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The Story of Al-Farabi in India
by Don Robertson

Al-Farabi (870-950 A.D.) was the great philosopher and musician from Turkestan who invented the musical instrument called the Quanun. He was known to travel to may parts of the world, always assuming a disguise so as not to be recognized. One day, when he was in India, he appeared in the throne room of the court of the great King Suffudeen, one of the most knowledgeable men in India, dressed as a private in the King’s own army. The king was very surprised to see a private standing in his royal room and demanded the private to tell him what he was doing there.

"Where do you belong, private," he demanded.

"Why, I belong there on the throne, where you now sit!" the private exclaimed, walking up to the throne and sitting on the edge. He then began pushing his weight against the king, sliding him aside until each occupied half the throne.

The king was very angry and turned to one of his guards and began speaking a very obscure tongue so that others could not understand him. He told the guard "This man must either be a fanatic, or else he is someone very amazing. I will ask him some questions and see which case it may be."

The king turned to Al-Farabi to ask him a question; However, before he could open his mouth, Al-Farabi spoke to him in the same obscure language and said "But king, why would you bother?"

At this point, the king and Al-Farabi launched into a lengthy philosophical debate that lasted several hours. Point by point, the king’s arguments were defeated, and as the wisest men in India were brought in to contribute to the debate, one by one they were defeated. Finally, the king graciously accepted his defeat and told Al-Farabi that he would willingly give him whatever he wanted. Al-Farabi said that he wanted nothing. So the King ordered his fine court musicians, who were the best in the land, to play for the, now honored, guest.

When the musicians began playing, Al-Farabi stopped them and corrected their intonation and their interpretation of the ragas. Then he demanded that the musicians replay the music correctly. This kept on occurring, every time the musicians tried to play and after a while, the king dismissed the musicians. He then told Al-Farabi that since he had treated his musicians in such a manner, he must prove his own musical ability.

Al-Farabi pulled three small reeds from his pocket and began playing a high, happy tune that, when played over and over, made everyone in the courtroom, including the king, break out in laughter. Finally, everyone in the court, including the king, were rolling on their sides in fits of uncontrollable laughter. Suddenly, Al-Farabi stopped the tune, and began playing another, a slow mournful one that put everyone to sleep, and when every person in the room, except Al-Farabi, was fast asleep in their chairs or on the floor, Al-Farabi quietly slipped out of the throne room, never to be seen there again.

-> More Information about Al-Farabi

-> Al-Farabi's Book "On the Perfect State"