Ibn al-Nafis and the Exploration of the Human Body


Ibn al-Nafis was a great Arab physician and surgeon, who also made contributions in astronomy, Islamic theology philosophy, history, and science fiction writing. Ibn al-Nafis recorded his own experiences, observations, and deductions in his books and manuscripts; 300 years after his original writings, some of his work was translated into Latin and became available to European physicians.

The discovery of the blood circulatory system is Ibn al-Nafis’s major contribution to medicine. The discovery of the pulmonary circulation was believed to be discovered during the 16th century by Servetus, Vesalius, Colombus, then Harvey; however, after the discovery of ancient manuscripts, it is proposed that the credit for this discovery belongs to the 13th century Ibn al-Nafis. His views about the pulmonary transit of blood corrected some of the inaccuracies Galen, the Greek physician, had made when describing the role of the heart and blood.

Ibn al-Nafis was the first who correctly described the constitution of the lungs and gave a description of the bronchi and the interaction between the human body’s vessels for air and blood. Moreover, he elaborated the function of the coronary arteries as feeding the cardiac muscle. Another important discovery was the tiny capillaries that allow an interchange between the blood and waste products in the tissues.

Almost all the biographers thought that Ibn al-Nafis’s book Kitab Mujaz Al-Qanun was meant to be a summary of Ibn Sina’s book The Canon of Medicine, although Ibn al-Nafis never mentioned in the introduction of the book that it was a summarization of Ibn Sina’s book. Recent studies stated that it was meant to be a handout for medical students. In this book, Ibn al-Nafis corrected the concept of the parts of the human body with diagrams to illustrate its function and working. He also differentiated between renal colic and intestinal colic, bladder infections and kidney infections, as well as the different types of inflammatory and renal swellings.

In his book Sharh Tashrih Al-Qanun, Ibn al-Nafis stressed on the importance of anatomy so that doctors could be able to identify the state of the organs and how they are related to each other. This book comprised anatomical drawings, which was a step forward in illustrating textbooks; this trend started during the Islamic period. He developed his own system of anatomy and physiology. He performed the earliest known dissection on the human brain, and discovered how blood circulates through it. Due to his death, Kitab Al-Shamil fi Al-Tibb was not completed though it was meant to be an encyclopedia comprising 300 volumes.


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