Avicenna, a Latin name of Abu Ali Sina, was a renowned Islamic philosopher who is remembered for his remarkable philosophical works. In addition, Avicenna was also widely known as an erudite scientist who came up with a wide array of excellent medical discoveries. Avicenna was born in 370 AH, the year of Hegira, near a town known as Bukhara in the village of Afshana (Guttas 2). He was of Persian origin and had spent almost his entire life in Persia. His life as a growing teenager was full of dubious challenges and stumbling blocks. However, he was taken to different excellent schools as his father knew the importance and value of education. Avicenna was bred during the period of political agitation and instability as the Turks were conquering both the Persian and Arab worlds (McGinnis 225). That period was also labeled as the golden age of Philosophy and spiritual life in the Islamic world. Avicenna lived in the 4th century of the Islamic era, which is described as the most flourishing Abbasid period in respect of learning and knowledge (Afnan 1). At a tender age, Avicenna was already noticed for his remarkable and extraordinary gift of intelligence.
His journey as a scholar began by studying the Arabic language under Abu Bark Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Barqi al-Khwarizmi (Afnan 14). This was due to the fact that Arabic language was the only official language that was used for communication. At the age of 10 years, Avicenna was endowed with a prodigious memory, as he knew the Koran by heart (Heldreth 1). He learnt to recite the whole Quran by heart. He was a bright and erudite child who amazed both his teachers and classmates. He was also sent to a popular geometrician known as Mahmud ‘al-Massah’, from whom he learnt algebra, arithmetic and astronomy (Saffari et al. 56). As a result, Avicenna became well-versed with Aristotle’s Metaphysics as well as Theology before he attained the age of 18 years. In addition, his scholarly fame for philosophical inquiries and medical knowledge had spread far and wide, to the West and East (Afnan 1). He learnt theology as he was taught by instructors who were named as Ismail and al-Natili. He also studied figh (Muslim law) and the Sufism movement with Ismail al Zahid al-Bukhari (Afnan 2).
At the age of sixteen, on the advice of Abū Sahl ‘lsā bin Yaḥyā al-Masīhī a Christian physician of Jurjān, Ibn Sīnā began the study of medicine (McGinnis 226). One could easily notice the passion that Avicenna had with regards to acquiring knowledge on medical science. He devoted most of his time to studying different literature works, books and other academic resources in a bid to become a renowned and proficient scientist during his time. His motivation to acquire scientific knowledge is what made him to be more proficient in this field as compared to his instructors who were astonished and amazed of Avicenna’s intelligence. He found medical science to be as easy as a piece of cake. He never gave up and instead his focus was to make a myriad of discoveries that were related to medical science including effective forms of treatment to diseases. Avicenna’s drive and passion to learn science could be portrayed from his speech:
‘Then I desired to study medicine and took to reading the books written on this subject. Medicine is not one of the difficult sciences; so naturally, I became proficient in it in the shortest time, until the excellent scholars of medicine began to study under me. I began to treat patients, and through my experience, I acquired an amazing practical knowledge and ability in methods of treatment’ (Heldreth 85).
Avicenna deepened his knowledge in medical science and by the age of twenty years, he was already a popular physician. More so, his efforts bore fruit after he provided proper treatment to the ill Prince of Bukhara who eventually got cured. Having cured the Prince of Bukhara, he obtained several special privileges as he was given free access to the Prince’s well-endowed library. This exceptional opportunity motivated Avicenna to study more and after some time, he became a fulfilled universal scientist. Unfortunately, Avicenna’s father could not live long enough to witness his son’s successes and achievements. His death meant that Avicenna had to find a way to survive by supporting himself. It is at this exact juncture that Avicenna decided to practice the art of philosophy and medicine so as to only make ends meet (McGinnis 225). Aside from treating patients who were seemingly infected by diseases regarded as incurable, Avicenna also utilized his medical skills and knowledge to tutor and train students.
In addition, Avicenna gained sufficient knowledge and medical skills from treating his patients. In fact, Avicenna confesses of this fact through his autobiography where he states: “at first, I treated patients not for fees, but for my own instruction” ( Safari et al. 62). During this period, Avicenna decided to compose a scientific book titled as al-Majmu also known as The Compendium in English term. After discovering several treatments for specific types of illnesses, Avicenna was inspired to write his own book titled Canon of Medicine (Al-Qanun fi l-tibb). This book was also embraced by the West who used it for teaching the course of medicine right from the period it had been published until the late 16th Century. Basically, this book formed the foundation of university medical course study in the West from the year 1250 to 1600 (Gutas 5). On the other hand, the famous Canon of Medicine is still used by the people living in the East as an important academic resource for teaching medicine.
How Avicenna’s medicine works has influenced today’s medicine
Avicenna, a well-known philosopher and Muslim scientist, is regarded by a vast majority to be the father of early modern medicine (McGinnis 225). He is known by many as an outstanding physician which was portrayed through his valuable medical works. He can also be viewed as an intelligent prolific writer who wrote one of the best books that has transformed the medical and health sector. His book, titled the Canon of medicine positively influenced the medical sector during the 10th and 11th century where different cures were found for a range of diseases. Even though he had very limited knowledge with today’s medical practice, Avicenna was remarkably accurate in many of his assertions, even on matters which were not proved until very recently (Heldreth 6). Furthermore, the Canon of Medicine is still considered as a medical masterpiece that continues to influence the existence of modern medicine. The Canon of Medicine constitutes five volumes of books and ten parts and each of the volume focuses on a specific single medical problem (Heldreth 8). The first volume consists of medicine theory, disease prevention and their treatments whereas the second volume describes the doctrine about simple medicine and their action on the human body (Gill 11).
On the other hand, the third volume describes a wide range of illnesses and their treatments while the forth volume of the Canon of Medicine mainly focuses on surgery and doctrines about fever among other medical subjects (Gill 12). In the book’s introduction, Avicenna elucidates the primary purpose of medicine as being for the preservation of health if it is already attained and its restoration when it is lost (Saffari et al. 55). In his book, Avicenna uses the knowledge of different scientific subjects such as Metaphysics, Biology and Physics to elucidate any given medical problem and its solution. In addition, Avicenna includes different aspects of ethics and philosophy as part of his medical masterpiece; Canon of Medicine. Since Avicenna had amassed a lot of medical knowledge from Hippocrates, Galen and Aristotle, he utilized the gain knowledge as a basis for further medical discoveries (Heldreth 5).
Avicenna derived most of his medical discoveries and research works by utilizing Hippocrates’s findings as a foundation. On the other hand, Hippocrates was also said to have used to have used Galen’s medical findings as a basis for his foundation. This enlightens us on the fact that a vast majority of medical scientists and researchers continue to use other renowned scientists’ published medical works and discoveries as foundation for their own medical findings. For instance, Avicenna’s anatomical knowledge was influenced by the findings done by previous Islamic scientists such as Ali ibn al Abbas al-Majusi (Afnan 16). It is thereby true to say that Avicenna’s medical discoveries has and continues to influence the existence and discovery of the modern medicine.
As a philosopher and renowned scientist, Avicenna defined the term health as the beauty of the body-long hair, clear complexion, fragrance and form that are important in the normal functioning of the body (Saffari et al. 57). In addition, Avicenna regarded health as being on a sliding scale which meant that any person who had a ‘decline in health’ was rightfully considered as being unhealthy as a result of his/her body having developed a disease from a given infection (Saffari et al 57). In his book, the ‘Canon of Medicine’ Avicenna defines, the term ‘disease’ as an abnormal and unnatural state of the human body, in a virtue by which injurious effects results (Gill 10). Thus, Avicenna used his own definitions on health and disease to describe medical science as a specialty which mainly deals with how the human body acquires disease and how the disease can be prevented and treated. He defines medicine as “the art whereby health is conserved and the art whereby it is restored after being lost” (Guttas 8). He further divided medicine into two vital categories named as primary prevention or hygiene and secondary or tertiary prevention. The primary prevention focuses on regulating the body with the intent to maintain its health whereas secondary/tertiary prevention focuses on the knowledge of managing the diseased body and the different methodologies used to restore the unhealthy human body to its healthy status (McGinnis 227).
Avicenna described medicine to constitute both hygiene and secondary or tertiary form of treatments (Saffari et al. 57). One way through which one could maintain or preserve his/her own good health is by practicing the aspect of moderation. There are seven important ways by which one could practice moderation. This includes; purity of the inhaled air, moderation of physical and psychic movements such as sleep and wakefulness, selection of different foods and drinks, moderation of temperament, protection of the body from injurious activities and proper clothing (Saffari et al. 58). In order for one to attain old age he or she had to adapt to the habit of doing certain things in moderation. In addition, Avicenna elucidates on the specific treatments for different diseases and how one can preserve his health by indulging in healthy habits and activities. This paper thereby describes some Avicenna’s medical discoveries that have influenced today’s medicine and form of treatment.
Today’s modern treatment involves an integration of both traditional and modern form of medicine. This has proved to be eminently effective in treating a wide range of different diseases. One of the traditional forms of medicines that have been approved to be effective and efficient in treating today’s common diseases had been formulated by Avicenna. According to Avicenna, some of the active causes of a disease may range from; air, food, water, retentions and executions, habitat, residency, movement and rest, sleep and wakefulness, age changes, sex differences, occupations, habits and natural or unnatural objects that come in contact with the human body (Saffari et al. 58 ). Besides the active causes that determine the development of a disease, Avicenna describes other two types of causes namely; formative causes and functional causes. Formative causes include temperaments, structures and faculties whereas the functional causes deal with faculties and their functions together with the ‘spirits’ of function (Saffari et al. 59). Some of the diseases which are today effectively treated by prescribing a modern medicine that has been integrated with Avicenna’s medicine include the following;
Avicenna’s approach to treating spinal deformity and injuries involve the use of pressure and traction to straighten or otherwise correct bone and joint deformities such as curvature of the spine (Gill 80). Today, Avicenna’s approach of treating spinal deformities has been accepted and embraced as the most effective way of straightening one’s deformed spine.
Indigestion is a term that is simply used to describe an incomplete digestion process. This may be brought about by one feeding on low-quality foods or heavy foods and in other cases’ light foods. According to Avicenna, indigestion that has been caused by one feeding on heavy food may culminate to worse conditions such as asthma, kidney problems, gout, improper breathing, joint ache, melancholic diseases and spleen and liver problems (Guttas 83). This health problem may be treated when one adapts to feed on fast-digestible hot foods. On the other hand, indigestion that are caused by one feeding on certain light food that may be heavy on spices or salt may eventually lead to the development of various conditions including bad acute swellings and acute malicious fevers (Guttas 82). Thus, a person may get well by reducing the amount of spice or salt on the food. In addition, he or she may have to feed on simple moist food so as to fix the chime in the stomach during the process of digestion. Avicenna also advices victims suffering from indigestion problem to develop a habit of performing light exercises as often as possible. However, he cautions people from doing excessive physical exercises as this may also prevent proper and complete digestion of ingested food. One is also advised not to eat excessively than normal. Instead, people should eat an amount of food that is equal to their strength with the primary intent of avoiding cases of bloating, nausea, insomnia, stomach rumbling, heaviness or distention of the abdomen (Guttas 78). Today, medical practitioners and nutritionists give the same advice as Avicenna’s to patients suffering from incomplete digestion.
According to Avicenna, gastric ulcer is a chronic disease of the digestive system that is usually accompanied with symptoms such as excruciating stomach pains, nausea and heartburn. He further described ulcer as a disease that specifically affects the ulcer. The modern medical practitioners are in total agreement with Avicenna with regards to his description of the specific symptoms of ulcers. Thus, today’s medical practitioners utilize some of the ulcer symptoms that had been discovered by Avicenna in their diagnosis for Ulcer disease. Aside from using the Avicenna’s listed symptoms of ulcers; the modern day medical practitioner is also able to use modern medical testing techniques to confirm if in deed the patient is suffering from ulcers. Like the modern medical practitioners, Avicenna recommended his ulcer patients to eat on specific types of food while avoiding others that lead to excessive formation of acid in the stomach and gastrointestinal tract. This is recommended so as to avoid creating an imbalance and disturbance on the intestinal flora, intestinal motility and normal nutritional factors (McGinnis 292).
Clinical trials are today a common practice in the field of medical sciences and scientific research. This is usually done to confirm and validate the exact effects that a certain discovered drug has on people and whether or not they are fit to be used as medicine for humans. The practice of clinical trials has today led to a plethora of discoveries which include the discoveries of different antibiotics, vaccines as well as drugs. Avicenna developed this concept of clinical trial as a way of performing tests and confirmations of specific medicines and remedies (Gill 94).
Avicenna formulated most of his medicines and remedies by performing clinical trials on victims who had been suffering from a specific disease in question. He mainly relied on evidence so as to prove that indeed a drug could be able to cure a specific illness. Today, clinical trials have been embraced by physicians as part of the medical research protocol. The drug has to first undergo the procedure of clinical trial before it is released to the market and hospitals for patients prescription. The process of clinical trials involves a group of people who have been medically tested to be fit for the specific clinical trials procedures. The victims must voluntarily and willing-fully accept to serve as human specimens for the purposes of discovering whether a drug is effective or not. They are also keenly monitored by the medical practitioners who employ the help of biomedical practitioners, medical laboratory practitioners, biotechnologists or microbiologists who access every single development of the tested drugs on the tested victim’s body. Thus, this process may take several months to years depending on what the medical researchers are looking for. In a bid to ensure that the victims do not develop certain medical conditions that are not related to the tested drugs, the victims are offered free checkups and medical services.
In his second and fifth volumes of the Canon for medicine, Avicenna described different types of plant species that are effective as herbs for treating specific diseases affecting man. 48% of his discovered plant species are today used as medicinal herbs for a wide array of illnesses. Some of the natural herbs include; Allium cera L., Oryza sativa L., Berberis vulgaris L., Rosa canina L. and Gossipum herbaceum L., among many other plant species (Afnan 147). In fact, some of these plant species have been processed and integrated with the modern drugs with the intent of treating more than one specific type of diseases.
In conclusion, Avicenna’s medical findings as written in his five volumes of Canon for medicine book are vital for discovering more drugs, therapies and diagnostic processes relevant for treating different kind of diseases. Just as Avicenna used Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen’s medical findings as his foundation, today’s medical researchers may utilize the same approach by using Avicenna’s findings in a bid to discover treatment to several types of diseases.
Afnan, Soheil M. Avicenna: His Life and Works. London: Routledge, 2016.
Heldreth, Tyler. Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine: Influences and Implications. Diss. 2014.
Gill, Monica K. The 100 Most Influential Medical Pioneers of All Time. , 2017. Internet resource.
Saffari, Mohsen, and Amir H. Pakpour. “Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine: a look at health, public health, and environmental sanitation.” Archives of Iranian Medicine (AIM) 15.12 (2012).
Gutas, Dimitri. Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition: Introduction to Reading Avicenna’s Philosophical Works. , 2014.
McGinnis, Jon. Avicenna. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
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