Ali Mahmoud El Abdallah: This is how Arabs transferred Paper Industry secrets from Egypt and China to Europe

Ali Mahmoud El Abdallah: This is how Arabs transferred Paper Industry secrets from Egypt and China to Europe





Historians agree that the first known type of paper used in history was papyrus, which ancient Egyptians extracted from the papyrus plant's bark around 5,000 years ago, approximately 3,000 years before the invention of paper in China. For ancient Egyptians, papyrus served as a tool for documenting their civilization's knowledge, and this discovery encouraged them to invent many writing necessities and tools. This discovery paved the way for Egyptians to invent paper napkins made from wood pulp, initially used by the wealthy class before spreading to the Greeks and Romans. Indeed, archaeological excavations revealed linen napkins woven with gold threads in King Tutankhamun's tomb and embroidered pieces in the tomb of King Tutankhamun.


To learn more about the history of papermaking and paper napkins, we met with Ali Mahmoud Ali El Abdallah, the head of the Amaco Group, a member of the board of directors of the Paper and Packaging Industries Syndicate in Lebanon, and a member of the Arab Union for Paper, Printing, and Packaging Industries. Ali El Abdallah describes the invention of papermaking and its beginnings: "There are several historical accounts of the beginnings of paper and napkin making as we know them today. Some attribute it to an employee in the Chinese imperial court named Tsai Lun, who developed a new method for papermaking in the early 2nd century AD, involving cutting plant materials, tree bark, hemp fibers, and worn-out fishing nets into small pieces to obtain a thin layer that is dried before being turned into paper."


He adds: "But historically, papermaking did not start in China. According to recent Egyptian studies, this industry began in the era of the Pharaohs with papyrus paper. The manufacturing of papyrus paper relied on the papyrus plant pulp through several steps, starting with cutting the pulp into thin longitudinal pieces, which were then layered alternately in two or three layers, soaked in water until softened, then heavily pressed to form a thin sheet of paper suitable for writing. If the written texts were large, these sheets were joined together to form what was called a papyrus scroll."


According to Ali El Abdallah, the paper and paper napkin industry evolved over the ages, and Arabs transferred it from China and Egypt to Europe and then to the United States. He says that the use of paper napkins spread among the aristocratic classes. He adds: "The quality of napkins varied among social classes in terms of material and quality. Erasmus, a Dutch philosopher and a pioneer of the humanitarian movement in Europe, mentioned in one of his books in 1530 that Roman women had been making napkins since the 3rd century to wipe their faces. There is consensus that the Japanese invented paper napkins in 1185 AD, which were very different from what we know today. They were made of wood pulp and were very hard like modern paper, and soldiers used them especially to wipe swords."


In China, researchers point to the beginning of paper manufacturing through the discovery of an ancient piece of paper in the city of Dunhuang. It is believed that this sheet, measuring ten square centimeters, was part of a letter possibly made in the eighth year before Christ. However, some studies confirm that modern papermaking, as we know it, practically began in China in 105 BC during the reign of Emperor Hu Di.


Regarding papermaking in the Arab world, Ali El Abdallah said: "Arabs transferred the paper industry to regions under their rule, which was one of the greatest and most important events in history during the Islamic conquests. In Southeast Asia, after the Battle of Talas River between the Abbasids and the Chinese in 751 AD, Muslims managed to obtain papermaking secrets from Chinese prisoners. The first paper mill was founded by al-Fadl ibn Yahya in the Abbasid era in Baghdad in 794 AD. Then this industry moved from Iraq to the Levant, and the city of Aleppo monopolized papermaking in the Levant, with a neighborhood named after it called the Papermaker's Quarter, where paper mills were established."


Ali El Abdallah continued, saying: "Over time, paper mills spread across various parts of the Islamic world, and their industry developed, becoming a badge of honor at the forefront of Islamic civilization deserving praise and admiration."


Regarding types of paper products, Ali El Abdallah said: "Arabs succeeded in producing new types of paper such as silk paper, writing paper, cardboard, and other types. Arabs called this type of paper made from linen and hemp 'kagad', which is a Chinese word that entered through Persia."



Ali El Abdallah mentions an Arabic book called "Ghareeb Al-Hadith" by Abu Ubaid Al-Qasim bin Salam, a historian from the year 866 AD, which is found in the library of Leiden University in the Netherlands. He adds: "It is likely that this book is one of the oldest writings on Arab paper, and due to the Islamic civilization reaching the borders of Eastern Europe in the 12th century AD during Muslim rule of Sicily, it is likely that paper production reached Europe through Islamic countries bordering the Mediterranean, which served as a link in transferring Eastern sciences and knowledge to the West."


Ali El Abdallah adds: "According to some references, Kimberley-Clark in the United States was the first to introduce facial tissue paper in its current form in 1924 under the brand name 'Kleenex'. The first part of the word indicates 'clean' in English. Initially, the product was marketed as an aid to remove cosmetics from the face, and the company linked it to the film industry in Hollywood and the makeup department of the film industry. Hollywood stars like Jean Harlow were used to market this tissue. The first advertising campaign for Kleenex was titled 'Do not carry cold (flu) in your pocket', indicating the presence of germs, viruses, and dirt on cloth tissues."

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