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5. Al-Ghazālī

Ash‘arī scholasticism won acceptance by the ‘ulamā’ in all but the Ḥanbalī School. While the Turkish Sultans and their Persian wazīr were kindly disposed toward Ṡūfīs, and the atmosphere was favorable for rapprochement between the mystics and the legists, the ‘ulamā’ maintained an attitude of hostility and suspicion toward the Ṡūfīs. Credit for being the catalyst in the new religious synthesis of the eleventh century A.D. must be given to al-Juwaynī's brilliant pupil, Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, a man whose intellect, orthodoxy and sincerity were above serious suspicion, and whose arguments were able to disarm hostility. At thirty-three he was appointed by Niẓām al-Mulk

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as a professor in the Niẓāmīya madrasa of Baghdad, teaching Shāfi‘ī law and writing polemics against the Ismā‘īlīs. Despite his success, he entered a period of profound spiritual crisis, where as he says in his auto-biographical work Deliverance from Error8 "I examined my motive in my work of teaching, and realized that it was not a pure desire for the things of God, but that the impulse moving me was the desire for an influential position and public recognition." 9

Following a near breakdown in A.H. 488/A.D. 1095, he quit the world to become a wandering Sūfī. After eleven years spent in meditation and retirement, he was persuaded by the ruling Sulṭān to teach again, in the Niẓāmīya of Nīsāpūr. The end of his life he spent in retirement with his disciples at a Ṡūfī convent in Tūs, where he died in A.H. 505/A.D. 1111.

He has been regarded as a "Renewer of Islam" and the greatest of its theologians, though not all of the modernists would grant this. In his great work, the Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn (The Revivification of the Religious Sciences) Law and kalām are stated in orthodox terms, but reinterpreted with Ṡūfī emphasis on religious experience, sincerity and interior devotion. He actively championed the more sober mysticism of Junayd and al-Muḥāsibī. After Ghazālī, Ṡūfīs and ‘ulamā’ drew closer together. While they never fully united, they at least closed ranks against common enemies, and while individuals of one group might remain hostile or unacceptable to the other, each group was now prepared to admit that the other had an important role to fulfill within the Islamic community. Sufis taught in madrasas, and some ‘ulamā’ became Sūfīs.

Al-Ghazālī's emphasis on direct religious experience as the vital element in religious knowledge led him to

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criticize the casuistry and authoritarianism of the fuqahā’, along with Islamic rationalism. Man's affair was to seek to know God and love Him; intellect's role to know its own limitations in this supremely important task. And in his own highly Aristotelian way he gave to Islamic philosophy, derived from Hellenistic thought and represented by men like al-Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā, a blow from which it was never to recover. It is true, the philosophers' answer to his attack was made in the next century by Ibn Rushd of Spain (Averrhoes, died 1198 A.D.). But by that time, al-Ghazālī s victory had been won.


From the Iḥyā’, On the Love of God: Love for God, etc.: Love for God is the furthest reach of all stations, the sum of the highest degrees, and there is no station after that of love, except its fruit and its consequences . . . nor is there any station before love which is not a prelude to it, such as penitence, longsuffering, and asceticism. . . .

Yet some of the ‘ulamā’ deny the possibility of love for God, and say that it means nothing more than persevering in obedience to God, be He exalted, while true love of God is impossible except metaphorically or in very unusual circumstances. And, since they deny the possibility of loving God, they also deny any intimacy with Him, or passionate longing for Him, or the delight of confiding in Him, and the other consequences of love. Thus we must of necessity deal with this matter here, and mention in this book the proofs of the Law on love, and propound its reality and its occasioning features. . . .

Whoever loves another than God for other than God's sake does so from ignorance . . . (though to love the Messenger of God is praiseworthy, for it is really loving God) . . . for among men of insight (baṡā’ir) there is no true beloved save God most High, and none deserving of love save Him. In order to explain this clearly, we shall turn to the five causes of love which we have mentioned, and we shall show that all of them unite in the truth of God. . . .

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As for the first cause of love, it is man's love for himself, and his own permanency, his self-perfection and his continued existence, and man's hatred of perishing and of non-existence, of what diminishes him or destroys his perfection. This is the natural disposition of every living thing, nor can it be imagined that anyone would deviate from it.

Yet this necessarily tends to the deepest love of God, for one who knows himself and knows his Lord knows absolutely that he has no existence of himself, and that his self-existence and continued existence and perfection of existence are all from God and to God and for God, who is his Creator and Sustainer and Perfector. . . . In brief, there is nothing in existence which is self-subsistent, save the Living and Self-sustaining God, in Whom subsist all other things, so that if a knowing man loves himself . . . then of necessity he must love God. . . . If he does not, then it is because of his ignorance of himself and his Lord; for love is the fruit of knowledge. . . .

As for the second cause, it is man's nature to love one who bestows benefits and possessions on him and is kind of speech to him and gives evil to those who are evil to him . . . and if a man had true knowledge, then he would know that his Benefactor is God alone, Whose benefits to all His servants are countless. . . .

Benefits from human beings are not to be imagined, except in a metaphorical way, for the Benefactor is only God. Let us suppose that such and such a man has endowed you with all his treasures and empowered you to dispose of them as you will, and that you then think that these benefits came from that man. That would be a mistake, for the man's good action was only performed by means of himself and his possessions . . . and his motivation to turn them over to you. But who was it who was gracious to His creature, and who created his possessions and his ability to act thus, and who created his will and his motivation? Who caused him to feel affection for you and turn his face upon you? Had it not been for all this, he would not have given you a single grain of his wealth. And inasmuch as it was God who empowered his motives . . . he was overcome and compelled to give his

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wealth to you, for he was unable to oppose Him. So the Benefactor was He who compelled him for you and employed him. . . . The owner of the hand (which gave) was compelled with the compulsion of a water channel to let water run in it, so that if you believed him to be the benefactor, or thanked him as other than the means, you would be ignorant of the truth of the matter. For doing good cannot be expected of a man, except to himself; as for doing good to someone else, that is impossible for created beings, for they will not give up something that is theirs, except for some selfish motive. . . . A knowing man will not love any but God for doing good, for He alone is worthy of that.

As for the third cause, it is love of a benefactor for him-self, even when he does not bring you any benefit, and this love is natural--for if information reached you of a king who was pious, just, wise, gentle with people and kindly to them . . . in a far country, and news reached you of another king, who was cruel, arrogant, corrupt, shameless and wicked . . . you would find in your heart an inclination toward the first which was love, and a repugnance for the second which was hate, and (the first emotion) is love of a benefactor simply because he is good, and not because he is good to you. This also necessitates the love of God--nay, it necessitates loving none but God . . . for only He is truly good.

As for the fourth reason, it is to love every beautiful thing for its own beauty, and not for any satisfaction which can come from it. . . . Beauty can be external beauty, which is perceived with the eye of the head, or it may be interior beauty, which is perceived with the eye of the heart. The first sort may be perceived by children or beasts; to perceive the second sort is the special property of men of heart, and none may share in it who know only the life of the lower world. All beauty is beloved by a perceiver of beauty, and if he perceives it with his heart, it becomes his heart's beloved. . . .

So then, what is beautiful is to be loved, and the Absolutely Beautiful is the One, who has no equal; the Unique, who has no opposite, the Eternal, who has no similitude; the Rich, who has no need; the Omnipotent, who does as He wishes, and judges as He will. . . .

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As for the fifth cause, it is love for what is related and similar . . . for like inclines to like . . . as experience, report, and history all testify. This too necessitates loving God, because of the inner similarity, which does not go back to resemblances of feature or form, but to inner significance, some of whose meanings we may mention in books, and some of which it is not permissible to write, but which must rather be left under a covering of dust until the traveller stumbles upon them in his path. . . .

What may be mentioned is the nearness of the servant to his Lord in attributes which call for imitation, and patterning himself on the character of the Lord . . . such attributes as knowledge, piety, goodness, kindness, and spreading mercy and good among God's creatures. . . .

As for the things it is not permissible to write in books, they pertain to that special relation of the human (to the Divine) to which God has alluded with His word, be He exalted: "They will ask thee about the spirit; say 'The spirit is a matter for my Lord'" (17:25), since He has thus revealed that it is a Divine matter beyond the bound of created reason. Clearer than this is His word: "When I have shaped man, and breathed My spirit into him, fall you down, and bow before him!" (15:29) And for that the angels prostrated themselves to Adam. And He indicates it again with his word: "We have made thee a vice-regent on the earth" (38:26), which Adam would never have merited except for that relationship, which the Prophet has hinted at in his saying, "God created man in His own image." . . . And this is the greatest of the reasons of Love, and the remotest and rarest of them all . . . and thus the reasonable and accepted view among people of insight is that God alone is worthy of true love. . . . 10


On the Philosophers: Logic: Nothing in logic is relevant to religion by way of denial or affirmation. Logic is the study of the methods of demonstration and of forming syllogisms. . . . There is nothing here which requires to be denied. Matters of this kind are usually mentioned by the theologians and speculative thinkers in connection with the topic of demonstrations . . .

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an example of this is their proposition . . . "If it is true that all men are animals, then it follows that some animals are men." They express this by saying that "The universal affirmative proposition has as its converse a particular affirmative proposition." What connection has this with the essentials of religion, that it should be denied or rejected? If such a denial is made, the only effect upon the logicians is to impair their belief in the intelligence of the man who made the denial, and, what is worse, in his religion, inasmuch as they consider that it rests on such denials.

(However), there is a type of mistake into which students of logic are liable to fall. . . . When they come at length to treat of religious questions, not merely are they unable to satisfy (their own) conditions (of demonstration), but they admit an extreme degree of relaxation (of their standards of proof).


Natural Science or Physics:. . . Just as it is not a condition of religion to reject medical science, so likewise the rejection of natural science is not one of its conditions, except with regard to particular points which I enumerate in my book, The Incoherence of the Philosophers. The basis of all these objections is the recognition that nature is in subjection to God most high, not acting of itself but serving as an instrument in the hands of its Creator. Sun and moon, stars and elements, are in subjection to His command. There is none of them whose activity is produced by or proceeds from its own essence.


Theology or Metaphysics: Here occur most of the errors of the philosophers. They are unable to satisfy the conditions of proof they lay down in logic, and consequently differ much from one another here. The views of Aristotle, as expounded by al-Fārābī and Ibn-Sīnā (Avicenna), are close to those of the Islamic writers. All their errors are comprised under twenty heads, on three of which they must be reckoned infidels and on seventeen heretics . . . the three points in which they differ from all Muslims are as follows:

a. They say that for bodies there is no resurrection; it is bare spirits which are rewarded or punished, and the rewards and

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punishments are spiritual, not bodily. . . . These exist, as well, but they speak falsely in denying the bodily punishments and in their pronouncements disbelieve the Divine Law.

b. They believe that God knows universals but not particulars. This too is plain unbelief. The truth is that "There does not escape Him the weight of an atom in the heavens or in the earth." (Sūra 34:3)

c. They say that the (cosmos) is everlasting, without beginning or end. But no Muslim has adopted any such view on this question.


On the further points . . . their doctrine approximates that of the Mu‘tazila; and the Mu‘tazila must not be accounted infidels because of such matters (but heretics).

. . . It is customary with weaker intellects thus, to take the men as criterion of the truth and not the truth as criterion of the men. The intelligent man follows ‘Alī (God be pleased with him) when he said, "Do not know the truth by the men, but know the truth, and then you will know who are truthful." The intelligent man knows the truth; then he examines the particular assertion. If it is true, than he accepts it, whether the speaker is a truthful man or not . . . for he knows that gold is found in gravel with dross. 11


The following is from a popular creed designed by al-Ghazālī in the Iḥyā’ to be learned, like catechism, by children. While it is only the statement of one authority, it is interesting as showing what the ‘ulamā’ of his time thought it appropriate for the common people to know of doctrine. This section deals with eschatology.


(And we witness) . . . that God would not accept the faith of a creature, so long as he did not believe in that which the Prophet narrated concerning things after death. The first of that is the question of Munkar and Nakīr; these are two awful and terrible beings who will cause the creature to sit

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up in his grave, complete, body and soul; and they will ask him, "Who is thy Lord, and what is thy religion, and who is thy Prophet?" They are the two testers in the grave and their questioning is the first testing after death. And that he should believe in the punishment of the grave--that it is a verity, and that its judgment upon the body and soul is just, according to what God wills. And that he should believe in the Balance. . . . In it, deeds are weighed by the power of God most High; and its weights on that day will be of the weight of motes and mustard seeds. . . . And that he should believe that the Bridge is a Verity; it is a bridge stretched over the back of Hell, sharper than a sword and finer than a hair. The feet of the unbelievers slip upon it, by the decree of God, and fall with them into the Fire. But the feet of believers stand firm upon it, by the grace of God, and so they pass into the Abiding Abode. And that he should believe in the Tank to which the people shall go down, the Tank of Muhammad, from which the believers shall drink before entering the Garden and after passing the Bridge. Whoever drinks of it a single draught will never thirst again thereafter. Its breadth is a journey of a month; its water is whiter than milk and sweeter than honey; around it are ewers in numbers like the stars of heaven; into it flow two canals from the Spring of al-Kawthar. And that he should believe in the Reckoning and the distinctions between men in it; him with whom it will go hard in the Reckoning and him to whom compassion will be shown therein, and him who enters the Garden without any reckoning. . . . And that the attestors of God's Unity will be brought forth from the Fire, after vengeance has been taken on them, so that there will not remain in Hell an attestor of God's Unity. And . . . the intercession of the prophets, next of the ‘ulamā’, next of the martyrs, next of the believers--each according to his rank and dignity with God most high. And he who remains from the believers, and has no intercessor, shall be brought forth of the grace of God . . . so there shall not abide eternally in the Fire a single believer, but whoever has in his heart the weight of a single grain of faith shall be brought forth therefrom. . . . 12


204:8 Montgomery Watt, The Faith and Practice of al-Ghazālī (London, 1953).

204:9 Ibid., p. 56.

204:10 Ihyā 'Ulūm al-Din (Cairo, 1939), Vol. IV, Book 26.

204:11 Watt, op. cit., pp. 35, 38.

204:12 D. B. MacDonald, Development of Muslim Theology, Jurisprudence and Constitutional Theory (New York, 1903), pp. 305-307.

Next: 6. Ibn Taymīya