Ibn Al-Quff, Amīn Al-Dawlah Ab

views updated


(b. Karak, Jordan, 22 August 1233; d. Damascus, Syria, 1286)

medicine, physiology, natural sciences, philosophy.

IBN al-Quff’s father, Muwaffaq al-Dīn Yaʿqūb, was a Christian Arab (an adherent of the Imperial Orthodox Church), who held an important governmental position under the Ayyūbids in Karak. These facts are reflected in his cognomens al-Masīhī (the Christian) and al-Karakī. When Muwaffaq al-Dīn was promoted to the position of a secretary-scribe of the high court, the family moved to Sarkhad in Syria. There Muwaffaq al-Dīn met and formed a close secretary-scribe of the high court, the family moved to Sarkhad in Syria. There Muwaffaq al-Dīn met and formed a close friendship with the physician-historian Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah (1203–1270), who spoke of him as “a learned scholar, unequaled scribe in the elegance and perfection of his handwriting, a man of letters, a competent historian, and a pleasant companion, witty and respectable.”

Upon the father’s request, Ibn Abi Uṣaybiʿah agreed to teach young Ibn al-Quff the healing art The tutor was soon impressed by the brilliance and aptitude for learning of his new student. He also found him fond of readīng biographies of illustrious sages, and inclined to quiet, thoughtful meditations. Ibn Abi Uṣaybiʿah began to teach young Ibn al-Quff with the assistance of preliminary and fundamental texts on the healing art, such as the Masāʾil ( an introduction to medicine) of Hunayn ibn Isḥāq, and the Aphorisms and the Prognosis of the Hippocratic corpus in the Arabic version as rendered also by Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq. Through the study of leadīng manuals, such as those by al-Rāzī, Ibn al-Quff was instructed by Uṣaybiʿah in the classification and treatment of diseases, and their causes and symptoms.

Later, Ibn al-Quff’s father was transferred to the high court in Damascus, and the family moved to the Syrian capital. Here, Ibn al-Quff studied metaphysics, philosophy, medicine, natural sciences, and mathematics. He was then appointed an army physician-surgeon at the citadel of Ajlun in Jordan, where he stayed for several years. After his fame had spread, he was transferred to Damascus, where until his death at the age of fifty-two, he taught medicine and performed his professional duties among the soldiers stationed at the citadel.

Despite his absorbing responsibilities as physician-surgeon for the Mamluk army, Ibn al-Quff was the best-known medical educator of his time in Syria and a prolific author. He wrote a philosophic commentary on the Ishārāt of Ibn Sīnā and Al-Mabāḥith on natural sciences, but neither was completed nor published and presumabīy both have been lost. He also wrote ten books and commentaries on medical topics, at least seven of which are extant either whole or in part. His only edited work, thus far, is his Kitāb al-ʿUmdah on surgery, theory and practice, in twenty treatises. This is the largest Arabic text devoted to surgery written during the entire medieval period; and it superseded the surgical treatise in the Al-Taṣrīf-Zahrāwī. In Kitābal-ʾUmdah, Ibn al-Quff described the vital connection between the arteries and veins and the passage of life-giving blood and pneuma from the former to the latter. This reference to the capillaries was made nearly four centuries before the work of Malpighi, who benefited from the use of the microscope. Ibn al-Quff also explained the function of the cardiac valves, their number, and the direction in which they open and close. He also appealed for all the Arab lands to standardize the weights and measures used in pharmacy and medicine. His pleas were scarcely heeded on account of the intellectual decline that soon after gripped the Arab world.

In his commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, Ibn al-Quff included sayings and annotations made earlier by the Muslim theologian al-Rāzī. Ibn ai-Quff’s elaborate discussions show philosophical and metaphysical tendencies, but they have no new, independent medical concepts.

His Jāmiʿ al-Gharaḍ on embryology, child growth, diet and drug therapy, the preservation of health, and physiognomy contains original approaches and ideas. For example, he theorized on the genesis of the embryo and the stages it passes through in its growth, especially the appearance of a foamlike cluster after the sixth day of fertilization, and on the early formation of the embryo after the twelfth day. He spoke of how “the head distinctly emerges as separate from the shoulders … and that the brain is the first major organ to develop.” Also, his instructions on what should be done to the infant at birth and thereafter are of great historical interest.

Wars with the Crusaders during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and internal upheavals in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt created new challenges and gave enduring vigor to practitioners of the healing art. Several eminent doctors, pharmacists, and educators appeared on the scene and contributed materially to activating or maintaining the high status of the health professions. Medical schools and hospitals were founded.

At the climax of this period, as a teacher, author, and practitioner, Ibn al-Quff played an important role. His contributions to surgery and physiology, as well as his personal observations on embryology, human environment, and health preservation, put him on a par with al-Majūsī, al-Zahrāwī, and Ibn al-Nafīs as one of the greatest physician-surgeons in medieval Islam.


I. Original Works. Ibn al-Quff’s only edited work is his surgical manual Kitāb al-ʿUmdah fi Sīnāʿat al-Jirāḥah (preferably ʿUmdat al-Iṣlaḥ fi ’Amal Sīnāʿat al-Jarrāḥ), Osmania Oriental Publications Bureau, 2 vols. (Hyderabad, India, 1937), which is also extant in MS form in several libraries, incluDīng the British Museum Library, American University of Beirut Library, National Library and Archives, Cairo, and the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris. Ibn al-Quff’s work on hygiene, Kitāb Jāmiʿ al-Gharaḍ fi Ḥifẓ al-Ṣiḥḥah wa-dafʿ al-Maraḍ in 60 chs. is extant (complete or in part) in the Wellcome Institute of History of Medicine (WMS.OR.116), London, and the British Museum Library. In Latin the work was rendered as Corpus optatorum de servanda sanitate et depellendo morbo.

His commentary on the Hippocratic Aphorisms (Kitāb Al-Uṣūl fi Sharḥ al-FUṣūl) and on the Al-Qānūm of Ibn Sīnā are extant in several MSS (see, for example, National Library and Archives of Cairo, nos. 4 and 1732 Ṭibb; and Alexandria, 3352J). His two books on the art of healing,Al-Shafifial-Ṭibb and Zubdat al-Ṭibb, are reported in two incomplete MSS in the Vatican Apostolic Library and in the Rampur state library, India, respectively. His 2 treatises on the utilities of the organs of the human body, Risālah fī Manafīʿ al-Aʿḍāʾ al-lnsānīyah, and on the preservation of health, fī Ḥifẓ al-Ṣiḥḥah, are also reported in two unique MSS.

II. Secondary Literature. The most reliable biography we have on the life of Ibn al-Quff is Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah, ʿUyūn al-Anbāʿ, Būlāq ed., II (Cairo, 1882), 273–274 He was also mentioned by Quṭb al-Dīn al-Yunīnī, Dhayl Mirʿāt al-Zamān, IV (Hyderabad, 1960), 312–314; and Ḥājjī Khalifah, Kashf al-Zẓunūn, II (Cairo, 1893), 88, 132.

In the modern period, Ibn al-Quff’s biography was included in the works of Antoine Barthelemy Clot, Note sur la fréquence des calculs vésicaux en Égypte et sur la methode employee par les chirurgiens arabes pour en faire l’extraction (Marseilles, 1830); F. Wöstenfeld, Geschichte der arAbīsche Aerzte und Naturforscher (Göttingen, 1840), 146; Lucien Leclerc, Histoire de la médecine arabe, II (Paris, 1876), 203–204; and Ernst J. Gurlt, Geschichte der Chirurgie und Ihrer Ausöbung, I (Berlin, 1898), 662–663.

More attention has been paid to Ibn al-Quff in the present century. See Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arAbīsche Litteratur, II (Weimar, 1902; rev. with a supp., Leiden-Brill, 1937–1949), 649, 899–900 respectively; E. Wiedemann, “Beschreibung von Schlangen bei Ibn Quff,” Beitrage 50, in Sitztungsberichte der Physikalisch-medizinischen Sozietät in Erlangen, 48 (1918), 61–64; G. Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science II, pt. 2 (Baltimore, 1931), 1098–1099; Otto Spies, “Beiträge Zur Geschichte der arAbīsche Zahnheikunde,” in Sudhoffs Ar-chiv för Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, 46 (1962), 161–177; O. Spies and H. Muller-Butow, “Drei urologische Kapital aus der arAbīsche Medizin,” in Sudhoffs Archv för Geschichte der Medizin und der Natur-wissenschaften, 48 (1964), 248–259; A. Z. Iskandar, A Catalogue of ArAbīc Manuscripts on Medicine and Science, Wellcome institute of the History of Medicine Library, (London, 1967), 34, 45–47, 113–114; and S. Hamarneh, “Surgical Development in Medieval ArAbīc Medicine,” in Viewpoints, 4 (1965), 17; “ArAbīc Texts AvailAbīe to Practitioners in Medieval Islam,” in Bulletin de I’Institut d’Egypte, 49 (1969), 69; “Medical Education and Practice in Medieval Islam,” in C. d. O’Malley, ed., The History of Medical Education (Berkeley, Calif., 1970), 62; and The Physician, Therapist and Surgeon Ibn al-Quff (Cairo, 1974).

See also Otto Spies and Horst Mueller-Buetow, Anatomie und Chirurgie des Schaedcls, insbesondere der Hals-Nasen-und Ohrenkrankeiten nach Ibn al-Quff (Berlin, 1971). For a more general discussion, see Hamarneh, “Thirteenth Century Physician Interprets Connection Between Arteries and Veins,” in Sudhoffs Archivfīir Gcschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, 46 (1962), 17–26; Index of MSS on Medicine and Pharmacy in the Zdhiriyah Library, Arab Academy (Damascus, 1968–1969), 325–329 (ArAbīc) and 20–21 in the English text; and “The fīrst Recorded Appeal for Unifīcation of Weight and Measure Standards in ArAbīc Medicine,” in Physis, 5 (1963), 230–248; and “The Physician and the Health Professions in Medieval Islam,” in Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 47 (1971), 1088–1110.

Sami K. Hamarneh

About this article

Ibn Al-Quff, Amīn Al-Dawlah Ab

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article