Abu Nasr Mohammad Ibn al-Farakh al-Farabi was born in a small village Wasij, near Farab in Turkistan in 259 A.H. (870 C.E.). His parents were originally of Persian descent, but his ancestors had migrated to Turkistan. Known as al-Phrarabius in Europe, Farabi was the son of a general. He 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 viz., from 901 C.E. to 942 C.E. During this period he acquired mastery over several languages as well as various branches of knowledge and technology. He lived through the reign of six Abbasid Caliphs. As a philosopher and scientist, he acquired great proficiency in various branches of learning and is reported to have been an expert in different languages.
Farabi travelled to many distant lands and studied for some time in Damascus and Egypt, but repeatedly came back to Baghdad, until he visited Saif al-Daula's court in Halab (Allepo). He became one of the constant companions of the King, and it was here at Halab that his fame spread far and wide. During his early years he was a Qadi (Judge), but later on the took up teaching as his profession. During the course of his career, he had suffered great hardships and at one time was the caretaker of a garden. He died a bachelor in Damascus in 339 A.H./950 C.E. at the age of 80 years.
Farabi contributed considerably to science, philosophy, logic, sociology, medicine, mathematics and music. His major contributions seem to be in philosophy, logic and sociology and, of course, stands out as an Encyclopedist. As a philosopher, he may be classed as a Neoplatonist who tried to synthesize Platonism and Aristotelism with theology and he wrote such rich commentaries on Aristotle's physics, meteorology, logic, etc., in addition to a large number of books on several other subjects embodying his original contribution, that he came to be known as the 'Second Teacher' (al-Mou'allim al-Thani) Aristotle being the First. One of the important contributions of Farabi was to make the study of logic more easy by dividing it into two categories viz., Takhayyul (idea) and Thubut (proof).
In sociology he wrote several books out of which Ara Ahl al-Madina al-Fadila became famous. His books on psychology and metaphysics were largely based on his own work. He also wrote a book on music, captioned Kitab al-Musiqa. He was a great expert in the art and science of music and 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. In physics he demonstrated the existence of void.
Although many of his books have been lost, 117 are known, out of which 43 are on logic, 11 on metaphysics, 7 on ethics, 7 on political science, 17 on music, medicine and sociology, while 11 are commentaries. Some of his more famous books include the book Fusus al-Hikam, which remained a text book of philosophy for several centuries at various centres of learning and is still taught at some of the institutions in the East. The book Kitab al-lhsa al 'Ulum discusses classification and fundamental principles of science in a unique and useful manner. The book Ara Ahl al-Madina al- Fadila 'The Model City' is a significant early contribution to sociology and political science.
Farabi exercised great influence on science and knowledge for several centuries. Unfortunately, the book Theology of Aristotle, as was available to him at that time was regarded by him as genuine, although later on it turned out to be the work of some Neoplatonic writer. Despite this, he was regarded the Second Teacher in philosophy for centuries and his work, aimed at synthesis of philosophy and Sufism, paved the way for ibn sina's work.