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Ala al-Din Abu al-Hassan Ali ibn Abi-Hazm al-Qurashi al-Dimashqi ( ) (born 1213), commonly known as Ibn al-Nafis ( ), was an Arab Muslim polymath—a physician, anatomist, physiologist, surgeon, ophthalmologist, Hafiz, Hadith scholar, Shafi`i jurist and lawyer, Sunni theologian, Islamic philosopher, logician, novelist, psychologist, sociologist, scientist, science fiction writer, astronomer, cosmologist, futurist, geologist, grammarian, linguist and historian—who was born in Damascusmarker, Syriamarker, and worked in Cairomarker, Egyptmarker.

Ibn al-Nafis is now most famous for being the first physician to describe the pulmonary circulation, or pulmonary transit of blood. His discovery disproved the thousand year-old theory of Galen who suggested invisible pores in the intraventricular septum. Ibn Nafis clearly stated that the "blood in the right ventricle of the heart must reach the left ventricule by way of the lungs alone and not through a passage connecting the ventricle, as Galen maintained." In addition, he is credited with early insight into capillary and coronary circulations, which in addition to the pulmonary circulation form the basis of the circulatory system, for which he is has been called the father of circulatory physiology, and "the greatest physiologist of the Middle Ages."George Sarton (cf. Dr. Paul Ghalioungui (1982), "The West denies Ibn Al Nafis's contribution to the discovery of the circulation", Symposium on Ibn al-Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait)
(cf. The West denies Ibn Al Nafis's contribution to the discovery of the circulation, Encyclopedia of Islamic World) His work would not be surpassed until the 17th century, when the theory of the entire circulatory system, i.e. the continuous circular motion of the blood throughout the whole body, was proposed by William Harvey.

He was also an early proponent of experimental medicine, postmortem autopsy, and human dissection, first described the concept of metabolism, and developed his own new Nafisian systems of anatomy, physiology, psychology and pulsology to replace the Avicennian and Galenic doctrines, while discrediting many of their erroneous theories on pulsation, bones, muscles, intestines, sensory organs, bilious canals, esophagus, stomach, and the anatomy of other parts of the human body. Ibn al-Nafis also drew diagrams to illustrate different body parts in his new physiological system.

Besides his medical contributions, he wrote works on the Islamic religious disciplines, notably A Short Account of the Methodology of Hadith, which introduces a more rational and logical classification for the science of hadith. He also wrote works on fictional Arabic literature, notably the Arabic theological novel Theologus Autodidactus, a novel which features a feral child, desert island, early science fiction elements, and a coming of age plot, through which he expressed many of his religious, philosophical and scientific themes on a wide variety of subjects. Both of these works were mainly an attempt by Ibn al-Nafis at reconciling reason with revelation, both by highlighting the rationality of Islamic beliefs and by promoting the use of reason in the science of hadith.



He was born in 1213 in Damascusmarker, Syriamarker. He attended the Medical College Hospital (Bimaristan al-Noori) in Damascus. Besides medicine, Ibn al-Nafis learnt many other subjects, including Arabic literature, Fiqh (jurisprudence), Kalam (theology) and early Islamic philosophy. He became an expert on the Shafi`i school of jurisprudence and an expert physician.

In 1236, Ibn al-Nafis moved to Cairomarker, Egyptmarker. He worked at the Al-Nassri Hospital, and subsequently at the Al-Mansouri Hospital, where he became the "Chief of Physicians". In 1242, by which time he was about 29 years old, he published his most famous work, the Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon, which contained many new anatomical discoveries, most importantly the pulmonary and coronary circulations. Soon afterwards, he began work on The Comprehensive Book on Medicine, for which he had already published 43 volumes by 1244, by which time he was about 31 years old. Over the next several decades, he would write down notes for 300 volumes, though he was only able to publish 80 volumes before he died. Nevertheless, even in its incomplete state, The Comprehensive Book on Medicine was the largest encyclopedia up until that time, and still remains one of the largest medical encyclopedias to date.

Ibn al-Nafis grew up in a time of political turmoil in Syria and Egypt, during the Crusades and Mongol invasions. After the sack of Baghdad in 1258, Syria was soon temporarily occupied by the Mongol Empire in 1259, who were then subsequently repelled by the Egyptian Sultan Baibars at the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260. Like other traditionalist Muslims in his time, Ibn al-Nafis believed that these invasions may have been a divine punishment from God against Muslims deviating from the Sunnah. The sack of Baghdad in 1258, which saw the loss and destruction of many important books, was followed by intense scientific activity across Damascus and Cairo, as many Muslim scholars, especially Ibn al-Nafis, wrote huge encyclopedias in an attempt to preserve the scientific legacy of the Islamic world.

Between 1260-1277, he became the personal physician of Sultan Baibars. Ibn al-Nafis died on 17 December 1288, and posthumously donated his house, library and clinic to the Mansuriya Hospital.

Religious background

Ibn al-Nafis was an orthodox Sunni Muslim and a scholar of the Shafi`i school of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and Sharia (Islamic law). He wrote a number of works on philosophy, and was particularly interested in reconciling reason with revelation and blurring the line between the two. Unlike some of his contemporaries and predecessors, he made no distinction between philosophy and theology. Ibn al-Nafis adhered to the teachings of the Qur'an and accepted the authority of the hadiths, but required each hadith to be rationally acceptable.

Ibn al-Nafis, who grew up in a time of political turmoil during the Crusades and Mongol invasions, commented on these conflicts and, like other traditionalist Muslims in his time, believed that these invasions may have been a divine punishment from God against Muslims deviating from the Sunnah. As a result, the falsafa, some of whom held ideas incompatible with the Sunnah, became targets of criticism from a number of traditionalist Muslims. On the other hand, Ibn al-Nafis, who was a traditionalist himself, made an attempt at reconciling reason with revelation in some of his works to show that there is harmony between religion and philosophy. Being a traditionalist, Ibn al-Nafis also disliked the misuse of wine as self-medication, while citing both medical and religious reasons against it, arguing that "I will not meet God, the Most High, with any wine in me." His image as a God-fearing and Sunnah-abiding religious scholar, an intelligent rational philosopher, and an accomplished medical physician, had a positive impression on both traditionalists and rationalists alike. The fact that Ibn al-Nafis' student was Abu Hayyan Al Gharnati, a famous Imam and Hafiz at the time, also appealed to traditionalists such as al-Dhahabi.

Latin translations

The Sharh al-Adwiya al-Murakkaba (Commentary on Compound Drugs) was a commentary on the last part of Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine concerning pharmacopoeia, which was written by Ibn al-Nafis sometime before he wrote his Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon in 1242. The Commentary on compound drugs, however, did contain criticisms of Galen's doctrines on the heart and the blood vessels and dealt with the circulatory system to some extent. This work was later translated into Latin by Andrea Alpago of Bellunomarker (d. 1520), who had lived in Syria for about 30 years before returning to Italymarker with a collection of medical Arabic books. A printed version of his translation was available in Venicemarker from 1547.C. D. O'Malley (1957), "A Latin translation of Ibn Nafis (1547) related to the problem of the circulation of the blood", Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 12 (2), pp. 248-249.
(cf. Dr. Albert Zaki Iskandar (1982), "Comprehensive Book on the Art of Medicine", Symposium on Ibn al Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait)
(cf. Dr. Albert Zaki Iskandar, Comprehensive Book on the Art of Medicine, Encyclopedia of Islamic World)

Ibn al-Nafis' work on the pulse, where he criticized the Avicennian and Galenic theories and corrected them, was also translated into Latin by Andrea Alpago sometime before 1522 in printed in Venice in 1547.

It is known that Ibn al-Nafis' Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon, which first described the pulmonary and coronary circulations, was also available in Venice as an Arabic manuscript, and it is believed that it may have also been translated into Latin by Andrea Alpago. Along with Latin translations of his Commentary on compound drugs and his work on the pulse, it may have had an influence on the descriptions of pulmonary circulation given by Michael Servetus (died 1553), Realdo Colombo (died 1559) and William Harvey (1578-1657).Edward D. Coppola wrote:

Joseph Schacht wrote:


Sometime after his death, Ibn al-Nafis' 80-volume medical encyclopedia, The Comprehensive Book on Medicine, had eventually replaced The Canon of Medicine of Avicenna (Ibn Sina) as a medical authority in the medieval Islamic world. Muslim biographers, historians and reviewers from the 14th century onwards considered Ibn al-Nafis the greatest physician in history, with some referring to him as "the second Ibn Sina" and others considering him even greater than all his predecessors. Al-Dhahabi (d. 1348) and al-Isnawī (d. 1370) considered him "unsurpassed in medicine during his lifetime and unparalleled in his preparation of medicinal treatments and medical inferences", while the biographers Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī (d. 1370) and Ibn Qadi Shuhba wrote:

A number of later Arabic commentaries on The Canon of Medicine, including ones by Sadid al-Din Muhammad ibn Mas'ud al-Kazaruni in 1344 and Ali ibn Abdallah Zayn al-Arab al-Misri in 1350, understood and repeated Ibn al-Nafis' descriptions of the pulmonary circulation. However, after the 14th century, Ibn al-Nafis' discovery of the pulmonary transit of the blood appears to have "received little subsequent attention in the Islamic world."

Shortly after his Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon was re-discovered in modern times, George Sarton, the "father of the history of science", wrote the following on the significance of Ibn al-Nafis' discovery of pulmonary circulation to the history of medicine:

Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon

In 1924, an Egyptianmarker physician, Dr. Muhyo Al-Deen Altawi, discovered a manuscript from 1242, titled Sharh Tashrih al-Qanun Ibn Sina (Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon), in the Prussian State Library in Berlinmarker while studying the history of Arab Medicine at the medical faculty of Albert Ludwig's University in Germanymarker. This script is considered one of the best scientific books in which Ibn al-Nafis covers in detail the topics of anatomy, pathology and physiology. The work was a critical commentary on Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine, containing numerous corrections and original observations by Ibn al-Nafis. In this work, his experimental approach to physiology is evident as he writes:


The preface is divided into five topics:

  1. "On the differentiation of animals with regard to bodily parts"
  2. "On the benefits of the science of anatomy/dissection"
  3. "On enumerations of the uses of the parts"
  4. "On the principles through which the science concerned with the uses of the parts is derived by the method of anatomy/dissection"
  5. "On what is anatomy/dissection (tashrih) and its tools"

Ibn al-Nafis writes the following on the fifth topic regarding autopsy and dissection:

Circulatory system

The theory that was accepted, prior to Ibn al-Nafis, was proposed by Galen in the 2nd century and improved by Avicenna in the 11th century. Galen had theorized that the blood reaching the right side of the heart went through invisible pores in the cardiac septum, to the left side of the heart, where it mixed with air to create spirit, and was then distributed to the body. According to Galen's views, the venous system was quite separate from the arterial system, except when they came in contact through the unseen pores.

Ibn al-Nafis rejected the Galenic-Avicennian doctrine and presented the earliest descriptions of pulmonary circulation He extended this with the first correct description of the pulse.

Dr. Paul Ghalioungui summarizes the fundamental changes Ibn al-Nafis made to the incorrect Galenic-Avicennian theory:

  1. "Denying the existence of any pores through the interventricular septum."
  2. "The flow of blood from the right ventricle to the lungs where its lighter parts filter into the pulmonary vein to mix with air."
  3. "The notion that blood, or spirit from the mixture of blood and air, passes from the lung to the left ventricle, and not in the opposite direction."
  4. "The assertion that there are only two ventricles, not three as stated by Avicenna."
  5. "The statement that the ventricle takes its nourishment from blood flowing in the vessels that run in its substance (i.e. the coronary vessels) and not, as Avicenna maintained, from blood deposited in the right ventricle."
  6. "A premonition of the capillary circulation in his assertion that the pulmonary vein receives what comes out of the pulmonary artery, this being the reason for the existence of perceptible passages between the two."

Following Ibn al-Nafis' discovery of the pulmonary transit of blood, the next major step in understanding the circulatory system came with William Harvey's demonstration of the continuous circular motion of blood. For Harvey argued "that the beat of the heart produced a continous circulation of blood through minute connections at the extremities of the body. This is a conceptual leap that was quite different from Ibn al-Nafis' refinement of the anatomy and bloodflow in the heart and lungs."

Pulmonary circulation

Based on his anatomical knowledge, Ibn al-Nafis stated that:

"...the blood from the right chamber of the heart must arrive at the left chamber but there is no direct pathway between them.
The thick septum of the heart is not perforated and does not have visible pores as some people thought or invisible pores as Galen thought.
The blood from the right chamber must flow through the vena arteriosa (pulmonary artery) to the lungs, spread through its substances, be mingled there with air, pass through the arteria venosa (pulmonary vein) to reach the left chamber of the heart and there form the vital spirit..."

Elsewhere in his book, he said:...

"The heart has only two ventricles ...and between these two there is absolutely no opening.
Also dissection gives this lie to what they said, as the septum between these two cavities is much thicker than elsewhere.
The benefit of this blood (that is in the right cavity) is to go up to the lungs, mix with what is in the lungs of air, then pass through the arteria venosa to the left cavity of the two cavities of the heart..."

In describing the anatomy of the lungs, Ibn al-Nafis stated:

"The lungs are composed of parts, one of which is the bronchi; the second, the branches of the arteria venosa; and the third, the branches of the vena arteriosa, all of them connected by loose porous flesh."

He then added:

"... the need of the lungs for the vena arteriosa is to transport to it the blood that has been thinned and warmed in the heart, so that what seeps through the pores of the branches of this vessel into the alveoli of the lungs may mix with what there is of air therein and combine with it, the resultant composite becoming fit to be spirit, when this mixing takes place in the left cavity of the heart.
The mixture is carried to the left cavity by the arteria venosa."

Coronary circulation

Ibn al-Nafis showed some early insight into the coronary circulation, when he proposed that nutrition of the heart is extracted from the small blood vessels passing through its wall. He wrote:

Capillary circulation

Ibn al-Nafis had an insight into what would become a larger theory of the capillary circulation in his assertion that the pulmonary vein receives what comes out of the pulmonary artery, this being the reason for the existence of perceptible passages between the two. He stated that "there must be small communications or pores (manafidh in Arabic) between the pulmonary artery and vein," a prediction that preceded by 400 years the discovery of the pulmonary capillaries by Marcello Malpighi in 1661, though Ibn al-Nafis' theory was confined to blood transit in the lungs and did not extend to the entire body.


Ibn al-Nafis rejected the incorrect Galenic theory on the pulse and instead proposed his own theory of pulsation. Galen believed that "every part of an artery pulsates simultaneously" and that the motion of the pulse was due to natural motions (the arteries expanding and contracting naturally) as opposed to foced motions (the heart causing the arteries to either expand or contract). Ibn al-Nafis rejected this view after discovering that pulsation is a result of both natural and forced motions, and that the "forced motion must be the contraction of the arteries caused by the expansion of the heart, and the natural motion must be the expansion of the arteries." He notes that the "arteries and the heart do not expand and contract at the same time, but rather the one contracts while the other expands" and vice versa. He also recognized that the purpose of the pulse is to help disperse the blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Ibn al-Nafis briefly summarizes his new theory of pulsation:

He writes several advantages to this theory, such as the following:

Other anatomical and physiological discoveries

While the most important discoveries in the Sharh Tashrih al-Qanun Ibn Sina (Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon) were the pulmonary and coronary circulations, this work also contains many other discoveries and discredits many erroneous theories advocated in The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Galen. Besides the examples given in this article, the Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon contains numerous other discoveries, criticisms and corrections on the anatomy and physiology of many different parts of the human body, including the bones, muscles, intestines, sensory organs, bilious canals, esophagus, stomach, etc.


Ibn al-Nafis quotes another error made by Galen, who believed that "blood reaches the brain itself at the section called forebrain through the duramater which divides the vault longitudinally into two equal halves at the sagittal suture." Ibn al-Nafis criticized this theory and corrected it as follows:


Another example concerns an incorrect theory on the anatomy of the bilious canals that was supported by Galen and Avicenna, and later repeated by Leonardo da Vinci and even Vesalius during the early modern period. Ibn al-Nafis was the only physician in pre-modern times to prove this theory wrong:


Another correction he made concerned the incorrect Galenic and Avicennian theories of bones being present beneath the human heart. Ibn al-Nafis proved them both wrong through his own observations and wrote the following criticism on their theories:


Ibn al-Nafis made the following correction concerning human muscles, where he also briefly refers to his then forthcoming encyclopedia The Comprehensive Book on Medicine:


Ibn al-Nafis corrects another theory on the nerves stated by Avicenna, who believed that the glossopharyngeal nerve, vagus nerve and accessory nerve arise from the nerve ganglion and that they are attached to the sigmoid and facial nerves through membranous fascia so that these five nerves look like one nerve emerging as three branches from the back foramen lacerum. While examining this theory, Ibn al-Nafis performed the earliest known dissection on the human brain, after he wrote the following criticism on this theory:

Another example was Galen's incorrect theory on the optic nerve, in which he stated that the optic nerve "which comes from the right side of the brain goes to the right eye, and the nerve which comes from the left side goes to the left eye." Ibn al-Nafis also proved this theory wrong and stated:

Other contributions

Embryology and Generation

Ibn al-Nafis criticized previous Aristotelian, Galenic and Avicennian explanations of embryology and proceeds to develop his own theories on embryology and generation. He believed that when a male and female semen mix, and when they create a mixed matter that has an appropriate temperament to receive an animal or human soul, God issues a soul to this matter, which then develops into an embryo that grows and generates organ. He further writes:

He then shows that once the male semen and female semen are brought together in the womb, the female semen quenches the hot fire of the male semen through its own cool and wet nature. Once the two semen are mixed, he says:

Philosophy and Psychology

The commentary also dealt with the early Islamic philosophy and Muslim psychology related to Islamic medicine. Ibn al-Nafis developed his own theories on hylomorphic psychology and philosophy, mostly on a theological basis.

In particular, he made a distinction between the soul and the spirit, and he developed his own theory on the soul. He also crtiticized the ideas of Avicenna and Aristotle on the soul originating from the heart. Ibn al-Nafis rejected this idea and instead argued that the soul "is related to the entirety and not to one or a few organ." He further criticized Aristotle's idea that every unique soul requires the existence of a unique source, in this case the heart. Ibn al-Nafis concluded that "the soul is related primarily neither to the spirit nor to any organ, but rather to the entire matter whose temperament is prepared to receive that soul" and he defined the soul as nothing other than "what a human indicates by saying ‘I’."

He also identified the "psychic faculties" with cognition, sensation, imagination, and animal locomotion, and disproved Aristotle's notion that these come from the heart rather than the brain. After Ibn al-Nafis discovered that the brain and nerves are cooler than the heart and arteries, he argued that the psychic faculties come from the brain on this basis. He further wrote that it is the brain which controls sensation, movement and cognition.

The Comprehensive Book on Medicine

The most voluminous of his books is Al-Shamil fi al-Tibb (The Comprehensive Book on Medicine), a medical encyclopedia which Ibn al-Nafis begun immediately after he completed his Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon in 1242. He had already published 43 volumes by 641 AH (1243-1244 CE). Over the next several decades, he would wrote down notes for 300 volumes, though he was only able to publish 80 volumes before he died in 1288. Even in its incomplete state, however, The Comprehensive Book on Medicine is one of the largest known medical encyclopedias in history, and was much larger than the more famous The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna. However, only several volumes of The Comprehensive Book on Medicine have survived.

To date, 28 volumes of The Comprehensive Book on Medicine have been found, which are currently in the process of being edited and published in a series by Y. Ziedan, who has published two volumes so far. Only several of the volumes dedicated to surgery and urology have been researched to date.


Three surviving manuscripts on surgery, comprising volumes 33, 42 and 43 of The Comprehensive Book on Medicine, have been found in Damascusmarker and at the Lane Medical Library of Stanford Universitymarker. One of the three surviving manuscripts (MS Z 276) of The Comprehensive Book on Medicine is divided into three talim. The first talim is twenty chapters in length and deals with the "general and absolute principles of surgery", the second talim deals with surgical instruments, and the third examines every type of surgical operation known to him. Only the first five chapters of the first talim has been translated into English and their contents are listed as follows:

  1. "On the different stages of surgical operations, and the role of the patient in each stage"
  2. "On the role of the physician during the time of presentation, the time of operative treatment, and the time of preservation"
  3. "On a detailed discussion of the role of the physician during the time of presentation"
  4. "On relating the things to which the physician should pay attention during the time of operative treatment"
  5. "On the patient's posture during surgical treatment"

Ibn al-Nafis states that in order for a surgical operation to be successful, full attention needs to be given to three stages of the operation. The first stage is the pre-operation period which he calls the "time of presentation" when the surgeon carries out a diagnosis on the affected area of the patient's body. The second stage is the actual operation which he calls the "time of operative treatment" when the surgeon repairs the affected organs of the patient. The third stage is the post-operation period which he calls the "time of preservation" when the patient needs to take care of himself and be taken care of by nurses and doctors until he recovers "by the will of God". For each stage, he gives detailed descriptions on the roles of the surgeon, patient and nurse, and the manipulation and maintenance of the surgical instruments being used. The Comprehensive Book on Medicine was also the earliest book dealing with the decubitus of a patient.


Sections of the book also dealt with urology, including the issues of sexual dysfunction and erectile dysfunction. Ibn al-Nafis was one of the first to prescribe clinically tested drugs as medication for the treatment of these problems. His treatments were mainly oral drugs, though a few patients were also treated through topical or transurethral means.

A Summary of Medicine

Ibn al-Nafis' Al-Mujaz fi al-Tibb (A Summary of Medicine) was a 500-page book on medicine.


The contents of the book were listed as follows:

Section I: General Principles

Subsection 1: Of the theory of medicine
  1. Normal
  2. Abnormal
  3. Etiology
  4. Symptoms and signs

Subsection 2: Of the practice of medicine
  1. The science of maintaining health
  2. The science of treating illness

Section II: Medicaments & Diet

Subsection 1: Simple drugs
  1. Generalities
  2. Simple drugs alphabetically listed

Subsection 2: Compound drugs
  1. On the rules for compounding drugs
  2. Some examples of compound drugs

Section III: Diseases of organs and systems

Diseases of organ, starting from the brain downwards, describing the causes, diagnosis and treatment.

Section IV: Diseases not specific for a particular organ

  1. Fevers
  2. Crisis and lysis
  3. Swellings, ulcers, leprosy, and the plague and how to avoid it
  4. Fractures, contusions, dislocations, falls and abrasions
  5. Care of skin, hair and figure (body weight)
  6. On poisons and their avoidance


Parts of the book dealt with otolaryngology, and one chapter in particular first described the ear infections otitis media and otitis externa. He described the latter as an "outer ear canal infection" where the "ear was painful and tender, slightly swollen and producing a smelly coloured discharge" and with a "degree of hearing impairment." It was here that he introduced the concept of dividing a condition into an early acute stage and a later chronic stage, which remains similar to modern classifications of ear diseases. In some of the preparations and remedies he described for their treatment, he introduced the use of vinegar, which is still used for ear infections in modern times.

Theologus Autodidactus

Al-Risalah al-Kamiliyyah fil Siera al-Nabawiyyah (The Treatise of Kamil on the Prophet's Biography), also known as Risālat Fād il ibn Nātiq (The Book of Fādil ibn Nātiq), was the first theological novel, written by Ibn al-Nafis and later translated in the West as Theologus Autodidactus. This work is one of the first Arabic novels, considered an early example of a science fiction novel, and an early example of a coming of age tale and a desert island story. This novel was written sometime between 1268 and 1277 CE.


The protagonist of the story is Kamil, an autodidactic adolescent feral child who is spontaneously generated in a cave and living in seclusion on a deserted island. He eventually comes in contact with the outside world after the arrival of castaways who get shipwrecked and stranded on the island, and later take him back to the civilized world with them. The plot gradually develops into a coming-of-age story and then becomes the earliest example of a science fiction novel when it eventually reaches its climax with a catastrophic doomsday apocalypse.


Ibn al-Nafis uses the plot to express many of his own religious, philosophical and scientific themes on a wide variety of subjects, including biology, cosmology, empiricism, epistemology, experimentation, futurology, geology, Islamic eschatology, natural philosophy, the philosophy of history and sociology, the philosophy of religion, physiology, psychology, and teleology. Ibn al-Nafis was thus an early pioneer of the philosophical novel. Through the story of Kamil, Ibn al-Nafis attempted to establish that the human mind is capable of deducing the natural, philosophical and religious truths of the universe through reasoning and logical thinking. The "truths" presented in the story include the necessity of God's existence, the life and teachings of the prophets of Islam, and an analysis of the past, present, and future, including the origins of the Homo Sapien species and a general prediction of the future on the basis of historicism and historical determinism. The final two chapters of the story resemble a science fiction plot, where the end of the world, doomsday, resurrection and afterlife are predicted and scientifically explained using his own empirical knowledge of biology, astronomy, cosmology and geology. One of the main purposes behind Theologus Autodidactus was to explain Islamic religious teachings in terms of science and philosophy through the use of a fictional narrative, hence this was an attempt at reconciling reason with revelation and blurring the line between the two.

Ibn al-Nafis described the book as a defense of "the system of Islam and the Muslims' doctrines on the missions of Prophets, the religious laws, the resurrection of the body, and the transitoriness of the world." He presents rational arguments for bodily resurrection and the immortality of the human soul, using both demonstrative reasoning and material from the hadith corpus to prove his case. The novel also includes references to his new physiology and his theories of pulmonary circulation and pulsation, which he uses to justify bodily resurrection. Some have thus argued that it was his attempts at attempting to prove bodily resurrection that led him to his discovery of the pulmonary circulation. Later Islamic scholars viewed this work as a response to Avicenna's metaphysical claim that bodily resurrection cannot be proven through reason, a view that was earlier criticized by al-Ghazali.

The plot of Theologus Autodidactus was intended to be a response to Ibn Tufail (Abubacer), who wrote the first fictional Arabic novel Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus) which was itself a response to al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Ibn al-Nafis thus wrote the narrative of Theologus Autodidactus as a rebuttal of Abubacer's arguments in Philosophus Autodidactus. Both of these narratives had protagonists (Hayy in Philosophus Autodidactus and Kamil in Theologus Autodidactus) who were autodidactic individuals spontaneously generated in a cave and living in seclusion on a desert island, both being the earliest examples of a desert island story. However, while Hayy lives alone with animals on a desert island for the rest of the story in Philosophus Autodidactus, the story of Kamil extends beyond the desert island setting in Theologus Autodidactus, developing into a coming-of-age plot and eventually becoming the first example of a science fiction novel. The purpose behind this changing story structure in Theologus Autodidactus was to refute Abubacer's argument that autodidacticism can lead to the same religious truths as revelation, whereas Ibn al-Nafis believed that religious truths can only be attained through revelation, which is represented through Kamil's interactions with other humans.

Biomedical portions

Theologus Autodidactus also contains some passages that are of significance to medicine, particularly physiology and biology, such as the following statement:

This is seen as the first example of the concept of metabolism, which comprises catabolism, where living matter is broken down into simple substances, and anabolism, where food builds up into living matter.

Theologus Autodidactus also criticizes the idea of wine being used as self-medication, an idea believed by Ancient Greek physicians as well as some unorthodox Muslim physicians in his time, despite the Islamic prohibition of alcohol. The novel further argues that the consumption of alcohol, along with the prevalence of homosexuality among a small minority of Muslims at the time, were the cause of the Mongol invasions into Islamic lands as a divine punishment.

The novel also contains a reference to the pulmonary circulation which Ibn al-Nafis had previously described in his Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon, which is briefly described by the character Kamil when he observes the heart:

Another passage has a reference to Ibn al-Nafis' theory of pulsation:

Ibn al-Nafis makes use of his new systems of anatomy, physiology and psychology which he had developed in his previous works in order to defend his views on bodily resurrection in Theologus Autodidactus. This may have been one of the reasons that initially motivated his discovery of the pulmonary circulation.

A Short Account of the Methodology of Hadith

Ibn al-Nafis wrote Al-Mukhtasar fi Ilm Usoulil Hadith (A Short Account of the Methodology of Hadith), a treatise on the science of hadith. The work is notable for its use of ijtihad (reason) in the evaluation of a hadith (narration or report) and its isnad (chain of transmission), unlike other contemporary hadith scholars, notably Ibn al-Salāh, who relied on traditional methods of classifying a hadith and its isnad. Ibn al-Nafis, on the other hand, sought to demonstrate the use of rationality and logic to classify the hadiths and to find whether there are any contradictions within them. Later traditionalists, however, disagreed with the use of reason in the science of hadith, including the hadith scholar al-Dhahabi and the polymath Ibn Khaldun, who argued that "there is no place for the intellect in them, save that the intellect may be used in connection with them to relate problems of detail with basic principles."


While traditional hadith scholars identified hadiths into three categories; sahih (sound), hasan (fair) and da'if (weak); Ibn al-Nafis instead classified them into four logical categories: decidedly true (maclūm al-sidq), probably true (yuz annu bihi'l-sidq), probably false (yuz annu bihi'l-kadhb) and decidedly false (maclūm al-kadhb). He used reason and logic to judge the veracity or falsity of a report:

According to traditional hadith scholars of his time, all sahih hadiths, especially those reported in the canonical Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim hadith collections, should instantly be classified as definitely true on the basis of a reliable isnad (chain of transmission). Ibn al-Nafis disagreed and instead classified most of those same sahih hadiths as "probably true" instead of "decidedly true", as he denied the absolute and unconditional validity of the sahih hadiths that was becoming the norm during his time. He argues that, while a report emanating from Muhammad is always "decidedly true", most hadiths do not reach them directly from Muhammad and so they can only be classified as "probably true" or "probably false" based on their isnad. He states that the only hadiths that are "decidedly true" are the multiply transmitted mutawatir (consecutive) hadiths. Since most sahih hadiths do not meet the criteria of mutawatir, he rejects the absolute soundness of the Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim collections, placing a strong emphasis on mutawatir hadiths:

This was a view that was held by a majority of ulema (legal scholars) in his time, but this view was not shared by traditional hadith scholars in his time who did not differentiate between hadiths that were "sahih" and "mutawatir". Ibn al-Nafis further classified the da'if (weak) hadiths as "probably false", and the only hadiths he classified as "decidedly false" were the ones where there was a known liar among the chain of transmission, the ones contradicting a "definitely true" hadith, and the ones dealing with anthropomorphism:

With his emphasis on reason throughout the text, he wished to highlight the importance of ilm al-dirāya (content analysis) which was practiced by the early hadith scholars but was absent from the hadith scholarship of his time who put far more emphasis on isnad instead. He disagreed with their definition of a sahih hadith as a hadith from the canonical sahih collections, but instead he defined a sahih hadith as a "decidedly true" hadith that is "free from being challenged on account of its transmitters [rijālihi], its content [matnihi] and its meaning [macnāhi], while having a continuous chain of transmitters" and without any anthropomorphic content.

Other works

So far, the titles of at least 37 of his works are known, which add up to at least more than a hundred volumes in total, though only a fraction of his works have survived (or yet to be discovered) and even fewer have been printed (or translated).

The Choice of Foodstuffs

Another famous book, embodying a number of original contributions, was on the effects of diet on health, entitled Kitab al-Mukhtar fi al-Aghdhiya (The Choice of Foodstuffs). His approach to health placed a greater emphasis on diet, nutrition, and controlling the food consumed by a patient, rather than the prescription of drugs.

The Polished Book on Experimental Ophthalmology

Ibn al-Nafis wrote a large textbook on ophthalmology called The Polished Book on Experimental Ophthalmology in which he made a number of original contributions to the field. The book is divided into two sections: "On the Theory of Ophthalmology" and "Simple and Compounded Ophthalmic Drugs".

Ibn al-Nafis discovered that the muscle behind the eyeball does not support the ophthalmic nerve, that they do not get in contact with it, and that the optic nerves transect but do not get in touch with each other. He also discovered many new treatments for glaucoma and the weakness of vision in one eye when the other eye is affected by disease.

Medical commentaries

In his 20-volume commentary on Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine (the Sharh Tashrih al-Qanun Ibn Sina ),Ibn al-Nafis "elucidated the scientific problems, pointed out the logical conclusions, and explained the medical difficulties" in the text according to the biographers Umarī and al-Safadī. The most innovative part of his commentary is his discovery of pulmonary circulation. The other four surviving volumes of the commentary are called A Commentary on Generalities, A Commentary on Materia Medica and Compound Drugs, A Commentary on Head-to-Toe Diseases, and A Commentary on Diseases Which Are Not Specific to Certain Organs. In the first of these volumes, A Commentary on Generalities, he repeats his account of the pulmonary circulation.

He also wrote the Kitab al-Mujiz or Mujiz al-Qanun (Epitome of the Kitab al-Qanun), another work based on the Canon, but rather than a commentary, this was an edited version of the original Canon for medical students. The sections on anatomy and physiology, however, were removed from the text due to the inaccuracy of those segments, and he also did not include his own commentaries in this work, hence it has no mention of his descriptions on the pulmonary or coronary circulations. This work was popular in the Islamic world and was translated into several other languages, including Turkish and Hebrew, and several commentaries were written on his edited version of the Canon.

He also wrote a number of commentaries on the topic of medicine. His commentaries include one on Hippocrates' book, and several volumes on Ibn Sina's Qanun Fil Tibb (The Canon of Medicine). Additionally, he wrote a commentary on Hunayn ibn Ishaq's book. In his commentaries on Avicenna and his commentary on Hippocrates, entitled Sharh Fusul Buqrat (Commentary on Hippocrates' Aphorisms), he wrote an introductory note on them, making obvious his rebellious nature against established authorities, as he states:

Other medical writings

His other medical works include the Risalat al-A'ada'a (An Essay on Organs) and Al-Shamel fi al-Tibb (Reference Book for Physicians).

Environmental science

Ibn al-Nafis wrote a treatise on environmental science, which covered a number of subjects related to pollution, such as air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, municipal solid waste mishandling, and environmental impact assessments of certain localities.

Fiqh jurisprudence and Sharia law

Ibn al-Nafis wrote several books dealing with Fiqh jurisprudence and Sharia law, including the Theologus Autodidactus and a commentary on Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi's Al-Tanbeeh (Exhortation).

One of his most famous books on law is Mujaz al-Qanun (The Summary of Law). He also wrote a number of other commentaries on the topic of law.


Ibn al-Nafis wrote two books on Arabic linguistics. One was his original work, Tareeq al-Fasaha (Road to Eloquence), while the other was a commentary on the linguist Said bin al-Hassan al-Rab'i al-Baghdadi's Al-Fusous (The Segments).


Ibn al-Nafis wrote two books on logic in Islamic philosophy. One of these works deals with Avicennian logic as a commentary of Avicenna's Al-Isharat (The Signs) and Al-Hidayah (The Guidance). His other work on logic, Al-Wurayqat (The Little Papers), deals with Aristotelian logic as a commentary on Aristotle's Organon and Rhetoric.

His Theologus Autodidactus and A Short Account of the Methodology of Hadith also deal with the use of logic in Islamic theology.


In early Islamic philosophy, Ibn al-Nafis wrote commentaries on Avicennian philosophy, specifically Avicenna's Hidaya f'il-Hikma and the Kitab al-Isharat wa al-Tanbihat (Book of Directives and Remarks) in The Book of Healing, though neither of these commentaries have survived.

See also


  1. Peter E. Pormann and E. Savage Smith, Medieval Islamic medicine Georgetown University, Washington DC, 2007, p. 47. See also "Ibn Al-Nafis and the pulmonary circulation", The Lancet 1: 1148.
  2. Chairman's Reflections (2004), "Traditional Medicine Among Gulf Arabs, Part II: Blood-letting", Heart Views 5 (2): 74-85 [80].
  3. Peter E. Pormann and E. Savage Smith, Meideval Islamic medicine Georgetown University, Washington DC, 2007, p. 47-48.
  4. Ingrid Hehmeyer and Aliya Khan (2007), "Islam's forgotten contributions to medical science", Canadian Medical Association Journal 176 (10): 1467-1468 [1467].
  5. Islamic medicine, Hutchinson Encyclopedia.
  6. Dr Ibrahim Shaikh (2001), Who Discovered Pulmonary Circulation, Ibn Al-Nafis or Harvey?, FSTC.
  7. Stephen Mason (2003), "Religious Reform and the Pulmonary Transit of the Blood", History of Science 41, p.459-471 [465.
  8. Anatomy and Physiology, Islamic Medical Manuscripts, United States National Library of Medicine.
  9. Edward D. Coppola (1957), "The Discovery of the Pulmonary Circulation", Bullet. Hist. Mid. 31, pp. 44-77 [67, 70-71, 74].
  10. Joseph Schacht (1957), "Ibn Al-Nafis, Servetus and Colombo", Al-Andalus 22, pp. 319-336 [330].
  11. Peter E. Pormann and E. Savage Smith, Medieval Islamic medicine, Goergetown University, Washington DC, 2007, p. 47.
  12. Dr. Paul Ghalioungui (1982), "The West denies Ibn Al Nafis's contribution to the discovery of the circulation", Symposium on Ibn al-Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait (cf. The West denies Ibn Al Nafis's contribution to the discovery of the circulation, Encyclopedia of Islamic World)
  13. See Peter E. Pormann and E. Savage Smith, Medieval Islamic medicine, Georgetown University, Washington DC, 2007, p. 47-48.
  14. Peter E. Pormann and E. Savage Smith, Medieval Islamic medicine, Georgetown University, Washington DC, 2007, p. 48.
  15. Husain F. Nagamia (2003), "Ibn al-Nafīs: A Biographical Sketch of the Discoverer of Pulmonary and Coronary Circulation", Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine 1: 22–28.
  16. Dr. Sulaiman Oataya (1982), "Ibn ul Nafis has dissected the human body", Symposium on Ibn al-Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait (cf. Ibn ul-Nafis has Dissected the Human Body, Encyclopedia of Islamic World).
  17. Albert Z. Iskandar, "Ibn al-Nafis", in Helaine Selin (1997), Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, Kluwer Academic Publishers, ISBN 0792340663.
  18. Dr. Albert Zaki Iskandar (1982), "Comprehensive Book on the Art of Medicine", Symposium on Ibn al Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait (cf. Comprehensive Book on the Art of Medicine, Encyclopedia of Islamic World)
  19. A. Al Dayela and N. al-Zuhair (2006), "Single drug therapy in the treatment of male sexual/erectile dysfunction in Islamic medicine", Urology 68 (1), p. 253-254.
  20. Muhsin Mahdi (1974), "The Theologus Autodidactus of Ibn at-Nafis by Max Meyerhof, Joseph Schacht", Journal of the American Oriental Society 94 (2), p. 232-234.
  21. Dr. Abu Shadi Al-Roubi (1982), "Ibn Al-Nafis as a philosopher", Symposium on Ibn al-Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait (cf. Ibn al-Nafis As a Philosopher, Encyclopedia of Islamic World [1])
  22. Mohamad S. M. Takrouri (King Khalid University Hospital Riyadh), Medical aspects of Ala al-Din Abu'l-Hasan Ali Ibn Abi'l-Haram al-Qurashi (Ibn al-Nafis)'s contributions to science
  23. L. Gari (2002), "Arabic Treatises on Environmental Pollution up to the End of the Thirteenth Century", Environment and History 8 (4), pp. 475-488.


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