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Avicenna's Tomb - Hamedan

Ibn Sina, Abū ‘Alī al-Husayn ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Sīnā (Persian ابوعلى سينا Abu Ali Sina or arabisized: أبو علي الحسين بن عبد الله بن سينا) often referred to by his latinized name Avicenna was a Persian physician, philosopher, and scientist who was born in 980 in Afshana near Bukhara, now in Uzbekistan (then Persia), and died June 1037 in Hamadan, Persia (Iran).
He was the author of 450 books on a wide range of subjects. Many of these concentrated on philosophy and medicine. He was one of the Islamic world's leading writers in the field of medicine and followed the approach of Hippocrates and Galen. George Sarton called Ibn Sina "the most famous scientist of Islam and one of the most famous of all races, places, and times." His most famous works are The Book of Healing and The Canon of Medicine, also known as the Qanun (full title: al-qanun fil-tibb).
Early life

His life is known to us from authoritative sources. An autobiography covers his first thirty years, and the rest are documented by his disciple al-Juzajani, who was also his secretary and his friend.

He was born in 370 (AH) / 980 (AD) in Afshana, his mother's home, a small city now part of Uzbekistan (then part of Persia). His father, a respected Ismaili scholar, was from Balkh of Khorasan, now part of Afghanistan (then also Persia) and was at the time of his son's birth the governor of a village in one of Nuh ibn Mansur's estates. He had his son very carefully educated at Bukhara. Traditionally of the Shia branch of Islam, 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.

Ibn Sina 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 Koran by the age of 7 and a great deal of Persian poetry as well. From a greengrocer he learned arithmetic, and he began to learn more from a wandering scholar who gained a livelihood by curing the sick and teaching the young.

However he was greatly troubled by metaphysical problems and in particular the works of Aristotle. So, for the next year and a half, he also studied philosophy, in which he encountered greater obstacles. In such moments of baffled inquiry, he would leave his books, perform the requisite ablutions, then go to the mosque, and continue in prayer till light broke on his difficulties. Deep into the night he would continue his studies, stimulating his senses by occasional cups of wine, 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 dirhems. 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 by gratuitous attendance on the sick had, according to his own account, discovered new methods of treatment. The teenager achieved full status as a physician at age 18 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. Shams al-Ma'äli Qäbtis, the generous ruler of Dailam, himself a poet and a scholar, with whom Ibn Sina had expected to find an asylum, was about that date (1052) 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 emir, was nominal ruler under the regency of his mother (Seyyedeh Khatun). At Rai about thirty of Ibn Sina's shorter works are said to have been composed. Constant feuds which raged between the regent and her second son, Amir Shamsud-Dawala, however, compelled the scholar to quit the place. After a brief sojourn at Qazvin he passed southwards to Hamadãn, where the 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's house, till 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 amir, 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's 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 Turkish mercenaries. When the storm had passed, Ibn Sina returned with the emir to Hamadan, and carried on his literary labours. Later, however, accompanied by his brother, a favourite pupil, and two slaves, Ibn Sina escaped out of the city in the dress of a Sufite ascetic. After a perilous journey, they reached Isfahan, receiving an honourable welcome from the prince. Avicenna also introduced medical herbs.
Late life
The remaining ten or twelve years of Avicenna's life were spent in the service of Abu Ya'far 'Ala Addaula, whom he accompanied as physician and general literary and scientific adviser, even in his numerous campaigns.

During these years he began to study literary matters and philology, instigated, it is asserted, by criticisms on his style. He contrasts with the nobler and more intellectual character of Averroes. A severe colic, which seized him on the march of the army against Hamadãn, was checked by remedies so violent that Ibn Sina could scarcely stand. On a similar occasion the disease returned; with difficulty he reached Hamadãn, where, finding the disease gaining ground, he refused to keep up the regimen imposed, and resigned himself to his fate.

His friends advised him to slow down and take life moderately. He refused, however, stating that: "I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length". On his deathbed remorse seized him; he bestowed his goods on the poor, restored unjust gains, freed his slaves, and every third day till his death listened to the reading of the Qur'an. He died in June 1037, in his fifty-eighth year, and was buried in Hamedan, Iran.

Imaginary portrait of Avicenna is seen depicted on a stamp issued by the United Arab Emirates.Ibn Sina is usually considered as a great philosopher and physician, comparable to such greats as Abu Bakr Mohammad Ibn Zakariya al-Razi. He is remembered in Western history of medicine (under his latinised name Avicenna) as a major historical figure who made fundamental contributions to medicine and the European reawakening.
In Iran, he is considered a national icon, and is often regarded as one of the greatest Persians to have ever lived. Many portraits and statues remain in Iran today. An impressive monument to the life and works of the man who is known as the 'doctor of doctors' still stands outside the Bukhara museum and his portrait hangs in the Hall of the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Paris. There is also a crater on the moon named Avicenna

Ibn Sina wrote extensively on the subjects of philosophy, logic, ethics, metaphysics and other disciplines. Some of his works were written in Arabic - which was the de facto scientific language of that time, and some were written in the Persian language. Of linguistic significance even to this day are a few books that he wrote in nearly pure Persian language[citation needed]. Ibn Sina's commentaries on Aristotle often corrected the philosopher, encouraging a lively debate in the spirit of ijtihad. Accordingly he is one of the earliest pioneers of the scientific process of peer review as we know it today, his influence on that process being profound at least, and perhaps even decisive.

Scarcely any member of the Arabian circle of the sciences, including theology, philology, mathematics, astronomy, physics, and music, was left untouched by the treatises of Ibn Sina, many of which probably varied little, except in being commissioned by a different patron and having a different form or extent. He wrote at least one treatise on alchemy, but several others have been falsely attributed to him. His book on animals was translated by Michael Scot. His Logic, Metaphysics, Physics, and De Caelo, are treatises giving a synoptic view of Aristotelian doctrine. The Logic and Metaphysics have been printed more than once, the latter, e.g., at Venice in 1493, 1495, and 1546. Some of his shorter essays on medicine, logic, &c., take a poetical form (the poem on logic was published by Schmoelders in 1836). Two encyclopaedic treatises, dealing with philosophy, are often mentioned. The larger, Al-Shifa' (Sanatio), exists nearly complete in manuscript in the Bodleian Library and elsewhere; part of it on the De Anima appeared at Pavia (1490) as the Liber Sextus Naturalium, and the long account of Ibn Sina's philosophy given by Shahrastani seems to be mainly an analysis, and in many places a reproduction, of the Al-Shifa'. A shorter form of the work is known as the An-najat (Liberatio). The Latin editions of part of these works have been modified by the corrections which the monastic editors confess that they applied. There is also a Philosophia Orientalis, mentioned by Roger Bacon, and now lost, which according to Averroes was pantheistic in tone.

Ibn Sina's philosophical tenets are not considered part of western philosophy today. The West only pays attention to a portion of his philosophy known as the Latin Avicennaian School, and his other significant philosophical contribution, which had been hailed by Suhrawardi, is still unknown to West. This notable part is called حكمت مشرقيه (hikmat-al-mashriqqiyya) by him. In some of his writings, he mentions this to his disciples as his major achievement. Heavily influenced by Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi made philosophical contributions which have developed much from Ibn Sina's work, later founding illuminationist philosophy and believing to have finished what Ibn Sina began.

About 100 treatises were ascribed to Ibn Sina. Some of them are tracts of a few pages, others are works extending through several volumes. The best-known amongst them, and that to which Ibn Sina owed his European reputation, is his 14-volume The Canon of Medicine, which was a standard medical text in Western Europe for seven centuries. It classifies and describes diseases, and outlines their assumed causes. Hygiene, simple and complex medicines, and functions of parts of the body are also covered. It asserts that tuberculosis was contagious, which was later disputed by Europeans, but turned out to be true. It also describes the symptoms and complications of diabetes. An Arabic edition of the Canons appeared at Rome in 1593, and a Hebrew version at Naples in 1491. Of the Latin version there were about thirty editions, founded on the original translation by Gerard of Cremona. In the 15th century a commentary on the text of the Canon was composed. Other medical works translated into Latin are the Medicamenta Cordialia, Canticum de Medicina, and the Tractatus de Syrupo Acetoso.

It was mainly accident which determined that from the 12th to the 17th century Ibn Sina should be the guide of medical study in European universities, and eclipse the names of Rhazes, Ali ibn al-Abbas and Averroes. His work is not essentially different from that of his predecessor Rhazes, because he presented the doctrine of Galen, and through Galen the doctrine of Hippocrates, modified by the system of Aristotle. But the Canon of Avicenna is distinguished from the Al-Hawi (Continens) or Summary of Rhazes by its greater method, due perhaps to the logical studies of the former. The work has been variously appreciated in subsequent ages, some regarding it as a treasury of wisdom, and others, like Averroes, holding it useful only as waste paper. In modern times it has been seen of mainly historic interest as most of its tenets have been disproved or expanded upon by scientific medicine. The vice of the book is excessive classification of bodily faculties, and over-subtlety in the discrimination of diseases. It includes five books; of which the first and second discuss physiology, pathology and hygiene, the third and fourth deal with the methods of treating disease, and the fifth describes the composition and preparation of remedies. This last part contains some personal observations. He is, like all his countrymen, ample in the enumeration of symptoms, and is said to be inferior to Ali in practical medicine and surgery. He introduced into medical theory the four causes of the Peripatetic system. Of natural history and botany he pretended to no special knowledge. Up to the year 1650, or thereabouts, the Canon was still used as a textbook in the universities of Leuven and Montpellier.

In the museum at Bukhara, there are displays showing many of his writings, surgical instruments from the period and paintings of patients undergoing treatment.

Ibn Sina was interested in the effect of the mind on the body, and wrote a great deal on psychology, likely influencing Ibn Tufayl and Ibn Bajjah.

Along with Rhazes, Ibn Nafis, Al-Zahra and Al-Ibadi, he is considered an important compiler of Early Muslim medicine


Almost half of Avicenna's works are versified.(E.G. Browne, p61) His poems appear in both Arabic and Persian. As an example, Edward Granville Browne claims that the following verses are incorrectly attributed to Omar Khayyám, and were originally written by Avicenna (E.G. Browne, p60-61):

از قعر گل سیاه تا اوج زحل,
Up from Earth's Centre through the Seventh Gate

کردم همه مشکلات گیتی را حل,
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,

بیرون جستم زقید هر مکر و حیل,
And many Knots unravel'd by the Road;

هر بند گشاده شد مگر بند اجل.
But not the Master-Knot of Human Fate

God as the first cause of all things
For Avicenna, essence is non-contingent. For an essence to be realised within time (as an existence), the existence must be rendered necessary by the essence itself. This particular relationship of cause and effect is due to an inherent property of the essence, that it is non-contingent. For existence in general to be possible, there must exist a necessary essence, itself uncaused - a being or God to begin a process of emanation.

This view has a profound impact on the monotheistic concept of creation. Existence is not seen by Avicenna as the work of a capricious deity, but of a divine, self-causing thought process. The movement from this to existence is necessary, and not an act of will per se. The world emanates from God by virtue of his abundant intellect - an immaterial cause as found in the neoplatonic concept of emanation.

Avicenna found inspiration for this methaphysical view in the works of Al-Farabi, but his innovation is in his account a single and necessary first cause of all existence. Whether this view can be reconciled with Islam, particularly given the question of what role is left for God's will, was to become a subject of considerable controversy within intellectual Islamic discourse.
The Ten Intellects
In Avicenna's account of creation (largely derived from Al-Farabi), from this first cause (or First Intellect) proceeds the creation of the material world.

The First Intellect, in comtemplating the necessity of its existence, gives rise to the Second Intellect. In contemplating its emanation from God, it then gives rise to the First Spirit, which animates the Sphere of Spheres (the universe). In contemplating itself as a self-caused essence (that is, as something that could potentially exist), it gives rise to the the matter that fills the universe and forms the Sphere of the Planets (the First Heaven in al-Farabi).

This triple-contemplation establishes the first stages of existence. It continues, giving rise to consequential intellects which create between them two celestial hierarchies: the Superior Hierarchy of Cherubim (Kerubim) and the Inferior Hierarchy, called by Avincenna "Angels of Magnificence". These angels animate the heavens, but a deprived of all sensory perception, but have imagination which allows them to desire the intellect from which they came. Their vain quest to join this intellect causes an eternal movement in heaven. They also cause prophetic visions in humans.

The angels created by each of the next seven Intellects are associated with a different body in the Sphere of the Planets. These are: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury and the Moon. The last of these is of particular importance, since its association is with the Angel Gabriel ("The Angel").

This Ninth Intellect occurs at a step so removed from the First Intellect that the emanation that then arises from it explodes into fragments, creating not a further celestial entity, but instead creating human souls, which have the sensory functions lacked by the Angels of Magnificence.
The Angel and the minds of humans
For Avicenna, human minds were not in themselves formed for abstract thought. Humans are intellectual only potentially, and only illumination by the Angel confers upon them the ability to make from this potential a real ability to think. This is the Tenth Intellect.

The degree to which minds are illuminated by the Angel varies. Prophets are illuminated to the point that they posses not only rational intellect, but also an imagination and ability which allows them to pass on their superior wisdom to others. Some receive less, but enough to write, teach, pass laws, and contribute to the distribution of knowledge. Others receive enough for their own personal realisation, and others still receive less.

On this view, all humanity shares a single agent intellect - a collective consciousness. The final stage of human life, according to Avicenna, is reunion with the emanation of the Angel. Thus, the Angel confers upon those imbued with its intellect the certainty of life after death. For Avicenna, as for the neoplatonists who influenced him, the immortality of the soul is a consequence of its nature, and not a purpose for it to fulfill

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