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Alchemy and chemistry in Islam refers to the study of both traditional alchemy and early practical chemistry (the early chemical investigation of nature in general) by Muslim scientists in the medieval Islamic world. The word alchemy itself was derived from the Arabic word الكيمياء al-kimia.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the focus of alchemical development moved to the Arab Empire and the Islamic civilization. Much more is known about Islamic alchemy as it was better documented; indeed, most of the earlier writings that have come down through the years were preserved as Arabic translations.
The study of alchemy and chemistry often overlapped in the early Islamic world, but later there were disputes between the traditional alchemists and the practical chemists who discredited alchemy. Muslim chemists and alchemists were the first to employ the experimental scientific method (like in modern chemistry), while Muslim alchemists were also the first to develop theories on the transmutation of metals, the philosopher's stone, and the artificial creation of life in the laboratory (like in medieval European alchemy), though these alchemical theories were later rejected by practical Muslim chemists from the 9th century onwards.
Additional recommended knowledge
Contributions to alchemy
The Islamic world was a melting pot for alchemy. Islamic alchemists such as Jabir ibn Hayyan (Latinized as Geber) and al-Razi (Latinized as Rasis or Rhazes) contributed key chemical discoveries, including:
Islamic philosophers also made great contributions to alchemical hermeticism. The most influential author in this regard was arguably Jabir Ibn Hayyan (Arabic جابر إبن حيان, Latin Geberus; usually rendered in English as Geber). He analyzed each Aristotelian element in terms of four basic qualities of hotness, coldness, dryness, and moistness. According to Geber, in each metal two of these qualities were interior and two were exterior. For example, lead was externally cold and dry, while gold was hot and moist. Thus, Jabir theorized, by rearranging the qualities of one metal, a different metal would result. By this reasoning, the search for the philosopher's stone was introduced to Western alchemy. Jabir developed an elaborate numerology whereby the root letters of a substance's name in Arabic, when treated with various transformations, held correspondences to the element's physical properties.
Muslim alchemists were also the first to develop theories on the transmutation of metals, the philosopher's stone, and the artificial creation of life in the laboratory, though these alchemical theories were later rejected by practical Muslim chemists from the 9th century onwards.
Beginning of chemistry
An early experimental scientific method for chemistry began emerging among early Muslim chemists. The first and most influential was the 9th century Arab chemist, Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan), who some consider the father of chemistry, for introducing:
Al-Sadiq also developed a particle theory, which he described as follows:
Al-Sadiq also wrote a theory on the opacity and transparency of materials. He stated that materials which are solid and absorbent are opaque, and materials which are solid and repellent are more or less transparent. He also stated that opaque materials absorb heat.
Al-Kindi, who was a chemist and an opponent of alchemy, was the first to refute the study of traditional alchemy and the theory of the transmutation of metals into more precious metals such as gold or silver. Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, Avicenna and Ibn Khaldun were also opponents of alchemy who refuted the theory of the transmutation of metals.
Another influential Muslim chemist was al-Razi (Rhazes), who in his Doubts about Galen, was the first to prove both Aristotle's theory of classical elements and Galen's theory of humorism wrong using an experimental method. He carried out an experiment which would upset these theories by inserting a liquid with a different temperature into a body resulting in an increase or decrease of bodily heat, which resembled the temperature of that particular fluid. Al-Razi noted particularly that a warm drink would heat up the body to a degree much higher than its own natural temperature, thus the drink would trigger a response from the body, rather than transferring only its own warmth or coldness to it. Al-Razi's chemical experiments further suggested other qualities of matter, such as "oiliness" and "sulfurousness", or inflammability and salinity, which were not readily explained by the traditional fire, water, earth and air division of elements. Al-Razi was also the first to:
In the 13th century, Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī stated an early version of the law of conservation of mass, noting that a body of matter is able to change, but is not able to disappear.
From the 12th century, the writings of Jabir, al-Kindi, al-Razi and Avicenna became widely known in Europe during the Arabic-Latin translation movement and later through the Latin writings of a pseudo-Geber, an anonymous alchemist born in 14th century Spain, who translated more of Jabir's books into Latin and wrote some of his own books under the pen name of "Geber".
Geber first invented the following chemical processes in the 8th century:
Al-Razi invented the following chemical processes in the 9th century:
Other chemical processes introduced by Muslim chemists include:
Alexander von Humboldt regarded the Muslim chemists as the founders of chemistry.
Will Durant wrote in The Story of Civilization IV: The Age of Faith:
Fielding H. Garrison wrote in the History of Medicine:
Robert Briffault wrote in The Making of Humanity:
George Sarton, the father of the history of science, wrote in the Introduction to the History of Science:
The alembic was invented and named by the Muslim chemist Geber.
During his experiments on physics in the early 11th century, Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī invented the conical measure, in order to find the ratio between the weight of a substance in air and the weight of water displaced, and to accurately measure the specific weights of the gemstones and their corresponding metals, which are very close to modern measurements.
The steelyard was also invented by al-Khazini in 1121.
In his Secretum secretorum (Latinized title), Al-Razi (Rhazes) described the following tools that were invented by him and his Muslim predecessors (Calid, Geber and al-Kindi) for melting substances (li-tadhwib): hearth (kur), bellows (minfakh aw ziqq), crucible (bawtaqa), the but bar but (in Arabic) or botus barbatus (in Latin), tongs (masik aq kalbatan), scissors (miqta), hammer (mukassir), file (mibrad).
Al-Razi also described the following tools that were invented by him and his Muslim predecessors for the preparation of drugs (li-tadbir al-aqaqir): cucurbit and still with evacuation tube (qar aq anbiq dhu-khatm), receiving matras (qabila), blind still (without evacuation tube) (al-anbiq al-ama), aludel (al-uthal), goblets (qadah), flasks (qarura or quwarir), rosewater flasks (ma wariyya), cauldron (marjal aw tanjir), earthenware pots varnished on the inside with their lids (qudur aq tanjir), water bath or sand bath (qadr), oven (al-tannur in Arabic, athanor in Latin), small cylindirical oven for heating aludel (mustawqid), funnels, sieves, filters, etc.
Derivative and artificial substances
In the 10th century, Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi wrote that he and his Muslim predecessors (Calid, Geber and al-Kindi) invented the following derivative and artificial chemical substances: lead(II) oxide (PbO), red lead (Pb3O4), tin(II) oxide (Isfidaj), copper acetate (Zaniar), copper(II) oxide (CuO), lead sulphide, zinc oxide, bismuth oxide, antimony oxide, iron rust, iron acetate, Daws (a contituent of steel), cinnabar (HgS), arsenic trioxide (As2O3), alkali (al-Qili), sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), and Qalimiya (anything that separates from metals during their purification).
The isolation of ethanol (alcohol) as a pure compound was first achieved by Muslim chemists who developed the art of distillation during the Abbasid caliphate, the most notable of whom were Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber), Al-Kindi (Alkindus) and al-Razi (Rhazes). The writings attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan (721-815) mention the flammable vapors of boiled wine. Al-Kindi (801-873) unambiguously described the distillation of wine. This may have been for the purpose of separating alcoholic content from drinks due to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol consumption.
Muslim chemists were the first to produce fully purified distilled alcohol from the 8th century and manufactured them on a large scale from at least the 10th century, for use in medicine and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, though it was rarely used for drinking due to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol consumption. Alcohol was still consumed by non-Muslims in the Islamic world however.
Ahmad Y Hassan wrote:
In the 10th century, Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi classified the natural chemical substances that were discovered by him and his Muslim predecessors (mainly Calid, Geber, al-Kindi and al-Tamimi) as follows:
Vegetable and animal substances
Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi writes that the only vegetable substance used by Muslim alchemists are the ashes of the Ushnan plant, from which they produced alkali metals and alkali salts. Razi also lists ten animal substances that were used by him and his contemporary alchemists: hair, skulls, brains, bile, blood, milk, urine, eggs, nacre (mother of pearl) and horn. He writes that hair, brains, bile, eggs, skulls and blood were used to prepare sal ammoniac.
Through their experiments with various chemical compounds, Arabic chemists first produced many other chemical substances, including:
Artificial pearl and purified pearl
In his Kitab al-Durra al-Maknuna (The Book of the Hidden Pearl), Geber described the first recipes for the manufacture of artifical pearls and the purifying of pearls that were discoloured from the sea or from grease.
From between the eighth and eighteenth centuries, the use of glazed ceramics was prevalent in Islamic art, usually assuming the form of elaborate pottery. Tin-opacified glazing was one of the earliest new technologies developed by the Islamic potters. The first Islamic opaque glazes can be found as blue-painted ware in Basra, dating to around the 8th century. Another significant contribution was the development of stonepaste ceramics, originating from 9th century Iraq. Other centers for innovative ceramic pottery in the Islamic world included Fustat (from 975 to 1075), Damascus (from 1100 to around 1600) and Tabriz (from 1470 to 1550).
In The Book of the Hidden Pearl, Geber described the first recipes for the manufacture of glue from cheese.
Dyed gemstones and dyed pearls
Explosive fireworks and firecrackers
Fireworks and firecrackers, which may have been adopted from China, were first composed of explosive gunpowder compositions (around 75% saltpetre, 10% sulfur, and 15% carbon) in the Islamic world and were first described by Hasan al-Rammah of Syria in 1270.
Fireproof clothing and dissolved talc
Kerosene and Kerosene lamp
Kerosene was produced from the distillation of petroleum and was first described by al-Razi (Rhazes) in 9th century Baghdad. In his Kitab al-Asrar (Book of Secrets), he described two methods for the production of kerosene. One method involved using clay as an absorbent, while the other method involved using ammonium chloride (sal ammoniac). Al-Razi also described the first kerosene lamps (naffatah) used for heating and lighting in his Kitab al-Asrar (Book of Secrets). These were used in the oil lamp industry.
Lustreware was invented in Iraq by the Arabian chemist Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber) in the 8th century during the Abbasid caliphate.
The important mineral acids of nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and hydrochloric acid, were all first produced by Geber. These have remained some of the most common products in the chemical industry for over a thousand years.
Naphtha and tar
From the 8th century, the streets of Baghdad were the first to be paved with tar, derived from petroleum through destructive distillation. In the 9th century, oil fields were exploited in the area around modern Baku, Azerbaijan, to produce the earliest naphtha. These fields were described by Masudi in the 10th century, and by Marco Polo in the 13th century, who described the output of those oil wells as hundreds of shiploads.
Plated mail was invented by Geber in The Book of the Hidden Pearl for use in armours (jawasin), helmets (bid) and shields (daraq).
An Arab named Khalid was tending his goats in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, when he noticed his animals became livelier after eating a certain berry. He boiled the berries to make the first coffee. Certainly the first record of the drink is of beans exported from Yemen to Ethiopia where Sufis drank it to stay awake all night to pray on special occasions. By the late 15th century, it had arrived in Makkah and Turkey from where it made its way to Venice in 1645. It was brought to England in 1650 by a Greek named Pasqua Rosee who opened the first coffee house in Lombard Street in the City of London. The Arabic qahwa became the Turkish kahve, then the Italian caffè, and then English coffee.
Distilled water and purified water
Sherbet, the first juiced and carbonated soft drink, made of crushed fruit, herbs, or flowers, has long existed as one of the most popular beverages from and of the Muslim world, winning over Western figures such as Lord Byron. Muslims developed a variety of juices to make their sharab, an Arabic word from which the Italian sorbetto, French sorbet and English sherbet were derived. Today, this juice is known by a multitude of names, is associated with numerous cultural traditions, and is produced by countries ranging from India to the United States of America.
Coloured glass and stained glass
Stained glass was first produced Muslim architects in Southwest Asia using coloured glass rather than stone. In the 8th century, the Arab chemist Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber) scientifically described 46 original recipes for producing coloured glass in Kitab al-Durra al-Maknuna (The Book of the Hidden Pearl), in addition to 12 recipes inserted by al-Marrakishi in a later edition of the book.
Clear, colourless, high-purity glass
Clear, colourless, high-purity glass were first produced by Muslims in the 9th century, such as the quartz glass invented by Abbas Ibn Firnas. The Arab poet al-Buhturi (820-897) describes the clarity of such glass as follows:
Clear glass mirror
By the 11th century, clear glass mirrors were being produced in Islamic Spain.
The first glass factories were built by Muslim craftsmen in the Islamic world. The first glass factories in Europe were later built in the 11th century by Egyptian craftsmen in Corinth, Greece.
Refracting parabolic mirror
The refracting parabolic mirror was first described by Ibn Sahl in his On the Burning Instruments in the 10th century, and later described again in Ibn al-Haytham's On Burning Mirrors and Book of Optics (1021).
Silica glass and Quartz glass
Early forms of cosmetics had been used since ancient times, but these were usually created primarily for the purpose of beautification and often used harmful substances. This changed with Muslim cosmetologists who emphasized hygiene, due to religious requirements, and invented various healthy and hygienic cosmetics that are still used today.
True soaps made from vegetable oils (such as olive oil), aromatic oils (such as thyme oil) and Sodium Lye (al-Soda al-Kawia) were first produced by Muslim chemists in the medieval Islamic world. Due to washing and bathing being religious requirements for Muslims, they invented the recipe for true soap, which is still in use today, and they invented the soap bar. The formula for soap used since then hasn't changed and are identical to the current soap sold in modern times.
From the beginning of the 7th century, soap was produced in Nablus (Palestine), Kufa (Iraq) and Basra (Iraq). Soaps, as we know them today, are descendants of historical Arabian Soaps. Arabian Soap was perfumed and colored, while some of the soaps were liquid and others were solid. They also had special soap for shaving. It was commercially sold for 3 Dirhams (0.3 Dinars) a piece in 981 AD. A manuscript of Al-Razi (Rhazes) contains various modern recipes for soap. A recently discovered manuscript from the 13th century details more recipes for soap making, e.g. take some sesame oil, a sprinkle of potash, alkali and some lime, mix them all together, and boil. When cooked, they are poured into molds and left to set, leaving hard soap (soap bar).
Islamic cultures contributed significantly to the development of perfumery in both perfecting the extraction of fragrances through steam distillation and by introducing new raw ingredients. Both the raw ingredients and distillation technology significantly influenced western perfumery and scientific developments, particularly chemistry.
As traders, Islamic cultures such as the Arabs and Persians had wider access to different spices, herbals, and other fragrance materials. In addition to trading them, many of these exotic materials were cultivated by the Muslims such that they could be successfully grown outside of their native climates. Two examples of this include jasmine, which is native to South and Southeast Asia, and various citrus fruits, which are native to East Asia. Both of these ingredients are still highly important in modern perfumery.
In Islamic culture, perfume usage has been documented as far back as the 6th century and its usage is considered a religious duty. Muhammad said:
Such rituals gave incentives to scholars to search and develop a cheaper way to produce incenses and in mass production. Two talented chemists, Jabir ibn Hayyan (born 722, Iraq), and al-Kindi (born 801, Iraq) established the perfume industry. Jabir developed many techniques, including distillation, evaporation and filtration, which enabled the collection of the odour of plants into a vapour that could be collected in the form of water or oil.  Al-Kindi, however, was the real founder of the perfume industry, as he carried out extensive research and experiments in combining various plants and other sources to produce a variety of scent products. He elaborated a vast number of ‘recipes’ for a wide range of perfumes, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. His work in the laboratory is reported by a witness who said:
The writer goes on in the same section to speak of the preparation of a perfume called ghaliya, which contained musk, amber and other ingredients, and reveals a long list of technical names of drugs and apparatus.
Musk and floral perfumes were brought to Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries from Arabia, through trade with the Islamic world and with the returning Crusaders. Those who traded for these were most often also involved in trade for spices and dyestuffs. There are records of the Pepperers Guild of London, going back to 1179, which show them trading with Muslims in spices, perfume ingredients and dyes.
Shampoo was first developed by the Bengali Muslim Sake Dean Mahomet. He introduced it to England when he opened "Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths" in Brighton seafront in 1759. He was later appointed as a "Shampooing Surgeon" to Kings George IV and William IV.
Purified potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate (saltpetre) was known to the Arabs in an early time as it was known to Khalid ibn Yazid (Calid) (d. 709) and was known under various names, it is used as a flux in metallurgical operations and for producing nitric acid and aqua regia. Recipes for these uses are found in the works of Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber, d. 815), Abu Bakr al-Razi (Rhazes, d. 932) and other alchemists. Arabs were the first to purify saltpeter to the weapons-grade purity as potassium nitrate must be purified to be used effectively. There are two celebrated works which described the purification processes: one is by Ibn Bakhtawayh in his book al-Muqaddimat (1029), and the other is by the Arab chemist and engineer Hassan al-Rammah of Syria in his book al-Furusiyya wa al-Manasib al-Harbiyya (1270). The first complete purification process for potassium nitrate was described by al-Rammah, who first described the use of potassium carbonate (in the form of wood ashes) to remove calcium and magnesium salts from the potassium nitrate.
A complete gunpowder recipe, which uses purified saltpetre for the first time, exists in a 10th century Arabic manuscript. In another manuscript from the 10th century there is a full description of gunpowder and its use in cannons.
The ideal composition for explosive gunpowder used in modern times is 75% potassium nitrate (saltpetre), 10% sulfur, and 15% carbon. Several almost identical compositions were first described by the Arab engineer Hasan al-Rammah as a recipe for the rockets (tayyar) he described in his al-Furusiyya wa al-Manasib al-Harbiyya (The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices) in 1270. Several examples include a tayyar "rocket" (75% saltpetre, 8% sulfur, 15% carbon) and the tayyar buruq "lightning rocket" (74% saltpetre, 10% sulfur, 15% carbon). He states in his book that many of these recipes were known to his father and grandfather, hence dating back to at least the late 12th century. Compositions for an explosive gunpowder effect were not known in China or Europe until the 14th century.
The first cannons (midfa) employing explosive gunpowder were used by the Egyptians to repel the Mongols at the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260, and again in 1304. The gunpowder compositions used for the cannons at these battles were later described in several manuscripts in the early 14th century. Four different gunpowder compositions were used at the battles, with the most explosive cannon having a gunpowder composition (74% saltpetre, 11% sulfur, 15% carbon) again almost identical to idea compositions for explosive gunpowder used in modern times.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Alchemy_(Islam)". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|