He completed his earlier education at Farab and Bokhara but, later on, he went to Baghdad for higher studies, where he studied and worked for a long time, from 901 to 942 CE. 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.
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 Qazi (Judge), but later on he 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 950 CE 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, he stands out as an Encyclopaedist. As a philosopher, he may be classed as a Neo-Platonist who tried to synthesize Platonism and Aristotlism 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-Mouallim al-Thani) Aristotle being the First. One of the important contributions of Farabi was to make the study of logic easier by dividing it into two categories, Takhayyol (idea) and Thobout (proof).
In sociology he wrote several books out of which Ara Ahl al-Madina al-Fadila “The Model City” became famous. His books on psychology and metaphysics were largely based on his own work. He also wrote a book on music, captioned Ketab al-Mousiqi. 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 Fosos al-Hikam, which remained a textbook of philosophy for several centuries at various centres of learning and is still taught at some of the institutions in the East. The book Ketab al-lhsa al Oloum discusses classification and fundamental principles of science in a unique and useful manner. The book Ara Ahl al-Madina al-Fadila 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 not available to him at that time was regarded by him as genuine, although later on it turned out to be the work of some Neo-Platonist 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 Abu Ali Sina‘s (Avicenna) work.