He was an extremely learned, multi-talented scientist, and a pioneer in medicine. Through his researches and discoveries, he managed to surpass his contemporary scientists and even those who came after him. He, alone, managed to write the largest medical encyclopaedia in history.
He is the scientist and physician, `Ala’u Ad-Deen `Ali Ibn Abul Hazm, known as Ibn An-Nafees.
His birth and early years
`Ala’u Ad-Deen `Ali Ibn Abul Hazm Al-Qurashi was born in Damascus in 607 A.H (1210 A.C.) He started seeking knowledge in his early years. He memorized the Glorious Quran, learnt how to read and write, and studied jurisprudence, Hadeeth, and the Arabic language. Then, he directed his efforts to the study of medicine and his teacher was Muhaththab Ad-Deen `Abdur-Raheem `Ali who was known as Ad-Dikhwar. This teacher was one of the most famous ophthalmologists. He was also manager of the Noori Hospital in Damascus and head of the physicians in Syria and Egypt. In the Noori Hospital, the giant corporation established by Noor Ad-Deen Mahmood Ibn Zinki, Ibn An-Nafees studied medicine and his teachers were the two famous physicians Al-Muhaththab Ad-Dikhwar and `Imran Al-Isra`eeli who taught many of the well-known physicians of that time.
Back then, Damascus was ruled by the Ayyoobid Dynasty who paid a lot of attention to science and knowledge. They made Damascus and Cairo, as well as other cities under their control, great centers of knowledge which received students and scholars from all over the world. After spending a short time studying medicine, Ibn An-Nafees became a skillful physician whose knowledge and experience was equal to that of his great teachers, and he became famous everywhere.
In Cairo In 633 A.H. (1236 A.C), Ibn An-Nafees traveled to Egypt and stayed in Cairo, the capital of the Ayyoobid State. Ibn An-Nafees joined the Nasiri Hospital which was established by Sultan An-Nasir Saladin Al-Ayyoobi in 577 A.H. (1181 A.C.) Ibn An-Nafees worked in the hospital as a physician, and later as a teacher of medicine. Owing to his studious nature and excellence in medicine, he became head of the Hospital and manager of its Medical school. Some years later, he moved to work as head of the Mansoori Hospital which was established by Sultan Al-Mansoor Ibn Qalawoon in 680 A.H. (1281 A.C.). Ibn An-Nafees occupied several positions until he became the physician of Sultan Ath-Thahir Beibers. Ibn An-Nafees was famous throughout the whole country. He led a life of affluence in Cairo. He built a spacious house and allocated part of it to be a library which was full of reference books in all fields of knowledge. In this place, Ibn An-Nafees used to meet the most well-known scientists, princes, high ranking people, and students in order to study issues related to medicine, jurisprudence, and language.
Ibn An-Nafees: Discoverer of the minor blood circulation system
For several centuries, scientists of medicine from all over the world were of the opinion that the first scientist to discover blood circulation was the British doctor, William Harvey, in 1628. Harvey wrote a book entitled ‘Anatomical Essay on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals’ in which he gave an accurate account of the mechanism of the circulatory system.
This false assumption prevailed until the academic world was surprised when an Egyptian physician proved that it was Ibn An-Nafees who discovered the blood circulation. The Egyptian physician, Muhyid-Deen At-Tatawi, proved this fact in his PhD thesis which he submitted for Freiberg University, Germany in 1343 A.H. (1924 A.C.) At-Tatawi discovered this outstanding piece of information after he found a manuscript from Ibn An-Nafees’ book ‘The Explanation of Anatomy in Al-Qanoon Book’ in the Berlin Library.
In this book, Ibn An-Nafees, prior to William Harvey, provided a scientific description of the minor circulatory system. At-Tatawi, with this discovery, astonished all his teachers and drew the attention of many scientists and researchers in the field. In the forefront of these scientists was the German Orientalist Mayer Hoove who worked as a resident physician in Egypt and spoke Arabic fluently. In 1931, he published a detailed treatise in which he confirmed the truth of this astonishing fact. Thus, after seven centuries, Ibn An-Nafees regained his right once again.
Other contributions to medicine
The discovery of the blood circulation system is one of the unique, unprecedented contributions of Ibn An-Nafees to medicine. He was also the first physician to describe the arteries that carry blood to the heart muscle, although there is a common misconception among medical historians that a scientist named Stokes was the first to discover arteries. There is yet another unprecedented discovery by Ibn An-Nafees that should not be ignored; he described the tiny capillaries that allow a constant interchange between the blood and waste products in the tissues.
Three centuries later, the Italian scientist Riyaldoa Colombo talked about these capillaries.
Ibn An-Nafees’ fame was not limited to medicine. He was one of the greatest scholars of his time in the Arabic language, philosophy, jurisprudence, and Prophetic Ahadeeth. He has many books in these fields such as:
– The Kamiliyyah Treatise on the Prophetic Biography
– Fadil Ibn Natiq which is similar to the famous book Hayy Ibn Yaqdhan
– The Concise Book in the Fundamentals of Hadeeth Science
– The Way to Eloquence in Arabic grammar
In the field of medicine, he had many writings and contributions such as:
– Explanation of Hippocrates Collection
– The Abridged Book on the Experimented Kohl
– The Concise Book on Medicine
– The Explanation of Anatomy in Al-Qanoon Book (the Canon)
– The Comprehensive Book on the Medical Profession which is the greatest of Ibn An-Nafees’ works and the largest medical encyclopaedia ever written by one person.
During his last days, Ibn An-Nafees became seriously ill after he reached eighty years. He stayed in bed for six days. Some physicians advised him to drink some wine, claiming that he would recover. Ibn An-Nafees refused to drink even a drop and said: I will not meet Allah (i.e. die) with a drop of wine in my stomach. He died on Friday the 21st of Thul-Qi’dah 687 A.H., the 17th of December 1288. Before his death, he made a will that all his possessions, money, books, and house should be allocated to the Mansoori Hospital as an endowment.