A Glimpse into Muslim Contribution to Pharmacy-Compiled by Javeriya Sayeed

Islamic pharmacy (Saydanah), the art of preparing and dispensing drugs, separate from the profession of medicine was recognized in the 8th century. The knowledge Muslim pharmacists inherited from Syria, Persia, India and the Far East formed the basis for future innovations. Muslim pharmacists remained unsurpassed in this field until the 17th century. Drug stores were first established in Baghdad in 754, where drugs were prepared and sold.  The drug stores and the work carried on in them, was inspected by Mohtasibs (inspectors). The works done by the famous scholars for pharmacy are as follows:

Prince Khalid bin Yazid


The first figure associated with the development of Islamic pharmacy was grandson of Caliph Hadhrat Muawiyyah, Prince Khalid bin Yazid (d.704).  Under his direction, translations of Greek texts into Arabic were made for the first time in the Islamic world. Translators were given stipends, and soon several Egyptian and Greek books of medicine, chemistry and astrology were translated into Arabic. He was the first one to establish a library in the Islamic world.

Jabir ibn Hayyan (d. 815 Kufa)

He was a renowned chemist and alchemist. He is considered to be the father of modern chemistry. He is credited with the invention of over 22 types of basic laboratory equipment, such as the alembic and retort. He invented many commonplace chemical substances – such as the hydrochloric acid, nitric acid and processes – such as sublimation, calcinations, crystallization, evaporation, dissolution.

Ali Bin Sahl Rabban al-Tabari

Al-Tabari wrote a famous book  Firdaus al-Hikma (Paradise of Wisdom) which was completed in 850. In addition to discussing diseases and their remedies, he included several chapters on materia medica. He urged that therapeutic value of each drug be reconciled with the particular disease. For storing the drugs he recommended glass or ceramic vessels for liquid drugs, small jars for eye liquid salves, & lead containers for fatty substances.

Sabur  bin Sahl

The first medical formulary (Aqrabadhin) was written in Arabic by Sabur bin Sahl (d.869). The book included recipes for compounding the  drugs,  remedies for ailments, their pharmacological actions, dosage and the methods of administrations. It was written as a guidebook for pharmacists.

Yakoob Ibn  Ishaq  Al-Kindi (d.873)

He made important contributions in medicine, pharmacy and optics. Of the 265 works he penned, more than 30 dealt with pure medicine. He developed a mathematical scale to determine in advance, based on the phases of the Moon the most critical days of an illness.  He invented a branch of medicine called posology, which dealt with the dosages of the drugs. He created easy-to-use table that pharmacists could refer to when filling out prescriptions.

Muhammad Ibn Zakaria al-Razi (d.925)

He introduced into pharmacy the use of mild purgatives, cupping for cases of apoplexy (sudden effusion of blood into an organ) and cold water for fevers.He was the first to identify many diseases such as  asthma,  smallpox, chicken-pox and  treated them successfully. He was the first physician who used alcohol as antiseptic. He invented many tools such as the mortar and pestle that are used by pharmacists. His books  Qarabadain Kabir  (The Great Book of Krabadain)  ,  and  Qarabadain Saghir (The Little Book of Krabadin) were important in pharmacology in that they introduced 829  novel  drugs. His other famous works include Kitab al-Mansuri and  Kitab al-Tajarib.

Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Maqdassi

He performed pharmaceutical experiments and wrote several books as guides to materia medica. Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (936-1013) pioneered the preparation of drugs by sublimation and distillation. His famous work is named as Kitab al-Tasri.

Ibn Sena (d.1048)

He was known as the Prince of Physicians. He  wrote a book Adwiya al-Qalbiyya (Cardiac Drugs) which contains 760 drugs.masterpiece Kitab al-Qanoon fil Tibb,His most enduring work in pharmacy was laying down the rules for testing the effectiveness of a new drug or medication.

Al-Biruni (973-1050)

He wrote one of the most valuable Islamic works on pharmacology entitled Kitab al-Saydalah fee al-Tibb (The Book of Drugs), He promoted the academic training of pharmacy students together with day to day practical experience with drugs.

Yahya ibn Jazla (d.1100)

He composed Taqwim al-Abdan fi Tadbir al-Insan, which consisted of 44 tables. 352 diseases were arranged like the stars in the Zijes, his other most famous work is Al-Minhaj fi Al-Adwiah Al-Murakkabah, (Methodology of Compound Drugs), which was translated by Jambolinus and was known in Latin translation as the Cibis et medicines simplicibus.

Abu Mansur Muwaffaq 

The first pharmacological book by a Muslim was compiled by who lived in Herat in the 10th century, present day Afghanistan. Around 977 he wrote, the Kitab al-abniyia ‘an Haqa’iq al-adwiya, (The foundations of the true properties of Remedies) which is the oldest prose work in modern Persian. It deals with 585 remedies. He also describes the distillation of seawater for drinking.

Saeed ibn Abd Rabbihi (d.960)

He was a pharmacist-physician of Cordoba. His Kitab  al-Dukkan (The Pharmacy Shop) consisted of 17 chapters on compound drugs and recipes.

Ahmad Ibn  al-Jazzar (d.984)

He practiced medicine in Qayrawan, Tunisia. In his apothecary shop in  the city of  Manastir, he kept syrups, electuaries and other reparations. He was well known in Islamic Spain during the rule of Caliph al-Hakam (961-976). His medical compendium Za’ad al-Musafir comprised of

Seven treatises, and divided into two parts. His book Kitab al-I’timad al-adwiya alMufrida was on the pharmacological effects of tried and useful simple drugs. It was translated into Latin, Hebrew and Greek and exerted a profound influence on medical education in Europe.

Abul Qasim al-Zahrawi (936-1013) was considered the greatest Medieval surgeon and one of the fathers of modern surgery. He pioneered the preparation of drugs by sublimation and distillation. Kitab al-Tasreef is his famous work.

Abu Salt Umaiyah Andalusi (d. 1134) was a resourceful physician, astronomer, mathematician, and an eloquent poet. His brief compendium on materia medica al-Adwiyah al-Mufradah was in use in hospital pharmacies in Egypt. His works have received good attention especially from German speaking scholarship.

Andulasian physician Abu Ja’afar al-Ghafiqi (13th century) was a pioneer in medical botany, pharmacy and materia medica. In his encyclopedic text On Simples, he gave more than 350 colored renderings of plants and animals arranged alphabetically.

Abdul Malik  Ibn Zuhr( d.1161) wrote  Kitab al-Aghziya describing various types of foods and drugs and their effects on a person’s health. He developed drug therapy and medicinal drugs for the treatment of specific diseases.

Qazi  Ibn Rushd  (1126-1198)  completed in 1162 his seven volume medical encyclopedia Kitab al-Kulliyat fil Tibb in which he devoted two volumes to materia medica and general therapeutics.


Ibn Baytar  (d.1248)  described some 1400 drugs derived from  various  plants including some 200 new plants in his book “Kitab al-Jamey fil Adwiya alMufrada”. This was one of the greatest botanical compilations dealing with medicinal plants in Arabic. The book surpassed that of Dioscorides and remained in use until the 19th century.

Haji Zain al-Attar (1329) wrote a small treatise Miftah al-Khazain in 1366 which contained pharmacological information in three parts. The first part is on simple drugs, second on their rectification and the third on compound drugs.

Ishaq ibn Imran was an Iraqi physician who moved to Tunisia to serve the prince of Aghlabid dynasty, Ziyadatu–Allah. The manuscripts for Ishaq’s book on diet and drug therapy entitled, Aqwil fee Taba’i al-Aghziyya wal ‘adwiya are preserved in libraries of Istanbul, Madrid, Munich and Paris.

Said al-Tamimi 

His al-Murshid was excellent source for descriptions of natural products and their uses. He also excelled in preparing the great theriac and composed a book on the topic entitled Fee Sana’t Tiryaq al-Farooq wa Na’t Ashjarih.

Sultan Alauddin Khilji (1296-1316) had several eminent Hakims in his royal courts. This royal patronage was a major factor in the development of Unani practice in India, but also of Greco-Islamic (Unani) medical literature with the aid of Indian Ayur-vedic physicians.

During the reign of Moghul kings of India several Qarabadains were compiled like Qarabadain Shifae’ee, Qarabadain Zakai, Qarabadain Qadri and Elaj-ul-Amraz.

Several notable physicians of that time were

1)       Hakeem Ali Gilani-he invented a kind of sweet wine for getting rid of traveling fatigue.

2)      Hakim Ain-ul-Mulk Shirazi-he composed for his royal patron emperor Shah Jahan Alfaz-al-Adwiyya (vocabulary of drugs). It was printed in 1793 in Calcutta, and rendered into English by Gladwin.

3)     Hakim Akbar Arzani- he was a court physician of Emperor Aurangzeb. He wrote Tibbe Akbari, and Mizan al-Tibb

Muslims introduced a practical system in the education of medical science, they rejected those ideas which were contradicting the actual experiences and observations. The modern trend of specialization also has its roots in the past. But from the records we cans see that specialization was evident in the Muslim period. Pharmacy shops were established for the first time by muslims. Certain laws were also introduced to check the method of processing of drugs. For pharmaceutical preparation purposes appropriate inspection teams were organized by the authority or by the head of state.


  1. Hakim Mohammad Said: Pharmacy and Medicine Thru the Ages, Karachi, 1980.
  2. Hakim Mohammad Said: Medieval Muslim Thinkers, Dehli, 1991
  3. http://www.ishim.net/ishimj/4/02.pdf – contributions of Razi in the history of Pharmacy
  4. http://www.cancerlynx.com/FRONTsection.PDF   Dioscorides MateriaMedica online
  5. Hakim Mohammad Said: Greco-Arab concepts on Cardio-vascular disease, 1983     Karachi
  6. Mahmoud Sadek, Arabic materia medica of Dioscorides, Quebec, 1983
  7. Franz Rosenthal, Science and Medicine in Islam, Vermont, USA, 1990
  8. Howard Turner, Science in Medieval Islam, Illustrated Introduction, Austin, USA,     1995
  9. http://www.ibnsinaacademy.org/          Ibn Sena Academy, India
  10. Tony Abboud, Al-Kindi- father of Arab philosophy, New York, 2006
  11. S.K. Hamarneh, Health Sciences in Islam, Dec. 1984
  12. Dr. A.Y. al-Hassan, Science & Technology in Islam, part II, UNESCO, Paris,     2001


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