The Unani system of medicine has a very rich heritage. The legacy, practices, traditions and knowledge of the Unani system of medicine has been handed down to the generations by the great scholars and physicians of Unani medicine in a concrete and comprehensive way.

The Unani medicine heritage is about the origins, the contributions by the founders of the system, the historic literary collections, documented practical clinical studies and documents that highlight the significance of the Unani system of medicine as practiced today.

The aspects covered by the Unani system heritage are:

  1. The origin of Unani medicine.
  2. The biography of the founder of Unani medicine.
  3. The development of Unani medicine.
  4. The rare Unani medicine manuscripts.
  5. The famous scholars of Unani medicine.
  6. Important historic teaching and training institutions of Unani medicine. 

The Origin of Unani Medicine

Greek medicine or the Unani sytem of medicine began in part with the rhizotomoki or root-collectors, wandering herbalists who plied their trade from town to town in much the same way as the modern practitioner (hakim) of Unani medicine. The most influential and highly regarded source of information on the origin and practice of Greek medicine is  from Hippocrates (c. 460 – 380 B.C.E.). He was a member of the Asclepiads, which was a guild of physicians which can be traced to its origins of the Asclepius, the god of healing.[1] Hippocrates founded Unani Medicine as a complete medical system. In the early ages of Greece, magic healing was the main mode of treatment. The Greek philosophers and magic healers were considered as Gods. The first Greek magic healer was Asclepius. The Greeks considered him as the God of Health.[2] Asclepius built a temple in Athens (Greece) meant for healing and treating. 

Hippocrates took over the temple of Athens and with his wide experience and wisdom started to separate magic from rational healing and treatment. Hippocrates changed the concept of Greek medicine with his expertise and experience that the disease is not caused by Gods or evil spirits but it is because of natural phenomena.[3] Hippocrates during his era formed many branches of the health system. He was the first known person to make a separate place for patients and worshipers. The famous four humor’s concept of treatment was the major development during the period of Hippocrates. This was the beginning of the Unani system of medicine. The Unani system of medicine is based on the four-humor theory of Hippocrates which dates back to 377 BC. Hippocrates prescribed the use of diet and exercise as treatment but after some years, he realized that some people were not responding to the treatment regime and this made him postulate the four humor theory.[3] The four humor theory is widely practiced by all the Unani physicians worldwide. 

The Biography of the Founder of Unani medicine 


Hippocrates was born in 460 BC on the Aegean Island of Cos in Greece. He is also known as Hippocrates Asclepiads, because of his close association with Asclepius. Hippocrates belonged to a rich family which enabled him to get educated in many fields. He worked under his father Herodicos’s supervision, seeing patients and treating them. Hippocrates travelled extensively all over the Greek mainland and also to Egypt and Libya to study medical practices. 

Hippocrates mentioned that health is a birth gift from nature and disease is a natural process and symptoms are the reactions of the body to the disease. Medicatrix nature is the supreme authoritative power of the human body responsible for maintaining health. Hippocrates observed many patients and carefully recorded their symptoms and the way their illnesses developed. He observed the colour of the skin, and how the eyes looked. He described many illnesses including arthritis, tetanus, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and mumps.[4]

Hippocrates with his experience and education concluded that the disease is because of natural causes and he separated superstition from healing and treatment. He concluded that the human body is composed of four humors which are closely related to the four basic elements earth, fire, water and wind. Until today this humoral theory is observed and practiced worldwide by the Unani physicians. Hippocrates in his book mentioned about the effects of the environment on the human body in relation to the imbalance of body humors, which in turn caused diseases.[5] Hippocrates with his wisdom and experience compiled the famous Hippocratic Oath, which teaches the rules and conducts for the doctors.[6] The Unani physicians and other health professionals even today honour this Hippocratic Oath.[5] Hippocrates died in the year 377 BC.[7]  Hippocrates was the main founder of the Unani medicine, and hence is considered as the father of Unani medicine and also to other systems of medicines as well. After him many other famous Greek physicians and doctors contributed to his work. 

The Development of Unani Medicine

The Unani medicine in Greece flourished during the era of Hippocrates and because of its efficacy the Unani system of medicine became famous. The traders and travelers from the neighboring countries to the Greece embraced the Unani system of medicine very rapidly and included in their health care practices. Claudius Galenus or Jalinoos or otherwise known as Galen was born in Pergamum Greece in the year 130 AD approximately 600 years after Hippocrates. Pergamum was an old Greek city on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, or present day Turkey. Pergamum was an ancient center of learning and medicine and was famous for a medical hospital termed as Asclepion. Galen was a devoted student of medicine in the Hippocrates School of Medicine. When Galen was 19, his father Nicon died, which made him a traveler to the neighboring countries in pursuit of medical education. Galen first studied in Smyrna, or present day Izmir in Turkey, and then traveled to Egypt Alexandria, where he completed his medical studies. The medical training in Alexandria made Galen a unique physician with a sound rationalism or empiricism.

Galen first post was as a physician and surgeon to the gladiators in Pergamum, which helped him gaining considerable skills, expertise and knowledge in the fields of anatomy and surgery. After acquiring skills and expertise Galen travelled to Rome, where he got attention of the influential and elite people of Rome because of his great skill and ability Galen became the personal physician to the emperor Marcus Aurelius.[8]

Galen’s main additions to the philosophy and theory of Greek Medicine were his theories of the three varieties of pneuma, or vital energy, and the Four Faculties of a living organism. The humoral physiology and pathology of Hippocrates was further developed and expanded by Galen. The most famous medicinal formula of Galen was the Theriac, a herbal jam with 64 different herbal ingredients that was considered as a cure for many diseases, and as an antidote to many poisons.[8] 

Galen had many students from the neighboring countries especially from the Middle Eastern countries. The fame and acceptance of the Unani system led to its spread and practice in Iran. Because of its geographic location, Iran was a cross road between Greece and the Middle East. The Persian kings made the Unani system of medicine a primary healthcare system in the country.The Greek and Roman medical literature was translated into the Persian language and many other books were written taking into consideration the rich herbs which were found in Iran. Middle Eastern scholars translated Galen’s Greek writings to Syriac by Nestorian monks in the University of Jundi Shapur, located in Persia (present-day Iran).[9] The Unani system of medicine was named as Tib e Sunnati in Iran.[10] 

From Iran the Unani system of medicine was taken up by the Arabs from Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Physicians from Iran used to travel to Iraq and Saudi Arabia thus exchange of knowledge took place and the Unani system got more enriched by the Arabs. The famous Al-Razi, known to the West as Rhazes, was born in Persia in the town of Rayy, near Tehran. After a youth spent as a musi-cian, mathematician and alchemist, Al-Razi went to Baghdad to take up the study of medicine at the age of 40. Within few years He was recognised for his skills and expertise and was appointed as the director of the largest hospital in Baghdad Iraq and as a Royal Physician.  The Islamic rulers of Muslim states liked the Unani system of medicine and extended their help and propagated the Unani system of medicine during Abbasia period and they retained the name and identity of Greek medicine translated as Unani tibb. The western historians named it as Islamic medicine as it was brought up under the patronage of Muslim rulers.[11] 

Unani medicine came to Spain with the earlier Arab settlers from the tribe of Ansar. Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn Abbas Al-Zahrawi (known in the West as Albucasis) was from the Ansar tribe of Arabia who was born at Madinat al-Zahra near Cordoba in Islamic Spain on 936 CE and died in 1013 CE. He was a famous Arab physician.[12] 


When Mongols invaded Persian and Central Asian cities like Shiraz, Tabrez and Galan, scholars and physicians of Unani medicine fled to India.  The Delhi Sultans and the Moghal emperors provided shelter to the scholars and appointed them as royal physicians. The Arab traders also brought in the Unani system of medicine to the Indian subcontinent. The Unani system of medicine was recognized in the Indian subcontinent and was further developed by the Indian Unani physicians making it one of the primary healthcare systems. India embraced the Unani system of medicine because of its efficacy and developing standards and very soon it became one of the most popular system of medicine among Indians.[13]

During the British rule, strict restrictions were imposed on the practice of Unani system of medicine, which saw a decline in the practice of Unani system of medicine. Even though the restrictions were imposed, the Unani system of medicine survived and resurfaced as one of the choices in healthcare among Indians. This is all because of the famous dedicated Indian Unani physicians.

The Rare Unani Medicine Manuscripts 

The Unani system of medicine has a huge collection of manuscripts, which can also be termed as Unani artifacts. The following table illustrates some of the important and rare Unani manuscripts. [14]

No. Title Author(s) Language Subject Year of publication
1 Firdausul Hikmat Ali B Rabban- Altabari Persian Concepts of Unani medicine 1963
2 Al Tasreef Abul Qasim Zohravi  Persian/ Arabic Surgery 1908 CE
3 Kitab Al-Abdal Al.Razi Arabic Substitutes of single Unani drugs. 850 A.D
4 Kitabul Manazir Ibn-e-Haisham Arabic Ophthalmology 1021
5 Kitabulhashayash Pedanius Dioscorides Greek Pharmacology 1st Cent. A.D. (50-100) A.D.
6 Kitabul Kulliyat Ibn Rushd Arabic Basic Principals of Unani Medicine 1198
7 Kitab al-Shifa’

(The Book of Healing)

Avicenna Persian Social and preventive medicine 1027

The Famous Scholars of Unani Medicine 

The fame and recognition of the present Unani system of medicine is because of the dedicated scholars of the Unani system of medicine. The famous scholars of the Unani system of medicine can be grouped according to their geographic locations. 

Greek Unani medicine Scholars [14]


No. Name of the Scholar Period Contribution to Unani medicine
1 Hippocrates 460-377 BC He is a founder of the Unani system of Medicine.
2 Aristotle 384-322 BC Laid down the foundation of Anatomy & physiology.
3 Claudius Galenus 130-201 BC He pioneered the use of medicinal plants and   the compounding of Unani medicines.
4 Pedanius Dioscorides 40—90 AD He wrote a book of pharmacology named as Kitabulhashayash.

Persian Unani medicine Scholars [14]

No. Name of the Scholar Period Contribution to Unani medicine
1 Abu Bakar Mohammad Ibn Zakariya al-Razi, also known as Rhazes 850 – 932 AD Translation of Greek Unani medicine literature to Persian.
2 Abu Ali Al Hussain Bin Abdulah Ibne Sina also known as Avicenna

980 -1037 AD

Authored of many books, notable ones are Kitab al-Shifa’ (The Book of Healing) and  Khanoon fi tib (The Canon of Medicine).


Spanish Unani medicine Scholars[14]


No. Name of the Scholar Period Contribution to Unani medicine
1 Abul Qasim Zohravi  946 -1036 AD He was the famous surgeon whom attached to Royal Hospital of Cordoba. He wrote a famous book on surgery “Al Tasreef”.
2 Maimonides or Moses ben Maimon

1135-1204 AD

He formulate Unani medicines and was the personal physician of al-Qadi al-Fadil, the vizier of Saladin.

Middle Eastern Unani medicine Scholars [15]

No. Name of the Scholar Period Contribution to Unani medicine
1 Jabir bin Hayyan 717 – 813 AD He is a Arab Royal physician and Chemist. He invent the extraction methods for Unani medicines and developed fermentation and alcohol extraction technology.
2 Ibn-e-Haisham

965 – 1039 AD

He was a renowned scientist and Unani physician from Syria. He is considered as the Father of Ophthalmology as he laid down the foundation of optics in his famous book Kitabul Manazir.
3 Ibn-e-Zohar 

 1091 – 1162 AD

He was a renowned physician and Scholar. He was known for his famous book Kitabul Tasreef.
4 Ibn Rushd

1126 -1198AD

He wrote a book on Basic Principals of Unani Medicine known as Kitabul Kulliyat.

5 Ibne Baitar

1197 – 1248 AD

He was a famous Pharmacognosist and Botanist. He wrote a book on survey and experiments on ‘Single Drugs of plant origin’ (Kitabul jameul Mufradat).


Indian subcontinent Unani medicine Scholars [15] 

No. Name of the Scholar Period Contribution to Unani medicine
1 Zia Mohd Masood Rasheed Zangi.

1351 AD

The first Unani physician in India and he laid down the foundations of the Unani system in Indian subcontinent.
2 Hakim M. Shareef Khan


A famous Unani physician of Delhi during the Mughal Period. He wrote the   renowned book “Disease cure an treatment” which is commonly referred as Ilaj ul Amraz.
3 Hakim Ajmal Khan 


Renowned Unani physician, scientist, politician, freedom fighter and a great patriot of India. He was the founder of the Unani and Ayurvedic College at Karol Bagh Delhi. He also initiated research in Indian systems of medicine. Awarded the Nobel Prize due to extensive work on isolation of alkaloids form Rauwolfia serpentinea. These isolated alkaloids were named after him as Ajmaloon. The usage was as anti-hypertensive medicine.[13]
4 Hakim Kabeeruddin  April 1894-9th January 1976 A dedicated scholar of Unani Medicine. He translated more than 88 Unani books of Arabic and Persian languages into Urdu. All of his books are part of the current Unani system of medicine teaching and training curriculum in India and Pakistan. The famous book of Hakim Kabeeruddin is ‘Compendium of Kabeer’ (Bayaz E Kabeer).

Important Historic Teaching and Training Institutions of Unani Medicine in India

Unani Medicine has been part of the Indian medicine for many years. One of the signs of its existence are the colleges. Some of the buildings or institutions had been in existence for almost 200 years. Each institution has its own history. Listed in the table below are among the oldest Unani Medicine institutions in India. All the institutions are still being used, however some are not being recommended by the Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM) which is a statutory body under Indian Medicine Central Council Act 1970 since 2011. Nevertheless this is not a permanent condition, once the institution or college has followed the changes asked, the situation is hopefully reversed. Of the listed below, only two colleges has recommendation from the CCIM in 2011-2012, they are Govt. Nizamia Tibbia College and Dr. Abdul Haq Unani Medical College.[16]

No. Name of the Institution [16][17] Year of formation Location
1 Oriental College


This is the first institution of Unani medicine in the Indian subcontinent. (Undivided India)

2 State Takmil-ut-Tib College


Lucknow Uttar Pradesh India
3 State Unani Medical College


Allahabad Uttar Pradesh India
4 Ayurvedic & Unani Tibbia College


Karol Bagh New Delhi India
5 Govt. Tibbia College, (Bihar)


Ptana Bihar India
6 Rajasthan Unani Medical College


Jaipur Rajasthan India
7 Govt. Nizamia Tibbia College


Hyderabad Deccan Andhra Pradesh India.
8 Dr. Abdul Haq Unani Medical College


Kurnool Andhra Pradesh India.
9 Jamia Hamdard, (Deemed University)


Jamia Nagar New Delhi India
10 Govt. Unani Medical College


Bangalore Karnataka India.

Most of institutions or colleges have its structural and physical forms maintained, but a few have not been taken care properly. One of the institutions is the Nizamia Tibbia College. Although the college is still being used to teach and produce Unani Medical practitioners, the conditions of the buildings are a bit rundown. Internal politics and administrations of the college is one of the causes of the problem. Making the situation worse was the cancellation of postgraduate courses in Unani Medicine for 2011-2012 by CCIM. The college had offered this course since 1938.[16][18]  


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  5. Yapijakis, C.. Hippocrates of Kos, the Father of Clinical Medicine, and Asclepiades of Bithynia, the Father of Molecular Medicine. In Vivo. [Online]. 2009;23:pp. 507-514. Available from: http://iv.iiarjournals.org [Accessed 1st September 2012].
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  9. The Role of Islamic Scholarship in Preserving and Developing Western Medicine during the Medieval Period: The Roots of Planetary Herbology. [Online]. Available from: http://www.planetherbs.com/ [Accessed 20th June 2012].
  10. The Development of Galeno-Islamic Medicine [Online]. Available from: http://www.ihp.sinica.edu.tw [Accessed 20th June 2012].
  11. Italian Association Amici di Raoul Follereau. Origin and development of Unani medicine [Online]. Available from: http://www.aifo.it/ [Accessed 20th June 2012].
  12. Muslim Heritage.com. Abu al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi theSurgeon [Online]. Available from: http://muslimheritage.com[Accessed 20th June 2012].
  13. Unani medicineOrigin and[Online]. Available from: http://medicalindia.org [Accessed 2June 2011].
  14. Aagha Ashraf, Hakeem Hafiz Taher Mahmood, Hakeem Arshad Jameel, Tibb e Unani Tareekh e tib First edition Delhi India Mahboob Book Depot 1996 PP 82-83,PP 97-98, PP 101-102, PP 86-101.
  15. Unani Medicine system in India. The development of Unani medicine.  [Online]. Available from: http://www.mediescapes.com [Accessed 2June 2011].
  16. CCIM. Central Council of Indian Medicine New Delhi Status of ISM Colleges for the year 2011-2012. 2011. [Online]. Available from: http://www.ccimindia.org/[Accessed 29 April 2012]
  17. Unani medicine colleges.  [Online]. Available from: http://www.srikumar.com/  [Accessed 2June 2011].
  18. Khan M.I. Monumental Neglect: Nizamia Tibbia College of Hyderabad Dying Slowly. 2012. [Online]. Available from: http://twocircles.net/ [Accessed 29 April 2012].
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