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Early Muslim Medicine and the Indian Context: A Reinterpretation

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Abstract The past few decades have witnessed a remarkable shift in the way scholars study the field of sciences in Muslim societies. Up to the 1980s, research focused on Muslim scientists’ role as transmitters of science to the West, and as contributors to Western science. The Muslim world was commonly viewed as a link between ancient Greece and Latin Christendom, its scholars serving as translators of Greek treatises, and as preservers of Greek knowledge. Recently, the theme of Indian-Muslim cultural-scientific relations has attracted growing attention. Following this trend, we maintain that the eighth and ninth centuries reveal an interaction between Indian and Muslim medicine and physicians. Building on the past work of scholars such as Michael W. Dols and more recently Kevin van Bladel, we reinterpret medieval Arabic sources to reveal that the interest in Asian science was not a brief and untypical phenomenon that lacked long-lasting implications. By rereading Arabic chronicles and biographical dictionaries, we will portray how a rather brief contact between ʿAbbāsid Iraq and India proved to yield enduring influences. We will focus on two aspects of Muslim medical practice for demonstrating the Indian connection: the presence of Indian physicians in Baghdād in and around the ʿAbbāsid court, and the emergence of early Muslim hospitals.


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