This book is about Ibn al-Nafı-s and his novel anatomical and physiological understanding of the heart. ‘Ala-’ al-Dı-n ‘Alı-ibn Abı-al-H. azm al-Qarashı-, better known as Ibn al-Nafı-s, died in Cairo in 1288 at the age of eighty. He was a highly-esteemed physician-jurist, close to the circle of the Mamluk ruler, Sultan al-Mans.u-r al-Qala-wu-n (r. 1279-1290), to whose newly-established Mans.u-rı-hospital (1285) Ibn al-Nafı-s bequeathed his house and books. Although he was a trained Sha-fi‘ı-jurist who composed works on fiqh (jurisprudence) and h.adı-th (Prophetic traditions), he is mostly remembered by pre-modern and modern biographers alike for his works on medicine. Ibn al-Nafı-s composed over thirty medical works, many of which are still

extant. By far the most popular work associated with him is theMu-jaz fı-al-T. ibb (Epitome of Medicine), which by the fourteenth century was already being referred to as the dastu-r al-mutat.abbibı-n (the standard reference of medical practitioners).3 Over the centuries, the Mu-jaz spawned an entire industry of commentaries and supercommentaries across the Islamic world, and was even printed “six times in India between 1828 and 1906.”4 His other works included a multi-volume commentary (sharh. ) on Ibn Sı-na-’s (d. 1037) famous

medical encyclopedia, al-Qa-nu-n fı-al-T. ibb (The Canon of Medicine), whose anatomical section circulated as a separate treatise, Sharh. Tashrı-h. al-Qa-nu-n (Commentary on the Anatomy of the Canon). The commentaries on the Canon were certainly known in the Islamic world;5 however, judging solely by the number of surviving manuscripts, it appears that the Mu-jaz was much better known and had the greatest impact on medical practice and learning in the Islamic world up until the nineteenth century. Yet, amongst historians of science and medicine, Ibn al-Nafı-s’s fame rests almost entirely on a few passages from his Sharh. Tashrı-h. wherein he rejects Galenic cardiovascular anatomy. According to the Galenic understanding of the heart, the septum wall

between the right and left ventricles of the heart was deemed to have pores (imperceptible to the human eye) in order to allow blood to pass through.6 In five passages in his Sharh. Tashrı-h. , Ibn al-Nafı-s rejected this alleged porosity of the septum wall and claimed that the blood, in fact, was taken up by the lungs from the right ventricle, where it was filtered and mixed with air, before passing into the vessel which conveyed this air-blood mixture to the left ventricle of the heart. Since being “rediscovered” in the 1920s by an Egyptian physician, Muh.yı-al-Dı-n al-T.at.a-wı-, these five passages have received a great deal of attention from both historians and physicians. The underlying concern of much of this scholarship has been to ascertain whether Ibn al-Nafı-s should be credited as the “discoverer of the pulmonary circulation of blood” and, if so, whether or not his Latin successors in the field of anatomy, namely Michael Servetus (d. 1553), Realdo Colombo (d. 1559) and William Harvey (d. 1657), developed their own anatomical and physiological theories using Ibn al-Nafı-s’s works.7 However, there have been no attempts at understanding the status and role of this novel anatomical result within Ibn al-Nafı-s’s own thought. Science and Religion in Mamluk Egypt fills this lacuna by situating the result within both Ibn al-Nafı-s’s written corpus, and his larger social, religious and intellectual contexts. The absence of any attempt at understanding Ibn al-Nafı-s’s anatomical

result within its context is not that surprising given the challenges historians have traditionally faced in examining the development of science and medicine in the Islamic world. In a path-setting article from 1987, A. I. Sabra urged Islamicists to become “critically aware” of the “fact that Islamic science, or rather a segment of it, happened to perform an intermediary role between the Greek and Latin medieval traditions has had certain untoward consequences… .”8 He identified several such consequences, chief amongst them being the traditional depiction of the Islamic world as a passive recipient, preserver and transmitter of Greek science to the Latin world, which led generations of scholars to eschew questions that sought to understand, for example, developments in non-Ptolemaic astronomy (or, we could say, non-Galenic anatomy) within Islamic societies in favor of comparisons of these models with those of Copernicus (or Harvey).9 He thus called upon Islamicists to ask questions appropriate for understanding science within the context of Islamic societies, and to even come up with new periodizations to replace the older one.