Monday, May 16, 2011

Jābir ibn Hayyān

Abu Musa Jābir ibn Hayyān (born c. 721 in Tus–died c. 815 in Kufa) was a prominent polymath: a chemist and alchemist, astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geologist, philosopher, physicist, and pharmacist and physician. He is considered by some to be the "father of chemistry."

While mentioned as being of Persian ethnicity, other sources, without providing independent documentation, state that he was an Arab; "Muslim" and "Arab" are erroneously used interchangeably by some such sources. Jābir is held to be the first practical alchemist.

As early as the tenth century, the identity and exact corpus of works of Jābir was in dispute in Islamic circles. His name was Latinised as "Geber" in the Christian West and in 13th century Europe an anonymous writer produced a non-trivial body of alchemical and metallurgical writings under the pen-name Geber. This person is usually referred to as Pseudo-Geber.

Jabir was a Natural Philosopher who lived mostly in the 8th century, he was born in Tus (Iran), Khorasan, in Iran (Persia), then ruled by the Umayyad Caliphate. In some sources, he is reported to have been the son of Hayyan al-Azdi, a pharmacist of the Arabian Azd tribe who emigrated from Yemen to Kufa (in present-day Iraq) during the Umayyad Caliphate. Jābir became an alchemist at the court of Caliph Harun al-Rashid, for whom he wrote the Kitab al-Zuhra ("The Book of Venus", on "the noble art of alchemy"). Hayyan had supported the Abbasid revolt against the Umayyads, and was sent by them to the province of Khorasan (present days Afghanistan, Iran, and part of North western Pakistan) to gather support for their cause. He was eventually caught by the Ummayads and executed. His family fled to Yemen, where Jābir grew up and studied the Quran, mathematics and other subjects. Jābir's father's profession may have contributed greatly to his interest in alchemy.

After the Abbasids took power, Jābir went back to Kufa. He began his career practicing medicine, under the patronage of a Vizir (from the noble Persian family Barmakids) of Caliph Harun al-Rashid.

Jābir may have been a student of the celebrated Islamic teacher and sixth Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq and Harbi al-Himyari. His connections to the Barmakid cost him dearly in the end. When that family fell from grace in 803, Jābir was placed under house arrest in Kufa, where he remained until his death.

The crater Geber on the Moon is named after him.

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