Ali Bin Rabban's surname was Abu Hassan, the full name being Abu Hassan Ali Bin Sahl Rabban Tabari. Born in 839 A.D. in Mazanderan (Tabaristan), Iran and his father Sahl hailed from a respectable Jew family. The nobility and sympathy inherent in his very nature soon endeared him to his countrymen so much so that they used to call him Rabban which implies "my leader".
Professionally Sahl was an extremely successful physician. He had command over the art of calligraphy too. Besides he had a deep insight into the disciplines of Astronomy, Philosophy, Mathematics and Literature. Some complicated articles of Batlemus's book al-Mijasti came to be resolved by way of Sahl's scholarly expertise; translators preceding him had failed to solve the mystery.
Ali received his education in the disciplines of Medical science and calligraphy from his able father Sahl and attained perfection in these fields. He had also mastered Syriac and Greek languages to a high degree of proficiency.
Ali hailed from a Israelite family. Since he had embraced Islam, he is classified amongst Muslim Scholars. This family belonged to Tabaristan's famous city Marv.
The fame acquired by Ali Bin Rabban did not simply account for the reason that a physician of the stature of Zakariya al-Razi was amongst his disciple. In fact the main cause behind his exaltation lies in his world-renowned treatise Firdous al-Hikmat.
Spread over seven parts, Firdous al-Hikmat is the first ever Medical encyclopaedia which incorporates all the branches of medical science in its folds. This work has been published in this century (20th century) only. Prior to this publication only five of his manuscripts were to be found scattered in libraries the world over. Dr. Mohammed Zubair Siddiqui compared and edited the manuscripts. In his preface he has provided extremely useful information regarding the book and the author and, wherever felt necessary, explanatory notes have been written to facilitate publication of this work on modern publishing standards.
Later on this unique work was published with the cooperation of English and German institutions. Following are the details of its all seven parts:
Part one: Kulliyat-e-Tibb. This part throws light on contemporary ideology of medical science. In that era these principles formed the basis of medical science.
Part two: Elucidation of the organs of the human body, rules for keeping good health and comprehensive account of certain muscular diseases.
Part three: Description of diet to be taken in conditions of health and disease.
Part four: All diseases right from head to toe. This part is of profound significance in the whole book and comprises twelve papers: i) General causes relating to eruption of diseases. ii) Diseases of the head and the brain. iii) Diseases relating to the eye, nose, ear, mouth and the teeth. iv) Muscular diseases (paralysis and spasm). v) Diseases of the regions of the chest, throat and the lungs. vi) Diseases of the abdomen. vii) Diseases of the liver. viii) Diseases of gallbladder and spleen. ix) Intestinal diseases. x) Different kinds of fever. xi) Miscellaneous diseases--Brief explanation of organs of the body. xii) Examination of pulse and urine. This part is the largest in the book and is almost half the size of the whole book.
Part five: Description of flavour, taste and colour.
Part six: Drugs and poison.
Part seven: Deals with diverse topics. Discusses climate and astronomy. Also contains a brief mention of Indian medicine.
Though he wrote Firdous al-Hikmat in Arabic but he simultaneously translated it into Syriac. He has two more compilations to his credit namely Deen-o-Doulat and Hifdh al-Sehhat. The latter is available in manuscript-form in the library of Oxford University. Besides Medical science, he was also a master of Philosophy, Mathematics and Astronomy. He died around 923 A.D.