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Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abdullah ibn Sina (Ibn Sina) (980-1037 CE)

Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abdullah ibn Sina, known as Ibn Sina, and in the West as Avicenna, was one of the most celebrated philosophers and physicians in the early Islamic Empire. He wrote prolifically on a wide range of subjects. Forty of his medical texts have survived, the most famous of which are the Kitab ash-Shifa (the Book of Healing) and the al-Qanun fi al-Tibb - or Canon of Medicine. The latter is one of the most significant books in the history of medicine; for instance it was printed in Europe at least 60 times between 1516 and 1574. The Canon remained a major authority for medical students in both the Islamic world and Europe until well into the 1700s.

Like other Islamic scholars, Ibn Sina studied the writings of the lands that were being absorbed into an expanding Islamic Empire. Indeed, the Canon of Medicine incorporates the work of Galen, as well as ancient Ayurvedic, Arabian and Persian texts. It also contains his own contemporary theories of medicine. The resulting synthesis sets out a medical system that was accepted as the standard for centuries. As such, the influence of Ibn Sina on the development of medicine across much of the world is perhaps second only to that of Galen.

His Canon of Medicine is an immense study containing over a million words. In it he outlines both the causes of disease as well as the causes of good health. It includes a number of highly original contributions, including a recognition of the contagious natures of certain diseases, such as tuberculosis, and a description of how water and soil can be factors in the spread of disease. Other sections of this encyclopedic work address such diverse areas as drug treatments, anatomy, psychology and surgery.

Bibliography

E G Browne, Islamic Medicine (New Delhi: Goodword Books, 2001), originally published 1921

L E Goodman, Avicenna (London: Routledge, 1992)

P Poorman and E Savage-Smith, Mediaeval Islamic Medicine (Edinburgh: University Press, 2007)

E Savage-Smith, 'Avicenna', Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 77/1 (2003), pp 182-183

Glossary:

Tuberculosis

An infectious disease that is caused by a bacterium first identified by Robert Koch in 1882. The disease usually affects the lungs first, and is accompanied by a chronic cough.

Anatomy

A branch of medical science concerned with the structure of living organisms.