Ala al-Din Abu al-Hassan Ali ibn Abi-Hazm al-Qarshi al-Dimashqi (Ibn al-Nafis) (1210-1288)

Ibn al-Nafis

Ibn al-Nafis

Credits:© Ali Amro / MuslimHeritageImages.com

A polymath, Ibn al-Nafis was born in Damascus in Syria, and spent much of his working life in Egypt, becoming head physician in a medical school in Cairo. He was also influential in questioning the authority of Galen, suggesting that ‘observation, sensible investigation, and common sense’ were more important than blindly following ancient teachings.

Renowned for the volume and quality of his work, Ibn al-Nafis was also, among other things, a linguist, philosopher and writer of fiction. He was also the first writer to treat anatomy as a separate and independent discipline.

Ibn al-Nafis’s most famous medical discovery is the pulmonary transit of blood. That is, he recognised that blood moved from the right to the left side of the heart via the lungs. This was revolutionary, in that it corrected some of the mistakes Galen had made when describing the role of the heart and blood.

As more work has been done on the translation of Arabic texts, it now seems clear that parts of Ibn al-Nafis’s books were available in medieval Europe, and may have influenced the work of people such as Servetus and Harvey.