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  • Date :
  • 8/28/2005

The Secret ( Al-Asrar)

By Abu Bakr Mohammad Bin Zakariya Razi

This book was written in response to a request from Razi's close friend, colleague, and former student, Abu Mohammed b. Yunis of Bukhara, a Muslim mathematician, philosopher, and a natural scientist of good stature In Sirr al-Asrar, Razi divides his subject matter into three categories as he did in his book al-Asrar.

1. Knowledge and identification of drugs from plant, animal, and mineral origins and the choicest type of each for utilization in treatment.

2. Knowledge of equipment and tools used, which are of interest to both the alchemist and the apothecary.

3. Knowledge of the seven alchemical procedures and techniques such as sublimation and condensation of mercury, precipitation of sulfur and arsenic calcinations of minerals (gold, silver, copper, lead, and iron), salts, glass, talc, shells, and waxing.

This last category contains, in addition, a description of other methods and applications used in transmutation: the admixture and uses of solvent vehicles, the amount of heat (fire) used, 'bodies and stones' that can or cannot be transformed into corporal substances of metals at Id salts, and the liquid mordant that quickly and permanently colors lesser metals for better sales and profits.

Similar to the discussion on the third/ninth-century text on amalgams ascribed to Jabir, Razi describes methods and procedures or coloring (gold leafing) a silver object to imitate gold. Also described is the reverse technique for removing the color and returning it to silver. Gilding and silvering of other metals (alum, calcium salts, iron, copper, and tutty) are also described, as well as how colors will stay for years without tarnishing or changing. The procedures involved no deceptive motive, but rather technical and economic deliberations. This is evident from the author's quotation of market prices and the technical triumph of artisan, craftsman, or alchemist in declaring the results of their efforts so that "it will look exactly like gold!". There was, however, another similar motive involved, namely, to manufacture something to resemble gold for easy sale to help a good friend who happens to be in need of quick money. It could be due to this trend in Razi's alchemical technique for silvering and gilding of metal that many Muslim biographers concluded that he was first a jeweler before he turned to alchemy.

Of interest in the text is Razi's classification of minerals into six divisions, giving his discussion a modern chemical connotation:

1. Four spirits: mercury, sal ammoniac, sulfur, and arsenic.

2. Seven bodies; silver,gold, copper, iron, black lead (plumbago), zincs, and tin.

3. Thirteen stones includingmarcasite, magnesia, malachite, tutty, talcum, lapis lazuli, gypsum, and glass (then identified as made of sand and alkali of which the transparent crystal Damascene is considered the best).

4. Seven vitriols including alum, and white, black, red, and yellow vitriols (the impure sulfates of iron, copper, etc.).

5. Seven borates including the tinkar, natron, and impure sodium borate.

6. Eleven salts including brine, common (table) salt, ashes, naphtha, live lime, and urine, rock, and sea salts. Then he separately defines and describes each of these substances and their choicest kinds and colors and possible adulterations.

Concerning the tools and equipment of the alchemist, Razi classifies them into two kinds:

1. Utensils used for the dissolving and melting of bodies such as the furnace, bellows, crucible, holder (tongue or ladle), macerator, pot, stirring rod, cutter, and grinder.

2. Utensils used to carry out the operation of transmutation, such as the retort, alembic, receiver, other parts of the distilling apparatus, oven (stove), cups, bottles, jars, pans, and blowers.

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