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Sinan Sinan Ibn Thabit Ibn Qurra, Abu Sa‘id


(b. ca. 880; d. Baghdad, 943)

medicine, astronomy, mathematics.

The son of Thãbit ibn Qurra al-Harrãnĩ (ca. 830–901), and the father of Ibrãhĩm ibn Sinãn ibn Thãbit (908–946), Sinãn belonged to the sect of the Sabians originating in Harrãn. One of the most famous physicians of his time, Sinãn worked mainly in Baghdad. He was born probably around 880: al-Mascũdĩ mentions a description a description by Sinãn of the life at the court of Caliph al-Muc tadid (892–902), his father’s protector. Apparently, Sinãn held no position before 908. He was then physician to the caliphs al-Muqtadir (908–932), al-Qãhir (932–934), and al-Rãdĩ (934–940).

Under al-Muqtadir, Sinãn brilliantly directed the hospitals and medical administration of Baghdad. He was not a Muslim, and he cared for the faithful and unfaithful without discrimination. In 931, after a fatal malpractice, every Baghdad doctor, except a few famous ones, had to pass a test before Sinãn.

Under al-Qãhir, Sabians were persecuted, and Sinãn had to become Muslim and later fled to Khurãsãn, returning under al-Rãdĩ After the latter’s death he served Amĩr Abu ’L-Husayn Bahkam in Wãsit, looking after his character and physical health.

None of Sinãn’s work is extant. As listed by Ibn al-Qiftĩ, it can be divided into three categories: historical-political, mathematical, and astronomical; no medical texts are mentioned. A treatise of the first kind contained the already mentioned description of life at the court of al-Muctadid, and, among other things, a sketch for a government according to Plato’s Republic. Al-Macsũdĩ criticizes it, adding that Sinãn should rather have occupied himself with topics with in his competence, such as the science of Euclid, the Almaget, astronomy, the theories of meteorological phenomena, logic, metaphysics, and the philosophical systems of Socrate, Plato, and Aristotle.

Four mathematical treatises are listed: one addressed to “Adud al-Dawla; a correction of a commentary on his entire work by Abũ Sahl al-Qũhĩ, made on the latter’s request; one connected with Archimedes’ On Triangles; and a correction, with additions, of Aqãtun’s On Elements of Geometry (Is this the Aya Sofya MS 4830, 5, Kitãb al-Mafrũdãt by Aqãtun?). The first two treatises can not be Sinãn’s, since the addressees were active in the second half of the tenth century.

As to the third category, only the content of the Kitãb al-Anwã; (dedicated to al-Muctadid) is somewhat known through excerpts by al-Bĩrũnĩ it is probably identical with Kitãb al-Istiwãĩ listed in the Fihrist and Ibn al-Qiftĩ. The anwaĩ are the meteorological qualities of the individual days. Scholars disagree on their cause. Some scholars deduce them from the rising and setting of the fixed stars, others by comparing the weather in the past. Sinãn maintains the latter opinion and disapproves of Galen, who wants to decide between the two only after prolonged experimental examination. Sinãn agrees on the difficulty of testing them in a short period. He advises to verify whether the Arabs and Persians agree on anaw3 (singular form of anwã); if they do, it is most probable. According to al-Bĩrũnĩ, Sinãn also relates an Egyptian theory and one by Hipparchus, on where to fix the beginnings of the seasons.

One of the other astronomical treatises, directed to the Sabian Abũ Ishãq Ibraãĩm ibn Hilãl (ca. 924–994), is on the assignment of the planets to the days of the week. The seven planets were important in Sabian religion: each one had its own temple. Ibn al-Qiftũ lists several works on Sabian rites and religion.


I. Original Works. Fuat Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, V (Leiden, 1974), 291; Ibn al-Qiftĩ, Ta’rĩkh-al-hhukamã’, J. Lippert, ed. (Leipzig, 1903), 195 and the Ibn Abĩ Usaybi’a, Tabaqãt-al-atibbã’, I A. Müller, ed. (Cairo, 1882), 224, list Sinãn’s work, of which nothing is extant, Al-Bĩrũnĩ gives excerpts from the Kitãb al-anwã’ in his Chronology of Ancient Nations, C. E. Sachau. ed. (London, 1879), 232, 233, 262, 322: see on this subject also O. Neugebauer, “An Arabic Version of Ptolemy’s Parapegma From the ’Phaseis,’” in Journal of the American Oriental Society, 91 no. 4 (1971), 506. A translation of the Aya Sofya MS 4830, 5, of which Sinãn might be the author, is in preparation by the writer of this article.

II. Secondary Literature. Biographical references can be found in lbn al-Qiftũ, Ta’rĩkh al-hukamã’. J. Lippert, ed. (Leipzig, 1903), 190–195: Ibn Abĩ Usaybi’a, Tabaqãt al-atibbã, I. A. Müller, ed. (Cairo, 1882), 220–224: and C. Brockelmann. Geschichte der arabischen Literatur I (Leiden, 1943), 244–245 and supp. I (Leiden, 1937), 386. Ya’qub al-Nadĩm, Kitãb al-Fihrist, G. Flügel, ed. (Leipzig, 1871–1872), 272, 302, mentions Sinãn, without giving much information. D. Chwolson, Die Ssabier und tier SsabismusI (St. Petersburg. 1856: repr., Amsterdam, 1965), 569–577, eludicates Sinãn’s biography and Sabian religion. L. Leclerc. Histoire de la médecine arabe (Paris, 1876). 365–368, emphasizes Sinãn the physician. Al-Masũ; dĩ’s description and criticism is to be found in al-Masũdĩ. Murũj al-dhahab wa ma’ãdin al-jawhar, Les prairies d’or, I Arabic text and French translation by C. Barbier de Meynard and Pavet de Courteille (Paris, 1861), 19–20.

Yvonne Dold-Samplonius

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