Jabir b. Hayyan

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Companion of Imam (a)
Jabir b. Hayyan
Full Name Jabir b. Hayyan al-Kufi
Companion of Imam al-Sadiq (a)
Birth 103/721 or 104/722
Place(s) of Residence Kufa,Baghdad
Death/Martyrdom 200/816
Burial Place Tus

Jābir b. Ḥayyān al-Kūfī (Arabic:جابر بن حیّان الکوفی) was a Shi'a scientist of the 2nd/8th century. A great collection of works in alchemy, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy and music is attributed to him. In several sources existence of a person with these characteristics were doubted. On the other hand, some historians and biographers including: Ibn Khallakan, Ibn Nadim, Ibn Tawus, Safadi, Amin, Siddiq Hasan Khan and Tustari counted him as one of the students and pupils of Imam al-Sadiq (a).

Characteristics

The existence of a person by the name of Jabir b. Hayyan with above mentioned characteristics is counted as one of the issues in history and history of science in the last century. Researchers such as: Henry Ernest Stapleton, Julius Ruska, Paul Kraus, Fuat Sezgin and Sayyid Hussein Nasr have provided demonstrations for proving or denying his existence.

His name was mentioned in the glosses of Abu Sulayman al-Mantiqi al-Sajistani (d. 370/980 or 390/1000) for the first time. Abu Sulayman who was a head of a scientific circle in Baghdad, doubted that Jabir had written the collection which was ascribed to him and said that a person named Hasan b. Nakad al-Musili -that he knew personally- has written it.

During the same period, in 377/987, Ibn Nadim tried to dispel the doubts about Jabir in his book al-Fihrist. Works of Jabir b. Hayyan were cited in alchemical works of Ibn Umayl (d. about 350/961) and Ibn Wahshiyya (4th/9th century). Ibn Nadim said that his Kuniya was Abu 'Abd Allah and Razi referred to him in his alchemical works as "our teacher, Abu Musa".

Birthplace

In biography sources and other books that introduced Jabir, he was called al-Kufi in some instants and al-Azdi in the others; because according to some reports he was from Azd tribe in Kufa. Also, sometimes he was called al-Sufi as he had tendencies toward Sufism. Ibn Khallakan (d. 681/1282) added that was also called al-Tarsusi.

Most of the sources said that he was born in 103/721 or 104/722. According to some sources, he lived in Baghdad and Kufa; however there is no information about the duration of his residence in these cities.

Life

In a strange report, Ibn Nadim mentioned that a reliable person told him the address of Jabir's house in Baghdad and said that his laboratory was discovered in Kufa during the reign of 'Izz al-Dawlah al-Daylami (356-367/967-978) and after some further searches a mortar were found, allegedly, containing a 200-rotl gold nugget.

According to Ibn Nadim, Jabir chose Kufa for his alchemical laboratory because of its ideal weather. Jabir had connections with Barmakids and probably has written a book about alchemy for Ja'far al-Barmaki (d.187/803). In this book he described some strange experiments about a very advanced way of alchemy.

Demise

With the downfall of Barmakids during the Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid in 188/804, Jabir lived a secret life in Kufa. According to a report, he was alive until the Caliphate of Ma'mun (198-218/813-833), and according to another, he passed away in Tus in 200/816, while he had Kitab al-rahmah (book of the mercyfull) on his bedside.


Student of Imam al-Sadiq (a)

His studentship of Imam al-Sadiq (a) is a controversial topic. In the most important sources of Rijal of Shi'a such as Rijal al-Najashi and Rijal al-Tusi (both written in the 5th/11th century) no one by the name of Jabir b. Hayyan is mentioned among the companions of Imam al-Sadiq (a). However, some scholars including Ibn Khallakan, Ibn Nadim, Ibn Tawus (d. 644/1246), Safadi (d.764/1363), Amin (1371/1952), Siddiq Hasan Khan (d. 1307/1890) and Tustari (d. 1384/1964) stated that Jabir was a student of Imam al-Sadiq (a).

It is explicitly expressed in the treatises which are ascribed to Jabir that he has written all his works under the supervision of Imam al-Sadiq (a). Nevertheless, some scholars doubted this and argued that this is chronologically impossible.

Works

Doubt in His Authorship

According to his researches, Paul Kraus, the Austrian orientalist, (1904-1944) doubted in the existence of Jabir with such characteristics and works, more than anyone else. According to his opinion, the terminology used in ascribed works to Jabir are the ones that were made in the school of Hunayn b. Ishaq (194-260/810-874), so the attributed works to Jabir must not have been written before the end of the 3rd/8th century. Also, Kraus cited the writing of Abu Sulayman Sajistani - that a person by the name of Hasan b. al-Nakad al-Musili has written the ascribed works to Jabir and then attributed them to him - as his main argument for his opinion.

Nonetheless, Sezgin counted this evidence insufficient and said that Sajistani's saying indicates Musili had written few works and attributed them to Jabir to draw attention to them as Jabir was a very famous person in that time and his works were very well received.

Anyway, believing that he was the author or not, a vast and rather astonishing number of works are attributed to him. Many of bibliographers, biographers and Islamic scholars mentioned these works in detail or in general. Here is a reports about the ascribed works to Jabir.

Number of His Works

Ibn Nadim quoted Jabir that he had authored 300 books in philosophy, 1300 books in dynamics, 1300 books in mechanics and weaponry. According to this, 'Abd Allah Ni'ma, the contemporary researcher, said that he must have authored more than 3900 titles. Ibn Nadim has provided a subject index for his works especially the ones about alchemy. Moreover, Ibn Nadim added that there are 30 books with no titles and two extensive books about medicine. He said that the collection of his writings in medicine was more than 500 volumes.

His Idea about Alchemy

In the ancient world, alchemy had been considered as the chief of all disciplines of knowledge, a source from which all other branches of science stemmed and to which they returned. Apparently the ultimate goal of alchemy was to discover the profound wisdom by which God has created the universe and governs all natural phenomena. In Jabir's word, alchemy is the perfect philosophy (philosophy in its completeness) upon the discovery of which, a wayfarer (a person who seeks wisdom) does not need any other kind of theological or secular knowledge any longer.

Ideas that are found in attributed works to Jabir are of multidimensional nature. In his book Al-Tasrif, Jabir draws upon neoplatonic tradition for his theory in cosmology which is based on emanation from one divine source. in this book he explains the primal pattern of motion, mixture and harmony in the four primary material elements, ie: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. His natural theory is based on the mixture pattern of these elements. He believes the four natures of warmth, coldness, dryness and moisture, have independent existence and are the basis of the aforementioned elements. In this way he could explain the possibility of transubstantiate changes. A real practitioner of alchemy, according to Jabir, is able to increase, decrease or even completely omit any of these four natures in a given object. A real alchemist can add warmth and moisture to a cold and dry metal, like lead, and thus change it and create a new kind of metal, i.e. gold.

It is certain that Jabir did not believe in changeless essences. In the natural life (including the life of minerals) everything is at change in a very comprehensive motion; a universal evolution from solid concrete objects to light, delicate and more spiritual bodies. The alchemist, however, joins this universal motion in order to make it faster and more prefect.

Shi'a Frame of His Thoughts

Jabir had a Shi'a frame in his thoughts. He believed that alchemy is a divine science that God has bestowed the prophets and Imams. Jabir said that the prophet Adam, Muses, Jesus and Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras and Plato were Imams of there times; and during the Islamic era, this "divine bounty" (alchemy) were bestowed to Shi'a infallible Imams. Accordingly, his works are full of quotations from Imam Ali (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a).

Although the attributed writings to him connote that he was a Twelver, Kraus said that the writer of the works was from Isma'iliyya. However, his opinion is not correct due to two pieces of evidence form Jabir's books. First: he has taken clear and explicit standpoint about the succession of Imam al-Kazim (a) of Imam al-Sadiq (a) in his book al-Khamsin. Second: his or some Shi'a's extremist belief about rating people based on the initials of their names (e.g. Ali was higher than Hasan) as he has explained in his book al-Majid.

Way of Acquiring Knowledge from His Point of View

According to his works, the way of acquiring knowledge is unique. A wayfarer (a person who seeks wisdom) must first study mathematics, logic, philosophy and medicine to be well prepared for learning alchemy. Then he has to try in the laboratory to find the great elixir or "Hajar al-Falasifah" (stone of philosophers). Success in this stage shows that the wayfarer is in the right path of gaining the Divine knowledge which is hidden in the nature especially in minerals.

Moreover, while the wayfarer is working, he is going though evolution and changes and becomes a new human. According to Jabir, human is he who know, and if he understands the secrets in the spirit that give life, create and make changes, he will be spiritual as well. Apparently, trying to make a "great human" is the ultimate goal of an alchemist.


Imam al-Mahdi (a) in His Works

The ascribed works to Jabir show the importance of History in the idea of the author. In these works none of Shi'a infallible Imams after Imam al-Kazim (a) were mentioned. The author, apparently, relates the reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi (a) to spreading of some secret knowledge. The writer of al-Bayan says that the time of revealing the secrets is near and Imam al-Mahdi (a) will manifest all the sciences and a complete and new humanity will be emerged.

In the book Ikhraj ma fi al-quwwah ila al-fi'l (bringing what is potential to actuality), he made an analogy between the human history and alchemy and said that their goal is attaining perfection. The alchemy was not used symbolically in this context, rather as a material way of evolving the human kind. It is concluded that the Jabir's works do not only contain scientific and theological theories and ideas but also "imaginary" concepts of evolving humanity.

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