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Great Muslim Scholars Jabir Ibn Haiyan  (Geber)

JABIR IBN HAIYAN (Geber) (Died 803 C.E.)

Jabir Ibn Haiyan, known by the name of the alchemist Geber of the Middle Ages, is generally known as the Father of Chemistry. His full name was Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan. He had established himself as one of the leading scientist while he practiced medicine and alchemy in Kufa (in present day Iraq) around 776 C.E. In his early days, he was under the patronage of the Barmaki Vizier during the Abbasid Caliphate of Haroon al-Rashid. Jabir died in Kufa in 803 C.E.

Jabir's (Geber's) major contribution was in the field of Chemistry. He is famous for writing more than one hundred monumental treatises, of which twenty-two deal with chemistry and alchemy. He introduced experimental investigation into alchemy (derived from Arabic word al-Kimiya), creating the momentum for the modern Chemistry. Jabir emphasized experimentation and development of methods to achieve reproducibility in his work. He devoted his effort to the development of basic chemical methods and the study of various mechanisms of chemical reactions and thus helped evolve chemistry as a science from the legends of alchemy. Jabir emphasized that definite quantities of various substances are involved in a chemical reaction. Therefore, it can be said that he paved the way for the law of constant proportions.

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 conducting these experiments. Jabir's major practical achievement was the discovery of minerals and acids, which he prepared for the first time in his alembic (Anbique). His invention of the alembic made the distillation process easy and systematic. Among his various breakthroughs is the preparation of nitric, hydrochloric, citric and tartaric acids. Jabir's emphasis on systematic experimentation is outstanding. It is on the basis of such works that he is 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.

Jabir was a pioneer in the development of a number of applied chemical processes. His contributions include the development of steel, preparation of various metals, prevention of rusting, lettering in gold, use of manganese dioxide in glass-making, dyeing of cloth and tanning of leather, varnishing of waterproof cloth, identification of paints and greases. In addition, he developed aqua regia to dissolve gold.

Jabir's experimental ideas paved the way for now commonly known classification of substances as metals, nonmetals and volatile substances. He discussed three distinct types of substances based on their properties: a) spirits, i.e., those which vaporize on heating, like camphor, arsenic and ammonium chloride, b) metals, e.g., gold, silver, lead, copper, iron, and c) compounds that can be converted into powders.

Jabir treatises on chemistry, including his Kitab al-Kimya, and Kitab al-Sab'een were translated into Latin in the Middle Ages. The translation of Kitab al-Kimya was published by the Englishman Robert of Chester in 1144 C.E. under the title "The Book of the Composition of Alchemy." The second book was translated by the famous Gerard of Cremona (D. 1187). Berthelot translated some his books known by the titles "Book of Kingdom", "Book of the Balances," "Book of Eastern Mercury," and it is obvious that he did not use correct titles for Jabir's books. Englishman Richard Russel translated and published (1678) Jabir's another work under the title "Sum of Perfection." He described him as Geber, the most famous Arabian prince and philosopher. These translations were popular in Europe for several centuries and have influenced the evolution of modern chemistry. Several technical terms introduced by Jabir, such as alkali, are found in various European languages and have become part of scientific vocabulary. Only a few of his books have been edited and published, while many others preserved in Arabic have yet to be translated. He also contributed to other sciences such as medicine and astronomy.

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