Analyzing Alchemical Body and Causality Theories in Islamic Civilization based on Jabir ibn Hayyan’s System


The basis of Islamic alchemy and matter theory is found in the works of Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (d. 200/815). Jābir developed an element theory similar to Aristotle’s system. Still, he interpreted matter and substance differently by transferring the basis of the theory from elements to qualities. In Jābir’s system, qualities are more often expressed by the term “natures” (ṭabā’iʻ). In Jābir’s thought, four natures precede the four elements, and due to the combination of two different natures with the substance each time, four distinct elements with different qualities occur. In Jābir, the “primary bodies” of the natural world are no longer the four Empedoclean elements but the “four natures”; air, water, earth, and fire are made up of these natures. Thus, Jābir gave the four primary Aristotelian qualities the role of genuine elements by making them tangible, independent, and corporeal entities. According to Jābir, the operation of transforming (transmutation) of ajsād (‘bodies’) such as iron, copper, tin, and lead, which is the primary purpose of the Art of alchemy, into silver and gold is carried out within the framework of the science of mīzān. The core of this transformation is based on an idea of causality in which the four natures and their specific proportions and measures are at the center. With the idea of causality that allows chemical transformation, Jābir also succeeded in extending the possibility of transformation in alchemy from the inorganic world to the organic world to an extensive range of entities. This study will discuss Jābir’s thoughts on body, substance, and experimental causality by examining Jābir’s corpus through primary sources.


Jābir ibn Ḥayyān alchemy four nature-four elements substance causality.