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Timeline Development of Unani Medicine & Science

In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer identifies the authorities used by his Doctour of Physic: four Unani physicians --- Ali ibn al-Abbas al-Majusi (Jesu Haly), al-Razi (Rhazes), Ibn Sina (Avycen) and Ibn Rushd (Averrois). These four Hakims were among the greatest medical figures of the ancient world. Their authority remained throughout the European Middle Ages, and their books were the basis of medical instruction in European medical schools, up to even the start of the 20th century.

The Arab Unani physicians of the eighth to eleventh centuries were the founders of the science of modern medicine, with an amazing array of discoveries, inventions, medical instruments and brilliant writings.

The Unani physicians arose from the Islamic culture of 1,000 years ago, and their view was based upon a concept of medicine as the science by which the functioning of the human body could be discerned. Their goal is the preservation of health and to assist the body in its role as self-healer. They place as much emphasis on the maintenance of health as on the art of healing.

Unani medicine actually goes back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) who himself stated that there was no disease without a cure. There are entire books written on Tibb-ul-Nabbawi, or Medicine of the Prophet, so extensive were his knowledges of the healing arts.

It is no exaggeration to say that the great Unani physicians were the originators of the study of medicine as science. They eliminated all superstition and harmful folk-practices from ancient practices.

The Unani system is also responsible for first introducing the concept of professional standards of practice and the examination of physicians. Moreover, at the core of Unani healing is a moral code, implicit for both the patient and practitioner.

The first hospitals were built under the auspices of the Unani physicians. They were elegant and sophisticated structures, supremely functional, with running water and baths, different sections for the treatment of various diseases, with each section headed by a specialist. Hospitals were open 24 hours a day to handle emergency cases and did not turn any patient away.

Unani physicians inherited the medical tradition of Hippocrates and the Greeks, but quickly put the mark of their own genius upon all medicine. Below are some of the important individuals and landmarks in the development of Unani healing over the past 1,000 years. The list is by now means exhaustive, but gives a flavor of how Unani has developed over the centuries.

8th - 9th Century

Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan (Gerber) (776 CE - 803 CE)

Known as the Father of Chemistry. Gave descriptions of the geographical origin, physical properties and methods of application of everything found useful in the cure of disease.

'Abd al-Malik ibn al-Quraib al-Asmai (740 - 828 CE)

First Muslim scientist. Contributed to Zoology, Botany and Animal Husbandry.

Abu 'Uthman 'Amr ibn Bakr al-Kinani al-Fuqaimi al-Basri al-Jahiz (776 - 868 CE)

Wrote more than two hundred works, including zoology, Arabic grammar, poetry, rhetoric and lexicography, wrote The Book of Animals, Arab Food, Kitab al-Hayawan.

Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (Alkindus) (800 - 873 CE)

Known in the West as Alkindus. Considered one of the twelve greatest minds of the Middle Ages. Al-Kindi was a philosopher, astronomer, physician, mathematician, physicist, geographer, also an expert in music. First physician to systematically determine the dosage for most drugs. Wrote more than 240 books.

Hunain ibn Ishaq al 'Ibadi (808-73/77 CE)

Translator of more than a hundred Greek texts. Developed a scientific vocabulary in Arabic. He was a renowned physician and ophthalmologist. His Kitab al Masa'il fil tibb (Introduction to Medicine) which was the most authoritative textbook of his time.

Thabit Ibn Qurrah (Thebit) (836 - 901 CE)

Known for his work on mechanics, astronomy, pure mathematics and geometry. Algorithm became basis of integral calculus. Original works on equilibrium of bodies, and beams and levers. Founder of Statics. Added the ninth sphere to Ptolemic astronomy.

Ali Ibn Rabban Al-Tabari (838 - 870 CE)

A Christian convert to Islam, teacher of the great Unani physician Zakariya al-Razi (Rhazes). Most famous for world-renowned medical treatise Firdous al-Hikmat )Paradise of Wisdom), seven-volume treatise is the first Medical encyclopedia to incorporate many branches of medical science, including psychology, astronomy, astrology as well as most branches of medicine.

Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakariya Ar-Razi (Rhazes) (864 - 930 CE)

Position in Unani medicine compared to that of a second Galen. His writings on smallpox and measles was the first scientific treatise on the subject. Greatly favored cures through correct and regulated food. First to use opium for anesthesia. Wrote 237 books, half of them on medicine. The Diseases of Children earned him title of "the father of pediatrics." First to identify hay fever. Greatest work was Al-Kitab al-Hawi, or The Comprehensive Work, a medical encyclopedia in 25 volumes, includes Greek, Syrian, and early Arabic medical knowledge in their entirety. The largest medical encyclopedia ever composed.

10th Century

Abu Al-Qasim Al-Zahravi (Albucasis) (936 - 1013 CE)

From Cordoba, greatest surgeon of the Middle Ages. Famous for 30-volume encyclopedia 'Al-Tasrif li man ajaz an-il-talif. Deals with surgical knowledge, diagrams and illustrations of more than two hundred surgical instruments. Introduced procedures for cauterization of wounds, crushing stones inside the bladder, vivisection and dissection. Prescribed use of diuretics, sudorifics, purgatives, and hot baths. First to give detailed description hemophilia and the first to use silk thread for stitching wounds.

Ibn Juljul (born 943)

A leading physician by the age of 24. Wrote commentary on De Materia Medica of Dioscorides, and a special treatise on drugs found in al-Andalus. Also wrote history of the medical profession from the time of Aesculapius to his own day.

Abul Raihan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al Biruni (973-1048 CE)

Determined Earth's circumference. Author of earliest pharmacological book written in India.

'Ali ibn al 'Abbas al Majusi (Haly Abbas) (died 994 CE)

Author of one of the most important medical works, second only to ibn Sina's Qanun, the Kitab al Malaki. Gained his personal experience by running a hospital. First to use a tourniquet to stop the flow of blood through an artery.

Abu Ali Al-Hussain Ibn Abdulalh Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (981 - 1037 CE)

Most famous Unani physician, philosopher, encyclopedist, mathematician and astronomer. Major contribution to medical science was al-Qanun fi al-Tibb, known as the Canon of Medicine, an immense encyclopedia of medicine consisting of more than a million words. The Canon is still in use today. Reviewed all medical knowledge available from ancient and Muslim sources. First to describe meningitis; made rich contributions to anatomy, gynecology and child health. Ibn Sina's Kitab al-Shifa (Book of Healing) was a philosophical encyclopedia, covered vast knowledge from philosophy to science, and was the largest single book ever written by one person. Made discovery that the speed of light must be finite. His Canon of Medicine has been used as a reference book, a teaching guide and a medical textbook until this present time, longer than any other medical work in the world.

'Ali ibn 'Isa (Jesu Haly) ( died tenth century)

Worked in Baghdad. Wrote Kitab Tazkirat al kahhalin (Treasury of Ophthalmologists), had impact similar to that of al Zahrawi's al Tasrif.

Al-Zahrawi (Albucasis) (died 1013 CE)

Most famous surgeon of the Middle Ages. His great work, the Tasrif became a leading medical text in European universities in the later middle ages.

11th Century

Sheikh Dawood (circa 1008 CE)

Wrote Tadhkirat-ul-Albab, which describes several hundred herbs.

Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Yahya al-Zarqali (Arzachel) (1028 - 1087 CE)

Invented Astrolabe. Foremost astronomer of his time. Compiled his famous Toledan Tables. Corrected geographical data of Ptolemy and Al-Khwarizmi. First to prove motion of the Aphelion relative to the stars. Measured its rate of motion as 12.04 seconds per year, remarkably close to modern calculation of 11.8 seconds. Invented flat astrolabe known as Safihah.

Al-Ghazali (Algazel) (1058 - 1111 CE)

Most famous for contributions in philosophy, religion and Sufism. His books include Ihya al-'Ulum ud-Deen (The Revival of the Religious Sciences). One of the greatest theologians of Islam.

12th Century

Ibn-al-Baitar (Ziauddeen) (1197-1241 A.D.)

Chief Botanist in the court of Egypt. Traveled through North Africa, Spain, Greece and Italy, Syria and Asia Minor. Wrote Jame-ul-Mufradat, which deals with 2,000 herbs, , which gives the Berber, Arabic, and Romance names of the plant.

Ibn al-Khatib

A noted historian, poet and statesman. Among his other works, he wrote an important work on the theory of contagion.

Abu Marwan Abd Al-Malik Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) (1091 - 1161 CE)

One of the greatest physicians of the Middle Ages. Born in Seville, earned great reputation throughout North Africa and Spain. Described abscesses and mediastinal tumors for the first time. The first parasitologist. Wrote Kitab al-Taisir fi al-Mudawat wa al-Tadbir (The Book of Simplification concerning Therapeutics and Diet). Also wrote Kitab al Aghziya, the first Unani book on diet.

Abul Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Rushd (Averroes) (1126-98 CE)

Born in Cordoba, divided all knowledge into Jurisprudence and the spiritual sciences, which included medicine. Wrote 20 books on medicine. Most well-known was Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb, which he covered the whole medical field in abridged form. Credited with the discovery of sunspots.

Saiyid Zain al Din Isma'il al Husaini al Jurjani (d. 1136)

Author of the first medical encyclopedia in Persian, the Zakhira-i Khwarizmshahi (Treasury of the King of Khwarizm), as well as the Yadgar-i Tibb (Medical Memoranda), and the Aghrad al tibb (Aims of Medicine).


First center of Unani medicine in South Asia set up in Lahore, Pakistan.

13th Century

Ibn Al-Baitar (Died 1248)

Major contributions to Pharmacy.


Tibb-i Firuz Shahi by Shah Quli written, the earliest Unani medical textbook found in India.

Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi (1201 - 1274 CE)

Astronomy, Non-Euclidean Geometry

Ibn Al-Nafis Damishqui (1213 - 1288 CE)

Discovered the blood's circulatory system. First to correctly describe the constitution of lungs. Wrote Al-Shamil fi al-Tibb, an encyclopedia comprising 300 volumes, not completed due to his death. Another famous book deals with the effects of diet on health.

14th Century

Ibn Khaldun (1332 - 1395 CE)

The founder and father of Sociology and sciences of History. Best known for his famous Muqaddimah, (Prolegomena), a masterpiece in literature on philosophy of history and sociology, which identified the psychological, economic, environmental and social facts that contribute to the advancement of human civilization and the currents of history. Lectured at the Al-Azhar University.

Reign of Sultan 'Ala al Din Khilji (reign 1295-1315 CE)

Forty-five prominent hakims in court employment during the Khilji dynasty.

Reign of Muhammad bin Tughluq (reign 1325-52)

Seventy Unani hospitals built in Delhi, India; 1,200 hakims employed by the State.

15th Century

Mansur bin Muhammad Yusuf bin Ilyas

He wrote Kifayat-i Mujahidiya, and Tashrih-i Mansuri, widely used texts in many Unani colleges in India.

16th Century

Akbar’s Reign (reign 1556-1605)

Established Unani hospitals in many places, in Delhi and Agra for example. Hospitals were also built in the provinces.

Sher Shah's Reign (reign 1540-45)

Sher Shah placed a Unani physician in every stopover resthouse on the caravan routes in his empire.

City of Hyderabad

Planned by the Qutub Shahi dynasty of Golkonda in the late sixteenth century. One of the first buildings to go up was the Unani hospital, which had a capacity for 4,000 in-patients.

Rustam Jurjani

Compiled Zakhira-i Nizam Shahi (Treasure of Nizam Shah), a pharmacological dictionary.

Hakim Shams al Din 'Ali Shirazi (d. 1595) and his son Hakim Nur al Din Muhammad 'Abd Allah

Compiled Alfaz-i adwiyas (Vocabulary of Simple Drugs).

17th Century

Reign of Aurangzeb (reign 1658-1707)

Unani hospitals constructed in the smaller towns of his empire.

Hakim Muhammad Akbar Arzani (d. 1722)

First worked in the Deccan and later came to Delhi. Most prominent physician-writer of Aurangzeb's time. Most important book was Mizan-i Tibb (Balance of Medicine), classic a book on the general principles of diseases and their treatment.

Mawlana 'Abd al Razzaq Gilani

Had four sons: Hakim Abul Fath Gilani, author of commentaries on the Qanun and the Qanuncha; Hakim Najib al Din Humam; Hakim Nur al Din Qarawi; and Hakim Luff Allah Gilani, and various grandsons: Hakim Fath Allah; Hakim Haziq; and Hakim Khushhal Khan, all played a part at the courts of Akbar (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-27), and Shah Jahan (1628-57).

Hakim Muhammad Hashim Shirazi

Known as Hakim 'Alawi Khan. He came to India at the end of Aurangzeb's reign and continued to work there. He wrote a number of books, mostly on herbs and forms of treatment.

Hakim Aman Allah Khan (d. 1637)

Wrote Ganj-i badaward, a pharmacological compendium of the Mughals, extensive treatise dealing with simple and compound drugs used within both Ayurveda and Unani.

18th Century

1719-48 Hakim Hidayat Allah

Wrote Yusr al 'ilaj, contained detailed collection of herbs and prescriptions.

Hakim Shaikh Jalal al Din Amrohi

Wrote Qarabadin-i Jalali

Hakim Iskandar Khan

Wrote Qarabadin-i-Hakim Sikandar

Hakim Abdus Salam Burhanpuri (d. 1799)

Wrote Qarabadin-i Salami

Hakim A'zam Khan

Wrote Qarabadin-i A'zam

Hakim Muhammad Akbar Arzani

Wrote Qarabadin-i Qadri, compilation of 500 pages in which formularies were listed by organ.

19th Century

Hakim Muhammad Ya’qub (1790-1870)

Founder of the Ya’qub family Unani tradition. Set up clinic in Lucknow. Succeeded by son Hakim ‘Abd al ‘Ali (d. 1905), who became Head of the State Medical Department in Hyderabad. Daughters and descendants of Hakim Muhammad Ya’qub worked in Rampur and Hyderabad. Other son of Hakim Muhammad Ya’qub went to Calcutta. Two other sons remained in Lucknow, and Hakim Muhammad Isma'il (d. 1886) took over the clinic after his father's death.

Hakim A’zam Khan (d. 1903)

Wrote Unani pharmacopoeia, Muhit-i A’zam, a compilation of simple drugs found in Unani, Ayurvedic, and some Western medical books.

Hakeem Raza Ali Khan of Deccan (circa 1810 CE)

Author of Tadhkirat-ul-Hind, a Persian language work on Indian herbs.

Hakeem Mohamad Azam Khan (Died 1902 CE)

Author of the masterpiece Muheet-e-Azam in 4 volumes, which describes several thousand drugs.

20th Century

Hakim Muhammad 'Abd al 'Aziz (1855-1911)

In 1902, founded the Takmil al Tibb School. After Hakim 'Abd al 'Aziz's death, two eldest sons took over leadership of Takmil al Tibb.

Hakim 'Abd al Halim (1905-54)

Fourth son of Hakim 'Abd al 'Aziz, became principal of medical institution in Lucknow.


The hakims of Lucknow founded the Anjuman-i Tibbiya, the Medical Society.

Hakeem Mohammad Najmul Ghani Khan (circa 1915 CE)

Wrote Khazanatul-Advia, in Urdu, a treasure house of 2,612 herbs.

Hakim 'Abd al Latif (d. 1970) and Hakim 'Abd al Hasib (1927-74)

They joined Tibbiya College of Aligarh Muslim University. Introduction of postgraduate training in Unani medicine in Aligarh.

Hakim Ajmal Khan

Founder of the Tibbiya College in Delhi, discovered the medical uses of the plant Rauwolfia serpentia. Used for neurovascular and nervous disorders such as hypertension, schizophrenia, hysteria, eclampsia, insomnia and psychosomatic conditions. The alkaloids in Rauwolfia serpentina were named after Ajmal Khan: Ajmaline, Ajmalinine, Isoajmaline, Neoajmaline, etc.

1969 CCRIMH Established

Central Council for Research in Indian Medicine and Homeopathy (CCRIMH) to develop scientific research in different branches of Indian systems of medicine viz Unani Medicine, Ayurveda, Siddha, Yoga, Naturopathy and Homeopathy.

1978 CCRUM Founded

Establishment of the Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine

(CCRUM), making efforts to provide scientific basis of Unani medicine.

1970 Indian Medicine Central Council Act

Indian Government set up by an Act of Parliament, the Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM).

1976 American Institute of Unani Medicine

Founded by Hakim G.M. Chishti in the United States, the Institute has introduced 20,000,000 persons to Unani through lectures, media appearances and publications.

1900-1999 The Hamdard Era

The development of Unani medicine during the entire 20th century owes its vitality to the two towering figures in the persons of Hakim Muhammad Sayeed and Hakim Abdul Hameed Mutawwalli, who achieved worldwide renown as founders and patrons of the Hamdard Foundation.

The Hamdard story had begun in 1906, when Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed, their father, set up a small drug shop in Delhi. What started as a health service later diversified into an education and a socio-cultural movement in the shape of a charity. While Rabia Girls' School, Majeedia Hospital and the Ghalib Academy, besides the Jamia Hamdard University, were among the 25 institutions promoted in India, Hakim Sayeed founded the Hamdard University, Tibbia College and the College of Eastern Medicines, besides setting up a top hospital and several orphanages in Pakistan.

Born at Kucha Kashgari in Delhi in 1920, Muhammad Said moved to Karachi in 1947 to look after the Hamdard interests in Pakistan after Partition. He began making herbal formulas in a small room in Karachi in 1949. The enterprise grew to enormous proportions. Hakim Said earned a colossal fortune producing an herbal beverage of rose petals, called Ruh Afza (Soul of the Rose), which became the most popular refreshment beverage in the Subcontinent.

Devoting virtually all their wealth to the cause of Unani medicine, the brothers founded the world-famous Hamdard Institutes, one in India, the other in Pakistan.

The Hamdard Centres have developed into the largest facilities in the world for the study, treatment and research of Unani therapeutics. Devoted exclusively to Unani medicine, covering some 200 acres, the Hamdard facilities are impressive even by Western standards. Housed there are the various medical colleges, a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, a textbook publishing house and a several million volume research library.

At the famed Hamdard clinics, or Dawakhanas as they are called, no fees are charged to anyone for consultation, examination, tests, or services. The patient only pays for medicines, a charge usually very modest, less than a dollar. Indigent patients are given all treatment and medicine free. For those unable to travel to larger cities with established clinics, a hakim or hakima (feminine) makes weekly or monthly excursions throughout the countryside administering to the sick.

Hakim 'Abd al Hamid was involved in the All India Ayurvedic and Tibbi Conference, member of the UP Board of Indian Medicine, on selection committee for medical school of Aligarh Muslim University, and on the syllabus committee of the Tibbi College in Hyderabad. He also discovered a remedy for heart ailments with Khamira Abresham.

Hakim Mohammad Said was a respected scholar and a prolific writer, and was also associated with 34 academic societies. His works spanned science, religion, literature, politics and history. He wrote an exhaustive volume of Medicine in China, he wrote about the link between spirituality and medicine in his book Sufism and Alchemy.

Hakim Mohammad Said, said to have personally treated more than two and a half million patients over the past thirty years, was one of Pakistan's most distinguished citizens and former governor of Sindh. He is credited with the discovery of the drug Isterene for treatment of jaundice.

Hakim Muhammad Said was the victim of an assassin’s bullet in October, 1998, as he stood outside his clinic just after dawn. May God grant him Mercy and Eternal Blessings. Ameen.

21st Century

The contemporary practitioner of Unani medicine possesses a unique blend of herbal and dietetic medical knowledge, psychological insight and spiritual discipline.

The Unani system of medicine, with recognized practitioners, hospitals and educational and research institutions throughout the world, forms an integral part of the international health system. It is hoped that the spread of Unani medicine will help realize the cherished goal of true health for all.

With the surge in interest in alternative, natural remedies, the world stands to gain a great new impetus from the great tradition of Unani natural therapeutics.

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