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What is “Kimiya”?

“Kimiya” is an ancient, specialized, and at the same time widely used word in Arabic and Persian languages. It is said to have been derived from the Greek word “khēmeia.” The Greek khēmeia generally means the “Art of alloying metals,” but when it entered Arabic and Persian, it acquired many other meanings. Also, since this word holds a special place in Islamic culture and civilization, it has made its way into the languages of the Islamic civilization such as Turkish, Kurdish, Urdu, and Malay, and through the translation of Arabic texts into Latin, it has also found its way into European languages. Today, it is used in English as “alchemy” and in Spanish and Portuguese as “alquimia.”

In general, the word “kimiya” in Arabic and Persian means “to perfect any kind of flaw or weakness.” This meaning has led to the word being used in various sciences, each acquiring its own specific meaning. The most common and recognized meaning of kimiya is, similar to its Greek origin: ”transforming base metals into precious metals.” This means that with the “knowledge of kimiya,” base metals like lead and copper can be transformed into precious metals like silver or gold. In the definition we provided, lead and copper are considered metals with flaws and weaknesses that are being brought to perfection upon being transformed into silver or gold.

Although it was impossible to turn lead or copper into silver or gold, the efforts of those with ‘Kimiya’ knowledge led to various discoveries about the properties of materials and their mutual conversions. Therefore, what is known today as the science of chemistry is, in fact, a kind of evolved and scientific form of “kimiya.”

Since kimiya, in essence, is the science of transforming materials and perfecting any kind of flaw or weakness, in medicine, this word is also used, mainly in the sense of “treatment.” This means that by combining and transforming various materials, drugs can be created to treat different diseases. It is obvious that “treating a disease” also means rectifying a flaw or weakness that has occurred in the patient’s body. Therefore, with the “knowledge of kimiya,” a sick person can be treated and brought to perfect health.

Now, we must consider that just as the body can be perfected to health with “kimiya,” the soul can also be polished and elevated to higher spiritual levels. Therefore, in addition to chemistry and medicine, the word “kimiya” is also popular in philosophy and mysticism, where it is used in the sense of perfecting the human soul and spirit.

Since mystical and spiritual subjects are mainly associated with metaphysical and supernatural issues, the word kimiya has also been used for supernatural abilities or as a tool for accessing the beyond. In addition to its philosophical and mystical aspect, which has a poetic and cryptic language, this word has also made its way into literature. Especially in Persian literature, this word, while retaining its original meaning, has also been used to mean “something rare and scarce,” “an unattainable matter,” and even in some expressions, “love.”

In any case, “kimiya” is an ancient, widely used, and meaningful word that signifies the spread of cultural and linguistic influence of Arabic and Persian in various regions of the Islamic world and beyond.

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