The Alchemy of Happiness
Kimiya-yi Sa’ādat (Persian: كيمياى سعادت, English: The Alchemy of Happiness) was written by Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, a Persian theologian, philosopher, and Sunni author regarded as one of the greatest systematic Persian thinkers of Islam.
The Kimiya-yi Sa’ādat was written towards the end of his life shortly before 499/1105. During the time before it was written the Muslim world was considered to be in a state of political as well as intellectual unrest. Al-Ghazālī, noted that there were constant disputes regarding the role of philosophy and scholastic theology, and that Sufi’s became chastised for their neglect of the ritual obligations of Islam.
Upon its release, the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat allowed al-Ghazali to considerably reduce the tensions between the scholars and mystics. Kimiya-yi sa’ādat emphasized the importance of observing the ritual requirements of Islam, the actions that would lead to salvation, and avoidance of sin.
The factor that set the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat apart from other theological works at the time was its mystical emphasis on self-discipline and asceticism. Al-Ghazālī, had succeeded in gaining widespread acceptance for Sufism, however, he did so at the expense of the philosophers.
The Kimiya-yi Sa’ādat and its subsequent translations begin with citing some councils of the Prophet. Overall, the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat has four principle parts of ten chapters each:
- Ebādāt (religious duties)
- Monjīāt (salvation)
- Mu’amalat (human relations aspect of Islam)
- Mohlekāt (damnation)
Sa’āda (happiness) is a central concept in Islamic philosophy used to describe the highest aim of human striving. Sa’āda is considered to be part of the “ultimate happiness”, namely that of the hereafter. Only when a human being has liberated his/her soul completely form its corporal existence, and arrives at what is called “active intellect”.
Al-Ghazali believed in practical-ethical perfection and that by exercising his God-given capacity for reason man must be drawn to the spiritual alchemy that transforms the soul from worldliness to complete devotion to God. This alone, he believed could produce ultimate happiness. Ghazālī’s teachings were to help man to live a life in accordance with the sacred law, and by doing so gain a deeper understanding of its meaning on the day of Judgement.
Kimiā (Alchemy) is an applied and mystical science that has been studied for centuries. It represents a complete conception of the universe and relations between earthly beings and the cosmos. Religious philosophers emphasized its importance as a religious discipline. Due to its spiritual dimensions Kimiā is considered the noblest of all occult sciences (i.e. astrology and various kinds of magic). Ghazali was himself a believer that everything on Earth is a manifestation of God’s spirit, thus everything belongs to kimiā.
It is a common misconception that the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat is a rewrite of the Ihya’e Ulum-ed’Deen (The Revival of Religious Sciences). Ihya’e Ulum-ed’Deen was written by al-Ghazali after abandoning his duties as a professor due to a “spiritual crisis” which led him to live in seclusion for several years. It was composed in Arabic, and was an attempt to show ways in which the lives of a Sufi could be based on what is demanded by Islamic law. There are definite parallels between Ihya’e Ulum-ed’Deen and Kimiya-yi sa’ādat, however the four introductory chapters of the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat contain relevant theological discussions that set the two apart. The Kimiya-yi sa’ādat is noticeably much shorter than the Ihya’e Ulum-ed’Deen, however in the original Persian introduction of the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat, Ghazālī explicitly states he wrote Kimiya-yi sa’ādat to mirror the essence of Ihya’e Ulum-ed’Deen and a few of his other theological writings; he wrote it in Persian so that it could reach a broader, popular audience in his homeland.
Translation and editing
From its original Persian form the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat has been translated into Urdu, Turkish, and German. Husayn-Khadiv-i Jam edited the first half of the Persian text nearly two decades ago. This version is considered to be the most beneficial, as it improves upon the past editions by Ahmad Ahram and Muhammad Abbasi.
The most recent translation of Kimiya-yi sa’ādat was published in 2008 and was translated by Jay Crook. Most scholars agree that nothing can compare to a complete and fresh translation from the original Persian text.
″God has sent on Earth a hundred and twenty-four thousand prophets to teach men the prescription of this alchemy, and how to purify their hearts from baser qualities in the crucible of abstinence. This alchemy may be briefly described as turning away from the world, and its constituents are four: Knowledge of Self Knowledge of God Knowledge of this world as it really is Knowledge of the next world as it really is.″