Autobiographical Except from Burzuyah, an Eminent Persian Physician

Science as it developed under Muslim rule was far more humane than the science we know today. Here is an autobiographical except from an eminent Persian physician—Burzuyah—who although originally of the Parsi faith, influenced through his association with the great medical research centre at Jundishapur, Muslim doctors by practicing his healing profession in strict conformity with Islamic ethical ideals:

My father belonged to the soldier class; my mother was the daughter of a family of distinguished priests. One of the favours that God gave to me was that I was the favourite child and that I received a better education than my brothers. My parents sent me when I was seven years old to an elementary school. As soon as I could read and write well, I returned to my parents. Then I decided to study Science. The first brach of Science that attracted me was Medicine. It interested me so much because I knew how excellent it was. The more I learnt, of it, the more I liked it and the more eagerly I studied it.

As soon as I had reached such a degree of proficiency in medicine that I could think of diagnosing and treating patients, I began to deliberate within myself, for I observed that there were four things to which men aspire. Which of these ought I to aim at—money, prosperity, fame, or a heavenly reward? What decided my choice was the observation that all intelligent, educated people praise medicine and that no religion condemns it. I also used to read in the medical books at Jundisapur that the best doctor is the one who sacrifices his personal gain for the welfare of his patients and seeks only a reward from God in the Hereafter. So I was determined to follow this lead and to aim at no earthly gain lest I be like a merchant who sells for a valueless bauble a ruby by which he might have gained all the riches of the world.

I also read in the medical works of the ancients that if a physician aspires to gain through his profession a reward in the Hereafter, he will not lose his share in this world’s goods. Thus he resembles a sower who carefully scatters his barley grain in his field and for whom there springs up together with his harvest of barley, all sorts of useful herbs.

So with the hope of reward in the Hereafter, I set out to treat the sick. I exerted myself in the treatment of patients whom I expected to cure. And no less did I strive in those cases where I could not hope to effect a cure. In such cases, I tried at least to make their sufferings more bearable. Whenever I could, I used to attend to my cases in person. When this was not possible, I would write out for them the necessary prescriptions and give them medicines. From no one do I ever demand any fee or other reward. And none of my fellow physician did I envy who equaled me in skill or surpassed me in fame or fortune if he were lax in his standards of honesty in word or deed.

(Science and Civilization in Islam, Syed Hossein Nasr, New American Library, New York, 1968, p. 189-190; as quoted in Islam and Western Society, M. Jameelah, 1982, p. 185-186)

Hazrat Rabi’a bin Haisham was a slave. After having been set free, he engaged himself in acquiring knowledge and in the course of time became the Imam and leader of the Muslims of Basra where he had settled. He used to undertake work only for the sake of Allah. One day he asked his wife to prepare a special dish. Since he was not in the habit of making demands for himself, his wife prepared the dish with great care and attention. Hazrat Rabi’a took the food when ready to a neighbor who was insane and not in possession of his senses and fed him with his own hands. The saliva was dripping profusely from the mouth of the afflicted man but Hazrat Rabi’a continued to feed him with pleasure. When Hazrat Rabi’a returned home, his wife complained bitterly that he had given the food which she had prepared with so much labour to a person who did not know at all what it was. Hazrat Rab’a replied, “But Almighty Allah knows it full well and that is all I care for.”

(“Picture of Loyalty to Faith,” Yaqeen International, Karachi, February 7 & 22, 1974, p. 228; in “Islam and Western Society,” M. Jameelah, p. 310)

The Question of Women-Men Equality in Islam

“From the Islamic point of view, the question of the equality of men and women is meaningless. It is like discussing the equality of a rose and a jasmine. Each has its own perfume, colour, shape, and beauty. Men and women are not the same. Each has particular features and characteristics. Women are not equal to men. But neither are men equal to women. Islam envisages their roles in society not as competing but as complimentary. Each has certain duties and functions in accordance with his or her nature and constitution.

“Man possesses certain privileges such as social authority and mobility against which he has to perform many heavy duties. First of all, he bears all economic responsibility. It is his duty to support his family completely even if his wife is rich and despite the fact that she is economically independent. A woman in traditional Islamic society does not have to worry about earning a living. There is always the larger family structure in which she can find a place and take refuge from social and economic pressures even if she has no husband or father. In the extended family system, a man often supports not only his wife and children but also his mother, sister, aunts, in-laws and sometimes even cousins and more distant relatives. Therefore in city life, the necessity of having to find a job at all costs and having to bear the economic pressure of life is lifted from the shoulders of women. As for the countryside, the  family is itself the economic unit and the work is achieved by the larger family or tribal unit together.

“Secondly, a woman does not have to find a husband for herself. She does not have to display her charms and make the thousand and one plans through which she hopes to attract a future mate. The terrible anxiety of having to find a husband and of missing the opportunity if one does not try hard enough at the right moment is spared the Muslim woman. Being able to remain true to her nature, she can afford to sit at home and wait for her parents or guardian to choose a suitable match. This usually leads to a marriage which, being based on the sense of religious duty and enduring family and social bonds between the two sides, is more lasting and ends much more rarely in divorce than the marrieages which are based on the sentiments of the moment that often do not develop into more permanent relationships.

“Thirdly, the Muslim woman is spared direct military and political responsibility although in rare cases there have been women warriors. This point may appear as a deprivation to some but in the light of the real needs of feminine nature, it is easy to see that for most women, such duties weigh heavily upon them. Even in modern societies which through the equalitarian process have tried to equate men and women as if there were no difference in the two sexes, women are usually spared the military draft except in extreme circumstances.

“In return for these privileges which the woman receives, she has also certain responsibilities of which the most important is to provide a home for her family and to bring up her children properly. In the home the woman rules as queen and a Muslim man is in a sense the guest of his wife at home. The home and the larger family structure in which she lives are for the Muslim woman her world. To be cut off from it would be like being cut off from the world or like dying. She finds the meaning of her existence in this extended family structure which is constructed so as to give her the maximum possibility of realizing her basic needs and fulfilling herself.

“The Shariah therefore envisages the role of men and women according to their nature which is complimentary. It gives the man the privilege of social and political authority and movement for which he has to pay by bearing heavy responsibilities, by protecting his family from all the forces and pressures of society, economic and otherwise. Although a master in the world at larege and the head of his own family, the man acts in his home as one who recognize the rule of his wife in this domain and respects it. Through mutual understanding and the realization of the responsibilities that God has placed on each other’s shoulders, the Muslim man and woman are able to fulfil their personalities and create a firm family unit which is the basic structure of Muslim society.”

(Ideals and Realities of Islam, Syed Hossein Nasr, 1966, p. 110-113; quoted in Islam and Western Society, M. Jameelah, 1982, p 109-112)