I spent some time understanding the ‘Canons of Medicines’ authored by Ibn Sina about a thousand years ago and was intrigued by his knowledge, wisdom and the organized way of positioning the chapters.
The book is comprised of five volumes. In fact, each volume can be easily considered as a separate book. The first volume has six theses and covers the explanation of the mutual interface of elements found in the human body (approximately 72% water, 12% earth, 6% air, 4% fire and 6% ether), fluids of the body, biological and anatomical principles and general healing measures.
Quoting from the first volume, he profoundly said: “Medicine is the science by which we learn various states of the body; in health, when not in health; the means by which health is likely to be lost; and, when lost, is likely to be restored. In other words, it is the art whereby health is concerned and the art by which it is restored after being lost.”
The second volume details, in alphabetical order (how meticulous), several medicines derived from plants, animals and minerals with detailed commentary on their properties and side effects. There are about 800 items. I wonder how much time he must have spent going out deep in the forest and examining the plants and noting down, then and there, their characteristics and properties. Add to that coming back loaded with piles of samples and seeds, etc.
The third volume defines functions and diagnosis and prognosis of the illnesses of different organs in the human body and their treatments, starting from the head and going down all the way to the feet. Mind you, all of this without any X-rays, MRIs [magnetic resonance imaging], blood tests, etc; just by touching the organs and noting down the expressions and narration of patients.
By far, this is the most important part of the ‘Canons of Medicines’ where Ibn Sina did not exclude anything experienced by humans until today such as neurology, ENT [ear, nose and throat], pulmonology, cardiology (including strokes), gastroenterology, urology, gynecology and orthopedics.
All this valuable work has been available freely to the entire world for centuries to benefit from. However, unfortunately, when I wanted to download a copy of about 700 pages of ‘Canons of Medicines’, I was required to dish out the money. Here, I would like to reiterate my point I stated while discussing Islamic finance. While in Dar Al Sharia, when I started filling the empty shelf of Islamic banks with new products which were compatible to conventional banking products, each time a new Islamic product was released, it was promptly adopted by the other Islamic banks since there are no intellectual property (IP) rights in Shariah. This practice allowed the overall size of the Islamic finance assets to grow much faster.
Similarly, the most valuable work of Ibn Sina benefited all corners of the world without any IP rights or payment of any charges, except perhaps the printing cost. Compare it with the loads of branded medicines where we are forced to pay extra money for nothing. There is so much pricing disparity between a high-profile brand from the western world and the medicine prepared with the same generic formulae by a relatively unknown and ‘untrusted’ local pharma company. The question arises: will the ingredients work to make one feel better or the brand name? So, why not consider removing brand names and allow the sale of medicines only based on generic formulae? I am sure this would bring the cost of healthcare drastically down. Point to ponder for the United Nations Development Programme.
Moving on to the fourth volume of ‘Canons of Medicines’, it outlines the problems which arise from obesity, venomous bites, fever due to infection, wounds, fractures and the other external factors. This volume emphasizes personal hygiene, haircare, skincare and the ways to treat both obesity and slenderness. This volume also stands out for identifying about two dozens of different types of transient fevers with diagnosis and treatment.
I saw a review of Volume 4 on the internet which summed it up very well: “In fact, everyone should read this book for health and well-being. This series is a monumental masterpiece of great scientific and philosophical value. You will be awakened from the dream of the inefficiency of conventional medicine with enhanced understanding of other methods of healing. It is amazing to realize that so much knowledge was available a thousand years ago and yet we are hardly doing much better today. Read this series and be healthy and stay healthy.”
As expected from Ibn Sina’s sense of organization, the last Volume 5 listed over 600 compounds, drugs, ointments and liquids for the treatment of all types of internal ailments and external conditions explained in the earlier volumes. These ‘medicines’ are ascribed to Arabic, Indian and Greek sources.
Ibn Sina has provided detailed observations on recipes from different sources and on the ones created by him along with commentary on ingredients and the ratio to mix them, besides their healing time. The volume also contains caution of the impact of a compound with various components vis-a-vis to a single component.
I had known the name ‘Ibn Sina’ for years and up to now had the superficial knowledge that he was one of the stalwarts from the golden era of Islam who chose healthcare and well-being as his forte but thanks to my research related to SDG 3, I now feel amazed upon discovering the huge amount of favor he did for mankind. I would not have done justice by not devoting at least one article to the great work delivered by this genius. My salute to you, Ibn Sina.
The purpose of this educative series and the article is not to hurt any religious or commercial sentiments either consciously or even unwittingly.
Next week: Discussion on SDG 3 to continue.