Alchemy and chemistry in medieval
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 Ar-
abic word ???????? al-kimia.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the fo-
cus 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
The study of alchemy and chemistry often
overlapped in the early Islamic world, but
later there were disputes between the tradi-
tional alchemists and the practical chemists
who discredited alchemy. Muslim chemists
and alchemists were the first to employ the
experimental scientific method (as practised
in modern chemistry), while Muslim alchem-
ists also developed theories on the transmu-
tation 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.
Contributions to alchemy
The Islamic world was a melting pot for al-
chemy. Islamic alchemists such as Jabir ibn
Hayyan (Latinized as Geber) and al-Razi (Lat-
inized as Rasis or Rhazes) contributed key
chemical discoveries, including:
• Distillation apparatus (such as the
alembic, still, and retort) which were able
to fully purify chemical substances.
• The words elixir, alembic and alcohol are
of Arabic origin.
• The muriatic (hydrochloric), sulfuric, nitric
and acetic acids.
• Soda and potash.
• Distilled water and purified distilled
• Many more chemical substances and
• From the Arabic names of al-natrun and
al-qalīy, Latinized into Natrium and
Kalium, come the modern symbols for
sodium and potassium.