The Spread of Islam

In order to understand how medicine developed in the middle ages, we have to look at history and find out the important things that happened during the seventh century.

In 570 A.D., a man was born in a small city called Makkah in the Arabian Peninsula (Haykal 1976); his name was Mohammed. In 610 A.D. he started preaching a new religion, Islam. In 632 A.D., he died after uniting the Arab tribes who had been torn by incessant feuds, cycles of revenge, rivalries, and internecine fights. He transformed these mostly illitcrate nomadic people into a strong nation that encountered and conquered, simultaneously, the two known powers of the time, namely, the Persian and Byzantine Empires. Within a comparatively short space oftime, the Islamic Empire extended from the Atlantic Ocean on the west, to the borders of China on the east. In 71 1 A.D.. only 80 years after the death of the prophet, the Arabs had crossed over to Europe where they ruled Spain for more than 700 years. In 732 A.D., they threatened Paris before their thrust was stopped at Tours and Poiter (Eigeland 1976). In 831 A.D., the Muslims of North Africa invaded Sicily and ruled there for 200 years. By 846 A.D., they controlled the southern part of Italy and encountered Pome (Hitti 1977). The hold of the Moslems over Italy remained so firm that Pope John VIII (872-882 A.D.) deemed it prudent to pay tribute for two years (Hitti 1977). In 869 A.D., the Arabs captured Malta (ibn-Khaldun). In the tenth century, from Italy and Spain, the Arabs extended their raids through the Alpine passages into mid-Europe. In the Alps, ruins of a number of castles and walls which tourists' guides trace back to the invasion of the Moslems from Sicily still exist. In the southern part ofItaly and in Sicily, a great civilization prospered and through it, the torch of knowledge passed on to Europe, mainly through the University of Salerno in the southern part of Italy (Hitti 1977, Parente 1967).

The expansion of the Muslims in Europe was not limited to those from North Africa and Spain. The Moslems, under the Ottoman Empire, invaded Europe from the East. They occupied a large part of Middle Europe and besieged Vienna twice: during the reign of Sulayman I (1520-1566 A.D.), and during the reign of Mohammed IV (1648-1687 A.D.) (Hitti 1977).