Lab Results Confirm: This Ibn Sina Manuscript Is Nearly 1000 Years Old

A manuscript attributed to the famous 11th-century Persian physician and philosopher Ibn Sina has created a scholarly stir regarding its dating. Is it contemporary with the author? If so, this would make it an important and reliable copy. Or was it copied a few hundred years after his death? There was only one way to find out...

رسم ابن سينا من مخطوطة تعود للعصور الوسطى بعنوان subtitles of truth من عام 1271 (المصدر ويكيبيديا)، وهاجر ميلمان، مختصّة حفظ وترميم في مختبر الحفظ والترميم في المكتبة الوطنيّة الإسرائيليّة، وهي تقطع برفق خط رفيع من المخطوطة.

Ibn Sina, as he appears in the medieval manuscript titled Subtleties of Truth, 1271 (source: Wikipedia), and Hagar Milman, of the Conservation and Restoration Laboratory at the National Library of Israel, as she delicately cuts a sample from the edge of a manuscript page

“Scalpel,” says a woman in a white lab coat, holding out her hand while standing over a brightly lit table. Knife in hand, she then leans over and begins making the incision.

The “patient” on the operating table is not a person, but a manuscript whose date of writing, or rather of copying, is the subject of debate.

The purpose of the “operation” is to determine how old this manuscript truly is. This will be done by analyzing the sample that has been extracted in an external laboratory. The results of the test will have significant implications, for this is no ordinary manuscript but one that is attributed to the renowned 11th-century Persian philosopher and physician Ibn Sina.

Ibn Sina, as he appears in the medieval manuscript Subtleties of Truth, 1271. Source: Wikipedia

Ibn Sina is considered one of the most important thinkers of the Islamic world, and he is part of a small group of Islamic thinkers who were renowned in their own lifetime, both in the Islamic world and in Europe, where he was known as “Avicenna.”

Ibn Sina rose to prominence at a young age as a respected physician and philosopher. His early fame came when he was called to the bedside of the Sultan of Persia who had been suffering from a prolonged illness. Ibn Sina was able to heal the Sultan when the court physicians could not. His reward was access to the royal library, a development which spurred him on to write many different works, including his famous text on the philosophy of science known as the Book of Healing (Kitab al-Shifa).

First page of the manuscript the Book of Healing (Kitab al-Shifa), in the collection of the National Library of Israel

During his short life, Ibn Sina managed to compose hundreds of works. In the Library’s collections there are hundreds of manuscripts of Ibn Sina’s writings as well as later commentaries on them. But two in particular stand out: one in the field of medicine and the other in various fields of science.

Ibn Sina’s uniqueness in these two works is his overarching approach, which included mapping the entire field of knowledge, and dividing it into clear categories. Moreover, he critically examined these categories, presenting his own insights in each and every field. This method of examining the different categories critically, especially in the field of medicine, eventually became the basis of modern medicine – an approach formally known as “evidence-based medicine”.

The Book of Healing includes four volumes, each of which is dedicated to a different subject. In the Library’s collections is the first volume, which deals with logic. The other volumes deal with the natural sciences, psychology, computational sciences (geometry, mathematics, music and astronomy) and metaphysics. The Book of Healing is a survey of all the fields of science known at the time of its composition. Its uniqueness and importance, as already noted, lies in its structure, which became the standard for all books of philosophy that came after it.

The first volume of the Book of Healing was donated to the National Library as part of the vast collection of the eminent researcher, writer and collector Abraham Shalom Yahuda. The cataloger of the collection, Efraim Wust, recorded the details of this unique manuscript in the Library catalog. Every book cataloged in the Library includes the known or estimated year of its creation.

However, there was no clear date for the creation of this manuscript inside the manuscript itself, and in the catalog entry for it West listed the date as “1050” followed by a question mark. It is not clear what led West to assign this date to the manuscript. Was it an informed assessment perhaps based on the paper or the type of ink, or was it just a gut feeling?

Screenshot of the National Library catalog for the manuscript Kitab al-Shafa (Book of Healing). The catalog shows all the basic data related to every item in the National Library of Israel, and here prominently listed is the date: 1050?

But what is the importance of dating a manuscript anyway?

A manuscript copied during an author’s lifetime is usually indicative of the standing and reputation of the author and is considered more important than one copied after the author’s death because the wording will be closer to the original. It should be noted that there are very few manuscripts of Kitab al-Shafa from Ibn Sina’s lifetime. The discovery of an additional copy made during his lifetime might shed further light on the original wording of this important treatise.

There are several ways to date a manuscript. The easiest way is if the manuscript contains a colophon, that is, a note written by the copyist of the manuscript in which he notes when the copy was completed and sometimes also additional details about the manuscript. One finds colophons in many manuscripts, but as mentioned, not in this one.

An example of a colophon, which often appears in the form of a triangle, one of whose points face downward. From a manuscript in the collection of the National Library of Israel

In the absence of a colophon, there are other less direct ways for dating a manuscript that involve examining various details of the item – the title page and the information it contains, notes, seals of the manuscript’s previous owners or notes of consent for the study of the book (adjazat). However, many early manuscripts do not have a title page at all! Sometimes marginal notations can also shed light on the date a manuscript was copied.

In addition, the physical material from which the manuscript is made may also serve to indicate its time of origin – the type of paper, the type of ink, colors and decorations, the calligraphy, the numbering of the pages or the number of quires, and the like. However, the codicologist (a scientist who studies the materials from which books were made) of the Islamic Collection at the National Library of Israel warns against trying to date a manuscript (or even a printed book) by its cover because that part of a book can be easily replaced.

One thing that may help to pin down the date of a manuscript is the type of paper – its quality, its texture, its degree of transparency, the surface gloss and color, and its firmness or flexibility. Looking at the type of paper of the manuscript under discussion, we can clearly see these things. For example, one can see the fibers from which the paper is made and also some darker areas on the paper, which help to date when the manuscript was written.

Since its arrival at the National Library, there have been various opinions regarding the date the manuscript was copied: some argued that the manuscript was indeed contemporary with Ibn Sina, while others claimed that the manuscript was copied after the author’s death.

The issue became more acute when a specialist in Islamic codicology from Italy approached the Library with questions about the date in the catalog, and claimed that it was copied 200 years later. The Library staff decided to check once and for all in order to unequivocally solve the question of the manuscript’s dating.

Marcela Szekely, the Head of Conservation and Restoration at the National Library of Israel, asked Professor Elisabetta Boaretto to use radiocarbon dating, known to be the most reliable method for dating paper. Prof. Elisabetta Boaretto, a world-renowned expert in the field, came to the National Library to collect a sample of the manuscript.

An “operation” to extract a sample was performed. Since this is an invasive type of test, the operation was preceded by a long discussion between Marcela Szekely and Professor Boaretto about how and from where to take the sample. The initial thought was to conduct the test on the ink used in the manuscript. But in the end, in order to minimize damage to the manuscript as much as possible, it was decided to take the sample from the sides of several pages in the form of an elongated strip and not in the form of a rectangle as is usually the case.

Prof. Boaretto wraps the specimen from the manuscript in foil paper for transport to the lab at the Weizmann Institute for radiocarbon dating

This test, also known as the radiometric method, is based on the fact that every organic substance has a constant rate of radioactive decay. Thus, the older an object, the smaller the amount of radioactive carbon that will be found in it. Research in the field has developed significantly over the years, and today this method can be used to date any inanimate object of organic origin going back 50 thousand years. It was also decided to test for the composition of the paper at the same time. The test was carried out at the Dangoor Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot under the supervision of Prof. Boaretto.

Prof. Marcela Szekely, Head of Conservation and Restoration (left) and Prof. Boaretto (right) with the Kitab al Shifa manuscript. Every special request to view an ancient manuscript or rare item takes place in a room dedicated for this purpose, with the item placed on a special cushion for its protection.

When the answer finally came back from Prof. Boaretto, it was clear that the collector and cataloger had both been right and their gut feeling was accurate: the manuscript is not from the 14th century, but dates to between the years 1040–1160 at the latest, shortly after the death of Ibn Sina in 1037. It was also discovered that the source of the paper is cellulose. Further tests will be performed to discover the type of fibers from which the paper was made. This is another example of how science comes to the aid of history to help us to learn more about the Library’s cultural treasures which are available to the general public for reference and research.

The article was compiled with the assistance of Marcela Szekely, head of the Department of Conservation and Restoration at the National Library of Israel.

An Arab Qur’an with a Persian Identity

The Persian language as we know it today emerged after the Arab conquests of the 8th century CE. One of the National Library of Israel’s treasured manuscripts contains the first known example of New Persian to appear on the world stage...

Not much is known about Ahmad Hikani. He lived in the 9th century CE, probably in the Khorasan region of eastern Iran, the birthplace of many Islamic scholars during the religion’s early period. What is certain is that his knowledge of Arabic was extensive enough that he was able to properly vowelize a text in that language—and not just any text, but the Qur’an itself.

Yet, despite our lack of information about him, Ahmad Hikani is a key figure in Iranian history: his name is tied to a revolution in the Persian language that occurred in the Middle Ages.

Our story begins with a manuscript of the Qur’an purchased by the famous collector Abraham Shalom Yehuda. This manuscript, which includes only part of the Qur’an, from Surah An-Nahl (The Palms, No. 17) to Surah Al-Khaf (The Cave, No. 18), was copied on parchment, with gold ornamental decoration signaling the beginning of each chapter, and dots marking the vocalization of each word. These markings, in addition to the square Arabic script, known as “Kufic script,” hint at this Qur’an’s antiquity.

How ancient, you may ask? A handwritten comment, called a colophon, placed at the end of the Qur’an by the scribe who emended the vocalization in the manuscript, reveals that this Qur’an was copied in the year 905. What is special about this comment is that it is written in Persian in Arabic letters. This is, in fact, the first known appearance of the language known as New Persian, written in Arabic letters, on the historical stage.

The first page of the partial Qur’an with the verse recalling the Prophet Muhammad’s “Night Journey”


The colophon reads:

این جزء سی پاره جمله درست بکرد بعجم ونقط وتشدید احمد خیقانی نصره الله فی الدین بمنه سنه اثنی وتسعین واثنی مایه

“Ahmad Hikani, may God in his grace preserve us in the bosom of the faith, emended this portion of the 30 portions [of the Qur’an] by adding marks [diacritics], vowel signs and the shaddah sign [= a doubling of a consonant], in  the year 292 [AH, 905 CE].”

The colophon

The uniqueness of New Persian, also known as Modern Persian, is on the one hand the preservation of characteristics of the “Middle” Persian language, the one that preceded the Islamic conquests, and on the other the conversion of the ancient Persian script into Arabic letters and the entry of new vocabulary into the Persian language. This move is indicative of an independent Persian identity, distinct from that of the Arabs who came to Iran with the conquests of the Muslim armies in the early years of Islam.

When Islam spread beyond the Arabian Peninsula in the first centuries after its emergence, it encountered the Persian and Greek cultures, the two pillars of the ancient world. Greek culture was by this point in its Byzantine incarnation, and was common in the eastern Mediterranean basin. Its language was Greek and Christianity was the dominant religion. Persian culture, on the other hand, was common in Central Asia, the language spoken was Persian, and Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion.

While the Greek language, once dominant in the Mediterranean basin, gradually disappeared as Arab-Muslim rule took root in the region, the inhabitants of the former Persian Empire, now under Arab-Muslim rule, tended in a different direction. Instead of adopting Arabic as their dominant language, they adopted Arabic script into the Persian language and created a new language: New Persian.

The change was not immediate: between the seventh and tenth centuries Middle Persian gradually disappeared, reappearing in the tenth century in its new form, New Persian. The changes that the language underwent, that is – what elements were abandoned, what elements were adopted from Arabic and what was preserved from Middle Persian, can be seen in the Judeo-Persian writings from the period. Judeo-Persian, or New Persian written in Hebrew letters, is important for the study of the development of the New Persian language, because some of the texts in early Judeo-Persian have preserved some of Middle Persian’s linguistic features.

Judeo-Persian Manuscript of a commentary to Leviticus 11 from the Afghan Geniza

The distinction between Persian and Arabic identities does not mean rejection of Islam or of the importance of the Arabic language. In the Middle Ages, Persian scholars traveled to centers of knowledge in the Arabic-speaking world in order to study and teach. They even wrote in Arabic on many and varied topics, from the study of Islamic law to history and geography.

The Qur’an we presented at the beginning of the article is an example of the combination of Persian identity and acceptance of Arabic as an important language. The Qur’an was copied in Arabic because that is the language of the Qur’an. The colophon, as a personal expression of the copyist, Ahmad Hikani, expresses his own Persian identity.

Over the years, Persian identity, which took shape alongside, in the shadow of and sometimes even in opposition to Arabic identity, has become more pronounced and emphasized. Today, this distinct identity is also expressed in national and religious aspects that set it apart from the identities of the Arab world.


Thanks to Dr. Ofir Haim for translating the colophon

Dala’il al-Khayrat: Depicting Mecca Across the Islamic World

The hajj pilgrimage is a life-shaping experience for millions of Muslims around the world. It culminates with the arrival at the Holy Mosque in Mecca. These manuscripts from the collections of the National Library of Israel depict the Islamic holy sites in Mecca and Medina in colorful illustrations, an artistic expression of faith that continues to evolve…

The Holy Mosque in Mecca (right) and the Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Medina (left). Dala’il al-Khayrat, Ottoman Empire, 1795. From the Collections of the National Library of Israel.

Can a selfie be sacred? Every year, millions of Muslims from across the world travel to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage known as the hajj. These days, however, there is no need to make the journey to Saudi Arabia to be a part of the experience. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms are flooded with pilgrim posts; #hajjselfie is always trending during the ten days of the pilgrimage, which began this year on July 7.

While some claim today that hajj selfies are narcissistic and defy the pilgrimage’s spiritual purpose, others argue that such images are an important way to remember a pivotal experience and share it with others. And, in fact, picturing the holy places–if in paintings and drawings rather than selfies–has served to connect Muslims with the pilgrimage for hundreds of years.

Dala’il al-Khayrat (Signs of Benevolent Deeds) is a fifteenth century Arabic work containing a series of prayers and blessings for the Prophet Muhammad. Written by the Moroccan Sufi mystic Muhammad al-Jazuli, it is the most-reproduced Islamic devotional text after the Qur’an. Alongside the devotional content, Dala’il al-Khayrat manuscripts from North Africa to India also include illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Medina and the Holy Mosque in Mecca. But as the dozens of manuscripts in the National Library of Israel collections show, depictions of Mecca and ideas about its veneration have shifted across space and time; each Muslim community has pictured the sacred sites in light of its own culture.

The undated North African manuscript you can see here contains a two-page spread depicting Mecca on the right and Medina on the left. The image of Mecca shows the Holy Mosque with the dark cube of the Ka‘ba in the center. This is the most sacred site in Islam, and circumambulating the Ka‘ba, known as the House of God, is the central ritual of the hajj. The meeting-places of the four canonical Islamic schools of law, represented by rectangles with red triangular roofs, surround the Ka‘ba. The image’s calligraphic script, colors, and braided borders mark this image as distinctly North African.

Holy Mosque in Mecca (right) and the Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Medina (left). Dala’il al-Khayrat, North Africa, seventeenth century. The white tape obscuring the Ka‘ba was added by a later owner. From the collections of the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge.

The use of abstraction and labeling in this image makes it look more like a map than a painting. The details show us that the artist is interested in mapping spiritual rather than physical space. For example, the buildings and minarets that surround the Ka‘ba are all oriented towards it. This emphasizes the role of the Ka‘ba as the spiritual center of the universe. In addition, the space around the Ka‘ba is divided into four quarters, each labeled with a geographic location, creating a global spiritual geography with the Ka‘ba at its heart. Through this illumination, we see that North African traditions venerated Mecca by emphasizing its centrality in Muslim spiritual geography.

Across the Middle East, in late eighteenth century India, Mecca was imagined in a markedly different way. This manuscript of the Dala’il perhaps originates in Kashmir, a region whose artistic style was heavily influenced by North Indian Mughal manuscripts as well as Persian manuscripts. The illumination of Mecca in this copy reflects both of these traditions.

The Holy Mosque in Mecca (right) and the Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Medina (left). Dala’il al-Khayrat, possibly Kashmir, nineteenth century. From the collections of the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge.

In the image of the Sacred Mosque on the right, the Ka‘ba is again surrounded by the study-places of the four schools of Islamic law, here shown topped with domes. The decorations and color palette reflect both Persian and Mughal influence on local Kashmiri traditions. For example, the key-shaped multi-lobed arches that can be seen in some of  the small domed outbuildings are derived from North Indian Mughal architecture. The small, repeated floral patterns that form the background are also common in both Mughal and Persian manuscripts.

The elaborate decoration in this image highlights the importance of Mecca. Using decoration to indicate significance and holiness is a long-established tradition in Islamic manuscripts, beginning with the use of illumination in the Qur’an itself to highlight the importance of the text. Lavishing the image of Mecca with sumptuous decoration communicates the importance and holiness of this key site.

The last manuscript comes from Ottoman Turkey, the seat of the caliphate and the heart of the Islamic world when it was copied in 1795. The illustrations in this manuscript depict Mecca and Medina from a bird’s-eye view in a classic example of European-style perspective. The Ka‘ba and its outbuildings are shown as three-dimensional and the painting’s light shines from a single source. The colors are likewise naturalistic. The European influence on this illustration reflects the broader context of artistic exchange between the Ottoman Empire and its European neighbors. Beginning in the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Empire increased diplomatic relationships with Europe, creating new opportunities for artists to explore one another’s traditions. As part of this exchange, Ottoman artists became interested in the conventions of European illusionistic painting and began to incorporate techniques such as perspective, modeling, and shading into their work.

The Holy Mosque in Mecca (right) and the Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Medina (left). Dala’il al-Khayrat, Ottoman Empire, 1795. From the Collections of the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge.

While the North African image of Mecca emphasizes spiritual geography and the Kashmiri illustration uses decoration as a form of emphasis and veneration, in the Ottoman illumination the veneration of Mecca is linked to Ottoman political power in the region. The Ottoman sultans gained control of Mecca and Medina and became khādim al-haramayn al-sharifayn, the “servants of the two holy sanctuaries,” in the fifteenth century, and depictions of Mecca became more and more popular in the Ottoman Empire immediately thereafter. Visually, this image reflects Ottoman cartography, which also used bird’s-eye view perspective derived from European maps, suggesting that depictions of Mecca were linked to depictions of other kinds of political territory in the expanding empire. Ottoman illustrations of Mecca venerate the holy city by portraying it as a key political territory and highlighting the sacred duty of the Ottoman Empire to protect the holy cities and all pilgrims who travel to them.



Further Reading:

Abid, Hiba. “The Birth of a Successful Prayer Book: The Manuscript Tradition of the Dala’il al-Khayrat in North Africa.” Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 12 (2021): 265-294.

Beyazit, Deniz. “Defining Ottoman Realism in the Uppsala Mecca Painting.” Muqarnas 37 (2020): 209–245.

Roxburgh, David J. “Pilgrimage City.” In The City in the Islamic World, edited by Renata Holod et al, 753-774. Vol. 2. Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Witkam, Jan Just. “The battle of the images. Mecca vs. Medina in the iconography of the manuscripts of al-Jazūlī’s Dalā’il al-khayrāt.” In Theoretical approaches to the transmission and edition of Oriental manuscripts. Proceedings of a symposium held in Istanbul, March 28-30, 2001. Ed. Judith Peiffer, Manfred Kropp, 67-82. Beirut: Ergon Verlag Würzburg in Kommission, 2007.


This Iranian Trailblazer Revolutionized Global Medicine and Thought

The works of Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna, served as core medical texts for some 500 years in Europe. His groundbreaking philosophical teachings also transcended borders...

“Medicine is not one of the difficult sciences, and therefore I excelled in it in a very short time” (A statue of Ibn Sina in Istanbul / Photo: باسم / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Abu Ali Hussein ibn Abdullah ibn Sina, (980-1037 C.E.) known in the Western world as Avicenna, is considered to be one of the most celebrated and influential philosophers and scientists of the Irano-Islamic world, authoring more than 450 books in various scientific and humanistic fields. Ibn Sina was educated in Bukhara, the capital of the Samanid Empire, a Persian dynasty in Central Asia. This was a period of reawakening of the Persian national sentiment, which had been glorified by Persian-speaking poets like Rudaki and Ferdowsi. Bukhara was, therefore, considered to be one of the artistic and intellectual centers of the East. Ibn Sina was influenced by the humanistic culture of his surroundings, and by the age of 10 he knew the Quran by heart and had mastered Arabic grammar.

While a teenager, he studied Aristotle and later the works of al-Farabi. He then turned to natural sciences and began studying books on medicine, recalling in his autobiography: “medicine is not one of the difficult sciences, and therefore I excelled in it in a very short time.” Ibn Sina developed a system of medical knowledge in his encyclopedic book Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb or The Canon of Medicine, which was divided into five sections: a general introduction, properties of therapeutic substances, localized diseases, systemic diseases and pharmacology. Translated into Latin by the late 12th century, the book was taught and discussed in European medical schools for some five centuries, greatly impacting medieval and early modern physicians and the medical field quite broadly.

A 16th century Latin edition of Avicenna’s Fourth Book on the Universal Nature of Medicine. From the Harry Friedenwald Collection at the National Library of Israel

In addition to Canon of Medicine, other medical works of  Ibn Sina were received by philosophers and scientists in the Western world. The Book of Healing (Kitāb al-shifā) was also considered to be one of the major works of medieval Muslim scholarship. If The Canon of Medicine was essentially devoted to prevention of disease and pharmacology, The Book of Healing, known in Latin as Liber Sufficientia, was written as an Aristotelian philosophical summa, consisting of four major parts dealings with logic, metaphysics, mathematics and natural philosophy.

A 14th century Hebrew translation of an Ibn Sina medical text, featuring an illustration of a physician tending to a patient. From the National Library of France, available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Following Aristotle, Ibn Sina saw the purpose or final cause as that for the sake of which something is done. As a matter of fact, Ibn Sina’s metaphysics of modality implies that all that actually exists is necessary because of its cause.  Though a Neoplatonist, Ibn Sina integrated Aristotelian concepts and ideas into his own corpus. He also ranked among the most influential metaphysicians in the history of Islamic philosophy. In his Treatise on the Soul (Kitab al-Nafs) translated in Latin under the title De Anima, Ibn Sina anticipated Descartes’ radical mind-body dualism. His philosophy was a something of a middle ground between Aristotle’s naturalism and ideas of monotheistic creationism, describing the Divine as the metaphysical “First Cause” of existence, rather than the physical “Unmoved Cause” of motion. For Ibn Sina, the essence of the human being was the soul; the body simply being a dress worn by the soul during its corporeal lifetime.

The mausoleum of Ibn Sina in Iran (Photo: AminiZaza / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ibn Sina insisted on the spiritual nature of human being. It followed that the human being, as a spiritual being, is in need of the intervention of a “Universal Active Intellect”. Indeed, when Ibn Sina discussed Aristotle’s theory of the soul, he also discussed the Greek philosopher’s theory of the imagination and underlined its role in the process of prophecy. Consequently, Ibn Sina held that some souls could attain the state of prophecy through a union with the Universal Active Intellect, as the source of the genesis of human knowledge. As such, Ibn Sina considered man, as a social and ethical being, to be the crown of divine creation, while also accepting that there is a series of heavenly beings between God and man.

He sought to incorporate Islamic themes into his philosophy, while believing that philosophers (rather than theologians) should have the final say on how to interpret the concept of “Being”. He clearly preferred the philosophical way of expressing the concept of “Truth” and considered Truth to be a fundamental philosophical principle that was not limited to theology but also had important ramifications in metaphysics and logic. In fact, when referring to God, Ibn Sina used the Arabic word Al-Haqq (Truth) – clearly demonstrating his mixture of Islamic theology and Neo-Platonism.

On the whole, one has to conclude that lbn Sina was predominantly an astute metaphysician whose works were read and discussed not only by medieval Islamic philosophers such as Averroes and al-Ghazali, but also accommodated and disputed by Christian philosophers, including Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. Undoubtedly, Ibn Sina was a modern thinker who lived in the Middle Ages, and though his obvious brilliance was fully appreciated by the contemporary Islamic world, his full impact only came to the fore after his works were translated into Latin and discovered by European scholars. His passionate defense of philosophy, and his writings on the human body and soul, found many readers who saw in him a great humanist.

Galenus, Avicenna and Hippocrates pictured in a 16th-century medical book (Public domain)

As a result, Ibn Sina can be considered a truly universal thinker, whose thought travelled beyond the Iranian and Islamic mental geographies. Like his teacher Aristotle, Ibn Sina believed that philosophy aims at the universal. And, in fact, he was the first philosopher in the Islamic world who tried to establish a dialogue between different disciplines of thought without being afraid of commenting on Quranic issues and incorporating them into his philosophy. This certainly did not endear him to everyone and many among Ibn Sina’s contemporaries criticized his reliance on non-Muslim philosophers like Plato and Aristotle.

Yet today Ibn Sina’s legacy offers a chance to accomplish a goal that he had hoped to achieve in his lifetime: bridging the gap between the Islamic world and the founders of the fundamentals of Western philosophy. The world needs intercultural and interdisciplinary thinkers like Ibn Sina now, more than ever.