Al-Farabi,The Second Master

Had it not been for his coherent explanations on the Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Avicenna would probably never have been able to understand it; he read Aristotle forty times, but it was just through the straightforward and comprehensive commentaries of Al-Farabi that he finally realized Aristotle’s ideas on Metaphysics.



The great Muslim philosopher, logician, and cosmologist, Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn Muhammad Farabi, was born in 872 A.D. in Farab, Khurasan, to Iranian parents. He spent most of his life in Baghdad and from very early youth started learning the teachings of Islam and the Holy Quran under the training of the best Islamic philosophers and scholars. He traveled to many countries, including Egypt and Syria. He died in 950 or 951 A.D. in Damascus, Syria.


Al-farabi, philosopher, Muslim, Islam


In philosophy, he is considered to be the second in rank after Aristotle, and is called “the second teacher” and on some occasions “the second master” [1]. His wise and easy to understand explanations shed a clear light on the complex philosophy of Aristotle, to the point that many western philosophers owed their appreciation of “the first teacher”’s philosophy to Al-Farabi [2].


Moreover, he is the founder of the Islamic philosophy. He genuinely believed in the existence of the first cause -God, Allah- and admitted the limits of human knowledge in understanding the nature of it [3].



 In one of his most notable works “Al-Madina Al-Fadila” (The Virtuous City) which is basically about political philosophy, he argues that the favorable form of government is the one ruled by a prophet or Imam. Accordingly, the city of Medina when it was ruled by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the ideal kind of society which would ultimately guide human beings to everlasting felicity both in this world and the world that is to come.



He also criticized those philosophers who do not utilize their knowledge for the benefit of their society. He compared the philosopher's role in society with a physician’s relation to the body; the body's health is affected by the 'balance of its humors just as the city is determined by the moral habits of its people. The philosopher's duty, he says, is to establish a ‘virtuous’ society by healing the souls of people, establishing justice and guiding them towards 'true happiness' [4].


Al-Farabi, musician, Islam


He was also a grand master of music; “He is said to have created musical compositions. To this day there are melodies in Anatolian music and rags in classical North Indian music attributed to him, sung and performed by masters of these musical genres”[5]. His famous book on music, Kitab al-musiqi al-Kabir ("The Great Book of Music"), is the study of the theory of Persian music and the philosophical principles of music, its cosmic qualities and influence.



His other well-known book is called Kitab ihsa al-ulum ("On the Introduction of Knowledge"). It consists of eight parts, each dealing with one branch of science such as linguistics, logic, mathematics, astronomy, metaphysics, Islamic jurisprudence, Islamic science of dialectic and discourse, as well as politics[6].



Finally, Al-Farabi, one of the greatest Muslim philosophers, is a universal phenomenon whose innovative and sensible ideas marked a turning point in the history of philosophy. His philosophy was easy to understand and apply to the real life which is the essence of the sharia of Islam; a religion with rules that are highly compatible with the human nature and if followed would bring satisfaction as well as peace.




[1]. Ian Richard Netton. “al-Farabi, Abu Nasr (c.870-950)”.Islamic Philosophy from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 1998. 23 June 2014 

[2]. F.W Zimmermann, Al-Farabi 's Commentary and Short Treatise on Aristotle 's De Interpretation, Oxford, 1981.

[3]. Ian Richard Netton. Breaking with Athens: Alfarabi as Founder, Applications of Political Theory by Christopher A.Colmo". Journal of Islamic Studies (Oxford University Press), 2008: 397–8.

[4]. Charles Butterworth. Ethical and Political Philosophy in Adamson, P, and Taylor, R. The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 

[5]. Hussein Nasr, Mehdi Aminrazavi. “An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia," Vol. 1: From Zoroaster to ‘Umar Khayyam”, I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2007. Pg 135.

[6]. Hamid Taleb Zadeh. Philosophy (Introduction to Islamic philosophy) the field of humanity, for pre-university students. Tehran: Iran's schoolbook publication, 1392.