Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Alchemist...Islam-influenced novel?

I finally got the chance to read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist a few weeks ago. Overall, a good read but there were a few things that really grabbed my attention. For those of you who didn't read the book: don't worry, I won't ruin it for you.

I don't think it was a coincidence that a big chunk of the book was set in a Muslim land. I think the attributes of the Creator in Islam fit perfectly with Coelho's idea of the One, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, All-Knowing Supreme Being.

Moreover, makes these attributes of the Creator seem like they should be intuitive to anyone. Coelho chooses his words carefully so as to make it seem that it is unnatural and arrogant of us limited, mortal human beings not to acknowledge His Presence and His Powers. To use Islamic terminology, human beings are denying their fitrah by being oblivious to (or worse, challenging) the Creator.

Even Coelho's description of a shephard's life reminds me of the prophets and messangers of Allah. They were all shephards at one point in their lives and that lifestyle helped that ponder on the creation and connect with the Creator.

There are a few quotes which I particularly liked:

"God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of his wisdom"- This very closely mirrors the Islamic concept of there being 2 types of ayahs (signs) of Allah: the material ones (the marvels of the world around us: mountains, trees, birds,...), and the perfect and miraculous verses of the Quran.
"Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding." [3:190]

"Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there" - Substitute "heart" with ruh (soul) and "the Soul of the World" with Allah and you get a Muslim's idea of his/her beginning and end.

"But my heart is agitate...Well, that's good. Your heart is alive" - The word for heart in Arabic (qalb)comes from the root verb meaning to turn upside down or change the state of. An agitated heart is much better than a spiritually dead one or an oblivious one that just "goes with the flow". At least it is alive and kicking, struggling to get closer to Allah.
Umm-Salamah, the wife of Prophet Mohamad(pbuh) narrates that the Prophet's most frequent dua` was : "ya muqalib al-qulub thabitt qalbi `ala deenik" (Oh changer of hearts, keep my heart steadfast on your deen) [Sunnan Al-Tirmithi, 3444]

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Coelho's turning Muslim anytime soon (you never know though). But his portrayal of Arabs, Muslims and Islam is not the orientalist garbage we see/read too often, and some of his philosophies resonate strongly with Islamic beliefs. Ok, I'll stop here with the semi-philosophical mumbo jumbo. But if you've read the book and have any thoughts on it, please do share!

1 comment:

Shaman65 said...

I think faith is a universal thing inside us all, we all experience something down the line that gets us to the right path, the one God created for us, the path that really exists. In a way Paulo Coelho gets into that path sometimes and being in Egypt made that easier for him, he is known for his total spiritual openness and said during a podcast last October that he doesn't agree with everything in the book, referring to him being a Christian.

I find many Islamic beliefs in his books, it's known to us that everyone is born a Muslim and that the parents change his religion, but in the end Islam is submission to God, therefore anyone who accepts that submission can relate to Islam or, if enlightened enough, become a Muslim (that is, continuing the Path till the end and not merely stopping at "submission to God").

I like this man, really.. I read 9 of his books now, have 2 left in my shelf and planning to buy the others. nice article, thanks for sharing your thoughts :)