Karim Qayumi

In ancient times, when the world was thought to be flat and the oceans were not discovered, the only means of travel and communication was over the land. Knowledge of the existence of exotic civilizations such as China, India, and Persia forced European explorers, businessmen, and conquerors (including Marco Polo and Alexander the Great) to reach Asian countries by a long road that extended from Europe to China and India. This road was called the "Silk Road" due to silk's importance and commercial value for Europeans at that time. Silk, however, was not the only commodity that was exchanged on this road. The most important commodity for the future of mankind was the cultural exchange among the entirely different civilizations.

Somewhere in the middle of the Silk Road, a great city was built where most of the cultural and commercial trades took place. The city, Balkh, was called the "Mother of the Cities," not because it was the largest city in the East, but because it encompassed a mixture of Eastern and Western civilizations with respect to knowledge, cultural entities, commercial products, and others. This was probably the first truly multicultural city.

In 981 A.D., this city gave birth to a genius of the time who became one of the leaders in the expansion of knowledge for the entire world. His name was Abu Ali Ibnecina, known in the West as Avicenna. He was an extremely talented individual who memorized 30 books of the Koran by the age of 10. being in the grassroots of world civilization, he studied and learned Chinese, Greek, Roman, Indian, and Persian philosophy. He gained extensive knowledge and most of the available information. By the age of 21, he was able to categorize and classify all the knowledge and create the first encyclopedia. This encyclopedia is called Alhefa and was written in 15 books. Avicenna's talent covered all sides of knowledge from philosophy, astronomy, geometry, mathematics, and medicine to poetry and music. Although medicine was not his main area of interest, he became famous as a doctor due to the desperate need for thoughtful medical personnel in the Persian kingdom. Most of his childhood was spent in the peripheral part of the Persian Empire, Balkh and Bokhara, and most of his adolescence was spent in Hamadan and Asfahan. Avicenna was raised and lived most of his life in a time of political turmoil. The Samanid house was defeated by Mahmud of Ghazna (a legendary hero who established Ghaznaud rule in Khorasan, which is modern western Afghanistan) and the local dynasties were trying to gain political independence from the Abasid Caliphate in Baghdad. In the midst of this political climate, Avicenna had to move from one city to the next. However, Avicenna's power of concentration and intellectual prowess was such that he was able to continue his intellectual work with remarkable consistency and continuity. About 260 books and manuscripts are known to be written by him, of which 240 are written in Arabic and the remainder in Persian. That is why Avicenna is mistakenly considered to be an Arab by some Western authors who are not fully aware of his origin. Arabic was a dominant language at the time because of the Islamic cultural influence on middle Asia. The fact that all of Avicenna's monographs were burned in Baghdad's central square about 100 years after his death indicates that Avicenna's philosophy and beliefs were not in favour of fanatic Arabs.

Among Avicenna's writings, his medical book AlKanon Fe Teb, known as Kanon in the Western Hemisphere, has had great scientific and historical value. Kanon is a categorized and classified presentation of Persian, Indian, Chinese, and Western medical knowledge and is written in three parts. Part I covers the anatomy and physiology of the human body. Part II includes the description, signs, and symptoms of disease. Part III describes the treatment of disease and prophylactic measures to prevent disease. The Kanon s organization and depth of knowledge made it a part of the curriculum of all Western universities for about 800 years. For the historic importance of this book, it is probably satisfactory to mention that, in the16th century when the printing machine was discovered, the first book after the Bible that was given priority to be published was Kanon by Avicenna. Kanon was translated into Hebrew by a famous Jewish physician named Mamo Nidaz (Moses Ebnay Mymon 1135-1204) that may have played an important role in the preservation and spread of an important role in the preservation and spread of medical knowledge between the eastern and western hemispheres.

The philosophical and medical beliefs of Avicenna may have been controversial at the time for some investigators, however. Michelangelo once said, "I'd rather be wrong following Galen and Avicenna than to be right following others." A good example of the strength of his multicultural knowledge is the fact that about 60 variety of pulses were known to Avicenna, 42 of which he inherited from Chinese medicine. He also used alcohol for anesthesia, as was known and was described by Chinese physicians in the first century A.D. He also used opium for anesthesia, as was known in Indian and Persian medical practices. He used ligature and coagulation for hemostasis and retraction for broken bones and spine deformations. It has also been documented that Avicenna performed an operation similar to cholecystec-tomy on the most famous pharmacopist of the time, Al Behroni. Despite outstanding surgical accomplishments for his time, Avicenna was a naturalist. He preferred medical treatment for most diseases with food, behavior, and medicinal plants. Very rarely, mostly for urgent cases, he used chemical elements or compounds such as derivatives of silver, copper, or iron. With the development of modern medicine, naturalistic and prophylactic approaches were condoned for a long time. In recent years, however, the naturalistic approach to medicine is becoming more acceptable. If history repeats itself, it is possible that forgotten physiological parameters such as warm, cool, wet, and dry will be explained in modern medicine for balancing human nature.

Avicenna died at the age of 62 in 1032 A.D. when he was traveling from Asfahan to Tehran. The last words he said before his death were:

I lived my life in glory and in joy. Discoveries ran in my head like a plough boy but even so, I could not understand the mystery of a small particle in a toy.

Avicenna is buried in Hamadan and his tomb is visited every day by hundreds of sick people in the hope of a medical miracle performed by Avicenna. In order to acknowledge Avicenna's achievements and his role in the advancement of knowledge, including medicine, UNESCO asked the world to celebrate his 1,000th birthday as a "bright star from the East."


1. Browne EG. Arabian Medicine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1920.

2. Levy R. Avicenna; his life and times. Med Hist 1957; I:249.

3. Chatard JA. Avicenna and Arabian medicine. Bull Johns Hopkins Hosp 1908; 19:157.

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