Abu Nasr Muhammad al- Farabi, one the earliest Islamic intellectuals who were instrumental in transmitting the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle to the Muslim world, had a considerable influence on the later Islamic philosophers such as Avicenna. He was an outstanding linguist who translated the Greek works on Aristotle and Plato and made a considerable addition to them of his own.
He earned the nickname Mallim-e-Sani, which is translated as “second master” or “second teacher”. Al-Farabi was known to the Arabs as the ‘Second Master’ (after Aristotle), and with good reason.
Al-Farabi completed his earlier education at Farab and Bukhara but, later on, he went to Baghdad for higher studies, where he studied and worked for a long time. During this period he acquired mastery over several languages as well as various branches of knowledge and technology. Farabi contributed considerably to science, philosophy, logic, sociology, medicine, mathematics and music, but the major ones are in philosophy, logic and sociology and for which he stands out as an Encyclopedist.
Contributions and Achievements
As a philosopher, Farabi was the first to separate philosophy from theology. It is difficult to find a philosopher both in Muslim and Christian world from Middle Ages onwards who has not been influenced by his views. He believed in a Supreme Being who had created the world through the exercise of balanced intelligence. He also asserted this same rational faculty to be the sole part of the human being that is immortal, and thus he set as the paramount human goal the development of that rational faculty. He considerably gave more attention to political theory as compared to any Islamic philosopher.
Later in his work, Al-Farabi laid down in Platonic fashion the qualities necessary for the ruler, he should be inclined to rule by good quality of a native character and exhibit the right attitude for such rule. At the heart of Al-Farabi’s political philosophy is the concept of happiness in which people cooperate to gain contentment. He followed the Greek example and the highest rank of happiness was allocated to his ideal sovereign whose soul was ‘united as it were with the Active Intellect’. Therefore Farabi served as a tremendous source of aspiration for intellectuals of the middle ages and made enormous contributions to the knowledge of his day, paving the way for the later philosopher and thinkers of the Muslim world.
Farabian epistemology has both a Neoplatonic and an Aristotelian dimension. The best source for al-Farabi’s classification of knowledge is his Kitab ihsa al-ulum. This work neatly illustrates Al-Farabi’s beliefs, both esoteric and exoteric. Through all of them runs a primary Aristotelian stress on the importance of knowledge. Thus al-Farabi’s epistemology, from what has been described may be said to be encyclopedic in range and complex in articulation, using both a Neoplatonic and an Aristotelian voice.
Farabi also participated in writing books on early Muslim sociology and a notable book on music titled Kitab al-Musiqa (The Book of Music) which is in reality a study of the theory of Persian music of his day, although in the West it has been introduced as a book on Arab music. He invented several musical instruments, besides contributing to the knowledge of musical notes. It has been reported that he could play his instrument so well as to make people laugh or weep at will. Al-Farabi’s treatise Meanings of the Intellect dealt with music therapy, where he discussed the therapeutic effects of music on the soul.
Farabi traveled to many distant lands throughout his life and gained many experiences a lot, due to which he made so many contributions for which he is still remembered and acknowledged. Inspite of facing many hardships, he worked with full dedication and made his name among the popular scientists of history. He died a bachelor in Damascus in 339 A.H. /950 A.D. at the age of 80 years.