Ibn Al-Nafīs,

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(b. al-Qurashiyya, near Damascus, thirteenth century; d. Cairo, 17 December 1288), medicine.

Ibn al-Nafis‘ nisba, al-Qurashi, is from his birthplace or, according to other authorities, from Qarash, a village beyond the River Oxus from which his family originally came. He studied medicine in Damascus, at the great Nũri Hospital (al-Bimãristãn al-Nũri al-Kubir) founded by the Turkish prince Nũr al-Din Mahmũd ibn Zanki (Nureddin) in the twelfth century. Among his teachers was Muhadhdhab al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahim ibn ‘Ali al-Dakhwãr (d. 1230), founder of aL-Dakhwãriyya Medical School at Damascus, and among his students at Damascus was Abu ‘l-Faraj ibn Ya‘qub ibn Ishãq al-Masihi ibn al-Quff Amin al-Dawla al-Karaki (1233–1286) who at one time was Ibn Abi Usaxbi‘a‘s student.

The hospital in which Ibn al-Nafis practiced and taught in Egypt is not known with certainty. Eventually he became ra‘is al-atibbã (chief of physicians), possibly appointed by the Mamlũk ruler al-Zãhir Baybars al-Bunduqdãri (reigned 1260–1277), for whom Ibn al-Nafis worked in the capacity of personal physician; this post was not merely honorific but conferred disciplinary powers over medical practi- tioners. His name does not anywhere appear in connection with the al-Bimãristãatilode;n al-Nãsiri, founded in 1171 by Salãh al-Din al-Ayyũbi (or Saladin, who reigned from 1169 to 1193), where Ibn Abi Usaybi‘a (d. 1270) was an oculist during the one year (1236–1237) he spent in Egypt. Toward the end of his life Ibn al-Nafis bequeathed his house and library to the newly founded Dãr al-Shifa‘ (House of Recovery), also called Qalãatilkde;wũn Hospital or al- Mansũri Hospital, founded in 1284 by the Mamlũk al-Mansũr Sayf al-Din Qalãwān al-Alfi (reigned from 1279 to 1290), during whose time Ibn al-Nafis died in Cairo—he had then reached the age of about eighty lunar years—on 21 Dhu ‘l-Qa‘da 687 or 17 December 1288.

In addition to being a physician Ibn al-Nafis lectured on fiqh (jurisprudence) at al-Masrũriyya School in Cairo. The inclusion of his name in the Tabaqãt al-Skãfi‘yyin al-Rubrã (“Great Classes of Shãfi‘i Scholars”) of Tãj al-Din al-Subki (d. 1370) indicates his eminence in religious law. He wrote his Kitãb al-Skãmil fi ‘l-Sinã‘a al-Tibbiyya (“Compre- hensive Book on the Art of Medicine”) when he was in his thirties. It was said to consist of 300 volumes of notes, of which he published only eighty. This voluminous work was thought to have been lost until 1952, when one large but fragmentary volume was cataloged among the Cambridge University Library Islamic manuscripts. Much earlier, the Bodleian Library cataloged four manuscripts of this work, without identifying the author. In 1960 three autograph manuscripts (MS Z276) were found in Lane Medical Library, Stanford University, of which one is referred to by the author as the thirty-third mujallad (volume). The two other manuscripts are its forty- second and forty-third volumes, the latter dated 641/1243–1244. Another manuscript of the same book is extant in al-Muthaf al-‘Iraqi, Baghdad; and al- Zirikli mentions one manuscript in Damascus (not in the Zãhiriyya collection) without specifying any particular library.

The Kitãb al-Sbãmil, so far unpublished, contains an interesting section on surgical technique and throws new light on Ibn al-Nafis as a surgeon. In it he defines three stages for each operation—al-i‘tã‘ (the presentation for diagnosis, upon which a patient entrusts a surgeon with his body and life), al-‘amal (the operative procedure), and al-hifz (preservation, that is, postoperative care)—and gives detailed descriptions of the duties of surgeons and the relationships among patients, surgeons, and nurses. He discusses each stage in detail, touching upon such subjects as the decubitus of the patient and the posture, bodily movement, and manipulation of instruments of the surgeon in the course of carrying out his duties. Ibn al-Nafis illustrates his points with examples of specific operations.

Ibn al-Nafis‘ book Sharh Tabi‘at al-Insãn li-Buqrãt (“Commentary on Hippocrates‘ Nature of Man”) was housed in a private library at Damascus owned by Ahmad ‘Ubayd and in 1933 was owned by professor A. S. Yahuda in London. (The medical manuscripts that were in the Yahuda collection are now in the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland; the Sharh Tabi‘at al-Insãn li-Buqrãt is MS A69.) It has an ijãza (license) written and signed by Ibn al-Nafis stating that a physician named Shams al-Dawla Abu ‘l-Fadl ibn Abi ‘l-Hasan al-Masihi had studied the entire book under him. Perhaps one of Ibn al-Nafis”earliest books is Sharh Tashrih al-Qãnun (“Commentary on Anatomy in Books I and III of Ibn Sinã‘s Kitãb al-Qãnũn), of which a copy was written forty-seven lunar years before his death, and is presently at the University of California, Los Angeles (MS Ar. 80). In this book he gives the earliest known account of the pulmonary blood circulation. His major work, Shark al-Qãnũn (“Commentary on Kitãb al-Qãnun) is in four books: “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 books, the “Commentary on Generali- ties,”Ibn al-Nafis repeats his account of the lesser circulations of the blood:

… This is the right cavity of the two cavities of the heart. When the blood in this cavity has become thin, it must be transferred into the left cavity, where the pneuma is generated. But there is no passage between these two cavities, the substance of the heart there being impermeable. It neither contains a visible passage, as some people have thought, nor does it contain an invisible passage which would permit the passage of blood, as Galen thought. The pores of the heart there are compact and the substance of the heart is thick. It must, therefore, be that when the blood has become thin, it is passed into the arterial vein [pulmonary artery] to the lung, in order to be dispersed inside the substance of the lung, and to mix with the air. The finest parts of the blood are then strained, passing into the venous artery [pulmonary vein] reaching the left of the two cavities of the heart, after mixing with the air and becoming fit for the generation of pneuma…

According to one manuscript of Shark Tashrih al-Qãnũn (MS Ar. 80), the terminus ante quem of Ibn al-Nafis‘ discovery of the lesser circulation can be fixed at 1242, three centuries before those published by Servetus (1553) and Colombo (1559). The determina- tion by Iskandar of discussions of the lesser circulation in commentaries on book I of the Kitãb al-Qãnũn of Sadid al-Din Muhammad ibn Mas‘ud al-Kãzarũni (completed in 1344) and ‘Ali ibn ‘Abdallãh Zayn al-‘Arab al-Misri (written in 1350), who used Ibn al-Nafis‘ Sharh Tashrih al-Qãinm and his Shark al-Qãnũn, may serve to reopen the widely debated question of whether the Latin West had access to Ibn al-Nafis‘ description of the lesser circulation. It is believed that Andrea Alpago of Belluno (d.1520) may have transmitted Ibn al-Nafis‘ work orally or in hitherto unpublished writings.

Alpago lived in the Middle East (mainly in Syria) for thirty years, collecting, translating, and editing the writings of Arab physicians. He made a Latin transla- tion (Venice, 1547) of the commentary on compound drugs that is a part of Ibn al-Nafis‘ Sharh al-Qãnãn. In a section (fds. 24v-30r) entitled “Consideratio sexta de pulsibus ex libro Sirasi arabico,”Alpago gives some interesting statements on the Galenic doctrine related to the heart and arterial system, together with Ibn al-Nafis‘ criticism.

Ibn al-Nafis‘ Kitãb al-Mũjiz or Mũjiz al-Qãnũn (“Epitome of Kitãb al-Qũnũn”) is a concise book divided into four sections corresponding to the four books of the Sharh al-Qãnũn, except that in Kitãb al-Mũjiz he does not deal with anatomy or with the lesser circulation. The popularity of Kitãb al-Mũjiz led many physicians to write commentaries on it and to translate it into other languages. Two Turkish translations are known, one by Muslih al-Din Mustafã ibn Sha‘bãn al-Surũri (d. 1464) and the other by Ahmad Kamãl, a physician in Adrianople. There is a Hebrew translation entitled Sefer-ha-Mũjiz. The author of Kitãb Tadhkirat al-Suwaydi, ‘Izz al-Din Abũ Ishãq Ibrãhim ibn Muhammad ibn Tarkhãn al- Suwaydi (d. 1291), also wrote a commentary on Kitãb al-Mũjiz. Other commentaries, still preserved in manuscript, were written by Jalãl al-Din Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmãn al-Qazwini (d. 1308), Muzaffar al-Din Abu ‘l-Thana‘ Mahmũd ibn Ahmad al- ‘Ayntãbi ibn al-Amshãti (d. 1496), and Shihãb al-Din Muhammad al-Ĩji al-Bulbuli. Three major com- mentaries, widely used until recently, are Kitãe;b al-Mughni fi Sharh al-Mũjiz. by Sadid al-Din al- Kãzarũni; Kitãb Hall al-Mũjiz (“Key to Kitãb al-Mũjiz”) by Jamal al-DIn Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ãqsara‘i (d. 1378); and Kiitãb al- Nafisi also known as Sharh Mũjiz Ibn al-Nafis, by Burhãn al-Din Nafis ibn ‘Awad al-Kirmãni (written in 1437). Among many marginal commentaries to the Kitãb al-Nafisi are Hãshiya ‘Alã Sharh Safis Ibn ‘Awad al-Kirmãni ‘Alã Mũjiz Ibn al-Nafis (“Marginal Commentaries on the Commentary of Nafis ibn ‘Awad al-Kirmãni on Kitãb al-Mũjiz of Ibn al- Nafis”) by Ghars al-Din Ibrãhim al-Halabi (d. 1563) and Hall al-Nafisi (“Key to Kitãb al-Nafisi”), which was begun by Muhammad ‘Abd al-Halim and posthumously completed by his son, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Hayy, who published the whole work in 1872. Ibn al-Nafis wrote out his Sharh fusul Buqrat (“Com- mentary on Hippocrates‘ Aphorisms”) more than once, each time to meet certain requests made to him by physicians. An introductory note to a lithographed edition of this book (dated 1892) repeats the statement that he made in his Sharh Tashrih al-Qãnũn and Sharh al-Qãnũn—that he decided to “…throw light on and stand by true opinions, and forsake those which are false and erase their traces…”This statement seems to suggest that he rebelled against the authority of books, a view substantiated by his rejection of Galen‘s concept of invisible pores in the interventricular septum, his notion of blood flow, and his belief that arterial blood was produced in the left ventricle.

Other books written by Ibn al-Nafis are: Sharh Abidhimya li-Buqrãt (“Commentary on Hippocrates”Epidemics”); Sharh Masa‘il Hunayn (“Commentary on Hunayn [ibn Ishãq‘s] Questions”); al-Muhadhdhah fi ‘1-Kuhl (“Polished Book on Ophthalmology”); and Bughyat al-Tãlibin wa Hujjat al-Mutatabbibin (“Reference Book for Physicians”). He also wrote on logic and theology, including such books as his commentary on Ibn Stmãs Kitãb al-Hidãya (“Guidance”), and Fãdil Ibn Nãtiq (also entitled al-Risãla al-Kãmiliyya fi ‘1-Sira al-Nabawiyya), a counterpart to Ibn Tufayl‘s (d. 1185) Hayy Ibn Yaqzãn. Ibn Tufayl‘s purpose was to show the discovery of philosophical truths by an individual who had been created by spontaneous generation on a desert island, while that of Ibn al-Nafis was to show the discovery by independent reasoning (under similar conditions) of the main principles of Islamic religion and natural sciences.

Ibn al-Nafis was reputed to have recorded his own experiences, observations, and deductions rather than using reference books. His religion (Islam) and his mercy toward animals, he tells us, prevented him from practicing anatomy. His major contribution— the discovery of the lesser circulation—was nonetheless a physiological one and would probably have been more adequately documented had he resorted to animal dissection. His experimental approach to physiology is evident in his Sharh Tashrih al-Qãnun: “…In determining the use of each organ we shall rely necessarily on verified examinations and straight- forward research, disregarding whether our opinions will agree or disagree with those of our predecessors.”


I. Original Works. Ibn al-Nafis‘ books are Manãfi‘ al-A‘ da‘ al-Insãniyya (Dãr al-Kutub al-Misriyya, MS 209, III, majãmi‘); al-Muhadhdhab fi‘l-Kuhl (Vatican, MS Arabo 1307); Mũjiz al-Qãnũn (Calcutta, 1244/1828, 1261/1845; Lucknow, 1288/1871, 1302/1884, 1324/1906); Kitãb al- Shãmil fi‘l-Sina‘a al-Tibbiyya (incomplete autograph copy, Lane Medical Library, Stanford University, MS Z276; al-Muthaf al-‘Irãqi, Baghdad, MS 1271; Cambridge University Library, MS Or. 1546(10); Bodleian Library, MSS Pocock 248 and 290–292); Sharh Abidhimya li-Buqrat (Aya Sofya, MS 3642, fols. 1-200a; Dar al-Kutub al- Misriyya, MS 583 Tibb Tal‘at); Sharh Fusul Buwqrat (Teheran [?], 1310/1892; Aya Sofya, MSS 3554, fols. 35b-137lb, 3644, fils. 1–109b: Dãr al-Kutub al-Misriyya, MS 1448 Tibb; Forschungsbibliothek, Gotha, MSS 1897-1898; Deutsche Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, MS 6224); Sharh Masail Hunayn (Leiden University Library, MS Or. 49, II, fols. 101b-174a); Sharh Tabi‘at al-Insan li-Buqrat (National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Md., MS A69; MS owned by Ahmad ‘Ubayd, Damascus and later by A. S. Yahuda, London); Sharh Taqdimat al-Ma‘rifa li-Buqrãt (Forschungsbibliothek Gotha, MS 1899; Leiden University Library, MS Or. 49, I, fols. 1–98; Bodleian Library, MS Marsh 81); Sharh al-Qanun (Wellcome Historical Medical Library, London, WMS. Or. 51; and incomplete in WMS. Or. 154); and Sharh Taskrih al-Qanun (University of California, Los Angeles, MSS Ar. 80, and Ar. 102, I, pp. 1–298; Bibliotheque Nalionale, Paris, MS 2939; Al-Zã hiriyya Library, Damascus, MS 3145 Tibb XX). See also M. Meyerhof and J. Schacht, The Theologus Autodidactus of Ibn al-Nafis, ed. with intro., trans., and notes (Oxford, 1968).

Other works directly related to Ibn al-Nafis‘ writings are al-Āq̣arã‘i, ̣all al-MŪjiz (Lucknow, 1325/1907; Urdu trans., 2 vols., Lucknow, 1325–1326/1907–1908); al- Kazaruni, Kitab al-Mughni fi Sharh al-MŪjiz (Calcutta, 1244/1828, 1832; Lucknow, 1295/1878, 1307/1890, 1894); al-Kirmani‘s Kitãb al-Nafisi (Lucknow, 1282/1865); ‘Abd al-Halim and ‘Abd al-Hayy, Hall al-Nafisi (Cawnpore, 1288/1872; Lucknow, 1302/1885); al-Kazaruni, Sharh al-Qanun (al-Kulliyyat) (Wellcome Historical Medical Library, WMS. Or. 89); Zayn al-‘Arab al-Misri, Sharh al-Qanun (Wellcome Historical Medical Library, WMS. Or. 119); and Ibn Rushd,… Avicenna… libellus de removendes nocumentis quae accidunt in regimine sanitatis…, A. Alpago, trans. (Venice, 1547).

II. Secondary Literature. General works are lbn Abi Usaybi’a, ‘Uyun al-Anba (al-Zãhiriyya Library, MS 4883, I ‘amm, fol. 104)—the concise account at the end of this manuscript seems to have been written by a later author, not by lbn Abi Usaybi‘a himself, and does not appear in the Bulaq ed.,2vols.(l882–1884); Ibn Fadlallãh al-‘Umari, Masãlik al-Absar… (Dãr al-Kutub al-Misriyya, MS 8 mim, Ma‘arif ‘amma, VIII, 119a); al-Safadi, Kitab al-Wafi bi‘l-Wafayat (British Museum, MS Or. 6587, fols. 20v-21v); Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Dhahabi, Tarikh al-lslam (Bodleian Library, MS Laud Or. 279, fol. 170a); ‘Abdallah ibn As‘ad al-Yafi‘i, Mir‘at al-Janan, IV (Hyderabad, 1920–1921), 207; Taj al-Din al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi‘iyyin al-Kubra, V (Cairo, 1906–1907), 129; J. Uri, Bibliothecae Bodleianae codicum manuscriptorum orientalium (Oxford, 1787), pt. 1, 130; A. Nicoll and E. B. Pusey, Bibliothecae Bodleianae…, (Oxford, 1821-1835), pt. 2, 586; L. Leclerc, Histoire de la mãdecine arabe, II (Paris, 1876), 207–209; W. Pertsch, Die arabischen Handschriften der herzoglichen Bibliothek zu Gotha (Gotha, 1878–1892), III, 444–446; W. Ahlwardt, Verzeichniss der arabischen Handschriften (Berlin. 1887–1899), V, 496; The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden-London, 1913–1938), supp., 94–95; ibid., new ed. (Leiden-London, 1960–1971), III, 897–898; G. Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science (Baltimore, 1927–1948), II, 1099–1101; A. Issa, Histoire des bimaristans (hôpitaux) à l‘;époque islamique (Cairo, 1928); and Tãrikh al-Bimãristanat fi ‘l-Islãm (Damascus, 1939).

See also C. A. Wood, “The Lost Manuscript on Ophthalmology by the Thirteenth-Century Surgeon Ibn al-Nafis,”in Journal of the American Medical Association, 104 (1935), 2122–2123; C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (Leiden, 1943–1949), I, 649, and supp. (Leiden, 1937–1942), I, 899; I. al-Baghdãdi, Idah al-Maknun…(Istanbul, 1945), I, 188; and Hadiyyat al-‘Arifin…(Istanbul, 1951), I, 714; J. ‘Awwad, Jawla fi Dur al-Kutub al-Amrikiyya (Baghdad, 1951), 46; A. J. Arberry, A Second Supplementary Hand-List of the Muhammadan Manuscripts in the University and Colleges of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1952), 57; Kh. al-Zirikli, al-A‘lam…, 2nd ed. (Cairo, 1954–1959), V, 78, and pl. 740; J. Schacht, “Ibn al-Nafis et son Theologus Auto- didactus”in Homenaje a Millá-Vallicrosa, II (Barcelona, 1956), 325–345; ‘U. R. Kahhala, Mu‘jam al-Mu‘allifin… (Damascus, 1957–1961), VII, 58; S. al-Munajjid, “Masadir Jadida ‘An Tarikh al-Tibb ‘Ind al-‘Arab,”in Majallat Ma‘had al-Makhtutat al-‘Arabiyya", 5 , no. 2 (1959), 270; M. J. L. Young, “Some Observations on the Use of Arabic as a Scientific Language as Exemplified in the Mujiz al-Qanun of Ibn al-Nafis (d. 1288),”in Abr-Nahrain, 1 (1959–1960), 68–72; N. Heer, “Thalathat Mujalladat Min Kitab al-Shamil I‘ Ibn al-Nafis,”in Majallat Ma‘had al-Makhtutat al-‘Arabiyya6 (1960), 203–210; S. K. Hamarneh, Index of Manuscripts on Medicine, Pharmacy, and Allied Sciences in the Zahiriyah Library (Damascus, 1969), 476–481, and pl. 7; M. Ullmann, Die Medizin im Islam, which is pt. 1, supp. VI, of Handbuch der Orienta- listik (Leiden-Cologne, 1970), 172–176.

On blood circulation see M. Tatawi, Der Lungenkreislauf nach el-Koraschi, inaugural diss. (Freiburg, 1924); M. Meyerhof, “M. EI-Tatawi: Der lungenkreislauf nach el-Koraschi,”in Mitteilungen zur Geschichte der Medizin und Naturwisseuschaften, 30 (1931), 55–57; “La découverte de la circulation pulmonaire par Ibn an-Nafis, médecin arabe du Caire (xiii‘ siècle),”in Bulletin de l‘Institut d‘Égypt, 16 (1934), 33–46; “Ibn an-Nafis und seine Theorie des Lungenkreislaufs,”in Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und Medizin, 4 (1935), 37–88, and 1–22 (Arabic text); and “Ibn An-Nafis (XIIIth cent.) and His Theory of the Lesser Circulation,”in Isis, 23 (1935), 100–120; S. Haddad and A. Khairallah, “A Forgotten Chapter in the History of the Circulation of the Blood,”in Annals of Surgery, 104 (1936), 1–8; S. Haddad, “Who Is the Discoverer of the Lesser Circulation?”in al-Miuqtataf, 89 (1936), 264–271; and “Arabian Con- tributions to Medicine,”in Annals of Medical History, 3 (1941), 60–72; O. Temkin, “Was Servetus Influenced by Ibn an-Nafis?”in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 8 (1940), 731–734; T. Bannurah, “Enthüllungen in der

Geschichte der Medizin, Ibn al-Nafis oder Serveto?”in Münchener medizinische Wochenchrift, 88 (1941), 1088 ff,; L. Binet and A Herpin, “Sur la découverte de la circulation pulmonaire,”in Bulletin de l‘ Académie nationale de médecine, 3rd ser 132 , nos. 31–32(1948), 542–549.

See also A. Chéhadé, Ibn al-Nafis et la décounverte de la circulation pulmonaire, M.D, dissertation (Faculté de Médecine, Paris, 1951), no. 1143; Ibn al-Nafis et la découverte de la circulation pulmonaire (Damascus, 1955); and “Ibn al-Nafis et la decouverte de la circulation pulmonaire,”in Maroc médical. 35 (1956), 1013-1016; C. D. O‘Malley. Michael Servetus, A Translation of His Geographical, Medical, and Astrological Writings With Introductions and Notes (Philadelphia, 1953), 195–200; and “A Latin Translation of Ibn Nafis (1547) Related to the Problem of the Circulation of the Blood,”in Journal of the Histroy of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 12, no, 2 (1957), 248–253; E. E. Bittar, “A Study of Ibn Nafis,”in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 29 (1955), 352–368, 429–447; and “The Influence of Ibn Nafis: A Linkage in Medical History,”in University of Michigan Medical Bulletin, 22 (1956), 274–278; G. Wiet, “Ibn al-Nafis et la circulation pulmonaire,”in Journal Asiatique, 244 (1956), 95–100; E. D. Coppola, “The Discovery of the Pulmonary Circulation: A New Approach,”in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 31 (1957), 44–77; and J. Schacht, “Ibn an-Nafis, Servetus and Colombo,”in al-Andalus, 22 (1957), 317-336.

Also of value are L. G. Wilson, “The Problem of the Discovery of the Pulmonary Circulation,”in Journal of the History of Medicine, 17 (1962), 229–244: R. E. Siegel, “The Influence of Galen‘s Doctrine of Pulmonary Blood- flow on the Development of Modern Concepts of Circula- tion,”in Sudhoffs Archiv füe Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, 46 (1962), 311–332; A. Z. Iskandar, A Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts on Medicine and Science in the Wellcome Historuul Medical Library (London, 1967), 38–42, 47–50; and E. Lagrange, “Ré- flexions sur l‘historique de la découverte de la circulation sanguine,”in Episteme, 3 (1969), 31–44.

Albert Z. Iskandar