Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Contribution of Muslims to Chemistry




- Definition of Organic &

- Inorganic Chemistry

- Sulfur Mercury Theory of Metals

- Calcination

- Reduction

- Discoveries of various Acids Sulfuric & Nitric acids

- Preparation of Drugs

- Applied Chemistry

- Paper

Chemistry deals with the composition and properties of substances and the changes of composition they undergo. It has been divided into Inorganic and Organic. The conception of this division in modem Chemistry came from al-Razi's classification Of chemical substances into mineral, vegetable and animal.

Inorganic chemistry, which deals with the preparation and properties of the elements and their compounds, originally arose from the study of minerals and metals. Organic chemistry, which deals with carbon compounds, developed through the investigation of animal and plant Products.

Contribution of Muslims to Chemistry 

A Greek philosopher, Empedocles, held the view that all the four elements, air, water, earth and fire, were the primal elements, and that the various substances were made by their intermixing. He regarded them to be distinct and unchangeable. Aristotle considered these elements to be changeable, i.e . one kind of matter could be changed into another kind.

Jabir ibn Hayyan, a great Muslim chemist of the 8th century CE, modified the Aristotelian doctrine of the four elements, and presented the so called sulfur mercury theory of metals. According to this theory, metals duller essentially because of different proportions of sulfur and mercury in them. He also formulated the theory of geologic formation of metals. Unlike his Greek predecessors, he did not merely speculate, but performed experiments to reach certain conclusions. He recognized and stated the importance of experimentation in chemistry. He combined the theoretical knowledge of the Greeks and the practical knowledge of craftsmen, and made noteworthy advances both in the theory and practice of chemistry.

Jabir's contribution to chemistry is very great. He gave a scientific description of two principle operations of chemistry. One of them is calcination which is employed in the extraction ofmetals from their ores. The other is reduction which is employed in numerous chemical treatments. He improved upon the methods of evaporation, melting, distillation, sublimation and crystallization. These are the fundamental methods employed in the purification of chemical substances, enabling the chemist to study their properties and uses, and to prepare them. The process of distillation is particularly used for taking extracts of plant


The most important discovery made by Jabir was the preparation of sulfuric acid. The importance of this discovery can be realized by the fact that in this modem age the extent of the industrial progress of a country is mostly judged by the amount of sulfuric acid used in that country. Another important acid prepared by him was nitric acid which he obtained by distilling a mixture of alum and copper sulfate. Then by dissolving ammonium chloride into this acid, he prepared aqua regia which unlike acids, could dissolve gold in it.

Jabir classified chemical substances, on the basis of some distinctive features, into bodies (gold, silver, etc.) and souls (mercury, sulfur, etc.) to make the study of their properties easier.

In the same century Jabir 's work was further advanced by al-Razi who wrote many chemical treatises, and described a number of chemical Instruments. He applied his chemical knowledge for medical purposes, thus laying the foundation of applied chemistry.

Abu Mansur distinguished between sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate. He had some knowledge of arsenious oxide, cupric oxide, antimony and other substances. He knew the toxicological effects of copper and lead compounds, the depilatory virtue of quicklime, the composition of plaster of Paris and its surgical use.

Muslim Chemistry

The great Muslim surgeon, Khalaf ibn 'Abbas al-Zahrawi wrote a great medical encyclopedia, Al-Tasrif, which contains interesting methods of preparing drugs by sublimation and distillation, but it's most important part is the surgical one.

Ibn Sina wrote a treatise on minerals that provided one of the main sources of geological knowledge, and chemistry in Western Europe until the Renaissance.

The Muslim chemists applied their chemical knowledge to a large number of industrial arts. One of them is mentioned here, which will enable the reader to estimate the extent of their knowledge of Applied Chemistry.

Paper is also featured in the pioneering works of the Muslims. Paper was invented by the Chinese who prepared it from the cocoon of the silk worm. Some specimens of Chinese paper dates back to the second century CE. The first manufacture of the paper outside China occurred in Samarqand in 757 CE. When Samarqand was captured by the Muslims, the manufacture of paper spread all over the Muslims World. By the end of the 12th century CE, there were four hundred paper mills in Fas alone . In Spain the main center of manufacturing of paper was Shatiba which remained a Muslim city until 1239 CE. Cordova was the center of the paper business in Spain.

The Muslims developed this art. They prepared paper not only from silk, but also from cotton, rags and wood. In the middle of the 10th century CE the paper industry was introduced into Spain. In Khurasan paper was made from linen. Joseph Karabacek, in one of his works, explains the process of making paper in minute detail, describing how the pulp is prepared to make sheets, washed and cleaned them, colored, polished and pasted. No text comparable to this in any other language exists from that time.

The preparation of pulp involves a large number of complicated chemical processes, which indicates the level of achievement in chemistry reached by Muslims.

The manufacture of writing paper in Spain is one of the most beneficial contributions of Muslim to Europe. Without paper the scale on which popular education in Europe developed would not have been possible. The preparation of paper from silk would have been impossible in Europe due to the lack of silk production there.

The Muslims method of producing paper from cotton could only be useful for the Europeans. After Spain the art of paper making was established in Italy in1268 CE. France owed its first paper mills to Muslim Spain. From these countries the industry spread throughout Europe.