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Geber; Jaber ibn Hayan, chemist

Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan (Arabic: جابر بن حيان) (c.721–c.815), known also by his Latinised name Geber, was a prominent Islamic alchemist, pharmacist, philosopher, astronomer, and physicist. His ethnic background is Persian. Ibn Hayyan is widely credited with the introduction of the experimental method into alchemy, and with the invention of numerous important processes still used in modern chemistry today, such as the syntheses of hydrochloric and nitric acids, distillation, and crystallisation. His original works are highly esoteric and probably coded, though nobody today knows what the code is. On the surface, his alchemical career revolved around an elaborate chemical numerology based on consonants in the Arabic names of substances and the concept of takwin, the artificial creation of life in the alchemical laboratory.

Jabir ibn HayyanBiography

Jabir was born in Tus, Khorasan, in Iran, then under the rule of the Umayyad Caliphate; the date of his birth is disputed, but most sources give 721 or 722. Hayyan had supported the revolting Abbasids against the Umayyads. He was eventually caught by the Ummayads and executed. Jabir grew up and studied the Koran, mathematics and other subjects under a scholar named Harbi al-Himyari. After the Abbasids took power, Jabir went back to Kufa, where he spent most of his career.

15th-century European portrait of Geber, Codici Ashburnhamiani 1166, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, FlorenceJabir's father's profession may have contributed greatly to his interest in alchemy. In Kufa he became a student of the celebrated Islamic teacher and sixth Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq. He began his career practising medicine, under the patronage of the Barmakid Vizir of Caliph Haroun al-Rashid. It is known that in 776 he was engaged in alchemy in Kufa.

His connections to the Barmakid cost him dearly in the end. When that family fell from grace in 803, Jabir was placed under house arrest in Kufa, where he remained until his death. The date of his death is given as c.815 by the Encyclopædia Britannica, but as 808 by other sources.




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