|Biographical detail : ||Persian physician known as ‘Prince of Physicians’ who became the most famous and influential of all the Islamic philosopher-scientists.
Ibn Sina known in the West by the Latin name, Avicenna was the most illustrious name in Arabic medical annals after Al-Razi. Ibn Sina earned royal favour for treating Kings of Bukhara and Hamadan for ailments other physicians could neither diagnose nor cure. He had cured Nuh Ibn Mansur, the Samani King, and was given the privilege of using his library. Though trained as a physician, Ibn Sina made important contributions to philosophy, mathematics, chemistry, and astronomy.
Ibn Sina’s philosophical encyclopaedia, Kitab al-Shifa (Book of Healing) brought Aristotelian and Plutonian philosophy together with Islamic theology in dividing the field of knowledge into theoretical knowledge – physics, mathematics, and metaphysics – and practical knowledge – ethics, economics, and politics.
Ibn Sina’s most enduring legacy, however, was in the field of medicine. His most famous book, Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine) was a summary of existing medical knowledge together with his own theories and cures developed through many hours of regular clinical practice. The book, which represents the final categorisation of Greco-Arabian thoughts on Medicine, is still one of the most important medical books ever written and served as the medical authority throughout Europe for 600 years. Among the Canon’s contributions to modern medicine was the recognition that tuberculosis is contagious – diseases can spread through water and soil and a person’s emotional health influences his or her physical health.
Ibn Sina was also the first physician to describe meningitis, parts of the eye, and the heart valves, and found that nerves were responsible for perceived muscle pain. He also contributed to advancements in anatomy, gynaecology, and paediatrics. The Canon was translated into Latin in the 12th century, and quickly became the predominant textbook used in European medical schools until 17th century. It is still used today in Islamic medical schools in the Indian sub-continent.
The canon with its encyclopaedic content, its systematic arrangement and philosophical plan, soon worked its way into a position of pre-eminence in the medical literature of the age and remained so highly acclaimed for such a long period of time. When Arabic original was published in Rome in 1593, it became one of the first Arabic books to be produced on the new invention of the printing press.
Ibn Sina’s Kitab al-Insaf (Book of Impartial Judgement) dealt with 28,000 different philosophical questions. In subsequent centuries Ibn Sina’s philosophical ideas reached Western Europe, where ‘Avicenna’ was hotly debated. He questioned the resurrection of the body, but not the soul. This was one reason why two decrees in 1210 and 1215 banned his works from being studied in the Sorbonne. Fifteen years later, a more clement pope, Gregory IX, lifted the restriction.
Today, Ibn Sina’s portrait hangs in the main hall of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris. The museum at Bokhara also displays many of Ibn Sina’s writings, surgical instruments from the period and paintings of patients undergoing treatment – monument to his life and works known as the ‘doctor of doctors’ still stands outside the museum.
Abu Ali al-Hussain Ibn Abdullah Ibn Sina was born in the village of Afshana near Bukhara. His grave is still maintained in Hamadan where he died.