Legacy of Ibn Sina as seen by an Indian

Legacy of Ibn Sina as seen by an Indian

Abdul Latif

As a student of Unani Medicine, I have read Ibn Sīnā’s book on medicine i.e. Cannon of Medicine. I had participated in an International conference on Ibn Sīnā in Uzbekistan in the month of September 2019 where I saw and got more knowledge about Ibn Sīnā’s scholarship and that is why I am trying to write on Ibn Sīnā’s greatness and his relation with Uzbekistan. 

Indeed not only they but also Iranian and Afghans are also proud of scholars like Ibn Sīnā, Abu Rayhān al-Birūni[1], Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī[2], Al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmizī[3], Imām al-Bukhārī[4], Abū al-Layth al-Samarqandī[5] and others. Today Uzbekistan is a modern country with new technologies and it is growing in economics and healthcare. Hopefully, the people of this country shall be inspired by Unani/Greco-Arab Medicine in general in their country.

Ibn Sīnā is also called "the most influential philosopher of the pre-modern era". He was a peripatetic philosopher, i.e. influenced by Aristotelian philosophy . Out of the 450 works he is believed to have written, around 240 have survived, including 150 on philosophy and 40 on medicine. His major work, the Canon of

Ibn Sīnā is also known as Abū ʽAlī  Sīnā or Ibn Sīnā  Bukhārī and often known in the West as Avicenna was born on 16th August 980 and died on 18 June 1037, as approved by UNESCO and also by the National Encyclopedia of Uzbekistan. He was a Persian polymath who is regarded as one of the most significant physicians, astronomers, thinkers, and writers of the Islamic Golden Age, and probably also the father of modern medicine, Ibn Sīnā is also called “the most influential philosopher of the pre-modern era”. He was a peripatetic philosopher, i.e. influenced by Aristotelian philosophy[6]. Out of the 450 works he is believed to have written, around 240 have survived, including 150 on philosophy and 40 on medicine. His major work, the Canon of Medicine (-in Arabic–Qānūn fi-al-Ṭibb) continued to be taught as a medical textbook in Europe and in the Islamic world until the early modern period.

Ibn Sina’s most famous works are The Canon of Medicine (Al-Qānūn fi-al-Ṭibb), a medical encyclopedia that became a standard medical text at many medieval universities even in medieval Europe and remained in use as late as 1650. The second book in the Book of Healing (Kitāb al-Shifā’), a philosophical and scientific encyclopedia.

Besides philosophy and medicine, Ibn Sīnā’s corpus includes writings on astronomy, alchemy, geography, and geology, psychology, Islamic theology, logic, mathematics, physics, and works of poetry[7].


As a philosopher whose major Book of Healing (Kitāb Al-Shifā’) had a decisive impact upon European scholasticism and especially upon Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274). The birthplace of Ibn Sīnā, the Afshana village, is situated near Bukhārā (Uzbekistan), where the present Government has established a Medical University named after Ibn Sīnā and also established a beautiful Museum of Ibn Sīnā in the village of Afshana.

Ibn Sīnā’s inclination for categorizing becomes immediately evident in the Canon, which is divided into five books. The Book I contains four treatises, the first of which examines the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) in the light of Greek physician Galen of Pergamum’s four humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile). The first treatise includes also anatomy.

The second treatise examines etiology (cause) and symptoms, while the third covers hygiene, health and sickness, and death’s inevitability. The fourth treatise is a therapeutic nosology (classification of disease) and a general overview of regimens and dietary treatments. Book II of the Canon is a Materia Medica. Book III covers diseases of head-to-toe. Book IV examines diseases that are not specific to certain organs, e.g., fevers, other systemic and humoral pathologies. In Book, V has described “Compound Drugs”, e.g. theriacs (an ointment or other medicinal compound used as an antidote to snake venom or other poison), mithridates (a medicine believed to be a universal antidote to or preservative against poison and disease), electuaries (a medicinal substance mixed with honey or another sweet substance), and cathartics (a purgative drug).

Books II and V each offers important compendia of about 760 simple and compound drugs which elaborate Galen’s humoral pathology (Refer to the text of Al-Qānūn fi-al-Ṭibb published in Lucknow (India) translated in Urdu by Hakim Ghulam Hasnain, 1930-31 by Munshi Naval Kishore, Vol. 4&5 and Al-Qānūn fi-al-Ṭibb Translated by Ḥakīm Ghulām Ḥussayn Kantūrī, Published in Lahore, Pakistan, Vol. 3, Part-I).

In the 8th century, the Arabs came, bringing with them Islam during the Islamic Golden Age. Changes came in the thirteenth century when the Mongolian ruler Genghis Khān conquered Central Asia and rid the Indo-Iranians of power. By the fourteenth century, the region began breaking up into tribes and one tribal chief, Timūr, became the dominant power and under his rule, artists and scholars once again flourished. After the death of Timur in the fifteenth century, the Uzbek tribe became the predominant ethnic group in modern Uzbekistan[8].

Worldwide popular books of ḥadith are related with Uzbekistan region viz. (1) aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī which is one of the Kutub al-Ṣittah (six major ḥadith collections) of Sunni Islam. Whereas, out of all these six major books, the collection of prophetic traditions, or adith for aīḥ al-Bukhārī, was performed by the Muslim scholar Muḥammad al-Bukhārī. It was completed around 846 AD / 232 AH. (2) Jāmi͑ at-Tirmizī also known as Sunan at-Tirmizī is one of “the six books” (Kutub al-Sittāh – the six major ḥadith collections). It was collected by Al-Tirmizī. He began compiling it after the year AH 250 (AD 864/5) and completed it on the 10 Dhu-al Ḥijjah AH 270 (AD 884, June 9).

(3) Al-Nasā’ī (214 – 303 AH; c. 829 – 915 CE), full name Abū  ͑Abd ar-Raḥmān Aḥmad ibn Shu ͑ayb ibn Alī ibn Sīnā al-Nasā ͗ī  (variant: Abu Abdel-rahman Ahmed ibn Shua’ib ibn ‘Ali ibn Sīnā ibn Bahr ibn Dīnār Al-Khurāsanī); he was a noted collector of Ḥadīth (sayings of Prophet Muḥammad), was of  Persian origin, and the author of As-Sunan one of the six collections of canonical Ḥadīth recognized by Sunni Muslims. Al-Nasā’ī from Khurāsān is now in Turkmenistan.

There are traditional herbalists and physicians found even now in Uzbekistan, for instance, Hakim Ato Kinjaief and Ḥakīm Atek of Bukhara as mentioned by Dr. Mohammad Adam of Unani Institute, Frankfurt, Germany. In Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarqand, and other cities of Uzbekistan there are many Uzbek scholars who are practicing as traditional herbalists and preparing their own medicine. Few of them are engaged in the business of supplying even the Unani supplement of Omega 3 in those cities.

Uzbekistan’s cuisine has a historical tradition, in which meat, milk, animal fats, vegetables with hot and bitter spices are used intensively and the steppe eating habits are still maintained.

In Uzbekistan, it is a very common tradition to serve dessert before dinner. Before the meal, usually, jam, sugar, melon, watermelon, and baked desserts are served. Uzbek, who taught the sanctity of bread at an early age to their children, respects the bread well enough to avoid putting it on the table in a reversed way. The bread consumed on Uzbek tables is cooked in an oven (tandūr) in almost every house. Patyr, syrmay, aby, and tailing bread are the most popular types of bread.

It has museums in plenty, theatre, the opera and ballet flourish; it’s emporiums stock ware from various regions of Uzbekistan. The Museum of Applied Arts where crafts from all over Uzbekistan are displayed in quiet rooms with muted lighting. The Museum of Fine Arts, one of the oldest in Uzbekistan, and has one of the richest collections of art in the whole of Central Asia. The Uzbek Puppet Theatre, the opera, and ballet at the Navoi (New) Theatre add drama and color to the city’s life.

His most famous works are The Canon of Medicine (Al-Qānūn fi-al-Ṭibb), a medical encyclopedia which became a standard medical text at many medieval universities even in medieval Europe and remained in use as late as 1650. The second book is the Book of Healing (Kitāb al-Shifā’), a philosophical and scientific encyclopedia.

Madrasās, mausoleums, and mosques with stunning blue mosaics of elaborate styling stun the eye. Most of these works are attributed to Timur, his sons, and grandson Ulūgh Beg. The Registan complex is the focus of Samarqand’s beauty, its most enduring attraction. The Ulūgh Beg Madrasā at Registan is overawing in its majesty, its detailed mosaic, and the surfeit of brilliant blue and raw gold. It brings home the splendor of the Timurid Empire, the prosperity that it had; the style and sophistication that shines everywhere in this region is here in one soul stupefying dose.

Bukhārā, the famous trading city on the Silk Road, stirs the romantic feeling in many travelers. In terms of living history, one does not get a better place.

Some of its tawny buildings that glow with burnished gold in the setting Sun are, more than a thousand years old. For sheer visual delight, Bukhārā does not quite compare with Samarqand. The Bukhara city is robustly lived-in and has remained much like it was in the days of yore. No ‘new quarters’ vie for attention here as they do in many cities in the world where one would make a special ‘sightseeing tour’ of the ‘old quarters’.

That line of distinction does not exist in Bukhārā where all is even now as it was. There are more than 140 protected buildings in this city – Madrasās, Mosques, Mausoleums, and musty public baths, the people are known for their unabashed friendliness and absorbing hospitality and there is the lure of the Silk Road legend. Noteworthy in Bukhara is the Kalan Minaret, which at 47 meters was once the tallest structure in the whole of Central Asia and was spared by the marauding Genghis Khān because of its beauty. The Mausoleum of Ismail Salami was built around AD 905, the Labī Hauz Plaza, the Ark, which is the Emir’s Palace, the Zindān (the city jail). The famous carpets of Bukhārā are not really made in that city. One can find them the towns in present-day Turkmenistan that used to be in the Bukhārā Emirate.

The distant lands of Khorezm are formed and fed by the Amu Darya delta and its history is inextricably linked to the river, like Egypt’s to the Nile. Their turbid water pries apart the red and black deserts on either side to color the desert island’s oasis with a fragile smear of green. It divided Turkic from Persian and provided a cradle for Central Asia’s earliest civilization, only to shift course like a restless nomad, turning marsh into the baked desert, killing cities at a whim. Today it is damned, channeled and bled dry to quench thirsty cotton quotas and only then allowed to limp, exhausted and spent, into the dying arms of the Aral Sea.

Khiva, once the capital of the fearsome Timurids and a major trading post for silk and slaves, is now a small town with only about 40,000 people. It is known to have been founded by Shem, son of Noah. Today, the historical center of Khiva lies in mothballed preservation – an untouchable state. As a result, the bustle of life has gone out of it, and today it stands like a big outdoor museum. Its lack of tourist infrastructure makes Khiva essentially a city-getaway kind of destination from Urgench, which in itself has not much to recommend except that it is well connected to the rest of Uzbekistan and has a booming hotel industry.

The sights of Khiva are concentrated in the Ichon Qilʽa, the historical center. Many of the buildings are decorated with majolica (Is a type of pottery in which an earthenware clay body (usually a red earthenware) is covered with an opaque white glaze (traditionally a lead glaze including tin), then painted with stains or glazes and fired) tiles and paintings of scenes from nature. The Islamic Khodzha minaret, the Toshi Khovli Palace, the Dhzuma Mosque, and the mausoleum of Pahlavon Mahmud, the philosopher, are a few of Khiva’s main attractions.

However, I have tried in this book to provide useful knowledge about Great physician and philosopher Ibn Sīnā, his very popular works and also about beautiful historic places in Uzbekistan, as a guide for the blue-tiled splendors of Samarqand to the holy city of Bukhara, the desert Khiva. Uzbekistan lays claim to a breathtaking architectural legacy, bound by sand and snow, fed by melted water from the roof of the world, this fertile oasis attracted travelers and scholars in the ancient past and even now in modern times.

  • ʽAbdul Laṭīf is Former Chairman, Professor, Department of ʽIlmul Adwiyā (Unani Pharmacology & Pharmaceutical Sciences) in AMU Aligarh. H is also a former Coordinator, DRS-I Programme, UGC, Govt. of India, Alīgarh Muslim University, ʽAlīgarh, INDIA

[1]Abu Rayhan al-Biruni was an Iranian scholar and polymath during the Islamic Golden Age. He has been variously called as the “founder of Indology”, “Father of Comparative Religion”, “Father of modern geodesy”, and the first anthropologist.

[2]Abū Manṣūr Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. Maḥmūd al-Samarqandī (853–944 CE), often referred to as Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī for short, or reverently as Imam Māturīdī by Sunni Muslims, was a Sunni Hanafī jurist, theologian, and scriptural exegete from ninth-century Samarqand who became the eponymous codifier of one of the principal orthodox schools of Sunni theology, the Maturidi school, which became the dominant theological school for Sunni Muslims in Central Asia and later enjoyed a preeminent status as the school of choice for both the Ottoman Empire and the Mughal Empire.

[3]Al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmizī, full name Abu ‘Abdallah Muḥammad ibn Ali ibn al-Ḥasan ibn Bashīr al-Tirmizī (d.c. 869) was a Sunni jurist (faqīh) and traditionist (muhaddith) of Khorāsān, but is mostly remembered as one of the great early authors of Sufism.

[4]Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Ismā‘īl ibn Ibrāhīm ibn al-Mughīrah ibn Bardizbah al-Ju‘fī al-Bukhārī commonly referred to as Imām al-Bukhārī, was a Persian Islamic scholar who was born in Bukhārā (the capital of the Bukhara Region (wilāyat) of what is now in Uzbekistan). He authored the ḥadith collection known as aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, regarded by Sunni Muslims as one of the most authentic ḥadith collections.

[5]Abu al-Layth al-Samarqandī was a Ḥanafite jurist and Quran commentator, who lived during the second half of the 10th century. He authored various books on theology and jurist works, including Bahr al-‘Ulūm, a Quran exegesis, also known as Tafsīr as-Samarqandī

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avicenna Assessed on dated 15.06.2020

[7] Afary, Janet (2007). “Iran”. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-12-16; Assessed on 15.06.2020

[8]https://www.uzbekistan.gr/#:~:text=By%20the%20fourteenth%20century%2C%20the,ethnic%20group%20in%20modern%20Uzbekistan. Assessed on 14.06.2020

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