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14.0 Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna)

The most famous exponent of the idea of universalism and the most famous figure in lsmaili learning, was lbn Sina.- Within the brief span of fifty-eight years he was able to produce an astounding number of works; on mathematics, music, geology and on problems of light, gravity, heat, motion, philosophy, medicine, and on different subjects; an achievement that can only be accounted for by his unequalled ability of mind and a power of assimilation of which history offers few such striking examples.

Abu 'Ali al-Husain lbn 'Abd-Aiiah lbn Hasan Ibn 'Ali lbn Sina, (which was Europeanised into Avicenna) was born in August 980 C.E. (Safar 370 A. H.) in a large village near Bukhara called Kharmaithan (the hand of the Sun). His father was from Balkh, a city known to the Greeks as Becha. From Balkh the father of Avicenna moved to Bukhara. At this time it was the capital of Samanid ruler, Nuh the second son of Mausin, who had ascended the throne in 977 C.E./366 A. H. He was appointed as a local governor in Kharmaithari, and must, therefore, have been a man of some standing. There he married a lady named Seterah, and this great soul (Ibn Sina) was the result of this union.

Some years later, the family returned to Bukhara and here Avicenna's ear!y formative age begins. When he was only ten years old, he had read the Qu'ran, and mastered most of the other subjects connected with literature. The religious atmosphere of his home was not orthodox - an important point that he himself tended to conceal, but which helps to explain some of the difficulties of his life. 'My father,' he writes in his autobiography was one of those who had responded to the invitation of the Egyptians (the Fatimids) and was counted among the Ismailis.

At about this time, throughout Iran, particularly in the vicinity of the capital and the Eastern regions of the country, lsmaili propaganda and proselytism were at their height and a considerable number of people, including many men of high scholarship and learning and officials, were being attracted towards lsmaili belief and doctrines. Abdullah - father of Avicenna, and his brother Ali, both had accepted this belief, and their residence had become the rendezvous of lsmaili Missionaries.

He used to listen to his father and brother discussing the soul and the intellect. His father professed lsmailism and he himself did not depart from his father's religion.

The principles of lsmaili Proselytism were based on culture, liberal education and philosophy. Hence lbn Sina from his youth became acquainted with the Greek science, mathematics. philosophy, medicine etc. His mind was accordingly developing on this kind of thought. and it may be said that constantly hearing from his father and brother about the Greek philosophy, the interest in the subject was fully awakened in his mind. He was also sent to a cerain grocer who was in the habit of using that form of calculation to learn Indian arithmetic, and at the same time he was studying Muslim Jurisprudence.

At about this time, Abu Abduliah an -Natili, the Pupil of Abul Faraj lbn at-Tayib, who ranked amongst the leading philosophers of the world visited Bokhara. Abdullah. fully aware of his son's natural ability and thirst for knowledge, invited an-Natili to be his guest at his house, so that he may teach the fundamentals of philosophy to his son. An-Natili commenced his teachings, beginning with the lsa Gooji of Farfuryous, and soon realised that his pupil was highly gifted, and, the course of discussions, he was showing a new trend of thought of his own in philosophy, unknown hitherto.

At the end of these studies, the teaching of Euclid and al-Magest was taken in hand. In this field also, the pupil was proving ahead of the teacher, who was finding increasingly difficult to answer his questions and solve his problems for him. In due course, this period of study also terminated, and an-Natili went away to Gorganj (Khawrazm) the capital of Khawrazmshahsa, and Abu Ali by himself then commenced natural sciences and reading all available literature thereon. and thus gaining in due course a deep insight into various categories of knowledge and learning. Thereafter. he took to the study of medicine, and in this science he acquired such fame and efficiency as a practising physician that other eminent physicians became his pupils and benefited by his deep knowledge and teachings. Now being sixteen years old, he decided to revise seriously all the scientific and philosophical knowledge he had so far acquired and make a still deeper study of these subjects along with regulated and organised lines. For some eighteen months or so, he continued his study of philosophy and sciences still further, and acquired the highest degree of proficiency in them. As stated by himself, whatever knowledge he had gained by this time, was all he knew iill the end of his life and nothing more was learnt by him beyond that.

Ibn Sina now took to studying Aristotle's work"Ma-baad-ut-Tabiah - but as the translations from Greek were not good, he could not properly grasp the contents of this work. Actually he went through it no less than 40 times, and practically committed it all to memory, but all the same his difficulties could not be solved on account of the imperfect translations, and he consequently became disappointed. Accidentally, one day in the booksellers' locality in Bokhara, he came across a book by Abu Nasr Farabi - "Aghraz Mabaad-ut-tabiah"-wherein the author had clearly expressed the theories and views of Aristotle, which lbn Sina had some difficulty in understanding from the Greek version. This work proved a boon to him, and all his problems were duly solved. He was so delighted with this happy turn of events that he distributed large arnounts of money to the poor and the needy in thankfulness for what he had gained.

When he was about 17 1/2 years old and his contemporaries were playing in the streets, he was rapidly making an unenviable reputation in the intellectual sphere of Bokhara as a philosopher and a physician, busily engaged in the treatment of the sick' and in teaching his colleagues in the medical profession.

(ii) At the Court:

It so happened at the King's Court that the Samanid King, Nooh 1bn Mansoor (366-387 A.H.) or Mansoor lbn Nooh (387-389 A.H.) became seriously ill and the court Physicians could not cure him. In consequence, lbn Sina was summoned to treat the royal patient, and become associated with the other physicians in their task. As a result of his advice and line of treatment indicated by him, the King recovered from his illness and lbn Sina was accorded all due honour and prestige at the Court. He had now access to the invaluable library of the Samanid King, and his lime was fully occupied in seeing and studying the rare and precious books on various subjects stoed therein. His age was now nearing 18 years.

(iii) At the Court:

About 391-392 A.H.. Abdullah, the father of lbn Sina passed away, and he had for a time served the then existing government of Bokhara. The disturbances and upheavals that had become prevalent by then, compelled lbn Sina to leave Bokhara. As during the reign of the Kings of Khawrazm, Ali lbn Mamoon lbn Mohammad and his successor, . Mamoon ibn Mamoon, and during the able ministership of Abul Hasan Ahmad lbn Mohammad-us-Sahli, the city of Gorganj was noted for the high calibre of its scholars and intellectuals, lbn Sina went there, and was accorded all due honour and deference by the King of Khawrazm. It was in this place that he met and cultivated the friendship of scholars and learned people like Abu Raihan al-Biruni and Abu Sahl Masihi.

(iv) From Goraganj to Gorgan

At this time, the star of Sultan Mahmood was glittering in Ghazna, and his conquests were spreading; and, as he wanted his Court to be the largest and the best Court he was sparing no pains in attracting poets, scholars, philosophers and men of science towards it. When Sultan Mahmood came to know of the assembly of learned men in Gorganj like lbn Sina, al Biruni. Abul Khair-i-Khammar, Abu Sahl-Masihi and Abu-Nasr-i-Arraq. he wrote a letter to the Ruler of Khawrazm, and demanded that these men may be sent to Ghazna. The Ruler of Khawrazm, who knew this beforehand, summoned these man to his court, and discussed the matter with them. Abu Nasr Arraq, Abul Khair-i-Khammar and Abu Raihan expressed their willingness to go to Ghazna, but 1bn Sina and Abu Sahl Masihi did not agree to this proposal, and left Gorganj for Gorgan, which was in the principality of Qabus ibn Washmagir. En route, several untoward incidents occurred and they lost their way; Abu Sahi Masihi dying of thirst. Abu Ali Sina, however, after numerous hardships succeeded in reaching Gorgan.

Apparently, in or about the year 402 A.H., i.e. shortly after the arrest and assassination of Qoboos lbn Washmgir, lbn Sina arrived at Gorgan, but the purpose of his undertaking this long and trying journey, which was to meet Shams-ul-Maali Qaboos was, of course. not served. In all probability, he stayed in igorgan for about 2 years. In Gorgan, there was a gentleman. Abu Mohammad Shirazi, who was inclined towards philosophy, and, on that account he purchased a house for lbn Sina in the neighbourhood of his own residence, and looked after his comfort and welfare. In Gorgan, 1bn Sina became busily engaged in the treatment of the sick teaching and composing books. and it was at this place that his pupil and sincere friend, Abu Ubaid Jawz-Jani attached himself to him. Manicheber ibn Qaboos was gradually being attracted towards the Ghaznavid King and, moreover, was not showing any particular regard towards men of learning. lbn Sina therefore, left Gorgan and made for Ray.

(v) In Ray and Hamadan:

At Ray, he was presented to the D'ailamite ruler Majdui-Dawlah Abu Talib Rustom ibn Fakhr-tidDawlah Dilmin (387-420 A.H.) and his mother, Sayyidah Shirin, daughter of Sipahbad, Sharwin. They welcomed him as a physician, and Majdul Dawlah, who was ill at the time, recovered from sickness as a result of his treatment. lbn Sina's stay in Ray was brief, and shortly afterwards he went to Hamadan via Oazwin, where he first met one of the Dailamite nobles named Kadbanuyah. Later, he came in close contact with the Dailamite ruler Shams-udDawlah Abu Tahir Shah Khusraw, brother of Majdul Dawlah and son of Fakhr-ud-Dawlah, who died in 412 A.H.

Ibn Sina's arrival in Hamadan, as recorded was towards the end of the year 405 A.H.. and his stay in that city extended over a long period of 9 years. lbn Sina's friendship with Shams-ud-Dawiah began at a time when the latter fell ill with colic, and lbn Sina treated him successfully, and thereafter became one of the courtiers of the King.

(vi) Ministership:

Majdul-Dawlah took lbn Sina with him on his journey to Kermanshah during the expedition against Annaz. After Majdul-Dawiah's return to Hamadan. following his defeat at the hands of Annaz, the ruler of Kermanshah, he offered his Ministership to lbn Sina, and since then the designations of Shaikh-urRais, ad-Dastoor and al-Wazir have been added to the titles of lbn Sina.

Abu Obayd, the Shaikh's pupil, in his treatise on the life of his teacher, has stated that, during his, Ministership he came in conflict with the soldiers (apparently the cause for this agitation being nonpayment of their salaries). The troops surrounded fbn Sina's house, looted his belongings, imprisoned him, and demanded his execution from the ruler, Shamsud-Daw]ah, however, did not comply with this demand. but merely removed him from the Ministership. The Shaikh remained hidden in the house of Abi Seed Dokhduk for 40 days, when Shams-ud-Dawiah had another attack of colic, and he was compelled to invite lbn Sina to treat him, apologising to him for the action against him. lbn Sina again treated him successfully, and was restored to the office of Ministership.

Things went on like this for some time until Shamsud-Dawiah, while on a campaign against Amir of Tarom, had a recurrence of colic which rendered him absolutely incapacitated. His subjects offered homage to his son instead. and he invited the Shaikh to take over the Ministership. lbn Sin'a declined to accept it, and hid himself in the house of Abu Ghalib Attar. News of confidential correspondence of lbn Sina with Ala-ud-Dawiah reached the ears of the Ruler through Taj-ui-Mulk, and he ordered the Shaikh's imprisonment in the fort' of Fardojan. This imprisonment of lbn Sina lasted for 4 months until Ala-udDawlah moved towards Hamadan and conquered it. On his return, Taj-ul Mulk and Shams-ud-Dawlah's son returned to Hamadan, released the Shaikh from the prison and encouraged him with favourable promises.

(vii) At lsfahan:

Shaikh-ur-Rais was getting tired of staying at Hamadan, and was awaiting the first opportunity to move to lsfahan, which presented itself in due course. Abu Sina, accompanied by Abu Obayd Jawz-jani, his brother and 2 servants, left Hamadan for lsfahan. When the Shaikh reached the village of Tairan. near lsfahan, he was cordially received by his friends, and the courtiers of Amir Ala-ud-Dawlah, by whom he and his party were conducted with due ceremony, mounted on special horses, to Isfahan. He was received in Court by Ala-ud-Dawiah with all deference. The Amir ordered that on Friday nights special meetings should be convened for the Shaikh for holding discussions on various subjects, and scholars holding different views be asked to attend those meetings. At ]sfahan. the Shaikh carried on the work of composing books and teaching his pupils, and most of the, important books were completed during his stay at Isfahan.

He also completed his great work "Shifa", and also concluded his works on Ethics and ai-Magest, while prior to that he had published the extracts of works on Geometry, Arithmetic and Music, and had worked out new problems in the books on Mathematics wherever he considered necessary. He added ten different figures to the ai-Magest. and worked out additional problems hitherto unknown in Astronomy. He criticised the Euclid. made new additions to Arithmetic, and worked out such problems in Music as were unknown to the past, masters. He also completed two books on Zoology and Botany in the year when Alaud-Dawlah was going to Shapur Khwast. During the same journey he completed his "Kitabun-Najat". Apart from that at lsfahan he wrote his Danish-Nama-iAlai, and Kitabut-insaf. and books on Literature and Lexicography. During one of Ala-ud-Dawlah's journeys to Hamadan. the Shaikh was ordered to improve the existing calendar, and to arrange for a new observatory. The Shaikh appointed Abu Ubaid to complete that work. The latter laboured for eight years, made necessary instruments, and investigated many problems relating to Astronomy; but frequent travelling and disturbances prevented him from establishing an observatory.

The Ministership of the Shaikh at the Court of Ala-ud-Dawlah is not certain, but there can be no doubt that throughout his stay at Isfahan he was a constant companion of the King at home or while travelling, even in campaigns, he was always with him. In one of these travels. it is recorded that the Shaikh's books and belongings were plundered.

(viii) Death of Shaikh-ui-Rais:

Repeated travels with Ala-ud-Dawiah, overwhelming work and exacting political and intellectual preoccupations undermined his health, and in one of his journeys to Hamadan in the year 425 A.H.. when Alaud-Dawiah was at war with Tash Farrash at Karaj, he fell a victim to colic, the same disease in which he was a specialist, and as he feared that in case of Alaud-Dawiah's defeat, he would not be able to move, he made special efforts towards his own treatment and over did it, with the result that complications of intestinal ulcer ensued. Notwithstanding all this, he had ,lo alternative but to join Ala-ud-Dawiah in his flight towards lzaj where he also developed epilepsy which generally crops up along with colic. In this condition, prior to his going to lsfahan and afterhis return to that city, he continued his own treatment, as a result of which he felt somewhat better. He. however, would not observe restrictions in diet fully, which his condition required, and so he could not get over the disease completely, and he was obliged to accompany Ala-ud-Dawiah to Hamadan. En route he had a relapse of the disease, and his condition become serious, so much so that, on arrival at Hamadan. he became bedridden and totally incapacitated, and realised that he could not possibly proceed further with his treatment.

It was at this juncture that he remarked that the sage. who was controlling the functions of his body had become helpless, and treatment was therefore, of no avail. Having realised that death was approaching. he took a bath, offered repentence. liberated his servants, gave away his belongings in charity, and began reciting the Holy Ouran and praying until the end came. It is most probable that he was 58 years of age at the time of his death which took place in 428 A.H. The Shaikh was buried at Hamadan. An imposing mausoleum has been constructed over his grave by the government and the society of National Monurnents, and a large library has also been built there.

(ix) Personal Features and Habits of lbn Sina:

He had a commanding personality, good physique, handsome features and charming manners, and his figure would invariably attract attention anywhere. Whenever he spoke at gatherings of high officials, he was always listened to with respect. and none would dare to interrupt him during his speech. His physical fitness was such that constant preoccupation with literary, scientific and teaching work never tired him.

There are many strange stories about his concentration and determination in whatever subject he would be engaged. He himself has written that he had read Aristotle's book Ma-Baad-ut-Tabiah 40 times. and his pupil writes that the Shaikh wrote his book "A]-Mokhiasar-ul-Asghar" in Jurjan, and when a copy reached Shiraz, some scholars studied it, and did not believe in some of his statements therein. They sent their commentations to the Shaikh and asked for his further explanations and elucidations. Their pamphlet happened to reach the shaikh at sunset. He immediately asked Abu Ubaid for some paper, which he divided into 5 parts, and each part again into 10 pages. Between the night prayers and dawn. he wrote whole book in minute hand so that by the dawn every part was ready. He then sent it back to Shiraz by the same messenger.

The Shaikh kept awake late hours at night reading books, even so during the period of his imprisonment and travels. By this means only he devoted his attention to his literary and scientific pursuits, as in day time attendance in court and state affairs took all his time. About his rare intellect, knowledge and wisdom extraordinary details have come down to us. The fact that at the age of 18 he had mastered so many diverse subjects and sciences can only be attributed to his exceptional gift of intellect. Notwithstanding his remarkable intellectual capacity for understanding he often went through the text repeatedly to have a better knowledge, as he himself says in his book "Mantiq-i-Mashriqi' that at times he ponders over the new subject 200 times before he would give the final shape to it.

Abu Ali, the Muslim Successor of Aristotle, had like him always endeavoured to become proficient in various subjects and sciences. He wrote several books on medicine, and just as in his student life, he took up the studies of Jurisprudence, Literature, Holy Ouran, during the period of composing books he particularly wrote books, on Tafseer, mysticism, Persian and Arabic poetry, so much, so that he almost wrote on every subject of his time.

He professed the Shia lsmaili i faith. On account of his inclinations towards this faith he had declined to go to Sultan Mahmood's Court. ln fact, be had to travel from place to place because of religious and philosophical ideas.


1 . Balhaqi (Tatimmat........ pg. 40)

2. Jan Rypka: History of Iranian Lit. edited: Kari Jahn 1 968 pg. 179.

3. lbn al-Qifti: Tarikh al-Hukama's: ed. ripper. 1903.

4. I.A. Usaibi'a: 'Uyun al-Anba' fi Tabaqat al-Atibba: ed. Muller, 2 vols. 1884.

5. Ibn. Khallikan: Wafayat al-A'yan: English trans. de Siane, 18421871.

6. Khondamir: Habib al-Siyar: 4 vols. Tehran, 1954.

7. Dastur al-Wuzara': cd. Nefisi. Tehran. 1317 A.H.

8. Avicenna: Kilab al-Shifa: Bodieian. Oxford. Pocock. No. 109-124. Copied in 1206 A.D. Incomplete.

9. Kitab al-Shifa: Bibliothequer Nationale. Paris, Fonds arabes. No. 6829.

10. Avicina on theology. ed. A.

11. Avicina by Afnan.

12. Various articles of encyclopaedia of Islam.

Dr. Faridani, Tehran, (Iran)

Abu Ali Sina

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