Ibn Sina was born in AH 370/AD 980 near Bukhara in Central Asia, where his father governed a village in one of the royal estates. At thirteen, Ibn Sina began a study of medicine that resulted in ‘distinguished physicians.. His medical expertise brought him to the attention of the Sultan of Bukhara, Nuh ibn Mansur, whom he treated successfully; as a result he was given permission to use the sultan’s library and its rare manuscripts, allowing him to continue his research into modes of knowledge.

When the sultan died, the heir to the throne, ‘Ali ibn Shams al-Dawla, asked Ibn Sina to continue al vizier, but the philosopher was negotiating to join the forces of another son of the late king, Ala al-Dawla, and so went into hiding. During this time he composed his major philosophical treatise, Kitab al-shifa’ (Book of Healing), a comprehensive account of learning that ranges from logic and mathematics to metaphysics and the afterlife. While he was writing the section on logic Ibn Sina was arrested and imprisoned, but he escaped to Isfahan, disguised as a Sufi, and joined Ala al-Dawla. While in the service of the latter he completed al-Shifa’ and produced the Kitab al-najat (Book of Salvation), an abridgment of al-Shifa’. He also produced at least two major works on logic: one, al-Mantiq, translated as The Propositional Logic of Ibn Sina, was a commentary on Aristotle’s Prior Analytics and forms part of al-Shifa’; the other, al-Isharat wa-‘I-tanbihat (Remarks and Admonitions), seems to be written in the ‘indicative mode’, where the reader must participate by working out the steps leading from the stated premises to proposed conclusions. He also produced a treatise on definitions and a summary of the theoretical sciences, together with a number of psychological, religious and other works; the latter include works on astronomy, medicine, philology and zoology, as well as poems and an allegorical work, Hayy ibn Yaqzan (The Living Son of the Vigilant). His biographer also mentions numerous short works on logic and metaphysics, and a book on ‘Fair Judgment’ that was lost when his prince’s fortunes suffered a turn. Ibn Sina’s philosophical and medical work and his political involvement continued until his death.

His major contribution to medical science was his famous book al-Qanun, known as the “Canon” in the West. The Qanun fi al-Tibb (the Canons of Medicine) is an immense encyclopedia of medicine extending over a million words. It reviewed the medical knowledge available from ancient and Muslim sources. Due to its systematic approach, formal perfection as well as its intrinsic value, the Qanun superceded Razi’s (Rhazes’) Hawi, Ali ibn Abbas’s Maliki, and even the works of Galen, and remained supreme for six centuries. Ibn Sina not only synthesized the available knowledge, but he also made many original contributions. The Qanun (pronounced Qanoon) deals with general medicines, drugs (seven hundred sixty), diseases affecting all parts of the body from head to foot, specially pathology and pharmacopoia. It was recognized as the most authentic materia medica.

Among his original contributions are such advances as recognition of the contagious nature of phthisis and tuberculosis, distribution of diseases by water and soil, and interaction between psychology and health. He was the first to describe meningitis and made rich contributions to anatomy, gynecology and child health. Also, he was the first physician who suggested the treatment for lachrymal fistula and introduced medical probe for the channel.

Ibn Sina’s Qanun contains many of his anatomical findings which are accepted even today. Ibn Sina was the first scientist to describe the minute and graphic description of different parts of the eye, such as conjuctive sclera, cornea, choroid, iris, retina, layer lens, aqueous humour, optic nerve and optic chiasma.

Ibn Sina condemned conjectures and presumptions in anatomy and called upon physicians and surgeons to base their knowledge on a close study of human body. He observed that Aorta at its origin contains three valves which open when the blood rushes into it from the heart during contraction and closes during relaxation of the heart so that the blood may not be poured back into the heart. He asserts that muscular movements are possible because of the nerves supplied to them, and the perception of pain in the muscles is also due to the nerves. Further, he observes that liver spleen and kidney do not contain any nerves but the nerves are embedded in the covering of these organs.

The Qanun (Canon) was translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona in the twelfth century. It became the text book for medical education in the schools of Europe. The demand for it may be appreciated from the fact that in the last thirty years of the fifteenth century it was issued sixteen times – fifteen editions being in Latin and one in Hebrew, and that it was reissued more than twenty times during the sixteenth century. In 1930 Cameron Gruner partly translated this book into English entitled “A Treatise on the Canons of Medicine of Avicenna.” From the twelfth to seventeenth centuries the Qanun served as the chief guide to medical science in the West. Dr. William Osler, author of the Evolution of Modern Science, writes: “The Qanun has remained a medical bible for a longer period than any other work.”

Ibn Sina’s Kitab al-Shifa (Book of Healing) was a philosophical encyclopedia, covering a vast area of knowledge from philosophy to science. His philosophy synthesizes Aristotelian tradition, Neoplatonic influences and Muslim theology. Kitab al-Shifa was known as ‘Sanatio’ in its Latin translation. Besides Shifa his well-known treatises in philosophy are al-Najat and Isharat. He classified the entire field into two major categories: the theoretical knowledge and the practical knowledge. The former included physics, mathematics and metaphysics, and the latter ethics, economics and politics.

Ibn Sina also contributed to mathematics, physics, music and other fields. He made several astronomical observations, and devised a device similar to the vernier, to increase the precision of instrumental readings. In Physics, he contributed to the study of different forms of energy, heat, light and mechanical, and such concepts as force, vacuum and infinity. He made the important observation that if the perception of light is due to the emission of some sort of particles by the luminous source, the speed of light must be finite. He propounded on an interconnection between time and motion, and also made investigations on specific gravity and used an air thermometer.

In the field of Chemistry, he did not believe in the possibility of chemical transmutation in metals. These views were radically opposed to those prevailing at his time. His treatise on minerals was one of the main sources of geology of Christian encyclopedist of the thirteenth century.

In the field of Music, his contribution was an improvement over Farabi’s (al-Pharabius) work and was far ahead of knowledge prevailing elsewhere on the subject. Doubling with the fourth and fifth was a ‘great’ step toward the harmonic system. Ibn Sina observed that in the series of consonances represented by (n+1)/n, the ear is unable to distinguish them when n = 45.

Ibn Sina’s portrait adorns the great hall of the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Paris.

List of his major works

  1. (980-1037) al-Isharat wa-‘l-tanbihat (Remarks and Admonitions),
  2. (980-1037) al-Qanun fi’l-tibb (Canon on Medi­cine)
  3. (980-1037) Risalah fi sirr al-qadar (Essay on the Secret of Destiny)
  4. (980-1037) Risalah fi sirr al-qadar (Essay on the Secret of Destiny)
  5. (c 1014-20) al-Shifa’ (Healing)
  6. (c.1014-20) al-Mantiq (Logic)
  7. (c 1014-20) al-‘Ibarah (Interpretation)
  8. (c 1014-20) al-Qiyas (Syllogism)
  9. (c 1014-20) Kitab al-najat (The Book of Salvation)
    1. (c 1014-20) al-Nafs (The Soul)
    2. (c.1014-20) al-Ilahiyat (Theology




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