image 2



Farid Alakbarli
Religion and Magic in Medicine

March 20, 2016 | Author: admin image 2

In antiquity, the medicine, religion and magic were intimately linked with each other. Numerous texts from the sacred books, magic formulas and spells are generously scattered in the medieval medical treatises. The people of those times believed that praying to gods, religious ceremonies, and the magic actions are capable to cure the people from illnesses. The medical papyruses written in Ancient Egypt are filled with mysterious magic spells, which hazy meaning the scientists still can not decipher.

It is considered that the ancient Greek physicians were rationalists, although even they not always were able to distinguish mysticism from a science. For example, Aristotle (384-322 BC) has heard or found in a book that: "a roasted heart of lion makes the man brave and strong." «What is it? Is it mysticism or a scientific fact? " - Aristotle could reflect before writing these words. Probably, he decided that deals with the fact and included this statement in his book. In the 12th AD, this citation has passed from the book by Aristotle to treatises by Muslim scholars including Ibn al-Beithar.

Aristotle believed that he quotes the scientific fact while the modern scientists consider it as a legend. The same things are typical to the works by Hippocrates (460-377 BC), Dioscorides (1 BC) and Galen (130-200 BC). In particular, Galen informs that an amulet from the testicles of male starling treats epilepsy. In the Middle Ages, this legend was repeated by Ibn Sina (980-1037 AD) and many other authors.

Aristotle was the most irreconcilable opponent of attraction of mysticism and all irrational things in a science. For this reason some readers frequently reproached him with narrow-mindedness, absence of imagination and pedantry. However, neither indestructible logic, nor healthy skepticism has saved Aristotle from mysticism. That not knowing he has included in his books a lot of legendary and mystical items.

Do not judge the scholar too strictly. Whether there is a guarantee that after one thousand years our own conclusions will not seem to the descendants as mysticism? Despite of all wisdom, Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen hardly could assume that after many centuries, in the 8th-11th AD, Muslims will translate their works into Arabic, and together with antique philosophy, mathematics and medicine will acquire elements of the Greek magic.

However, the educated Muslims of that time were the ardent opponents of any mysticism. It was rejected by such great scholars as Ibn Sina (980-1037 AD), Bahmanyar al-Azerbaijani (d. 1065/1066 AD), Biruni (943-1048 AD), Farabi (873-950 AD), etc. For example, Nasiraddin Tusi (1201-1274 AD) quoted the information on magic properties of stones, but analyzed it critically.

Actually, the Muslim thinkers did not resemble at all the wise Buddhists of mysterious India - they were not neither visionaries, nor dreamers. Except for few Sufi mystics and wandering dervishes these people were completed rationalists. The strict mathematical thinking which has been brought up by the Aristotle's logic was peculiar to them.

Being the true scientists, medieval Muslim thinkers trusted only that it is possible to measure, calculate and scientifically explain. The basic essence of their philosophy: «The useful things are good. The legal actions are correct. The proved ideas are true». Analyzing magic the scientists were guided by the same principles. Abu Reihan Biruni (943-1048 AD) wrote in his "India": “If one similar to the ignorant people will consider witchcraft as performance of different impossible things, then witchcraft lays outside of limits of authentic knowledge ... Hence, witchcraft has nothing to do with science."

Denying "different impossible things", Biruni, Farabi, Ibn Sina, Bahmanyar al-Azerbaijani and their adherents came close to denying all supernatural including any religion. Actually, it has not taken place, as the scholars did not consider religion of Islam as something supernatural and irrational. To them, the God was an integral part of the canonized, logically proved, and scientifically grounded by Aristotle, Plato and other ancient thinkers system of the Universe. In reply to it, some Muslim theologists were up in arms against the scholars. They were indignant and declared: "Do you really trust Aristotle more than the Prophet Muhammad? The devout man should simply trust in the God, instead of proving his existence by logical reasons!"

In response to it, the Baghdad philosopher Abu Ali Zur'a (b. 982 AD) said: "The purpose of logic consists in distinguishing true from a nonsense, and lie from sincerity. Everyone who asserts that the scholar building a chain of logical proofs neglects religion is similar to the man with false coins who escapes with them from those who criticizes him and makes his way to the one who is ignorant."

Later, the philosopher and theologist Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 AD) has tried to reconcile the contradictory views of priests and philosophers. For this purpose, he has developed a special doctrine which has united the Greek philosophy and Muslim religion.

So, the existence of soul and God was scholarly proved. For a scientific basing of canons of the Musim religion the scholars used the same strict mathematical logic with which help they rejected all heathen religions, magic and astrology. For example, Abu Nasr al-Farabi (873-950 AD) wrote about magic: " Magic, alchemy and astrological prediction have no any natural bases and do not correspond to logical thinking. They are designed for feeble-minded persons and those who does not understand at all a science."

Abu Reihan Biruni (973-1048 AD) in the book "India" also notes: "The witchcraft is an action through which something seems to our sensual perception as something embellished and distinct from its real condition. One of the kinds of witchcraft is alchemy... Whether you believe that if somebody takes a bit of cotton and shows him in such a manner that it seems to other persons as if it is a piece of gold, it can be put down only to witchcraft?"

Ibn Sina (980-1037 AD) also pointed out that: "Alchemists can make good imitations painting a red metal in white color that it became similar to silver, or changing his color for yellow that it reminded gold... However, the nature of metals does not change."

Thus, the Muslims were rationalists in a much more degree than ancient Greeks and Romans whose rich heathen imagination has framed a set of legends about magic properties of animals, plants and stones. Azerbaijanis, Iranians and Arabs living in pre-Islamic epoch also believed in the numerous gods, malicious and kind spirits, fantastic jinns, peris, devs and ifrits. Their faith, prays and spells were alien to the Muslim doctrine which regarded it as superstition and magic.

Abu Reyhan Birinu wrote about pagans of India: “Difference existing between us and them in tongue, religion, customs and traditions, and also their excessive remoteness from concepts of cleanliness and foulness makes impossible the dialogue and eliminates ways of mutual discussion."

Jewish magicians living on a neighborhood with Muslims believed in magic circles and planetary spirits. Their doctrine (Cabbala) was distributed during the Middle Ages in the Muslim Maghrib (northern-western Africa). Then, through Spain, the Cabbalistic doctrine has penetrated into Europe where was practiced by both devout clericals and wizards. The Catholic church sometimes approved Cabbala, but sometimes ruthlessly burnt on fires its followers.

The Muslim clergy did not resort with so severe measures, though strict monotheism of Islam extremely skeptically and disapprovingly concerned to the magic texts and magic histories which have not been fixed in Koran or Hadiths (Canonized narrations about deeds and the statements of Prophet Muhammad). Nevertheless, the authority of antique culture has played its role: numerous magic texts which were not connected directly with Islam, penetrated in works of Muslim scientists. A lot of such texts are found in works written in Turkic.

Source: Farid Alakbarli. Medical manuscripts of Azerbaijan.