I have been a Muslim for over five years now, Alhamdulillah. During this time, I have had my ups and downs. I have been through the endless circle of ideas on how to best be a Muslim put forth by various groups claiming that they know better than the classical schools of Islamic thought.
As a young and ignorant Muslim, I was easily snared by these groups because they can be good at the art of persuasion. The only problem was that they all left me feeling just as empty inside as I did before Islam. Why? Because all these groups, who are mostly founded in the West within the last hundred years, leave off the Shariah. The Shariah, which they call oppressive and unreliable, is full of guidance and structure so that one is not left to find the path all alone and in the dark. Thus, the instant you throw off the Shariah i.e. Qur’an & Sunnah as taught by the classical schools, you are right back to being a Christian or a Jew or an atheist. In the case of the Christian and the Jewish people, they have beliefs, but no guidance. In the case of an atheist, you have no belief and no guidance.
After a few years of sifting through the false gold, I found a real gem; Imam Ghazali’s Kimya Al-Sa’adat also known as The Alchemy of Happiness. Renowned around the world as one of the most profound Muslim scholars in classical Islam, Imam Ghazali was one of a kind. He lived over a thousand years ago and taught various Islamic Sciences at Baghdad University, Iraq. Students came from all over the world to learn from him. Fame and fortune was laid at his feet yet, he gave it all up and went into seclusion in order to put his knowledge to work on his spiritual ascension. After a long time working to master his carnal desires and perfect his soul, he wrote many works that still exist today which still move the hearts and souls of many people around the world.
The Alchemy of Happiness is a life changing book. But what makes The Alchemy so good? The fact that Imam Ghazali wrote this book for the common Muslim in order to show us how to bridge the gap between those like the companions of Prophet Muhammad (sas) and those like us. As a common American convert, I would read the amazing stories of the companions and the great Imams that came afterwards with awe, never believing I could reach that level. Now, I believe it is possible, but only with the right guidance and a lot of hard work.
Reading Qur’an and Hadiths are great, but they are tools. If you do not know how to use them, you may be wasting your time. That is why Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an to ask those who know for guidance. Again, guidance is the key. Allah did not send down a book and say read this and figure it out on your own. He (swt) sent Prophet Muhammad (sas) first, then revealed the Qur’an to him in small pieces so that he could master it and teach it to others. Thus, Prophet Muhammad (sas) mastered Islam and taught his followers how to master it as well. They, in turn, did the same with their followers and so the chain continues to this day.
This is why we have the classical schools like Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki, and Hanbali. This is how Allah (swt) has preserved Islam all the way back to Prophet Muhammad (sas). These schools or chains, in which Imam Ghazali was one major link, are our living and breathing guides. The Alchemy of Happiness is a really good place to start. Only after reading this book did I feel the spiritual happiness that Islam offers all mankind.
Abdullah Al Amriiki