Overview of Fārābi's life (873 - 950 A.D)

Aboo Nasr Mohammad ibn Mohammad Tarkhan Fārābi also known in the west as Alpharabius, Alfarabi, and Al-Farabi, was born in Farab, a village in the historic Khorasan, in 873 A.D. Although his father was an army commander, he did not like his father’s occupation and chose a different way of life. In his youth, Fārābi traveled to Baqdad where he studied Greek philosophy and logic as well as the Arabic language. Since he was fluent in Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Greek, and Syrian, he could study, analyze, and write commentaries on the Greek philosophical works especially those of Aristotle. Because of this fact, he became known as “the Second Teacher” among the Muslim Philosophers (in the history of Islamic philosophy, Aristotle was called “the First Teacher”). Fārābi endured many difficulties including financial hardships in reaching his goal in acquiring knowledge. He always kept his life simple even when was the most knowledgeable philosopher of the court.

In those days, most philosophers were familiar with the science of medicine and Fārābi was not an exception. He used his knowledge of medicine to make his living.

Fārābi played the ood and sang since his childhood. Some have attributed the invention of the qanoon to him. There are also many stories about his playing ability at the court of Sayf Al Doleh Hamdani which seem to be fictions not real episodes. But, there is no doubt that Fārābi was a very skilled musician. Just a look at his book, the Musiqi Al-Kabir, will demonstrate his knowledge of both practical and theoretical music of his time. The detail analysis and comparison between the two different kinds of the tanbur, the tanbur of Khorasan and the tanbur of Baqdad, which were played in the two ends of the Islamic empire of that time (with more than 2000 km distance) demonstrates Fārābi’s knowledge and understanding of the music and music traditions of his time. In fact, the content of the Musiqi Al-Kabir shows that Fārābi was not a simple instrumentalist; rather, he is a skilled musicologist as well. He played various instruments, such as different kinds of tanboor, nay, sorna, and qanoon. Also, he analyzed all of these instruments in his Musiqi Al-Kabir.

Fārābi is the first person who wrote correct and useful commentaries on the works of Greek philosophers specially Plato and Aristotle. In fact, he was the first person who reintroduced the works of these great philosophers whose theories and ideas were forgotten during the Middle Ages. Fārābi believed that human perfection and happiness will be achieved by detaching the self from the worldly desires. He believed that only those should pursue philosophy and science who are ethically rich. He was not thirsty for fame and wealth and was very reluctant to publish his works. However, he left more than 102 works and taught many lovers of knowledge directly and indirectly. Aboo Ali Sina (known in the west as Avicenna), a great Iranian philosopher and physician, considered himself a student of Fārābi and said that only through the later he could understand Aristotle’s book of Metaphysics.

In cosmology, Fārābi has a book in which he proves the invalidity of the astrologists’ false predictions. His book in politics demonstrates his vast knowledge about different societies. His most important book is the Utopia in which he explains his mystical and philosophical ideas about human societies.

Fārābi died in 950 A.D in Damascus when he was eighty. Although there were not many people present in his funeral, he left a very valuable legacy in different fields of knowledge. This point should be made here that although Fārābi wrote all of his works in Arabic, it does not mean that he was an Arab or he loved this language. Rather, he wrote in Arabic like many other Persian scientists and philosophers because the Arabic was the common scientific language and the official language of the time.