The Islamic Republic of Iran marks august 23 the birth anniversary of Abu Ali Sina (known in the west as Avicenna) as the National Doctors Day. This designation has been made to appreciate the valuable services that Abu Ali Sina has rendered to medicine and medical sciences in general. In this program we are going to cast a brief look at his life and times.
Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna as he is known in the west), the globally acclaimed Iranian multi-sided genius, is considered one of the most prominent physicians of all eras and his books were taught for long at the famous universities the world over. This prominent polymath, due to his full mastery of various sciences and his impression on next scholars, is referred to as the most renowned Islamic scientist not only in Iran but also in the west.
Abu Ali Hussein ibn Abdullah ibn Sina was born in 370 AH in a village around Bukhara which was then capital of the Samanid dynasty. This great physician who later became the most influential figure in science and philosophy of the Islamic world and was given titles such as Sheik Al-Raees, Hojjat Al-Haq and Sharaf Al-Mulk had an astonishing genius and zeal for acquiring variegated branches of science from childhood. When he was merely a 5-year old lad, he learned arithmetic, mathematics, the holy Qur’an and syntax and grammar of Arabic language from his scholarly and virtuous father. He was very intelligent from the very beginning and was very keen for acquiring knowledge. After some time he went to school and became the master of all his classmates. Before the age of 10 Ibn Sina memorized the holy Qur’an and gained a good command of literature, geometry, mathematics and Arabic language. He had special interest in the nature, plants and animals and spent his leisure time on research and gathering experience in desert and plain and thus became interested in the properties of medicinal herbs and medicine from childhood.
Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna) was 12 years old when his father sent him to a master named Abdullah Nateli in order to complete his knowledge. Prior to this he had learned jurisprudence from a person named Ismail. Abu Ali Sina was so clever and talented that sometimes he found novel things and scientific nuances so that he amazed his teacher. Nateli also encouraged him to learn sciences and thus Abu Ali Sina learned the science of logic and then he completed mathematics.
He benefited from any book that was available and he got full command of medicine through the books he had studied and experiences he had gathered.
When Avicenna was 18 years old, the Samanid ruler Noah II, ruled over Bukhara. One day the servants came to take him for treatment of emir. Abu Ali Sina treated the emir and, for the payment, he just asked the emir to let him use the royal library of Bukhara freely; as it was only the princes and courtiers who were allowed to use it. Thus a new chapter was opened in Abu Ali Sina’s life. Bukhara library was one of the largest libraries where you could find a copy of most of the rarest books in various fields of science. Abu Ali Sina lost his father at the age of 22. At the time, Bukhara was in turmoil as the Samanid government was in its waning days. Khwarazm was the center of scientists and researchers and its emir was a patron of scientists. Abu Ali Sina also enjoyed his support and attention and, for a while, he began to work and study in comfort.
Soon, Khwarazm was captured by Mahmoud Ghaznavi and the scientists were scattered there. Some of them went to the capital city of Ghazna, at the invitation of Mahmoud. But Abu Ali Sina rejected his invitation and fled to Khwarazm fearing his life. After a short stay in several cities, he went to Jorjan and started writing the book Qanoon fi’tTib (Canon of Medicine) in that city. As one of the most famous sources in the field of medicine, the book was taught in European academic centers for over seven hundred years. The year after Abu Ali Sina went to Rey and Qazvin and then to the ruler of Hamadan, Shams Al-Dawlah Daylami. He treated Shams Al-Dawlah’s disease and accepted to be his minister. At the same time, Abu Ali Sina, who was engaged in political and administrative affairs, wrote the Book “Shifa”. This book is considered as his most important and comprehensive work in the field of philosophy, in which he analyzes the views of great ancient Greek philosophers and the scholars of Alexandria.
After the death of Shams al-Dawlah his son succeeded him but since Abu Ali Sina did not accept to be his minister he was imprisoned for 4 months. He wrote several books in prison. After being released from prison, he secretly set out for Isfahan with his disciple, Abu Obeid Jowzjani and his brother.
In Isfahan, Abu Ali Sina was welcomed by the governor of the city Alaa al-Dawlah Kakuyi and lived in peace for 14 years in this city. In those years, he completed his books and wrote new books in the fields of philosophy, mathematics and music. During Masoud Ghaznavi’s aggression on Isfahan, which was aimed at overthrowing Alaa al-Dawlah, Abu Ali Sina’s house was ransacked and some of his writings vanished. But he remained in the service of Alaa al-Dawlah till he died in 428 AH in a trip with Alaa al-Dawlah to Hamadan.
In addition to medicine, Abu Ali Sina was a scholar in many other sciences. He was the first philosopher in Iran and the Muslim world who wrote well-researched and logical books on philosophy. The two Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato and the great Iranian philosopher Farabi greatly impacted Abu Ali Sina. It is said that Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna) was mostly impacted by Aristotle’s approach; however, had a new view in philosophy which was somewhat different from that of Aristotle. Abu Ali Sina was not a mere transmitter and narrator of Greek philosophical ideas and approaches. He paid attention to Islamic theology and tried to shape his philosophy with the help of Islamic thought. At the end of his life, Abu Ali Sina wrote books which indicated his access to a new school in philosophy. One of these books is "Hikmat al-Mashreqiyah". Only the preface and chapter on logic of this book is available and the main part which was an elboration of this philosophy has perished.
131 original works and 111 attributed works are mentioned as the works of Abu Ali Sina. “Shifa” in philosophy and “Qanoon” in medicine have gained global fame. Shifa is in 18 volumes in the fields of philosophy, logic, mathematics, naturalism and theology. The logic mentioned in Shifa is still considered one of the most authoritative sources of Islamic logic while its naturalism and theology are still favorite of those interested in the field. The book “Qanoon” which was the most important book of medicine includes articles on general rules of medicine, combination and single-drug therapy, and various illnesses. This book was translated into Latin in the 12th century with the start of the translation movement, and has also been translated in English, French and German. The book Qanoon, which was a collection of all the ancient and Islamic medical sciences, was used as a textbook of medicine at major European universities.
Abu Ali Sina has been a popular and well-known figure among people both in his life and during the following centuries till this day. For this reason, many stories and fables have been written about his genius. He is depicted as a physician who grants life, a sage who knows everything and a scientist who is aware of all hidden secrets.
In addition to his works, Abu Ali Sina trained several disciples, each of whom was a great scholar of his time. Some of his prominent disciples include: Abul Hassan Bahmanyar bin Marzban, Abu Abdullah Abdul Wahid bin Muhammad Jowzjani, Abu Abdullah Mohammad bin Ahmad al-Masumi and Sheikh Ali Nisa'i Khorasani.
Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna as he is called in the west) died in 428 AH when he was only 58 years. The tomb of this multi-sided paragon and honour of the Islamic world is located in Hamadan in the west of Iran.