al-usayn ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Sina often referred to by his
Latinized name Avicenna was a Persian physician, philosopher, and
scientist who was born in 980 in Kharmaithen near Bukhara, now in
Uzbekistan (then Iran), and died June 1037 in Hamadan, Iran.
was the author of 450 books on a wide range of subjects. Many
of these concentrated on philosophy and medicine. He is considered
by many to be "the father of modern medicine." George
Sarton called Ibn Sina "the most famous scientist of Islam
and one of the most famous of all races, places, and times."
His most famous works are The Book of Healing and The Canon of
Medicine, also known as the Qanun.
life is known to us from authoritative sources. An autobiography
covers his first thirty years, and the rest are documented by
his disciple al-Juzajani, who was also his secretary and his friend.
He was born in 370 (AH) / 980 (AD) in Afshana, his mother's home,
a small city now part of Uzbekistan (then part of the Islamic
Caliphate) and his Father from Balkh now part of Afghanistan (then
also part of the Islamic Caliphate). His native language was Persian.
His father, an official of the Samanid administration, had him
very carefully educated at Bukhara. Although traditionally influenced
by the Ismaili branch of Islam, his independent thought was served
by an extraordinary intelligence and memory, which allowed him
to overtake his teachers at the age of fourteen.
Sina was put under the charge of a tutor, and his precocity soon
made him the marvel of his neighbours; he displayed exceptional
intellectual behaviour and was a child prodigy who had memorized
the Koran by the age of 10 and a great deal of Arabic poetry as
well. From a greengrocer he learned arithmetic, and he began to
learn more from a wandering scholar who gained a livelihood by
curing the sick and teaching the young.
he was greatly troubled by metaphysical problems and in particular
the works of Aristotle. So, for the next year and a half, he also
studied philosophy, in which he encountered greater obstacles.
In such moments of baffled inquiry, he would leave his books,
perform the requisite ablutions, then go to the mosque, and continue
in prayer till light broke on his difficulties. Deep into the
night he would continue his studies, stimulating his senses by
occasional cups of goat's milk, and even in his dreams problems
would pursue him and work out their solution. Forty times, it
is said, he read through the Metaphysics of Aristotle, till the
words were imprinted on his memory; but their meaning was hopelessly
obscure, until one day they found illumination, from the little
commentary by Farabi, which he bought at a bookstall for the small
sum of three dirhems. So great was his joy at the discovery, thus
made by help of a work from which he had expected only mystery,
that he hastened to return thanks to God, and bestowed alms upon
turned to medicine at 16, and not only learned medical theory,
but by gratuitous attendance on the sick had, according to his
own account, discovered new methods of treatment. The teenager
achieved full status as a physician at age 18 and found that "Medicine
is no hard and thorny science, like mathematics and metaphysics,
so I soon made great progress; I became an excellent doctor and
began to treat patients, using approved remedies." The youthful
physician's fame spread quickly, and he treated many patients
without asking for payment.
first appointment was that of physician to the emir, who owed
him his recovery from a dangerous illness (997). Ibn Sina's chief
reward for this service was access to the royal library of the
Samanids, well-known patrons of scholarship and scholars. When
the library was destroyed by fire not long after, the enemies
of Ibn Sina accused him of burning it, in order for ever to conceal
the sources of his knowledge. Meanwhile, he assisted his father
in his financial labours, but still found time to write some of
his earliest works.
Ibn Sina was 22 years old, he lost his father. The Samanid dynasty
came to its end in December 1004. Ibn Sina seems to have declined
the offers of Mahmud of Ghazni, and Ibn Sina proceeded westwards
to Urgench in the modern Uzbekistan, where the vizier, regarded
as a friend of scholars, gave him a small monthly stipend. The
pay was small, however, so Ibn Sina wandered from place to place
through the districts of Nishapur and Merv to the borders of Khorasan,
seeking an opening for his talents. Shams al-Ma'äli Qäbtis,
the generous ruler of Dailam, himself a poet and a scholar, with
whom Ibn Sina had expected to find an asylum, was about that date
(1052) starved to death by his own revolted soldiery. Ibn Sina
himself was at this season stricken down by a severe illness.
Finally, at Gorgan, near the Caspian Sea, Ibn Sina met with a
friend, who bought a dwelling near his own house in which Ibn
Sina lectured on logic and astronomy. For this patron, several
of Ibn Sina's treatises were written; and the commencement of
his Canon of Medicine also dates from his stay in Hyrcania.
Sina subsequently settled at Rai, in the vicinity of the modern
Tehran, (present day capital of Iran), the home town of Rhazes;
where Majd Addaula, a son of the last emir, was nominal ruler
under the regency of his mother (Seyyedeh Khatun). At Rai about
thirty of his shorter works are said to have been composed. Constant
feuds which raged between the regent and her second son, Amir
Shamsud-Dawala, compelling the scholar to quit the place. After
a brief sojourn at Qazvin, he passed southwards to Hamadãn,
where that prince had established himself. At first, Ibn Sina
entered into the service of a high-born lady; but the emir, hearing
of his arrival, called him in as medical attendant, and sent him
back with presents to his dwelling. Ibn Sina was even raised to
the office of vizier.
amir consented that he should be banished from the country. Ibn
Sina, however, remained hidden for forty days in a sheikh's house,
till a fresh attack of illness induced the emir to restore him
to his post. Even during this perturbed time, Ibn Sina prosecuted
his studies and teaching. Every evening, extracts from his great
works, the Canon and the Sanatio, were dictated and explained
to his pupils; among whom, when the lesson was over, he spent
the rest of the night in festive enjoyment with a band of singers
and players. On the death of the amir, Ibn Sina ceased to be vizier
and hid himself in the house of an apothecary, where, with intense
assiduity, he continued the composition of his works.
he had written to Abu Ya'far, the prefect of the dynamic city
of Isfahan, offering his services. The new emir of Hamadan, hearing
of this correspondence and discovering where Ibn Sina's was hidden,
incarcerated him in a fortress. War meanwhile continued between
the rulers of Isfahan and Hamadãn; in 1024 the former captured
Hamadan and its towns, expelling the Turkish mercenaries. When
the storm had passed, Ibn Sina returned with the amir to Hamadan,
and carried on his literary labours. Later, however, accompanied
by his brother, a favourite pupil, and two slaves, Ibn Sina escaped
out of the city in the dress of a Sufite ascetic. After a perilous
journey, they reached Isfahan, receiving an honourable welcome
from the prince. Avicenna also introduced medical herbs.
remaining ten or twelve years of Avicenna's life were spent in
the service of Abu Ya'far 'Ala Addaula, whom he accompanied as
physician and general literary and scientific adviser, even in
his numerous campaigns. During
these years he began to study literary matters and philology,
instigated, it is asserted, by criticisms on his style. But amid
his restless study Ibn Sina never forgot his love of enjoyment.
Unusual bodily vigour enabled him to combine severe devotion to
work with facile indulgence in sensual pleasures. Versatile, lighthearted,
boastful and pleasure-loving, he contrasts with the nobler and
more intellectual character of Averroes. His bouts of pleasure
gradually weakened his constitution; a severe colic, which seized
him on the march of the army against Hamadãn, was checked
by remedies so violent that Ibn Sina could scarcely stand. On
a similar occasion the disease returned; with difficulty he reached
Hamadãn, where, finding the disease gaining ground, he
refused to keep up the regimen imposed, and resigned himself to
friends advised him to slow down and take life moderately. He
refused, however, stating that: "I prefer a short life with
width to a narrow one with length". On his deathbed remorse
seized him; he bestowed his goods on the poor, restored unjust
gains, freed his slaves, and every third day till his death listened
to the reading of the Qur'an. He died in June 1037, in his fifty-eighth
year, and was buried in Hamedan, Iran.
Sina is comparable to such greats as Abu Bakr Mohammad Ibn Zakariya
al-Razi. However, despite such glorious tributes to his work,
Ibn Sina is rarely remembered in the West today and his fundamental
contributions to medicine and the European reawakening go largely
Sina is usually considered as a great philosopher and physician.
His philosophical disciple is not a live school in western philosophy
today. Unfortunately, the West only pays attention to some portion
of his philosophy, which is known as the Latin Avicennaian School,
and his other significant philosophical contribution, which had
been hailed by Suhrawardi, is still unknown to West. This notable
part is called hikmat-al-mashriqqiyya by him. In some of his writings,
he mentions this to his disciples as his major achievement. Heavily
influenced by Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi made philosophical contributions
which have developed much from Ibn Sina's work, later founding
illuminationist philosophy and believing to have finished what
Ibn Sina began.
Sina also wrote extensively on the subjects of philosophy, logic,
ethics, metaphysics and other disciplines. All his works were
written in Arabic - which was the de facto scientific language
of that time, and some were written in the Persian language. Of
linguistic significance even to this day are a few books that
he wrote in nearly pure Persian language. Unlike
Aquinas who more or less sanctified Aristotle as church dogma,
Ibn Sina corrected him often, encouraging a lively debate in the
spirit of ijtihad. Accordingly he is one of the earliest pioneers
of the scientific process of peer review as we know it today,
his influence on that process being profound at least, and perhaps
100 treatises were ascribed to Ibn Sina. Some of them are tracts
of a few pages, others are works extending through several volumes.
The best-known amongst them, and that to which Ibn Sina owed his
European reputation, is his 14-volume The Canon of Medicine, which
was a standard medical text in Western Europe for seven centuries.
It classifies and describes diseases, and outlines their assumed
causes. Hygiene, simple and complex medicines, and functions of
parts of the body are also covered. It asserts that tuberculosis
was contagious, which was later disputed by Europeans, but turned
out to be true. It also describes the symptoms and complications
of diabetes. An Arabic edition of the Canons appeared at Rome
in 1593, and a Hebrew version at Naples in 1491. Of the Latin
version there were about thirty editions, founded on the original
translation by Gerard of Cremona. The 15th century has the honour
of composing the great commentary on the text of the Canon, grouping
around it all that theory had imagined, and all that practice
had observed. Other medical works translated into Latin are the
Medicamenta Cordialia, Canticum de Medicina, and the Tractatus
de Syrupo Acetoso.
was mainly accident which determined that from the 12th to the
17th century Ibn Sina should be the guide of medical study in
European universities, and eclipse the names of Rhazes, Ali ibn
al-Abbas and Averroes. His work is not essentially different from
that of his predecessor Rhazes, because he presented the doctrine
of Galen, and through Galen the doctrine of Hippocrates, modified
by the system of Aristotle. But the Canon of Avicenna is distinguished
from the Al-Hawi (Continens) or Summary of Rhazes by its greater
method, due perhaps to the logical studies of the former. The
work has been variously appreciated in subsequent ages, some regarding
it as a treasury of wisdom, and others, like Averroes, holding
it useful only as waste paper.
In modern times it has been more criticized than read. The vice
of the book is excessive classification of bodily faculties, and
over-subtlety in the discrimination of diseases. It includes five
books; of which the first and second treat of physiology, pathology
and hygiene, the third and fourth deal with the methods of treating
disease, and the fifth describes the composition and preparation
of remedies. This last part contains some personal observations.
He is, like all his countrymen, ample in the enumeration of symptoms,
and is said to be inferior to Ali in practical medicine and surgery.
He introduced into medical theory the four causes of the Peripatetic
system. Of natural history and botany he pretended to no special
knowledge. Up to the year 1650, or thereabouts, the Canon was
still used as a textbook in the universities of Leuven and Montpellier.
any member of the Arabian circle of the sciences, including theology,
philology, mathematics, astronomy, physics, and music, was left
untouched by the treatises of Ibn Sina, many of which probably
varied little, except in being commissioned by a different patron
and having a different form or extent. He wrote at least one treatise
on alchemy, but several others have been falsely attributed to
him. His book on animals was translated by Michael Scot. His Logic,
Metaphysics, Physics, and De Caelo, are treatises giving a synoptic
view of Aristotelian doctrine. The Logic and Metaphysics have
been printed more than once, the latter, e.g., at Venice in 1493,
1495, and 1546. Some of his shorter essays on medicine, logic,
&c., take a poetical form (the poem on logic was published
by Schmoelders in 1836).
Two encyclopaedic treatises, dealing with philosophy, are often
mentioned. The larger, Al-Shifa' (Sanatio), exists nearly complete
in manuscript in the Bodleian Library and elsewhere; part of it
on the De Anima appeared at Pavia (1490) as the Liber Sextus Naturalium,
and the long account of Ibn Sina's philosophy given by Shahrastani
seems to be mainly an analysis, and in many places a reproduction,
of the Al-Shifa'. A shorter form of the work is known as the An-najat
(Liberatio). The Latin editions of part of these works have been
modified by the corrections which the monastic editors confess
that they applied. There is also a Philosophia Orientalis, mentioned
by Roger Bacon, and now lost, which according to Averroes was
pantheistic in tone.
the museum at Bukhara, there are displays showing many of his
writings, surgical instruments from the period and paintings of
patients undergoing treatment.
Iran, he is considered a Persian hero. He is often regarded as
one of the greatest Persians who have ever lived. Many of his
portraits and statues remain in Iran today. An impressive monument
to the life and works of the man who is known as the 'doctor of
doctors' still stands outside the Bukhara museum and his portrait
hangs in the Hall of the Faculty of Medicine in the University
Sina was interested in the effect of the mind on the body, and
wrote a great deal on psychology, likely influencing Ibn Tufayl
and Ibn Bajjah.
with Rhazes, Ibn Nafis, Al-Zahra and Al-Ibadi, he is considered
an important compiler of Early Muslim medicine.
is a crater on the moon called Avicenna which was named after