Kitab al-Tasrif

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The Kitab al-Tasrif (كتاب التصريف لمن عجز عن التأليف, Kita al-Tasrif limn 'Ajiz 'an al-T'aleef), literally meaning "The Method of Medicine" is a 30-volume Arabic encyclopedia on medicine and surgery, written near the year 1000 by Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (known to the West as Abulcasis).

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The Kitab al-Tasrif took al-Zahrawi over 50 years to complete. It contains information about a wide variety of illnesses, injuries, medical conditions, treatments, and surgical procedures. It describes over 200 different surgical instruments. Surgeons continued to rely on the Kitab al-Tasrif well into the 1700s; some of al-Zahrawi’s surgical procedures are still being used to this very day.

The work covers a broad range of medical topics, including on surgery, medicine, orthopaedics, ophthalmology, pharmacology, nutrition, dentistry, childbirth, and pathology. The last treatise and the most celebrated one is about surgery. al-Zahrawi stated that he chose to discuss surgery in the last volume because surgery is the highest form of medicine, and one must not practice it until he becomes well-acquainted with all other branches of medicine.

Notable Manuscripts

circa 1710 CE

Patna Manuscripts
The Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library in Patna (India) has two valuable manuscripts of al-Tasrif. One of them, which is dated 1710 CE, has 27 (out of 30) treatises of the book in 494 folios, and is written in the Maghrebi script. The other manuscript contains only the last (30th) treatise and has 248 folios. This manuscript, written in the Naskhi script in 1188 CE, has nearly 200 drawings and illustrations of clinical and surgical devices and instruments. This is perhaps the earliest and one of the finest manuscripts of al-Tasrif.



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