Kitab Al-Asrar كِتاب الأسرار

Kitab Al-Asrar كِتاب الأسرار

The Author

Abu Bakr Muhammad b. Zakariyyah al-Razi was born in Rayy on the first day of Sha`ban in the year 251H (865 CE). After completing education he remained for some time keenly interested in music, songs and composing poetry. Thereafter he got absorbed in philosophy, medicine and alchemy. He was the most promising and youngest physician who became the Head of the hospital at Rayy. Soon in his thirties he was appointed as the Chief Physician of the Muqtadiry Hospital in Baghdad. Razi attained great name and fame as a physician, philosopher, and scientist, and died in Baghdad on the fifth of Sha`ban 313H (26 October, 925 CE).

Razi’s complete philosophical work is not extant, but fragments that have survived show that he preferred Plato to Aristotle. He was the first great clinical physician in the history of medicine, well-known in the East and West. He was second only to Ibn Sina as far as the authority on Medicine is concerned but he excelled him in scientific observations.

The Book

Razi authored about 232 works, many of them on medicine such as : (1) Kitab al-Hawi fi al-Tibb, an Opus Magnus on medicine with the descriptions of his own observations and extracts from Greek and Indian sources; (2) Kitab al-Mansuri, another very important work based on Razi’s own clinical observations. This book was known, admired and studied in the West by the title Liber Medicinalis ad Almanasrem; (3) Kitab Taqsim al `Ilal(The Book on Categorization of the Causes of Diseases) which was translated into Latin as Liber Divisonum; (4) Kitab al-Fakhri, (Liber Pretiosus); (5) Kitab al-Judri wa al-Hisba, `The Treatise on Small Pox and Measles’. He also wrote some short but very important treatises on medicines for the heart, al-Niqris (Rheumatism), al-Qulanj (Colic), and al-Aghdhiya (The Diet). As far as his Kitab al-Asrar (The Book of Secrets) is concerned, it is clearly a transformation of the classical al-Kimiya? to chemistry, a process started by Jabir b. Haiyyan and culminated with the Kitab al-Asrar of Razi into pure observational chemistry, especially the medicinal chemistry. Kitab al-Asrar after having passed through numerous editorial hands, was translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona (1178CE) and became the chief source of knowledge on the subject in Europe. It was quoted by Roger Bacon under the title De Spiritibus et Corporibus.

Thus, in Islamic system of sciences, the alchemy of the classical Greek got transformed to chemistry through a long process which started with the works of Jabir and attained a position as high as the iatrochemistry of Razi. In fact, Razi is the father of medicinal chemistry. Kitab al-Asrar was also translated into Latin as Liber Secretorum. Though Razi’s world-view was quite different, he wrote the book in alchemical language. The book describes many experiments which Razi performed himself. It explains processes like distillation, sublimation, crystallization and a large number of chemical apparatuses, such as beakers, flasks, phials, casseroles, naphtha lamps, smelting furnaces shears, tongs, alembics, pestles, mortars and many others that have in part survived to the present day.