Who Was Al-Farabi?

One of the foremost Islamic philosophers in history was Al-Farabi. Chances are that you might not have heard of this great Arab philosopher if you are not familiar with historical accounts about the contributions of great philosophers. Al-Farabi, popularly referred to as the “Second Master,” after Aristotle, contributed immensely to philosophical knowledge in the fields of logic, music, and political science. In this article, we will reveal the life and times of Al-Farabi and some of his philosophical beliefs.
Early Life of Al-Farabi
Most of the available information about the early life of Al-Farabi was doubtful because he did not leave any autobiography behind. Born in Turkestan in 870AD, Al-Farabi was named Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Tarkhan ibn Awzalagh al-Farabi. He spent most of his early and adult years in Baghdad where he studied Arabic and wrote most of his books.
Adult Life of Al-Farabi
Al-Farabi is a renowned philosopher, logician, musician, and political scientist. He was the first philosopher to analyze the tension between the philosophies of classical Greece and that of Islam. In his quest for knowledge, he travelled to towns and cities such as Damascus, Egypt, Harran, Bukhara, Marv, and Aleppo. He studied jurisprudence and music in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. It was reported that Al-Farabi spoke about seventy languages including Arabic, Greek, and English.
Historians are skeptical about most of the accounts about Al-Farabi since he did not leave any autobiography. However, historians agreed that he was influenced mainly by the works of the two famous philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. These influences that Aristotle’s and Plato’s works had on his philosophy earned him the titles of the “Second Master” and “the father of Islamic Neoplatonism.” Al-Farabi wrote several titles, but the books for which he is well known include, al-Madina al-fadila (The Virtuous City), Kitabal-musiqa al-Kabil (The Great Book of Music) the Risala fi’l-’aql (Epistle on the Intelect), Kitab al-huruf (The book of letters) and Kitab ihsa’ al-ulum (The Book of the Enumeration of the Sciences).
His Philosophical Beliefs
Like Aristotle and Plato, Al-Farabi also believed in the creation of the world, the survival of the soul and the reward and punishment in the afterlife. He philosophized about the ten hierarchies of intellects. The first intellect being the “Device being” and the tenth is referred to as the “Active Intellect.” The relationship that emanates between individual intellects constitutes the real bridge between the heavenly and terrestrial worlds. He provided several philosophical expositions in metaphysics, epistemology, music, and politics.
Although most narrations about Al-Farabi are moot because he did not write his autobiography, he was undoubtedly, a remarkable philosopher. Historians agreed that his works are some of the earliest philosophical thoughts in the Arab nations. His philosophies remained a good source intellectual discourse on subject matters such as metaphysics, epistemology, music and politics.
Photo Credit: Al-Ahram