The Life and Tales of Avicenna

Avicenna. Author unknown.

The Islamic golden age has brought forth many world renowned individuals and marvellous minds that have made astonishing contributions to sciences like mathematics, geography, sociology, historiography, philosophy and many others, embellishing the world’s heritage.

There was one, however, who stood out even among such brilliant thinkers like Ibn Khaldun or Al Ghazali, known under the name of Ibn Sina, commonly transcribed in the western world (from latin) as Avicenna.

Ibn Sina was born around 980CE in a small village near the capital city of the Samanid empire into a largely Sunni family. From the dawn of his early childhood he began showing great capabilities and by the age of ten, he had already memorised the entirety of the Quran, thus becoming a hafiz. Foreshadowing his accomplishments, his thirst for knowledge incessantly grew as he devoured philosophy books, learning in parallel the foundations of Fiqh and Indian arithmetic from knowledgeable people that he could find.

By the time Ibn Sina became a teenager, reading the ‘Metaphysics’ by Aristotle gave him food for thought which he couldn’t quite digest, though he had read through it nearly forty times. He would spend hours in the mosque praying, hoping to find and understanding of Aristotle’s intricate ideas, yet nothing came to mind until encountering a commentary on the work by Al Farabi which finally shined light on the complications of the work.

The revelation of the subtle, underlying meanings which he couldn’t grasp for such a long time brought him unspeakable joy, inspiring him to give back to and help the people, though not primarily in the branch of Philosophy.

Indeed, at the age of sixteen, Ibn Sina took up an interest for medicine and upon turning eighteen, had achieved the status of treating physician, helping a large proportion of his more financially humble patients without asking for remuneration. After the fall of the Samanid dynasty and much political ruckus in the year 1004, he was forced to travel in search for rulers who looked favourably upon the learned in hope to find accommodation for his talents.

Some time later, after having received a small salary from a local vizier in the city of Urgench (in modern Turkmenistan) who desired to help scholars, Ibn Sina began writing some of his most influential works. In his pursuit of philosophical thought, he began to develop his argument for the existence of God, also known as the ‘proof of the truthful’ relying on unveiling the ‘necessary existent’ which he then meticulously demonstrated to be proof of the existence of God.

This paper later became known as the medieval time’s most influential and potent argument for God’s existence, and arguably, Ibn Sina’s most important contribution to the development of philosophical thought.

Despite Ibn Sina’s great accomplishments in philosophy, what he became best known for was his practical and academic involvement in the art of medicine. Initiating this work at the age of twenty two, several years later he published the medical encyclopaedia consisting of five volumes under the name: ‘The Canon of Medicine’. This most impressive and revolutionary for the time gathering of new and well-established methods of treatment, some of which he had developed when he was only sixteen, proved to be the most respected and influential medical work of the time. Furthermore, this encyclopaedia was so outstanding and well researched, that it remained relevant up until the 17th century across the middle-eastern and European worlds.

Such great figures in the history of Islam leave great shoes to be filled as only great accomplishments can imprint your name for centuries on the parchment of history. Still we strive to live up to the standards that were set in place by our great ancestors in hopes of one day earning equivalent respect for our family name.

Recognising the existence of certain aspects of our past leads us to a greater understanding of our cultural background and by so, justifies the position of the society we currently live in making us proud to be associated to outstanding individuals like Ibn Sina.