The Golden Medical Dissertation of Imam Reza (A.S.)

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Among such books is Al-Risala al-Dahabiyya fil Tibb (the gold medical dissertation) for which sources are counted reaching sometimes to Muhammad ibn Jumhoor, and sometimes to al-Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Nawfali who was accepted as trustworthy by al-Najjashi who described him as “highly esteemed and trustworthy; he narrated one text about al-Reza (A.S.),” which could be “the gold medical dissertation.”
It is possible that the dissertation’s fame among scholars, and their consensus in various centuries that the Imam (A.S.) was its author, and that nobody doubted such an authorship, are enough proofs leading the researcher to comfortably and almost positively conclude that it was indeed from the intellectual output of Imam al-Reza (A.S.) himself.

Dissertation Was Authored by the Imam
Despite all of this, we see no reason to doubt that it was authored by the Imam if we apply the criterion generally applied to derive legislative verdicts (ahkam), or to be familiar with the principles of the creed (usool), for in that case there are conditions which are not required here; otherwise, doubt would have necessitated the attribution of authorship to a large number of books due to the lack of a method which would assure us of the reliability of such an attribution. Yet the fame which many verifiers consider as a means towards confirmation can by itself prove to us the accuracy of attributing this dissertation to the Imam (A.S.).
If it is proven for us that al-Najjashi meant this same gold dissertation when he was quoting al-Nawfali saying that he narrated one text from al-Reza (A.S.), the knot would surely be untied. What supports this assumption about al-Najjashi is that some scholars have said that the library of allama al-‘Askari in Samarra (Iraq) contains a copy of a manuscript dealing with the medical knowledge of Imam al-Reza (A.S.) narrated by Abu Muhammad al-Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Nawfali149, provided there is no other copy by al-Nawfali in which he quotes the Imam (A.S.) other than this dissertation; otherwise, we would be confused and we would not be able to reasonably understand why al-Najjashi did not provide sufficient details about the books which he attributed to their respective authors or narrators, or at least indicate their titles!
This dissertation is one of the most precious pieces of Islamic legacy dealing with the science of medicine. This inclusive, scientific and invaluable dissertation is a summary of a number of medical sciences such as anatomy, biology, physiology, pathology and the science of health care. It provided most of the knowledge related to the science of protective medicine, nutrition, chemistry, and a large portion of other sciences as well.
The Imam (A.S.) sent this dissertation to the caliph al-Mamoon around the year 201 A.H. when medicine was a primitive science and its research was not conducted scientifically but based on practice alone rather than on scientific discoveries, and when the science of bacteriology was not discovered yet, nor was there any significant knowledge of nutritional supplements such as vitamins, or other significant medical discoveries for fighting microbes such as penicillin, streptomycin, oromycin, etc.
On the surface, the dissertation seemed to be very simple in order to be in line with the mentality of that time, but it is quite deep and complicated in its implications and it needs a scientific study and lengthy researches to unveil its secrets and uncover its treasures, and it should be compared with modern scientific facts.150

Al-Mamoon Evaluated Dissertation
Al-Mamoon was very pleased to receive that dissertation and he expressed how much he cherished it by ordering to have it written down in gold and to be deposited at his “depository of wisdom,” thus its name “the gold dissertation.” In praising it, al-Mamoon said, “I have reviewed the dissertation of my learned cousin, the loved and virtuous one, the logical physician, which deals with the betterment of the body, the conduct of bathing, the balance of nutrition, and I found it very well organized and one of the best blessings. I carefully studied it, reviewed and contemplated upon it, till its wisdom manifested itself to me, and its benefits became obvious, and it found its place in my heart, so I learned it by heart and I understood it by my mind, for I found it to be a most precious item to post, a great treasure, and a most useful item, so I ordered it to be written in gold due to its being precious, and I deposited it at the depository of wisdom after I had it copied down by the descendants of Hashim, the youths of the nation. Bodies become healthy by balanced diets, and life becomes possible by overcoming disease, and through life wisdom is achieved, and through wisdom Paradise is won, and it is worthy of being safeguarded and treasured, and an object of value and esteem and a reliable physician and a counsellor to refer to and a substance of knowledge in its injunctions and prohibitions.
“Because it came out of the house of those who derive their knowledge from the knowledge of the Chosen One (S.A.W.), the missive of the prophets, the proofs of successors to the prophets, the manners of scholars, the cure to the hearts and the sick from among the people of ignorance and blindness…, may God be pleased with them, bless and be merciful to them, the first of them and the last, the young and the old, I showed it to the elite among my closest train who are known for their wisdom, knowledge of medicine, authors of books, those who are counted among the people of knowledge and described with wisdom, and each one of them lauded it and thought highly of it, elevated it with esteem and appreciated it in order to be fair to its author, submitting to him, believing in the wisdom he included therein.”151

Al-Mamoon Asked the Imam to Write It
The story of this dissertation is that al-Mamoon had a very inquisitive mind eager for knowledge, fond of obtaining more of it. During one of his scientific debates, a group of physicians and philosophers in Nishapur, including Yohanna (John) ibn Masawayh the physician, Jibraeel (Gabriel) ibn Bakhtishoo’ the physician, Salih ibn Salhama the Indian philosopher, in addition to others, had gathered. Discussion turned to medicine and how in it the bodies are improved. Al-Mamoon and his attendants were involved in a very lengthy discussion of the subject, and how God created the human body and the contradictory things in it, the four elements, the harms and benefits of various types of food, while the Imam (A.S.) kept silent and did not take part in any of that. Al-Mamoon, therefore, said to him, “What do you have to say, O father of al-Hassan, in today’s subject of our discussion?” Abul-Hassan (A.S.) said, “I have of this the knowledge of what I have personally tested and came to know about its accuracy by experience and by the passage of time in addition to what I was told by my ancestors of what nobody can afford to be ignorant of nor excused for leaving out. I shall compile that with an equal share of what everyone need know.”
Al-Mamoon then rushed to Balkh and Abul-Hassan (A.S.) did not accompany him; therefore, al-Mamoon sent him from there a letter asking him to fulfill his promise and make that compilation, so al-Reza (A.S.) wrote him saying:
“In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful; My reliance is upon Allah
I have received the letter of the commander of the faithful regarding what he ordered me about acquainting him with what is needed of matters I have tested and heard about foods and drinks, medicines, venesection, blood letting, bathing, poisons, what should be avoided, and other things which manage the health of the body, and I explained what is needed to be done regarding one’s own body, and God is the One Who gives success.”
After that he initiates the dissertation.

Commentaries on the Dissertation
A good number of scholars attempted to write commentaries on the dissertation; here is a partial listing of some of them:
1. Tarjamat al-Alawi lil Tibb al-Radawi by Sayyid Diaud-Din Abul-Rida Fadlallah ibn Ali al-Rawandi (d. 548 A.H.).
2. Tarjamat al-Dhahabiyya by mawla Faydallah ‘Usarah al-Tasatturi who was an authority on medicine and astrology during the regime of Fath-Ali Khan. This book was written under the cover of secrecy in about 107 A.H. A handwritten copy of the manuscript dated 1133 A.H. is available at Mishkat Library of the Tehran University.
3. Tarjamat al-Dhahabiyya by Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi. It is available at the private library of the late Sayyid Hassan al-Sadr in Kazimiyya (Iraq).
4. ‘Afiyat al-Bariyya fi Sharh al-Dhahabiyya by Mirza Muhammad Hadi son of Mirza Muhammad Salih al-Shirazi. It was authored during the regime of Sultan Husayn al-Safawi. It is in handwritten manuscript form and it is available at the Sayyid Husayn al-Hamadani Library, Najaf al-Ashraf (Iraq).
5. Sharh Tibb al-Reza by mawla Muhammad Sharif al-Khatoonabadi. He authored it around 1120 A.H.
6. Tarjamat al-Dhahabiyya by Sayyid Shamsud-Din Muhammad ibn Muhammad Badi’ al-Radawi al-Mashhadi. It was finished in 1155 A.H., and it is available at the Shaikh Muhammad Ali Akbar al-Nahawandi library in Khurasan (Iran).
7. Sharh Tibb al-Reza by Sayyid Abdallah al-Shubbar who died in 1242 A.H. Shaikh al-Nawari mentioned that he saw that copy himself.
8. Sharh Tibb al-Reza by mawla Muhammad ibn al-Hajj Muhammad Hassan al-Mashhadi who taught at Mashhad and died in 1257 A.H.
9. Sharh Tibb al-Reza by mawla Nawrooz Ali al-Bastami.
10. Al-Mahmoodiyya by al-Hajj Kazim al-Moosawi al-Zanjani who died in 1292 A.H. It is in manuscript form and it is available with the author’s grandsons.
There are others besides these scholars who explained and commented on it, revealing what is hidden of its secrets and obscure treasures. Probably the latest person who explained it and conducted a comparative study between its theory and the latest modern scientific discoveries is Dr. Abdul-Sahib Zaini in the “Multaqa al-‘Asrayn” series.
Notes:
149 Tibb al-Reza (“Medicine of al-Reza”), “Multaqa al-‘Asrayn” series, issue number 2, p. 130
150 Ibid., pp. 19-20
151 A’yan al-Shi’a, Vol. 4, pp. 2, 143 and 144

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