Jabir Ibn Hayyan

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Tous, Iran
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Tous, Iran

Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan was a medieval polymath who went by the Latinized variant of his name Geber. All wrapped into one, he was an alchemist, chemist, geographer, physician, physicist, astrologer, astronomer, pharmacist, and philosopher. There are many questions over Jabir’s true identity, as some biographical sources claim he lived in the 10th century, but most conventional sources claim he was an 8th century physician or alchemist. Some accounts mention a ‘pseudo-Geber’ who wrote works on metallurgy and alchemy under the pen name ‘Geber’ in 13th century Europe. Many ‘Middle Ages’ historians and chroniclers deny that the Jabirian corpus, which numbers around 3000 works, could have been written by a single person. Despite this, the vast majority of trustworthy biographical sources view Jabir as an Islamic genius who left behind a great body of work spanning astronomy, astrology, medical sciences, geography, alchemy, chemistry, philosophy, and pharmacy. He is also referred to as the “Father of Early Modern Chemistry,” and his publications include “Kitab al-Kimya,” or “Book of the Kingdom,” “Theory of Balance in Nature,” “Kitab-Al-Sab’een,” or “Book of Eastern Mercury,” and “The Invention of Verity.” Despite differences of opinion among historians over Jabir Hayyan’s identity and the volume of work attributed to him, most historiographers agree that some of his contributions have had a favorable impact on alchemy and contemporary chemistry.

Background and Personal Experiences

According to E.J. Holmyard, a 20th century professor and researcher, Jabir ibn Hayyan was born in Persia (modern-day Iran) in the Tus village of the Khorasan area around 721 or 722 AD. The Umayyad Caliphate ruled over Persia at the time.

His ethnicity is a point of contention, with some sources claiming that he was born in Khorasan and later went to Kufa, while others claim that he was a Syrian who moved to Persia. His father, Hayyan-al-Azadi, of the al-Azdi tribe, was a pharmacist, according to a few reports.

Hayyan-al-Azadi moved from Yemen to Kufa (now Iraq), which was then ruled by the Umayyad Caliphs, and accidentally became entangled in political intrigues. He was dispatched to Khorasan as a messenger to gather support for the rebellion by the Abbasids, who were fighting the Caliphates.

Al-Azadi was apprehended by the Umayyad Caliph and eventually executed for plotting against his rule. With Jabir Hayyan, who was a child at the time, Al-family Azadi’s fled to Yemen. Harbi al-Himyari, a renowned scholar, was charged with teaching Jabir mathematics, the Quran, and a variety of other disciplines.

Later, under the Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid, Jabir Ibn Hayyan was instructed by a Shi’ite Imam named Jafar Al-Sadiq, who was intimately affiliated with the Abbasids. Under the auspices of the Caliph’s ministers known as Barmecides, he studied alchemy and medicine.

With the support of the Caliphate, Jabir began practicing as a pharmacist after completing his education. In one of his treatises, Jabir said that he once created a particular concoction for a maidservant working for a Barmecide named Yahya Ibn Khalid.

He also wrote an alchemical manual for Harun al-Rashid, the Caliph, called “The Book of the Blossom.” The book offered information and directions on alchemical experimentation procedures. He also made it possible to translate alchemical transcripts from Latin and Greek into Arabic.

After falling foul of the Abbasid Caliph, Harun al-Rashid, Jabir ibn Hayyan was put to death in 803, paying a high price for his association with the Barmecides. He managed to flee to Kufa, but was apprehended and imprisoned for the remainder of his life.

According to one traditional source, Ibn Hayyan proposed to the reigning Caliph, Al-Ma’mun, that he choose a successor of his choosing. According to the source, Jabir might not have died until and until an heir was chosen.

Citations from the Beginning

Jabir was an acolyte of the Shia Imam, Jafar as-Sadiq, according to Ibn al-Nadim, a 10th century Persian scholar and bibliographer, who stated in his work, ‘Kitab al-Fihrisht,’ that Jabir was an acolyte of the Shia Imam, Jafar as-Sadiq. Ibn Hayyan was a member of a philosophical group, according to another mention by al-Nadim.
Only one of the books purportedly written by Jabir, ‘The Large Book of Mercy,’ was legitimate, according to Nadim, who also cited a source that said the remainder were written by anonymous authors.

The Essence of Jabirian’s Work

The most innovative piece credited to Jabir, according to legend, is a treatise on ‘numerology’ called’miza’n or the’method of balancing.’ The basic concept of this arithmetical treatise was to calculate the amount or magnitude of ‘hotness,’ ‘coldness,’ dryness, and wetness’ in an object based on its designation.

Each Arabic alphabetic letter was given an arithmetical value, and the various “natures” were given a numerical value based on the letters’ order. Every element in nature possessed a dual existence, one that was ‘obvious’ (zahir) and the other that was ‘intangible,’ according to Jabirian treatises (batin).

Despite its unrealistic and odd aspects, Jabir’s collection of work contains a wealth of information that has benefited chemistry, alchemy, and chemical technology. Jabirian work greatly aided the long-held belief that mercury and sulphur were essential components of known metallic elements. This assertion was backed up by metallurgical evidence.

The treatises provide a thorough explanation of how to separate metals from their ores and refine them using ‘fractional distillation.’ Because of the compound’s ability to combine with metals known in medieval times, Jabirian works also focused on the composition and chemical properties of sal ammoniac (ammonium chloride).

Jabir Ibn Hayyan’s Contributions

It’s worth noting that the contributions to chemistry credited to Jabirian by Arabic scholars vary significantly from those credited to him as Geber, his Latinized alter ego.
Under his Arabic name, he has made contributions that emphasize the importance of wisdom gained via laboratory research, field observations, and personal experience. Jabir was the first to recognize the need of studying the anatomical structure of flora and fauna in addition to minerals. He also stressed the importance of numerology in deciphering the universe’s mysteries.

Jabir mentioned the necessity of balancing when it came to understanding the inherent properties of substances, which helped him grasp their roles in the development of other substances. The qualities of heat, cold, moisture, and dryness in ether elements were originally defined by ancient Greek intellectuals, and Ibn Hayyan characterized them in ether elements.

Jabir Ibn Hayyan was a firm believer in the long-held concept that, in the majority of cases, divine intervention was required to resolve occult or mystical issues that could not be explained scientifically. He was also convinced that someone with a strong religious or spiritual leaning had the ability to affect deity.

Geber Contributions with a Latinized Name

Jabir’s Latinized NAME ‘Geber’ is credited with important advances to chemistry, including the separation of gold alloyed with other metals utilizing potassium nitrate and lead as catalysts. In Geber’s publications, he described the laboratory manufacture of nitric acid, sulphuric acid, aqua regia, sal ammoniac (ammonium chloride), alum (potassium sulphate), mercuric oxide, silver nitrate, and arsenous acid.

Geber proposed the chemical properties of minerals, mixtures, substances, and compounds, as well as their organizational structures. He is supposed to have given the name ‘alkali’ to all water-soluble salts, employed crystallization to purify compounds, and established that metals invariably contained mercury and sulphur in various proportions.

Alchemy’s Contributions

The majority of Jabir’s alchemical works were written in esoteric phraseology, making it extremely difficult for modern scientific scholars to comprehend them. Geber’s convoluted and rarefied works are said to be the source of the term ‘gibberish.’ Nonetheless, some of his alchemical works differed from those of past alchemists in a few ways.
His alchemical adventures appear to have revolved around the sacred goal of generating life using artificial means known as ‘takwin.’ His most famous alchemical work, the ‘Book of Stones,’ offers details on how to breathe life into creatures and even humans in a controlled environment like a laboratory.

Jabir Hayyan was a devout Muslim who firmly believed in complete devotion to Allah, the Supreme Being, and he emphasized this attitude throughout his works. Agathodaimon, Hermes, Pythagoras, Socrates, and Trismegistus, ancient Greek and Egyptian alchemists, significantly influenced him, as seen by his alchemical writings.

Works by Jabirian

Jabirian work is usually divided into four categories.
‘The 112 Volumes,’ devoted to Barmecides, who served as ministers to the Abbasid Caliph Harun-al-Rashid, and ‘The Seventy Books,’ most of which had Latin versions available in the Middle Ages. The Kitab al-Zuhra (Book of Venus) and the Kitab Al-Ahjar are two examples (Book of Stones).

The ‘Books on Balance,’ including the most sought-after ‘Theory of Balance in Nature.’
The ‘Ten Books on Rectification,’ which Jabir wrote about ancient Greek alchemists such as Pythagoras, Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates.

Death and the Afterlife

Jabir ibn Hayyan is thought to have died in the year 815 AD.
He was a pioneer in alchemy, and his work impacted alchemists and chemists throughout medieval Europe.

Estimated Net Worth

Jabir Ibn Hayyan net worth is unknown.