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Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan Al-Azdi (Geber)

Updated on March 14, 2011

Abu Musa Jābir ibn Hayyān Al-Azdi was born in 721 in Tous and died in 815 in Kufa. He was a prominent polymath: a chemist and alchemist, astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geologist, philosopher, physicist, pharmacist and physician.

He was the son of a druggist; he was also a Sufi who may have had some allegiance with the infamous Assassins (the Hashim), who fed on hashish and committed political assassination. He is credited for his contribution of Mercury, Sulfur, and Salt as Elements.

Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber)
Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber)

Geber's contribution to Chemistry


"He who performs not practical work nor makes experiments will never attain the least degree of mastery."

"I recommend you to act slowly and with precaution, not to hurry, but to follow the example of nature."

Before Muslims, science consisted of theories, conjectures and philosophical discussions. Critical analysis, isolation of substances, measurements, weighing of various forms of energy, time and substances were not present in scientific circles.

The Quran says that Allah has written the minutest details of each and every thing in the Universe. Nothing is left to accidents. The strong religious milieu they lived in and their firm belief in God and these teachings of the Quran lead many Muslim scientists to closely observe the minute details of natural phenomena around them.

The Quran says that Man as the Governor of the Universe has been bestowed intelligence, intellect and power to acquire, retain and reproduce knowledge. When he acquires all this the forces of the Universe will obey his command. And this mentality became the driving force behind the efforts of Arab thinkers troughout the centuries.

Geber
Geber

Jabir is widely regarded as the father of chemistry. Also, he was probably the first practical alchemist. He emphasized systematic experimentation, and did much to free alchemy from superstition and make it a science.

During the Abbasid Caliphate of Haroon al-Rashid,

  • he invented over twenty types of chemical laboratory equipment such as the alembic and the retort,
  • he discovered and described many now-commonplace chemical processes such as the distillation, calcination, sublimation, evaporation and crystallisation.

    All this and his other works have become the foundation of today's chemistry and chemical engineering.
  • Jabir discovered sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and nitric acid, citric acid, acetic acid, and tartaric acid and from the combinations of these and other materia, he invented aqua regia, one of the few substances that are able to dissolve gold.
  • Jabir also discovered and isolated several chemical elements such as arsenic, antimony and bismuth.
  • He was also the first to classify sulfur and mercury among the elements, and the first to purify and isolate these as pure elements.

    He believed that the base of all metals were Mercury and Sulfur, and by breaking down worthless metals, to these components; Gold could be made by recombining these elements in the right proportions.

    This could all be accomplished by via a substance he called “Elixir.” This Elixir could not change Gold into another metal, but by adding it to Gold one could produce a liquid or substance believed to confer immortality.

He applied his chemical knowledge to improve many manufacturing processes such as

  • making steel and other metals,
  • preventing rust,
  • engraving gold,
  • dyeing and waterproofing cloth,
  • tanning leather,
  • the chemical analysis of pigments and other substances.

    He developed the use of manganese dioxide in glass-making to counteract the green tinge produced by iron.

    He noted that boiling wine released a flammable vapor, thus paving the way for the discovery of ethanol by Al-Kindi and Al-Razi.
  • In response to Jafar al-Sadik's wishes, Jabir invented a kind of paper that resisted fire, and an ink that could be read at night.

    He also invented an additive which, when applied to an iron surface, inhibited rust, and when applied to a textile, made it water repellent.
  • Jabir was the first to recognize that a certain quantity of acid is necessary in order to neutralize a given amount of base.

The very name chemistry is derived from the Arabic word al-Kimya and the development of chemistry in Europe can be traced directly to Jabir Ibn Hayyan.

Geber the Alchemist

"No one can excel in the alchemical art without knowing the principles in himself; and the greater the knowledge of the self, the greater will be the magnetic power attained thereby and the greater the wonders to be realized."

"The spirit is too full of fantasies and passes easily from one opinion to the oposite; or because he doesn't know exactly what he wants and cannot decide."

Based on their properties, Jabir described three distinct types of substances.

  1. First, spirits i.e. those which vaporize on heating, like camphor, arsenic and ammonium chloride;
  2. secondly, metals, for example, gold, silver, lead, copper, iron,
  3. and thirdly, the category of compounds which can be converted into powders.

    He paved the way for such later classification as metals, non-metals and volatile substances.

Jabir wrote his works in highly esoteric code, so that only those who had been initiated into the school of alchemy could understand his descriptions. He, in Europe and in the West, became known by the latinized name Geber.

His works constituted the foundation of the medieval alchemical tradition. He popularized the idea of the Philosopher's Stone or Elixir of Life which would obsess the minds of alchemists and magicians for hundreds of years. It is difficult to discern which aspects of Geber's work are to be read as symbols, even more difficult to cypher what those symbols mean. Because his scripts never made overt sense, the term gibberish is believed to have originally referred to his writings.

Geber's alchemical investigations revolved around the ultimate goal of Takwin, the artificial creation of life. His Book of Stones is a compendium of several recipes for the creation of creatures like scorpions, snakes, and even humans in a lab environment, which are subject to the control of their creator. What Geber meant by these recipes is today unknown.

Also long and elaborate sequences of specific prayers are written out, all or some of which had to be performed without error out in the desert alone before one could even consider the use of his recipes.

Apart from his contribution to chemistry, Jabir also involved himself in medicine, astronomy, astrology, and other sciences. Relatively few of his books have yet been edited and published, and fewer still are available to the wider public.

It is rumored that the vast majority of Geber's work is sealed and hidden from the world's eyes by the so-called Brethren of Purity of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam.

The crater Geber on the Moon is named after him.

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    • profile image

      Jameel Hussainy 4 years ago

      Sorry there were a few errors here are the corrctions

      Imam Jafar Sadiq taught thousands of students and didn't partke in any personal battles.

    • profile image

      Jameel Hussainy 4 years ago

      no disrespect intended But Jabir Ibn Hayyan was a student of imam Jafar Sadiq who taught his students and partake in any personal battles. The Hashim were a line of people who only fought in self defence or in Jihad( fighting for the sake of islam). The Hashim were an extremely peaceful tribe. You may have them mixed up with the Umayyad . Yes i am a muslim and i researched this.

    • profile image

      Kabir 5 years ago

      Nice and very interesting article.

      Would like to add that without considering Science of far East at that time (China and India) all speculations about who invented what, and who 'started with scientific method' are deficient.

    • profile image

      DANISH 6 years ago

      PAKISTAN

    • profile image

      Ali 6 years ago

      Jabir is Persian !!!!!!

    • profile image

      Faizan 6 years ago

      I Think and i believe that science started from Islam.Mr pierrie if u read about Islam then u will come to know that the science which tell us today is already describes in islam 1400 years and ago.And i bielive that all scinces are introduced from muslim scientist like jabir bin hayyan who introduced chemistry and we today read chemistry in which he is first

    • profile image

      Karim Hussein 6 years ago

      As chemists we respect Jabir ibn Hayyan breakthroughs and his books and also we are proud to be Muslim Chemist.

      really i respect you Sufidreamer for your opinions.

      thank you Haunty for the Hub

    • profile image

      mubeena 6 years ago

      Al-Qur'an is a Divine book for Muslims...go to this link and read this book..if u still dont believe..buy a Quran and you will see for yourself..http://www.scribd.com/doc/10030165/Quran-and-Moder...

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      Well you're wrong there. I have two science degrees and I acquired them by books and reason. You know nothing about the history of science or the real point where science began. As for this "other dimension of life", there's no more excuse for it, you're going to have to prove it scientifically, since only science has the tools to make obvious invisible things. Religious people contribute NO NEW KNOWLEDGE, they are just talking-clubs imposing their nonsense by force.

    • Haunty profile image
      Author

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      I don't. I'm neither a Christian nor a Muslim myself, and I haven't created this hub to promote Islam, as I don't care if someone is an atheist or a believer.

      I'm sure there are plenty of Muslims who want to migrate to the West, but I know a few myself who are quite happy where they are and have no intention to move. I'm sure you have plenty of insight into Muslim life. I only know what I learned from friends, so if you want to know if there are any matches, I'll gladly discuss any aspect of Muslim life.

      Religion is not an enemy of science. Many people have some sort of personal religion of their own that doesn't at all interfere with their ability to reason rationally or their inclination to look for scientific evidence. I would even go so far as to say that the origin of science is in religion, but I'm sure you would not accept that.

      I have no intention to persuade you that I'm right or that you are wrong, in fact, I don't believe it can be done.

      Judging you have written about "the our hydrogen" you must be familiar with the concept of hieratic science, "the our elements," and their meaning. Geber wrote science is not acquired through books or reason, "but by action, by an impetuosity of the spirit." He also wrote that those who do not understand this by themselves, no one can make understand. "For this reason I declare that neither the philosophers who have preceded me nor I myself have written anything except for ourselves." Geber, Summa perfectionis magisterii, BCC, 1:383

      If you do know what I'm talking about, you should be aware that spirituality belongs to another dimension of life, and if it tries to explain causes and effects it does so with regard to this other dimension and not the physical, material world. You can go ahead and fight stupidity and religious bigotry, but don't confuse them with genuine interest to understand the world and a natural propensity towards spirituality.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      Let me ask you this: do EITHER of you believe that Islam will eventually take over the whole world, that everyone will "inevitably" be a Muslim? Answer, honestly.

      I saw the same neurosis back in the days of the Soviet Communists. Every classroom they had for kids is that the world would eventually see the "sense" of Communism. Well, of course, it didn't work that way.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      What part of 'Piss Off' don't you understand - the 'Piss' or the 'Off'?

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      Religion has NO place in a chemistry hub. He must have a sick mind if he brings up the Qur'an here. Scientists have to FIGHT against Islamic attitudes to do any science at all. That 20% of the population but 1% of the science is actually true.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      No worries, Haunty - there is always one. Don't forget that this is your Hub and you decide whether to approve or unapprove comments.

      Pierre: You are persistent, I give you that - extremely boring and unbelievably tedious, but persistent. For the last time, dear boy, there is no argument here, as Haunty pointed out to you long ago. Picking fights on unrelated topics and trying to intimidate people is the very definition of trolling. By trying to claim that ‘he has no argument to make,’ you are again trying to force a fight that simply does not exist. If you feel the need to rant at strangers over the internet, try the Hubpages political and religious forums:

      http://hubpages.com/forum/20

      I am sure that you find some willing takers and you will be able to spew forth to your heart’s content.

      You are an atheist - we get that - but your continued posts stating that 'my way is the right way' shows that you are no different from the religious fundies with their Bible or Qur’an. To moderates like Haunty and myself, you are just another 'one issue warrior,' someone who believes that they have 'the Truth' and insists upon sharing it with everyone, even when most don't actually give a crap and have better things to do than argue with keyboard warriors. When a troll states 'I'm a truth teller,' this usually means that they are an opinionated, narcissistic, self-righteous fool.

      As you have been told, you will find no further argument here as we are, quite simply, not interested in your political rants and transparent attempts to impose your agenda. I am done with politeness – you have crossed the line. I sincerely hope that you are not this obnoxious in the real world.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      I'm not a troll, I'm a truth-teller, and it is very telling that you have no argument to make about why Muslims have to immigrate if Islam "makes the world a more livable place", to use your ridiculous words.

    • Haunty profile image
      Author

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Sufi - Thank you for kindly defending the hub. I looked at Pierre's hubtivity and he seems to be here to find fault in the work of others. He also has quite a few unapproved comments. I must admit this is my very first troll, so I don't really know how to deal with it. I guess I am just going to ignore him after this.

      Pierre - Thanks for using the words 'chemistry,' 'Geber,' 'Muslims,' and 'Quran,' so much. Also, thanks for flagging the hub. I like it when people ping admin for me, as this is how some of the best hubs are discovered and placed on the homepage. ;)

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      I'm not talking about ads, I'm talking about Haunty's OWN text going on about Islam right in the text. Talk about the Qur'an doesn't belong in any Chemistry hub. "Firm belief in God" is NO help in close observation of the real world.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      We have no control over the content of the commercials - Google automatically finds adverts that it thinks match with the Hub, so your accusation is unjust. I have known Haunty for a while, and he does not 'plug' religion - he writes about history, his passion.

      Flag the hub, if it makes you feel better, but you will just be wasting the HP team's time - it is in the right category :)

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      Well then he shouldn't put in a commercial in the middle plugging Islam or claiming it had anything to do with promoting science!

      If he plugs religion, it has no place in the Chemistry topic and will be flagged.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      What is your problem?

      This is a Hub about Geber, a historical figure. It has nothing to do with multiculturalism or superiority. There are plenty of political Hubs for you to vent your spleen - why choose this one?

      You are either trying to provoke a fight or you are using this as a soapbox for your political rants - write a Hub about the subject if it bothers you so much, instead of trying to ruin Haunty's - I am sure that you will find plenty of people who actually give a crap and want to play your game.

      As for the 'burning up inside' - the only burning sensation I have is from the nice glass of Ouzo I am currently drinking. ;)

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      Hahah, the same old excuses from pro-multiculturalists. If we are "oppressing" the Muslims, it would make no sense for them to move even CLOSER to the source of their oppression, where they are not culturally in control. No, we must admit the West is culturally superior because it is clearly more DESIRABLE. People are voting with their feet and it just burns you up inside!

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Perhaps if the progressive and non-Islamic West hadn't interfered in Islamic countries, they may not have had to migrate. ;)

      I have edited many academic papers for students and scientists based in Islamic countries - the quality of research is excellent. I prefer the evidence of my own experience rather than links to biased sites.

      In this part of the world, we have many Islamic countries as neighbours and I regard them as friends, not enemies. Your narrow agenda is plain to see - why don't you go and spread your rhetoric elsewhere instead of infesting a well-written, historical Hub?

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      If Islam promoted live-ability, its people wouldn't have to immigrate to the progressive and definitely non-Islamic West.

    • Haunty profile image
      Author

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      I agree, let's come down to reality. The purpose of human civilization is NOT to progress at any cost. It's purpose is to make the world a more livable place. Islam accomplishes much more in this regard than science. At least it's not killing the planet.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      I think people should come down to reality. The sad fact is that Muslims are 20% of the population but only produce 1% of all scientific papers:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnEeTBuPQuo

      In fact, the world's Muslims produce LESS scientific research than Harvard University! There is a certain tendency in the Muslim religion to STIFLE science, so either the tendency must be found and removed for civilization to progress, OR the number of people PRACTICING Islam must be diminished.

      You made the middle of your text a plug for Islam. I can't think of anything that puts the brakes on scientific research MORE than Islam. There are problems even with the scientific "facts" hinted at in the Qur'an:

      http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/scienc...

    • Haunty profile image
      Author

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Those turn out to be the best books, Lord Sufidreamer. There is no deadline and you decide when it is completed. I'm aware how much scrutiny you apply to your writing, I can only imagine this is even amplified when it is a labour of love. The best publisher will take it. :)

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      I liked the Hub very much, Count Haunty - you are a gentleman and a scholar :)

      The book may take a while - it is very much a labour of love, where I squeeze in a few minutes here and there amongst the paid work. Obviously, writing will be only half the battle - getting it published will be the real struggle!

    • Haunty profile image
      Author

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Thank you, Lord Sufidreamer. An intriguing subject indeed. If only I had had enough time to write a better researched hub on it. Please, do let me know when the book is out. I'm so eager to finally read a hubber written book, especially if it's on such a fascinating topic, and especially from you.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Great Hub, Haunty - The Golden Age of Islam is a passion of mine, and I love the work of Geber! A book about the subject is underway :)

      The Muslims were a very important precursor to the Renaissance and Enlightenment - without the Muslims, most of the work of the Ancient Greek philosophers would have been lost.

      This is my take on the Scientific Method and Islam:

      http://www.experiment-resources.com/who-invented-t...

    • Haunty profile image
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      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Pierre, I don't. If you are really a chemist, you most likely know what you're talking about. Believe it or not I used several sources for this hub, I didn't just make it up. Your strong bias against religion and Muslims shows in your comments. I don't contest any argument that's rooted in religious-nonreligious differences. You are a very creative artist. As you might have guessed, your hydrogen is not my hydrogen.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      Do you contest any part of what I'm saying? The Scientific Method did NOT begin with Muslims. In fact, a religious perspective is rather crippling to ANY progress. The "ijtihad" of the Muslims was very short-lived and undependable, dependent only on the absorption of non-Arabic scholars into the Muslim sphere. The Age of Enlightenment led to explosive progress.

    • Haunty profile image
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      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Hello, Pierre. I read on your profile that you like reading and writing science fiction. Please, find a better medium than my hub. Thanks.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      It is not true either that science was started by Muslims. Exact weighings and the like are no better than button-sorting and stamp-collecting. It is not the gathering of data which marked the start of science but the development of a method to decide which of the many theories was the better one. This was decided in favour of what theory best explained the available facts. This can be traced only to the European Age of Enlightenment, and Descartes "Discourse on the Method". Religion was not an inspiration for this process.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      Salt is not actually an element, though. It is sodium chloride, two elements. Furthermore, mercury and sulfur have been isolated since ancient times. The question was to prove that they were elements, not reducible to other things. It's not clear if Jabir (or Geber) demonstrated that.

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      Justine76 7 years ago

      Cool, Bismuth. But was it pink bismuth? :) It msut have been prety neat to be able to discover all that stuff. Sometimes I forget we didn't always know all the stuff we know now. (I was womdering who that guy in your avitar was)