Islamic Alchemy

Islamic Alchemy Cover The Arabic term for alchemy is al-k??miya? D. The word k??miya? D is alternately derived from the Greek chumeia (or ch?emeia), denoting the “art of transmutation,” or from kim-iya, a South Chinese term meaning “gold-making juice.” Greek and later Hellenistic writings are generally regarded as the initial impetus behind Muslim learning, thus the wide acceptance of the Greek origin of the word. In the Islamic context, al-k??miya? D refers to the “art” of transmuting substances, both material and spiritual, to their highest form of perfection. The word k??miya? D also refers to the agent or catalyst that effects the transmutation and hence is used as a synonym for al-iks??r (“elixir”) and h:ajar al-fala?sifah (“philosopher’s stone”). The search for the ideal elixir has been an ancient quest in many cultures of the world; it was supposed to transform metals to their most perfect form (gold) and minerals to their best potency and, if the correct elixir were to be found, to achieve immortality. All matter of a particular type, metals for example, were supposed to consist of the same elements. The correct k??miya? D or iks??r would enable the transposition of the elements into ideal proportions and cause the metal concerned to be changed from a base form to a perfected form, for instance, copper to gold. On another level, the philosophical theory of alchemy was used to conceptualize the purification of the soul. The terminology and procedures of alchemy were allegorized and applied to the transformation of the soul from its base, earthly, impure state to pure perfection. Elementary psychological postulations were allegorized as chemical properties. For the mystics, the iks??r served as a symbol of the divine truth that changed an unbeliever into a believer. In S: u?f?? literature, the spiritual master purifies the soul of the adept via various processes of spiritual alchemy. This usage of alchemical principles in the spiritual realm reflects the worldview of the ancients, including those of medieval Islam, whereby the human soul was regarded as a microcosm of the forces and principles contained in the macrocosm of the universe. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND. In Muslim tradition, alchemy enjoys ancient roots. The cultivation of alchemy is traced back to Adam, followed by most of the major prophets and sages. This chain of transmission is then connected to the “masters” from the ancient world, including Aristotle, Galen, Socrates, Plato, and others. Muslims are considered to have received the art from these masters. In Islamic times, the prophet Muh: ammad (d. 632 CE), is said to have endorsed the art, lending it grace and power; his cousin and son-inlaw, EAl?? ibn Ab?? T: a?lib (d. 661), is regarded as its patron. EAl??’s descendant JaEfar al-S: a?diq (d. 765) is portrayed as the next major transmitter. The Umayyad prince Kha?lid ibn Yaz??d (660–704) is depicted as both a practitioner and a patron of alchemy who encouraged the translation of relevant Greek and Syriac texts into Arabic. Legendary tales indicate that he learned the art from a Syrian monk named Marianos, whom he sought out on long journeys to strange lands. Ja?bir ibn H: ayya?n (d. c. 815), who is held to be the disciple of JaEfar al-S: a?diq, is credited with more than three hundred treatises on alchemy; consequently, the name of this quasi-historical figure came to imply the authority and teacher par excellence.

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