Avicenna || Ibn Sina || Ibn-e-Sina || Abu Ali Sina

Abu Ali al-Hussain ibn Abdullah ibn Sina, more commonly known as Ibn Sina or Avicenna. Portrait by Coco K. Tang, 2011

Avicenna, also called the (الشیخ الرئیس) “Sheikh-ul-Rais”,”Ibn Sina”, “Ibn-e-Sina”, “Grand Teacher” was born as Abu Ali Al-Hussain ibne Abdullah ibne Hasan ibne Ali Ibne Sina in August 980 in a village of Khar Maidan near Bukhara, modern day Uzbekistan. Sina was his grand grand grand-father.



His ancestors belong to city of Balkh (بلخGreek Bactria, home of the Bactrian camel, in today’s northern city of Afghanistan), an important commercial, cultural, and politically aware city. It was also hub of religious and intellectual life where earliest Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Manichaeism, Nestorian Christianity, and early Islam coexisted.



Avicenna spent his initial years in Bukhara, where he showed early signs of ability. Some historian claims that he had memorized the Quran, as well as most of the Arabic poetry he had read, by the age of ten years. He learned Indian arithmetic (calculus and algebra) from a local teacher, a grocer in his neighborhood, and studied Islamic jurisprudence on his own.


Abu Abdullah Al-Nateli (ابو عبد اللہ النتالی), a leading philosopher of his time, educated Ibn Sina in the sciences and advised his father to encourage him to concentrate on learning. After completing his education from Nateli, Ibne Sina studied sciences on his own with the help of observations, he read Greek philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, and Ptolemy. He took up medicine at the age of thirteen years under Abu ibne Mansur (ابو ابن منصور) and Isa ibne Yahya (عیسی ابن یحیی), read available material, and did not find it to be a difficult subject. At the age of sixteen years, when he started medicine by visiting and treating patients.



At age seventeen, Avicenna was called to help in the treatment of the Samanid Emperor of Bukhara, Amir Nuh ibne Mansur (امیر نوح ابن منصور), who was terminally ill and at that time his physicians had abandoned all hope for his health recovery. It was the surprise for the other royal physicians, Avicenna was able to cure the Amir. The Amir rewarded him by appointing him as a court physician and gave him permission to use the imperial library, which at the time contained one of the world’s best collections of manuscripts and books. During that period, most of the time he had been studying and research at night because during the day he was busy with the Amir and had no time.



Upon the death of his father, Avicenna, then at the age of twenty-one years, left Bukhara and went to Gurgan, a city of Iran. There he started on the first book of his The Canon of Medicine (Al-Qanoon) and finished it later while in Isfahan. In Hamdan, every night at his home, Avicenna held a circle of study where his pupils read one part of the al-Qanoon and one part of Kitab-ul-Shifa (The Book of Healing), which is the largest of his existent works.


Different sources verify to Avicenna’s handsomeness and striking physique. Though he was praised for his knowledge, he was neither modest nor charming but had great self-confidence and a flaring character. He expected quick humor and perfection from people who were around him and was known to go over his writing a number of times.



In his life, he did lot of work on different topics and more than two hundred of books attributed to Avicenna, half are considered genuinely authentic, and luckily the most significant of them survived. With the documentation of his student, Abu Ubaid Al-Juzjani (980-1037AD), we are able to construct the chronology of his writings. Most of his work done in Arabic while some of his work written in Persian Language.


Ibn Sina’s style was discursive rather than assertive, more well-spoken than other scientists, and he is also credited with the development of a new philosophical style and terminology. He also introduced more exactitude in the use of Arabic terminology. Sixty eight of his books are on theology and metaphysics, eleven on astrophysics, philosophy, and physical science, four on poetry, and sixteen on medical sciences. His second most famous book is Kitab-ul-Shifa (کتاب الشفاء), which is an eighteen-volume philosophical encyclopedia dealing with almost every conceivable topic.



“Avicenna’s Medicine represents a breath of fresh air to those interested in the history of Western medicine” PAUL HYSEN, PH.D

Avicenna’s notable works on medicine earned him the title “Prince of Physicians”. In a modern day, The Canon of Medicine (Al-Qanoon) is still in print and is actively used at the Unani medical schools of subcontinent. His book Al-Adwiyah tul Qalibiyah (الادویۃ القلبیہ) (The Heart Remedies) was the first ever written on psychopharmacology. Other some medical works of Ibne Sina are “The Book on Psyche”, “Relationship of Body and Mind”, and “Origin of Grief and the Interpretation of Dreams”. The clashes in thoughts between reasoning and divine revelation dominated Avicenna’s time and shaped his philosophical contributions. By seeking refuge from pure Aristotelian reason and from religious philosophy, he arrived at a synthesis that placed him at the helm of philosophical thought.

As a physician, his death came in the oddest of ways. He was on a military mission with the Amir of Isfahan where he developed a severe colic and he treated himself with excessive rectal shots which causes the severe side effects and hurt in intestine, and he died in 1037 CE of the complications of an ulcerated and perforated intestine infection.



Avicenna wrote his book “The Canon of Medicine” (Al-Qanoon – Law of Medicine) in Arabic, canon means law, the dominant language of science at that time, and since then, there has not been an English translation of the Qanoon of Medicine directly from the original source.


All the work of translation in English were done from other language translations, into Latin, Urdu, and Persian, but these translations have failed to capture the spirit of the book until Hikima Amri & Marc Micozzi translate it from original text with practical applications.


Avicenna was popular in introducing precision in the use of Arabic terms. Before him, Abu Yousuf Ibne Ishaq al-Kindi and Abu Nasr Al-Farabi had attempted to do so, but their efforts had taken the form of aphorisms according to Soheil M. Afnan. Avicenna’s thought and writing are considered by his passion for classification, his complex sub-categorizing surpassed that of any Greek writer, and it is where the medieval European philosophers learned the method. It is important to note out that any translation and explanation of Avicenna’s book “The Canon of Medicine” is also a reflection of the understanding of the translators. A precise transformation of some parts of the “The Canon of Medicine” is rationally difficult for the reader to put into proper framework, and some concepts are hard to understanding without a broad knowledge of biological terminology.


Avicenna’s career and writings are predominantly inspiring for his collection and synthesis of knowledge from the entire known world, his emphasis on the practical application of medical principles, and his preservation and dissemination of learning to take medicine on next level forward.



Recent advances in the new sciences of molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, and pharmacology have not substituted or moderated the basic tenets of Avicenna’s system, to the contrary, they have revealed to us the need to describe them in light of contemporary knowledge and to find a way to reconcile the two. Over a thousand years, Avicenna’s The Canon of Medicine has been acknowledged essentially as the influential encyclopedia on the Greco-Arabic-Islamic medical system. As a widespread body of work that contains theory and practice, it follows the teachings, interpretations, and writings of Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides, Rhazes, Tabari, and Almajusi.


Further than this, the elegance of its language and precision of terms, as well as the logical classifications and discussions of the topics, drove the Canon of Medicine to surpass other medical books. There is a plenty of scholarly commentaries and books on the Canon, many confined to the first book, containing the important theories and problems of medicine.

Ibn Sina’s medicine book “The Canon of Medicine” is comprised of five volumes or Books:

1.   General Matters of Medicinal Science

2.   Single Drugs Book

3.   Diseases Specific to Organs Book

4.   Diseases Not Specific to a Single Organ

5.   The Formulary and Aqrabadhin



One of the most interesting concepts of traditional medical systems, whether Chinese, Ayurveda, or Unani, is their nearly identical disease concept as a unifying principle for all these large and ubiquitous medical systems. It should be clear to us now that, wherever these medical systems may have fallen short on detail, they rewarded by expanding comprehensive, coherent, and useful general concepts that remain a source of strength and a purpose for their existence. Not only have their conceptions mounted the test of time, but modern medical science also now lends support and validation to many of them.

As Ibn Sina elaborated, the disease state starts by dystemperament (abnormal change), which is a change in the normal temperament of an individual, or of an organ, to a new temperament that is outside the range of normal. The temperament is an outcome of the mixing of the four physical states: warmth, coldness, wetness (or dampness), and dryness. Therefore, a change in one process will produce a change in the others. Extended dystemperament imbalances the body fluids, the humors, not only in quantity but also in quality. Thus, the state and stage of illness in Unani medicine is based on dystemperament and humoral unevenness.


It is very significant to keep in mind that our current Western medical system is an extension of the Greco-Arabic-Islamic system. Not only were the Latin translations of Arabic medical books prevalent throughout Europe, but Avicenna’s “The Canon of Medicine” was also a standard medical textbook in several authentic medical schools as Leipzig, Louvain, Montpellier, and Tubingen. The medical curricula at the Universities of Vienna and Frankfurt were structured according to The Canon of Medicine. Many prominent Western Renaissance physicians were influenced by the Unani medicine system.



While he was on his deathbed, his remorse seized him; he donated his goods on the poor, restored unjust gains, freed his slaves, and read through the Quran every three days until his death. Due to cologne disease, he died in June 1037, at that time he was in his 56th year, in the month of Ramadan, and was buried in Hamadan, Iran.



Due to his overwork, his friends advised him to slow down and take life moderate way but he refused, however, stating that:

"I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length"

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