Describing the potentiality of al-ʿaql, the author brings out in this verse and some of the verses that follow, how such potentiality could lead towards great achievements. He also points out the dangers of the misuse of the self-same potentiality.
The art of Alchemy is to turn base metals like copper into gold. The person who practises this art relies on his knowledge of the property of mercury, of the base metal required to be transmuted and of the technicalities of the process. In no other way could the desired result be gained, nor could the art be practised by any other person not so equipped with the requisite knowledge.
Using an adroit simile, the author illustrates that the degenerated and tainted attributes of the fallen section of creation (which equates to the base metal of the simile) can be turned into gold by training, discipline and proper conditioning in accordance with the revelations of Allah and with the enlightenment from the Higher Source, transmitted to man through the blessed and inspired gateway to the city of knowledge.
We thus arrive at the conclusion, that the conversion of degenerated copper-man to the golden state is not achieved merely by training, discipline and proper conditioning. An indispensable requirement is the reception and absorption of the enlightenment in its original, pure and unblemished state and the enlightenment must be digested strictly in conformity with the revelations as transmitted. We have been told that in Alchemy, it is the alchemist, and the alchemist alone, who has the power and authority to practice the art. Similarly, the revelations as transmitted by the sun of wahy alone are good and authoritative, because, the Holy Prophet was chosen as the medium of transmission by virtue of his perfection. Al-ʿaql, if it strictly undergoes the tests set out, acquires the quality of elixir, and, as elixir, turns the copper in man to gold.
Analysing the metaphor further, we find, that in man the baser metal is that tainted and degenerated part of the original creation now existing in the form of a potentiality. The latter has first to be cleansed and purified through the faithful observance of the kitāb and the sharia. The knowledge and the light of the ‘radiant grace’ absorbed by ʿaql constitutes the elixir. The process of spiritual alchemy is finally successfully completed by the Alchemist who has described himself as the ‘city of knowledge’ of which ‘Ali is the gateway.’