Happy Razi Day! / First Iranian Famous Chemist : Mohammad Zakariya Razi



Originally published online on April 16, 2005

Introduction: Despite the fact that the famous chemist, RAZI, was Iranian, like many other Iranian eminent figures, he is often considered as an Arab in the Western and Arabic literatures. (Arabs have also intentionally added prefixes as al-, abu-, -ibn, etc. to the names of many famous Iranians to mislead the readers). Mohammad Zakariya RAZI (also known to the West as RHAZES) was born on 27 August 865 AD. That was the era when Tahirids (821-873) were ruling in Khorasan, the northeastern part of Iran, and Moustaiin (862-866) was the Abasid Caliph in Baghdad. Razi was born in Ray and in Persian language, RAZI means a person who is from Ray. Ray (also spelled as Rayy) is the most historic city in the province of Tehran, Iran. The city is estimated to be more than two thousand years old, and was built during the Median Empire (728 BC-550 BC).

His Life: It is documented that early in his life RAZI was interested in Singing and Music besides other professions. Because of his eagerness for knowledge, he became more interested in the study of Chemistry, Medicine, Philosophy, Logic, Mathematics, Physics, and Foreign Languages (Greek, Hindu, Arabic, and others). One tradition holds that RAZI was already a chemist before he gained his medical knowledge. RAZI was a liberal and generous man, and so compassionate to the poor and sick that he used to transfer his knowledge to them freely and even nurse them himself.

His Works: As a Chemist, he possibly developed his knowledge independently from Jabir Hayyan (Jabir in Latin: Geber), who was one of the most notable Iranian scientist. (Hayyan was born in 721 in Tus of Khorasan in Iran and died in 815 in Kufah in present-day Iraq). RAZI’s description of chemical knowledge is in plain and plausible language. One of his books called Book of Secrets (Kitab-e Asrar) deals with the preparation of chemical substances and their utilizations. He went beyond his predecessors in dividing substances into Plants, Animals, and Minerals (PAM), thus in a way opening the way for Inorganic and Organic Chemistry. By and large, this classification of the PAM still holds. As a chemist, he was the first to produce Sulphuric Acid (SO4-H2) together with some other acids, and he also prepared Alcohol (C2H5-OH) by fermenting sweet products. RAZI believed one could live in an orderly society without being terrorized by religion laws. Certainly the precepts of Islamic law, such as the prohibition of alcohol (C2H5-OH), did not trouble him in the least. RAZI felt that it was through human reason that human life could be improved, and not through religion. RAZI is of exceptional importance in the history of chemistry, since in his books one can find for the first time a systematic classification of carefully observed and verified facts regarding chemical substances, and their reactions, described in a language almost entirely free from mysticism and ambiguity. As related to the science of Chemistry, RAZI also contributed to the early practice of pharmacy by compiling texts, but also in various other ways. Examples are the introduction of mercurial ointments, and the development of apparatus and tools like mortars, flasks, spatulas and phials, as used in pharmacies until the early twentieth century.

His End: He was always reading or writing. His eyes were always watering (on account of his prolonged reading and writing or excessive consumption of some foods), and he became blind towards the end of his life. At 60, he died in his native town, Ray, on 26 October 925. That was the time when Nasr II (914-943) of Samanid dynasty was ruling in a part of Iran and present-day Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Some documents also indicate that RAZI passed away in 930, which is unlikely.

Razi in Iran and other Parts of the World: Like many other great scholars of Iranian origin, RAZI is the author of hundreds of erudite books and his scientific works are extremely remarkable. His portrait still adorns the great hall of the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, France. In present-day Iran, RAZI Day or Pharmacy Day is commemorated every August 27. His name is also commemorated in the RAZI Institute (founded in 1925-26), which also refers to as the Iran’s Serum and Vaccine Production Center or Iran’s RAZI Research Institute (IRRI). IRRI is located at the town of Karaj, 40km west of Teheran, on the Ghazvin-Hessarak road. Other subsidiaries of IRRI are established in Ahwaz (in Khuzistan province), Mashhad (in Khorassan province), and Shiraz (in Fars province).
Many primary- and high-schools in different cities of Iran are also named after him.

Various Remarks about Razi (Posted August 2012)
“God Bless Zakaria Razi, the Discoverer of Alcohol. Have you ever thought, how the life was if he hadn’t discovered Alcohol ?”: Anonymous Author
“In today’s world we tend to see scientific advance as the product of great movements, massive grant-funded projects, and larger-than-life socio-economic forces. It is easy to forget, therefore, that many contributions stemmed from the individual efforts of scholars like Razi. Indeed, pharmacy can trace much of its historical foundations to the singular achievements of this ninth-century Persian scholar”: Michael E. Flannery
“Razi was the greatest physician of Islam and the Medieval Ages”: George Sarton
“Medical care in those days was a luxury available mainly for wealthy and noble families but Razi treated poor patients at no charge out of compassion. Being one of the brilliant physician of his time he acquired a lot of wealth but died as a popper because he distributed all his fortune among the less fortunate people”: Syed Aslam
“Razi remained up to the 17th century the indisputable authority of medicine”: The Encyclopaedia of Islam
“His writings on smallpox and measles show originality and accuracy, and his essay on infectious diseases was the first scientific treatise on the subject”: The Bulletin of the World Health Organization, May 1970
“Razi views sometimes got him into political trouble, and on several occasions he was forced to leave his native city”: Syed Aslam

Epilogues (Posted August 2012)
1. In medicine, the contribution of Razi was so significant that it can only be compared to that of   Avicenna (Pur Sina). Some of his well-known works in medicine are Ketab-e Mansouri, Ketab-e Hawi, Ketab-e Mulouki and many others that earned him everlasting fame. A special feature of his medical system was that he greatly favored treatment through correct and regulated nutrition. This was combined with his emphasis on the influence of psychological factors. Razi also tried remedies first on animals in order to evaluate their effects and side-effects. He was also an expert surgeon and was the first to use opium for anesthesia (View here). 2. As noted, in present-day Iran, RAZI Day or Pharmacy Day is commemorated every August 27 (Listen here) 3. Iran’s RAZI Research Institute (IRRI), which is now called as Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute is the oldest institute named after Razi in Iran. Read more about this institute here & here  4. Razi University in Kermanshah, and the modern-day Razi Institute in Tehran were also named after him. Razi University also includes a centre of CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics), Membrane Research, and Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in the west of Iran (View here). The history of Razi Institute in Tehran may be also viewed online here
Happy Razi Day!

Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD

Browne, E. G. (2001): Islamic Medicine, ed., Goodword Books Pvt. Ltd.
Iran Chamber Website (2005): Online Article on Razi.
Nasr, H. (1993: An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, ed., State University of New York Press, NYC, USA.
Ranking, G. S. (1913): The Life and Works of Rhazes, in Proceedings of the Seventeenth International Congress of Medicine, London, pp. 237–68.
Robinson, V. (1944): The Story of Medicine, ed., New Home Library, NYC, USA.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Articles on the First Iranians.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Various Articles on the Persian Culture and the History of Iran.
Various Sources (2005): Notes and News about Mohammad Zakariya Razi
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2005): Online Articles on Razi (in Persian and in English).


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