Courtesy of Muslim Scientists, Mathematicians and Astromers
Abu Ali al-Husayn Ibn Abdullah Ibn Sina was born in Bukhara in 980. Sometimes known in the West by the Latin name, Avicenna, this Persian physician became the most famous and influential of all the Islamic philosopher-scientists. He earned royal favour for treating the Kings of Bukhara and Hamadan for ailments other physicians could neither diagnose nor cure. His grave is still maintained in Hamadan, where he died in 1037. Though trained as a physician, Ibn Sina made important contributions to philosophy, mathematics, chemistry, and astronomy. His philosophical encyclopedia, Kitab al-Shifa (“Book of Healing”) brought Aristotelian and Platonian philosophy together with Islamic theology in dividing the field of knowledge into theoretical knowledge (physics, mathematics, and metaphysics) and practical knowledge (ethics, economics, and politics).
His most enduring legacy, however, was in the field of medicine. His most famous book, Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (“The Canon of Medicine”) is still one of the most important medical books ever written, and served as the medical authority throughout Europe for 600 years. Among the Canon’s contributions to modern medicine was the recognition that tuberculosis is contagious; diseases can spread through water and soil; and a person’s emotional health influences his or her physical health. Ibn Sina was also the first physician to describe meningitis, parts of the eye, and the heart valves, and he found that nerves were responsible for perceived muscle pain. He also contributed to advancements in anatomy, gynecology, and pediatrics. The Canon was translated into Latin in the 12th century, and quickly became the predominant textbook used in European medical schools until the 17th century. It is still used today in Islamic medical schools in Pakistan and India. No other medical book has remained so highly acclaimed for such a long period of time. When the Arabic original was published in Rome in 1593, it became one of the first Arabic books to be produced on the new invention of the printing press. Today, Ibn Sina’s portrait hangs in the main hall of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris.