Muslim scientist Jabir Ibnu Hayyan is the greatest chemist
Abu Musa Jabir bin Hayyan, otherwise known as Geber in the Western world, is thought to have been born in Kuffah, Iraq in 750 and died in 803. Jabir’s greatest contribution was in chemistry. This skill he gained by studying at Barmaki Vizier, during the reign of Harun Ar-Rashid in Baghdad.
He developed systematic experimentation techniques in chemical research, so that each experiment could be reproduced. Jabir emphasized that the quantity of substances is related to chemical reactions that occur, so it can be considered Jabir has pioneered the discovery of the law of fixed comparison.
The life of Jabir
According to historian-philologist Paul Kraus (1904–1944), Jabir cleverly mixed in his alchemist writings referring to the Ismaili or Qarmati movement. Kraus writes: “Let us note first that most of the names we find on this list have an undeniable affinity with the Shia doctrine of Gnosis, especially with the Ismaili system.”
Henry Corbin believed that Jabir ibn Hayyan was an Ismaili Shia. Jabir was a natural philosopher who lived mostly in the 8th century; He was born in Tus, Khorasan, in Persia, then ruled by the Umayyad Caliphate.
Jabir in classical sources has been widely associated with al-Azdi, al-Kufi, al-Tusi, al-Sufi, al-Tartusi or al-Tarsusi, and al-Harrani. There are differences of opinion as to whether he was an Arab from Kufa who lived in Khurasan, or a Persian from Khorasan who later went to Kufa or whether he, as some say, was from Sabian Syria and then lived in Persia and Iraq.
In some sources, he is reported to be the son of Hayyan al-Azdi, an Azd Arab pharmacist who emigrated from Yemen to Kufa (in present-day Iraq).
Henry Corbin believed Geber did not appear to be an Arab client of the Azd tribe. Hayyan had supported the Abbasid revolt against the Umayyads, and was sent by them to Khorasan province to gather support for their cause.
He was eventually captured by the Umayyads and executed. His family fled to Yemen, possibly to some of their relatives in the Azd tribe, where Jabir grew up and studied Quran, mathematics and other subjects. Jabir’s father’s profession may have contributed greatly to his interest in alchemy.
After the Abbasids took power, Jabir returned to Kufa. He began his career by practicing medicine, under the protection of a Vizier (from the Persian noble family, the Barmakid), Caliph Harun al-Rashid.
His connection to Barmakid ultimately made him very expensive. When the family fell from grace in 803, Jabir was placed under house arrest in Kufa, where he remained until his death.
It has been affirmed that Jabir was the sixth imam of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq and Harbi al-Himyari; However, other scholars question this theory.
The Jabirian corpus
Illustration of various experiments and instruments used by Jabir Ibn Hayyan. In total, nearly 3,000 treatises and articles are credited to Jabir ibn Hayyan.
Following the work of the pioneer Paul Kraus, who suggests that the corpus of several hundred works ascribed to Jābir may have been a mixture of different hands, mostly dating from the late 9th and early 10th centuries, many scholars believe that many of these works consisted of commentaries and additions by his followers, especially from Ismaili inducements.
On the other hand, contemporary scholar Syed Nomanul Haq rejects the diversity of the author’s hypothesis, saying that Kraus has misrepresented the Jabirian corpus for three main reasons:
- he has not checked the bibliography properly, given that there have been many leaps (in one instance, we did not have a title between 500 and 530), so, all in all, the number is more than 500 rather than close to 3000;
- in many cases, parts or chapters of the book have been counted as books themselves, as with kitab al-Jumal al-‘Ishrin (book of twenty maxims), which has counted as many as 20 books and
- Finally, many of the “books” should not be in the formal sense, kitab al-Sahl occupies one paragraph and many others only a few folios.
Syed Nomanul Haq concluded that “this rough investigation makes it very clear that we must look with suspicion every argument for a number of authors based on kraus’s estimated increase in the volume of the Jabirian corpus.
The scope of the corpus is vast: cosmology, music, medicine, magic, biology, chemical technology, geometry, grammar, metaphysics, logic, artificial generations of living things, along with astrological predictions, and symbolic myths of priests.
112 Book dedicated to Barmakid, vizier caliph Harun al-Rashid. The group includes the Arabic version of the Emerald Tablet, an ancient work that proves the recurring basis and source for alchemical operations. In the Middle Ages it was translated into Latin (Tabula Smaragdina) and was widespread among European alchemists.
The Seventy Books, which were mostly translated into Latin during the Middle Ages. This group includes Kitab al-Zuhra (“Book of Venus”) and Kitab Al-Ahjar (“Book of the Stone”).
Ten Books on Improvement, containing descriptions of alchemists such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. And Book on Balance, this group includes the most famous ‘Theory of Balance in Nature’.
Jabir states in the Book of Stones that “The goal is to confuse and cause the fault of everyone except those whom God loves and provides”. His works seem to have been deliberately written in very esoteric code (see steganography), so that only those who have been initiated into the alchemy school can understand it. It is therefore difficult for modern readers to distinguish which aspects of Jabir’s work should be read as ambiguous symbols, and what should be understood literally.
Jabir claims to have taken alchemical inspiration from previous writers, both legendary and historical, on the subject. In his writings, Jabir pays homage to the Egyptian and Greek alchemists Zosimos, Democritus, Hermes Trismegistus, Agathodaemon, but also Plato, Aristotle, Galen, Pythagoras, and Socrates, as well as commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias, Simplicius, Porphyry and others.
A large pseudo-epigraphic literature of alchemy books was compiled in Arabic, among which the names of Persian writers also appeared such as Jāmāsb, Ostanes, Mani, who testified that operations such as alchemy on metals and other substances were also practiced in Persia.
The abundance of Persian technical names (zaybaq = mercury, nošāder = sal-ammoniac) also corroborates the idea of iran’s important roots from medieval alchemy. Ibn al-Nadim reported a dialogue between Aristotle and Ostanes, the Persian alchemist of the Achaemenid era, who was in the Corpus Jabirian under the title Kitabhhaha Aristutalis.
Jabir’s alchemical investigation seems to revolve around the ultimate goal of takwin, the artificial creation of life. The “Book of Al-Tajmi'” includes several recipes for creating creatures such as scorpions, snakes, and even humans in laboratory environments, which are subject to the control of their creators. What Jabir means by these recipes is unknown.
Jabir’s alchemical investigations are theoretically based on complicated numerologies related to the Pythagorean and Neoplatoni systems. The nature and nature of an element is defined through the numerical values assigned to the Arabic consonants present in its name.
By Jabir’s time, Aristotelian physics had become Neoplatonic. Each Aristotelian element consists of these qualities: hot and dry fire, soil, cold and dry, cold and humid water, and air, hot and humid.
It comes from basic qualities that are theoretical plus substance. In metal, these two qualities are interior and two exterior. For example, lead is cold and dry and gold is hot and humid.
So, Jabir theorized, by rearranging the quality of one metal, different metals would be produced. Like Zosimos, Jabir believed this would require a catalyst, al-iksir, an elusive herb that would enable this transformation (which in European alchemy was known as the philosopher’s stone).
According to Jabir’s mercury-sulfur theory, metals differ from each to the extent that they contain different proportions of sulfur and mercury. These are not the elements we know by those names, but certain principles by which they are the closest approximation in nature.
Based on Aristotle’s theory of “breathing,” dry and moist breathing becomes sulfur and mercury (sometimes called mercury and “advanced” or “philosophical”) sulfur). The sulfur-mercury theory was first recorded in a 7th century work.
The secret of Creation is credited (falsely) to Balinus (Apollonius of Tyana). This view becomes broad. In the Book of Explanation, Jabir says
all of those metals are, in effect, composed of mercury combined and coagulated with sulfur [which has risen into it in smoke-like vapor].
They differ from each other simply because of their unintentional difference in quality, and this difference is due to their sulfur differences, which are again caused by variations in the soil and their position with respect to the sun’s heat.
Holmyard said that Jabir proved through experiments that this was not ordinary sulfur and mercury.
The seeds of the modern classification of elements into metals and non-metals can be seen in their chemical nomenclature. He proposed three categories:
- “Spirits” are evaporated on heating, such as arsenic (realgar, orpiment), camphor, mercury, sulfur, sal ammonia, and ammonium chloride.
- “Metals”, such as gold, silver, tin, copper, iron, and khar-sini (Chinese iron)
- Non-soft substances, which can be converted to powders, such as stones.
The origin of the idea of a chemical equivalent can be traced back to Jabir, who at that time recognized that “a certain amount of acid was necessary to neutralize a certain number of bases.”