Ibn Sina

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Ibn Sina
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Personal Information
Full Nameal-Husayn b. 'Abd Allah
Well-Known AsIbn Sina, Avicenna, Abu 'Ali Sina
Place of BirthBukhara
Burial PlaceHamadan
Scholarly Information

Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) (Arabic: إبن سينا), Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAbd ʾAllāh b. Sīnā (Arabic: أبو علي الحسین بن عبد الله بن سينا) (b. 370/980 - d. 428/1037) was the most prominent Peripatetic philosopher and a well-known Iranian physician.

He was taught the whole Qur'an and much of Arabic literature when he was 10 years old. He mastered logic, natural sciences, and mathematics when he was 18. He then turned to theology, and studied Aristotle's Metaphysics.

Ibn Sina's philosophical system has left the deepest and the most persistent effect on the Islamic philosophical thought as well as European Medieval philosophy. He has innovations within the Peripatetic philosophy, demystifying points in Aristotle's thoughts, and sometimes adding to them. He sought to establish a new philosophical system drawing on Platonic and neo-Platonic thoughts, but adventures in his life, and his premature death, left his enterprise unfinished.

Ibn Sina's al-Qanun (The Canon of Medicine) has, for centuries, been the most prominent and influential book in medicine, in both Islamic countries and the Medieval Europe.

Ibn Sina has methodologically considerable works in music —the works can be a guide on how to research about music. He has mystical works with a language of symbols and allegories that has been influential in the Sufi literature after him and the way mystical issues are cashed out.

Also he has works regarding language and linguistics. Moreover, he mastered poetry and rhetoric, proving his command of the Arabic language. He also has a short and very important essay on the principles of phonetics. Ibn Sina has left works in Farsi that are valuable because in that they exhibit a stage of development of this language as well as its capacities as a language for philosophy. His most-known work in Farsi is Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i (the 'Ala'i Encyclopedia).

Parentage and Birth

Ibn Sina was born ca. 370/980 in Bukhara. His father was originally from Balkh but he moved to Bukhara in the era of Noah b. Mansur Samani (366-387/977-997) where he held a bureaucratic position in an important village called Kharmaythan. He married a girl (called Sitara?) from a nearby village called Afshana and stayed there. Ibn Sina was born there, and 5 years later his younger brother, Mahmud, was born.


Elementary Education

Ibn Sina, first, learned the Qur'an and the Arabic literature, and he learned the whole Qur'an and much of the literature when he was 10 years old. His father studied Rasa'il ikhwan al-Safa, and Ibn Sina sometimes read the book. His father sent him to a vegetable seller, called Mahmud Massahi, who mastered the Indian arithmetic so that Ibn Sina learns arithmetic with him.

The Isma'ili Call

In the meanwhile, Ibn Sina's father accepted the call of an Isma'ili caller in Egypt. Ibn Sina's brother, Mahmud, started following Isma'ilites as well. However, Ibn Sina did not accept the call.

Philosophical Training

A scholar called Abu 'Abd Allah Natili (Husayn b. Ibrahim al-Tabari) who claimed to have mastered philosophy went to Bukhara when Ibn Sina was there. Ibn Sina's father took him to his house and Ibn Sina began to learn philosophy from him.

Before that, he studied Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) with a man called Isma'il Zahid; he was very active in these studies and learned all the methods of jurisprudents. He then studied the Isagoge (the introduction to Aristotle's categories) authored by Porphyry, the neo-Platonic philosopher (234-301 or 305). Ibn Sina always surprised his teacher by discovering new points. The teacher asked Ibn Sina's father to engage his son only with studying.

Ibn Sina learned the elementary parts of logic with Natili, but he soon found that Natili was not well-aware of the details of logic. Thus he read Aristotle's logic and its commentaries on his own, and soon mastered logic very well. At the same time, he studied parts of The Principles of Geometry by Euclid with Natili, and then he studied and solved the other problems of this book on his own.

Ibn Sina went on to study Almagest by Ptolemy —the great Greek astronomer— with Natili, and after studying the introduction and its geometrical shapes, Natili told Ibn Sina to read the book by himself and ask when encountering a trouble. However, Ibn Sina solved all the problems by himself, and even explained some problems to Natili when he did not know.


After these studies, Natili left Bukhara to Urgench in order to visit the court of Abu 'Ali Ma'mun b. Muhammad Khwarazmshah. Ibn Sina started reading some texts regarding natural sciences and theology on his own and he puts it, "the doors of knowledge opened to him". He then started reading texts in medicine and he found it easy to learn —he soon became so prominent in medicine that great physicians studied medicine with him. Ibn Sina visited patients and discovered new therapeutic methods by experience. At the same time he continued his studies in Fiqh.


Ibn Sina was 16 when he learned medicine. He then read books in logic and philosophy again for one year and a half. He did not sleep much and spent all his time reading and learning. Before him were sheets of paper on which he wrote his notes —problems and questions with proposed solutions and formalizations of arguments in terms of syllogisms. Whenever he could not find the middle premise of a syllogistic argument, he went to the Mosque and said prayers and asked God to help him solve the problem. He then went back home at night, turned on a light, and started reading and writing. Whenever he was sleepy or felt weakness in his body, he used to drink a cup of wine (or as some people say, some drink) and then continued his reading. As Ibn Sina says himself, "whenever he fell into sleep, he dreamt of those problems and sometimes discovered their solutions in sleep".

In this way, Ibn Sina learned and mastered all branches of knowledge; and as he says, "what I knew then is the same as what I know now, and I have not added anything to it".

In this period, Ibn Sina was only 18 years old; he mastered logic, natural sciences, and mathematics, and then he tried to learn metaphysics. He started reading Aristotle's Metaphysics. He read it 40 times such that he memorized the whole text, but he could not understand it. He was disappointed of himself and thought that he can never understand metaphysics; "there is no way to understand this book", he told himself. However, a man shows him a cheap book when Ibn Sina was in a book market, and Ibn Sina buys the book though with hesitations. The book was Abu Nasr al-Farabi's book on the purposes of Aristotle's Metaphysics. When he reads the book, he can understand metaphysics.

Treatment of Bukhara's Ruler

Nuh b. Mansur Samani was the ruler of Bukhara at that time. He contracted a disease that physicians failed to cure. Ibn Sina was by then a well-known scientist and physician. The Physicians mentioned him to Nuh b. Mansur as a skillful physician and asked to call Ibn Sina to the court.

Ibn Sina visited Nuh b. Mansur and contributed to his treatment, and since then he became very close to the ruler of Bukhara. Ibn Sina asked Nuh b. Mansur to give him permission to enter his great, well-known libraries. The ruler gave him the permission, and Ibn Sina found many great books there some of which he even never heard of.

He started reading the books and learned a lot from them. However, the library was later burned in fire. The opponents of Ibn Sina accused him of having intentionally burned the library in order to prevent others from reading those books.

At this time Ibn Sina was 18 years old and had learned all branches of knowledge in his time. He later said, "I had a better memory then; my stock of knowledge now is the still the same, but my knowledge is now more exact".


Ibn Sina was 22 years old when his father died. In the meanwhile he had occupied some positions in the Samanid government of 'Abd al-Malik II. On the other hand, the head of Kara-Khanid Khanate, Nasr b. 'Ali attacked and conquered Bukhara and imprisoned the last Samanid ruler, 'Abd al-Malik b. Noah on Dhu l-Qa'da 389/October 999 sending him to Uzgen.

This shows that Ibn Sina must have served in 'Abd al-Malik b. Nuh's court for about two years —from Nuh b. Mansur Samani's death (387/997) through 'Abd al-Malik's overthrow. These political developments and the overthrow of Samanid government in Bukhara caused Ibn Sina to leave Bukhara, and he puts it, "the necessity made me abandon the city".


In 392 AH, Ibn Sina moved from Bukhara to Urgench located in northwestern Khwarezm where he was introduced to 'Ali b. Ma'mun b. Muhammad Khwarazmshah, a ruler from Al Ma'mun dynasty (ca. 387-399/997-1009).

At that time, Abu l-Husayn Suhayli, who was according to Ibn Sina "a lover of knowledge", had occupied the ministry of 'Ali b. Ma'mun. In Ibn Sina's report as well as in 'Ali b. Zayd Bayhaqi's book, the minister's name is "Abu l-Husayn", but in his book, Yatimat al-Dahr, Tha'alibi mentioned him as Abu l-Hasan Ahmad b. Muhammad Suhayli, reporting that he moved to Baghdad in 404/1013 where he died in 418/1027. Ibn Sina received a monthly salary in Urgench that, according to him, "was enough for the living of a person like him".

After a while, as Ibn Sina says, "the necessity forced" him once again to leave Urgench. He does not explain what the necessity was, but Nizami 'Arudi reports a story according to which the King Mahmud of Ghazni (ruling 388-421/998-1030) asked Khwarazmshah Abu l-'Abbas Ma'mun b. Ma'muد to send to him some of his court's scholars and scientists, including Ibn Sina. Some of them agreed to go, including Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, but Ibn Sina and another scientist, Abu Sahl al-Masihi refused the request, and had to leave Urgench.


In about 402/1012, Ibn Sina crossed cities such as Nasa, Abiward (or Baward), Tus, Samangan (Samanqan), and Jajarm (the ultimate border of Khorasan) to arrive in Gorgan.

As Ibn Sina says himself, his goal was to visit the court of Shams al-Ma'ali Qabus b. Wushmagir (ruled 367-402/978-1012), the Ziyarid ruler of Gorgan. But at the time Qabus's army had rebelled against him, removed him from power, and imprisoned him. The ruler died in 403 AH (1013). Qabus's successor, his son Manuchehr, declared his allegiance to Mahmud of Ghazni, and married Mahmud's daughter. Ibn Sina could no longer stay in Gorgan, and once again he had to leave Gorgan.

In the period, Ibn Sina's faithful pupil, Abu 'Ubayd al-Juzjani, joined him, and accompanied him for the rest of Ibn Sina's life. Juzjani was the first one to have written Ibn Sina's biography on the basis of Ibn Sina's own reports.

As Juzjani reports, there was a man in Gorgan called Abu Muhammad Shirazi who was a lover of knowledge. Abu Muhammad bought Ibn Sina a house in his neighborhood.


About 404/1014, Ibn Sina left Gorgan in order to move to Rey. In Rey he visited Sayyida, whose name was Shirin, the daughter of Sepahbud Shervin, dubbed Umm al-Muluk (d. 419/1028), the widow of Fakhr al-Dawla 'Ali Buya (d. 387/997), and the mother of Majd al-Dawla Abu Talib Rustam b. Fakhr al-Dawla.

The mother and the son honored Ibn Sina because of recommendations he had with him. Ibn Sina treated Majd al-Dawla who contracted melancholy.

Beginning of Quarrels

Ibn Sina stayed in Rey until when Shams al-Dawla —the other son of Fakhr al-Dawla, the governor of Hamadan and Qarmisan (Kermanshah) after his father's death (387/997)— attacked Rey in 405/1015. The attack took place after his disputes with Halal b. Badr b. Hasanwayh who was a progeny of the Kurds governing Jabal and Kermanshah.

Halal b. Badr, who was imprisoned by Sultan al-Dawla (d. 412/1021) in Baghdad, was released then, provided by Sultan al-Dawla with an army in order to fight with Shams al-Dawla who had conquered new lands at that time. In a war between them in Dhu l-Qa'da 405/1015, Halal b. Badr was killed, and Sultan al-Dawla's army had to retreat to Baghdad.

According to Juzjani, "some events occurred at this time that forced Ibn Sina to leave Rey". But he does not explicitly tell us what those events were.

It has been speculated that the political and social circumstances in Rey were such that Ibn Sina could no longer stay there. Perhaps the warnings of Mahmud of Ghazi to attack Rey were among reasons why Ibn Sina left the city; a report by Khwandamir says, "when the King Mahmud of Ghazni raised his flags in Iraq, the Shaykh [Ibn Sina] moved from Rey to Qazvin and from there to Hamadan".


In Hamadan, Shams al-Dawla contracted colic. Ibn Sina was invited to his court and treated him until he recovered. Ibn Sina spent 40 days in the court, and received many gifts from the ruler and then he went back home. He was then one of the close companies of Shams al-Dawla.

After a while Shams al-Dawla led an army to Kermanshah in order to fight 'Annaz. Hisam al-Din Abu Shawk Faris b. Muhammad b. 'Annaz was the head of the Kurdish tribe of Shadhanjan who ruled the two sides of mountains between Kermanshah and Qasr-e Shirin. After Halal b. Badr was defeated by Shams al-Dawla and lost his territories, 'Annaz who was his farther neighbor decided to conquer those lands. Shams al-Dawla went to fight 'Annaz in order to prevent his encroachment, and Ibn Sina accompanied him in this war. Shams al-Dawla was defeated and went back to Hamadan. This was in 406/1015.

Ibn Sina's Ministry

After the war with 'Annaz, Shams al-Dawla appointed Ibn Sina as his minister. However, Ibn Sina had some disputes with Shams al-Dawla's army —consisting of Deylami infantry and Turkish cavalry. Uneasy by their defeat in the war with 'Annaz and feeling a threat from Ibn Sina, the army rebelled against Ibn Sina, surrounded his house, arrested him, and plundered his property.

The rebellions even asked Shams al-Dawla to kill Ibn Sina, but he refused to do so, and instead, removed him from power in order to appease the army. Ibn Sina hid in the house of a person called Abu Sa'd (or Abu Sa'id) b. Dakhdul (or Dakhduk) for 40 days. In the meanwhile Shams al-Dawla contracted colic again. He asked Ibn Sina to treat him and apologized him for inconveniences that he faced. Shams al-Dawla recovered his health by Ibn Sina's treatments. Once again he appointed Ibn Sina as his minister.

Writing the Book of Al-Shifa' (Healing)

According to Juzjani, Shams al-Dawla asked Ibn Sina to write a commentary on Arisitle's works, but Ibn Sina told him that he does not have an occasion to do so, though he can write a book on philosophy (without debating or rejecting his opponents' views). Thus he started writing the natural sciences section of the book, Al-Shifa'.

Death of Shams al-Dawla

Ibn Sina had already written the first book of al-Qanun (The Canon of Medicine). It seems that Ibn Sina enjoyed a quiet life at this time, since according to Juzjani's reports, he spent his days with ministerial works, and at nights his students went to him, studing his Al-Shifa' and al-Qanun.

Ibn Sina had this quiet life until when Shams al-Dawla launched a war against the ruler of Tarom area in the mountains between Qazvin and Gilan. The ruler of Tarom then (412/1021) was Ibrahim b. Marzban b. Isma'il b. Wahsudan who had conquered some cities in Tarom area after the death of Fakhr al-Dawla (387/997) until when Mahmud of Ghazi attacked the mountains in 420/1029. The ruler was from Wahsudan dynasty known as Al Afrasyab (or Salariyan or Kangariyan). However, Shams al-Dawla contracted colic again with some other diseases on his way to Tarom. The army worried that he might die, so they carried him on a stretcher to Hamadan, but he died on the way back home (412/1021).

After Shams al-Dawla's death, his son, Sama' al-Dawla, succeeded him and asked Ibn Sina to be his minister, but he refused the request. Sama' al-Dawla ruled for two years from 412/1021 independently, and then he ruled under the government of 'Ala' al-Dawla, and from 421/1030 when 'Ala' al-Dawla appointed a ruler for Hamadan, we know nothing about him.

In the meanwhile the signs of the decline of Al-i Buya dynasty was emerging. Ibn Sina found it wise to resign. According to Juzjani, "the land was about to ruin. Ibn Sina preferred to resign from his position in this government. He was sure that it is more cautious to live secretly in order to achieve his goals, waiting for an opportunity of escaping that land".

Secret Life

Ibn Sina lived secretly for several years. He lived in the house of a man named Abu Talib al-'Attar, restarting the writing of the rest of his monumental book of Healing (Kitab al-Shifa). After finishing all parts of natural sciences (except the part of "animal" (al-Hayawan)) and theology (al-'Ilahiyyat), he started the writing of the "logic" part of Al-Shifa. It seems that Ibn Sina had some correspondences with 'Ala' al-Dawla (Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Dushmanzar or Dushmanziyar, known as Ibn Kakwayh), the ruler of Isfahan at the time. Sayyida had appointed 'Ala' al-Dawla as the ruler of Isfahan in 398/1008. 'Ala' al-Dawla was a distant relative of Al-i Buya, and his father was the uncle (kaku) of Sayyida (mother of Majd al-Dawla and Shams al-Dawla). He ruled Isfahan until his death, except for a short period of time when the heads of Mas'ud of Ghazni's army expelled him from there.

On the other hand, according to a report by 'Ali b. Zayd al-Bayhaqi, it was 'Ala' al-Dawla who started correspondences with Ibn Sina, asking him to go to his court in Isfahan. However, as Ibn Athir reports, Taj al-Muluk Kuhi (Abu Nasr Ibrahim b. Bahram) who became 'Ala' al-Dawla's minister just when Ibn Sina refused to be Shams al-Dawla's minister for a second time, accused Ibn Sina of secretly corresponding with 'Ala' al-Dawla. He then sent some people to find and arrest Ibn Sina.


Ibn Sina's enemies disclosed his hideout (Abu Ghalib al-'Attar's house). He was arrested and sent to, and imprisoned in, a fort called Fardajan. Fardajan Fort, also known as Barahan or Barahan (Farahan), was located, according to Yaqut, in Jarra area 15 miles away from Hamadan. The area is nowadays known as Pardagan, and is located in the 110th km of Hamadan-Isfahan road.

Ibn Sina spent 4 months in the Fort. According to Ibn Athir, in a war between Kurdish and Turkish soldiers of Shams al-Dawla in 411/1020 in Hamadan, Taj al-Muluk was the head of Kurdish soldiers. He asked 'Ala' al-Dawla to help him suppress Turkish soldiers, but 3 years later, 414/1024, Sama' al-Dawla, Shams al-Dawla's son, surrounded Burujerd. The governor of Burujerd, Farhad b. Mardavij, asked 'Ala' al-Dawla for help, and they both surrounded Hamadan, but lack of provisions and foodstuff forced them to retreat.

Later, in a war with Taj al-Muluk, 'Ala' al-Dawla retreated first to Jurfazaqan (Gulpayegan), but then he attacked Hamadan once again. He was defeated in a war with Sama' al-Dawla, and surrendered. But 'Ala' al-Dawla honored him, and Taj al-Muluk took refuge to the Fardajan Fort.

'Ala' al-Dawla attacked the Fardajan Fort together with Sama' al-Dawla, and Taj al-Muluk surrendered himself. After this, they all went back to Hamadan with Ibn Sina. Ibn Sina lived in the house of a man with an 'Alawi pedigree, restarting the writing of the rest of the logic part of Al-Shifa'. Nothing is known about this 'Alawi man, but Ibn Sina has dedicated his Essay, Al-Adwiyya al-Qalbiyya, to a man named Sharif al-Sa'id Abu l-Hassan 'Ali b. Husayn al-Hasani, who seems to be of an 'Alawi pedigree, and he might be the same 'Alawi man who accommodated Ibn Sina in his house.


Ibn Sina lived in Hamadan for a while, but Taj al-Muluk's promises to him were never fulfilled. Ibn Sina decided then to move to Isfahan. With his pupil, Juzjani, and two servants, he went on travel in disguised clothes of Sufis. After a lot of difficulties he arrived in a place called Tayran (or Tahran or Tabaran) near Isfahan.

Welcomes in Isfahan

Ibn Sina's friends and 'Ala' al-Dawla's fellows, who were aware of Ibn Sina's arrival, welcomed him bringing for him some special clothes and palfreys. In Isfahan he stayed in the house of a man called 'Abd Allah b. Bibi in an area named Kuy-i Gunbad. There was enough furniture in that house. From then (414/1023) Ibn Sina's 14 years of a quiet, creative life began.

Now he was a close company of 'Ala' al-Dawla who was a lover of knowledge and scholars. On Thursday nights there were meetings in 'Ala' al-Dawla's place hosting Ibn Sina and some other scientists.

Ibn Sina's Writings in Isfahan Ibn Sina was the most prominent scholar and scientist in all branches of knowledge. In Isfahan he finished the writing of Al-Shifa' (The Book of Healing): the parts regarding logic, almagest, Euclid, mathematics, and music, except for the parts of the vegetative and the animals (which were written on route when 'Ala' al-Dawla attached Shapur Khwast, located in the south of Hamadan and the west of Isfahan, accompanied by Ibn Sina). The book, Al-Najat, was also written on this travel.

According to Ibn Athir, 'Ala' al-Dawla attacked Shapur Khwast for several times, e.g. in 417/1026, 421/1030, and 423/1032. However, Juzjani says that Ibn Sina was 40 years old when he finished Al-Shifa'. Now if Ibn Sina has been born in 370/980, the date when he finished Al-Shifa' would be 410/1019, which is prior to 'Ala' al-Dawla's attacks on Shapur Khwast. It might be that Juzjani has in mind the writing of Al-Shifa except for its vegetative and animal parts that were finished during one of 'Ala' al-Dawla's attacks on Shapur Khwast, probably in 421/1030.

Ibn Sina also wrote the book, Al-Insaf, in Isfahan, but the book was lost when Mas'ud of Ghazni attacked and conquered Isfahan. Mas'ud of Ghazni (ruled 421-432/ 1031-1041) attacked and conquered Isfahan in 421/1031. After killing many people, Mas'ud's army plundered 'Ala' al-Dawla's and Ibn Sina's houses, sending their property and books to Ghazni. The books were set on fire in 545/1150 by 'Ala' al-Din Jahansuz's soldiers. After Mas'ud's attack on Isfahan, 'Ala' al-Dawla continued to serve as the ruler of Isfahan.


Ibn Sina lived in Isfahan until when 'Ala' al-Dawla launched a war with Tash Farrash, head of King Mas'ud's army, in Karaj (or Karakh) near Hamadan. Ibn Sina, who accompanied 'Ala' al-Dawla in this travel, contracted colic, and treated himself. In order to recover as soon as possible he cleansed himself with an enema 8 times a day, and as a result he contracted intestinal ulcers. He had to be taken back to Isfahan in order to treat himself, and he finally improved a little so that he could attend 'Ala' al-Dawla's meetings. When 'Ala' al-Dawla headed to Hamadan, Ibn Sina accompanied him but the disease recurred on route. After he arrived in Hamadan, Ibn Sina quit his treatment, and after few days he died on the first Friday of the Ramadan month of 428/1037 in his 58, and he was buried in Hamadan.


In spite of his adventurous life, Ibn Sina was a prolific author. What is left from his written works is evidence of an active mind that never stopped working even in the most difficult, frustrating circumstances. His talent in learning and memorizing was acknowledged by everyone. Ibn Sina himself points to his wonderful learning capacities in his teens.

His powerful memory made it easy for him to write. Juzjani, his pupil, reports that when Ibn Sina hid in Abu Ghalib al-'Attar's house, he asked him to finish writing the book, Al-Shifa', and, he adds, Ibn Sina had no books or references available to him then. He wrote 50 pages a day until he finished the whole parts of natural sciences and theology and some of the logic part.

Elsewhere Juzjani says:

I accompanied Ibn Sina for 25 years and whenever he encountered a new book, I never saw him read it from the beginning to the end; instead he went through the abstruse, difficults parts and problems of the book, seeing how the author deals with them, thereby assessing the author's mastery of the field.

Yahya Mahdavi has provided a comprehensive list of Ibn Sina's writings —both the authentic ones and the attributed ones. There are 131 works authentically written by Ibn Sina, and 111 works attributed to him (and some are just different titles for the same work). Here are some works of Ibn Sina which are printed and translated to other languages:

Al-Shifa' (The Book of Healing)

Al-Shifa' is the most significant work of Ibn Sina. The natural sciences and theology parts have been lithographed for the first time in Tehran (1303/1886). The logic part and all the other parts have been published in Cairo under the supervision of Ibrahim Madkour from 1952 to 1983. The "Burhan" (argument) section of the logic part of Al-Shifa' has been published in Cairo by 'Abd al-Rahman Badwi in 1954 (the second print was in 1966).

The Arabic text of Al-Shifa's psychology (Kitab al-Nafs), with a French translation, has been published by Jan Bakos in two volumes in 1956 in Prague. And its Arabic text has been published by Fazl al-Rahman in Oxford. The old Latin translation has been published in Venice, Italy in 1508 and its critical modern edition has been published by Simone Van Riet in two volumes under Avicenna Latinus. Liber De Anima (The Latin Avicenna; A Book on the Soul) in Louvain, Switzerland in 1968 and 1972 with an introduction by Gérard Verbeke about Ibn Sina's psychological theories. A modern edition of the Latin translation of Al-Shifa's theology has been published in 1977 and 1980 in Louvain, with an introduction by Verbeke, in two columes (the first volume includes essays 1-4, and the second includes essays 5-10).

Al-Najat (The Book of Salvation)

Al-Najat, which is a summary of Al-Shifa', and indeed, a summary of Ibn Sina's philosophy, is one significant work of Ibn Sina. It has been printed first in 1331/1913 by Muhyi al-Din Sabri al-Kurdi, and for a second time in 1357/1938, in Cairo. It has also been published in Tehran in 1406/1986 by Muhammad Taqi Danishpajuh. The theology part of Al-Najat has been translated into Latin by Ni'mat Allah Karam, and it has been published in 1926 in Rome. An English translation of Al-Najat's psychology by Fazl al-Rahman has been published first in 1952 and then in 1981 in London.

Al-Isharat wa al-Tanbihat

Al-'Isharat wa al-Tanbihat seems to be Ibn Sina's last work and one of the most significant of his writings. It has an eloquent Arabic prose. It has been published for the first time by J. Forget in 1892 in Leiden, and for the second time in three volumes (four parts), with Nasir al-Din Tusi's commentaries, by Sulayman Dunya in Cairo between 1957-1960. Its French translation by Anne-Marie Goichon has been published in 1951 in Paris.

Kitab al-Insaf

Kitab al-Insaf was a great book covering, as Ibn Sina himsef says, approximately 28,000 problems. The only available manuscript of the work was plundered and destroyed in Mas'ud of Ghazni's attack on Isfahan. Ibn Sina said that he would write the work anew if he has the occasion, but it seems that he did not have such an occasion. 'Abd al-Rahman al-Badwi has found pieces of this work and published them in a collection under Aristotle for Arabs. The collection also contains Ibn Sina's commentary on Aristotle's twelfth book of Metaphysics, his commentary on fragments of Enneads attributed to Aristotle (though it is now proved to be written by Plotinus), parts of Ibn Sina's Al-Mubahathat, and commentaries on Aristotle's De Anima.

Other Arabic Writings

  • Mantiq al-mashriqiyyin (Logic of Orientals), first published in 1910 in Cairo, and then in 1982 in Beirut.
  • Al-Risala al-'adhawiyya fi 'amr al-ma'ad, published by Sulayman Dunya, Cairo, 1954.
  • 'Uyun al-hikma, published by 'Abd al-Rahman al-Badwi, Cairo, 1954; Kuwait, 1978.
  • Tis' rasa'il fi l-hikma wa al-tabi'iyyat (nine essays on philosophy and natural sciences), Cairo, 1326/1908, including the following essays by Ibn Sina: Risala fi l-hudud (an essay on definitions), Risala fi 'aqsam al-'ulum al-'aqliyya (an essay on types of philosophical branches of knowledge), Risala fi 'ithbat al-nubuwwat (an essay on proving prophesies), Al-Risala al-nayruziyya, Fi l-tabi'iyyat min 'uyun al-hikma (on natural sciences from 'uyun al-hikma), Fi l-'ajram al-'ilwiyya (on heavenly bodies), fi l-quwa al-insaniyya wa idrakatuha (on human faculties and its perceptions), fi l-'ahd (on promising), fi 'ilm al-'akhlaq (on ethics).
  • A French translation of some Oriental writings of Ibn Sina have been published in four parts under "Avicenna's mystical epistles" in Leiden. The collections includes Risala Hay b. Yaqzan (an epistle on the alive son of the awake) in the first part; Risala al-tayr in the second part, Risala fi mahiyya al-'ishq (an epistle on the nature of love), Risala fi mahiyya al-salat (an epistle on the nature of prayers), Risala fi ma'na al-ziyarah (an epistle on the significance of pilgrimage) all in the third part; Risala fi l-qadar (an epistle on fate and predestination) in the fourth part. Moreover, a collection of Ibn Sina's essays has been published under Jami' al-Bada'i' in 1335/1917 in Cairo including the above essays in addition to an essay on Sharh surat al-'Ikhlas (an exegesis of the Quranic Sura, al-'Ikhlas). Another collection of Ibn Sina's essays has been published in 1354/1935 by 'Abd Allah b. 'Ahmad al-'Alawi in Haydar Abad, including, in addition to the above essays, Risala fi l-sa'ada (an essay on happiness) and Risala fi l-dhikr (an essay on remembrance of God). In 1953, Hilmi Ziya Ülken published a collection of Ibn Sina's essays under Rasa'il Ibn Sina 2 in Istanbul including the following: Jawab sitt 'ashar mas'ala li-Abi Rayhan (a reply to 13 problems by Abu Rayhan), Ajwabat masa'il sa'al 'anha Abu Rayhan" (replies to problems asked by Abu Rayhan), Mukataba li-'Abi 'Ali b. Sina (Ibn Sina's correpodence), Risalat fi 'ibtal 'ahkam al-nujum (an essay on the rejection of statements in astronomy), Masa'il 'an ahwal al-ruh (problems concerning the states of the soul), Ajwaba 'an 'ashara masa'il (replies to ten questions), Risala fi l-nafs wa baqa'uha wa ma'aduha (an essay on the soul, its survival and its resurrection), and Al-jawab li-ba'd al-mutakalimin (a reply to some theologians). Risalat hayy b. Yaqzan has been republished in Tehran in 1952 by Henry Corbin with an old Farsi translation and commentary, supplemented by a French translation. In 1954 Corbin published a book on Ibn Sina and mystical allegories, subtitled by a study of Ibn Sinaa's allegories. The book is concerned with a study of Ibn Sina's mystical essays. A. M. Goichon published a French translation of Risalat hayy b. Yaqzan in Paris in 1959, supplemented by her study of the essay.
  • Fi ma'ani kitab Rituriqa (on the meanings of the book of Rhetorics), by M. S. Salim, Cairo, 1950.
  • Risalat fi l-'iksir (an essay on elixir), by Ahmad Atash, Istanbul, 1953.
  • Risalat fi ma'rifa al-nafs al-natiqa wa 'ahwaluha (an essay on the knowledge of the rational soul and its states). A Latin translation of this essay has been published by Andrea Alpago in 1546 in Venice. S. Landauer has published the text with a German translation under Ibn Sina's psychology in the Journal of German Oriental Association, vol. 29, 1876. Its English translation by Van Dyck has been published in 1906 in Verona under A Compendium on the Soul.
  • Al-Ta'liqat (The Commentaries), by 'Abd al-Rahman al-Badwi, Cairo, 1972.
  • Al-Qanun fi l-tibb (The Canon of Medicine). A well-known book on medicine. Its Arabic text has been printed first in Rome in 1953, and then in Cairo in 1290/1873, then in Bulaq in 1294, and in Lucknow in 1307-8/1890-1, and 1324/1906. It was translated from Arabic to Latin by Gerard of Cremona in the 12th century, and was repeatedly published in Italy.
  • Al-Nukat wa al-fawa'id; a less known essay by Ibn Sina a manuscript of which is available in the Fayd Allah Library in Istanbul, no. 1217. It contains some logic, natural sciences, and theology, reminding the structure of Al-Najat and Al-'Isharat. Despite its brevity, the essay is very valuable. The fifth technique (al-fann al-khamis) of the second book of natural sciences has been published by Wilhelm Kutsch in Avicenna's Commemoration, promising to published its theology, logic and the rest of natural sciences.
  • Al-Mabda' wa al-ma'ad, by 'Abd Allah Nurani, Tehran, 1984.

Works of Ibn Sina in Farsi

Ibn Sina has written some works in Farsi the most significant of which is Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i (The 'Ala'i Encyclopedia). He wrote this work at the request of 'Ala' al-Dawla Kakwayh and dedicated it to him. In the book, Nuz'hatnama-i 'Ala'i, it is reported that "I have heard that the late ruler, 'Ala' al-Dawla —may God bless his soul— told Ibn Sina: if branches of knowledge were in Farsi, I could understand them. Therefore, he asked Ibn Sina to write Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i. When Ibn Sina finished the work and presented it to 'Ala' al-Dawla, he could not understand it at all."

The logic and the theology parts of Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i have been published by Ahmad Khurasani in 1937 in Tehran. And then on the occasion of thousand years after Ibn Sina's birthday, the theology part of the book was published by Muhammad Mu'in in 1953 and the natural science part of the book was published by Muhammad Mishkat in the same year in Tehran. A French translation of its natural sciences and mathematics by Muhammad Ashna and Henry Massé in two volumes in 1955 and 1956 in Paris.

The theology part of the book has been translated into English with some commentaries by Parviz Morawweg and it was published in 1973 in New York. Moreover, the essay on angiology has been published by Sayyid Muhammad Mishkat in 1952 and the mathematics part of Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i has been published in 1953 in Tehran by Mujtaba Minawi. Also the Persian essays, Kunuz al-mu'zimin, and Jarr al-thaqil (pulling heavy objects) have both been published by Jalal al-Din Humayi in 1953 in Tehran.

Philosophical System

Ibn Sina's philosophy has, both in general and in some of its principles, had the most profound and the most durable influence on Islamic philosophy and the European Medieval philosophy. His philosophy is a mixture of the most important elements of the Peripatetic-Aristotelian philosophy and some specific elements of the neo-Platonic worldview, in connection with the Islamic worldview.

Ibn Sina is, nevertheless, first and foremost a follower of the Aristotelian philosophy; for him Aristotle is "the leader of sages and the teacher of philosophers".

However, he is not a blind follower. He occasionally makes innovations within the structure of the Peripatetic thought, clarifies the ambiguous parts of Aristotle's views, and sometimes tries to construct a new philosophical system by an appeal to elements from Plotinus' thoughts and neo-Platonic philosophy, but his project was left unfinished because of adventures in his life, and in particular his early death.

Ibn Sina has called his new philosophical system —which was never materialized— the "Oriental philosophy or wisdom" (al-hikma al-mashriqiyya). Researchers have discussed the nature of this philosophical system that Ibn Sina wished to fulfill for many years.

The question was first proposed by the Italian Orientalist, Nallino, in his paper, "Filosofia 'orientale' od 'illuminativa' d'Avicenna?" (Oriental or illuminative philosophy of Ibn Sina?) in the Italian journal, Revista degli Studi Orientali (Journal of Oriental Studies), 10 (1923-5): 433–67 (an Arabic translation of the paper by 'Abd al-Rahman al-Badwi is found in his book, Al-turath al-yunani fi l-hizarat al-'Islamiyya (The Greek heritage in the Islamic culture), pp. 245-96. In this paper, Nallino shows that for Ibn Sina, what matters is the Oriental, rather than Illuminative, philosophy.

Among the published works of Ibn Sina, there is a small book, with a title given to it by the publisher (not by Ibn Sina): Mantiq al-mashriqiyyin (the logic of Orientals). The book seems to be part of the book, Al-hikma al-mashriqiyya (the Oriental wisdom), mentioned by Ibn Sina (though not available today). It seems that the book presents a new philosophy different from what is found in Peripatetic philosophy.

In his introduction to al-Shifa' , Ibn Sina says:

Other than these two books [i.e. Al-Shifa' and Al-Lawahiq which was a detailed exposition of Al-Shifa' ), I have written another book presenting philosophy as it is in its nature and as required by the explicit opinions, different from what other people in philosophy do and believe. In that book I did not avoid disagreeing with these people, as I have avoid doing so in my other books. That book is my work on Oriental philosophy ... anyone who wants the truth without any ambiguity has to look for that book.

On the other hand, in his introduction to Mantiq al-Mashriqiyyin, Ibn Sina tells us about his project of the Oriental philosophy:

I have sought to compile materials about controversial issues, without any influences from bias, habit, temptations, or conventions. And without any fear of diverging from what students of Greek books have accustomed to because of their ignorance or misunderstandings or because they read those of our works that are written for ordinary philosophers who are fond of Peripatetic philosophers; those who think that God has only guided them to the right path, and nobody else can enjoy the divine mercy.

I do this by acknowledging the position of the most competent predecessor [i.e. Aristotle], since he was aware of points overlooked by his peers and masters; he has distinguished and organized types of sciences and knowledge much better than others, and in many cases he has found the truth, and in most branches of knowledge he has found correct and productive principles, making others aware of what his own predecessors had said, and this is the utmost available achievement when someone tries to distinguish separate things and organize disordered materials for the first time, and it is worthy for successors to compile such materials, filling gaps they find in them, and jumping at conclusions on the basis of principles that the predecessors have provided. However, successors of Aristotle could not do justice to his heritage; instead they have spent their lives in understanding what he has correctly said, and with biases in some of his errors or shortcomings, and also passed his whole life in what the predecessors have said without ever having time for consulting their own rational reflection or daring to revise or correct what their predecessors have said.

But for me, it was easy to understand what they have said from the very time I started learning [philosophy], and it is not improbable that we have inherited some knowledge from non-Greeks as well. It was the beginning of my youth when I started to learn philosophy, and by God's help, I could understand the heritage of my predecessors in a very short period of time.
And then I compared it with a branch of knowledge that Greeks have called 'logic' (and it might bear a different name for 'Orientals') letter by letter, and then found about their agreements and disagreements. I then sought to find the truth about everything until it was obvious what is true and what is false...
However, since practitioners of knowledge were seriously attached to Greek Peripatetic philosophers, I did not want to disagree with others. So I joined them and exhibited my bias for Peripatetic philosophers, since they deserve bias much more than others. Thus I completed what they wanted but could not achieve, overlooking and justifying their mistakes, though I was well aware of them, and where I expressed my disagreement to them, it was just in cases where it was intolerable to overlook. In most cases, however, I overlooked their mistakes. For I did not like ignorant people to know about my disagreement with views that are so obvious for them that they do not doubt, just as they do not doubt the brightness of the day. Some other points are so delicate that our contemporary intellects can never recognize. Thus I encountered people who had no understanding as if they of pillars of the walls; people who deal with reflections as heresies and take disagreement with well-known ideas to be aberration. They are like Hanbalis towards books of hadiths. If I found an aware person among them, I would tell them the truth that I have found so that they might as well think hard about it …

Ibn Sina then adds:

I have written this Oriental philosophy only for ourselves [that is, people who think like me]. But for ordinary people who are engaged with philosophy, I have presented materials that even go well beyond their needs in Al-Shifa' , and still more can be found in Al-Lawahiq.

Ibn Sina's remarks in both of his introductions to Al-Shifa' and Mantiq al-mashriqiyyin imply that he has written his Oriental philosophy before finishing his Al-Shifa' and Mantiq al-ma, and he was writing Al-Lawahiq when he was wrote the introduction of Mantiq al-mashriqiyyin. Now the question arises whether Ibn Sina really sought to present a new philosophical insight other than what is known in the Peripatetic philosophical tradition. On the one hand, we see no innovation in the book, Mantiq al-mashriqiyyin', which was part of the great project of the Oriental philosophy. Even in the logic part of Al-Shifa' , Ibn Sina has added a lot of materials to the structure of Aristotelian logic. And Ibn Sina's remarks in the introduction, quoted above, show that he was still faithful to the Peripatetic tradition.

On the other hand, in some other works by Ibn Sina, such as Al-Isharat wa al-tanbihat, and in particular in his mystical epistles and the survived fragments of his Al-Insaf, we find a new approach to philosophy. But even in such works, the fundamental principles of Ibn Sina's thought are still Aristotelian-Peripatetic in character, mixed by some manifest neo-Platonic elements.

There is evidence from Shahab al-Din Yahya b. Habash al-Suhrawardi (548-587/1153-1191), the founder of Illuminationist philosophy. Pointing to scattered notes from Ibn Sina attributed to Orientals, he says:

These notebooks (kararis), though attributed [by Ibn Sina] to the Orientals (mashriq), are the same as the Peripatetic ordinary principles, except for some changes in expressions or some conclusions, and these are on the whole not much different from his other books, and is irrelevant to the Oriental principle of the Khusrawani [majestic] scholars of Persia.

This shows that Suhrawardi saw no sign of his own Illuminationist insights in the Oriental writings of Ibn Sina.

Moreover, in his letter to Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Husayn b. Marzban al-Kiya, Ibn Sina himself writes:

I have constructed a book and called it Al-Insaf in which I have distinguished scholars into two groups: Occidentals and Orientals. And I have put the latter against the former, and I have evaluated their disputes with fairness (al-insaf). The book contained about 28,000 problems. In this work I have explicated the abstruse parts of Aristotle's works and those of the other Peripatetic philosophers, including Enneads ('Uthulojiya) with all points in it that are subject to criticism. In the book I talked about the mistakes made by interpreters. I did all this in a very short period of time, and if it were written, it would be more than 20 volumes. The book was destroyed in some of my escapes.

Mystical Tendencies

Following Aristotelian insights, Ibn Sina is first and foremost a rationalist philosopher (he has a particular conception of reason or rationality in his philosophical system). However, among his authentic works there are ones in which he sought to explicate the stages of the development (or 'journey') of the human reason in terms of symbols and metaphors.

The most important of such works are Risalat hayy b. Yaqzan (the alive son of the awake), Risalat al-tayr, and Risalat Salaman wa Absal. Moreover, he has a long piece of poetry, Al-qasida al-'ayniyya, about the development and destiny of the human soul.

Furthermore, Ibn Sina has devoted the last three parts of his last work (8th, 9th, and 10th "namat"s), Al-Isharat wa al-tanbihat, to mysticism: Fi l-bahja wa al-sa'ada (on delight and happiness), Fi maqamat al-'arifin (on the positions of mystics), and fi asrar al-ayat (on the secret of the Quranic verses). In these parts, when he speaks of "'Arif" (mystic), Ibn Sina employs mystical expressions and allegories. In the opening of the 9th namat (part), he says:

In his this-worldly life, 'arifin (mystics) have some positions and degrees specific to them; though they are still embodied, it is as if they have left their bodies and approached the sacred world. They have some works to secretly do that nobody else knows about, and they have some works that they publicly do, though their opponents do not like them, and the ones who know these works honor them.

And of Zahid (the ascetic), 'Abid (the pious), and 'Arif (the mystic), Ibn Sina says:

Zahid is the one who has given up this world and its pleasures; and 'Abid is the one who is concerned with worships such as prayers, fasting, and the like, and 'Arif is the one who turns his mind to the sacred realm, having an eye to the divine light shining in his innermost. The 'Arif is characterized by his looking for God —the first reality— not for something else, and by preferring nothing else to knowing it. He is to be worshiped, because he is worthy of being worshiped, and such worship is closely tied by the first reality.

Despite such remarks here and elsewhere, scholars find it difficult to say that Ibn Sina has had mystical tendencies in the usual sense of the term that can be found in prominent Sufis, such as Junayd, Bayazid al-Bastami, and later Ibn 'Arabi.

Meeting Abu Sa'id Abu l-Khayr

There is no doubt that Ibn Sina was familiar with the principles of theoretical mysticism in his own time. His correspondences with Abu Sa'id Abu l-Khayr (357-440/967-1049), the great mystic and Sufi at that time, is evidence that he highly regarded of mystical insights. However, reports about their meeting do not seem to be authentic. It has been reported that Ibn Sina's pupils asked him: how did you think of Shaykh [Abu Sa'id]? And he allegedly replied: whatever I know, he sees. And when asked about Ibn Sina, Abu Sa'id purportedly replied: whatever I see, he knows.

Perhaps the story is made just in order to depict a meeting between a mystic and a philosopher, drawing a picture of their positions.

Ibn Sina's philosophical system is, on the whole, a rationalist philosophy, with an Aristotelian foundation, mixed by elements from neo-Platonic insights.

However, Ibn Sina takes the most perfect knowledge to be the one based on "guess" (al-hads), and he provides a technical definition of guess in terms of finding the middle terms of a syllogistic argument. Aristotle's logic might be considered as the scaffolding of Ibn Sina's philosophical views. In such discursive, argumentative views there is no decisive role for intuitive (in the mystical sense of the term) and emotive elements.

The last stage of an endeavor made by a human rational knower is its tie or unification with the Active Intellect (al-'Aql al-Fa'al), and such a tie is achieved by an intellectual or rational endeavor. Syllogistic arguments have decisive roles throughout such endeavors. In one of his Farsi works, Ibn Sina clarifies this point, providing examples of his own ingenuity:

It is known that what is ignored can be recognized by a middle term (al-Hadd al-Wasat), and recognition of middle terms might take place out of intellectual acuity —it might occur to one by the power of his guess; and this arises from the fineness of the soul in its interaction with the Active Intellect or from a teacher... there might be a man who recognizes most things by his own guess without much need to a teacher, and rarely might there be a person who can achieve, if he wants, all knowledge from the beginning to the end by his own guess without the help of any teacher. And this is because of his perfect connection with the Active Intellect; it is as if he does not ever reflect; instead it seems to him that the truth is radiated into his heart from somewhere, and this is literally true.

And such a person is the source of teaching people [referring to prophecy]. And this should not be surprising since we saw a person [this alludes to Ibn Sina himself] who did not have such a position [that is, prophecy] and learned everything with reflection and by endeavors, but because of the power of his guess he did not need much endeavor—his guesses about most of the books were exactly as the contents of those books. So he did not need to extensively read books. This man learned many branches of knowledge, from logic and natural sciences to theology, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music, medicine and many other complex sciences, by the time he was 18 or 19 years old, such that he never saw anyone else like him. After that he did not learn anything new for many years, and it is obvious that each of these branches of knowledge takes years to be learned.

Ibn Sina's Mystical Tendencies in the View of Contemporary Scholars

Much has been said about Ibn Sina's mystical tendencies and mystical readings of some of his texts, and some people have even talked about Ibn Sina's Sufism. It is interesting that two contemporary scholars of Islamic philosophy and mysticism have diametrically opposing views about Ibn Sina's mystical tendencies.

Anne-Marie Goichon

In her study of Ibn Sina's Risalat Hayy b. Yaqzan (the alive son of the awake), Anne-Marie Goichon, the prominent French researcher of Ibn Sina, denies any mystical, internal, and Gnostic interpretation of the essay, and seeks to explain its content by an appeal to Ibn Sina's major philosophical writings. She appeals to a remark by the Persian commentator of the essay (which is probably Ibn Sina's student, Juzjani) who says:

It must be known that the problems mentioned in this essay are only clues, but to find the whole problems can be mentioned in great books, and Khwaja Ra'is Hujjat al-Haqq [Ibn Sina] (may God bless him) has dealt with them in detail in his Al-Shifa and briefly in his Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i.

Goichon concludes that:

The meanings of the whole text, had they been compared sentence by sentence, and in most cases, even word by word, can be found in Ibn Sina's philosophical works —his well-known published works. I do not find any sign of gnosis in this text.

Henry Corbin

Another prominent French researcher of Islamic philosophy and mysticism, Henry Corbin who is personally attached to the Iranian mysticism, has in his own right translated and edited Risalat Hayy b. Yaqzan into French, and has provided us with a mystical-gnostic interpretation of this essay in addition to two other allegorical writings of Ibn Sina: Risalat al-Tayr, and Risalat Salaman wa Absal. He has arrived at conclusions diametrically opposed to those of Goichon.

Following his own method of studying mystical-allegorical works, Corbin criticizes the commentators of Ibn Sina's Risalat Hayy b. Yaqzan in that "they have a defect in common, which is their struggle to decode Ibn Sina's symbols by an appeal to a code, overlooking the different cognitive mode of presentation in which sensory or imaginary data are cognized and converted into symbolic forms. Instead of considering the allegory as a transformation of a thought, they trace it back by referring symbolic cognitions into evidence and propositions of natural knowledge (that might be found in standard textbooks). Whereas they try to retransform the symbols into rational evidence, in fact by doing this they degrade them to allegories (or metaphors)."

Corbin makes a distinction between symbols and allegories (or metaphors). The former is a rational act, neither involving a passage into a new domain of being, nor involving a passage into a new depth of consciousness. It is an embodiment in the same level of consciousness; of what could already be known under a different guise. However, the symbol indicates another domain other than rational self-evidence. This symbol is a mystery —the only means to say something that cannot be understood otherwise; that can never be explained once and for all. Rather it should always be decoded from anew, just as a complete piece of music cannot be decoded once and for all; rather it always requires a new performance."

Another method employed by Corbin in his mystical interpretation of Ibn Sina's allegorical writings is the method of Ta'wil (allegorical interpretation) —what he calls the "Ta'wil of the spirit", rather than an interpretation of a text. For Corbin, Ta'wil is essentially a symbolic cognition; a transformation of what is visible into symbols; an internal insight or intuition of a nature or a person in an image which is neither a logical universal, nor a sensory type, and is irreplaceable for meaning what it should mean."

On the other hand, "Ta'wil presupposes the unlocking of the symbols, and it is the device of the active imagination that simultaneously unlocks and feels the symbols". With these assumptions, Corbin goes on to interpret Ibn Sina's Risalat Hayy b. Yaqzan and his other allegorical writings, providing a picture of them which is totally different from the interpretations of other commentators, including those of Ibn Sina's own pupils.


Now it might be asked whether Ibn Sin has had gnostic thoughts. Most scholars say no. Ibn Sina has been a rationalist philosopher. And even if there are clues of mysticism or gnosis in his work, that is just a rationalist mysticism; one that has nothing to do with Sufi rapture, passion and paradoxes —a stage beyond the stage of rationality— rather it is a sort of mysticism that results from the intoxication of the intellect that is aware of his existential limits, trying to be free from argumentations, taking refuge to the imagination, since real knowledge cannot be achieved by learning; rather it might be achieved by observations.

It is not surprising to see such remarks in Ibn Sina, since in his philosophical insights he encounters a sort of agnosticism —a form of objective phenomenalism in modern philosophy; the philosophical approach that restricts human knowledge to sense data— the world of phenomena or sensory appearances —without rejecting their reality; it just takes them to be unknowable.

Ibn Sina honestly acknowledges that

To know the nature or reality of things is not in the power of humans. Human beings can only know properties and accidents of objects —they can never know the constituent differentia indicating their true essence; rather they can know them under their properties and accidents.
We do not know the first reality [that is, God] or the intellect, the soul, the sphere, the fire, the air, the water, and the earth; we do not even know the nature or reality of accidents. Thus we do not know the reality of a substance (al-Jawhar); instead we know something that has the feature of existing not in a subject, though this is not the reality of the substance. We do not even know the reality of a body, having the properties of length, width, and depth. We do not know the reality of an animal; instead we know the cause that has the property of cognition and action, whereas being a cognizer or an actor is not the reality of an animal; rather it is a property thereof —we never perceive its real differentia.
This is why there are controversies about the whatness of objects; each man cognizes a property other than what others have cognized, judging on the basis of that property. We propose a specific thing and know that it has one or more properties, and by virtue of what we first knew, we can know other properties in the object and their existence. This is the case with the soul, space, and the like as we prove their existence not by themselves, rather by their ties with what we have known or their properties.
Thus in the case of the soul: we see a body that moves. We propose a mover for its movements. We find in it a type of movement different from the one we find in other bodies, so we know that it has a specific mover or a particular attribute not found in other movers. Then we trace each property, and thereby we discover the existence of the soul.
Likewise we do not know the reality of the first being [God]; rather we know about him that his existence is necessary or that it is something for whom existence is necessary, but this is just an essential property of this being, and not its reality, and by virtue of this essential property we know the rest of his essential properties, such as unity and other divine attributes.
His reality —if it is possible to be cognized— is a being by itself (bi-al-Dhat), that is, what has existence by itself such that we do not know its reality. Its reality is neither the existence itself, nor a quiddity. In its essence it is the cause of existence or, in other words, the existence is part of its definition, just as a genus is part of a differentia when it comes to define simples in terms of what the intellect presupposes in them. Therefore, the existence is not its reality, rather it is part of its definition, just as genus and differentia are parts of the definitions of simples, not their essences. Then [God; the first being] has a reality superior to the existence —existence being just one of its properties.


The Canon of Medicine (al-Qanun fi l-tibb)

Ibn Sina is not only one of the greatest philosophers of the world history, but he is also a prominent figure in the history of medicine. The most significant of his medical works is The Canon of Medicine whose first part (the first book) has been authored before 406/1015 when Ibn Sina was about 35 years old.

Before Ibn Sina, two major works of medicine in the Islamic world were:

  1. Kitab al-hawi authored by Muhammad b. Zakariyya al-Razi (d. 313 or 323/925 or 935).
  2. Kitab kamil al-sana'a al-tibbiyya (or Kitab al-maliki) authored by 'Ali b. 'Abbas al-Majusi (d. after 372/982).

However, Ibn Sina's Canon overshadowed all medical books throughout many centuries, both in the Islamic territories and the Medieval Europe. One evidence for the unique importance of The Canon is the fact that very many commentaries have been written for it by physicians throughout centuries. There are, in addition to these commentaries, many summaries and notes written on the book.

Commentaries of The Canon

The best-known summary of The Canon is Mujaz al-Qanun by 'Ala' al-Din 'Ali b. 'Abi al-Hazm al-Qurashi, known as Ibn Nafis (d. 687/1288). In addition to this summary, Ibn Nafis wrote a detailed, lengthy commentary of The Canon, parts of which are available as independent books in manuscript forms. It is noteworthy that in his exposition of the problems of bisection, in books I and III of The Canon, Ibn Nafis presents his own view about the pulmonary blood circulation, that has received renewed interest in recent decades. His theory anticipates the theory of the circulation of blood propounded by William Harvey (d. 1657) in 1628 through some experiments, thereby establishing modern physiology. There are many manuscripts of The Canon in libraries around the world. The Arabic text of the first two volumes of The Canon has been printed and published for the first time in Rome in 1593.

The Prestige of The Canon

The prestige and the fame of The Canon was so widespread in the medical circles of the Islamic world that Nizami 'Arudi says of it that

If Hippocrates and Galen were alive today, they would bow towards this book [The Canon].

In The Canon, Ibn Sina combines, and sometimes contrasts, the theories and methods of two ancient figures, Aristotle and Galen. Aristotle's dominance for Ibn Sina is obvious not only in philosophical issues, but also in issues of bisection. In matters of controversy between Aristotle and Galen, Ibn Sina usually sides with the former.

The medical works of Galen (129-199) were translated into Arabic in the third/ninth century by Hunayn b. Ishaq (d. 264/878). Galen's works and the Arabic translations of Hippocrates' works (d. ca. 460 BC) were the most fundamental and the most significant medical works in the Islamic world. Ibn Sina's Canon is the greatest Galenic medical document, though it is dominated by Aristotelian views in the main theoretical problems. In his Canon, Ibn Sina has adopted a lot of materials from Razi's al-Hawi. The ingenuity of Ibn Sina in The Canon is his systematization and organization of medical issues.

Al-Urjuza fi l-Tibb

In addition to The Canon, Ibn Sina has left some other works in medicine, the most important of which is al-Urjuza fi l-tibb, written in the format of poetry in 1326 verses. These verses have summarized the content of Ibn Sina's Canon. The first general section of the book contains the following:

  1. The physiology and the diseases of the homogenous members of the body (verses 213 onwards),
  2. The causes of diseases (verses 238 onwards),
  3. Symptoms of diseases (verses 306 onwards).

The second section, concerning applied medicine, includes the following:

  1. Healthcare and healthy diet and exercises (verses 780 onwards),
  2. Recovering health (verses 989 onwards),
  3. Surgery (verses 1252 onwards).

The Arabic text of al-'Urjuza has been published with a French translation as well as a Latin translation of the 13th century by Henri Jahier and Abdelkader Noureddine in Paris (1956). Ibn Sina has other such brief works on medicine such as Urjuzat latifat fi qazaya Buqrat al-khams wa al-'ishrin (a fine brief on 25 statements of Hippocrates).

Maqalat fi Ahkam al-Adwiyya al-Qalbiyya

Ibn Sina has, moreover, a work called Maqalat fi ahkam al-adwiyya al-qalbiyya (an article on the verdicts of heart medications) dedicated to Al-Sharif al-Sa'id Abu l-Hassan b. Hassani. The work contains two parts.

In the first general part, Ibn Sina concerns himself with the theoretical problems regarding physiology, anatomy, heart diseases, and the impact of passions (such as happiness and sadness, loneliness and fear, anger and hatred) on the functioning of human hearts. In a particular part of the work, Ibn Sina characterizes some simple medications that help adjust the functioning of the heart. The medicines are mentioned in an alphabetical order.

Other Books

There are some other medical books written by Ibn Sina: Risalat al-quwa al-tabi'iyya (an essay on natural faculties), Risalat fi l-fasd (an essay on venesection), Risalat ma'rifat al-tanaffus wa al-nabd (an essay on knowing the respiration and pulse), Risalat fi l-bawl (an essay on urination), Risalat shatr al-ghib (an essay on periodic fevers), Risalat fi l-qulanj (an essay on colic), Risalat fi dhikr 'adad al-am'a' (an essay on the number intestines), and some other essays.

Mathematics, Astronomy, and Some Natural Sciences

Ibn Sina was an expertise in mathematics and astronomy; he has written some works on these subjects, devoting a major part of his al-Shifa' to it. He was also skillful in crafting observation tools.

The mathematic part of al-Shifa' includes four parts: the first part (the first technique or "Fann") on the principles of geometry; the second part (the second technique) on arithmetic; the third part (the third technique) on music; and the fourth part (or technique) on astronomy.

Other geometrical works of Ibn Sina are as follows:

  1. Risalat fi tahqiq al-zawiya (an essay on the study of angles). A film of a manuscript of this essay is available in the Library of Tehran University under Risala fi l-zawiya ila Abi Sah al-Masihi.
  2. Tahqiq mabadi al-hindisa (a study of the principles of geometry). A copy of his essay is available at the Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) Library in Turkey.

Astronomical Verdicts

Ibn Sina rejected astronomical verdicts; he has written an essay called Risalat fi ibtal 'ahkam al-nujum (an essay on the rejection of the astronomical verdicts) or Risalat fi l-radd 'ala al-muajjimin (an essay on the rejection of astronomers). In his Kitab fi 'aqsam al-'ulum al-'aqliyya (a book on the types of rational sciences) Ibn Sina has defined the science of astronomical verdicts as follows: astronomical verdicts rely on guesses, looking at the constellations of starts relative to one another and relative to the zodiac (mintaqat al-buruj), and their relations with the Earth, and thereby seeking to discover signs about the events in our world, emperors, territories, fortunes, transformations, travels, choices, and troubles. Ibn Sina relied on the common sense in order to reject the astronomical verdicts.

Natural Sciences

Ibn Sina's goal in writing the scientific parts of al-Shifa' was to establish a new scientific style for generations after him, but he did not include the most recent scientific materials in it. Though Ibn Sina, as he admits, followed Aristotle with respect to aerology, in cases where a new theory occurs to his mind or where he came to a different conclusion, he did not follow Aristotle's positions. Ibn Sina has some specific views regarding geophysics, aerology, atmospheric phenomena, including the formation of mountains, underground waters, earthquakes, formation of mines, clouds, rains, steams, dews, snows, hailstones, areolas, sunbows, winds (the origin, types, the degree of temperature, power, pluvial winds, effects, duration, direction, and so on), thunderstorms, comets, and meteors. M. Horten has studied Ibn Sina's work on sunbows and areolas. The work has been published by Wiedman in Meteorologische Zeitschrift. Ibn Sina's works in this field include the following:

  1. Al-Athar al-'ilwiyya (heavenly phenomena) or Asbab al-athar al-'ilwiyya (the causes of heavenly phenomena),
  2. The first article of the fifth technique of the natural sciences of al-Shifa' on geophysics, and the second article on aerology and atmospheric phenomena.


Among the works attributed to Ibn Sina, there are five that are completely devoted to music or part of them concerns music, and these are as follows:

  • Al-Shifa'
  • Al-Najat,
  • Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i
  • Al-Madkhal ila sana'a al-musiqi
  • Al-Lawahiq

The first three books are just partly devoted to music, but the last two are fully concerned with music. Ibn Abi Usaybi'a has regarded al-Madkhal ila sana'a al-musiqi as a work of Ibn Sina and different from al-Najat. However, no copy of this work is available to us today, and so it should be regarded as one of Ibn Sina's lost works. The book, al-Lawahiq, that is mentioned by Ibn Sina in the first chapter of the first article of the music part of al-Shifa' , and to which he refers his readers at the end of that article, seems to have never been actualized —the writing of this book appears to be just a plan that has never been materialized. Thus the music part of al-Shifa' , under the title Jawami' 'ilm al-musiqi (the encyclopedia of music) (the twelfth technique or part of al-Shifa' ), as one of the four parts (the third technique) of the mathematic part of al-Shifa' , is Ibn Sina's most significant work. Early scholars regarded mathematics as a one of the four branches of Euclid (geometry), almagest (astronomy), arithmetic, and music. Following this, Ibn Sina has regarded music as part of mathematics.

Features of Ibn Sina's Music

Ibn Sina's works in music are first of all methodologically considerable, since they can serve as guides for research in music. He does not quote mythological and imaginary stories. In his Jawami' 'ilm al-musiqi we do not find mythological stories such as the invention of Oud (or Barbat) by Lamech son of Cain (Lamek b. Qabil b. Adam) or the crafting of a musical instrument with copper and iron by Tubal son of Lamech.

Furthermore, in his writings on music, Ibn Sina respects the views of Ancient Greek philosophers, and sometimes points or even appeals to views of people such as Ptolemy, Euclid, and Pythagoras, similarly to what al-Farabi and others did before him.

What is more, Ibn Sina has made precise calculations in his al-Jawami' , focusing on the theoretical aspects of music as an exact science. Also his discussions of the connection between music and poetry and his comparison of these two arts might be one of the first studies in this regard, especially given that at that time music was widely considered as an applied field, rather than a theoretical one.

Ibn Sina and Others

There is no doubt that many musicians or musicologists after Ibn Sina benefited from his works on music directly or indirectly. For example, Ibn Zayla, a pupil of Ibn Sina, has left a work on music called al-Kafi fi l-musiqi. Though he did not explicitly mentioned Ibn Sina in his book, the contents of his book show that he has consulted his master's works and sometimes he has adopted the texts of Ibn Sina's al-Jawami' . As Farmer says, he has just added to Ibn Sina's work some materials from al-Kindi's works and some of his own opinions.

Safi al-Din al-'Urmawi (d. 692/1294), the second great Iranian musician after al-Farabi, has consulted Ibn Sina's works in two of his precious works, al-Adwar and al-Risalat al-sharafiyya. The same is true about Qutb al-Din Mahmud al-Shirazi (d. 710/1310) in his encyclopedia called Durrat al-taj. In some issues such as melody (Naghma), acuity (Hidda), bass (Thiql), dimensions, and rhythmic mode (Iqa') they have just quoted the contents of Ibn Sina's Jawami' 'ilm al-musiqi.

'Abd al-Qadir al-Maraghi (d. 839/1435) cites Ibn Sina's works in his classical writings on music —like Safi al-Din al-'Urmawi and Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi, he quotes Ibn Sina's distinction of vatar into 17 parts. Likewise he cites Ibn Sina's definitions of sound, melody, factors relevant to acuity, bass, ratio of dimensions, and the like.

On one occasion, al-Maraghi cites a remark by Ibn Sina in order to show the place of theoretical music and the difficulty of mastering both the theoretical and the practical aspects of music and the role of practical music: "here is the theory; who is the man [of practice]?" However, he criticizes Ibn Sina for not engaging with the practical music: "Abu 'Ali [Ibn Sina] was perfect in the practice of any art and science, but he was desperate in the practice of this art". Al-Maraghi repeatedly emphasizes that in music one should have both the theory and the practice. And in one occasion he says that Ibn Sina's definition of melody has been subject to objections. Farmer takes Ibn Sina to be a great theoretician who was very much attached to the views of Greeks, and in particular, Euclid. According to Farmer, some people highly regard of Ibn Sina's command of the theory of music; they hold that he has dealt with problems overlooked by the Greeks. But however important are these problems, they just have a secondary importance in comparison with what has left from the practical music of 5/11 century.

Literature, Linguistics, and Works in Farsi

Mystical Literature

There have been controversies about Ibn Sina's approach to mysticism and Sufism. Some mystics take him to be a full-fledged rationalist, criticizing his belief in the adequacy of rational arguments for knowing the realities, but there is evidence showing that some mystics, contemporary with Ibn Sina, respected Ibn Sina, just as Ibn Sina respected them.

The book, Muntakhab nur al-'ulum, reports that Ibn Sina went to visit Kharaqani. In Asrar al-tawhid, there is a report that Ibn Sina met Abu Sa'id Abu l-Khayr. Their correspondences are available to us today, which are evidence that they respected one another. At the beginning of his answer to one of Abu Sa'id's questions, Ibn Sina says: that a person like Abu Sa'id asks a question from someone like him is like a sighted person asking a blind to help him find his way or a heedful asking a deaf about what is going on. On the other hand, Abu Sa'id honors Ibn Sina. At the beginning of the essay Sirr al-qadar we find that Ibn Sina has written this essay in response to a person who asked him about what Sufis say: "a person who knows the mystery of qadar (predestination) will be a misbeliever". The fact that a great mystic such as Abu Sa'id Abu l-Khayr asks mystical questions from Ibn Sina indicates that he was regarded an expert in mysticism in his own time.

'Ayn al-Qudat al-Hamadani has appealed to Ibn Sina's remarks in his mystical works; for example, the following are noteworthy: Ibn Sina's mystical interpretation of "Munkar" and "Nakir", Ibn Sina's remark about "literal infidelity and virtual Islam" in his response to Abu Sa'id Abu l-Khayr, and 'Ayn al-Qudat's justification of Ibn Sina's remark about the eternity of the four elements.

Sometimes one person or one school of thought has both honored and humiliated Ibn Sina on different occasions. In his Mathnawi, Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi criticizes Ibn Sina's rationalism, but in another case (the story of a king falling in love with an odalisque) calls Ibn Sina "the guest of the hidden world", "divine physician", and "honest" without mentioning his name. the same is found in Jami's works. Ibn Sab'in has criticized Ibn Sina in his Budd al-'arif, but his pupil and successor, Abu l-Hassan Shushtari mentions Ibn Sina in the chain of Sab'iniyya approach in line with figures such as Hermes, Socrates, Plato, Hallaj, and Ibn Masarra.

There is no consensus among orientalists, who study the history of Islamic Sufism, regarding Ibn Sina's mystical works and his approach to mysticism. In the late 20th century A. F. Mehren has published a collection of Ibn Sina's essays (such as Risalat al-'ishq, Risalat al-tayr, and Risalat hayy b. Yaqzan) under Traités mystiques d'Avicenne (Ibn Sina's mystical essays). After him, people such as Louis Massignon, Louis Garde, and most notably Henry Corbin focused on Ibn Sina's allegedly mystical works. However, A. M. Goichon sees no mystical tendencies in such works; for her these works are merely philosophical works.

There is no doubt that Ibn Sina cannot be regarded as a Sufi in the standard sense of the term; he did not have a Sufi style of life. But it is obvious that his views dramatically changed at the end of his life —he diverged from the Greek Peripatetic philosophy. It is undeniable that at this stage of his life, Ibn Sina had some tendencies to mystical views. Ibn Sina's citation of some statements that are commonly cited in Sufi books and his employment of expressions that are usually used by Sufis, especially in the last three parts of his al-Isharat show that he was well aware of mystical works.

Ibn Sina lived when the Sufi worldview and asceticism were widespread throughout the Islamic world. Thus he could not isolate himself from this atmosphere. It is true that Ibn Sina was a Peripatetic philosopher, but it should be noted that the Islamic Peripatetic philosophy is a mixture of Aristotelian philosophy and the views of Aristotle's commentators who are influenced by other schools of thought such as the Platonic, the Pythagorean, and the neo-Platonic. Enneads ('Uthulujia) which is originally written by Plotinus, but was mistakenly attributed to Aristotle by Muslim philosophers. Thus the neo-Platonic philosophy, with its mystical elements (e.g. the theory of eminence, the fall of the soul from the spiritual world to the material world, the return to the original world, illumination, and so on), has strongly influenced the Islamic Peripatetic philosophy. Ibn Sina himself has written commentaries on parts of Enneads.

One work of Ibn Sina is his Risalat al-'ishq (an essay on love) which has affinities with mystical views. Ibn Sina takes love to be a force inherent throughout the world —from solids and plants to heavenly bodies and divine spirits— connecting the particles of the world to one another; it moves each part of the world to perfection. It constitutes the existence —or it might be said to be the very existence. Love is, for Ibn Sina, an attraction to the good and to the beauty, and since God is the absolute beauty and the pure good, he is loved by the whole world, and since all beings are manifestations of the divine essence, God loves them since they mirror His own beauty and goodness. In the fifth chapter of this essay, entitled on the love of the youth for the beautiful face, Ibn Sina discusses this-worldly, 'virtual' loves of beautiful faces, taking them to refine one's soul in order to achieve the real love.

The Persian literature after Ibn Sina is largely concerned with love and its forms; and all these seem to be an extension of Ibn Sina's points. This is not to say that what Ahmad al-Ghazali, 'Ayn al-Qudat, Sana'i, Nizami Ganjawi, 'Attar, Jalal al-Din Balkhi, 'Araqi, Ruzbahan, and others have said about love is always influenced by Ibn Sina's remarks; the point is just that Ibn Sina is sympathetic with Sufis on these points —the Peripatetic approach is mixed with mystical insights and intuitions. The peak of such a mixture can be seen in the Transcendent Philosophy of Sadr al-Muta'allihin.

Ibn 'Arabi's remarks about love and its classification into essential, natural, elemental, spiritual, and divine reminds us of Ibn Sina's calssifications in his Risalat al-'ishq, though in different contexts and different terminologies; for example, Ibn Sina uses the word "'Ishq" for love, and Ibn 'Arabi uses the words "Hubb" and "Mahabba". Moreover, Ibn Sina contrast the natural love with volitional love, and Ibn 'Arabi takes it to mean an instinctive love. However, they are very close in their general approach to love. They both take God to be the absolute beauty and the lover of beauty; they take beauty to be the origin of love, and they take love to be the origin and the sustainer of existence.

With regard to what Ibn Sina has called the "virtual love" and the love of beautiful face and its relation with the pure good and the absolute beauty and its mediation for the real love (which is divine love), it should be noted that Ibn Sina tries to justify such sort of love from a moral and a religious point of view, providing a philosophical foundation for it. This is what we systematically see in Ibn Sina's works: he tries to morally and philosophically justify mystical phenomena. Here are some other cases:

In his al-Kashf 'an mahiyyat al-salat (discovering the nature of prayers), Ibn Sina distinguishes prayers into exterior and interior, the latter being divine observation out of the soul's detachment from this-worldly interests. In this way, prayers and worships turn into knowledge. In his al-Shifa' min khawf al-mawt (healing from the fear of death), Ibn Sina discusses the volitional death (al-Mawt al-Iradi), discursively and philosophically interpreting hadiths such as "Mutu qabl 'an tamutu" (die before you die) and "al-Mawt rayhan al-mu'min" (death is a comfort for the believers). In his Sirr al-qadar (the mystery of predestination), Ibn Sina talks about divine awards and punishments, and unlike theologians, explains them in terms of closeness and distance from the divine essence. In his al-Risalat al-nayruziyya, Ibn Sina explain the detached letters (al-Muqatta'at) of the Qur'an.

Before Ibn Sina, it was common to cite allegories and stories in which inanimate objects and animals are embodied. One such example is Panchatantra (Kalila wa dumna) and Ikhwan al-Safa's essays. However, using such stories in order to communicate mystical meanings is originated in, or at least propagated by, Ibn Sina. Other people who did the same, such as Sana'i, Ghazali, Nizami, 'Attar, Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi, Jami, and in particular, Suhrawardi, are inspired by Ibn Sina.

One prominent example of this literary sort is the allegory of Hayy b. Yaqzan. Some contemporary scholars see affinities between this story and a story of Hermes. The story envisages the human soul as a traveler who reaches the destination (knowing the truth) by the Active Intellect —travelling from the Hylic Intellect to unification by the Total Intellect. Abu Mansur b. Zayla, a pupil of Ibn Sina, has written a commentary on this story, which was translated into Farsi at that time, and was written in a poetic form by Ibn al-Hibariyya. Ibn Tufayl has written another allegory under Hayy b. Yaqzan. A similar story can be found in Sayr al-'ibad 'ila al-ma'ad by Sana'i al-Ghaznawi, and in Misbah al-'arwah by Shams al-Din al-Bardsiri. Suhrawardi's allegory of 'Aql-i surkh (the red intellect) and his Qissat al-ghurbat al-gharbiyya (the story of Occidental roaming) have affinities with Ibn Sina's Hayy b. Yaqzan. Ibn Sina's Risalat al-tayr is a story about the soul's attachment to the body, how it can be free of it, and how it can return to its origin. Ibn Sina also has a poetry, Al-qasida al-'ayniyya, telling the same story —the soul's fall from the immaterial world, its imprisonment in this world, and its longing to go back to its origin. This story has a definite effect on Muhammad al-Ghazali's story of birds who look for Simurgh that was written in Arabic, and was then written in Farsi by 'Ahmad al-Ghazali. The story inspired Farid al-Din al-'Attar to write his well-known Mantiq al-tayr that is the greatest mystical allegory in the Islamic world. There are translations and commentaries of Ibn Sina's Risalat al-tayr; Suhrawardi's translation of it and 'Umar b. Sahlan al-Sawi's commentary on it have been published.

Language and Linguistics

Ibn Sina's reputation with philosophy and medicine overshadowed the rest of his talents and abilities, such as his works in the literature and philology. Ibn Sina's pupil and companion, Abu 'Ubayd Juzjani, reports that once there was a philological debate between Ibn Sina and Abu Mansur al-Jabban —the well-known philologist— in a meeting of 'Ala' al-Dawla. Abu Mansur told him that he is a philosopher and knows nothing about the Arabic literature. These words were very harsh and unpleasant for Ibn Sina. Therefore he concerned himself with studying books of literature and philology for three years, until he mastered these branches of knowledge. He then authored three essays in the style of three great men of literature: Ibn 'Amid, Sahib b. 'Ibad, and Abu 'Is'haq al-Sabi. He ordered binding them in one volume such that it looks like an old book. He gave the book to 'Ala' al-Dawla and asked him to present it to Abu Mansur al-Jabban as an old manuscript asking him about the problems of the book. Abu Mansur could not understand the rare words and the abstruse points of the book. Ibn Sina started to explicate and solve the problems. Juzjani also reports that Ibn Sina wrote a book about Arabic vocabulary called Lisan al-'Arab that did not have a fair copy during Ibn Sina's life. Ibn Abi 'Usaybi'a refers to this work and claims to have seen parts of it.

The three essays mentioned above are not available to us today, but pieces of his Lisan al-'Arab are available, and this might help us have a picture of the whole book. The selection is a brief essay including some ordinary words, and some religious, philosophical and theological terminologies with short definitions for each. The essay is thematically organized, and its main chapters are as follows: prophets, predestination and fate, the Prophet's companions, Muhajirun (the immigrants) and Ansar (the helpers), worship, religions. We know nothing about the titles of the other sections of the original work —we do not know whether it was a general dictionary or a technical one covering religious, philosophical and theological terminologies. The style of giving definitions in this selection reminds us of Ibn Sina's style in his Kitab al-hudud (the book of definitions).

Ibn Sina's style of writing in some of his works, such as The Canon of Medicine, al-Shifa' and his essays in logic, mathematics and other fields, is very simple, clear, and free of literary figures, in other works such as al-'Isharat wa al-tanbihat and his allegories we find some literary figures.

Poetry and Eloquence

Ibn Sina was very ingenious in poetry and eloquence. He has written a long poem called al-Qasidat al-'ayniyya, about the story of human soul, and Qasidat al-jamana al-'ilahiyya fi l-tawhid (about monotheism), as well as al-Qasidat al-muzdawaja fi l-mantiq (about logic). He has also written some poetry about medicine (as a textbook). Some of his poems were well-known by people of his own time.

Examples of Ibn Sina's poetry mentioned by Ibn Abi Usaybi'a can show the style of his poems. His poetry is largely focused on subject-matters such as morality and mottos, and there are some pieces of poetry about wine and drunkenness. Here is the first verse of one of his poems about wine (it seems that Ibn Farid has adopted his khamriyya (a poem about wines) from this poem):

We drank wine as old as the old voice ['alast, before the creation of human beings] It is prior to any old being.

Ibn Sina's writings, both poetry and prose, are very fluent and firm, showing his mastery of the Arabic. In addition to poetry, some essays have been attributed to him such as Fi l-khutab wa al-tahmidat wa al-asja' (on orations, praises, and rhymes), and al-Mukhatabat wa al-mukatabat wa al-hazliyyat (correspondences and satires). These seem to be literary works. It seems that Ibn Sina had written a work on the Arabic grammar ('Ilm al-Nahw) called al-Milh fi l-Nahw. He had also written a book about prosody ('Arud) when he was 17 years old. But none of these works are available to us today.


One significant work of Ibn Sina on literature is a short essay about the principles of phonetics: Maqalat fi 'asbab huduth al-huruf wa makharajiha (an article about the causes of the occurrence of letters and their pronunciations). Ibn Sina wrote the essay at the request of the famous Arabic philologist, Abu Mansur al-Jabban. Two versions of the essay are available to us today both of which have been printed and translated into Farsi.

Works in Farsi

Ibn Sina has left some works in Farsi that, regardless of their contents, are important in that they provide great evidence for the historical development and the capacities of this language. The best-known of Ibn Sina's works in Persian is his Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i that is also called al-Hikmat al-'Ala'iyya, al-Risalat al-'Ala'iyya, Hikmat-i 'Ala'i, and Kitab-i 'Ala'i; and Ibn Abi saybi'a has called it Danish maya-i 'Ala'i. The book was written in Isfahan between 413-428/1022-1037 for 'Ala' al-Dawla Kakwayh (393-433/1003-1042). In his introduction to the logic of Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i, Ibn Sina says: "our lord and king ... 'Adud al-Din 'Ala' al-Dawla ... ordered to write a Farsi book, for the servants of his meeting, in which I summarize the principles of five branches of knowledge". The five fields are logic, natural sciences, astronomy, music, and metaphysics. However, the order of writing is different from that mentioned in his introduction; he has written theology or metaphysics before natural sciences. Ibn Sina's pupil, Bahmanyar, has followed the order of Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i in his al-Tahsil. In his introduction to the logic of Danishnama-yi 'Ala'i, Ibn Sina notifies his unusual order of the field, and at the beginning of the theology part he says: "the foundation of any knowledge lies here [in theology]; it is learned at the end, though it should in fact be the first. However, we try to teach it at first." The first three parts of this book —logic, theology, and natural sciences— are written by Ibn Sina himself, but the mathematic part (including geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, and music) was lost during Ibn Sina's life, and after his death, Abu 'Ubayd al-Juzjani wrote it in Farsi on the basis of other works by Ibn Sina.

Ibn Sina has had some other works in Farsi, mentioned by Ibn Abi Usaybi'a. They include Essays on Nabd (pulse), Mi'rajnama (on the Prophet's flight to heaven), Kunuz al-mu'azzimin, Zafarnama, and some other works, though there are doubts about the authenticity of these works.

Ibn Sina's style of writing in these Farsi works is very simple. The sentences are short, and the connection between the parts of each sentence is clear. Ibn Sina has tried not to use Arabic words. The Farsi words that he uses in these essays are common words that were used in those centuries. He sometimes mentions the familiar Arabic equivalents of some words for more clarification. In cases where he could not find an appropriate equivalent of a term in Farsi, he used the familiar Arabic one.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from ابن سینا in Farsi Wikishia.