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  • 8/22/2009

Avicenna: Early life


His full name was Hussein ibn Abdullah ibn Hassan ibn Ali ibn Sina. He was born around 980 in Afshana, near Bukhara, which was his mother"s hometown, in Greater Khorasan, to a Persian family. His father, Abdullah, was a respected Ismaili scholar from Balkh, an important town of the Persian Empire, in what is today contemporary Afghanistan.

His mother was named Setareh. His father was at the time of his son"s birth the governor in one of the Samanid Nuh ibn Mansur"s estates. He had his son very carefully educated at Bukhara.

Ibn Sina"s independent thought was served by an extraordinary intelligence and memory, which allowed him to overtake his teachers at the age of fourteen. As he said in his autobiography, there was nothing that he had not learned when he reached eighteen.

Ibn Sina was put under the charge of a tutor, and his precocity soon made him the marvel of his neighbors; he displayed exceptional intellectual behavior and was a child prodigy who had memorized the Quran by the age of 10 (10 or 7? it says 7 in the theology section below) and a great deal of Persian poetry as well.

 He learned Indian arithmetic from an Indian greengrocer, and he began to learn more from a wandering scholar who gained a livelihood by curing the sick and teaching the young. He also studied Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) under the Hanafi scholar Ismail al-Zahid.

As a teenager, he was greatly troubled by the Metaphysics of Aristotle, which he could not understand until he read al-Farabi"s commentary on the work. For the next year and a half, he studied philosophy, in which he encountered greater obstacles. In such moments of baffled inquiry, he would leave his books, perform the requisite ablutions (wudu), then go to the mosque, and continue in prayer (salah) till light broke on his difficulties. Deep into the night he would continue his studies, and even in his dreams problems would pursue him and work out their solution. Forty times, it is said, he read through the Metaphysics of Aristotle, till the words were imprinted on his memory; but their meaning was hopelessly obscure, until one day they found illumination, from the little commentary by Farabi, which he bought at a bookstall for the small sum of three dirhams. So great was his joy at the discovery, thus made by help of a work from which he had expected only mystery, that he hastened to return thanks to God, and bestowed alms upon the poor.

He turned to medicine at 16, and not only learned medical theory, but also by gratuitous attendance of the sick had, according to his own account, discovered new methods of treatment. The teenager achieved full status as a qualified physician at age 18, and found that

‘Medicine is no hard and thorny science, like mathematics and metaphysics, so I soon made great progress; I became an excellent doctor and began to treat patients, using approved remedies.’

The youthful physician"s fame spread quickly, and he treated many patients without asking for payment.

Other links:

Who was Avicenna?

Avicenna: Short biography

Avicenna: Adulthood

Avicennia"s science

Avicennian psychology

Avicenna’s philosophy

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