Home Deliberation The Alchemist : A Sufi Reading

The Alchemist : A Sufi Reading

The name of novel The Alchemist means the process of transforming lower level elements and substances into high quality gold. This is what actually Tasawwuf makes possible.


The Alchemist placed its author Paulo Coelho into the peak of fame. It was orginally written in Portuguese which was published in 1988. Later it was translated into almost 67 languages and the novel had completed a rocket sale of ten lakh copies in almost 150 countries. The novel also got place in Guiness Book of World records as it is the novel which was sold the highest number of copies while the author was alive. Rather than a fiction regarding Santiago; the novel comprises philosophy, spirituality and self motivation. This all together made The Alchemist a modern classic. The novel emphasises on confidence, positive thoughts and conviction in the hearts of readers. Till now this novel was the central theme of many discussions and studies and also subject matter of several thesis. In the way, this article tries to analyse Paulo Coelho’s magnum opus from a very different dimension.

Literary works with no influences and sources from other are very rare, accurately there are none. Life experiences to political engagements may influence the author, also his constructions. The quest for roots of Magical realism in the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez may end up in his childhood experiences. Like wise Sufism and Tasawwuf had influenced major discourses.  It belongs to myriad fields like Literature, Music,  Painting, Dance, Calligraphy and many other arts. Let’s discuss about literature itself. The thoughts of Ibnu Arabi were hardly influenced by Dante meanwhile the making of Divine Comedy. Also one of the masterpieces of William Tell was written up under the very influence of Atthar’s conference of birds. There is analysis which tried to find the effects of Jalaluddin Rumi’s work in Keralite P. Kunjiraman Nayar’s constructions. May be that’s the reason why Vaikom Muhammed Basheer teased him by naming Sufi Nayar. Even in the stories of Basheer, there are analysts who found Sufi elements by preferring one of his own character who proclaimed ‘Anal Haq’. In short several examples of Sufi influences in literature are found vastly. Same way those elements are also found between the lines of The Alchemist. This article tries to light up such Sufi elements in front of the readers. Paulo Coelho himself had agreed and approved the influence of Sufi elements in his thoughts and works. This article is developed by taking such approvals of the author itself as a reference point. Islamic Spirituality is utmost restrain from desires of soul. Many of the readings had noted that Alchemist had only put forward a kind of bogus spirituality which is extremely against a spiritual system which is against Islamic concept of spirituality. A thought of finding Sufi elements in the Alchemist is developed in the same time of academical critics.

Scrutinizing the best sellers of Paulo Coelho will make one realise that Coelho tries to bestow a divine fragrance to mundane life realities. Odds and ends of Arabic culture and civilisation frequently appeared between the lines of novel. Even if the fiction had a start up and end up at Spain, Arabian cities, life, dresses, culture,  pyramid and all are mentioned in the novel for numerous times. The Arabic word Makthoob is used to express fate and fortune. Hints about the Holy Hajj can also be found in the novel.

The name of novel The Alchemist means the process of transforming lower level elements and substances into high quality gold. This is what actually Tasawwuf makes possible. It liberates and disenchants people from astray and beastly habits. It transforms a common man into goldlike man. Allama Shibili said while defining Tasawwuf, “Sufism is preserving the crystal clearness of human heart. It means to strong and clear belief in God who knows both explicit and implicit of human hearts. The author left a bit of  loop holes infront of readers in the very beginning of novel to conjecture the twist and thread of Santiago’s Journey. “And someday you’ll learn that our countryside is the best, and our women are the most beautiful.” (Page no.31) After Santiago’s long last treasure hunt,  he was so adventurous to find the treasure from where he started his journey. As a matter of fact, the treasure rests in the same spot below you lie is plot of many Sufi stories. Moreover this identical supposition can also be found in book of advices from Sufi Sheikh’s. Alchemist is a well developed alteration of such abstractions into novel genre.

The Wayfarer (سالك-Saalik in Arabic) instituted in Sufi allegory who work hard as lion and travel in search for ultimate truth (Haqeeqath-حقيقة) is well bounded inside Santiago, this can be discovered by investigating his desires and concerns between the lines. “Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision (Page.no. 63). A Sufi attains knowledge and accepts the ultimate truth through wayfaring which exist for many years.  Likewise Santiago swears that the journey he made after leaving the seminary took him to God. “By the time he had enough of the sea, he would already have known other cities, other women, and other chances to be happy. I couldn’t have found God in the seminary, he thought, as he looked at the sunrise” (Page No.  32).

Among the Sufi community (Tareeqath-طريقة) the terminology ‘Ishq’ (عشق) is generally used to conceive the love and affection. And the term ‘Ishq’ is more than an emotion or feeling; It is manifestation of love associated with  state of existence and state of being. In other words, creation of  this world is declaration of God’s love. The Shepard Santiago announces that the love which spread nature’s love is only true love. Sufis possess their aspiration through living in an indescribable magical life of love. In the same way Santiago defines love as a medium for the fruitfulness of life goals. “When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you, and even men can turn themselves into the wind. As long as the wind helps, of course.” (Page No. 122) Many other elements like dream, treasure are widely depended by the author for the development of this fiction.