“He who performs not practical work nor makes experiments will never attain to the least degree of mastery.” Geber Ibn Hayyan
Many Western modern scholars render tribute to their Muslim predecessors and recognize their contribution to modern science, but, unfortunately, what they say and write remains in the realm of academia. Many others, basically orientalists, globalize prejudice and negate the achievements and also the names of these Muslim scientists in an attempt to veil history and falsify it for blatant ideological goals!
A number of seminal books have been complied in the West on Muslim scientific legacy. I mention, for example: Michael Hamilton Morgan’s Lost History: the enduring legacy of Muslim scientists, thinkers, and artists, Donald Routledge Hill’s Islamic Science and Engineering, Dana Rasmussen’s The Influence of Muslims on the World, Howard R. Turner’s Science in Medieval Islam: An illustrated Introduction, Josef W. Meri’s Medieval Islamic civilization, etc. In his book Introduction to the History of Science, George Sarton pays homage to Muslim scientists in words fraught with respect and recognition. He says:
It will suffice here to evoke a few glorious names without contemporary equivalents in the West: Jabir ibn Haiyan, al-Kindi, al-Khwarizmi, al-Fargani, al-Razi, Thabit ibn Qurra, al-Battani, Hunain ibn Ishaq, al-Farabi, Ibrahim ibn Sinan, al-Masudi, al-Tabari, Abul Wafa, ‘Ali ibn Abbas, Abul Qasim, Ibn al-Jazzar, al-Biruni, Ibn Sina, Ibn Yunus, al-Kashi, Ibn al-Haitham, ‘Ali Ibn ‘Isa al-Ghazali, al-zarqab, Omar Khayyam. A magnificent array of names which it would not be difficult to extend. If anyone tells you that the Middle Ages were scientifically sterile, just quote these men to him, all of whom flourished within a short period, 750 to 1100 A.D.
This article will shed light on one of the greatest names in the history of science; namely, Jaber Ibn Hayyan. A single article is certainly not enough to itemize the achievements of this man because of the wide scope of his corpus but I will try to briefly refer to some of his ideas and theories in various sciences such as alchemy, chemistry, astronomy, astrology, engineering, geography, philosophy and physics. If modern age is known of specialized knowledge medieval Muslim scientists had an encyclopedic knowledge, for they embarked on research in different fields.
Jabir Ibn Hayyan was born in Tus, Persia in c. 721 and died in c. 815. His ninety four years life was devoted thoroughly to science and the quest for knowledge. Whether he was an Arab who lived in Khorasan or a Perisan who later traveled to Kufa in Iraq remains an unanswered question; ambiguity still surrounds his ethnic origin. After the execution of his father for having supported the Abbasids against the Omayyads during their struggle for power, he was sent from Kufa to his relatives in Arabia –Yemen- where he was raised and taught the Qur’an, maths and other subjects.
When the Abbasids dynasty toppled down the Omayyads and took power, Jabir went back to Baghdad, the capital city of the Abbasids, where he served as a favored alchemist in the court of the famous Abassid Caliph Harun al-Racheed. Because of his strong relationship with the Barmakids who threatened the power of the Caliph Harun al-Racheed, Jabir was banished together with the Barmekids and he returned back to Kufa where he remained until his death.
The Jabirian corpus consisted of theoretical and applicable treatises on various sciences, mainly alchemy, astrology, medicine, mechanics, magic and talismans, etc. Because of the magnitude and the enormously wide scope of Jabir’s scientific interests and his writings on various scientific phenomena, the German Orientalist Paul Kraus discredited the Jabirian corpus and claimed that subsequent scientists attributed their works to Jabir.
This argument is obviously so weak because we never heard of someone attributing his/her efforts to another who has passed away! Moreover, Kraus provided no other evidence for his argument apart from that of the diversity and magnitude of the Jabirian corpus!
Jabir Ibn Hayyan is believed to be the first scientist who made alchemy into an experimental science based on the theory of nature and the four elements –fire, water, air, and earth. His works on alchemy were translated into Latin and various European languages and he was well-known in Europe as Geber.
Some of his works are: Of the Investigation or Search of Perfection – Of the Invention of Variety, or Perfection – Book of Furnaces – Book of Stones – Book of Alchemy – Book of Seventy – Book of the kingdom – Little Book of Balances – Book of Mercury – Book of Concentration – etc.
Some of Jabir’s unprecedented achievements made many modern scientists brand him the father of modern chemistry. He was the first to prepare acids, notably nitric, hydrochloric, citric and tartaric acids. Jabir also distilled vinegar to form acetic acid, knew how to use manganese dioxide to make glass and also managed to make pure arsenic and antimony from the raw sulfides.
Thus, “the development of chemistry in Europe can be traced directly to Jabir Ibn Hayyan” as Max Mayerhof notes. Jabir is known for his great stress on experimentation and accuracy in his works because he believed that “he who performs not practical work nor makes experiments will never attain to the least degree of mastery.”
Since the very beginning of the revelation of Islam, the Qur’an stressed and emphasized on the importance of knowledge and research. The Qur’an encouraged the Muslims to meditate and ponder on the secrets of the universe and all that Allah created; it’s only by contemplation that the Muslims could discover the greatness of God. In chapter Ali Immran of the Qur’an Allah says:
To Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and Allah hath power over all things. Behold, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and th e alteration of night and day – there are indeed Signs for men of understanding. Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down or their sides, and contemplate (the wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth (with then thought): “Our Lord! Not for naught hast thou created (all) this! Glory be to thee. Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire.”
In their investigations and researches, Muslim scientists were moving in complete harmony with the teachings of their religion. They were implementing the Prophet’s advice “seek knowledge and science from cradle to grave.” Jabir Ibn Hayyan’s scientific legacy made him an immortal name and one of the greatest in medieval science.
 Quoted in: Abubakr Asadulla, Islam Vs. West: Fact Or Fiction?(Bloomington: iUniverse, 2008), p.71.
 Quoted in: Danial Zainal Abidin, Islam the misunderstood Religion (Kula lumpur: PTS Millennia Sdn, 2007) p. 53.
 The Abbasid Caliphate (or the Abbasids) was the third of the Islamic caliphates. It was ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, who built their capital in Baghdad after overthrowing the Omayyad caliphate from all but the al-Andalus region.
 The Omayyads Caliphate (or the Omayyads) was the second of the four major Islamic caliphates established after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The caliphate was centered on the Omayyad dynasty who were originally from Mecca. The founder of the Omayyad Caliphate is the well-known Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan.
 Quoted in: Danial Zainal Abidin, Islam the misunderstood Religion (Kula lumpur: PTS Millennia Sdn, 2007) p. 78.
Quoted in: Abubakr Asadulla, Islam Vs. West: Fact Or Fiction?(Bloomington: iUniverse, 2008), p.71.
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