next 500 years. His book was the primary source of surgical knowledge for the European physicians and, thus, had a huge influence on their practice of surgery. Pietro Argallata, a 15th century European surgeon, says about him: “Without doubt, he was the chief of all surgeons.” Jaques Delechamps, another 16th century French surgeon, made extensive use of his treatise in his elaborate commentary, confirming the tremendous contributions of al-Zahrawi in the field of surgery.

Writer’s email: Aslamsyed1@yahoo.com