Avicenna (Ibnu Sina)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 Abū ‘Alī al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Sīnā, known as Abū Alī Sīnā[1][2] (Persian: ابوعلی سینا، پورسینا) or, more commonly, Ibn Sīnā[3] (Arabic: ابن سینا‎) or Pour Sina, but most commonly known in English by his Latinized name Avicenna (Greek: Aβιτζιανός, Avitzianós),[4] (c. 980 – 1037) was a polymath of Persian[5] origin and the foremost physician and philosopher of his time.[6] He was also an astronomer, chemist, geologist, Hafiz, Islamic psychologist, Islamic scholar, Islamic theologian, logician, paleontologist, mathematician, Maktab teacher, physicist, poet, and scientist.[7].

Ibn Sīnā studied medicine under a physician named Koushyar. He wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects, of which around 240 have survived. In particular, 150 of his surviving treatises concentrate on philosophy and 40 of them concentrate on medicine.[1][8] His most famous works are The Book of Healing, a vast philosophical and scientific encyclopaedia, and The Canon of Medicine,[9] which was a standard medical text at many medieval universities.[10] The Canon of Medicine was used as a text-book in the universities of Montpellier and Louvain as late as 1650.[11]

Ibn Sīnā’s Canon of Medicine provides a complete system of medicine according to the principles of Galen (and Hippocrates).[12][13]

George Sarton, an early author of the history of science, wrote in the Introduction to the History of Science:

One of the most famous exponents of Muslim universalism and an eminent figure in Islamic learning was Ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna (981-1037). For a thousand years he has retained his original renown as one of the greatest thinkers and medical scholars in history. His most important medical works are the Qanun (Canon) and a treatise on Cardiac drugs[14][15]. The ‘Qanun fi-l-Tibb‘ is an immense encyclopedia of medicine. It contains some of the most illuminating thoughts pertaining to distinction of mediastinitis from pleurisy; contagious nature of phthisis; distribution of diseases by water and soil; careful description of skin troubles; of sexual diseases and perversions; of nervous ailments.[16]

Early life

His full name was Hussain ibn Abdullah ibn Hassan ibn Ali ibn Sina. He was born around 980 in Afshana, near Bukhara, which was his mother’s hometown, in Greater Khorasan[19]. His father, Abdullah, was a respected Ismaili[20] scholar from Balkh, an important town of the Samanid Emirate, in what is today Balkh Province, Afghanistan. Prominent theologian Henry Corbin believed that Ibn Sina himself was a good ismaili.[21] His mother was named Setarah. His father was at the time of his son’s birth the governor in one of the Samanid Nuh ibn Mansur’s estates. He had his son very carefully educated at Bukhara. Ibn Sina’s independent thought was served by an extraordinary intelligence and memory, which allowed him to overtake his teachers at the age of fourteen. As he said in his autobiography, there was nothing that he had not learned when he reached eighteen.

Ibn Sīnā 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 Qur’an by the age of 10 and a great deal of Persian poetry as well.[9] He learned Indian arithmetic from an Indian greengrocer, and he began to learn more from a wandering scholar who gained a livelihood by curing the sick and teaching the young. He also studied Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) under the Hanafi scholar Ismail al-Zahid.[22]

As a teenager, he was greatly troubled by the Metaphysics of Aristotle, which he could not understand until he read al-Farabi‘s commentary on the work.[23] For the next year and a half, he studied philosophy, in which he encountered greater obstacles. In such moments of baffled inquiry, he would leave his books, perform the requisite ablutions (wudu), then go to the mosque, and continue in prayer (salah) till light broke on his difficulties. Deep into the night he would continue his studies, 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 dirhams. 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 the poor.

He turned to medicine at 16, and not only learned medical theory, but also by gratuitous attendance of the sick had, according to his own account, discovered new methods of treatment. The teenager achieved full status as a qualified physician at age 18,[9] 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


His 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.

When 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 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. Qabus, the generous ruler of Dailam and central Persia, himself a poet and a scholar, with whom Ibn Sina had expected to find an asylum, was about that date (1012) starved to death by his troops who had revolted. 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. Several of Ibn Sina’s treatises were written for this patron; and the commencement of his Canon of Medicine also dates from his stay in Hyrcania.

Ibn Sina subsequently settled at Rai, in the vicinity of modern Tehran, (present day capital of Iran), the home town of Rhazes; where Majd Addaula, a son of the last Buwayhid emir, was nominal ruler under the regency of his mother (Seyyedeh Khatun). About thirty of Ibn Sina’s shorter works are said to have been composed in Rai. Constant feuds which raged between the regent and her second son, Shams al-Daula, however, compelled the scholar to quit the place. After a brief sojourn at Qazvin he passed southwards to Hamadãn where Shams al-Daula, another Buwayhid emir, 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. The emir consented that he should be banished from the country. Ibn Sina, however, remained hidden for forty days in a sheikh Ahmed Fadhel’s house, until a fresh attack of illness induced the emir to restore him to his post. Even during this perturbed time, Ibn Sina persevered with his studies and teaching. Every evening, extracts from his great works, the Canon and the Sanatio, were dictated and explained to his pupils. On the death of the emir, 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.

Meanwhile, 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 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 Tajik mercenaries. When the storm had passed, Ibn Sina returned with the emir to Hamadan, and carried on his literary labors. Later, however, accompanied by his brother, a favorite pupil, and two slaves, Ibn Sina escaped out of the city in the dress of a Sufi ascetic. After a perilous journey, they reached Isfahan, receiving an honorable welcome from the prince.


  1. ^ a b “Avicenna (Abu Ali Sina)”. Sjsu.edu. http://www.sjsu.edu/depts/Museum/avicen.html. Retrieved 2010-01-19. 
  2. ^ “Iranian Personalities: Abu Ali Sina”. Iranchamber.com. http://www.iranchamber.com/personalities/asina/abu_ali_sina.php. Retrieved 2010-01-19. 
  3. ^ Ibn Sina from the Encyclopedia of Islam
  4. ^ Greenhill, William Alexander (1867). “Abitianus”. in Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 1. p. 3. http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/0012.html
  5. ^ A) “Avicenna”, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Concise Online Version, 2006 ([1]);
    B) D. Gutas, “Avicenna”, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Version 2006, (LINK); excerpt: “That he should have written poems in Persian, his native and everyday language, is probable”
    C) Ibn Sina (“Avicenna”) Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd edition. Edited by P. Berman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Henrichs. Brill 2009. Accessed through Brill online: http://www.encislam.brill.nl (2009) Quote: “He was born in 370/980 in Afshana, his mother’s home, near Bukhara. His native language was Persian.”
    D) Charles Lindholm,”The Islamic Middle East: Tradition and Change”, Wiley-Blackwell, 2002. (2nd edition) ” excerpt from pg 277: “Iranian Platonic philosopher”.
    E) Fayz, M. Getz. “Avicenna” in Sandra Clayton-Emmerson (2005), Key Figures in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia (Routledge Encyclopedias of the Middle Ages). Routledge. pg 54: “The Persian philosopher, poet, and physician Ibn Sina (Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abdullah ibn Sina) is known in the west as Avicenna. He was born in Bukhara and died in Hamada, Persia”.
    F) Joyce Moss, ” Middle Eastern literatures and their times”, Volume 6 of World Literature and Its Times: Profiles of Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them. Thomas Gale, 2004. Excerpt: “One of the key figures whose views came under attack was the Persian philosopher and scientist Ibn Sina(also known as Avicenna; 980-1037)””
    G) David Edward Cooper, Jitendranath Mohanty, Ernest Sosa, “Epistemology: the classic readings”, Wiley-Blackwell, 1999. pg 98:”by the Persian philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna) in the eleventh century.”
  6. ^ Istanbul to host Ibn Sina Int’l Symposium, Retrieved on: December 17, 2008.
  7. ^ “Avicenna”, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Version 2006″. Iranica.com. http://www.iranica.com/articles/avicenna-index. Retrieved 2010-01-19. 
  8. ^ a b O’Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., “Avicenna”, MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews, http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Avicenna.html .
  9. ^ a b c d Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (2007). “Avicenna”. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9011433/Avicenna. Retrieved 2007-11-05. 
  10. ^ “Avicenna 980-1037”. Hcs.osu.edu. http://hcs.osu.edu/hort/history/023.html. Retrieved 2010-01-19. 
  11. ^ “Medicine: an exhibition of books relating to medicine and surgery from the collection formed by J.K. Lilly”. Indiana.edu. http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/etexts/medicine/#MD02007. Retrieved 2010-01-19. 
  12. ^ Edwin Clarke, Charles Donald O’Malley (1996). The human brain and spinal cord: a historical study illustrated by writings from antiquity to the twentieth century. Norman Publishing. p.20. ISBN 0930405250
  13. ^ Iris Bruijn (2009). “Ship’s Surgeons of the Dutch East India Company: Commerce and the Progress of Medicine in the Eighteenth Century“. Amsterdam University Press. p.26. ISBN 9087280513
  14. ^ Resalah Advia Qalbia ka Farsi Tarjumah by Hakim Syed Zillur Rahman, Fikr-o-Nazar, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India, Vol. 2, 1995. p. 5-18
  15. ^ AI-Advia al-Qalbia (1996) by Hakim Syed Zillur Rahman, Publication Division, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, 120pp.
  16. ^ a b c George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science.
    (cf. Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq (1997). Quotations From Famous Historians of Science, Cyberistan.)
  17. ^ “Major periods of Muslim education and learning”. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2007. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-47496/education. Retrieved 2007-12-16. 
  18. ^ Afary, Janet (2007). “Iran”. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. http://p2.www.britannica.com/oscar/print?articleId=106324&fullArticle=true&tocId=9106324. Retrieved 2007-12-16. 
  19. ^ “Avicenna”, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Concise Online Version, 2006 ([2]); D. Gutas, “Avicenna”, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Version 2006, (LINK); Avicenna in (Encyclopedia of Islam: © 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands)
  20. ^ Corbin, (1993) p. 170
  21. ^ Corbin, (1993) p.170
  22. ^ Jorge J. E. Gracia and Timothy B. Noone (2003), A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages, p. 196, Blackwell Publishing, ISBN 0631216731
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