Biography
Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Haiyan, the alchemist Geber of the Middle Ages, is generally known as the father of chemistry. Jabir, sometimes called al-Harrani and al-Sufi, was the son of a druggist named Attar. The precise date of his birth is the subject of some discussion, but it is established that he practised medicine and alchemy in Kufa around 776 C.E. He is reported to have studied under Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq and the Ummayed prince Khalid Ibn Yazid. In his early days, he practised medicine and was under the patronage of the Barmaki Vizir during the Abbssid Caliphate of Haroon al-Rashid. He shared some of the effects of the downfall of the Barmakis and was placed under house arrest in Kufa, where he died in 803 C.E.
Contributions
∑ Jabir's major contribution was in the field of chemistry.
∑ He introduced experimental investigation into alchemy, which rapidly changed its character into modern chemistry.
∑ His contribution of fundamental importance to chemistry includes perfection of scientific techniques such as crystallization, distillation, calcination, sublimation and evaporation and development of several instruments for the same.
∑ Jabir's major practical achievement was the discovery of mineral and others acids, preparation of various metals, development of steel, dyeing of cloth and tanning of leather, varnishing of water-proof cloth, use of manganese dioxide in glass-making, prevention of rusting, lettering in gold, identification of paints, greases, etc.
∑ During the course of these practical endeavours, he also developed aqua regia to dissolve gold.
∑ Based on their properties, he has described three distinct types of substances. First, spirits i.e. those which vaporise 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.
Books
A large number of books are included in his corpus. Apart from chemistry, he also contributed to other sciences such as medicine and astronomy. His books on chemistry, including his Kitab-al-Kimya, and Kitab al-Sab'een were translated into Latin and various European languages.
Only a few of his books have been edited and published, while several others preserved in Arabic have yet to be annotated and published.
According to Sarton, the true worth of his work would only be known when all his books have been edited and published. The major contribution of Jabir lies in the field of chemistry and not in religion.
His emphasis on systematic experimentation is outstanding and it is on the basis of such work that he can justly be regarded as the father of modern chemistry. In the words of Max Mayerhaff, the development of chemistry in Europe can be traced directly to Jabir Ibn Haiyan.