The book cover of al-Ghazali's 'The Alchemy of Happiness' published by Octagon Press.
The cover of El-Ghazali's 'The Alchemy of Happiness' translated from the Hindu-Urdu by Claud Field and published by Octagon Press in 1980.

El-Ghazali’s ‘Alchemy of Happiness’

In 1980, Octagon Press, the publishing predecessor of ISF, first printed a short English translation of one of Abu Hamid el-Ghazali’s many writings entitled The Alchemy of Happiness (Kimiya’e Saadat). El-Ghazali wrote Alchemy as an abridgement for ordinary readers of his colossal masterwork, The Revival of Religious Sciences (Ihya Ulum al-Din). The Octagon edition is translated from the Hindu-Urdu by Claud Field (1863-1941), an early 20th-century British author known for his insightful explorations into the spiritual traditions of eastern cultures, and contains just 8 sections from el-Ghazali’s original abridgement.

The short but pithy work contains commentaries on topics ranging from ‘knowledge of self’ to ‘knowledge of the next world,’ to the ‘music and dancing as aids to the religious life’ to ‘love of God.’

The significance of both this book and its author is subtly, but powerfully, driven home in the Octagon edition’s preface.

We are told in the forward that such was the importance of Alchemy’s parent text The Revival of Religious Sciences, that there exists an old refrain which says: If all of the books of Islam were destroyed, and only The Revival of Religious Sciences survived, it would be but a slight loss.

Praise for the el-Ghazali himself has often been no less dramatic and poignant.

August Tholuck, the 19th century German theologian, is quoted in the Octagon preface to The Alchemy of Happiness as having said of el-Ghazali:

‘This man, if ever any have deserved the name, was truly a “divine”… Whatsoever was most excellent in the philosophy or Aristotle or in the Sufi mysticism he discreetly adapted to the Muhammadan theology; from every school he sought the means of shedding light and honour upon religion; while his sincere piety and lofty conscientiousness imparted to all his writings a sacred majesty. He was the first of Muhammadan divines.’

The influence of el-Ghazali, the 11th century Islamic theologian, moralist and Sufi mystic, upon both the Christian and Islamic thinkers of the Middle Ages is difficult to overstate. The aim of his work was to improve others by helping to lead them from a notional acquiescence in the stereotyped creed of Islam to a real knowledge of God.