Abd-el-latif - one of the most voluminous writers of the Near East in his time
(1162–1231), born in Baghdad, Iraq, was a celebrated physician, historian, Egyptologist and traveller, and one of the most voluminous writers of the Near East in his time.
An interesting memoir of Abdallatif, written by himself, has been preserved with additions by Ibn Abu-Osaiba (Ibn abi Usaibia), a contemporary. From that work we learn that the higher education of the youth of Baghdad consisted principally in a minute and careful study of the rules and principles of grammar, and in their committing to memory the whole of the Qur'an, a treatise or two on philology and jurisprudence, and the choicest Arabic poetry.
After attaining to great proficiency in that kind of learning, Abdallatif applied himself to natural philosophy and medicine. To enjoy the society of the learned, he went first to Mosul (1189), and afterwards to Damascus. With letters of recommendation from Saladin's vizier, he visited Egypt, where he realized his wish to converse with Maimonides, the Eagle of the Doctors.
He afterwards formed one of the circles of learned men whom Saladin gathered around him at Jerusalem. He taught medicine and philosophy at Cairo and at Damascus for a number of years, and afterwards, for a shorter period, at Aleppo.
His love of travel led him to visit different parts of Armenia and Asia Minor in his old age. Also, he was in the process of setting out on a pilgrimage to Mecca when he died at Baghdad.
Account of Egypt
See also: Sociology in medieval Islam
Abdallatif was undoubtedly a man of great knowledge and of an inquisitive and penetrating mind. Of the numerous works (mostly on medicine) which Osaiba ascribes to him, one only, his graphic and detailed Account of Egypt (in two parts), appears to be known in Europe.
Abd-al Latif was well aware of the value of ancient monuments and praised Muslim rulers for preserving and protecting pre-Islamic artifacts and monuments. He noted that the preservation of antiquities presented a number of benefits for Muslims:
* "monuments are useful historical evidence for chronologies;"
* "they furnish evidence for Holy Scriptures, since the Qur'an mentions them and their people;"
* "they are reminders of human endurance and fate;"
* "they show, to a degree, the politics and history of ancestors, the richness of their sciences, and the genius of their thought."
While discussing the profession of treasure hunting, he notes that poorer treasure hunters were often sponsored by rich businessmen to go on archeological expeditions. In some cases, an expedition could turn out to be fraud, with the treasure hunter disappearing with large amounts of money extracted from sponsors. This fraudulent practice continues to the present day, with rich businessmen in Egypt still being deceived by local treasure hunters.
This work was one of the earliest works on Egyptology. It contains a vivid description of a famine caused, during the author's residence in Egypt, by the Nile failing to overflow its banks. He also wrote detailed descriptions on ancient Egyptian monuments.
Al-Baghdadi wrote that during the famine in Egypt in 597 AH (1200 AD), he had the opportunity to observe and examine a large number of skeletons. This was one of the earliest examples of a postmortem autopsy, through which he discovered that Galen was incorrect regarding the formation of the bones of the lower jaw and sacrum.
The Arabic manuscript was discovered in 1665 by Edward Pococke the orientalist, and preserved in the Bodleian Library. He then published the Arabic manuscript in the 1680s. His son, Edward Pococke the Younger, translated the work into Latin, though he was only able to publish less than half of his work. Thomas Hunt attempted to publish Pococke's complete translation in 1746, though his attempt was unsuccessful. Pococke's complete Latin translation was eventually published by Professor Joseph White of Oxford in 1800. The work was then translated into French, with valuable notes, by Silvestre de Sacy in 1810.
Al-Mukhtarat fi al-Tibb
Al-Baghdadi's Mukhtarat fi al-Tibb was one of the earliest works on hirudotherapy. He introduced a more modern use for medicinal leech, stating that leech could be used for cleaning the tissues after surgical operations. He did, however, understand that there is a risk over using leech, and advised patients that leech need to be cleaned before being used and that the dirt or dust "clinging to a leech should be wiped off" before application. He further writes that after the leech has sucked out the blood, salt should be "sprinkled on the affected part of the human body."
Medicine from the Book and the Life of the Prophet
He wrote a book called Al-Tibb min al-Kitab wa-al-Sunna (Medicine from the Book and the Life of the Prophet) describing the Islamic medical practices from the time of Muhammad.
Al-Baghdadi was also the author of a major book dealing with diabetes.
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