Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Alchemist of Happiness


2004 | Director: Ovidio Salazar | 80 minutes

A friend introduced me to this movie, which is available on this link (I hope it will still be available in the long run). I also hope I can do this movie and this Muslim figure a bit of justice through this review.

The movie tells the life of Imam Al Ghazali through three methods: (1) actors portraying Imam Al Ghazali and people in his life, (2) the narrator who travels to Imam Al Ghazali's notable sites, and (3) the scholars who had conducted extensive studies on Imam Al Ghazali and his works.

Born in 1058 in Tus, Khorasan - present day Iran - Al Ghazali started to learn about sufism after the passing of his father that made him and his little brother to be in the care of a Sufi. He was thirsty of knowledge and would go to other cities to learn about theology from teachers, scholars, lecturers and people of knowledge.

But some of his most important lessons came from unexpected source. Once, his travel group was ambushed by a gang of mobs. He pleaded to one of the mobs to not destroy his textbooks and other writings he had copied from his teachers. The mob looked him in the eye and said,"So all I have to do is take them from you to strip you of your knowledge."

He began memorizing his lessons because he realized that "you only possess what you don't lose when the ship wrecks." He didn't write anything on the theology until he had memorized at least 12,000 pages written by great theologians on Islam.

He joined the court of Nizam al Mulk, a powerful vizier of the Seljuq sultan, and soon came to prominence in Nizamiyyah college in Baghdad. However, he experienced a spiritual crisis in 1095, during which he decided to go on a pilgrimage and live in seclusion.

Al Ghazali lived during the period of upheavals and uncertainties. People looked up to the clerics and took sides. As time went by, many people only had concerns on who-said-what without paying attention or questioning that what the clerics said could possibly be wrong. It's pretty much like today.

Al Ghazali realized that human's nature and one of its basic conditions is the emptiness and ignorance to the unseen world of God. He observed that the external factors shape different forms of revelation and religious experience.

Syaikh Hamza Yusuf from Zaytuna Institute says that God is the Ultimate Concern, and if we replace God from our lives, we should find a substitute. "This is human nature, to fill that hollow space, because humans are hollow beings," he says. 

Syaikh Hamza Yusuf adds that Imam Al Ghazali gets the idea of what will ultimately come and perishing, and what goes on forever. Therefore, Al Ghazali spends his lifetime to learn what one needs for the infinite journey.

But what does one need? What is the human nature, or fitrah as Muslim calls it?

D. Mahmoud Bina, Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy at Isphahan University of Technology, says that fitrah means nature of man as created by God. It is love of God and worship of God, because that is what humans created for. "The highest worship is to know (ma'rifat) God. If serving God means knowing God, then it signifies that God has given men the tools that one can know Him," he says.

Al Ghazali takes the knowledge in the cosmology based on the Islamic concept of Tauhid (oneness) and how the unity of God manifests through the diversity in the world. One of the many veils that keeps people from seeing God is religious fanaticism. For Al Ghazali, "an ignorant Muslim is more dangerous than non-believer because the ignorant only accepts what is right by who said it, rather than what has been said."

TJ Winter, Lecturer of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University, said that Al Ghazali showed that in the heart of every belief, every practice of Islam, there is a spiritual purpose, process of repentance and transformation (hijrah). That is why Al Ghazali is called Proof of Islam.

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