Talk:Alchemy and chemistry in medieval Islam

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"Alchemy in Islam differs from traditional alchemy in certain ways, one of which is that Muslim alchemists did not believe in the creation of life in the laboratory."

But according to another wikipedia article on the "Takwin" (a artificial creature created by alchemy) it states the following: "Takwin (Arabic: تكوين) was a goal of certain Ismaili alchemists, notably Jabir ibn Hayyanit ..."


Aug 5, 2007

No, not a contradiction Bill[edit]

In reply to Bill, it's not a contradiction, as Ismailis are not considered Muslims by mainstream Shias and Sunnis. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:16, 11 September 2007 (UTC)

If thats the case then any references to Ismailis should be removed.

Bill 24 May 2008 (UTC)

But Ismailis DO consider themselves to be muslims. River6969us (talk) 00:06, 4 December 2009 (UTC)river6969us

"Ibn Firnas was a polymath: a physician, a rather bad poet, the first to make glass from stones (quartz?), a student of music, and inventor of some sort of metronome." ref between no.45 and 46[edit]

What the hell???

LOTRrules (talk) 00:27, 9 December 2007 (UTC)

Fact Checks Removed[edit]

Why were the fact checks removed? All claims need to be referenced.

Bill 24 May 2008 (UTC)

What Rubbish?[edit]

All branches of "chemistry" where under the umbrella name of Alchemy right up until the latter part of the 1700's, when Europeans readopted atomic theory, which itself was also theorised by Europeans, at an age when the people of the Arabian peninsula where living in caves . I am not wanting to belittle the vast contribution made by the Muslim alchemists, but i do find it annoying when people create false history, especially when writing “but later there were disputes between the traditional alchemists and the practical chemists who discredited alchemy”. This is a prime example of innovation so as to crate yet another myth of high utopian Islamic civilisation, if the author had written rubbish about the Islamic faith, then he would have been stoned to death by now. Face the fact mate, Alchemy was alchemy until it became separated by Europeans.

Ahmadwill (talk) 18:09, 6 August 2008 (UTC)

Its hilarious you are saying that this is all distortions, when you yourself present a distorted account of the history of Chemistry. It is literally as if they send you from the late XIX century to the present in a time machine.-- (talk) 21:51, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

Yes it seems obvious the poster Ahmadwill is posting simply for provocational reasons.

No. Ahmadwill is right per WP:RfC/Jagged 85. And and Mr No Signature should read WP:GOODFAITH. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 13:17, 12 May 2011 (UTC)

How was Ahmadwill's comment in "good faith"? Saying "at an age when the people of the Arabian peninsula where living in caves" and "if the author had written rubbish about the Islamic faith, then he would have been stoned to death by now." is in good faith? (talk) 14:10, 18 April 2012 (UTC)

this page needs heip[edit]

I would realy like to edit this page but i am new to wiki and this over my head. But Im going to try.J8079s (talk) 00:51, 28 August 2008 (UTC)


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.[1]

Mahomet did not invent shampoo as claimed. sake dean mahomet offered a form of therapeutic massage, not scalp and hair washing. His use of the word "shampoo" is related to chāmpo (चाँपो [tʃãːpoː]) is the imperative of chāmpnā (चाँपना [tʃãːpnaː]), "to smear, knead the muscles, massage" -->. As the wiki article on shampoo makes clear, many cultures through out the world have independently invented hair cleaning products. Mahomet did not live in the medieval period so his contributions are not relevant to the article nor is the claim factual. River6969us (talk) 00:00, 4 December 2009 (UTC)river6969us


If any one cares here is a list of sources that should be used to fix this article.J8079s (talk) 20:58, 3 November 2008 (UTC)

End of Islamic Alchemy[edit]

So when did the practice of "Islamic Alchemy" end? I dont think this article is sufficient without this timeline information.


Persian flagwaver Mehrshad should act with more restraint[edit]

On reading the biography of Jabir ibn Hayyan, it's very shaky and questionable to say that he was a Persian. And, in fact, saying so has proved to be very contentious at the Jabir ibn Hayyan page. He was educated at Medina, lived his life under Arab rule, and wrote everything in Arabic. He may, or may not, have grown up in Yemen. There's no evidence for his being Persian other than his place of birth in Tous. What his native language was is unknown and unproved, as far as I know. In particular, it's not known whether it was the Persian language. There were gazillions of languages in Iran at the time, some related to Persian but not Persian itself -- including Kurdish languages for example. Jabir probably should not be called an Arab, either. What the Alchemy and chemistry in medieval Islam article has been calling him -- until a couple of weeks ago -- is Islamic or Muslim, which is a correct and neutral term. But now the Persian flagwaver Mehrshad123 has gone through the article and replaced Muslim with "Persian". That is unwarranted, and achieves nothing except Persian flagwaving. Muslim is correct and acceptable, whereas Persian is controversial and not perfectly correct.

Jabir was part of an Islamic civilization, not a Persian civilization!

Here's an illustration of the problem with editor Mehrshad123. He writes: "Persian philosophers also made great contributions to alchemical hermeticism. The most influential author in this regard was arguably Persian Jabir Ibn Hayyan." I wish to revert this to what it was before: "Islamic philosophers also made great contributions to alchemical hermeticism. The most influential author in this regard was arguably Jabir Ibn Hayyan." Another serious problem with Mehrshad123's contributions is peacock sentences. Seanwal111111 (talk) 07:55, 27 January 2010 (UTC)

is Jabir ibn hayyan persian ?????[edit]

i read that Jabir's family was come from yemen ( Al Azd family ) who emigrated to kufah ( Iraq now, maybe persian in that time ). he should be Arab not persian, they were many Arab spread around the world teach Islamic religion and sciences or developed it. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Shatree (talkcontribs) 13:27, 4 May 2010 (UTC)

There has been a large amount of discussion of this issue at the page for Jābir ibn Hayyān: see both the current Talk:Jābir ibn Hayyān page and this Talk:Jābir ibn Hayyān/Archive 2 too. My impression is that he may well have been Arabic (from exactly the information you mention) but that it is more likely that we will never really know as much information about him tends to border on the mythological.
The tendency on Wikipedia seems to try and avoid any ethnicity claims where there is genuine dispute about them. Since the Jābir ibn Hayyān article marks his ethnicity as disputed, I'll either remove or mark all the claims about it elsewhere on Wikipedia in a similar way.
All the best. –Syncategoremata (talk) 20:28, 5 May 2010 (UTC)

Copyright problem removed[edit]

One or more portions of this article duplicated other source(s). The material was copied from: Infringing material has been rewritten or removed and must not be restored, unless it is duly released under a compatible license. (For more information, please see "using copyrighted works from others" if you are not the copyright holder of this material, or "donating copyrighted materials" if you are.) For legal reasons, we cannot accept copyrighted text or images borrowed from other web sites or published material; such additions will be deleted. Contributors may use copyrighted publications as a source of information, but not as a source of sentences or phrases. Accordingly, the material may be rewritten, but only if it does not infringe on the copyright of the original or plagiarize from that source. Please see our guideline on non-free text for how to properly implement limited quotations of copyrighted text. Wikipedia takes copyright violations very seriously, and persistent violators will be blocked from editing. While we appreciate contributions, we must require all contributors to understand and comply with these policies. Thank you. Shirik (Questions or Comments?) 13:43, 8 May 2010 (UTC)

Alembic: dubious[edit]

The article says:

The alembic was invented and named by the Muslim chemist Geber. The still was also invented by Geber as part of the alembic.[2]

But alembic says: The earliest appearances of alembic are to be found in the works of ancient Greek alchemists[2] WMC 16:48, 9 January 2011 (UTC)

To quote Forbes:

The class of apparatus that interests us most is the distilling apparatus. This is already very far advanced in the writings of MARIA the Jewess who is generally considered to have invented it. It already consists of the three necessary elements, the cucurbit and alembic, a tube for transporting the distillate and vapours and the receiving flask. (p. 21, A short history of the art of distillation: from the beginnings up to the death of Cellier Blumenthal, Robert James Forbes, Brill, 1970, 2nd ed., ISBN 9004006176.)

Mary is quoted on the still in the writings of Zosimos of Panopolis (see A Study of the Kerotakis Process as Given by Zosimus and Later Alchemical Writers, Arthur John Hopkins, Isis 29, #2 (Nov., 1938), pp. 326-354 JSTOR 225481), who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries. So, the alchemist's still was known long before Geber and, hence, so was the alembic (the still-head, although the word is also applied to the whole still.) Spacepotato (talk) 05:46, 11 January 2011 (UTC)
This article cites Vallely in The Independent. Vallely is referring to 1001 Inventions, which generally uses reliable sources. The source is confirmed to discuss distillation as an Islamic invention. Forbes, on the other hand, is from a work published in 1938 quoting what appears to be an ancient primary text to support his claim. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Aquib (talk) 06:15, 11 January 2011 (UTC)
The Forbes book was first published in 1948, not 1938. R. J. Forbes was (he's dead now, unfortunately) a historian of ancient science and technology and perfectly qualified to interpret ancient primary sources. As for the reliability of 1001 Inventions, judging by its list of references, it is reminiscent of Wikipedia in that it's a rehash of a patchwork of sources, some good, some dubious. In any case, we don't know that this claim was made in 1001 Inventions (nor where they got it from if they did) as we only have Vallely's second-hand version. I can give more sources if you like, but the upshot is that the alchemists' still was described in Zosimos and other writers around his time and therefore predates Geber. You may wish to look at the Isis paper, for example, or see pp. 39-42, Alchemy and early modern chemistry: papers from Ambix, ed. Allen G. Debus, 2004, ISBN 0954648412. Spacepotato (talk) 07:19, 11 January 2011 (UTC)
Also, see p. 23, James Riddick Partington, A short history of chemistry, 3rd ed., Courier Dover Publications, 1989, ISBN 0486659771, which mentions the misconception that distillation was invented during the medieval Muslim period:

The Greek chemical treatises contain some interesting practical information...(omitted)...The operations are fusion, calcination, solution, filtration, crystallization, sublimation and especially distillation...(omitted)... methods of heating include the open fire, lamps, and the sand and water baths. Nearly all this practical knowledge has been ascribed by older writers on the history of chemistry to the Arabs, who really derived it from the very source we are now considering.

Spacepotato (talk) 08:10, 11 January 2011 (UTC)
Agree 1001 is a tertiary source, but certainly well within the bounds of reliability by WP standards. As is the Valleley / Independent article cited.
Partington's work first published in 1937 according to his Wikipedia article. Not clear on the context of your quote, stating Greeks invented open fires and water baths as well as stills.
Debus is a possibility, I can look into his work.
This is not my area of expertise but I have a library and I know how to follow sources. The upshot for me being this is a narrow dispute where there are conflicting reliable sources.
Aquib (talk) 18:53, 11 January 2011 (UTC)
Point taken on Debus. In Origins of Greek Alchemy I notice the author (Taylor) questions the authenticity of some passages from Zosimos. Demokritan Treatise is postulated. Seems sublimation was known to Demokritan, but not necessarily distillation. School of Maria as the source of description of the alembic. So Zosimos attributes the alembic to Maria. Maria described as a lost work. Not sure what I am reading here, at least some of this material is of a conjectural nature, and there are seemingly apocryphal references. Nothing wrong with that, but I'm wondering whether this material might be controversial in some quarters. In addition, these are selected reprints of articles which may be quite old.
I'm going to circle back around and try to drill down to a source for this topic from citations in 1001, and also survey other authors.
Aquib (talk) 23:43, 11 January 2011 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Hodgson gives priority to Islamicate discovery of the alembic; presumably he is referring to al-Jabir [1] Aquib (talk) 01:19, 12 January 2011 (UTC)

This reference says that the word "alembic" comes from Arabic, which it does, but the question is about the thing, not the word.

It's true that the attribution of the alembic to Maria is unclear. But the point is only that since the alembic and distillation were described in the works of Zosimos, they must have been known by then (wherever he got them from.) Spacepotato (talk) 05:18, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
I'm following you on Zosimos, let me think about that.
Also, let me lift out that section of Hodgson for a closer look (trimming and adding emphasis).
As yet the history of the Occident is better documented in these matters and often new inventions can be attested slightly earlier there; this may be the case for certain complex kinds of stills and for the use of the compass. But in many other cases, such as the manufacture and application of many items which, like alcohol, still bear among us names derived from Arabic, the priority is sufficiently clear. The wide range of Occidental dependence can be suggested by a random and very partial list of English words derived from Arabic (though many of these words came to Arabic in turn from Persian or Greek): orange, lemon,<snip>amalgam, alembic, alchemy<snip>admiral, check-mate.
Marshall is simply using selected examples with Arabic lineage in order to underscore his point. Another consideration can be illustrated by turning the quoted section on its head and assuming there are items in his list which are not Arabic / Islamicate discoveries and inventions which then moved west. If we do that, the entire passage becomes meaningless. This interpretation was clearly not his intention.
Having said all that, I have poked around enough to understand some of the intricacies of the question. Such as how the lid of a pot might be considered a crude alembic. There are plenty of sources out there seemingly attributing the alembic to Islamicate alchemists. There are questions and subleties and contradictions. In this regard, how does the alembic differ from many other historic details? Where does the weight of opinion lie among the scholars?
Aquib (talk) 06:22, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
The passage is not wholly meaningless, but it contains weasel phrases, such as "sufficiently clear" and "can be suggested", which make it unclear what Hodgson intends by it. If read without the weaselling, the passage seems to claim that everything whose English name is derived from Arabic entered medieval Europe (Hodgson's "Occident") from medieval Islam. That claim seems foolish. But even if we were to read the passage by assuming that this is true for the items in the list, the passage is about medieval technology transfer, not the ultimate origin of the items on the list. Apart from the alembic, alchemy, for example, predates Islam, as has been pointed out by the sources already given. Soda (Na2CO3) has also been mined and used before Islam; for example, it was used in the time of Pliny for glass production.
As you point out, various forms of distillation apparatus have been used throughout history, some quite ancient. The English word "alembic", though, refers to a three-part still, consisting of a bottom vessel ("cucurbit"), containing the substance to be distilled; the still-head (also called "alembic"), in which the vapor condenses; and the receiving vessel. (See the entry for "alembic" in the Oxford English Dictionary, on line, or "The Evolution of the Still", F. Sherwood Taylor, Annals of Science 5, #3 (July 15, 1945), pp. 185-202.) A picture can be seen here.
There are some useful remarks on the evolution of the still in Joseph Needham (pp. 80 ff., Science and Civilization in China, vol. V.4, Cambridge University Press, 1980, ISBN 0-521-08573-X.) He discusses Hellenistic and later Western as well as East Asian types of stills, and explains the development of the three-part still during the Hellenistic period. Since you have expressed concern about the age of sources, I will also quote from a recent history of chemistry:

An improvement on distillation techniques was apparently first made by Alexandrian alchemists in the first century AD — though, in the absence of recorded evidence, it is just as likely that these alchemists were merely adopting techniques from craftsmen and pharmacists...These alchemists made air cooling in the distillation process more efficient by separating the distillate off by a continuous process and raising the ambix well above the bikos or cucurbit vessel embedded in the furnace or sand bath....In the Latin west the word alembic (from the Arabic form of ambix, 'al-anbiq') came to denote the complete distillation apparatus. (p. 25, The Chemical Tree: A History of Chemistry, William H. Brock, Norton, 2000, ISBN 0-393-32068-5.)

Spacepotato (talk) 04:48, 13 January 2011 (UTC)
I would like to try to move beyond citation and counter-citation. It appears to me we have established this assertion regarding the alembic is disputed among scholars, do you agree? -Aquib (talk) 14:05, 13 January 2011 (UTC)
What assertion are you asserting to be disputed? Spacepotato (talk) 18:36, 13 January 2011 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────OK... some scholars say the alembic was invented by Jabir and others say it was invented by someone else, perhaps Maria. There must be discussions of this dispute, surely the scholars have noticed they are not all on the same page. What is the history of the dispute, who are the players, where are these contradictions discussed? Perhaps in the pages of a scholarly journal? I believe there is one named The Alembic for example. -Aquib (talk) 19:01, 13 January 2011 (UTC)

The history of the dispute is that in olden times, some believed that the alembic was invented by Jabir ibn Hayyan, who mentions it in his works. But after older, ancient Greek manuscripts were unearthed, they realized that Jabir didn't invent it, as it existed before, in Hellenistic times. Partington mentions this in the quote above. As far as I know there is no current debate on this. Spacepotato (talk) 03:28, 14 January 2011 (UTC)
Thank you for your explanations. It appears the assertion Jabir invented the alembic is mistaken, presumably because it relies on sources that are also mistaken. -Aquib (talk) 05:47, 14 January 2011 (UTC)
Yes, just so. Spacepotato (talk) 07:20, 14 January 2011 (UTC)

And all the rest[edit]

This [2] restores a number of falsehoods: for example, that alchemy derives from the arabic, when it comes originally from the greek; that Geber invented the alembic; etc. All tis "father of chemistry" stuff smells very strongly of Jagged and the need for cleanup WMC 22:10, 12 January 2011 (UTC)

You wish to cite the Jagged cleanup as your reason for removing Geber's invention of the alembic from this article? Someone65 used this same pretext last month to facilitate a mass page move of Islamicate science to names containing the word "Caliphate". A couple of months ago, the Science in medieval Islam article was totally gutted in the name of the Jagged cleanup, and no one has lifted a finger to correct or replace any factual material in the article since then. I think I'll put a link to this on Jag's cleanup page and see what kind of response we get on old Geber's alembic. Aquib (talk) 01:58, 13 January 2011 (UTC)

history of the debate[edit]

This is the source for most, if not all, of the "false" claims Thomson, Thomas (1830). The history of chemistry. H. Colburn and R. Bentley. Retrieved 14 January 2011.  (It is out of copy right and a full view is available))

"The account of the Chemistry of the Arabians is almost entirely limited to the works of Geber, which I consider to be the first book on Chemistry that ever was published, and to constitute, in every point of view, an exceedingly curious performance. I was much struck with the vast number of facts with which he was acquainted, and which have generally been supposed to have been discovered long after his time. I have, therefore, been at some pains in endeavouring to convey a notion of Geber's opinions to the readers of this history; but am not sure that I have succeeded. I have generally given his own words, as literally as possible, and, wherever it would answer the purpose, have employed the English translation of 1678."

from page 14

"I am disposed to believe, that chemistry or alchymy understanding by the term the art of making gold and silver, originated among the Arabians, when they began to turn their attention to medicine, after the establishment of the caliphs; or if it had previously been cultivated by Greeks (as the writings of Zosimus, the Panapolite, if genuine, would lead us to suppose), that it was taken up by the Arabians, are reduced by them into regular form and order If the works of Geber be genuine, they leave little doubt on this point."

The works referred to is the Summa et al (the Latin corpus) which have been proven to be much later European works. Debate on this point is not current no one supports the notion that the Latin corpus is the product of Jabir, even the Arabic corpus is all (or mostly see Hauk) the work of later (later than the 8th century) authors. Because the "false" claims were so wide spread we cannot simply delete them but they must be put in context.J8079s (talk) 07:32, 14 January 2011 (UTC)

Thanks J, that makes sense. Yes, I agree, this seems to require special handling. Aquib (talk) 03:21, 15 January 2011 (UTC)
This is the "Geber problem", which is certainly worth mentioning, although it's not related to the issues in the discussion above, which are also responsible for some incorrect material in this article (other than claims about the invention of the the alembic). Spacepotato (talk) 03:38, 15 January 2011 (UTC)

To do list[edit]

  • The mainstream of alchemy passed through "Islamic hands but we need the article Alexandrian alchemy to show where it came from.
  • A great many "Islamic" alchemist are not mentioned need to add. I think editors assume that "alchemy" is a bad thing and that "chemistry" is a good thing so alchemy is under emphasized and chemistry is over emphasized.
  • move the page to "Alchemy in medieval Islam"
pleas help by adding to this list J8079s (talk) 19:33, 14 January 2011 (UTC)
Agree on Alexandrian alchemy.
From what I've seen, it appears scientific methods were developed and applied in Islamic alchemy. Useful products were produced. If I am correct, what distinguishes alchemy from chemistry for our purposes, and how can they be untwined? -Aquib (talk) 03:33, 15 January 2011 (UTC)
I am having trouble staying focused because there are several different problems here. I would propose to approach this from the stand point of "historiography" using primary sources where every possible. (I had a good list of sources but I've lost them. Here is a sample of what I mean
"The historical relations between Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq and Jāber b. Ḥayyān remain very controversial, as they are linked to still unresolved questions about dating, composition, and authorship of the texts attributed to Jāber. Scholars such as Julius Ruska, Paul Kraus, and Pierre Lory consider Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’s involvement in the transmission of alchemical knowledge as a literary fiction, whereas Fuat Sezgin, Toufic Fahd, and Nomanul Haq are rather inclined to accept the existence of alchemical activity in Medina in Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’s time, although they remain cautious regarding the authenticity of the attribution of the Jaberian corpus to Jāber b. Ḥayyān and of the alchemical works to Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (Ruska, 1924, pp. 40-52; idem, 1927, pp. 264-66; Kraus, I, pp. LV-LVII; Lory, pp. 14-21, 57-59, 101-7; Sezgin, I, p. 529, IV, pp. 128-31; Fahd, 1970, pp. 139-41; Nomanul Haq, pp. 3-47)." Cut and pasted from "Iranica" [3]
I'll be around on weekends for a while and I'll try to helpJ8079s (talk) 00:18, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

Stub and rework[edit]

For background information, please see RFC/U and Cleanup.

  • With 279 edits, User:Jagged 85 is the main contributor to this article by far (the 2nd ranked user, Syncategoremata, who did clean-up work, has made 21 edits). The article has been tagged for over a year now.

Misuse of sources[edit]

Cucurbit and aludel

The article says:

Muslim chemists and engineers invented the cucurbit and aludel, and the equipment needed for melting metals such as furnaces and crucibles.

The source cited was:

Hassan, Ahmad Y. "Technology Transfer in the Chemical Industries". History of Science and Technology in Islam. Retrieved 2008-03-29.

But Hassan merely talks about the transmission of these devices to Christian Europe without attributing their invention to Muslim alchemists :

Thus the Latin West became acquainted with Arabic chemistry and alchemy. This included the transmutation theories as well as the practical chemistry which involved the various chemical processes such as distillation, calcinations, assation, and a multitude of others. It involved also the laboratory equipment that was used to carry out the chemical processes such as the cucurbit, the alembic, the aludel, and the equipment needed for melting metals such as furnaces and crucibles.


The article says:

From the list, more than twenty of these chemical apparatus were developed by Geber.

The source cited was:

Ansari, Farzana Latif; Qureshi, Rumana; Qureshi, Masood Latif (1998). Electrocyclic reactions: from fundamentals to research. Wiley-VCH. p. 2. ISBN 3527297553

But on the page given there is not the least mention of Geber or Islamic alchemy and chemistry.

Consumption of alcohol by Muslims

The article says:

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.[21][26] Alcohol was still consumed by non-Muslims in the Islamic world however

The sources cited were:

[21]: Dr. Kasem Ajram (1992). Miracle of Islamic Science, Appendix B. Knowledge House Publishers. ISBN 0911119434

[26]: Hassan, Ahmad Y. "Technology Transfer in the Chemical Industries". History of Science and Technology in Islam. Retrieved 2008-03-29.

While I cannot comment on Kasem's work which is not available to me, the context of Hassan makes it sufficiently clear that it were Muslims who consumed their distilled alcohol, not non-Muslims:

The distillation of wine and the properties of alcohol were known to Islamic chemists from the eighth century. The prohibition of wine in Islam did not mean that wine was not produced or consumed or that Arab alchemists did not subject it to their distillation processes.

The whole passage acquires a curiously self-contradictory note in that this very quote actually immediately follows: (Alchemy and chemistry in medieval Islam#Distilled alcohol).

Plated mail

The article says:

Plated mail was invented by Geber in The Book of the Hidden Pearl for use in armours (jawasin), helmets (bid) and shields (daraq).

The source cited was:

Hassan, Ahmad Y. "The Colouring of Gemstones, The Purifying and Making of Pearls And Other Useful Recipes". History of Science and Technology in Islam. Retrieved 2008-03-29

But the whole claim has already been thorougly refuted one year ago in the RFC/U: Wikipedia:Requests for comment/Jagged 85/Evidence#Invention of plated mail.

Factual mistakes[edit]

Obviously, no page is free of mistakes, and this is particularly true for the early and often fuzzy history of devices and technologies, but many attributions to Muslim chemists and engineers come so easy, I suspect that the author did not look too hard elsewhere. Since the claims go predictably into one and the same direction, this cannot be all just the result from sloppy research.


The article says:

Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī also invented the laboratory flask and pycnometer in the early 11th century, and the hydrostatic balance and steelyard were invented by al-Khazini in the early 12th century.

But steelyards are most clearly an ancient invention, used by Greeks, Romans and Chinese alike, and there are dozen extant examples in museums to be found, and many articles published on them.

Alembic still & distillation

The article attributes at various points the invention of the (alembic) still to early Muslim chemists, for example here:

Jābir ibn Hayyān (Geber), considered the "father of chemistry", introduced experimentation, invented the alembic still and retort,...

But there has been long a substantial body of scholarship published in renowned journals which shows that the alembic still and distillation is of much more ancient origin, dating to the ancient Greeks or possibly Indians. A selection:

  • Taylor, F. Sherwood (1945) 'The evolution of the still', Annals of Science, 5:3, 185 - 202
  • Martin Levey: The Earliest Stages in the Evolution of the Still Isis, Vol. 51, No. 1. (1960), pp. 31-34
  • F. R. Allchin: India: The Ancient Home of Distillation? , Man, New Series, Vol. 14, No. 1. (Mar., 1979), pp. 55-63

The article says:

Several chemical elements were first discovered by Geber: arsenic, antimony and bismuth.

But antimony was intentionally produced in Europe and the Near East as early as the late Bronze age (Robert Forbes: Studies in Acient Technology, Brill, 1964, pp. 163ff.):

There are, however, a few centres in Antiquity where the addition of antimony to copper was standard practice, in this case the percentage may be as high as 15-20% and objects of pure antimony are found there too. Such a centre is Velem St. Vid in Hungary...In La Tene times another centre of antimony-bronzes grew up in the Vosges mountains. In the Near East the Caucasus region was another centre of the manufacture of antimony and antimony-alloys...Many antimony objects were found in the graves of Redkinlager on the Aksatfa, a tributary of the Kura river, near Tiflis, including footrings, bracelets, etc. These objects are said to date from the ninth or tenth century B.C.


The article says:

In the 9th century oil fields were exploited in the area around modern Baku, Azerbaijan, to produce the earliest naphtha.

But Robert Forbes, an expert on oil by profession, has 120 pages dedicated to the diverse use to which the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia put all kinds of naphta (a word of Akkadian origin) and bitumen (Studies in Acient Technology, Brill, Vol. I, 1955, pp.1-100). The chapters titles include: "as building material", "as water-proofing agent", "Lighting and heating", "Paints and protective coatings", "Water-proofing", "Bitumen as a cement" etc.

Apart from this, the well-known military use of naphta as Greek fire by the Byzantines since the late 7th century is also described by Forbes (pp. 100-105). Gun Powder Ma

The same SYN, OR and POV as elsewhere, although it must be added that much of the text simply appears to be written without suitable knowledge of the subject. Gun Powder Ma (talk) 20:05, 10 April 2011 (UTC)


again I don't see a good stub I wont be able to help for a few days but there are good sources above.— Preceding unsigned comment added by J8079s (talkcontribs) 01:25, 11 April 2011


I reverted a string of recent edits for the following reasons:

  • They changed the organization of the article, I think for the worse.
  • They introduced some old quotes from Durant and Briffault which are misleading because they are outdated scholarship—they say that the "Arabs" or "Saracens" invented the alembic, distillation, or sublimation at this time, but these things are now believed to have been invented earlier.
  • They introduced uncited material, and material with unreliable sources.
Spacepotato (talk) 04:10, 26 April 2011 (UTC)
There is a problem, here and elsewhere in related articles, in the use of dodgy sources: dodgy in the sense that they look respectable, but make over-inflated claims. And people use these sources rather uncritically (see-also Talk:Science_in_medieval_Islam#New_para_rm:_why) William M. Connolley (talk) 08:03, 26 April 2011 (UTC)


I think the third lede paragraph is incorrect, describing it as like the europeans clinged to alchemy while the muslims rejected it for an alleged invention of chemistry. I instead believe that Robert Boyle was the first to reject the mystical aspects of alchemy and that chemistry as a science developed slowly during the 17th century until it virtually "exploded" in the end of the 18th century. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 13:24, 12 May 2011 (UTC)

Para 3 is fairly broken, I'd agree William M. Connolley (talk) 13:36, 12 May 2011 (UTC)
So I removed it here to discuss:
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[citation needed]. Muslim chemists and alchemists conducted experiments, while Muslim alchemists also developed theories on the transmutation of metals, the philosopher's stone and the Takwin (artificial creation of life in the laboratory), like in later medieval European alchemy, though these alchemical theories were rejected by practical Muslim chemists from the 9th century onwards.
William M. Connolley (talk) 14:23, 12 May 2011 (UTC)
Good! After some googling I actually found the one source that was most likely to differentiate between chemistry and alchemy for medieval Islamic scientists, namely:
But prof. Ragai, who is professor in chemistry, in fact doesn't. The whole PDF is a sketch of the principles of alchemy and what symbols they used, the esoteric beliefs connected to knowledge that is currently regarded as chemistry. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 15:43, 12 May 2011 (UTC)
From the table on This site:
End of 17th Century Death of Alchemy The disproving of Aristotle's four-elements theory and the publishing of the book, The Skeptical Chemist (by Robert Boyle), combined to destroy this early form of chemistry.
Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 11:20, 13 May 2011 (UTC)

Requested move[edit]

The following discussion is an archived discussion of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

No consensus to move. Vegaswikian (talk) 01:38, 23 May 2011 (UTC)

Alchemy and chemistry in medieval IslamAlchemy in medieval Islam – I am proposing this move that I thought would be non-controversial as there is no reliable source for practical chemistry J8079s (talk) 01:43, 16 May 2011 (UTC)

Oppose Hodgson (V2 p38) actually, literally, refers to it as alchemy or chemistry. This is unlikely to be a coincidence; more likely this question of alchemy vs chemistry is an unsettled question. Hodgson mentions some work on quantitative analysis in the 11th century, after the corpus of Jabir. And distillation. (p167/18). I believe the subject of the article's name has been discussed even recently. The present title seems the most appropriate. If there are differences of opinion, it is surely the most accurate title. -Aquib (talk) 02:24, 16 May 2011 (UTC)
Oppose per Aquib. Given that some of the sources do describe some of the practices and experiments of Islamic scientists as contributing to the development of the field of chemistry, it is POV to remove "chemistry" from the title altogether. Tiamuttalk 08:10, 16 May 2011 (UTC)
The above discussion is preserved as an archive of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

History of science assessment - Start class[edit]

Just a quick note as to why I have assessed this article as start class.

  • The lead could summarize the overall article better
  • The article body could be more structured. The biographies section is presented in a nice chronological order, but offers no real indication of how the craft/science developed over those years.
  • After reading the article, I have some knowledge of the names of several prominent alchemists, but I only a little about what their alchemy actually consisted of, and nothing at all about the transition into something more like modern chemistry.
  • There are reference syntax errors in various places (easily fixed).
  • There are several unlinked references to alchemical books with no indication of their significance or content.
  • There are several unlinked references to beliefs (e.g. gnosticism) and authorities (e.g. Anawati) with no indication of their significance.
  • Occasionally the dense Arabic makes readability difficult.

Overall I feel that the article presents some starting points for research - names, places, years - but doesn't yet present a coherent narrative or leave me with any take-home points. As the quality scale says, "provides some meaningful content but the majority of readers will want more."


Thparkth (talk) 20:18, 12 October 2011 (UTC)

  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference Vallely was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ Will Durant (1980). The Age of Faith (The Story of Civilization, Volume 4), p. 162-186. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671012002.