The Islamic tradition of Chemistry

Muslim Heritage

This article is a plea for putting the Muslim contribution to modern day chemistry in its due place in history. The outline of the Islamic contribution to chemistry, in the works of renowned scholars, from Jabir ibn Hayyan and Al-Razi to Al-Majriti and Al-Jildaki, show clearly that the corpus of Islamic chemistry is far from being just a thin layer covering the occult practice of alchemy. Modern commentaries tend more and more to correct this ready made image. In that, they meet with the critics addressed to alchemists’ pretentions since the times of Ibn Sina and Ibn Khaldun.

FSTC Research Team*

Table of contents

1. Alchemy or Chemistry?
2. Industrial Chemistry?
3. Islamic Chemistry in Recent Scholarship
4. The Advent of Experimental Chemistry
5. Al-Razi and Al-Majriti
6. Pharmacology in the Making
7. Chemical Technology
8. Transmission of Chemistry to Europe
9. Conclusion
10. Bibliography 
11. Notes

Note of the editor

This article has been published on www.MuslimHeritage.com in December 2001 in PDF format. We present it to our readers in a new editing in HTML, with illustrations.

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1. Alchemy or Chemistry?

Before addressing the subject of Muslim chemistry, however, one crucial matter needs to be raised. It concerns the use of the word “alchemy” instead of “chemistry”. This is another instance of historical corruption needing neutral and deep investigation. Alchemy, indeed, is a corrupt translation of the Arabic word al-kimiya (meaning chemistry) preceded by the article al (which means: the), and which is always used in Arabic in front of the subject (such as al-tib, medicine, al-riyyadhiyat, mathematics, etc.). If this was applied to other subjects, it would become al-medicine; al-mathematics, al-geography. Only Baron Carra de Vaux had had the presence of mind to pointing to this, however briefly [1]. In this context, al-chemy should be translated literally the chemistry and not alchemy (in English) and la chimie (and not l’alchimie in French). However, the intricacies of the Latinization of Arabic words during the transmission process from the 12th century onwards brought about this corrupt translation of al-kimia as alchemy, and since then it remained and has become the norm.

Figure 1: 15th-century European portrait of Jabir ibn Hayyan. “Geber”, Codici Ashburnhamiani 1166, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, Italy. (Source).

The reason why the term alchemy is used instead of chemistry when reference is made to ancient chemical practices might have another motive behind it. Chemistry means a modern science; alchemy means the amateur, the occult, the ancient practice of chemistry, intermingled with obscure beliefs and myths. Alchemy belongs to the ancients and medievals, including Muslims; chemistry, of course, is a positive branch of modern scienc. This notion conveyed by some historians, that alchemy ended with the Muslims and the European Middle Ages, whilst chemistry began in the West has no historical ground. All sciences began in some part of the world and some of them had roots in mystic or occult practices. For a long time, astronomy was strongly linked to astrology. But this connection did not prevent historians of science to focus on the scientific aspects of the study of the heavens, as early as the Babylonian times. In the case of the long genesis of chemistry, the widespread chronology according to which all chemistry before modern times was mere alchemy is misleading and erroneous. Chemistry began under one form, associated with occult and similar practices, and then evolved, gradually becoming more refined through the centuries until it took our modern forms and rules. Many elements concourse to support this more balanced view.

2. Industrial Chemistry

Figure 2a-h: Series of woodcuts of chemical and distilling apparatus from The works of Geber, the most famous Arabian prince and philosopher, faithfully Englished by Richard Russel (London, 1678). (a) Sublimation in athanor, (b) Fixation and Sublimation, (c) Descension furnace, (d) Distillation, (e) Calcination, (f) Water bath, (g) Vessels, (h) Fixation and Sublimation. (Source).

Many products or discoveries made by the Muslims have become part of the modern chemical science. Mathé summarises the legacy of Muslim chemists [2], which include the discovery of alcohol, nitric and sulphuric acids, silver nitrate and potassium, the determination of the weight of many bodies, the mastery of techniques of sublimation, crystallization and distillation. Muslim chemistry also took many industrial uses including: tinctures and their applications in tanning and textiles; distillation of plants, of flowers, the making of perfumes and therapeutic pharmacy. More specifically, in a recent book, The Origins of chemistry, R.P. Multhauf describes expertly some such discoveries [3]. Thus, in the De aluminibus [4], composed in Muslim Spain and whose author could be Al-Majriti, are described experiments to obtain the chloride of mercury, corrosive sublimate, process and outcome which mark the beginning of synthetic chemistry. Multhauf notes indeed that the chloride of mercury obtained did not just become part of the chemist‘s repertoire but also inspired the discovery of other synthetic substances. Corrosive sublimate is capable of chlorinating other materials, and this, Multhauf notes, marks the beginning of mineral acids [5]. In the field of industrial chemistry and heavy chemicals, Multhauf observes that one of the greatest advances of the medieval times was the manufacture of alum from “aluminous” rocks, through artificial weathering of alunite. In the same context, the Muslims managed to perform the crystallisation of ‘ammonia alum’ (ammonium aluminium sulphate) [6]. Multhauf, however, concludes [7] that it was European Renaissance which gave chemistry a secure and significant place in science. Evidently this final statement is in full contradiction with his own description previously of the advances obtained within the Islamic tradition of chemistry and which he had himself classified under modern chemistry.

3. Islamic Chemistry in Recent Scholarship

The fields of Islamic studies and history of science developed progressively good scholarship on Islamic chemistry. Several scholars devoted to the original Arabic works of chemistry valuable studies. Among the most original names in this trend, we can quote the names of Ruska, Holmyard and Levey [8].

Figure 3a-c: Excerpts from the Latin translation of one of Jabir ibn Hayyan’s books, Alchemiae Gebri (Bern, 1545). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Rare Book & Special Collections Library, Exhibition “From Alchemy to Chemistry: Five Hundred Years of Rare and Interesting Books”. (Source).

Holmyard is indeed both a chemist with great renown, and also an Arabist in training, rightly qualified to look at the science from the expert angles. Holmyard notes that the rise and progress of Islamic chemistry is given very little space, and whatever information exists is erroneous and misleading, a fact due partly to Kopp‘s unfavourable opinion of Islamic chemistry, and the hasty conclusions drawn by Berthelot from his superficial studies of Islamic material [9]. And neither Kopp nor Berthelot were Arabists, which, as Holmyard notes, makes their conclusions on Muslim chemistry unable to stand the test of criticism as more information is available [10]. Of course, today‘s historians can always ignore evidence that has come out since Kopp and Berthelot, and still stick repeat distorted statements.

However, several works published since Holmyard’s noteworthy publications tend more and more to make justice to the contribution of Islamic chemistry to the general history of this science. To return to Holmyard, in hisMakers of Chemistry, tracing the evolution of the science from the very early times until the 20th century, and even if not having at his disposal the vast amount of information that many have today, he produced an excellent, encompassing and thorough work. It includes none of the usual gaps of centuries one finds with other historians; nor does it include the discrepancies caused by ‘sudden’, ‘enlightened’ ‘miraculous’ breakthroughs out of nothing.

4. The Advent of Experimental Chemistry

Figure 4: European depiction of the Muhammad ibn Zakariya Al-Razi in one of Gerard of Cremona’s Latin translations of his works of medicine (1250-1260). (Source).

One of the points raised by Holmyard, which was fundamental to chemistry, and to the development of science in general, is the development of its practical side, that is experiment. This, in fact, is one of the most stricking points in the history of science, a fact that has suffered much from the distortions of scholarship dealing with the history of science. The focus on experiment is an important feature of the Islamic scientific tradition [11]. Indeed, Holmyard notes how Jabir Ibn Hayyan (722-¬815), one of the earliest Muslim scientists and the promoter of chemistry, was acquainted with chemical operations of crystallization, calcination, solution, sublimation, reduction, and, above all, that he describes them. Of greater interest even, as Holmyard notes, Jabir seeks to understand the changes that take place during the process, besides giving opinions to their aims; for instance, explaining how the aim of calcination is to remove impurities from metals, and how metals are calcinated in different ways [12]. Jabir also describes processes for the preparation of steel, the refinement of other metals, for dyeing cloth and leather, for marking varnishes to waterproof cloth, for the preparation of hair-dyes, etc. He also gives recipes for making a cheap illuminating ink for manuscripts and mentions the use of manganese dioxide in glass making. He was also acquainted with citric acid and other organic substances [13]. On the crucial role of experiment, Jabir had this to say:

‘The first essential in chemistry is that thou shouldest perform practical work and conduct experiments, for he who performs not practical work nor makes experiments will never attain to the least degree of mastery. But thou, O my son, do thou experiment so that thou mayest acquire knowledge. Scientists delight not in abundance of material; they rejoice only in the excellence of their experimental methods.’ [14]

Figure 5: Arabic manuscript held in the British Library showing the distillation process in a treatise of chemistry. © The British Library, London. See Salim T S Al-Hassani and Mohammed Abattouy, The Advent of Scientific Chemistry.

Jabir‘s overall achievements are elsewhere summarised by Al-Faruqi [15]. Some of his writing includes Kitab al-khawass al-kabir (the Great Book of Chemical properties), Kitab al-Mawazin (Book of scales), Al-Mizaj(Chemical combination) and Al-Asbagh (Dyes). On top of that, he built a precise scale that weighed very tiny items. Before John Dalton by ten centuries, he defined chemical combinations as a union of the elements together, in too small particles for the naked eye to see, without loss of character. He also invented a kind of paper that resisted fire. Jabir’s other achievements [16] include his perfecting of chemical processes such as sublimation, liquefaction, purification, amalgamation, oxidation, crystallization, distillation, evaporation and filtration. He identified many new products, including alkalines, acids, salts, paints and greases. He prepared sulphuric acid, nitro-hydrochloric acid (used to dissolve some metals), caustic soda and a multitude of salts such as sulphates, nitrates and potassium and sodium carbonates. Jabir’s work with metals and salts subsequently helped develop foundry techniques and glazing processes for tiles and other ceramics [17]. Thus are illustrated Jabir’s achievements in the science. However, instead of focusing on his scientific contribution to chemistry, many historians [18] prefer to dwell on the rather tedious, obscure, and un-scientific aspects of his work of the fanciful and occult practices of alchemical practice (aspects which both Ibn Sina and Ibn Khaldun denounce in strong words).

5. Al-Razi and Al-Majriti

Figure 6: Jabir ibn Hayyan in his laboratory. Credit: From Alchemy to Chemistry by Arthur Greenberg
(Wiley-Interscience, 2007).

Nearly a century after Jabir flourished another maker of modern chemistry, Muhammad ibn Zakariya Al-Razi (d. ca. 925). Al-Razi maintained the excellence began by Jabir and gave chemistry foundations it kept up to modern times. In his work Secret of Secrets [19], he made the very useful classification of natural substances, dividing them into earthly, vegetable and animal substances, to which he also added a number of artificially obtained ones such as lead oxide, caustic soda and various alloys. He went further in the cataloguing and description of his experiments, describing first the materials he used, then the apparatus, and methods and conditions of his experiments [20]. Al-Razi also set up the laboratory in the modern sense, designing, describing and using more than twenty instruments. Both Anawati and Hill provide a good account of his laboratory [21], the precursor of the modern laboratory, of which many parts are still in use today [22]. Al-Razi does not just list the instruments used in chemistry, he also gives details of making composite pieces of apparatus and provides the same sort of information as can be found today in manuals of laboratory art [23]. Also his systematic classification of carefully observed and verified facts regarding chemical substances, reactions and apparatus, all in very clear language, further contribute to make Al-Razi of ‘exceptional importance in the history of chemistry’, according to Holmyard [24]. These are, indeed, symbols of modern science; hence, the obvious conclusion that modern science, in practice and methodology, and not just chemistry, found roots in the works of Muslim scientists; Muslim chemistry itself proving to be no occult practice that ended with the European Renaissance.

Al-Majriti (950-1007), an Andalusian scholar from Madrid, hence his name, was particularly noted for his workRutbat Al-Hakim (The Rank of the Wise), which amongst other things gives formulae and instructions for the purification of precious metals. This was collected and put together in the year 1009, two years after his death. In this work, Al-Majriti was also the first to mention the idea of mass conservation, an important discovery improved, perhaps independently, eight centuries way before Lavoisier [25].

6. Pharmacology in the Making

Advances in Islamic chemistry led to the development of pharmacology. Being himself an excellent physician, Al-Razi promoted in his writings and medical practice the medical uses of chemical compounds [26]. His predecessor Sabur Ibn Sahl (d. 869) endeavoured to initiate pharmacopoeia, describing a large variety of drugs and remedies for ailments. Later on, Al-Biruni (d. 1051) wrote one of the most valuable Islamic works on pharmacology entitled Kitab al-saydanah (The Book of Drugs), where he gave detailed knowledge of the properties of drugs and outlined the role of pharmacy and the functions and duties of the pharmacist. Ibn Sina, too, described no less than 700 preparations, their properties and mode of action. He devoted a whole volume to simple drugs in his Canon [27]. Of great impact were also the works by Ibn Masawayh al-Maridini, from Baghdad and Cairo, and Ibn al-Wafid of Spain, both of which were printed in Latin more than fifty times, appearing as De Medicinis universalibus et particularibus by ‘Mesue’ the younger, and the Medicamentis simplicibus by ‘Abenguefit’ [28]. Peter of Abano (1250-1316) translated and added a supplement to the work of Al-Maridini under the title De Veneris.

Figure 7a-b: Pages from Masabih al-hikma wa-mafatih al-rahma (The Lanterns of Wisdom and the Keys of Mercy) by Mu’ayyid al-Din al-Tughra’i (1063-1121), a chemist, alchemist and poet. This page describes various instruments that weigh, measure, and mix metals and chemical compounds. Shown here are scales for weighing the four known elements at the time: air, water, fire and earth. © Library of the Congress, Washington, Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division. (Source).

In this area, however, it was Al-Zahrawi who played a determining role, pioneering in the preparation of medicines by sublimation and distillation. His Liber servitoris is of particular interest, because its purpose is to tell the reader how to prepare the ‘simples’ from which were compounded the complex drugs then generally used [29]. Al-Zahrawi also gives methods of preparing litharge, white lead, lead sulphide (burnt lead), burnt copper, cadmia, marcaside, yellow arsenic and lime, the various vitriols, salts, natron and other substances. He also provides a considerable number of recipes for distilled products, though not alcoholic ones, indicating thus the beginning of distillation as a means of preparing drugs, a most significant feature according to Sherwood Taylor [30].

Abu al-Mansur al-Muwaffaq’s contributions in the field are also pioneering. Living in the 10th century, he wroteThe foundations of the true properties of remedies, amongst others describing arsenious oxide and being acquainted with silicic acid. He made clear distinction between sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate and drew attention to the poisonous nature of copper compounds, especially copper vitriol, and also lead compounds. He also mentioned the distillation of sea-water for drinking [31].

It is to Martin Levey that credit goes for reviving this medical aspect of Islamic chemistry in his comprehensiveEarly Arabic Pharmacology [32]. According to Levey, the Muslims were expert organisers of knowledge, and their pharmacological texts directed carefully along lines that were useful to the apothecary and medical practitioner. Their treatises as a result generally are more or less within well-delineated groups. Some of the major types of Muslim pharmacology are listed by him as follows [33]:

1) Medical formularies which include many kinds of compound drugs, pills, pastilles, powders, syrups, oils, lotions, toothpastes, etc.

2) Books on poisons.

3) Synonymatic treatises, in which are found lists of simples, usually presented in alphabetical order to help the reader to identify the drug in other languages.

4) Tabular, synoptic texts, whereby long texts are turned into tabular work for quick usage, and abstracts made of some treatises for the same purpose.

5) Lists of materia medica which include therapeutic considerations and opinions of various writers on the subject, preparations of the drugs and descriptions, etc.

6) Substitute drugs in case one drug for whatever reason was not available, a substitute was provided.

7) Works on medical specialities available either as separate treatises or as sections of large encyclopaedias of medicine.

7. Chemical Technology

Levey’s contribution was also instructive in other branches of Islamic chemistry. A good series of articles of his can be found scattered in various journals. But the best revue to acquaint us with Martin Levey’s work is Chymia[34]. In an important and very original article published in 1961, Levey deals with inks, glues, and erasure fluids, making a preliminary survey of Islamic chemical technology. He brings to knowledge the pioneering works of the Tunisian scientist Ibn Badis (1007-1061), who in his ‘Umdat al-Kuttab (Staff of the Scribes) in twelve chapters, writes amongst others on the excellence of the pen, the preparation of types of inks, the preparation of colored inks, the coloring of dyes and mixtures, secret writing, the making of paper, etc.

Figure 8a-d: Pages from Kanz al-ikhtisas fi ma’rifat al-khawas by Abu ‘l-Qasim Aydamir al-Jildaki (d. 743 H / 1342 CE), who was a good experimentalist and a logical thinker in the field of chemistry. His writings form an indispensable source of a great deal of our knowledge of chemistry and chemists in Islam. (Source).

In the same issue of Chymia, Levey also looks at the development of the Islamic atomic theory (pp.40-56). In volume eight, he considers Al-Kindi’s views of Aqrabadhins (pharmacists) (pp. 11-20), whilst in volume nine, he considers the crucial matters of chemical technology and commercial law in Early Islam (pp. 19-25). In the latter, Levey looks at the office of the Muhtasib (market inspector and censor of customs), where the practice of the law comes into contact with the commercial chemical applications; the Muhtasib enforcing what was legally right, preventing what was illegal, checking weights and measures, inspecting apothecaries, demanding the purity in the manufacture of goods, preventing the use of inferior dyes, etc. Finally, in volume 11 of the same revue (pp. 37-44), Levey looks at the chemical formulary of Al-Samarqandi.

8. Transmission of Chemistry to Europe

During the process of transmission of the Islamic scientific heritage to the West, the works of chemistry, like other sciences, were heavily translated into Latin, and also into local languages, which explains its spread to Europe. Many of the manuscripts translated have anonymous authors. Of the known ones, Robert of Chester (12th century) translated Liber de compositione alchemise. At about the same time, Hugh of Santalla made the earliest Latin translation of lawh azzabarjad (the Emerald table). Alfred of Sareshel translated the part of Ibn Sina’s Kitab al-Shiffa (the Book of Healing) that deals with chemistry.

Figure 9: Page from the alchemical treatise Kitab al-burhan fi asrar ‘ilm al-mizan by Al-Jildaki. Undated copy made in Morocco in the late 19th century held at the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MA, MS A7, pt. 1, fol. 2a. (Source).

It is, however, Gerard of Cremona who made the more valuable translations of Al-Razi’s study and classification of salts and alums (sulphates) and the related operations, the famous De aluminibus et salibus, of which the Arabic original is preserved [35]. The many versions of this work had a decisive influence on subsequent operations in the West, in the fields of chemistry and mineralogy [36]. In fairly recent times, Holmyard, Kraus and Ruska have devoted considerable focus to Muslim chemistry, much of which, unfortunately, is not accessible to non German speakers [37], who thus will be deprived from forming a truest picture of Islamic chemistry.

9. Conclusion

After such an exposé, however brief, should we still consider the tradition of Islamic chemistry as an occult practice, rooted in the mysterious history of alchemy? Are not many aspects of such corpus closer to our modern chemistry? To straighten the issue more clearly, let us quote the clear positions of several influential Muslim scholars about alchemy. Both Ibn Sina and Ibn Khaldun attacked the experimentalists who sought to turn ordinary metals into precious ones, gold in particular. Ibn Sina, for instance, in The Book of Minerals, denounces the artisans who dye metals in order to give them the outside resemblance of silver and gold. He asserts that fabrication of silver and gold from other metals is ‘practically impossible and unsustainable from a scientific and philosophical point of view’ [38]. Ibn Khaldun, for his part [39], denounces the frauds who apply on top of silver jewellery a thin layer of gold, and make other manipulations of metals. To Ibn Khaldun, the Divine wisdom wanted gold and silver to be rare metals to guarantee profits and wealth. Their disproportionate growth would make transactions useless and would “run contrary to such wisdom” [40].

It is, thus, time to give Muslim chemistry its due place in history. For that to happen, scholars ought to get on with the task of investigating original texts, much of which are not yet edited, and analysing them with the methodology of history of science. In other words, the tasks is to do for chemistry what Rashed, Djebbar, Yuskevitch and others did for Islamic mathematics, or what Al-Hassani, Al-Hasan and Hill did for Islamic engineering, and what King, Saliba, Kennedy and Samso did for Islamic astronomy.

10. Bibliography

  • Al-Hassani, Salim, and Abattouy, Mohammed, The Advent of Scientific Chemistry (published 22 October 2008).
  • Georges Anawati, “Arabic Alchemy”, in Encyclopaedia of the History of Arabic Science, edited by R. Rashed, 3 vols. London: Routlege, 1996, vol. 3, pp. 865-7.
  • Baron Carra De Vaux: Les Penseurs de l’Islam. Paris: Geuthner, vol 2.
  • I. and L. Al-Faruqi: The Cultural Atlas of Islam. New York: Mc Millan Publishing, 1986.
  • Ead, Hamed Abdel-Reheem: Islamic Alchemy in the context of Islamic Science.
  • FSTC: From Alchemy to Chemistry (published 18 May 2006).
  • FSTC: Pharmacology in the Making (24 December 2001).
  • R. Halleux: “The Reception of Arabic Alchemy in the West”, in Encyclopaedia of the History of Arabic Science, vol. 3, pp. 886-902.
  • D. R. Hill: Islamic Science and Engineering. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993.
  • E. J. Holmyard: Makers of Chemistry. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1931.
  • E. J. Holmyard: “Chemistry in Islam”, in Toward Modern Science, edited by R. M. Palter edition. New York: Noonday Press, 1961, vol. 1, pp. 160-70.
  • A. M. Kettani: “Science and Technology in Islam”, in The Touch of Midas, edited by Z. Sardar. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984, pp. 66-90.
  • P. Kraus: Jabir Ibn Hayyan. Textes choisis. Paris / Ca iro, 1935.
  • M. Levey: Early Arabic Pharmacology. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973.
  • Jean Mathé: The Civilisation of Islam, translated by David Macrae. New York: Crescent Books, 1980.
  • M. Meyerhof: “Science and Medicine”, in The Legacy of Islam, edited by Sir T. Arnold and A. Guillaume, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931, pp. 311-55.
  • R. P. Multhauf: The Origins of Chemistry. London: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1993.
  • C. Ronan: “The Arabian Science”, in The Cambridge Illustrated History of the World‘s Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, pp. 201-44.
  • J. Ruska: Das Buchder Alauneand salze. Berlin, 1935.
  • J. Ruska: “Al-Rasi (Rhases) als Chemiker”, Zeitschrift fur Angewandte Chemie 35, 1912, pp. 719-24.
  • J. Ruska: “Die Alchemie des Avicenna”, Isis 21, 1933: pp. 14-51.
  • J. Ruska: “Die Alchemie ar-Razi’s”, Der Islam 22, 1935: pp. 281-319.
  • G. M. Wickens: “The Middle East as a World Centre of Science and Medicine”, in Introduction to Islamic Civilisation, edited by R. M. Savory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976, pp. 111-18.
  • Zahoor, A., Science and Technology, 1997-2002 (deals in part with Islamic chemistry).

11. Notes

[1] Baron Carra de Vaux, Les Penseurs de l’Islam, Geuthner, Paris, vol. 2, p. 374.

[2] Jean Mathé, The Civilisation of Islam, tr. by David Macrae, Crescent Books, New York, 1980.

[3] R.P. Multhauf, The Origins of chemistry, Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, London, 1993.

[4] De aluminibus was translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona in Toledo, Spain, in the 12th century.

[5] R.P. Multhauf, The Origins, op. cit., pp. 160-3.

[6] Ibid, p. 339.

[7] Ibid, p. 351.

[8] See below the references o the works of these three scholars.

[9] E.J. Holmyard, “Chemistry in Islam”, in Toward Modern Science, edited by R. M. Palter, Noonday Press, New York, 1961, vol. 1, pp. 160-70; at pp. 160-1. See also E.J. Holmyard, Makers of Chemistry, Claredon Press, Oxford, 1931.

[10] E.J. Holmyard, “Chemistry in Islam”, op. cit., ibid.

[11] Several scholars attribute the birth of the experimental method in science to Western scientists, such as Alistair Crombie in his book Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Sciences (1953).

[12] E.J. Holmyard, Makers, op. cit., p. 59.

[13] Ibid, pp. 59-60.

[14] Ibid, p. 60.

[15] I. and L. Al-Faruqi, The Cultural Atlas of Islam, Mc Millan Publishing, New York, 1986, p. 328.

[16] Most particularly from A. M. Kettani, “Science and Technology in Islam”, The Touch of Midas, edited by Z. Sardar, Manchester University Press, 1984, pp. 66-90; at p. 78, and Carra de Vaux, Les Penseurs de l’Islam, op. cit.

[17] G.M. Wickens, “The Middle East as a World Centre of Science and Medicine”, in Introduction to Islamic Civilisation, edited by R.M. Savory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1976, pp. 111-18, at p. 113.

[18] For instance Georges Anawati, “Arabic Alchemy”, in Encyclopaedia of the History of Arabic Science, edited by R. Rashed, 3 vols; vol. 3, pp. 865-7; and C. Ronan, “The Arabian Science”, in The Cambridge Illustrated History of the World‘s Science, Cambridge University Press, 1983, pp. 201-244, pp. 237-8.

[19] This Kitab al-asrar (Book of Secrets) on practical technical recipes, classification of mineral substances, description of the alchemical laboratory, by Abu Bakr Muhammed ibn Zakariya al-Razi was translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona as Liber secretorum. This is a completely separate book entirely and is a common source of confusion because of the same names and similar subject matter and time period from Pseudo Aristotle’s Book of secrets, translated into Latin from Arabic and which deals with the science of government (on the good ordering of statecraft).

[20] M. Ali Kettani: “Science”, op. cit., p. 79.

[21] G. Anawati, “Arabic Alchemy”, op. cit., p. 868; D.R. Hill, Islamic Science and Engineering, Edinburgh University Press, 1993, p. 84.

[22] This fact is highly important as it demonstrates how Muslim science’s legacy was foundational in many respects today to pre-modern scientific practice.

[23] E.J. Holmyard, Makers, op. cit., p. 66.

[24] Ibid, p. 64.

[25] M. Ali Kettani, “Science”, op. cit., p. 79.

[26] C. A. Ronan, The Arabian, op. cit., p. 239.

[27] Vol. 2 includes the names of simple drugs arranged in alphabetical order.

[28] Max Meyerhof, “Science and Medicine”, in The Legacy of Islam, edited by Sir T. Arnold and A. Guillaume, Oxford University Press, 1931, pp. 311-55; at pp. 331-2. See also on the same subject Teresa Huguet-Termes, “Islamic Pharmacology and Pharmacy in the Latin West: An Approach to Early Pharmacopoeias”, European Review, vol. 16, n° 2, 229-239.

[29] F. Sherwood Taylor, A History of Industrial Chemistry, Heinmann, London, 1957; pp. 140-1. Sherwood Taylor‘s writing is however quite dismissive and curiously brief of Islamic chemistry.

[30] Ibid, p. 141.

[31] In Holmyard, Makers, op. cit., p.68.

[32] M. Levey, Early Arabic Pharmacology. An Introduction Based on Ancient and Medieval Sources, Leiden, Brill, 1973. Reprinted 1997.

[33] Ibid, pp. 68-70.

[34] M. Levey, “The Manufacture of Inks, Liqs, Erasure Fluids and Glues: A Preliminary Survey in Arabic Chemical Technology,” Chymia, vol. 7, 1961, pp. 57-72.

[35] J. Ruska, Das Buch der Alaune and salze, Berlin, 1935; mentioned in R. Halleux, “The Reception of Arabic Alchemy in the West”, in Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, op. cit., pp. 886-902, at p. 892.

[36] R. Halleux, “The Reception”, ibid, p. 892.

[37] See for instance P. Kraus, Jabir Ibn Hayyan. Textes choisis, Paris, Cairo, 1935; J. Ruska: “Al-Rasi (Rhases) als Chemiker”, Zeitschrift fur Angewandte Chemie, vol. 35, 1912, pp. 719-24; J. Ruska: “Die Alchemie des Avicenna”, Isis, vol. 21, 1933, pp. 14-51; J. Ruska: “Die Alchemie ar-Razi’s”, Der Islam, vol. 22, 1935, pp. 281-319; J. Ruska, Das Buch der Alaune und Salze, Berlin, 1935.

[38] Georges Anawati, “Arabic Alchemy”, op. cit., p.877. This is a complex question though. Whilst Ibn Sina and Ibn Khaldun never attacked the science of chemistry and true scientists, but just the crooked versions of it, Anawati generalises and accuses them of attacking the science itself. There is no clear and distinct attack against chemistry neither in Ibn Sina nor in Ibn Khaldun.

[39] For greater detail on Ibn Khaldun‘s view of alchemy, see the web page maintained by Hamed Abdel-Reheem Ead, professor of chemistry at the faculty of science, the University of Cairo Giza, Egypt: Islamic Alchemy in the context of Islamic Science.

[40] G. Anawati, “Arabic Alchemy”, op. cit., p. 881.

* The original article was produced by Salah Zaimeche, Salim Al-Hassani, Talip Alp and Ahmed Salem. © FSTC 2002-2009. The members of the new FSTC Research Team have re-edited and revised this new version. The team now comprises of Mohammed Abattouy, Salim Al-Hassani, Mohammed El-Gomati, Salim Ayduz, Savas Konur, Cem Nizamoglu, Anne-Maria Brennan, Maurice Coles, Ian Fenn, Amar Nazir and Margaret Morris.

Categories: History, Islam

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