Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan Al-Azdi (Geber)
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.
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.
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."
- Alchemy Index
Sacred Texts: Alchemy - Although the alchemists' fundamental goal of elemental transmutation was flawed, on a deeper level the work of alchemy (cloaked in allegorical images) also represented the transformation of the soul.
Based on their properties, Jabir described three distinct types of substances.
- First, spirits i.e. those which vaporize on heating, like camphor, arsenic and ammonium chloride;
- secondly, metals, for example, gold, silver, lead, copper, iron,
- 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.