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Al-Nafis, (full name: Ala-al-Din Abu al-Hasan Ali Ibn Abi al-Hazm al-Nafis al-Qarshi al-Misri al-Shafi-i al-Damashqi) is one of the most influential figures in the history of medicine and Islamic medicine in particular. In the 13th century CE, Al-Nafis discovered pulmonary circulation, and also wrote other key works on medicine, science, and research philosophy. He is known for a sharp commentary on Hippocrates, and was both private physican to the ruling Mamluk ruler, al-Zahir Baybars al-Bunduqdari, and Chief of Physicians for all Egypt.

Medical innovation

Al-Nafis's discovery of pulmonary circulation and how it fit into human anatomy as a whole was a major scientific and medical breakthrough. His description of it was especially interesting, because it explained the phenomenon in physical terms, and without theological references, as was common at the time in the study of all major human organ systems. Al-Nafis contributed seminal work detailing important ideas and techniques in the study of opthalmology, surgical procedures, and the relation between diet and health. In addition, he also studied the use of plants for drugs and wrote detailed critiques of the work of earlier physicans.


Al Nafis was a prodigous writer and completed 80 volumes of his projected 300-volume medical encyclopedia, Al-Shamil fi al-Tibb (The Comprehensive Book on the Art of Medicine), which would include his discoveries and all available information on anatomy, physiology, pathology, and diet. His other writings include: Sharah Tashrih al Qanun, also called Mujaz al-Qanun, or The Summary of Law; a detailed commentary on The Nature of Man by Hippocrates; a detailed refutation of Galen's theory a two-chambered [[heart] that produced 'spirit' as part of a commentary on the work of Ibn Sina known in Europe as Avicenna, and Kitab al-Mukhtar fi al-Aghdhiya on the role of nutrition; and Al-Risala al-Kamiliyya. There is evidence that Al-Nafis's ideas spread to Europe and through Asia fairly fast, though the first translations of his work is two centuries later, to Latin in the mid-1500s. An extensive translation of his work was started in German in 1924.

Philosophy and other interests

Al-Nafis, who studied medicine in Damascus, also taught law, theology, and literature. He believed in and wrote about the ability of single, isolated human beings to discover anything and everything in the world.