What does "maktub" mean and how is it used in The Alchemist?

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In The Alchemist, "maktub" translates to "it is written," signifying fate or destiny. This concept, rooted in the belief that one's destiny is predetermined by higher powers, is frequently invoked to emphasize that life's events are preordained. Santiago, the protagonist, encounters the term through various characters who reinforce that his life's path, including his personal legend and the pursuit of his dreams, is destined and thus inevitable.

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"Maktub" loosely translates to "it is written" in English.  It doesn't necessarily mean something has actually been written down on a piece of paper or stone tablet.  It's more of a destiny thing.  The crystal merchant introduces maktub to Santiago.

"Maktub," the merchant said, finally.

"What does that mean?"

"You would have to have been born an Arab to understand," he answered. "But in your language it would be something like 'It is written."

Santiago gets into some difficult situations throughout his journeys to find the treasure and complete his own personal legend.  But as he gains confidence and knowledge with the Soul of the World, Santiago realizes that he can be more assured of his success.  He can be more assured of his success, because of maktub.  Fate has a way of falling into place for those who are following their own personal legend.  Why? Because of maktub.  Because it is written.  Santiago's success is written; it's up to him to accept it and step into that role.  

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"Maktub," the merchant said, finally. "What does that mean?" "You would have to have been born an Arab to understand," he answered. "But in your language it would be something like 'It is written."

                                                            -- The Alchemist, pg. 31

And, as the camel driver had said, to die tomorrow was no worse than dying on any other day. Every day was there to be lived or to mark one's departure from this world. Everything depended on one word: "Maktub."

                                                             -- The Alchemist, pg. 60

"Maktub" is a word that comes up again and again in The Alchemist. As is mentioned in the first quote, it is Arabic for "it is written." Maktub means fate or destiny. The concept comes from the Islamic notion that Allah writes one's destiny and whatever we experience occurs because it is meant to be. The idea of destiny that is inevitable is emphasized throughout this book.

"Maktub" also exists in Farsi along with some other languages that borrow heavily from Farsi and Arabic. In contemporary Farsi and Turkish, for example, "maktub" or "mektup" means "letter." But its meaning in The Alchemist is "destiny."

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"Maktub" means, "it is written."  Remember that in Coehlo's novel, one writes their own destiny.

Others you meet along your path to are able to help you realize your "Personal Legend."  Omens may assist you as well, but it is up to you to either act or reject each step along the path that will lead to your destiny. 

Satiago will hear the word "maktub" many times during his own journey (from the King of Salem, and the crystal merchant, to name two) after he has made a crucial decision to follow his dreams. 

An example of someone who failed to listen to his heart and rejected the help and omens along the way is the crystal merchant.  He tells Santiago how he made conscious decisions to reject a more meaningful life.  "Maktub."  He too wrote his own story.   

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In Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, how is the word "maktub" used?

In Paoulo Coelho's The Alchemist, the word "maktub" is first introduced to Santiago (the boy) by the crystal merchant. The boy hears it later spoken around the campfire as he (and the Englishman) journey with the caravan to the oasis.

Santiago is swindled out of all the money he has received by selling his sheep. He is stranded, unable to return home or move on. As much as he dislikes his situation, he gets a job with a crystal merchant. This is certainly a part of God's greater plan for Santiago, for he learns a great deal from the crystal merchant, most specifically about pursuing one's Personal Legend. The crystal merchant missed his opportunity to do so; Santiago finally decides he will not make the same mistake.

One evening, as the boy and the merchant speak, the crystal merchant utters an Arabic word that Santiago does not understand (although they are both speaking Arabic). The older man explains that in the boy's language, "maktub" means "it is written." This gives the sense that it presents a truism: it might be thought to mean, "it is so," or "this is how it should be."

When the boy presents another suggestion to the merchant to serve tea to thirsty travelers in the crystal glasses—to refresh them and to sell crystal, the merchant admits that he is slow to change because he likes things the way they are. However, he agrees to the change, and says, "maktub." He is saying "it will be so." And the sense with this word appears to be that this change is preordained. This is the way it is supposed to be.

When Santiago and the Englishman begin their trek to the oasis, a camel driver offers his advice:

"Once you get into the desert, there's no going back...And, when you can't go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward. The rest is up to Allah, including the danger."

And he concluded by saying the mysterious word: "Maktub."

It appears that the word "maktub" means this is the way it will be and there is no point fighting it. As far as Santiago is concerned, the universe does, in fact, conspire to bring about his happiness, and "maktub" is basically saying that this is the way it is, the way it will be. And as the omens and nature lead him on, Santiago's path seems certain—perhaps unavoidable—for he is in tune with the world, and it will show him the way.

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