Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

2011 Edition
| Editors: Henrik Lagerlund

Abū Bakr al-Rāzī, Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyāʾ (Rhazes)

  • Antonella Straface
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9729-4_5


The most famous physician of Islam after Ibn Sīnā, Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. Zakarīyā’ al-Rāzī (known in the Latin world as Rhazes) was also a philosopher and a chemist, and before being a physician, he is said to have been an alchemist. Although al-Rāzī’s name is mainly related to his medical works, his masterpieces Kitāb al-jāmi ʿ al-kabīr (The Great Comprehensive Book) and Kitāb al-ḥāwī fī l-ṭibb (The Comprehensive Book on Medicine), he wrote also on cosmology, theology, logic, mathematics, and philosophy, as he believed, just like Galen, that an outstanding physician must also be a philosopher. Among his philosophical works are a commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, a criticism of the Muʿtazilite doctrine, and a polemical writing against the Ismāʿīlīs and their idea of the infallible Imam. As he believed in independent thinking, although he did not exclude the cumulative value of knowledge, he thought that every man could think by himself and did not need any guide teaching him what to think or what to do. Starting from this, al-Rāzī carried out his criticism against religion in general, and against prophecy (that was considered an imposture and a trick) in particular as, according to al-Rāzī, reason is sufficient to distinguish good from evil. Although al-Rāzī was not imprisoned or executed because of his ideas on religion and prophecy, he was censored for his opinions, so that his philosophical and theological works were destroyed. Anyway, thanks to some fragments that had survived in later sources, it has been possible to reconstruct al-Rāzī’s cosmology, which was based on five eternal beings: Creator, Soul, Space, Time, and Matter. In this system God, considered a kind of “maker,” does not create from “nothingness,” but He molded a preexistent matter, which was conceived of in an atomistic way.

Al-Rāzī was the most liberal and independent Islamic thinker who believed in the authority of reason, the universal gift that God gave to all men without any distinction.

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Antonella Straface
    • 1
  1. 1.Facoltà di Lingue e Letterature StraniereUniversità degli Studi di Napoli L’OrientaleNapoliItaly