Ibn Sina

Muslim Science before Avicenna

When the Arabian tribes in the seventh century conquered the Arabo-Islamic empire after the advent of Islam, they encountered established medical science in the conquered lands. (3) Classical Islamic Medical Science grew out of a mixture of traditions. (3) It was however Greek Science which furnished the great majority of contributions. (3) The Muslims undertook an energetic policy of acquiring and translating Greek scientific literature from the beginning of the 9th century. (3) Both Caliphs and private individuals contributed. (3) The synthesis of this scientific work resulted in the emergence of many medical works with Rhazes (al-Râzî), al Majûsî and Avicenna (Ibn Sinâ) as the most prominent physicians, scientists and authors. (3)

Avicenna – biography


Avicenna’s real name is Abu Ali al-Husayn Ibn Abd Allan Ibn Sina. (6) In the Muslim world, he is known simply as Ibn Sina. (6,10) He is known in the West as Avicenna. (2,5) He was a Persian physician, (1,10) the most prominent Peripatetic (10) philosopher (1,10) and a scientist. (8) He was born in about 980 AD, (5,6) or in the Islamic calendar 370 (10) in the north-eastern part of the Abbasid Empire, (8) in the village of Afshana near the present-day Bukhara (5,6) in modern Uzbekistan. (6,8) [OR] Transoxiana (5) then a leading city in Persia (6) and in the kingdom of the Samanids. (8) His mother Setareh was from the same village, (6) while his father Abdullah (5,6) was (6) [OR] may have been (5) Ismaili. (5,6) He was a respected (6) Iranian (8) local governor (5,6) of a local village (8) under the Samanid dynasty (5,6) and came from the ancient city of Balkh (today Afghanistan). (6) His father was himself a respected scholar. (8)

At Bukhara

At an early age, his family moved to Bukhara. (6) The Samanids supported science and art, so many scientists and artists lived there. (8) Ibn Sina grew up speaking Persian, like many educated people in that part of the world. (8) He was a very smart child. (8) He was taught the whole Qur’an and much of Arabic literature when he was 10 years old. (8) [OR] He memorized the whole of it by the time he was seven, even though it was in Arabic, which was not his first language. (8) While he was still young, he learned about the new Indian number system from traveling teachers. (8) He studied Hanafi jurisprudence with Isma‘il Zahid and at about 13 years of age (6) he studied medicine (4,5) with a number of teachers (6) including a physician named Koushyar. (4) [OR] Ibn Sina was 16 when he learned medicine. (8) He treated many patients successfully, working in the same town as the earlier scholar Al Razi, (8) and by 996, at the age of 16, (6) [OR] 18 (8) he established himself as a respected physician. (6,8) Besides studying medicine, he also dedicated much of his time to the study of physics, natural sciences and metaphysics. (6) He claimed to have mastered (5,8) logic, natural sciences, and mathematics (8) [OR] all the sciences’ (5) when he was 18. (5,8) He then turned to theology, and studied Aristotle’s Metaphysics. (8)

Working for the Emir

His knowledge of medicine brought him to the attention of the Sultan [OR] emir (8) of Bukhara (6) the Samanid (6,8) prince Nur1 (8) [OR] Nuh ibn Mansur (5,6) (r. 976-9972 (5)) who came to him when he was sick (8) with a disease that physicians had failed to cure. (8) Ibn Sina, though still only 18 years old! (8) was by then a well-known scientist and physician. (6,8) He treated the emir successfully, (6,8) and entered into his service as his physician. (5,8) I As the emir’s doctor, (8) he was permitted to use the sultan’s library (6,8) and its rare manuscripts allowing him to continue his research. (6) The sultan’s royal library was considered one of the best in the medieval world at the time. (6) This training and the library of the physicians at the Samanid court assisted him in his philosophical self-education. (6) After the death of his father, it seems that he was also given an administrative post. (5) In 999 (5,8) the Qarakhanids (5) [OR] Ghaznavids conquered the Samanids (5,8) and took Bukhara. (5) The Ghaznavids turned out not to be so supportive of science. (8)

Gurganj and Jurjan

Because of the fall of the Samanids at the turn of the millennium, Avicenna moved traveled further west, looking for rulers who wanted to support him. (8) He went to Gurganj in Khwarazm. (5) He then left again ‘through necessity’ in 1012 for (5) Jurjan (5,8) in Khurasan to the south in search no doubt for a patron. (5) There he first met his disciple and scribe Juzjani. (5)

Under the Buyids

After a year, he entered Buyid service as a physician, first with Majd al-Dawla in Rayy and then in 1015 (5) in Hamadan (5,8) where he became vizier of Shams al-Dawla. (5) After the death of the later in 1021, he once again sought a patron and became the vizier of the Kakuyid ‘Ala’ al-Dawla for whom he wrote a Persian summa of philosophy, the Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i (The Book of Knowledge for ‘Ala’ al-Dawla). (5)


Based in Isfahan, he was widely recognized as a philosopher and physician and often accompanied his patron on campaign. (5) He ended his life as a fairly well-off man, who owned slaves and property. (8) An arrogant thinker who did not suffer fools, he was fond of his slave-girls and wine, facts which were ammunition for his later detractors. (5) He died (6,8) of colic (5) [OR] of some sort of digestive problem – maybe a twisted bowel. (8) on one of Ala al-Dawla’s military expeditions to Hamadan (5) in Iran (8) in 1037 (6,8) 428 in the Islamic calendar. (10) Before he died, he gave away all his stuff to charity, and freed his slaves. (8)


Like other Islamic scholars, he studied the writings of the lands that were being absorbed into an expanding Islamic Empire. (6) Ibn Sīnā developed a medical system that combined his own personal experience with that of Islamic medicine, the medical system of the Greek physician Galen, Aristotelian metaphysics (Avicenna was one of the main interpreters of Aristotle), and ancient Persian, Mesopotamian and Indian medicine. (4) He was one of the most (6) famous and influential of all the Islamic philosopher-scientists (2,5) and physicians. (6)


He also wrote on education: although Ibn Sina’s writings on this subject, in comparison with his vast output on other subjects, are in fact considered to be very scarce, we do nonetheless find he deals with the same problems that confront educators today. (9) He speaks about humanity, society, knowledge and ethics. (9) He devoted a treatise entitled ‘Politics’ to education; and he speaks at some length in ‘The Canon’ about the upbringing of infants. (9) Thereby, Ibn Sina represents a lively illustration of the meeting between philosophy and education, for the educator and the philosopher are both faced with the same problems: truth, goodness, the nature of the world, the meaning of knowledge and human nature, and so on. (9) Obviously, Ibn Sina the philosopher has his own views on education. (9) In addition, if we consider that Ibn Sina undertook teaching on a practical level for a considerable length of time, we realize that we have here a thinker whose philosophy was transformed into an educational theory that he himself practiced. (9) The human being, in Ibn Sina’s view, consists of both hidden (sirr) and open (‘alan) elements. (9) Known to us is the perceptible human body with its organs and its cells. (9) ‘Sensory perception stops at its exterior, while anatomy (dissection) enables us to learn about the interior; the hidden part consists of the powers of its mind. (9) These mental powers motivate the human being, and cause it to carry out its various activities and behave as a human being’. (9) To Ibn Sina, the human is a tangible body on the outside, revealed within by means of anatomy —as we see in his books, such as Al-Qanun (The Canon)— and we do not find any difficulty today in accepting this. (9) We still have to look at the mental powers or faculties that motivate this body. (9) This lasts from the third to the fifth year, at the time when ‘the child’s body strengthens, his tongue is free, and he is ready for instruction, and his hearing is attentive’. (9) In ‘The Canon’, he defines the start of the sixth year as the end of that stage, whereupon he enters ‘the stage of primary teaching’. (9) Ibn Sina says: ‘And when he has reached the age of 6 years, he should be brought to the tutor and the teacher’. (9) We see Ibn Sina not concerned here with any specific kind of teaching, but merely with creating a happy childhood as regards physical, mental and moral health. (9)

Literary Output

Ibn Sina may have been the first person to realize that you could catch diseases like measles or smallpox or tuberculosis from other people (though he didn’t know about germs, because there weren’t any microscopes yet). (8) He suggested quarantining sick people – keeping them away from other people for forty days – so other people wouldn’t catch it. (8) He wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects, of which around 240 have survived. (4) Although his native language was Persian, most of his works were written in Arabic which was the language of the science in the Middle East in his time. (6) 150 of his surviving treatises concentrate on philosophy, (4) but he also wrote 40 (4,5) medical textbooks. (4,8) His most famous works are The Book of Healing, a vast philosophical and scientific encyclopaedia, (4) ‘The Canon of Medicine’, (1,2) one of the most significant books in the history of medicine, (6) and a treatise on cardiac drugs. (2) The Canon is a (1,2) comprehensive (1) medical encyclopedia (1,2) It incorporates the work of Galen, (6,8) as well as ancient Ayurvedic, Arabian and Persian texts. (6) It also contains his own theories of medicine. (6) In the Canon, Ibn Sina basically followed the methodical, analytical line originated by al-Razi. (9) The Canon was, however, more broadly conceived than Al-Hawi (the Continens and included all branches of medical science. (9) Works which had appeared in the world of Islam (with the exception of Andalusia) relying on the works by Avicenna are innumerable, and the superior position of Canon among the reference medical book in the formal and informal institutions of medical education in India, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Sham, Rum (the Minor Asia) and the Europe is unique as compared with the works of other Muslim and non-Muslim physicians. (7) All his books – the Book of Cures and the medical textbooks – were used by later doctors like Maimonides all over the Islamic world. (8) Finally, it can be claimed that the medical school of Avicenna is the base and mother of the new medicine, as his Canon was the complete set of the medical views before him and the infrastructure of the medical works after him. (7)

Medical achievements

Ibn Sina tried to understand how human bodies worked. (8,11) The Canon explains the causes of health and disease. (11) Avicenna believed that the human body cannot be restored to health unless the causes of both health and disease are determined. (11) He defined medicine (tibb) as follows: “Medicine is the science by which we learn the various states of the body; in health, when not in health; the means by which health is likely to be lost; and, when lost, is likely to be restored. (11) In other words, it is the art whereby health is concerned and the art by which it is restored after being lost.” (11) Mostly he followed the Egyptian doctor Herophilus as reported by Galen. (8) He is considered the father of modern medicine and clinical pharmacology particularly for his introduction of systematic experimentation and quantification into the study of physiology. (4) The Canon of Medicine is divided into five books: Essays on basic medical and physiological principles, anatomy, regimen and general therapeutic procedures. (11) List of medical substances, arranged alphabetically, following an essay on their general properties. (11) Diagnosis and treatment of diseases specific to one part of the body Diagnosis and treatment of conditions covering multiple body parts or the entire body. (11) Formulary of compound remedies. (11)


His discovery of the contagious nature of infectious diseases, the introduction of quarantine to limit the spread of contagious diseases. (4)

Experimental Method

He introduced experimental medicine, evidence-based medicine, clinical trials, randomized controlled trials and efficacy tests. (4)


According to Desnos, most of the diseases of the kidneys and bladder can be recognized in the systemic classification of renal diseases and the accounts of bladder diseases given by Ibn Sina in al-Qanun. (9) He was also the first to point out the fact that haematuria3 may be due to causes outside the urinary system, for example, blood diseases. (9) Apart from the methodical classification and precise descriptions of aetiological4 factors and signs in his chapter on urinary disturbances, Ibn Sina pointed out the role of psychological factors in the treatment of certain cases of nocturnal enuresis5. (9) Both Ibn Sina and al-Razi warned against catheterization in the presence of inflammation, as it increases the swelling and pain. (9) To ensure gentle catheterisation, Ibn Sina designed catheters with rounded, firm tips and many side holes from the skin of certain marine and other animals. (9)


At Gurganj he found a better use for gold. (8) He made a tube out of gold to push down the mouth into the throat. (8) That way he could keep patients breathing if their throat had closed up. (8)


Our word “retina”, the back of the eye, comes from Ibn Sina’s Arabic word for it. (8)

Avicenna on Heart Disease

Avicenna made important contributions to cardiology. (2)Avicenna’s description of cardiac diseases was logically presented perhaps for the first time in the history of medicine. (2) Ibn Sina thought that the heart got its food from the blood in the right ventricle, but that turned out to be wrong. (8) Avicenna was the first to describe carotid sinus hypersensitivity, which presents with vasovagal syncope. (2) He was a pioneer in pulsology and the first correct explanation of pulsation was given by Avicenna, after he refined Galen’s theory of the pulse. (2) Besides, he discussed the action of available drugs on the heart in details and mentioned their indications and contraindications. (2)


He made progress in clinical pharmacology, (4) neuropsychiatry, (4,9) the idea of the syndrome, and the importance of dietetics and the influence of climate and environment on health. (4)

Synthesis Other

The resulting synthesis sets out a medical system that was accepted as the standard for centuries. (6) In the 11th to 17th centuries, the scientific and educational activities of medicine in the world were moving on the pivot of Avicenna medicine or was under its intensive influence. (7) It can be concluded that medicine in the 11th to 17th centuries both in the Islamic world and the Europe was greatly under the influence of Avicenna medicine with the focus on his great book of Canon. (7) Modern medicine is laid upon the infrastructure of his medicine (7) and his influence on the development of medicine across much of the world is significant. (6) He affected treatment, publications and education about medicine. (7)

Avicenna’s Ideas reach Europe

Avicenna acquired great fame in mediaeval European medicine. (9) About 300 years after Greek knowledge had reached the Muslim world, the reverse took place, with translations of scientific literature from Arabic to Latin taking place with similar force in Italy, and a little later in Spain. (3) The al-Hawi, at-Tasrif and al-Qanun were translated into Latin as early as 1150 CE by Gerard of Cremona. (9) Once they had been translated into Latin, his books were used all over Europe too all through the Middle Ages, (8) and greatly influenced the European Mediaeval schools of medicine well into the eighteenth century. (9) Ibn Sina attracted the attention of scholars, past and present, who wrote books, treatises and articles on him. (9) The translations to Latin (3,9) had a decisive impact on the establishment of medical studies in European universities. (3) Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine remained a standard work in (1,2) Islamic and (2) European medical studies (1,2) at many medieval universities. (3) Teaching from the Canon gave rise to the emergence of various and different publications (including annotations, summaries and translations) about it. (7) These various publications in turn, made the thriving state of teaching Canon in the medical centres and among the instructors of medicine. (7) It was printed in Europe at least 60 times between 1516 and 1574. (6) The Canon remained a major authority for medical students in both the Islamic world and Europe until well into the 18th (6) [OR] 17th (1,4) (The Canon of Medicine was used as a text-book in the universities of Montpellier and Louvain as late as 1650. (4) [OR] 16th (2) century (1) (Avicenna and Rhazes were used in the teaching of medicine at the University of Copenhagen in the 16th century, (3) and a Danish physician and scientist from the Renaissance, Ole Worm, used Avicenna and Rhazes in his scientific work. (3) [OR] up to recent time. (3) Avicenna has an important place in the history of medicine in Iran and the world. (7)

1 (10) thinks his name was Samani

2 Date is a problem – Avicenna was not 18 until 998.

3 Blood in the urine

4 ‘causal’

5 Bed-wetting


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