Jabir ibn Hayyan – The Renowned Muslim Chemist


Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan, known in Europe as Geber, was born in Tus, Iran, in 721 CE during the rule of the Umayyad Khaleefah. He went to Kufa, Iraq, after the fall of the Umayyad dynasty, where he lived and received his education. In Kufa, he became the student of Imam Jafar as-Sadiq. After completing his education, he started his career as a physician under the patronage of the Vizier of Khaleefah Haroon ar-Rasheed. His connection to the Vizier cost him dearly, when the Vizier fell from the grace of the Khaleefah. In 803 CE, Jabir ibn Hayyan was arrested and spent the rest of his life under house arrest, till he died in 815 CE.

Jabir’s interest in alchemy was probably inspired by his teacher Jafar as-Sadiq. He was a deeply religious man, and repeatedly emphasizes in his works that alchemy is possible only by subjugating oneself completely to the will of Allah (swt). In the “Book of Stones”, he prescribes long and elaborate sequences of specific prayers that must be performed without error, alone in the desert, before one can even consider alchemical experimentations.

Jabir ibn Hayyan is widely considered to be the father of chemistry, but he was also an astronomer, pharmacist, physician, philosopher and engineer. His works in the science of chemistry are as important as those of such 18th century scientists as Priestly and Lavoisier. He is credited for the discovery of nineteen different substances, which we call ‘elements’ in modern chemistry.

According to “The Cultural Atlas of Islam” by Ismail al-Faruqi, Jabir invented a kind of paper that resisted fire and an ink that could be read at night. He invented an additive which, when applied to a textile, would make it water repellent. He applied his knowledge of chemistry to improve the manufacturing processes of steel and other metals. Several instruments, which he designed a thousand years ago, are still being used in modern chemical laboratories – for example, a pipette and a test tube. Jabir also made important contributions to medicine, astronomy and other sciences that are too numerous to mention here.

The writings of Jabir ibn Hayyan can be divided into several categories. The Arabic version of the “Emerald Tablet”, an ancient work that is the foundation of the ‘spiritual’ alchemy, was translated into Latin and widely used among European alchemists in the Middle Ages. One of his books, “Chemical Composition”, remained the authoritative textbook in the European universities until the eighteenth century. Several technical terms introduced by Jabir, such as alkali, have become part of scientific vocabulary.

This man was one of the greatest geniuses ever born. The Europeans translated his work into their languages and five hundred books, and essays can be found in the national libraries of France, Germany and the UK. There is no doubt that his writing and inventions strongly stimulated the development of modern chemistry in Europe. Sadly, he seems to have been ignored by the Muslims – I completed my Masters in Chemistry in India but knew nothing about Jabir, the father of chemistry.

Writer’s email: Aslamsyed1@yahoo.com

Surah Hujurat in our Lives (Part 2)


Verse 2

“O you who believe! Raise not your voices above the voice of the Prophet (sa), nor speak aloud to him in talk, as you speak aloud to one another, lest your deeds should be rendered fruitless, while you perceive not.

This verse specifies the special manners to be practiced with Prophet Muhammad (sa) and includes the following instruction: Don’t raise your voice above the Prophet’s (sa) voice.

This addresses two categories of people: those living during his lifetime and those who came after them (including us). To the Sahabah, the instruction is: don’t talk louder than the Prophet (sa) or don’t talk over him. For us today, the command is to refrain from making our speech more valuable than or over-riding the words of the Prophet (sa) (his Sunnah).

There are two reasons for the revelation of this verse, as recorded in Bukhari. One is the story of Thabit ibn Qais (rtam), and another is the story of Abu Bakr (rtam) and Umar (rtam).

Bukhari recorded that Ibn Abi Mulaykah said: “The two righteous ones, Abu Bakr (rtam) and Umar (rtam), almost earned destruction when they raised their voices before the Prophet (sa), who was receiving the delegation of Bani Tamim. One of them recommended Al-Aqra ibn Habis, the member of the Banu Mujashi, while the other recommended another man. Nafi (a sub-narrator) said: ‘I don’t remember his name.’ Abu Bakr (rtam) said to Umar (rtam): ‘You only wanted to contradict me,’ while Umar (rtam) said: ‘I did not intend to contradict you.’ Their voices then became loud; thereupon Allah, the Exalted, sent down this Ayah. Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr (rtam) said: ‘After that, Umar’s (rtam) voice became so low that the Messenger of Allah (sa) had to ask him to repeat what he had said, so that he could understand what he was saying to him.’”

Bukhari also recorded that Anas ibn Malik (rtam) said: “The Prophet (sa) missed Thabit bin Qays and a man said: ‘O Allah’s Messenger! I will find out about his news.’ That man went to Thabit and found him sitting at home with his head lowered and asked him: ‘What is the matter?’ Thabit said: ‘An evil matter!’ And he said that he used to raise his voice above the voice of the Prophet (sa). He feared that his good deeds would be rendered useless, and he would be among the people of the fire. The man went back to the Prophet (sa), conveyed Thabit’s statement and returned to Thabit with wonderful news. The Prophet (sa) had said: ‘Go back to him and tell him this news: you are not among the people of the fire; rather, you are among the dwellers of paradise.’”

Note: the instruction to not speak loudly is different from raising one’s voice. It means: when you want to call him, don’t do so in a loud voice. Don’t talk to him directly in an outspoken manner. Don’t converse with the Prophet (sa) like you converse with each other. If he calls you, you need to respond. You can’t expect him to respond to you whenever you want. He is the Prophet (sa) and you have to show him respect. Remember, these instructions were directed at the Sahabah, the most pious individuals!

With instructions come the warnings. What if one does not obey these instructions? The answer: their deeds will be nullified and rendered void. Like a tornado, this action will blow away all prayers, Sadaqah and Jihad.

What was the reaction of the Sahabah? After this verse was revealed, they started whispering in front of the Prophet (sa), to the extent that sometimes he could not even hear them!

Now, let’s come to us! What is the impact of this verse for us? What is it instructing us to do today? There are four aspects of obeying this verse:

1) We should not talk loudly in Masjid An-Nabawi, where the Prophet (sa) is buried. Recall the story that once after the death of the Prophet (sa), Umar ibn Al-Khattab (rtam) heard two men chattering in raised voices in the Masjid and he admonished them: “Do you know where you are standing?

From where do you come from?” It turned out these two men were from Taif. Since they were unaware of the etiquette, Umar (rtam) commanded them to talk softly in the Masjid.

2) We have to respect the Ahadeeth and the Sunnah of the Prophet (sa) by obeying them.

3) Appreciating the Prophet (sa) is a way of showing gratitude to Allah (swt) that He sent a Messenger (sa) to us to guide us and lead us towards the straight path.

4) Our good manners should extend towards the scholars who are teaching us. After the Prophet (sa), they are our teachers who are delivering the message of Allah (swt) to us. This respect should be in moderation – one should be careful to not elevate the status of scholars or go to extremes in following them.

After the Prophet (sa), the Sahabah assumed the role of teachers. The Tabieen used to learn from them, and they in turn, became the educators of the generation after them. In this manner, future generations graduated from the university of the Prophet (sa).

Today, we see individuals backbiting scholars. One must remember that scholars are human. They can make mistakes. However, scholars follow the same Aqeedah and Sunnah, and have knowledge from which one can benefit! The minute differences are in terms of Fiqh. Sometimes, people get enraged over a Fatwa that is not in accordance with their convenience. They use this as an excuse to spread negativity about that particular scholar. This is a very serious matter and a cause of deviation! People who spread malice in the society about scholars are usually over-ridden with jealousy, envy, following of Nafs and a desire to imitate others.

Remember: scholars are teachers and they need to be shown respect. The same warning as given above applies to all of us. If we don’t show this respect to the Prophet (sa), the pious predecessors and the sincere scholars among us today, our deeds will not be accepted. Note also that this respect needs to come from the heart. It should not be mere lip service.

To be continued in the upcoming issue of “Hiba”. Adapted by Umme Ibrahim from a workshop conducted by sister Eman of “Al-Huda Sisters”, Dubai.

The Best Deal!


“My son finally got a job in a well-established multinational company! I am so relieved of all the tensions now that his career is set and future is secured.” Parents usually worry about their children’s future. If their kids get good grades and eventually obtain a lucrative job, they think that they have achieved success. Hence, such remarks from satisfied mothers are commonplace. However, is our future really secured? Is it the ultimate success or even the key to it?

This dazzling world deceitfully makes us forget the hereafter. We know that the grave is our ultimate destination, as no family member would be willing to keep our dead body, no matter how dear we are to them. However, Allah (swt) buys this useless flesh and in exchange, grants us the splendours that we can never even imagine.

“Verily, Allah has purchased of the believers their lives and their properties; for (the price) that theirs shall be the Paradise. (…) And who is truer to his covenant than Allah? Then rejoice in the bargain which you have concluded. That is the supreme success.” (At-Tawbah 9:111)

Though this is Allah’s (swt) true promise, it is conditional. In return, He wants us to fulfil certain obligations. All humans possess two main assets: life (time, talent, skills and efforts) and wealth. One can spend these to earn either this world or the pleasure of Allah (swt). A Mumin only sells himself to the Rabbul-Alameen (swt). He knows that only his Rabb (swt) can give the best return. Shouldn’t we then hurry up to sign this deal with our Him?

The qualities of those who want to sell themselves to their Rabb (swt) are: “(The believers whose lives Allah has purchased are) those who turn to Allah in repentance (from polytheism and hypocrisy), who worship (Him), who praise (Him), who fast (or go out in Allah’s Cause), who bow down (in prayer), who prostrate themselves (in prayer), who enjoin (on people) for Al-Maroof (that is, Islamic Monotheism and all what Islam has ordained) and forbid (people) from Al-Munkar (that is, disbelief, polytheism of all kinds and all that Islam has forbidden), and who observe the limits set by Allah (do all that Allah has ordained and abstain from all kinds of sins and evil deeds which Allah has forbidden). And give glad tidings to the believers.” (At-Tawbah 9:112)

Let us study these eight qualities in detail.

  1. Those who turn to Allah (swt) in repentance

This refers to those who repent after committing sins and the ones who turn to Allah (swt) in all matters. A faithful believer keeps record of his deeds, and as soon as he realizes his faults and sins, he seeks forgiveness. Allah (swt) loves this quality in His slave.

Prophet Muhammad (sa) reported that the devil said to Allah (swt): “I shall continue to lead Your servants astray as long as their spirits are in their bodies.” Allah (swt) replied: “(Then) I shall continue to pardon them as long as they ask for My forgiveness.” (At-Tirmidhi)

Constantly turning to Allah (swt) in repentance is truly beneficial for us, as the Prophet (sa) said: “If anyone continually asks for pardon, Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress and a relief from every anxiety, and will provide for him from where he did not reckon.” (Abu Dawood)

A Mumin consults Allah (swt) in all matters through an Istikhara, whether it is a wedding or some business deal. He first tries to find out what Allah (swt) says about the related matter, so he can make the decision accordingly.

  1. Worship Allah (swt)

A true believer is a slave of Allah (swt) by choice. This quality of servitude consists of extreme love. Serving Allah (swt) consists of both Haqooq Allah and fulfilling the rights of people which is Haqooq al-Ibad.

  1. Praise Allah (swt)

A Mumin is a positive person and thanks Allah (swt) for each and every blessing, no matter how small it may be. This keeps him away from worries and stress, as Allah (swt) mentions: “If you give thanks (by accepting Faith and worshipping none but Allah), I will give you more (of My Blessings), but if you are thankless (that is, disbelievers), verily! My Punishment is indeed severe.” (Ibrahim 14:7)

How can we be thankful?  Through our tongues by verbally thanking and praising Allah (swt). We should practice saying small phrases like Alhumdulillah or Subhan’Allah loud enough, so that it can impact our hearts.

The Prophet (sa) said: “Allah is surely pleased with His servant when he eats something and thanks Allah for it, and when he drinks something and thanks Allah for it.” (Muslim)

We can also be thankful through our actions by using our five senses to please Allah (swt). For example, if one has been bestowed with knowledge, he should thank Allah (swt) by educating others. Similarly, if Allah (swt) has blessed someone with wealth, he should thank Allah (swt) by giving to the needy and to the poor.

If we ponder over this, we realize that a loyal believer’s entire life is an act of gratitude to His Rabb (swt).

  1. Move about in the land for His sake

This term is used for people who leave their homes in order to struggle, strive and gain the knowledge of Islam.

It is related by Anas ibn Malik (rtam) that the Prophet (sa) said: “A morning spent in the way of Allah or an evening is better than this world and everything it contains.” (Bukhari)

According to scholars, another meaning of moving about in the land for Allah’s (swt) sake refers to Umrah and Hajj.

Furthermore, it refers to migration for the sake of Allah (swt). Migration can be of two types: (1) a physical one – moving to a Muslim country; (2) an intellectual one – shunning sins from one’s life and changing the lifestyle according to the Quran and the Sunnah.

  1. Make Ruku (bow down)

This attribute reflects a true believer’s humility and down-to-earth personality. Arrogance wastes good deeds. Abdullah ibn Masood (rtam) reported that the Prophet (sa) said: “No one who has an atom’s weight of pride in his heart will enter the Garden.” A man said: “And if the man likes his clothes to be good and his sandals to be good?” He said: “Allah is Beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means to renounce the truth and abase people.” (Muslim)

  1. Those who prostrate

A Mumin is humble which is reflected in his act of prostration to His Rabb (swt). A faithful believer is not just concerned about obligations; he makes special preparations for performing voluntary prayers. He draws closer to His Rabb (swt) by not only performing the obligatory duties but also the extra good deeds.

The aforementioned attributes come under the category of personal development and to some extent are easy to adopt. Hence, most of us stop at these only, as we consider them to be the definition of piety. We fail to acknowledge the next two qualities stated in this verse:

  1. Enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil

This attribute reflects a believer’s well-wishing nature for the Ummah.

The Prophet (sa) said (thrice): “Religion is sincerity and sincere advice.” The companions asked: “To whom?” He replied: “To Allah, His Book, His Messenger and to the leaders of the Muslims and the general people.” (Muslim)

The above Hadeeth implies guiding others to what is beneficial for them, both in the hereafter and this life, educating them about Islam and refraining from sins by words and actions. The job of every Mumin is to spread Allah’s (swt) message by inviting people towards good and forbidding evil. However, this is not an easy task, as we all try to avoid clashing with society and, therefore, are hesitant in forbidding people from doing wrong. We should supplicate a lot, asking Allah (swt) for wisdom, so we can perform our role as Daees.

  1. Observe the limits set by Allah (swt)

A faithful believer will be careful in observing the ordinances of Islamic jurisprudence. We can understand Allah’s (swt) limits by an easy example of a gatekeeper, whose duty is to be watchful all the time, in order to provide security to the household members. Similarly, a believer has to care about observing Allah’s (swt) limits at all times.

Upon adopting these qualities, our Rabb (swt) has promised us the great reward of paradise. We are as incompetent as can be. We make a promise in the daytime to rectify our sinful lives, but by nightfall, we break it. May Allah (swt) enable us to make such an intention that even if we fall flat on our faces, we stand up again and struggle. We must strive till our last breath and become among those who repent to Him, worship Him, praise Him, travel for Him, bow to Him, prostrate to Him, enjoin good for His sake, forbid evil for His sake and observe His limits – do everything only for His sake and in His name.

One of the most beautiful verses of the Quran sums it all up: “As for those who strive hard in Us (Our Cause), We will surely guide them to Our Paths (that is, Allah’s Religion – Islamic Monotheism). And verily, Allah is with the Muhsinun (good doers).” (Al-Ankabut 29:69)

Transcribed and adapted for “Hiba” by Amreen Rehman.