The Inspiring Story of Jābir ibn Hayyān, The Muslim Scholar Known as Father of Chemistry

Jabir ibn Hayyan
Codici Ashburnhamiani 1166, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (uploaded by user Halfdan) / Public domain

There are many beautiful aspects of Islam but one of the most outstanding of these features is the way that Islam appreciates knowledge and everything related to it. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) instructed Muslims to pursue knowledge and apply that knowledge for the benefit of humanity and in the worship of Allah (SWT). Therefore, it is not a surprise at all that many Muslim scholars shone brightly as scientists, thinkers, and intellectuals. One such glorious mind is Jabir ibn Hayyan.

Born as Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan, he was truly a gifted polymath by all definitions. He is known as the brain behind the collection of massive academic works collectively known as the Jabirian Corpus. This corpus is incredibly comprehensive and touches on different areas like medicine, alchemy, numerology, philosophy, and so on.

However, it is his works in chemistry that will dominate this piece. Today we know for a fact that chemistry is one of the most important of the pure sciences but it will interest you to know that Jabir Ibn Hayyan is known as the father of chemistry and this is because of his outstanding works in this field.

It was the works of Jabir that are known for having the first systematic and scientific classification and grouping of chemical substances. His works also contain some of the earliest details on how to go about the derivation of inorganic compounds from organic substances all by making use of chemical methods only. As at the time Jabir came up with these, it was well beyond his time.

A prolific scholar, almost 3,000 articles and treatises have been attributed to this unforgettable Islamic scholar. An unusual scientist for his time, he was known for being a pioneer of chemical experimentation and extensive use of laboratory material and equipment. He believed and taught that for anyone to succeed in chemistry, the person must become an expert with experiments and practical tasks.

As a result of his dedication to experimentation and everything practical, he came up with more than 20 kinds of equipment used in the chemistry laboratory. Examples of these include the alembic which is a set of two vessels linked by a tube used for distillation and even the retort which is a sphere-shaped vessel used in distillation.

Jabir did not just come up with the fundamental equipment of experimentation in chemistry, he also gave very full descriptions of chemical processes that are now very fundamental to the science itself. These include distillation and crystallization which form the very essence of chemistry. All these are in addition to his efforts in the invention of other things like fire-resistant paper, rust-proof and water-proof additive, and many others too numerous to mention.

With the story of Jabir, it is very clear that one can be a scholar in the sciences and still serve Allah (SWT) to the fullest. May our Creator bless this generation with more pious scholars who will keep adding to the body of knowledge while promoting Islam at the same time, aameen.