Uzbekistan local time  

Ibn Sina. The Great Doctor and Spiritual Tutor.

In the Middle Ages the exclusive language of European science was Latin. And the names of those Asian scientists, whose works were popular in the West, were also latinised. Thus Ibn al-Khaysam became Algazen, the Arabic name Ibn Rushd was changed to Averroes. Abu Ali ibn Sina was called Avicenna, and particularly under this name he became famous all over the world. Ibn Sina also had honorary nicknames, among the most popular of which was ash-Sheikh, or "Spiritual tutor".

Abu Ali ibn SinaThe future giant of science was born in Balkh in 980, at the turn of the first millennium. Soon his family moved to Bukhara. The boy was, as they say, an infant prodigy. By the age of 10 he had memorized the Koran and a great deal of poetry, which marveled people. Having learned the basics of the Muslim law fikh and mathematics, he began taking lessons from scholar Abu Abdallah an-Natili, who had come to Bukhara shortly before. Ibn Sina was doing so well in his studies that at one point he began to overtake his teacher.

Then the young scholar took interest in medicine and began studying every book he could find on the subject. In ibn Sina's opinion medicine was "no hard and thorny science"; so he soon attained such a degree of expertise in medicine that his fame spread far and wide and even venerable experienced doctors began learning from him. He often gave his patients treatments not recorded before. The youthful physician was then only 16 years old.

Ibn Sina managed to combine three modes of life: all his life he studied, traveled, and worked as a scientist. It could not be otherwise, for during his short life he wrote 300 works. And almost each of them was becoming quite an event in science. Like the great personalities of the Renaissance in Europe, ibn Sina, being a man of encyclopedic knowledge, was the most celebrated personality of Oriental renaissance.

At the age of 17 ibn Sino took part in the serious discussion about "Physics" by Aristotle; his opponent was the great scientist Abu Raikhon Beruni, then aged 24. At that time the first works by ibn Sina appeared; among them was the large philosophical treatise "Book of Knowledge", which dealt with logic, metaphysics, physics, mathematics, astronomy and music.

At about the same time ibn Sina started traveling. His travels were not always voluntary or caused by his wish to get to know the world. The scientist spent a considerable part of his life in difficult conditions of disintegration of once powerful Arab Caliphate. At the very end of the 10th century the utmost eastern provinces of the Caliphate were subjected to the rule of the dynasty of Mahmud Gaznivi, whose capital was the Afghani town of Gazna. Scientists began to fall under suspicion of heresy and dissent. At the beginning of the new millennium ibn Sina moved from Bukhara to Urgench, the capital of Khorezm. Keeping aloof from political storms, Khorezm was then a prospering state. The scientific activities in the town were concentrated in and around "Mamun's Academy", which united a number of famous scholars, among whom stood out al-Beruni. Ibn Sino, who was employed by Khorezm Shah Ali ibn Mamun, joined the cohort of noted scholars. But fate did not favor the young scholar: at the age of 21 his undisturbed life gave place to constant wanderings about Khorasan and Tabaristan.

Ibn Sina preferred not to talk much about what had caused him to leave Khorezm. What actually happened is as follows. Mahmud Gaznevi sent Ali ibn Mamun an envoy with a letter that "invited" Mamun's court scholars to Gazna. The ruler of Khorezm did not dare directly disobey the formidable conqueror and let the scholars make their own decision. Al-Beruni accepted the invitation, whereas ibn Sina declined it. As a result, Khorezm Shakh suggested that the obstinate scholar should immediately leave the town.

Whatever happened, after some wandering ibn Sina found himself in Gurgan (Jurjan). A local science enthusiast, named Shirazi, bought the young scholar a house to live in. The two years which ibn Sina spent in Gurgan were relatively quiet, and he took that opportunity to get down to intense philosophical studies and medical practice. He also began systematizing the medical experience he had gained. It was Gurgan where he began working on his famous "Canon of Medicine".

The next stop in ibn Sino's unstable life was the town of Rey. But soon, on the approach of Mahmud Gaznevi's troops, he had to leave it, too. He first found himself in Kazvin, then in Hamadan. The years he spent in Hamadan are noteworthy, as there ibn Sina combined scientific activities with the affairs of the state. Having cured the country's ruler Shams ad-Daulah, he was given the post of a vizier. Acting in this capacity, he wrote rather unusual work for a civilian: "Managing Affairs of Army, Mamelukes, Soldiers and their Provisions, and State Taxation". The book caused discontent among military circles, who thought ibn Sina interfered in affairs which were not concern of his. Thus, when emir, the scholar's patron, suddenly died, ibn Sina had to leave Hamadan.

Avicenna's museum The rest of his life ibn Sina spent in Isfahan, where he was heartily welcomed at the court of Ali ad-Dauli. The years from 1023 to 1037 were the most fruitful in ibn Sina's life. At last his scientific activities were acknowledged and given support to by high authorities. It was in Isfahan that ibn Sina completed his encyclopedic "Book of Healing" and wrote the remarkable philosophical treatises "Book of Knowledge", "Book of Instructions and Comments", "Oriental Philosophy", "Arbitration".

Ibn Sina spent the last three years of his life struggling with colic, a severe pain from which earlier he would free many of his patients and on which he had even written a treatise. With regard to this problem ibn Sina's staunch student and follower al-Juzjani wrote: "He, ibn Sina, realized that his strength had been sapped, that he was too weak to drive the illness away, and so he gave up the treatment."

The great philosopher and physician Abu Ali ibn Sina died in 1037, at the age of 57. He was buried in Hamadan.

The scientific legacy of ibn Sina is indeed immense and varied. He wrote at least 300 works: from multivolume "Book of Healing" and "Canon of Medicine" to small few-page philosophical essays and poems, single rhymes and couplets.

In his researches ibn Sino based on the classical medicine of his times, first of all on "Sixteen Treatises" by ancient Roman doctor Galen. His encyclopedia-like work contained the basic information on theoretical and practical medicine. Another scholar who also contributed much to medical science evolution, was Abu Bakr ar-Razi, native of Rey, who in Europe was known as Razes. Ibn Sina himself did not neglect theorizing, but still preferred practical medicine.

Ibn Sina's main scientific work is undoubtedly "Canon of Medicine". For many centuries it was justly considered the only trustworthy medical encyclopedia available. Ibn Sina's contemporaries reacted to it rapturously. Expressing the common opinion, Nizami Aruzi wrote: "For everybody who has grasped the first volume of "Canon" neither general nor specific laws of medicine will remain hidden; if Hippocrates and Galen rose from the dead, they would bow before this book." "Canon of Medicine" was extremely popular both in the East and the West. There were 36 editions in Latin alone.

"Canon" consists of five large volumes. The first one deals mainly with theory of medicine. Its several sections are: introduction, anatomy, functions of the organs, diseases and their causes, symptoms of diseases, nutrition, modes of living, prevention and treatment of diseases. Today the first volume could be called a textbook on anatomy and physiology, preventive medicine and therapy.

The second volume of "Canon" deals with simple medicinal substances, whereas compound medicines, poisons and antidotes are described in the fifth volume. Such order of presenting medical material was traditional in Asia. These volumes were of especially great value because in them ibn Sina quoted not only conventional prescriptions, but also his own new prescriptions he himself used in his practice.

Avicenna The third volume of "Canon" deals with diseases of certain organs, or what we now call local pathology and therapy. The volume gives thorough descriptions of disorders of eyes, nose, ears and mouth, and of such diseases as dysentery, typhoid fever, pneumonia, and then widespread kulandj fever, ibn Sina himself died of. One section of the volume deals with obstetrics issues.

The fourth volume covers the issues of surgery. It includes chapters on setting dislocations and fractures, in which Asian medicine had made great progress, and tells about tumours, abscesses, inflammations, as well as of smallpox, measles, leprosy, plague and various skin diseases. Ibn Sina personally contributed to the development of methods and techniques of performing operations, as well as improvement of surgical instruments. Even today the display of those instruments commands involuntary respect.

"Canon" also noticeably deals with military surgery. Ibn Sino, who had to treat the wounded many a time, describes in his book the methods of removing arrows, healing wounds inflicted by various weapons, setting dislocations and broken bones, removing alien objects from wounds.

The fifth volume about poisons and symptoms of poisoning has no match indeed. In it the innovative doctor described a hundred various poisonous substances of natural, biological and mineral nature, and set out the methods of treatment of poisoning.

Medieval doctors seemed to pay considerable attention to proper nutrition and diet just as present-day doctors do. Ar-Razi, Ali ibn Abbas and ibn Sina, as well as many other doctors, wrote books "on dishes and beverages". But in contrast to many modern books on this subject, these authors aimed at keeping up their patients' good health rather than figure. According to them, personal hygiene and nourishment of "balanced composition" were an indispensable condition of "keeping the soul clean", that is, of keeping an even mood, yielding to neither unbridled joy nor deep anger. All dishes were traditionally divided into "hot" and "cold" ones, and this classification corresponded to the division of the world into four basic elements: air, fire, earth and water. And finally, besides descriptions of simple and compound medicines and their recipes, "Canon" provides directions on when and how to gather medicinal herbs, how to dry and store them, and what their shelf life must be.

As an outstanding philosopher, scientist and poet, ibn Sina brought a lot of innovations to every field of science and art he was engaged in. He also had to act as a statesman, when he stayed at the court of Shamsa ad-Daulah in Khamadan and at the court of Ali ad-Dauli in Isfahan. Ibn Sina set out his views on society in his "Book of Healing". The philosopher preferred old rulers, who already became rich and so did not extort too much from their subjects.

Philosophers always tried to figure out meaning of life. While developing their teachings, Al-Farabi, ibn Miskaveikh and finally, ibn Sina all came to the conclusion that the purporse of the existing universe was its perfection. Considering ibn Sina's conception of perfection, this conclusion can be interpreted as follows: perfection of the world in its existence. And what does the perfection of a human soul mean? It means that a soul "becomes like the whole world, reflecting the universe and its order, which can be grasped by intellect". In other words, a human soul achieves perfection and happiness when it figuratively begins reflecting the whole world, mirroring all the sciences and wisdom of the universe.

Ibn Sina believed that the best way to learn the truth was through studying logic, philosophy, astronomy – through the sciences that contribute to acquiring disciplined intellect and help to grasp the perfection of the universe. In the scholar's opinion the universe itself was ruled by the laws of logic. Notable is also Ibn Sina's moral code of a wise man, which was set out in his "Instructions".

It seems there was no field of science and art the enquiring encyclopedic mind of ibn Sina did not deal with. He played a significant part in the evolution of poetry and was an acknowledged expert in music. Ibn Sina paid a lot of attention to logic. His "Book of Knowledge" includes "Logic" followed by "Rhetoric".

Contemporaries of ibn Sina hold the remarkable scholar in high respect. The generations that followed never stopped extolling the great intellect and erudition of "the best philosopher of the Orient, the evidence of the truth for all the people". And today scientists all over the world study ibn Sina's works. His life of devotion arouses true interest of the people of the third millennium.

Museum of Avicenna In the center of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, there stands a bronze monument to ibn Sina. In vicinity of Bukhara, in the village of Afshana, the scholar's home-land, about three decades ago there was established the museum of Avicenna. The building of the museum is part of an architectural ensemble that also includes Medical college named after ibn Sina, a conference hall and a sporting complex. The exhibits of the museum tell about the life and work of the scholar, as well as of the times he lived in, those of the reign of the Samanides dynasty. The museum displays a collection of artifacts of the 10th – 11th centuries, home utensils, a number of medical instruments that were reconstructed after descriptions and drawings in ibn Sina's works, photocopies of his manuscripts. The collection of the museum is regularly supplemented and updated with the assistance of "Avicenna – France" Association. In front of the museum there was laid out a garden, where many medicinal herbs the great doctor used in his practice are planted. There is also a video hall and souvenir shop at the museum. Many guests of Uzbekistan visit this place to bow to the land that fed the unique talents of the great scientist and philosopher.