World Leading Muslims – the life of Avicenna

By Zubair Ahmed – from Tahir Magazine UK Autumn Edition 2011

“Father of modern medicine” – when one reads the term, without a name being mentioned, one would naturally link the term to someone who lived very recently either in Europe or America. But the title belongs to a man who lived more than 1000 years ago from today.

Surprising as it may sound, he was the product of knowledge revolution brought about by Islam. Known as Avicenna in the western world or “ibn Sina“ in the Muslim world, medicine was only one of the areas where his quest of knowledge benefited mankind. Such was his effect on medical world that his book Qanun (Cannon of Medicine) was taught in Europe for more than 500 years after his death.

His full name was Abū Alī al-Ḥusayn ibn Abd Allāh ibn Sīnā. He was an astronomer, chemist, geologist, Hafiz, psychologist, scholar, theologian, logician, mathematician, physicist, poet, and scientist. In other words he was a polymath. Polymath is a person who has expert knowledge in many fields. He is regarded as one of the famous and influential mind of the Islamic Golden Age.

Avicenna was born c. 980 in Afshana, near Bukhara, present day Uzbekistan in Central Asia, which was not advanced in technology or science. When he was a teenager he began studying philosophy, which was difficult for him to understand. In moments of confusion and frustration, he left his books and would go to the mosque and pray until he understood and worked out complex philosophical issues. Deep into the night he would continue his studies, and even in his dreams would work out the solutions to big scientific problems. He read through the Metaphysics of Aristotle forty times, till the words were imprinted on his memory. When he uncovered a medical mystery he would become so happy and thank God straight away, also giving money to the poor in God’s name.

Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rha), mentioned Avicenna in his book:

“The philosophies of Aristotle and Plato began to reach Europe through the Muslim philosophers of Spain. The healing genius of Avicenna, the greatest physician ever known to the world till his time, and the wisdom of Averroes who combined in himself secular and religious philosophies and sciences also began to dawn upon the European horizon.” [Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth]

Avicenna was a very precocious youth; he had memorised the Holy Qur’an at a very young age and most of the Arabic poetry which he had read. When Avicenna reached the age of thirteen he began to study medicine and by the age of sixteen he started treating patients. Avicenna stresses in his autobiography that he was more or less self-taught but received assistance in his studies at crucial times in his life.

The Promised Messiah (as) mentioned Avicenna, saying:

“I saw [in a vision] that I was holding the Sceptre of the Czar of Russia, which was quite long and beautiful. On closer examination, it turned out to be a gun, although it did not appear to be one. It contained hidden barrels so that, though it only looked like a sceptre, it was also a gun. Then I saw myself holding the bow of the King Khwarism—who was a contemporary of Avicenna—and Avicenna was also standing nearby. I also killed a lion with this bow and arrow.” [Essence of Islam, Al-Hakam, vol. 7, no. 4, p. 15]

Avicenna’s book on medicine, Qanun, was also mentioned by the Promised Messiah (as) in his famous book “Jesus in India”. Qanun contains the description of ointment which was applied to Jesus’ (as) wounds after he was taken down from the cross. This ointment is known as Marham-e-Isa (Ointment of Jesus). The ointment helped to heal the wounds of Jesus (as).

Avicenna’s skill in medicine proved to be of great value to him; his reputation caused the Samanid ruler Nuh ibn Mansur to seek him out to treat an illness that the court physicians had been unable to deal with. After Avicenna’s treatment proved successful, he was, as a reward, allowed to use the Royal Library of the Samanids (books were very precious before the advent of printing, as they had to be hand copied). This was an unequalled opportunity for Avicenna and assisted him in the development of his great diversity of learning.

In his later life Avicenna’s friends advised him to slow down and take life easy which was against his style. He refused, and said: “I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length”.

On his deathbed he gave all his goods to the poor, restored unjust gains, freed his slaves, and read through the Qur’an every three days until his death. He passed away in June 1037, at fifty-eight years old, in the month of Ramadan and was buried in Hamadan, Iran. He will forever be known as the greatest physician of his time.

Hopefully our Atfal can also be inspired by our religion and become “World Leading Muslims”.

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6 comments

  1. Very interesting. Would love to read more about the Golden Age scientists. The more one researches into it the more it seems that ‘western thought’ is by and large intellectual fraud- the Muslim thinkers had made incredible scientific progress which western thinkers ‘discovered’ many centuries later. For instance just take evolution, and read what Al Jahiz had to say on it… in the 9th century. Just incredible:

    http://www.grouporigin.com/clients/qatarfoundation/chapter2_6.htm

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