MESA Banner
Islamic Sciences, Medicine, and Health

Panel X-24, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
  • In between the Old and the New: The Birth of the First Maternity Hospital in the Ottoman Empire The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed the dizzying transformation of the medical sciences and healthcare practices. From pasteurization to the transformation of midwifery, changes in medicine and pharmaceutical sciences provide useful lenses to observe the political and social transformation on a global scale. Besim Omer (Akalin) Pasha (1862-1940), the founder of the first maternity hospital, was one of the most influential actors of modern healthcare in the history of the Ottoman Empire and later the Turkish Republic. He studied in France as a medical doctor and wrote more than a hundred books in various subfields of medicine. As a prominent Ottoman scholar (of his time period), Besim Omer Pasha also attended numerous international conferences often putting the Ottoman medical world on the radar of global healthcare professionals. One could argue modernization process in the Ottoman medical field and healthcare happened almost simultaneously with the European and North American counterparts even though the empire was in social and economic turmoil and fighting for its survival. Besim Omer Pasha and the continuation of his medical work from the 19th to the 20th century provides an excellent case study to reflect on the transition from an empire to a republic as a continuous process not as a moment of sudden rupture. This paper focuses on the first viladethane (maternity hospital) in the Ottoman Empire (opened in 1892 in Demirkapi) to examine the institutional transformation from traditional medicine to modern medicine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by closely examining women’s reproductive health, their reproductive rights, and their bodies as medical sites. Based on Omer Pasha’s own writings as well as archival records, this paper will investigate how Omer Pasha navigated the complex political transformation of the late Ottoman Empire into Republican Turkey to be able to establish the first maternity hospital.
  • In this presentation, I will describe Al-Urjuzah Fi Al-Tibb, one of the most famous pomes in medicine; written by the Persian physician-philosopher Avicenna (980 - 1037), one of the most influential scholars of his era. Al-Urjuzah Fi Al-Tibb is a poetic summary of Avicenna’s encyclopedic textbook: the Canon of Medicine and is classified into 1326 verses. In order to make it easier for his students to memorize the basic concepts in medicine, Avicenna composed this poem on rajaz (a poetic style with a very melodic meter -- bahr -- which makes it easier to remember). Avicenna wrote his book in Arabic but its Latin translation in 12th century made it popular in medieval Europe. Together with the Canon of Medicine, this poem was widely studied in the universities of Salerno, Montpellier, Bologna and Paris until the 17th century, as a classic text for transmission of knowledge. I will argue that, in this poem, Avicenna introduced an advanced multisensory approach to medical diagnosis. He developed this methodology based on Hippocrates (460 - 375 BCE) and Galen’s (129 - 216 CE) theories and findings which were dominant medical thinking for centuries. This approach is based on making sense of the senses by diagnosis through immediate sensory signs: the color, the taste, the texture, the smell, and the sound. For Hippocrates sight was the dominant sense when it came to diagnosis and for Galen touch had the highest importance as a diagnostic tool. But to make a diagnosis, Avicenna emphasized the importance of all the five traditional senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Avicenna recommended all the five traditional senses of the doctor in, first, examining the patient himself and then everything eliminated from his body. I am going to explore that, to diagnose and to heal, Avicenna calls for a multisensory interaction between the bodies of the physician and the patient – that is demanding all five senses of the physician as well as recruiting all five senses of the patient. In Avicenna’s system, a sensory interaction occurs between the body of physician and the boy of the patient.
  • One of the main critiques of the modernization of Arab architecture has been its remoteness from the essence of local Arab identity following the steps of Westernization, which resulted in a gap in the transition to modernity. Many architects emphasized this gap; Palestinian architect Saba Shiber states, “the modern Arab city is confused”; it “has been literally ‘hit’ by machine civilization.” Egyptian architect Hassan Fat’hy highlights a “gap in the continuity of Egyptian tradition.” Iraqi architect Rifaat Chadirji states, “a gap exists in the architectural history of Iraq and other Arab countries.” This paper aims to explore another perspective in understanding the modernization of architecture in the Arabic context. This perspective advocates for decoupling the overlap between modernization and Westernization by examining the relationship between architecture and scientific knowledge. This study develops a narrative through a historical trace of the relationship between architecture and mathematics in Arabic sciences. I begin my argument by emphasizing that architecture, as a field of knowledge, was embedded under mathematics and it was very close to the craft of building in pre-modern writings. I support this argument by looking at the writing of scholars in Arabic sciences, including Al-Farabi, al-Buzjani, and Ibn Khaldun. However, following this period, Arabic sciences had been through a stage of decline in knowledge production that was directly reflected on architecture. While the question of when, why, and how this decline occurred is a large question that requires a significant effort of study. Yet, I provide a reading of nineteenth-century evidence in Egypt that reflects the state of architectural knowledge and its distance from mathematics. For this period, I look at the work of Al-Jabarti, Ali Mubarak, Rifa’a al-Tahtawi, and Western primary sources. I frame this period as ‘a stage of decline’ rather than claiming that Arabic sciences had been in ‘a state of backwardness’. Finally, I criticize the accusation against Western-trained Arab architects of being “Agents of Westernization.” I argue that the advancement of sciences, mechanization, and industrialization had a strong hegemony that has affected architecture in all regions, including the West. Many scholars in the West have criticized the impact of machine on architecture; Sigfried Giedion criticized the split between arts and sciences, thinking and feeling caused by mechanization; Alberto Perez-Gomez discusses the question of representation in architecture and claims that the way mathematics is integrated into modern architecture has led to the loss of many of architecture’s qualities.