ibn Sina

ibn Sina


Ibn Sina was born ca. 370/980 in Bukhara. His father was originally from Balkh but he moved to Bukhara in the era of Noah b. Mansur Samani (366-387/977-997) where he held a bureaucratic position in an important village called Kharmaythan. He married a girl (called Sitara?) from a nearby village called Afshana and stayed  there. Ibn Sina was born there, and 5 years later his younger brother, Mahmud, was born.

He learned the whole Qur’an and much of Arabic literature when he was 10 years old. He mastered logic, natural sciences, and mathematics when he was 18. He then turned to theology, and studied Aristotle’s Metaphysics.

Ibn Sina’s philosophical system has left the deepest and the most persistent effect on the Islamic philosophical thought as well as European Medieval philosophy. He has innovations within the Peripatetic philosophy, clarifying ambiguous points in Aristotle’s thought, and sometimes adding to it, and finally, he seeks to establish a new philosophical system drawing on Platonic and neo-Platonic thoughts, but adventures in his life, and his premature death, left his enterprise unfinished.

Ibn Sina’s al-Qanun (The Canon of Medicine) has, for centuries, been the most prominent and influential book in medicine, in both Islamic countries and the Medieval Europe.

Ibn Sina has methodologically considerable works in music —the works can be a guide how to research about music. He has mystical works with a language of symbols and allegories that has been influential in the Sufi literature after him and the way mystical issues are cashed out.

Also he has works regarding language and linguistics. Moreover, he master poetry and rhetoric exhibiting his mastery of the Arabic language. He also has a small and very important essay on the principles of phonetics. Ibn Sina has left works in Farsi that are specially valuable in that they show a stage of development of this language as well as its capacities as a language for philosophy. His best-known work in Farsi is Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i (the ‘Ala’i Encyclopedia).


Elementary Education

Ibn Sina, first, learned the Qur’an and the Arabic literature, and he learned the whole Qur’an and much of the literature when he was 10 years old. His father studied Rasa’il ikhwan al-Safa, and Ibn Sina sometimes read the book. His father sent him to a vegetable seller, called Mahmud Massahi, who mastered the Indian arithmetic so that Ibn Sina learns arithmetic with him.

The Isma’ili Call

In the meanwhile, Ibn Sina’s father accepted the call of an Isma’ili caller in Egypt. Ibn Sina’s brother, Mahmud, started following Isma’ilites as well. However, Ibn Sina did not accept the call.

Philosophical Training

A scholar called Abu ‘Abd Allah Natili (Husayn b. Ibrahim al-Tabari) who claimed to have mastered philosophy went to Bukhara when Ibn Sina was there. Ibn Sina’s father took him to his house and Ibn Sina began to learn philosophy from him.

Before that, he studied Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) with a man called Isma’il Zahid; he was very active in these studies and learned all the methods of jurisprudents. He then studied the Isagoge (the introduction to Aristotle’s categories) authored by Porphyry, the neo-Platonic philosopher (234-301 or 305). Ibn Sina always surprised his teacher by discovering new points. The teacher asked Ibn Sina’s father to engage his son only with studying.

Ibn Sina learned the elementary parts of logic with Natili, but he soon found that Natili was not well-aware of the details of logic. Thus he read Aristotle’s logic and its commentaries on his own, and soon mastered logic very well. At the same time, he studied parts of The Principles of Geometry by Euclid with Natili, and then he studied and solved the other problems of this book on his own.

Ibn Sina went on to study Almagest by Ptolemy —the great Greek astronomer— with Natili, and after studying the introduction and its geometrical shapes, Natili told Ibn Sina to read the book by himself and ask when encountering a trouble. However, Ibn Sina solved all the problems by himself, and even explained some problems to Natili when he did not know.


After these studies, Natili left Bukhara to Urgench in order to visit the court of Abu ‘Ali Ma’mun b. Muhammad Khwarazmshah. Ibn Sina started reading some texts regarding natural sciences and theology on his own and he puts it, “the doors of knowledge opened to him”. He then started reading texts in medicine and he found it easy to learn —he soon became so prominent in medicine that great physicians studied medicine with him. Ibn Sina visited patients and discovered new therapeutic methods by experience. At the same time he continued his studies in Fiqh.


Ibn Sina was 16 when he learned medicine. He then read books in logic and philosophy again for one year and a half. He did not sleep much and spent all his time reading and learning. Before him were sheets of paper on which he wrote his notes —problems and questions with proposed solutions and formalizations of arguments in terms of syllogisms. Whenever he could not find the middle premise of a syllogistic argument, he went to the Mosque and said prayers and asked God to help him solve the problem. He then went back home at night, turned on a light, and started reading and writing. Whenever he was sleepy or felt weakness in his body, he used to drink a cup of wine (or as some people say, some drink) and then continued his reading. As Ibn Sina says himself, “whenever he fell into sleep, he dreamt of those problems and sometimes discovered their solutions in sleep”.

In this way, Ibn Sina learned and mastered all branches of knowledge; and as he says, “what I knew then is the same as what I know now, and I have not added anything to it”.

In this period, Ibn Sina was only 18 years old; he mastered logic, natural sciences, and mathematics, and then he tried to learn metaphysics. He started reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics. He read it 40 times such that he memorized the whole text, but he could not understand it. He was disappointed of himself and thought that he can never understand metaphysics; “there is no way to understand this book”, he told himself. However, a man shows him a cheap book when Ibn Sina was in a book market, and Ibn Sina buys the book though with hesitations. The book was Abu Nasr al-Farabi’s book on the purposes of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. When he reads the book, he can understand metaphysics.

Treatment of Bukhara’s Ruler

Nuh b. Mansur Samani was the ruler of Bukhara at that time. He contracted a disease that physicians failed to cure. Ibn Sina was by then a well-known scientist and physician. The Physicians mentioned him to Nuh b. Mansur as a skillful physician and asked to call Ibn Sina to the court.

Ibn Sina visited Nuh b. Mansur and contributed to his treatment, and since then he became very close to the ruler of Bukhara. Ibn Sina asked Nuh b. Mansur to give him permission to enter his great, well-known libraries. The ruler gave him the permission, and Ibn Sina found many great books there some of which he even never heard of.

He started reading the books and learned a lot from them. However, the library was later burned in fire. The opponents of Ibn Sina accused him of having intentionally burned the library in order to prevent others from reading those books.

At this time Ibn Sina was 18 years old and had learned all branches of knowledge in his time. He later said, “I had a better memory then; my stock of knowledge now is the still the same, but my knowledge is now more exact”.


Ibn Sina was 22 years old when his father died. In the meanwhile he had occupied some positions in the Samanid government of ‘Abd al-Malik II. On the other hand, the head of Kara-Khanid Khanate, Nasr b. ‘Ali attacked and conquered Bukhara and imprisoned the last Samanid ruler, ‘Abd al-Malik b. Noah on Dhu l-Qa’da 389/October 999 sending him to Uzgen.

This shows that Ibn Sina must have served in ‘Abd al-Malik b. Nuh’s court for about two years —from Nuh b. Mansur Samani’s death (387/997) through ‘Abd al-Malik’s overthrow. These political developments and the overthrow of Samanid government in Bukhara caused Ibn Sina to leave Bukhara, and he puts it, “the necessity made me abandon the city”.


Ibn Sina’s enemies disclosed his hideout (Abu Ghalib al-‘Attar’s house). He was arrested and sent to, and imprisoned in, a fort called Fardajan. Fardajan Fort, also known as Barahan or Barahan (Farahan), was located, according to Yaqut, in Jarra area 15 miles away from Hamadan. The area is nowadays known as Pardagan, and is located in the 110th km of Hamadan-Isfahan road.

Ibn Sina spent 4 months in the Fort. According to Ibn Athir, in a war between Kurdish and Turkish soldiers of Shams al-Dawla in 411/1020 in Hamadan, Taj al-Muluk was the head of Kurdish soldiers. He asked ‘Ala’ al-Dawla to help him suppress Turkish soldiers, but 3 years later, 414/1024, Sama’ al-Dawla, Shams al-Dawla’s son, surrounded Burujerd. The governor of Burujerd, Farhad b. Mardavij, asked ‘Ala’ al-Dawla for help, and they both surrounded Hamadan, but lack of provisions and foodstuff forced them to retreat.

Later, in a war with Taj al-Muluk, ‘Ala’ al-Dawla retreated first to Jurfazaqan (Gulpayegan), but then he attacked Hamadan once again. He was defeated in a war with Sama’ al-Dawla, and surrendered. But ‘Ala’ al-Dawla honored him, and Taj al-Muluk took refuge to the Fardajan Fort.

‘Ala’ al-Dawla attacked the Fardajan Fort together with Sama’ al-Dawla, and Taj al-Muluk surrendered himself. After this, they all went back to Hamadan with Ibn Sina. Ibn Sina lived in the house of a man with an ‘Alawi pedigree, restarting the writing of the rest of the logic part of Al-Shifa’. Nothing is known about this ‘Alawi man, but Ibn Sina has dedicated his Essay, Al-Adwiyya al-Qalbiyya, to a man named Sharif al-Sa’id Abu l-Hassan ‘Ali b. Husayn al-Hasani, who seems to be of an ‘Alawi pedigree, and he might be the same ‘Alawi man who accommodated Ibn Sina in his house.


Ibn Sina lived in Hamadan for a while, but Taj al-Muluk’s promises to him were never fulfilled. Ibn Sina decided then to move to Isfahan. With his pupil, Juzjani, and two servants, he went on travel in disguised clothes of Sufis. After a lot of difficulties he arrived in a place called Tayran (or Tahran or Tabaran) near Isfahan.

Welcomes in Isfahan

Ibn Sina’s friends and ‘Ala’ al-Dawla’s fellows, who were aware of Ibn Sina’s arrival, welcomed him bringing for him some special clothes and palfreys. In Isfahan he stayed in the house of a man called ‘Abd Allah b. Bibi in an area named Kuy-i Gunbad. There was enough furniture in that house. From then (414/1023) Ibn Sina’s 14 years of a quiet, creative life began.

Now he was a close company of ‘Ala’ al-Dawla who was a lover of knowledge and scholars. On Thursday nights there were meetings in ‘Ala’ al-Dawla’s place hosting Ibn Sina and some other scientists.

Ibn Sina’s Writings in Isfahan Ibn Sina was the most prominent scholar and scientist in all branches of knowledge. In Isfahan he finished the writing of Al-Shifa’ (The Book of Healing): the parts regarding logic, almagest, Euclid, mathematics, and music, except for the parts of the vegetative and the animals (which were written on route when ‘Ala’ al-Dawla attached Shapur Khwast, located in the south of Hamadan and the west of Isfahan, accompanied by Ibn Sina). The book, Al-Najat, was also written on this travel.

According to Ibn Athir, ‘Ala’ al-Dawla attacked Shapur Khwast for several times, e.g. in 417/1026, 421/1030, and 423/1032. However, Juzjani says that Ibn Sina was 40 years old when he finished Al-Shifa’. Now if Ibn Sina has been born in 370/980, the date when he finished Al-Shifa’ would be 410/1019, which is prior to ‘Ala’ al-Dawla’s attacks on Shapur Khwast. It might be that Juzjani has in mind the writing of Al-Shifa except for its vegetative and animal parts that were finished during one of ‘Ala’ al-Dawla’s attacks on Shapur Khwast, probably in 421/1030.

Ibn Sina also wrote the book, Al-Insaf, in Isfahan, but the book was lost when Mas’ud of Ghazni attacked and conquered Isfahan. Mas’ud of Ghazni (ruled 421-432/ 1031-1041) attacked and conquered Isfahan in 421/1031. After killing many people, Mas’ud’s army plundered ‘Ala’ al-Dawla’s and Ibn Sina’s houses, sending their property and books to Ghazni. The books were set on fire in 545/1150 by ‘Ala’ al-Din Jahansuz’s soldiers. After Mas’ud’s attack on Isfahan, ‘Ala’ al-Dawla continued to serve as the ruler of Isfahan.


Ibn Sina lived in Isfahan until when ‘Ala’ al-Dawla launched a war with Tash Farrash, head of King Mas’ud’s army, in Karaj (or Karakh) near Hamadan. Ibn Sina, who accompanied ‘Ala’ al-Dawla in this travel, contracted colic, and treated himself. In order to recover as soon as possible he cleansed himself with an enema 8 times a day, and as a result he contracted intestinal ulcers. He had to be taken back to Isfahan in order to treat himself, and he finally improved a little so that he could attend ‘Ala’ al-Dawla’s meetings. When ‘Ala’ al-Dawla headed to Hamadan, Ibn Sina accompanied him but the disease recurred on route. After he arrived in Hamadan, Ibn Sina quit his treatment, and after few days he died on the first Friday of the Ramadan month of 428/1037 in his 58, and he was buried in Hamadan.


In spite of his adventurous life, Ibn Sina was a prolific author. What is left from his written works is evidence of an active mind that never stopped working even in the most difficult, frustrating circumstances. His talent in learning and memorizing was acknowledged by everyone. Ibn Sina himself points to his wonderful learning capacities in his teens.

His powerful memory made it easy for him to write. Juzjani, his pupil, reports that when Ibn Sina hid in Abu Ghalib al-‘Attar’s house, he asked him to finish writing the book, Al-Shifa’, and, he adds, Ibn Sina had no books or references available to him then. He wrote 50 pages a day until he finished the whole parts of natural sciences and theology and some of the logic part.

Elsewhere Juzjani says:

I accompanied Ibn Sina for 25 years and whenever he encountered a new book, I never saw him read it from the beginning to the end; instead he went through the abstruse, difficults parts and problems of the book, seeing how the author deals with them, thereby assessing the author’s mastery of the field.

Yahya Mahdavi has provided a comprehensive list of Ibn Sina’s writings —both the authentic ones and the attributed ones. There are 131 works authentically written by Ibn Sina, and 111 works attributed to him (and some are just different titles for the same work). Here are some works of Ibn Sina which are printed and translated to other languages:

Al-Shifa’ (The Book of Healing)

Al-Shifa’ is the most significant work of Ibn Sina. The natural sciences and theology parts have been lithographed for the first time in Tehran (1303/1886). The logic part and all the other parts have been published in Cairo under the supervision of Ibrahim Madkour from 1952 to 1983. The “Burhan” (argument) section of the logic part of Al-Shifa’ has been published in Cairo by ‘Abd al-Rahman Badwi in 1954 (the second print was in 1966).

The Arabic text of Al-Shifa’s psychology (Kitab al-Nafs), with a French translation, has been published by Jan Bakos in two volumes in 1956 in Prague. And its Arabic text has been published by Fazl al-Rahman in Oxford. The old Latin translation has been published in Venice, Italy in 1508 and its critical modern edition has been published by Simone Van Riet in two volumes under Avicenna Latinus. Liber De Anima (The Latin Avicenna; A Book on the Soul) in Louvain, Switzerland in 1968 and 1972 with an introduction by Gérard Verbeke about Ibn Sina’s psychological theories. A modern edition of the Latin translation of Al-Shifa’s theology has been published in 1977 and 1980 in Louvain, with an introduction by Verbeke, in two columes (the first volume includes essays 1-4, and the second includes essays 5-10).

Al-Najat (The Book of Salvation)

Al-Najat, which is a summary of Al-Shifa’, and indeed, a summary of Ibn Sina’s philosophy, is one significant work of Ibn Sina. It has been printed first in 1331/1913 by Muhyi al-Din Sabri al-Kurdi, and for a second time in 1357/1938, in Cairo. It has also been published in Tehran in 1406/1986 by Muhammad Taqi Danishpajuh. The theology part of Al-Najat has been translated into Latin by Ni’mat Allah Karam, and it has been published in 1926 in Rome. An English translation of Al-Najat’s psychology by Fazl al-Rahman has been published first in 1952 and then in 1981 in London.

Al-Isharat wa al-Tanbihat

Al-‘Isharat wa al-Tanbihat seems to be Ibn Sina’s last work and one of the most significant of his writings. It has an eloquent Arabic prose. It has been published for the first time by J. Forget in 1892 in Leiden, and for the second time in three volumes (four parts), with Nasir al-Din Tusi’s commentaries, by Sulayman Dunya in Cairo between 1957-1960. Its French translation by Anne-Marie Goichon has been published in 1951 in Paris.

Kitab al-Insaf

Kitab al-Insaf was a great book covering, as Ibn Sina himsef says, approximately 28,000 problems. The only available manuscript of the work was plundered and destroyed in Mas’ud of Ghazni’s attack on Isfahan. Ibn Sina said that he would write the work anew if he has the occasion, but it seems that he did not have such an occasion. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Badwi has found pieces of this work and published them in a collection under Aristotle for Arabs. The collection also contains Ibn Sina’s commentary on Aristotle’s twelfth book of Metaphysics, his commentary on fragments of Enneads attributed to Aristotle (though it is now proved to be written by Plotinus), parts of Ibn Sina’s Al-Mubahathat, and commentaries on Aristotle’s De Anima.

Other Arabic Writings

Mantiq al-mashriqiyyin (Logic of Orientals), first published in 1910 in Cairo, and then in 1982 in Beirut.

Al-Risala al-‘adhawiyya fi ‘amr al-ma’ad, published by Sulayman Dunya, Cairo, 1954.

‘Uyun al-hikma, published by ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Badwi, Cairo, 1954; Kuwait, 1978.

Tis’ rasa’il fi l-hikma wa al-tabi’iyyat (nine essays on philosophy and natural sciences), Cairo, 1326/1908, including the following essays by Ibn Sina: Risala fi l-hudud (an essay on definitions), Risala fi ‘aqsam al-‘ulum al-‘aqliyya (an essay on types of philosophical branches of knowledge), Risala fi ‘ithbat al-nubuwwat (an essay on proving prophesies), Al-Risala al-nayruziyya, Fi l-tabi’iyyat min ‘uyun al-hikma (on natural sciences from ‘uyun al-hikma), Fi l-‘ajram al-‘ilwiyya (on heavenly bodies), fi l-quwa al-insaniyya wa idrakatuha (on human faculties and its perceptions), fi l-‘ahd (on promising), fi ‘ilm al-‘akhlaq (on ethics).

A French translation of some Oriental writings of Ibn Sina have been published in four parts under “Avicenna’s mystical epistles” in Leiden. The collections includes Risala Hay b. Yaqzan (an epistle on the alive son of the awake) in the first part; Risala al-tayr in the second part, Risala fi mahiyya al-‘ishq (an epistle on the nature of love), Risala fi mahiyya al-salat (an epistle on the nature of prayers), Risala fi ma’na al-ziyarah (an epistle on the significance of pilgrimage) all in the third part; Risala fi l-qadar (an epistle on fate and predestination) in the fourth part. Moreover, a collection of Ibn Sina’s essays has been published under Jami’ al-Bada’i’ in 1335/1917 in Cairo including the above essays in addition to an essay on Sharh surat al-‘Ikhlas (an exegesis of the Quranic Sura, al-‘Ikhlas). Another collection of Ibn Sina’s essays has been published in 1354/1935 by ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Ahmad al-‘Alawi in Haydar Abad, including, in addition to the above essays, Risala fi l-sa’ada (an essay on happiness) and Risala fi l-dhikr (an essay on remembrance of God). In 1953, Hilmi Ziya Ülken published a collection of Ibn Sina’s essays under Rasa’il Ibn Sina 2 in Istanbul including the following: Jawab sitt ‘ashar mas’ala li-Abi Rayhan (a reply to 13 problems by Abu Rayhan), Ajwabat masa’il sa’al ‘anha Abu Rayhan” (replies to problems asked by Abu Rayhan), Mukataba li-‘Abi ‘Ali b. Sina (Ibn Sina’s correpodence), Risalat fi ‘ibtal ‘ahkam al-nujum (an essay on the rejection of statements in astronomy), Masa’il ‘an ahwal al-ruh (problems concerning the states of the soul), Ajwaba ‘an ‘ashara masa’il (replies to ten questions), Risala fi l-nafs wa baqa’uha wa ma’aduha (an essay on the soul, its survival and its resurrection), and Al-jawab li-ba’d al-mutakalimin (a reply to some theologians). Risalat hayy b. Yaqzan has been republished in Tehran in 1952 by Henry Corbin with an old Farsi translation and commentary, supplemented by a French translation. In 1954 Corbin published a book on Ibn Sina and mystical allegories, subtitled by a study of Ibn Sinaa’s allegories. The book is concerned with a study of Ibn Sina’s mystical essays. A. M. Goichon published a French translation of Risalat hayy b. Yaqzan in Paris in 1959, supplemented by her study of the essay.

Fi ma’ani kitab Rituriqa (on the meanings of the book of Rhetorics), by M. S. Salim, Cairo, 1950.

Risalat fi l-‘iksir (an essay on elixir), by Ahmad Atash, Istanbul, 1953.

Risalat fi ma’rifa al-nafs al-natiqa wa ‘ahwaluha (an essay on the knowledge of the rational soul and its states). A Latin translation of this essay has been published by Andrea Alpago in 1546 in Venice. S. Landauer has published the text with a German translation under Ibn Sina’s psychology in the Journal of German Oriental Association, vol. 29, 1876. Its English translation by Van Dyck has been published in 1906 in Verona under A Compendium on the Soul.

Al-Ta’liqat (The Commentaries), by ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Badwi, Cairo, 1972.

Al-Qanun fi l-tibb (The Canon of Medicine). A well-known book on medicine. Its Arabic text has been printed first in Rome in 1953, and then in Cairo in 1290/1873, then in Bulaq in 1294, and in Lucknow in 1307-8/1890-1, and 1324/1906. It was translated from Arabic to Latin by Gerard of Cremona in the 12th century, and was repeatedly published in Italy.

Al-Nukat wa al-fawa’id; a less known essay by Ibn Sina a manuscript of which is available in the Fayd Allah Library in Istanbul, no. 1217. It contains some logic, natural sciences, and theology, reminding the structure of Al-Najat and Al-‘Isharat. Despite its brevity, the essay is very valuable. The fifth technique (al-fann al-khamis) of the second book of natural sciences has been published by Wilhelm Kutsch in Avicenna’s Commemoration, promising to published its theology, logic and the rest of natural sciences.

Al-Mabda’ wa al-ma’ad, by ‘Abd Allah Nurani, Tehran, 1984.

Works of Ibn Sina in Farsi

Ibn Sina has written some works in Farsi the most significant of which is Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i (The ‘Ala’i Encyclopedia). He wrote this work at the request of ‘Ala’ al-Dawla Kakwayh and dedicated it to him. In the book, Nuz’hatnama-i ‘Ala’i, it is reported that “I have heard that the late ruler, ‘Ala’ al-Dawla —may God bless his soul— told Ibn Sina: if branches of knowledge were in Farsi, I could understand them. Therefore, he asked Ibn Sina to write Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i. When Ibn Sina finished the work and presented it to ‘Ala’ al-Dawla, he could not understand it at all.”

The logic and the theology parts of Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i have been published by Ahmad Khurasani in 1937 in Tehran. And then on the occasion of thousand years after Ibn Sina’s birthday, the theology part of the book was published by Muhammad Mu’in in 1953 and the natural science part of the book was published by Muhammad Mishkat in the same year in Tehran. A French translation of its natural sciences and mathematics by Muhammad Ashna and Henry Massé in two volumes in 1955 and 1956 in Paris.

The theology part of the book has been translated into English with some commentaries by Parviz Morawweg and it was published in 1973 in New York. Moreover, the essay on angiology has been published by Sayyid Muhammad Mishkat in 1952 and the mathematics part of Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i has been published in 1953 in Tehran by Mujtaba Minawi. Also the Persian essays, Kunuz al-mu’zimin, and Jarr al-thaqil (pulling heavy objects) have both been published by Jalal al-Din Humayi in 1953 in Tehran.


  • The Canon of Medicine (al-Qanun fi l-tibb)

Ibn Sina is not only one of the greatest philosophers of the world history, but he is also a prominent figure in the history of medicine. The most significant of his medical works is The Canon of Medicine whose first part (the first book) has been authored before 406/1015 when Ibn Sina was about 35 years old.

Before Ibn Sina, two major works of medicine in the Islamic world were:

Kitab al-hawi authored by Muhammad b. Zakariyya al-Razi (d. 313 or 323/925 or 935).

Kitab kamil al-sana’a al-tibbiyya (or Kitab al-maliki) authored by ‘Ali b. ‘Abbas al-Majusi (d. after 372/982).

However, Ibn Sina’s Canon overshadowed all medical books throughout many centuries, both in the Islamic territories and the Medieval Europe. One evidence for the unique importance of The Canon is the fact that very many commentaries have been written for it by physicians throughout centuries. There are, in addition to these commentaries, many summaries and notes written on the book.

  • Commentaries of The Canon

The best-known summary of The Canon is Mujaz al-Qanun by ‘Ala’ al-Din ‘Ali b. ‘Abi al-Hazm al-Qurashi, known as Ibn Nafis (d. 687/1288). In addition to this summary, Ibn Nafis wrote a detailed, lengthy commentary of The Canon, parts of which are available as independent books in manuscript forms. It is noteworthy that in his exposition of the problems of bisection, in books I and III of The Canon, Ibn Nafis presents his own view about the pulmonary blood circulation, that has received renewed interest in recent decades. His theory anticipates the theory of the circulation of blood propounded by William Harvey (d. 1657) in 1628 through some experiments, thereby establishing modern physiology. There are many manuscripts of The Canon in libraries around the world. The Arabic text of the first two volumes of The Canon has been printed and published for the first time in Rome in 1593.

  • The Prestige of The Canon

The prestige and the fame of The Canon was so widespread in the medical circles of the Islamic world that Nizami ‘Arudi says of it that

If Hippocrates and Galen were alive today, they would bow towards this book [The Canon].

In The Canon, Ibn Sina combines, and sometimes contrasts, the theories and methods of two ancient figures, Aristotle and Galen. Aristotle’s dominance for Ibn Sina is obvious not only in philosophical issues, but also in issues of bisection. In matters of controversy between Aristotle and Galen, Ibn Sina usually sides with the former.

The medical works of Galen (129-199) were translated into Arabic in the third/ninth century by Hunayn b. Ishaq (d. 264/878). Galen’s works and the Arabic translations of Hippocrates’ works (d. ca. 460 BC) were the most fundamental and the most significant medical works in the Islamic world. Ibn Sina’s Canon is the greatest Galenic medical document, though it is dominated by Aristotelian views in the main theoretical problems. In his Canon, Ibn Sina has adopted a lot of materials from Razi’s al-Hawi. The ingenuity of Ibn Sina in The Canon is his systematization and organization of medical issues.

  • Al-Urjuza fi l-Tibb

In addition to The Canon, Ibn Sina has left some other works in medicine, the most important of which is al-Urjuza fi l-tibb, written in the format of poetry in 1326 verses. These verses have summarized the content of Ibn Sina’s Canon. The first general section of the book contains the following:

The physiology and the diseases of the homogenous members of the body (verses 213 onwards),

The causes of diseases (verses 238 onwards),

Symptoms of diseases (verses 306 onwards).

The second section, concerning applied medicine, includes the following:

Healthcare and healthy diet and exercises (verses 780 onwards),

Recovering health (verses 989 onwards),

Surgery (verses 1252 onwards).

The Arabic text of al-‘Urjuza has been published with a French translation as well as a Latin translation of the 13th century by Henri Jahier and Abdelkader Noureddine in Paris (1956). Ibn Sina has other such brief works on medicine such as Urjuzat latifat fi qazaya Buqrat al-khams wa al-‘ishrin (a fine brief on 25 statements of Hippocrates).

  • Maqalat fi Ahkam al-Adwiyya al-Qalbiyya

Ibn Sina has, moreover, a work called Maqalat fi ahkam al-adwiyya al-qalbiyya (an article on the verdicts of heart medications) dedicated to Al-Sharif al-Sa’id Abu l-Hassan b. Hassani. The work contains two parts.

In the first general part, Ibn Sina concerns himself with the theoretical problems regarding physiology, anatomy, heart diseases, and the impact of passions (such as happiness and sadness, loneliness and fear, anger and hatred) on the functioning of human hearts. In a particular part of the work, Ibn Sina characterizes some simple medications that help adjust the functioning of the heart. The medicines are mentioned in an alphabetical order.

  • Other Books

There are some other medical books written by Ibn Sina: Risalat al-quwa al-tabi’iyya (an essay on natural faculties), Risalat fi l-fasd (an essay on venesection), Risalat ma’rifat al-tanaffus wa al-nabd (an essay on knowing the respiration and pulse), Risalat fi l-bawl (an essay on urination), Risalat shatr al-ghib (an essay on periodic fevers), Risalat fi l-qulanj (an essay on colic), Risalat fi dhikr ‘adad al-am’a’ (an essay on the number intestines), and some other essays.

Mathematics, Astronomy, and Some Natural Sciences

Ibn Sina was an expertise in mathematics and astronomy; he has written some works on these subjects, devoting a major part of his al-Shifa’ to it. He was also skillful in crafting observation tools.

  • The mathematic

The mathematic part of al-Shifa’ includes four parts: the first part (the first technique or “Fann”) on the principles of geometry; the second part (the second technique) on arithmetic; the third part (the third technique) on music; and the fourth part (or technique) on astronomy.

Other geometrical works of Ibn Sina are as follows:

Risalat fi tahqiq al-zawiya (an essay on the study of angles). A film of a manuscript of this essay is available in the Library of Tehran University under Risala fi l-zawiya ila Abi Sah al-Masihi.

Tahqiq mabadi al-hindisa (a study of the principles of geometry). A copy of his essay is available at the Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) Library in Turkey.

  • Astronomical Verdicts

Ibn Sina rejected astronomical verdicts; he has written an essay called Risalat fi ibtal ‘ahkam al-nujum (an essay on the rejection of the astronomical verdicts) or Risalat fi l-radd ‘ala al-muajjimin (an essay on the rejection of astronomers). In his Kitab fi ‘aqsam al-‘ulum al-‘aqliyya (a book on the types of rational sciences) Ibn Sina has defined the science of astronomical verdicts as follows: astronomical verdicts rely on guesses, looking at the constellations of starts relative to one another and relative to the zodiac (mintaqat al-buruj), and their relations with the Earth, and thereby seeking to discover signs about the events in our world, emperors, territories, fortunes, transformations, travels, choices, and troubles. Ibn Sina relied on the common sense in order to reject the astronomical verdicts.

  • Natural Sciences

Ibn Sina’s goal in writing the scientific parts of al-Shifa’ was to establish a new scientific style for generations after him, but he did not include the most recent scientific materials in it. Though Ibn Sina, as he admits, followed Aristotle with respect to aerology, in cases where a new theory occurs to his mind or where he came to a different conclusion, he did not follow Aristotle’s positions. Ibn Sina has some specific views regarding geophysics, aerology, atmospheric phenomena, including the formation of mountains, underground waters, earthquakes, formation of mines, clouds, rains, steams, dews, snows, hailstones, areolas, sunbows, winds (the origin, types, the degree of temperature, power, pluvial winds, effects, duration, direction, and so on), thunderstorms, comets, and meteors. M. Horten has studied Ibn Sina’s work on sunbows and areolas. The work has been published by Wiedman in Meteorologische Zeitschrift. Ibn Sina’s works in this field include the following:

Al-Athar al-‘ilwiyya (heavenly phenomena) or Asbab al-athar al-‘ilwiyya (the causes of heavenly phenomena),

The first article of the fifth technique of the natural sciences of al-Shifa’ on geophysics, and the second article on aerology and atmospheric phenomena.

  • Music

Among the works attributed to Ibn Sina, there are five that are completely devoted to music or part of them concerns music, and these are as follows:

  • Al-Shifa’
  • Al-Najat,
  • Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i
  • Al-Madkhal ila sana’a al-musiqi
  • Al-Lawahiq

The first three books are just partly devoted to music, but the last two are fully concerned with music. Ibn Abi Usaybi’a has regarded al-Madkhal ila sana’a al-musiqi as a work of Ibn Sina and different from al-Najat. However, no copy of this work is available to us today, and so it should be regarded as one of Ibn Sina’s lost works. The book, al-Lawahiq, that is mentioned by Ibn Sina in the first chapter of the first article of the music part of al-Shifa’ , and to which he refers his readers at the end of that article, seems to have never been actualized —the writing of this book appears to be just a plan that has never been materialized. Thus the music part of al-Shifa’ , under the title Jawami’ ‘ilm al-musiqi (the encyclopedia of music) (the twelfth technique or part of al-Shifa’ ), as one of the four parts (the third technique) of the mathematic part of al-Shifa’ , is Ibn Sina’s most significant work. Early scholars regarded mathematics as a one of the four branches of Euclid (geometry), almagest (astronomy), arithmetic, and music. Following this, Ibn Sina has regarded music as part of mathematics.

  • Features of Ibn Sina’s Music

Ibn Sina’s works in music are first of all methodologically considerable, since they can serve as guides for research in music. He does not quote mythological and imaginary stories. In his Jawami’ ‘ilm al-musiqi we do not find mythological stories such as the invention of Oud (or Barbat) by Lamech son of Cain (Lamek b. Qabil b. Adam) or the crafting of a musical instrument with copper and iron by Tubal son of Lamech.

Furthermore, in his writings on music, Ibn Sina respects the views of Ancient Greek philosophers, and sometimes points or even appeals to views of people such as Ptolemy, Euclid, and Pythagoras, similarly to what al-Farabi and others did before him.

What is more, Ibn Sina has made precise calculations in his al-Jawami’ , focusing on the theoretical aspects of music as an exact science. Also his discussions of the connection between music and poetry and his comparison of these two arts might be one of the first studies in this regard, especially given that at that time music was widely considered as an applied field, rather than a theoretical one.

Language and Linguistics

Ibn Sina’s reputation with philosophy and medicine overshadowed the rest of his talents and abilities, such as his works in the literature and philology. Ibn Sina’s pupil and companion, Abu ‘Ubayd Juzjani, reports that once there was a philological debate between Ibn Sina and Abu Mansur al-Jabban —the well-known philologist— in a meeting of ‘Ala’ al-Dawla. Abu Mansur told him that he is a philosopher and knows nothing about the Arabic literature. These words were very harsh and unpleasant for Ibn Sina. Therefore he concerned himself with studying books of literature and philology for three years, until he mastered these branches of knowledge. He then authored three essays in the style of three great men of literature: Ibn ‘Amid, Sahib b. ‘Ibad, and Abu ‘Is’haq al-Sabi. He ordered binding them in one volume such that it looks like an old book. He gave the book to ‘Ala’ al-Dawla and asked him to present it to Abu Mansur al-Jabban as an old manuscript asking him about the problems of the book. Abu Mansur could not understand the rare words and the abstruse points of the book. Ibn Sina started to explicate and solve the problems. Juzjani also reports that Ibn Sina wrote a book about Arabic vocabulary called Lisan al-‘Arab that did not have a fair copy during Ibn Sina’s life. Ibn Abi ‘Usaybi’a refers to this work and claims to have seen parts of it.

The three essays mentioned above are not available to us today, but pieces of his Lisan al-‘Arab are available, and this might help us have a picture of the whole book. The selection is a brief essay including some ordinary words, and some religious, philosophical and theological terminologies with short definitions for each. The essay is thematically organized, and its main chapters are as follows: prophets, predestination and fate, the Prophet’s companions, Muhajirun (the immigrants) and Ansar (the helpers), worship, religions. We know nothing about the titles of the other sections of the original work —we do not know whether it was a general dictionary or a technical one covering religious, philosophical and theological terminologies. The style of giving definitions in this selection reminds us of Ibn Sina’s style in his Kitab al-hudud (the book of definitions).

Ibn Sina’s style of writing in some of his works, such as The Canon of Medicine, al-Shifa’ and his essays in logic, mathematics and other fields, is very simple, clear, and free of literary figures, in other works such as al-‘Isharat wa al-tanbihat and his allegories we find some literary figures.

Poetry and Eloquence

Ibn Sina was very ingenious in poetry and eloquence. He has written a long poem called al-Qasidat al-‘ayniyya, about the story of human soul, and Qasidat al-jamana al-‘ilahiyya fi l-tawhid (about monotheism), as well as al-Qasidat al-muzdawaja fi l-mantiq (about logic). He has also written some poetry about medicine (as a textbook). Some of his poems were well-known by people of his own time.

Examples of Ibn Sina’s poetry mentioned by Ibn Abi Usaybi’a can show the style of his poems. His poetry is largely focused on subject-matters such as morality and mottos, and there are some pieces of poetry about wine and drunkenness. Here is the first verse of one of his poems about wine (it seems that Ibn Farid has adopted his khamriyya (a poem about wines) from this poem):

We drank wine as old as the old voice [‘alast, before the creation of human beings] It is prior to any old being.

Ibn Sina’s writings, both poetry and prose, are very fluent and firm, showing his mastery of the Arabic. In addition to poetry, some essays have been attributed to him such as Fi l-khutab wa al-tahmidat wa al-asja’ (on orations, praises, and rhymes), and al-Mukhatabat wa al-mukatabat wa al-hazliyyat (correspondences and satires). These seem to be literary works. It seems that Ibn Sina had written a work on the Arabic grammar (‘Ilm al-Nahw) called al-Milh fi l-Nahw. He had also written a book about prosody (‘Arud) when he was 17 years old. But none of these works are available to us today.


One significant work of Ibn Sina on literature is a short essay about the principles of phonetics: Maqalat fi ‘asbab huduth al-huruf wa makharajiha (an article about the causes of the occurrence of letters and their pronunciations). Ibn Sina wrote the essay at the request of the famous Arabic philologist, Abu Mansur al-Jabban. Two versions of the essay are available to us today both of which have been printed and translated into Farsi.

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