One of the Five Pillars of Islam, the rules which govern the lives of
Muslims, is to care for those less fortunate than themselves. Many Muslim
rulers interpreted this by setting up hospitals in cities all over the
Islamic world. By the 12th century, the city of Baghdad had 60 hospitals.
There were also hospitals in Cairo and Damascus and in the Spanish cities
of Granada, Seville and Cordoba. At this time London was just building its
Not only were there more hospitals in the Islamic empire than in Europe,
but the medical treatment was usually far superior. Muslim hospitals had
separate wards for different diseases, trained nurses and physicians and
stores of drugs and treatments.
Muslim medical knowledge was far more dvanced than in Western Europe.
Docotrs translated the books written by the ancient Greeks like Galen as
well as developing their own ideas and practices. These books ere used in
the training of physicians.
Most hospitals taught medical students and were inspected regularly to
ensure that they ere up to standard. Students received a certificate to
prove they had attended and from AD931 onwards all doctors in Baghdad had
to pass an examination to get a licence to practise.
By the 12th century, the city of Baghdad had 60 hospitals, while London had
just one. There were also hospitals in Cairo and Damascus and in the
Spanish cities of Granada, Seville and Cordoba. Islamic hospitals had
separate wards for different diseases, training wings, convalescent rooms
for the aged and terminally ill as well as stores of drugs and treatments.
Why did hospitals flourish in Islamic cities during the Middle Ages?
By the Middle Ages, a new civilisation had emerged in the Middle East. The
new religion of Islam was founded in Arabia by Muhammad in AD622. Islamic
civilisation spread quickly into Asia, Africa and even southern Europe,
which became united by a common religion and language.
Central to the Islamic religion is the Qu'ran, or Holy Book. It teaches
that the rich should provide for the poor and the healthy should look after
the sick. Wealthy people saw it as their responsibility to care for the
less fortunate and many left money when they died to pay for hospitals.
Muslims believed it was morally wrong to leave the sick uncared for and
treatment was usually free.
The wealth generated by trade with other nations enabled public baths and
hospitals to be built. There were far more hospitals in the Islamic empire
than in Europe. At one time, in Baghdad there were 60 hospitals while n
London there was just one. Islamic hospitals were well organised with
different wards for different types of illnesses, outpatient departments
and theatres where medical students could attend lectures. They also had
fountains so that patients could wash themselves. Hospitals also looked
after old people, especially if they had no families, and the insane.
At the same time, there was a renaissance in medical enquiry. Baghdad, the
capital of the Islamic empire, was well placed to benefit from both Indian
and Greek medical knowledge. Islamic scholars such as Rhazes and Avicenna
studied the texts of the Greek doctors Hippocrates and Galen and developed
their skills by observing patients and diseases. For example, Rhazes was
able to distinguish smallpox and measles as separate diseases. Islamic
doctors also made advances in chemistry, which led to new drugs and