History of Science and Technology in Islam

Maturity of Arabic Science at the Time of Jabir ibn Hayyan

Ahmad Y. al-Hassan


The translation movement from other languages into Arabic and the flourishing of Arabic science did not start with the Caliph al-Ma'mun whose rule extended from 813 to 833  or with Hunayn ibn Ishaq.It started during the Umayyad Caliphate and continued during the early Abbasid Caliphs.

History of science is written quite often by orientalists who intrude their own ideology and preconceived ideas in what they are writing. The complexity of their writings and assumptions prohibits any possible re-assessment of their conjectures. This becomes even more difficult when the ideology of such persons plays on the emotions of readers who do not have the ability or the will to evaluate the assumptions that are presented to them.

How can we then correct the history of science in the face of this overwhelming submissiveness to the conjectures of partial  writers ? The answer is quite simple. We should be unconvinced about conjectures regarding the history of science that discuss periods which are more than a thousand years old, especially when we have available to us reliable historic accounts that are quite close to the events under discussion.

The timing of Jabir ibn Hayyan 
Jabir flourished during the second half of the eighth century CE. He was a universal scholar, with a wide-ranging knowledge, a real polymath.

Scores of books carry his name.  Scholars of recent times raised doubts about the time of these works. One of them is Paul Kraus who claimed that such works could not have been written in the second half of the eighth century and he conjectured that they were written in the ninth century. He thought that Arabic science did not develop until the time of  Hunyan ibn Ishaq. He gave few other assumptions to prove that the Jabirian corpus was written in the third/ninth century.[1]

The assumptions of Paul Kraus were refuted by several scholars. Among them are Fuat Sezgin [2] and Syed Nomanul Haq. [3]

George Saliba argued convincingly that the classical view that the maturity of Arabic science took place in the ninth century CE is no longer tenable..

In this short paper we shall discuss the maturity of Arabic science before and shortly after the time of Jabir.  The reader is advised to refer to Sezgin, Haq and Saliba for comprehensive discussions.


Development of Arabic terminology during the Umayyad period

Arabic scientific and technological terminology started to develop during the Umayyad caliphate.

Umayyad terminology in technology

Al-Biruni reported in Kitab al-Jamahir that Mazyad ibn ‘Ali, the Damascene ironsmith,  had written a book on the manufacture of steel, and he gave the description of making crucible steel according to Mazyad.

Al-Biruni mentions also in al-Jamahir that he had acquired a book written in Damascus during the caliphate of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. The book deals with the qualities of gemstones and their values.

The recipes of Jabir that he gave in Kitab al-durra al-maknuna and in Kitab al-khawass al-kabir and in other practical works, are taken from earlier books of recipes [4]. And since Jabir flourished in the second half of the eighth century, his sources must belong to the Umayyad period.

Jabir alluded sometimes to the sources of his recipes, saying that he collected some of them. He says for example that he took a waterproofing recipe from Al-Fadl ibn Yahya ibn Barmak who also took it from a manuscript of unknown author, since the first pages and the last ones were missing. Moreover, when Jabir described the manufacture of the adrak gemstone, he says that he took it from a valuable manuscript.

These are only examples of the great wealth of technological terms that was known during the Umayyad caliphate. The technological terminology includes terms in architecture and city planning, in irrigation and water distribution, in surveying, in the mint of gold and silver, in the textile industry, in shipbuilding, in norias and water wheels, in the weapons industry, in military fires and in the mail service.[5]

Umayyad terminology in alchemy

Alchemy, like medicine and astrology, was one of the sciences which received attention at an early date. According to Ibn al-Nadim, the Umayyad prince Khalid b. Yazid (d. 85 or 90/704 or 708) started the first translation movement in Islam. He ordered the translation of books on alchemy, medicine and astrology from Greek and Coptic into Arabic. The importance of Khalid, however, is due to his alchemical achievements. There are several alchemical treatises that are attributed to him.

We find also in the writings of Jabir and of early Arabic alchemists many quotations attributed to pre-Islamic persons and there are several Arabic alchemical treatises attributed to them. These works were the subject of research by historians of science who concluded that most of these works were written by pre-Islamic pseudo authors and were translated into Arabic during the Umayyad caliphate constituting a main source for Jabir ibn Hayyan.

These pseudo authors included Hermes, Iflatun (Plato), Aristo (Aristotle), Pythagoras, Agathodaimon, Ostanes, Hiraql (Heraklius, Byzantine emperor, 610–41), Cleopatra, Mary, Zosimos, Isis, Krates, Markos, Jamasp, Furfuriyus, Apollonius,  and many others. They came from Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, Greece and Asia Minor.

Sezgin gave a list of the Arabic treatises attributed to each of these pseudo authors. He is of the opinion that these works were written before Islam and were translated into Arabic from Greek or Syriac. Stapleton, and others are of the same opinion. Ruska thought that these works were written by pseudo-Arabic authors.[6] 

Kitab sirr al-khaliqa of Balinas (Apollonius) deserves a special note. This book was one of Jabir’s main sources and was the subject of extensive research. The Arabic manuscript was published by Ursula Weisser,[7] and Fuat Sezgin gave an extensive survey of the literature. [8]

Silvestre de Sacy thought that Kitab sir al-khaliqah was of Greek origin and that it was translated into Arabic from a Syriac intermediate translation. Fuat Sezgin supported de Sacy’s opinion and so did Ursula Weisser.  The translator Sagiyus from the city of Nabulus had either translated the book from Syriac or directly from Greek.

The date of the Arabic translation was older than the works of Jabir ibn Hayyan. The terminology is older than that of Jabir and  the book was translated into Arabic in the early stages of the translation of Greek works into Arabic.  This indicates that it was made during the Umayyad caliphate.

Umayyad terminology in medicine

Knowledge of medicine was known to the Arabs before Islam and there was a wealth of medical terminology available since then. The Medicine of the Prophet contains terms in medicine also. During this period al-Harith b. Kalada was a physician who was educated in Jundishapur. And he contributed with his son to the medical knowledge of the Arabs

Among the physicians of the Umayyads were Ibn Athal, Mu`awiya's physician, and Abu al- Hakam al-Dimashqi who served under Mu`awiya and several later caliphs. One of the prominent physicians of this period was Tayadhuq, who was the physician of al-Hajjaj. Tayadhuq wrote three or four medical books which have not come down to us.

Another prominent physician from Basra was Masarjawayh, who was a Jew from Persia. He translated from Syriac into Arabic a medical book written originally in Greek by Ahron (or Ahren). It is possible that this was the earliest translation into Arabic of a medical work that had a Greek origin. The Arabic title is al-Kunnash which means in Syriac  ' a medical summary'. This book contained thirty chapters. The author Ahren lived in Alexandria during the reign of Hiraql (Heraclius) in the period 610-641. It was translated into Syriac and was popular among the Syrians.

The Kunnash was translated during the reign of Marwan ibn al-Hakam, 64/784 – 65/685. Ibn Abi Usaybi'a mentions in 'Uyun al-anba' fi tabaqat al-atibba' that the Caliph 'Umar ibn 'Abd al-Aziz found this book in the libraries of Damascus and he ordered that it should be freely available and be accessed easily by the general public.


Umayyad terminology in astrology and astronomy

The first effect of Islam on astronomy was the adoption of the lunar calendar for Islamic history which starts on 15 July 622. In more than one verse, the Qur'an urges Muslims to study astronomy. For practical purposes also Islam had a great influence on the development of this science when astronomers worked actively in compiling astronomical tables and in determining the direction of al-qibla from various geographical locations.

There are reports on translations of astrological and astronomical works into Arabic in this period.  Khalid ibn Yazid ordered the translation of some works on astrology.

A book on astrology that was translated from Greek unto Arabic was Kitab 'ard miftah al-nujum which is attributed to Hermes. A copy of it is found in Milano at the Ambrosian Library. At the end of the manuscript it is written that the translation was made in Dhi al-Qi'da in 125/743.[9]

Umayyad terminology from other translations

Islamic intellectual movements had appeared during the Umayyad caliphate and  debates  took place among Muslim scholars themselves and between them and Christian scholars in Damascus.. To acquire the necessary tools for these debates, Muslim scholars turned eagerly to study the philosophical and logical tools which were employed by their opponents. Logic as a tool in discussions and arguments was especially important. Our knowledge about the philosophical books that were translated into Arabic during the Umayyad period is limited. But we learn from Ibn al-Nadim that Thawon may have translated Categories from Syriac into Arabic. Istfan is also mentioned as a translator for Khalid ibn Yazid and he may have translated Categories.

Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik paid great attention to translation. Ibn al-Nadim mentions that Salim Abu al-'Ala' the katib or secretary of Hisham translated for him the episles of Aristotle to Alexander. Al-Mas'udi reports also that Kitab siyasat al-furs (Policies of the Persians) was translated for Hisham. This is a great book which contains many of the Persian sciences, the tales of their kings, their buildings and their policies.

Beside these translations of the caliphs there were individuals who sponsored some translations for their own personal use.

Beside Kalila and Dimna which was translated by Ibn al-Muqaffa’, an important book of maxims on government known as the Covenent of Ardashir was translated by an unknown translator, while Ibn al-Muqaffa' had translated also the Letter of Tansar. These translations were made for the benefit of the Umayyad caliphs.

Consequences of the arabization of Umayyad administration and the formation of schools for translation

Without the arabization of the administration by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan the translation movements that followed, including that of Bayt al-Hikma in Baghdat in the ninth century, could not have taken place. This Arabization of the administration was a crucial step towards making Arabic the language of culture throughout the whole empire.

To embark on such an ambitious arabization program, the Umayyad government of Abd al-Malik had to provide manuals of elementary sciences for its employees in order for them to function in an efficient manner.[10]

The Islamic scientific community had already entered the formative stage and it included non-Muslims. Syriac scholars became versed in Arabic as a result of the arabization of the administration and of adopting Arabic as the language of culture and science.  Persian secretaries and employees of the diwans were obliged to use Arabic only.  The academic community in Jundishapur adopted Arabic also beside the other languages of Persian, Syriac and Greek. There were workshops established in Iraq and Persia to train secretaries in working with Arabic. [11]

Apart from secretaries, it seems that there were opportunities by which scientists were given a thorough training either through individual tutoring or by receiving their training in groups. This explains how scientists of the early Abbasid caliphate had received their thorough training in astronomy, astrology, mathematics, medicine, alchemy and philosophy.

Arabic became a Christian language as well as it was an Islamic one. The first step of merger of the Christians into the World of Islam was the adoption of the Arabic language in the churches.  For a number of reasons, this step seems to have been taken first in ‘Melkite’ communities, whose ecclesiastical and cultural center was Jerusalem, with her attendant monastic establishment.[12]  But it was not long before the other churches followed suit.

 These results of rabization had led to the availability in the Umayyad Islamic community of persons who were well versed in Arabic as well as in Greek, Syriac and Pahlavi languages. This explains the abundance of pseudo literature that was translated from Greek and Syriac during the Umayyad caliphate.    


Development of Arabic terminology during the early Abbasid  period

How scientists of the early Abbasid era gained prominence in science

The maturity of the Arabic scientific terminology became evident before the time Jabir ibn Hayyan when several eminent Islamic scientists had preceded him or were his contemporaries. Important translations had appeared before Jabir and when he started his scientific career Arabic scientific terminology was already rich. The old concept that mature Arabic scientific literature appeared when Hunayn ibn Ishaq had flourished, are now obsolete. This was demonstrated by recent research.[[13]

Islamic scientists of the second half of the eighth century who were writing in Arabic found at their disposal many Arabic works that were translated from Greek, Syriac and Persian.

The first known scholars of the Abbasid court were mostly astronomers, astrologers and physicians. They translated works from Greek, Syriac and Pahlavi on astrology, logic, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, alchemy, ethics, and wisdom sayingsواجه المترجمون العديد من أسماء الأعيان والمعاني التي لم تكن اللغة العربية تشتمل عليها، ولاسيما في ميداني الفلسفة والعلوم، فلم يثنهم عن ذلك القصد، وهو السعي لإيجاد ما يقابلها في اللغة العربية. لقد فسحت هذه اللغة صدرها فاستوعبت المصطلحات والألفاظ الأجنبية، فظهرت مجموعة كبيرة من المصطلحات الخاصة بمعارف جديدة منها: الفلسفة والمنطق وعلم الكلام والطب والصيدلة والهندسة والحساب والفلك، إضافة إلى مصطلحات بعض العلوم الخفية كالسيمياء والشعوذة والسحر. Clergymen of various churches in Mesopotamia and Syria, and members of the Sabian communities of northern Mesopotamia participated in translations into Arabic during the eighth century.

When the Arabs desired to translate the Greek sciences into Arabic during the 8th century, they turned mostly to their Syriac scholars to do the task. In most cases, these scholars translated the works first into their native language then into Arabic. As a result, many of the Arabic scientific terminology are rooted in Syriac. Scientific works and terminology from other cultures, such as Persian and Indian, passed also to Arabic via Syriac.

There was also a marked presence of a Greek-speaking educated class among the subject populations of the Muslim empire. These were able to translate from Greek into Arabic directly.

The early Abbasid caliphs made a systematic effort to translate Greek and Indian scientific texts into Arabic. This effort began during the reign of the second Abbasid caliph al-Mansur who ruled from CE 754 to 775.

The Caliph al-Mansur sent an embassy to the Byzantine emperor, asking him to send him manuscripts on mathematics. The emperor sent him Euclid's Elements and some works on physics. Muslim scholars studied these books, and their desire to obtain others was stimulated.  

Muslim historians record the arrival of an Indian scientist named Manka at the Abbasid court in CE 770, and he seems to have had a considerable influence on the mathematicians and astrologers of Baghdad.

The choice of texts for translation was a privilege of the ruling classes, with astrology enabling prediction, alchemy promising creation and control of wealth, and medicine alleviation of suffering All of these had utilitarian purposes.

The presence of highly qualified astronomers, astrologers and mathematicians at the court of al-Mansur indicates that there was a class of people, who were already in place by the time the Abbasids took over from the Umayyad dynasty, who were competent enough to use sophisticated astronomical instruments, to cast horoscopes, to translate difficult astronomical texts, and to transfer their basic calenderical parameters, as well as to compose theoretical astronomical texts.. Such activities could not have been accomplished by people who were just learning how to translate under the earliest Abbasids, as the classical narrative claims

The three Abbasid caliphs during Jabir’s life and the Barmakids


Jabir was contemporary with the three early Abbasid Caliphs that preceded Al-Ma’mun. The translation movement was active during the reign of these three caliphs and celebrated scientists had flourished. Jabir was one these.

Abu Jafar Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al Mansur (712 - 775) was the Abbasid Caliph who founded Baghdad in 762. He reigned from 754 until 775.  During his reign, literature and scholarly work in the Islamic world began to emerge in full force.


al-Mansur died in 775 on his way to Mecca. He was succeeded by his son, al-Mahdi (ruled 775 - 785) who was the third Abbasid Caliph. Al-Mahdi was proclaimed caliph when his father was on his deathbed. His peaceful reign continued the policies of his predecessors.

The cosmopolitan city of Baghdad blossomed during al-Mahdi's reign. The city attracted immigrants from all of Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Persia, and lands as far away as India and Spain. Baghdad was home to Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Zoroastrians, in addition to the growing Muslim population. It became the world's largest city The introduction of paper from China in 751 had a profound effect. The paper industry boomed in Baghdad where an entire street in the city center became devoted to sales of paper and books.

Harun al-Rashid

Harun ruled from 786 to 809, and his time was marked by scientific, cultural and religious prosperity. Art and music also flourished significantly during his reign. He established the library Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom).

Jabir was born c. 721 in Tus and died c. 815 in Kufa, two years after al-Ma’min became caliph. He was fifty when al-Mansur died, sixty four when al-Mahdi died, and eighty eight when Harun al-Rashid died.

The Barmakids

The Barmakid family was an early supporter of the Abbasid revolt against the Umayyads. This gave Khalid ibn Barmak considerable influence, and his son Yahya ibn Khalid (d. 806) was the vizier of the caliph al-Mahdi and tutor of Harun al-Rashid. Yahya's sons Al-Fadl and Ja'far (767-803) both occupied high offices under Harun.

Many Barmakids were patrons of the sciences, which greatly helped the propagation of Greek science and scholarship from the neighbouring academy of Jundishapur.. They patronized scholars such as Jabir and Jibril ibn Bukhtishu.


Early Abbasid terminology from miscellaneous translators

Abu Yahya al-Batriq

A Christian Arab author and translator is Abu Yahya al-Batriq, who died about 805 CE, and who was employed by the Caliph Al- Mansur. According to Ibn abi Usaibi'a, he translated many works of Hippocrates and Calen, and he is given also as the translator of Ptolemy's Quadripartiturn.'

The Book of Hours was translated also by al-Batriq during the reign of Caliph al-Mansur. The preface states that al-Batriq searched with great difficulty for a copy of the Greek text before finding one in the great library of the Temple of Abd Shams at Baalbek, which he borrowed and translated into Arabic

Yahya ibn al-Batriq

To Yahya ibn al-Batriq, the son of the above writer, who flourished in the first quarter of the 9th century, is ascribed the translation of Hippocrates book Signs of Death, some works of Aristotle, and the De Theriaca ad Pisonem of Galen. To him is also attributed, although without much probability, the famous Secretum Secretorum. 

Timothy Theophil ibn Tuma al-Ruhawi

During the first centuries of the Hijrah, most  Christian subjects  gradually adopted the Arabic language, while retaining to a greater or lesser extent, their liturgical languages for church purposes

Timothy was a medieval astrologer and scholar in Mesopotamia during the Umayyad period.. In the later part of his life he was the the chief astrologer of the Caliph Al-Mahdi from 158/775 until; 169/778

Not only Christian authors fall within Timothy's sphere of interest. Aristotle and the Greek philosophic tradition are regularly mentioned. He proudly reports on his translation of the Topics into Arabic, undertaken at the request of the caliph (al-Mahdi) in co-operation with Abu Nuh (the secretary of the governor of Musul).

Timothy wrote an Apology for Christianity, in the presence of the Caliph al-Mahdi. This Apology is unanimously considered to be authentic, the discussion having taken place in Baghdad in 781. Timothy is one of the greatest East Syriac Patriarchs (from 780 to 823), and al-Mahdi is known for his openness to religious subjects. The discussion obviously took place in Arabic, but the report written by the Patriarch himself was in Syriac.

Timothy was clever and very respectful of the Islamic faith. Like most Arab apologists, he knows the Qur'an and the Muslim faith quite well, and he understands the sensibilities of Muslims.

Early Abbasidspan terminology from astronomers, astrologers and mathematicians

Nawbakht the Persian

Nawbakht the Persian (679-777) was court astrologer to the caliph al-Mansur, selected to head up a group of astrologers to make election charts for the founding of Baghdad.

He composed various astronomical writings (on the astrolabe, on the armillary spheres, on the calendar).


Masha'allah ibn Atharī (c.740-d.815 CE) was an eighth century astrologer and astronomer, He was a Jew from Basra and became a leading astrologer of the late 8th century. His name is usually Latinized as Messala or Messahalla. The crater Messala on the Moon is named after him.

As a young man he participated in the founding of Baghdad in 762 among a group led by Naubakht the Persian, to choose an electional horoscope for the founding of the city. He wrote over twenty works on astrology, which became authoritative in later centuries, at first in Arabic, and then in the West when horoscopic astrology was transmitted to Europe in the 12th century.

One of his most popular books in the Middle Ages was the De scientia motus orbis, that was translated by Gerard of Cremona. Mashallah's treatise De mercibus (On Prices) is one of the oldest extant scientific works.. He also wrote treatises on Astrolabes.

Ibrahim al-Fazari

Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Habib ibn Sulaiman ibn Samura ibn Jundab al-Fazari was an 8th century mathematician and astronomer of Arab background.

He composed various astronomical writings (on the astrolabe, on the armillary spheres, on the calendar).

The Caliph al-Mansur ordered him and his son to translate the Indian Astronomical text, the Sindhind along with Ya’qub ibn Tariq, which was completed and entitled Az-Zīj alā Sini al-Arab. This translation was possibly the vehicle by means of which the Hindu numerals were transmitted from India to Islam.  He died in 777 CE.

Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Fazari

Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Fazari was a scientist and an astronomer. He died in c. 796 or 806. Al-Fazari translated many scientific books into Arabic and he is credited to have built the first astrolabe in the Islamic world  He collaborated with his father and with Ya’qub ibn Tartq as mentioned above.

Ya’qub ibn Tariq

Ya’qub ibn ariq was an 8th century astronomer and mathematician. He is considered to be one of the greatest astronomers of his time. In 767 CE, at the court of al-Mansur, he probably met the Hindu Kankah (or Mankah?), who had brought there the Siddhanta. He wrote memoirs on the sphere (c. 777), on the division of the kardaja; and a zij  derived from the Siddhanta, entitled Az-Zīj al-Mahlul min as-Sindhind li-Darajat Daraja.  .He died in 796 CE.

Al-Hajjaj ibn Matar

Al-Hajjaj ihn Yusuf ibn Matar flourished some time between  786 and 833. He is the first translator of Eucelid's "Elements" into Arabic and one ef the first translators of the "Almagest.", Kitab al-Majisti, Al-Hajjaj's translation of the Almagest was made in 829  on the basis  of a Syriac version (by Sergios of Resaina'' (first half of sixth century).  With the exception of a few insignificant dissentients Ptolemy's great work became the main authority of the Arab astronomers of later generations

Abu Ali al-Khayyat

Abu Ali al-Khayyat (770-835) was pupil of Mashallah. Albohali in Latin. He wrote many astrological treatises. One of these was Judgement of Nativities that was translated twice unto Latin, and gained prominence. It was recently translated into English. He was influenced by Dorotheus Pentateuch


Born 780 in Baghdad- d 850. Abu ʿAbdallah Muammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was a great  mathematician, astronomer and geographer, an eminent scholar. He was 33 when Jabir died.

Abu Maʿshar

Born Aug. 10, 787, Balkh, Khorāsān [now in Afghanistan],  died March 9, 886 in Wāsit, Iraq. Leading astrologer, who is known primarily for his theory that the world, created when the seven planets were in conjunction in the first degree of Aries, will come to an end at a like conjunction in the last degree of Pisces.

Early Abbasid terminology from physicians

Jirjis ibn Bakhtishu’

Jirjis was in charge of the hospital of Jundishapur, when he was called to Baghdad by al-Mansur. He died in 771. He is the earliest known member of the Bakhtishu’ family who served the Abbasid caliphs as physicians. He is said to have been the first to translate medical works into Arabic upon the caliph’s request.

Jibril ibn Bakhtishu’

Grandson of rjis. Flourished during the second half of the eighth century. Physician to Ja’far al-Barmaki then in 805 to Harun al-Rashid.and later to al-Ma’mun. Died in 828-29. He wrote various medical works and exerted much influence upon the progress of science in Baghdad. He was the most prominent member of the Bakhtishu’ family. He  took pains to obtain Greek manuscripts and patronized translators.

Ibn Sahda

He was an East Syrian writer from Karkh (near Baghdad), of the beginning of the 9th century, who, according to the Fihrist and to Ibn Abi. Usaibi'ah translated from Syriac into Arabic some works of Hippocrates. According to Hunayn ibn Ishiq, he also translated into Syriac the works of Calen, De Sectis, and other works.

Yuhanna Ibn Masawayh

Yuhanna Ibn Masawayh (c. 777–857), was thirty six when Jabir had died. He was known in Latin as Mesue, eminent physician, alchemist, and astrologer, who came from a family of physicians residing in the city of Jundishapur. After a childhood in this stronghold of medical learning and Nestorian Christianity, he spent most of his life in the courts of the caliphs, tending to the medical needs of the Abbasid elite, and overseeing the running of different hospitals as director. Ibn Masawayh flourished during one of the most radiant periods of cultural life in Baghdad and Samarra, in which he played a significant part. The caliph al-Ma’mun, entrusted him with supervising the translation of Greek medical, philosophical, and alchemical works into Arabic. This activity allegedly took place in Bayt al-Hikma. His most famous pupil was Hunayn ibn Ishaq, who succeeded and surpassed Masawayh as a translator.

Many of Ibn Masawayh’s works have not come down to us, or are only preserved in translation or quotations. His two main interests were medicine and alchemy. He was, for instance, the first Arabic author to compose a monograph on ophthalmology, entitled The Defectiveness of the Eye. He also composed a work of encyclopaedic proportions setting out the whole art of medicine in Perfection and Completion, as well as Nawadir (Aphorisms), which was a book of medical sayings, and monographs such as those entitled Fevers; Headaches and their Cure; and Melancholy: Causes, Symptoms, and Therapy, to name but a few. His work Times and Places, extant in Arabic, links diseases to different seasons and winds, and relates them to the zodiac. He also wrote on pharmacology (for example, Preparation of Purging Remedies and Remedies Useful against Nerve Lesions). However, the major Latin work on drugs circulating under his name is wrongly attributed to him; the notion that there was a Mesue Junior, a younger Ibn Masawayh, who lived in the 11th century, is erroneous. In addition to those works listed above, Ibn Masawayh also authored a book on petrology (origin, structure, and composition of rocks), entitled Description of Precious Stones, and another entitled On Animals.

Early Abbasid terminology from alchemists and chemists

Jabir ibn Hayyan and Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi

It is not our purpose to discuss here in detail either of these two celebrated scientists. But we shall speak about some of the similarities between them. Al-Kindi was born in 800 CE at the turn of the ninth century when Jabir was still alive. He became a distinguished scientist at a young age. We can say that al-Kindi was a continuation of Jabir, and was not representing a different era in Arabic science or a new phase of it.

Both of these polymaths have several aspects of similarities. Both wrote multitudes of works. Contrary to what Paul Kraus had assumed, Jabir did not leave 2982 works. Such a huge number made Kraus think that this enormous number must have been written by a multitude of authors.  The enumeration of Kraus is however greatly inflated. Syed N. Haq had discussed this matter and reached the conclusion that the number of titles barely exceeds 500 instead of 2982. Not only the number of Kraus was greatly inflated, but many titles are very small, not exceeding one to few folios each.[14]. This reduces the total number still further.

From Ibn al-Nadim we know that al-Kindi wrote hundreds of treatises on a very wide variety of scientific and philosophical disciplines. The scientific and mathematical titles far outnumber the philosophical ones. Ibn al-Nadim attributes almost 250 titles to al-Kindi and others estimated the number at about 300. This makes the total output of Jabir and al-Kindi almost comparable..

In medicine Jabir and al-Kindi wrote comparable treatises. Jabir wrote Kitab al-sumum wa daf’ madarriha[15] (The Book of Poisons and how to Prevent their Harmful Effects). Al-Kindi wrote Kitab al-adwiya al-mufrada which are used in poisons because of their properties.[16] (The Book of Simples that are used in Poisons because of their Properties. He wrote also an aqrabadhin or formulary, The Medical Formulary or Aqrabadhin of al-Kindi.[17]

 Jabir was an alchemist and a chemist, while al-Kindi was a chemist only and did not believe in transmutation. As chemists, both wrote on similar subjects in industrial chemistry. Jabir left a great book on the colouring of glass, Kitab al-durra al-maknuna in which he discussed in detail the staining of glass. Al-Kindi wrote also a book on the staining of glass which did not come down to us.

Both Jabir and al-Kindi discussed in detail distillation, precious stones and the manufacture of steel. Similarities between both scientists can be extended still further by examining their works on industrial subjects.

Both, Jabir and al-Kindi were philosophers. Jabir’s philosophy reflected the Greek works that were translated until his time, while al-Kindi’s philosophy was influenced by Aristotle and he was called the philosopher of the Arabs.

Ayyub al-Ruhawi

Somewhat contemporary with Jabir ibn Hayyan, lived Ayyub al-Ruhawi or Job of Edessa. He was born in Edessa, possibly about CE 760, and seems to have lived until about CE 835. He was a member of the Nestorian church, and has achieved fame as one of the earliest and most prolific translators of Aristotle and Galen. Besides translations, he wrote several original works, of which only two are extant, namely, a treatise on canine hydrophobia, and the "Book of Treasures" which was edited and translated into English from a manuscript which is the sole copy in a European library. The Book of Treasures is an Encyclopaedia of Philosophical and Natural Sciences as they were known in Baghdad about 817 CE.[18]

The scope of this book resembles that of Kitab Sirr al-Khaliqa of Balinas. Both books are taken probably from the same source

Habbi and Daniel made a translation into Arabic without consulting the English translation of Mingana. The result is an independent translation which is more faithful to the Syriac text.

Early Abbasid terminology in philology and grammar

Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad

Abu 'Abd Al-Rahman al-Khalil ibn Ahmad Al Farahidi ( 718–c. 791 or 786 ) was a philologist from southern Arabia (modern day Oman). His best known contributions are Kitab al-'Ayn  considered the first dictionary of the Arabic language, the current standard for harakat (vowel marks in Arabic script), and the invention al-'arud (the study of Arabic prosody). He moved to Basra, Iraq where he converted from the Ibadi sect of Islam to become a Sunni. He died in Basra sometime between 777 and 791. Sibawayh and Al-Asma'i were among his students

Terminology from miscellaneous other worksواج

Kitab Sirr al-Asrar

The Secret of Secrets was an immensely influential text intended as a guide to kings and rulers purporting to have been written by Aristotle as a guide for Alexander the Great in the form of letters. The origins of the text are uncertain. No Greek original exists, and the treatise was probably originally written in Arabic around 10th c.



Jabir ibn Hayyan was preceded by several eminent scientists. During his time other noted scientists had flourished. And immediately after him other illustrious scientists appeared. Some of these scientists were educated during the Umayyad period and most gained their scientific knowledge before the time of Hunayn ibn Ishaq.

Scientific knowledge during the eighth century, until the time of Hunayn ibn Ishaq did not meet conspicuous changes and the standard of knowledge of Jabir ibn Hayyan did not differ markedly from that of al-Kindi.

Jabir flourished during the second half of the eighth century as is reported by early Arabic historians, and there is no valid reason to doubt the historical accounts of these historians that were close in time to the events which they have reported. Paul Kraus and his teacher Julius Ruska came with their conjectures fourteen centuries after Jabir, and serious doubts tarnish their views.



[1] Kraus, Paul. “Jâbir ibn Hayyân: Contributions à l’Histoire des Ideés Scientifiques dans l’Islam II: Jâbir et la Science Grecque.” Mémoires de l’Institut d’Égypte 45, 1 (1942).

[2] Sezgin, Fuat, Geschichte des Arabischen Schrifttums, band IV, Brill, 1971

[3] Haq,  Syed Nomanul, Names, Natures and Things, Kluwer,   

[4] Al-Hassan, Ahmad Y. , Studies in al-Kimya’, Olms, 2009.

[5]  Al-Hassan, Ahmad Y. et al, (editors), Aspects of Islamic Culture, Vol. IV, Science and Technology in Islam, Part I. , UNESCO, 2001, pp 79-86.

[6] We have discussed these works in our article on the Culture and Civilization of the Umayyads and Prince Khalid ibn Yazid. See this web site.  

[7]  Apollonius of Tyana,  Kitab sirr al-khaliqa wa san’at al-tabi’a, edited by Ursula Weisser. Aleppo, 1997.

[8] Sezgin, Fuat, Geschichte des Arabischen Schrifttums, band IV, Brill, 1971.pp 77-90.

[9] Nallino, Carlo, Arabian Astronom, Its History During the Middle Ages, Roma, 1911, pp 142-143. In Arabic.

[10] Saliba, George, Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance, The MIT Press.

[11] Arjomand, Said Amir, “‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Muqaffa’ and the Abbasid Revolution”, Islamic Studies, 27, numbers 1-4, 1994.

[12] Sidney H. Griffith, Arabic Christianity in the Monasteries of Ninth-Century Palestine (Collected Studies Series, 380; Aldershot, Hamp.: Variorum/Ashgate, 1992).

[13] Saliba, George, Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance, The MIT Press.

Fuat Sezgin. Op sit.  See also our essay on the Culture and Civilization of the Umayyads on this web-site.

[14] Haq,  op. cit. pages 11-13.

[15] Jabir,  Kitab al sumum wa daf’ madarriha, published in facsimile and translated into German by A. Siggel. Wiesbaden, 1958.

[16] Al-Kindi,  Kitab al-adwiya al-mufrada allati yuf’al bi khawassiha fi al sumum,(Book of Simples which are Used in Poisons because of their Properties) مجلس شوراي ملي - طهران – ايران الطب-مخطوطات Tehran.

[17] Levey, Martin, The Medical Formulary or Aqrabadhin of al-Kindi, University of Wisconsin Press, 1966.



Copyright Information

All Articles and Brief Notes are written by Ahmad Y. al-Hassan unless where indicated otherwise.

The design of this website does not belong to Ahmad Y. al-Hassan, the design was based on common webdesign elements.

All published material are the copyright of the author (unless stated otherwise) and may not be published or reproduced in part or in whole without the express written permission of the author.