1. Ghazali’s Life and Its Difficulties
A great theologian, mystical thinker and a “philosopher” who refuted philosophy, Ghazali or Hujjah al-Islam Abu Hamid Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Tusi al-Ghazali is one of the best-known eminent Islamic jurists of all time. Born in 1058 AD/450 AH at Tus, a town near Mashhad in modem Iran, he and his brother, Ahmad, became orphans at an early age and their education was left to the care of a Sufi friend of their father. In accordance with the standard of the time, Ghazali received his early education at Tus and Jurjan. Later, he went to Nishapur to study under Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni, the most distinguished theologian and jurist of the age, and remained with him until the latter’s death in 1085.
Thereupon he moved to the camp of Nizam al-Mulk, the vizier of the Seljuk Sultan, who patronized many scholars and men of letters in an attempt to restore the Sunni establishments with their support. There Ghazali was received with due respect and honor. He stayed until he was appointed by the vizier to the post of professor at the Nizamiyah College (Madrasah) in Baghdad in 1091, the highest position for scholars in the Muslim world at that time.
While teaching Islamic Law (Fiqh) at Nizamiyah, he studied intensively the writings of the Batinis (Isma’ilis) and the philosophers (falasifah) and refuted them in several works. About four years later, however, after an acute inner crisis he left Baghdad “suddenly” and relinquished his position to his brother, on the pretext of making a pilgrimage (Hajj) in November 1095 / Dhu al-Qa’dah 488.
Leaving Baghdad, he travelled to Syria, where he stayed for “nearly two years.”‘ He then moved from Damascus to Jerusalem. We do not know exactly how much time he spent there. After that he set out for Hijaz “to fulfil the duty of the Pilgrimage, gain the blessings of Mecca and Medina, and perform the visitation of the Messenger of God”2 in the year 10961489. On his way, he visited the tomb of Abraham in Hebron and possibly extended his journey as far as Alexandria in Egypt.’
He returned to Damascus and eventually to his “home country” (watan) of Iran, prompted by “various concerns, together with the entreaties of his children ..”4 He arrived at Baghdad in the middle of 1097 / 490, on his way home, and stayed there for a short time. At Tus, he built a khanqah and continued Sufi practices with a small number of disciples, while writing on the various problems of the Muslim community. He then resumed teaching in 1106 at the Nizamiyah College in Nishapur at the command of the Seljuk vizier, Fakhr al-Mulk, the son of Nizam al-Mulk. This appointment, however, did not last very long. A year or two after his second retirement, he died quietly at his home town on the 18th of December 1111 AD / 14th of Jumada 11 505 AH.
Despite the many studies that have been done on Ghazali,’ his overall picture still remains unclear. This is mainly due to the complex circumstances of his life and thought, and compounded by the problem of the authenticity of his esoteric writings. The confusion has been so great that he was even believed to be a peripatetic philosopher in the medieval Latin Christendom, rather than a criticizer of Islamic philosophy., Although the myth of the “philosopher Algazel” was completely smashed by Salomo Munch in 1859, its influence still lingers in the subsequent scholarship’ on Ghazali’s extant “esoteric” works.
In 1899, D.B. Macdonald published a monumental work on Ghazali’s life and thought! He accepted Ghazali’s “autobiography,” al-Munqidh min al-Dalal, as a genuine and reliable source, and reconstructed his life, incorporating minor interpretations and supplements from other available materials. One of these was al-Murtada al-Zabidi’s commentary on Ghazali’s Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din, which was entitled Ithaf al-Sadah al-Muttaqin bi-Sharh Asrar Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din. It was completed in 1787 but printed in 1894,9 Zabidi’s introduction to this commentary”‘ is devoted to Ghazali’s life and work, and is full of valuable information.
Macdonald divides Ghazali’s life into two parts: before conversion and after conversion. He depicts the former as thisworldly, irreligious, immoral, sceptic, impious; the latter he characterizes as other-worldly, religious, moral, and pious. Macdonald relies upon Ghazali’s own words written and spoken after the conversion. The conversion thus is looked upon as a turning point, a culmination of Ghazali’s inner psychological development – an interpretation of his life as a matter of a purely individual event.
This image of “Ghazali the Mystic,” or the eminent orthodox doctor (‘alim) reborn as a Sufi subsequently became the standard outlook on Ghazali. Many scholars followed suit, with some variations and differences in description and emphasis. Among them are Carra de Vaux (1902),” Samuel M. Zwemer (1920),’ Margaret Smith (1944),13 R.J. McCarthy (1980),” as well as others. Later W. M. Watt (1963)” revised, but not substantially, this “traditional” view and made an attempt to understand Ghazali’s life against the backdrop of social and intellectual history.
In contrast to these traditional approaches, there have been revisionist explanations of Ghazali’s conversion and retirement. These authors are generally sceptical of the reliability of Munqidh as a source material. ‘Abd al-Da’im al-Baqari (1943),'” for example, simply regards Munqidh as fiction. Other scholars like Farid Jabre (1954)” and Abdul-Fattah Sawwaf (1962)18 attribute Ghazali’s retirement to other motives. It is possible to include Henri Laoust (1970)19 in this latter group, as Laoust clarifies Ghazali’s political thought in his usul-works written throughout his life, and emphasizes Ghazali’s status of an orthodox ‘slim.
Since 1990, there appeared a new trend in Ghazalian studies which argues that the philosophical thoughts of Farabi and Ibn Sina are found in Ghazali’s accepted works such as Iqtisad fi al-I’tiqad, Ihya’, and Mishkat al-Anwar, rather than in his “esoteric” writings. In this school, emphasis is placed on the influence of philosophy upon Ghazali’s works. However, this interpretation is still widely contested. At any rate, it is now certain, I believe, that even though Ghazali may still remain an Ash’arite, he is not a classic Ash’arite as was previously believed.
2. Ghazali’s Self-Portrait
Before expounding my view of Ghazali’s life and thought, it is necessary to give a brief summary of his description of himself up to the conversion in the Munqidh. This description will be divided into four phases:
(1) Ghazali’s impressions of himself in his early youth:
To thirst after a comprehension of things as they really are was my habit and custom from a very early age. It was instinctive with me, a part of my God-given nature, a matter of temperament and not of my choice or contriving. Consequently as I drew near the age of adolescence the bonds of mere authority (taqlid) ceased to hold me and inherited beliefs lost their grip upon me, for I saw that Christian youths always grew up to be Christians, Jewish youths to be Jews and Muslim youths to be Muslims. I heard, too, the Tradition related of the Prophet of God according to which he said, “Every one who is born with a sound nature; it is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian.”20
(2) At that time there were many sects and schools of thought, which were competing with each other. Ghazali wanted to know, by his own verification, the relative truthfulness of the inherited beliefs and teachings of each. For this purpose, Ghazali clarifies the meaning of “certain knowledge” (‘ilm yaqini) or “certainty” (yaqin) in knowledge. He defined this as “that knowledge in which the object is disclosed in such a fashion that no doubt remains along with it, that no possibility of error or illusion accompanies it, and that the mind cannot entertain such a suppositiion.”21 He adds, “Certain knowledge must also be infallible; and this infallibility or security from error is such that no attempt to show the falsity of the knowledge can occasion doubt or denial, even though the attempt is made by someone who turns stones into gold or a rod into a serpent.”22 For example, one knows with complete certainty that ten is more than three. Whatever one cannot know with this amount of certainty is not reliable knowledge in Ghazali’s opinion.
(3) Ghazali then investigates the various kinds of knowledge, and comes to the conclusion that there is no certain knowledge except sense-perception (hissiyat) and what he calls necessary truths (daruriyat). Closely examined, however, it can be demonstrated by reason (‘aql) that sense-perception is not always reliable. This does not, however, imply that necessary truths are the infallible knowledge that he seeks. There is still the possibility of a supra-intellectual perception which proves the falsity of reason in the same way as reason proves the falsity of sense-perception. As a matter of fact, according to Ghazali, the world disclosed to the Sufis in the state of fans’ (annihilation of self-consciousness) may be a form of such supra-intellectual knowledge. If so, then, reason cannot stand by itself; it loses its demonstrative power and epistemological basic. Ghazali thus comes to the conclusion that there is no certain knowledge, nor is there any way to attain such knowledge. He falls into a state of absolute scepticism. He writes about this “first crisis” as follows:
The disease was baffling, and lasted almost two months, during which I was a sceptic in fact though not in theory nor in outward expression. At length God cured me of the malady; my being was restored to health and an even balance; the necessary truths of the intellect became once more accepted, as I regained confidence in their certain and trustworthy character.”
(4) Ghazali’s recovery of confidence in reason was not brought on by demonstrative proof, but rather by divine light (nur ilahi). This fact shows that reason has a limit and is neither self-sufficient nor absolute. Relying on this reason, Ghazali turns to the doctrines of the various seekers of truth – the theologians (mutakallimun), philosophers (falasifah), the Batinis and the Sufis. Following this examination, Ghazali states that he can find no sure knowledge in any of these groups’ teachings. He then turns to the last group – the Sufis. It soon becomes clear to him that there are two aspects in Sufism: the intellectual and the practical. Ghazali has no intellectual difficulty understanding Sufism, but realizes that ultimate truth can only be “tasted” experientially and reached through practice, that is to say, by renouncing and detaching oneself from all worldly things and devoting oneself to God. At this point, he finds himself torn in an agonizing conflict between worldly passions and his aspiration toward God and the Hereafter. Finally, after six months of acute inner crisis – “the second crisis” – he leaves Baghdad and becomes a wandering Sufi. Ghazali’s own description of this painful process is so well-known that I do not think it is necessary to quote it here.”
The foregoing account by Ghazali is, in my opinion, largely genuine and reliable. The description of his own scepticism in early youth (Phase (1)) and his endeavor to overcome it (Phase (2)) seem to be true. As for Phases (3) and (4), the accounts are apparently very schematic and logical, rather than chronological in their sequence, as is often indicated by other scholars.” The two crises themselves, however, are accepted historical facts since no contrary evidence exists that I am aware of.
First of all, Ghazali’s description of his crises is so vivid that there seems to be no room to doubt its authenticity. Secondly, the evidence quoted thus far against Ghazali’s account is unconvincing. F. Jabre, for instance, attributes Ghazali’s retirement to his fear of assassination by the Minis whom Ghazali attacked in his writing$. F. Jabre cites as proof Ghazali’s own words to his friend, `Abd al-Ghafir al-Farisi: “Then he [Ghazali] told us, `The door of fear was opened. It was so dreadful that I could not do any work, and finally lost interest completely in all other things.””‘ This fear, according to Jabre, is not that of Hellfire as Ghazali says in Munqidh,27 but a more imminent, threatening physical fear, namely, that of assassination by the Batinis. I simply do not understand why this “fear” cannot be that of Hellfire as Ghazali himself attests. Furthermore, if he had feared assassination, he would not have dared to criticize the Batinis in the first place. If it is said that Ghazali was ordered by the Caliph, al-Mustazhir, to refute them, then how can it be explained that Ghazali continued to criticize them even after retirement? 28
Thirdly, the following remarks of the same friend, al-Farisi, about the change of Ghazali’s character after the retirement support the authenticity of his conversion:
I visited him many times, and it was no bare conjecture of mine that he, in spite of what I saw in him in time past of maliciousness and roughness towards people, and how he looked upon them contemptuously through his being led astray by what God had granted him of ease in word and thought and expression, and through the seeking of rank and position, had come to be the very opposite and was purified from these stains. And I used to think that he was wrapping himself in the garment of pretence, but I realized after investigation that the thing was the opposite of what I had thought, and that the man had recovered after being mad.”
Thus I side with the “traditional” approaches, but I do not accept a clear-cut division of Ghazali’s life into two parts, namely the former as this-worldly and irreligious and the latter as other-worldly and extremely pious. Such a view is shown in the following words of Macdonald:
It is evident from the whole development of his life and character that his theological and legal studies and labours down to that time were on a purely business basis, and that he thought only of the reputation and wealth which they were bringing him.’
In this interpretation, Macdonald explains Ghazali’s inner development up to “the second crisis” as follows:
In his earliest youth he had given up acceptance of religious truth on authority; that his masters so taught him was no longer
a sufficient reason for his belief. Further, when he was under twenty, he began to examine theological questions and quarrels, and the effect upon him must have been very much the same as that which befell Gibbon. So he drifted on, probably restrained only by the influence of his great teacher, the Imam al-Haramain, a man of the deepest religious character; but at the Camp of Nizam al-Mulk, if not earlier, the strain became too great, and for two months he touched the depths of absolute scepticism. He doubted the evidence of the senses; he could see plainly that they often deceived… And so he wandered for two months. He saw clearly that no reasoning could help him here; he had no idea on which he could depend, from which he could begin.”
But he was saved by the mercy of God, and recovered his power to think. Thereupon he turned with this regained power of reasoning to investigate Sufism in which he finally found the truth.
It is clear that this view of two divisions of Ghazali’s life is based on his own remarks such as:
Next I considered the circumstances of my life, and realized that I was caught in a veritable thicket of attachments. I also considered my activities, of which the best was my teaching and lecturing, and realized that in them I was dealing with sciences that were unimportant and contributed nothing to the attainment of eternal life. After that 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.”
Referring to his resumption of teaching at the Nizamiyah College in Nishapur:
Previously, however, I had been disseminating the knowledge by which worldly success is attained; by word and deed I had called men to it; and that had been my aim and intention. But now I am calling men to the knowledge whereby worldly success is given up and its low position in the scale of real worth is recognized. This is now my intention, my aim, my desire; God knows that this is so.”
Referring also to the time when he and his brother, Ahmad, were enrolled, due to their orphanage and poverty, in a charity school:
We became students for the sake of something other than God, but He was unwilling that it should be for the sake of aught but Himself.”
The problem, however, is whether or not we can take these words at face value. I believe we cannot, because these statements were made or written long after his conversion, when Ghazali, as a veteran Sufi, looked back upon his non-Sufi way of life. It is, therefore, quite natural that he would be excessively critical about it. “Conversion” or tawbah in Sufism means to repent of one’s previous (i.e. non-Sufi) life as irreligious, sinful, and ungodly and then to make a firm decision to rectify it and to lead a pious (i.e. Sufi) life devoted to God.
At the time of his conversion, and also somewhat prior to it, Ghazali was convinced that the Sufi way of life was best and therefore the non-Sufi life was to be denied or transformed. This is certainly true from the Sufi point of view. However, it may not be necessarily so from other (non-Sufi) points of view. Traditional Islam can satisfy the spiritual needs of non-Sufi Muslims. Historically speaking, it was still so even before the appearance of Sufism in the history of Islam, although this classical Islam was becoming much
less meaningful in Ghazali’s time. And in fact Ghazali was not a Sufi before his conversion, even though he might have been influenced by Sufism.” So it is not necessarily true that his previous life was actually so irreligious and immoral life as he attested after his conversion. In my view, it was not.
3. A New Approach to Ghazali’s Life
What Ghazali describes about his youth in our Phase (1), I believe to be true. The following confession which he made in a later work confirms a similar view:
I have often seen groups of intelligent people deceived by the literal meanings (zawahir) and at a loss to see differences and contradictions therein, and finally their basic beliefs collapse. As a result they go so far as to deny secretly the creeds of Eschatology, the Resurrection, Paradise and Hell, and the Return to God after death. They express that in their hearts. The fear of God and piety no longer restrain them. They thirst after the dream of worldly happiness, eat forbidden foods, behave themselves in subordination to the passions, and are eager for fame, wealth and worldly success. When they meet pious people, they look down upon them with pride and contempt… All this is due to the fact that they only see the external, formal aspect of the things and do not attempt to look into the inner, real meaning. They consequently do not understand the relationship between the world of phenomena and the unseen world. When they, being ignorant of this relationship, come across apparent contradictions, they fall into error and lead others astray. Thus they cannot know the spiritual world through their own experience (dhawq) like the religious virtuoso, nor do they believe naively in the unseen world like the common people.
They are doomed to perdition because of their smartness. Thus ignorance is nearer to salvation than imperfect cleverness and smartness. We do not think this cannot happen. We actually fell into the depths of error for a while through our intercourse with wicked friends. But God saved us therefrom and protected us from danger” (Emphasis is mine)
We see in these statements a sort of relativism, a kind of nihilism, or scepticism about the traditional beliefs of Islam. However, it is not the positive denial of Islam. This viewpoint is arrived at due to Ghazali’s critical-mindedness and sharp intellect. Historically the conflicting teachings of the various sects and schools engendered a great deal of intellectual confusion among the common Muslims. As a result, many Muslims simply accepted their family traditions. Thus Ghazali believes that all of one’s religious beliefs are determined by the instruction of parents and teachers, and that there is no essential value difference among them. His being a Muslim thus is not due to the absolute truth of Islam, but an accidental result of his education and environment.
On the other hand, Ghazali could not remain satisfied with this uneasy scepticism, and sought to find convincing proof for the authenticity of his inherited teachings. In other words, to change from a given faith to a faith chosen by one’s own free will – to acquire a sense of identity. This, to my mind, is the meaning Ghazali expresses in his words a search for “certain knowledge” in Phase (2).
Thus Ghazali devoted himself to the mastery of the intellectual apparatus of the traditional sciences of Islam. He was confident, ambitious, and full of expectation. He successfully climbed the career ladder as an ‘slim through his studies. At this stage, there was no intentional seeking of fame and worldly success, nor was there any serious conflict in his mind between worldly passions and the
religious ideal. For his intellectual endeavors fit perfectly in the traditional framework of Islam. He studied hard under the guidance of Imam al-Haramayn in Nishapur, and was recognized by the Seljuk vizier, Nizam al-Mulk, who appointed him professor at the Nizamiyah College in Baghdad. Quite possibly Ghazali may have even cooperated with his patron’s political program in the latter’s attempt to restore ideological as well as political unity to the Islamic Community.
Ghazali’s efforts to seek truth, however, did not bear fruit, and his scepticism, in spite of his worldly success as an ‘slim did not diminish. On the contrary, the more he studied the traditional sciences, the stronger his scepticism became. Finally it turned into despair. This despair was deepened perhaps by the assassination of the vizier and resulting demise of the latter’s reform program.
As mentioned above, I do not think Ghazali’s description of his inner process until “the first crisis” in Phase (3) is literally true, nor is the crisis to be ascribed to the complete collapse of his religious beliefs due to cynicism and scepticism, as suggested by Macdonald.” It rather seems to be the result of Ghazali’s despair arising from a serious intellectual investigation of the traditional sciences; his despair of reason (‘aql) as the means to discern truth. I assume that this probably occurred while he studied so intensively and refuted philosophy in the latter part of his stay in Baghdad. He realized then that his refutation of philosophy is really a critique of reason and a proof of its limitation.”
It became clear to him that the way to Truth and Salvation lay in the Sufi way. For the first time, he began to consider seriously this Sufi point of view and saw a sharp contrast between the ideal (Sufistic) life and his own way of life. In other words, this realization of the inadequacy of the traditional sciences and the role of ‘Ulama’ leads to the second crisis – the conflict of worldly attachment versus the yearning for God and the Hereafter.
In my view, therefore, it is not literally true that Ghazali, after regaining confidence in reason, turned to examine one by one in sequence the teachings of “the seekers of truth,” that is, the theologians, philosophers, Batinis and Sufis. Nor is it true that he investigated their verity and passed an objective judgement from a rational point of view without any presupposition. It is probable that after his serious study of philosophy in Baghdad,” as mentioned before, that he fell into the first crisis. This was not merely a critical appraisal of philosophy, but also a critique of reason itself. He was well versed in Islamic theology by that time, and already knew that its demonstrations were not rationally convincing. With renewed efforts, he turned to scrutinize the teachings of the Batinis and the Sufis. Regarding the former, judging from his extant works, we see that what he actually wrote was not an objective appraisal, but a refutation of their doctrines from the viewpoint of orthodox Islam.
On the other hand, after his intensive study of Sufism, he came to the conclusion that ultimate truth is not something reached by rational demonstration, but by conviction (yaqin)”‘ gained experientially and realized intuitively through Sufi practices. In fact, this is already hinted by his saying that he recovered confidence in reason by “the divine light” (nur ilahi). Proving the correctness of the orthodox teachings of Islam became his next concern.
Ghazali’s conversion was not a mere personal event, as presupposed in the “traditional” interpretations. My view is that it was also a significant turning point in the history of Islam. We would do well to mention Watt’s approach at this point. Taking Ghazali’s description in Munqidh as essentially true, he also tries to understand Ghazali’s conversion within a social and historical context. Ghazali’s
first crisis, according to Watt, was caused by a failure in his intellectual investigation; the second crisis was an existential conflict of the ethical imperative which involved his actual being” This interpretation agrees perfectly with the description of Munqidh. Watt does not see, on the other hand, Ghazali’s retirement as a simple result of this conversion. He attempts to read a deeper social and historical meaning behind it. According to Watt, Shari’ ah and Fiqh lost a positive meaning for human salvation at that time, creating a need to reform this religious situation. Ghazali’s crisis arose from his consciousness of the inadequacy of theology and philosophy (reason) and therefore of the inadequacy of the ‘Ulama’, the representatives of these sciences. In short, says Watt, “his civilization was facing a crisis and the solution was neither to hand nor obvious.”42 Thus Ghazali arrived at the possibility to adapt Islamic thought to this new situation by reformulating Shari’ah and giving it a Sufistic interpretation. For this purpose, Watt continues, “freedom from worldly involvement [i.e. retirement] seemed to be a necessary condition for any attempt to bring about a reform.””
I agree with Watt’s approach of positioning Ghazali’s life within the social and historical environment. Nevertheless, the difficulty still remains of how to reconcile what Ghazali himself says about his inner personal development up to the crises and what Watt calls “the crisis of his civilization,” namely, the retirement as a result of his inner personal crisis on the one hand and the retirement for “freedom from worldly involvement… to bring about a reform” on the other. It is also not clear what Watt means by the positive meaning of Shari’ah and Fiqh.
It is my interpretation that Ghazali certainly became sceptical about the traditional dogmas, but this was not merely an individual problem, but also a general phenomenon that affected all thinking people in his age. It was not a positive atheism, but a cynicism, to the effect that one did not take seriously the creeds one professed. No one articulated this fact, nor was it a wise thing to do so, but the main concern was external appearances and conformity. The difference is that Ghazali was conscious of this malaise of the age, accepted it as his own problem, and sincerely tried to overcome it. The intellectual tradition of Islam, however, as a result of Ghazali’s close examination proved to be no longer useful. Thereupon the raison d’يtre of the bearers of the tradition was to be questioned. It was this doubt about his being an ‘slim that caused his retirement after his inner crises. This was a serious problem that pervaded the entire Islamic Community at that time. Therefore Ghazali’s severe criticism was directed at the successors of the Prophet (‘Ulama’), as well as at himself.”
What, then, is the cause of this general malaise? Simply put, it was that traditional Islam had lost its relevancy for the majority of Muslims. Participating in the holy enterprise to build an ideal community based on Shari’ah, or the “Divine Kingdom” on earth no longer provided meaning for most Muslims. This historical situation can be attributed to the political disunity and social disorder of the Islamic Community (Ummah) culminating in Mongol invasions and the collapse of the ‘Abbasid dynasty in 1258.
For religions such as Christianity and Buddhism which place little positive value on the fortune of the mundane world, political and social turmoil poses no serious religious problem. Islam, however, is different. Mundane, civil life is a direct concern for Islam, as well as the so-called “religious,” private life through Shari’ah, which is the embodiment of the divine will. Man’s eternal salvation depends upon his efforts to live in obedience to God’s will (that is “to do islam”), which concretely means to live in accordance with Shari’ah in all aspects of life. The ultimate aim is to participate in construction of an ideal community in this world based upon the divine standard.
In Islam, significant political and social changes do not fail to have religious repercussions. In such a historical situation as mentioned above, it was becoming more and more difficult to have communion with God in accordance with Shari’ah in the classical sense. Indeed, it became more relevant and meaningful to turn to the inner self and to purify one’s heart (qalb) through devotional practices in seclusion from the external world, namely to have direct communion with God in mystical experience (fana’). This entailed a turning away from the classical “community-type” of Islam to embracing the medieval, Sufistic “individual-type” of Islam. Sawwaf calls this change moving from “le statisme de la Loi” to “la voie du dhawq.“45 Ghazali demonstrated this transformation in his own religious experience, created a novel form of Islam in the new historical situation, and worked to revive the traditional sciences in terms of Sufism. He also sought to make Sufi practices simple and available for all classes of Muslims in the form of wird. Through his efforts, Sufism spread in the form of Tariqah all over the Muslim world less than fifty years after his death.
Unfortunately there has been no serious scholarship done on this practical aspect of Ghazali’s work in spite of its great significance to grasping the whole of his system of religious thought. This present work is a small attempt to clarify this Purgative Way of Ghazali’s in the form of wird and to illustrate his concept of it, by focusing on “dhikr” and “du’a’.” I hope that it will shed new light on Ghazali’s mystical life and experience. For this purpose I primarily use his major work, Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Revivification of the Religious Sciences), particularly Book 9, “On Invocations (dhikr) and Supplications (du’a’)” and Book 10, “On the Daily Offices (wird)” of the First Quarter (Rub’) of this Ihya’.
4. Ihya’ as the Source Material
It is important to recall that Ghazali began to write Ihya’ only a year or two after his departure from Baghdad, and it was not completed until some time before his return to Nishapur in 1106 AD/499 AH.46 This means that he was working on Ihya’ all along while practicing Sufi exercises. Though Ihya’ is not an account of his personal experience, it is not a mere Sufi manual in its literary form, nor a Sufi apologetical work. It is a highly systematic and comprehensive presentation of the spiritual disease of the human heart with prescriptions for how to cure them. It is a work on the science of religious practices (‘ilm al-mu’amalah), to use Ghazali’s own words. It can be safely assumed, therefore, that the contents of Ihya’ are not irrelevant to what he was practising and experiencing daily as a Sufi. Furthermore, it is quite significant, when we consider Ghazali’s uniqueness in the Sufi tradition, to remember that almost all of his exercises were performed in solitude. This is one of the reasons why I have taken up the Ihya’ for this study of Ghazali’s tariqah. It is, in fact, the most appropriate work for this purpose.
The second reason, closely related to the first, is that Ihya’ deserves to be studied closely for its own sake. Certainly many scholars use and write on Ihya’, but their purpose has been either to use it as one of the sources for study of Ghazali’s thought, or as a representative source to understand Islamic thought in general. Little serious study or analysis has been done on its form and content .17 Many problems remain to be solved. Questions such as: How was it composed? Was it composed in the current standing order? To what Islamic literary genre does it belong? In what sense is it unique in from, and why is this so? Is there any difference between Ihya’ and Kimiya-yi Sa’adat, Ghazali’s own Persian abridgement, and Kitab al-Arba’in fi Usul al-Din, a work with similar contents?
Furthermore, the Ihya’ is full of quotations from other Sufis, not to mention the Qur’an and the Hadiths. Ghazali’s thought is carefully expressed in Qur’anic and theological terms – a mark of his theological sensitivity.” His presentation of the higher state of the Sufi is also analytically systematic, and rather detached. Thus, we are sometimes confused in trying to determine whether a certain statement of his really reflects his own experience or if he is saying this due to theological considerations.’ To make matters more complicated, he refuses to talk about his own mystical experience. “We cannot,” he says, “go beyond this point in the book.”” Consequently it is very hard to discern his personal experience from the writings reflected in his analytical expositions of Sufi states, and thus to grasp his contribution to the Sufi tradition.”
This task, however, is not impossible. In order to do so, we have to closely examine the ideas contained in Ihya’ and carefully compare them with other Sufis who may have possibly influenced Ghazali. This must also be done in comparative perspective with the mystics of the other religious traditions. This present work can only make a small initial step toward that goal.
Thirdly, by confining ourselves to Ihya’, we can avoid possible textual and philological entanglements involving the problem of the authenticity of his works.” One of the characteristics of Ghazalian studies in the mid-twentieth century was to stress his role as as scholastic theologian who maintained a uniformity of thought throughout his life.” Such interpretations tended to dismiss works which are supposedly esoteric and contradictory in appearance to his Ash’arite dogma, as totally or partially spurious, sometimes without careful and due regard to his mystical experience. Naturally our image of Ghazali varies considerably according to the texts we use and the ones we reject. Before attributing a work to Ghazali, a certain amount of knowledge of his thought is required as the criterion for judging authenticity. But how can we do this? We are caught in a vicious circle. This may not be so serious a problem when we are working on the scholastic side of his thought, but it becomes a subtle and complicated issue when dealing with his mystical side.
Furthermore, to make matters worse, we face another problem in the possible modifications of his thought. For example, even if statements A and B prove to be contradictory, it does not necessarily mean that either A or B is spurious. It is possible that Ghazali’s view shifted from A to B, or that view B may indeed be an “esoteric” teaching. The safest way to avoid all these pitfalls and difficulties is to start with his works which are free from suspicion, such as Ihya’ s’ This will give us the initial foothold necessary for further study of Ghazali’s thought.
Notes to Chapter One
(1) Ghazali, al-Munqidh min al-Dalal, 38. In quoting this work, I adopted W.M. Watt’s English translation with some modifications (The Faith and Practice of al-Ghazali, 59).
(2) Munqidh, 38 (Watt, 59).
(3) As to his stay in Egypt, see F. Wilms, Al-Ghazalis Schrift wider die Gottheit Jesu, 22-25.
(4) Munqidh, 38 (Watt, 59).
(5) For a bibliography, see K. Nakamura, “A Bibliography on Imam al-Ghazali,” Orient, XIII (1977), 119-34; and also R.J. McCarthy, “Annotated Bibliography” appended to his Freedom and Fulfillment, 383-92.
(6) Before refuting Islamic philosophy (falsafah), Ghazali composed Maqasid al-Falasifah (Intentions of the Philosophers), a precise objective summary of its teachings. In the preface and epilogue he expressed his own intention to criticize the contents in his forthcoming book, Tahafut al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of the Philosophers). In the process of circulation of its Latin translation in Medieval Europe, however, this preface and epilogue slipped off. As a result, the contents came to be mistaken for his own thought. For more detail, see D. Salman, “Algazel et les latins,” Archives d’Histoire Doctrinale et Litteraire du Moyen Age, 1935/36, 103-27; K. Nakamura, “The Study of al-Ghazali and Its Problems (1), from the Middle Ages through the End of the 19th Century” (in Japanese), The Memoirs of the Institute of Oriental Culture (University of Tokyo), LX VII (1975).4-15.
(7) S. Munk, Mflanges de philosophie Juive et Arabe,1859. Nouvelle Edition (1955). 366-83. Since Munk used the complete manuscripts of the Hebrew translation including the above-mentioned preface and epilogue, he came to know the real intent of Ghazali. See also K. Nakamura, ibid, 37-44.
(8) D. B. Macdonald, “The Life of al-Ghazzali, with Especial Reference to His Religious Experiences and Opinions:’ Journal of the American Oriental Society, XX (1899), 71-132.
(9) al-Sayyid al-Murtada al-Zabidi, Ithaf al-Sadah al-Muttaqin bi-Sharh Asrar Ihya’ Ulum al-Din. 10 vols. Cairo: al-Matba’ah al-Maymuniyah, 1311 AH/1894 AD.
(10) Zabidi, ibid, 1, 2-55.
(11) Carra de Vaux, Gazali. Paris: Felix Alcan, 1902.
(12) Samuel M. Zwemer, A Moslem Seeker after God: Showing Islam at Its Best in the Life and Teaching of AI-Ghazali Mystic and Theologian of the Eleventh Century. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1920.
(13) Margaret Smith, al-Ghazali the Mystic. London: Luzac, 1944.
(14) R. J. McCarthy, Freedom and Fulfillment. 1980.
(15) W. M. Watt, Muslim Intellectual: A Study of al-Ghazali. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1963.
(16) ‘Abd al-Da’im al-Baqari, I’tirafat al-Ghazali. Cairo, 1943. This book was not available to the author, but its contents are abundantly quoted in Taysir Shaykh al-Ard, al-Ghazali. Beirut: Dar al-Sharq al-Jadid, 1960.
(17) Farid Jabre, “La biographic et I’o euvre de Ghazali, reconsiderىes a la lumiوre des Tabaqat de Sobki;’ Mىlanges de l’Institut Dominicaine d’Etudes Orientales, 1(1954), 73-103.
(18) Abdul-Fattah Sawwaf, al-Ghazzali: Etude de In rىforme ghazzalienne duns l’histoire de son developpement. These prىsentى a la Facultى des Lettres de I’Universitى de Fribourg, 1962.
(19) H. Laoust, La politique de Gazali. Paris: Geuthner, 1971.
(20) al-Ghazali, al-Munqidh min al-Dalal, 69-70 (Watt, 21). (21) Munqidh, 70 (Watt, 21-22). (22) Ibid., 70-71 (Watt, 22).
(23) Ibid., 75-76 (Watt, 25). (24) Ibid., 126-30 (Watt, 56-58).
(25) See, for instance, Carra de Vaux, Gazali, 43-44; Watt, Muslim Intellectual, 50.51. (26) Jabre,`Biographie”90.
(27) Ghazali says, “I saw for certain that I was on the brink of a crumbling bank of
sand and in imminent danger of hell-fire unless I set about to mend my ways” (Munqidh, 127;
(28) Ghazali wrote seven books of different lengths to refute the Batinis. Two of these works were completed during his stay in Baghdad. He wrote two others in Hamadhan on his way back to Tus, and the remaining three in Tus. This suggests that he continued to criticize the Batinis until the end of his life (See K. Nakamura, “Notes on Ghazali’s Refutation of the Batinis” (in Japanese), Religion and Society: Collected Papers in Dedication to Professor lichi Oguchi’s Seventieth Birthday (Tokyo: Shunju sha Publishing Co., 1981), 371-82.
(29) Quoted from Macdonald’s translation of “The Life of aI-Ghazzali;’ 105.
(30) Macdonald, ibid., 75-76.
(31) Macdonald, ibid., 82-83.
(32) Munqidh, 127 (Watt, 56).
(33) Ibid., 153-54 (Watt, 76).
(34) Quoted from Macdonald, “The Life of al-Ghazzali,” 75.
(35) According to Zabidi, Ghazali was raised, together with his brother Ahmad after his father’s death by the latter’s Sufi friend, and then initiated into Sufism by Yusuf al-Nassaj and al-Farmadhi at Tus (Zabidi, Ithaf, t, 7-9, 19).
(36) Ghazali, Jawahir al-Qur’an, 36-37.
(37) Macdonald, “The Life of al-Ghazzali,” 82; see also his Development of Muslim Theology, Jurisprudence and Constitutional Theory, 218.
(38) Macdonald places this event during GhazalI’s stay at the court of Nizam al-Mulk since it, he says, cannot happen under the influence of the pious Imam al-Haramayn (Macdonald, “The Life:’ 82). Watt suggests on the other hand that “it may well have been about the time of his move to Baghdad in 1091” (Watt, Muslim Intellectual, 51). But since Ghazali’s first crisis is deeply related to his critical study of philosophy, I would suggest that it occurred after his study of philosophy; namely, in the latter part of his four-year stay in Baghdad.
(39) Ghazali says: “I therefore set out in all earnestness to acquire a knowledge of Philosophy from books, by private study without the help of an instructor. I made progress towards this aim during my hours of fro time after teaching in the religious sciences and writing, for at this period I was burdened with the teaching and instruction of three hundred students in Baghdad. By my solitary reading during the hours thus snatched God brought me in less than two years to a complete understanding of the sciences of Philosophers. Thereafter I continued to reflect assiduously for nearly a year on what I had assimilated, going over it in my mind again and again and probing its tangled depths, until I comprehended surely and certainly how far it was deceitful and confusing and how far true and a representation of reality (Munqidh, 85; Watt, 29-30).
(40) As for the meaning of yaqin, see Chapter 11, note 6.
(41) Watt, Muslim Intellectual, 51-52.
(42) Watt, ibid., 56.
(43) Watt, ibid., 139.
(44) Ghazali, Ihya’,I, 3.
(45) Sawwaf, al-Ghazzali, 61.
(46) Ghazali’s al-Risalah al-Qudsiyah was composed in Jerusalem or after he left there, and was later incorporated into Ihya’ (Rub’ 1, Book 2, fasl 3). Therefore, if Ibn al-Athlr is correct in reporting that “many people heard it (i.e. Ihya’) from him (i.e. Ghazali) in Damascus” (Kamil, X, 252 (anno 488], we can safely conclude that he started writing Ihya’ after he returned to Damascus from the Pilgrimage. And this is confirmed by the words of Ibn ‘Arabs, who said, “I read with him many of his books, and I heard his book which he called al-Ihya’ li-‘Ulum al-Din [sic] in Baghdad” (Badawi, Mu’allafat, 546). Mujir al-Din says that Ghazali “began the writing of his famous work in Jerusalem; it is said that he wrote there Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din” (Quoted from Tibawi, “AI-Ghazali’s Tract,” 73). On the other hand, we do not have any positive evidence that he completed Ihya’ in Syria, although the wording of Ibn al-Athir gives the impression that he did so (Ibid.). It is probable that it took much more time. For example, in writing Ihya’, Rub’ 11, K. Adab al-Ma’ishah (p. 388) Ghazali says that “Today about 500 years have passed [since the Hijrah].” Although we cannot take it so strictly, we may conclude from this that Ghazali was still working on Ihya’ until shortly before 499 (See G. F. Hourani, “The Chronology,” 230).
(47) Of course, there are several reasons for this. First of all, it is a voluminous work. Furthermore, we still do not have any critical edition of the text. Long and laborious work on the manuscripts is still needed. If we consider its length and the vast number of the manuscripts (Badawi, Mu’allafat, 98-112), it would appear an impossible task for a single person.
(48) So much so that W. M. Watt takes this sensitivity to Muslim orthodoxy as one of the three criteria for judgement of the authenticity of his works (“The Authenticity,” 29).
(49) To give an example, speaking about the ecstatic utterance (shath) of Abu Yazid al-Bistami, Ghazali says, “…he said, `Glory be to me (Subhani)! Glory be to me!’ These words can be harmful to the common people; so much so that a group of peasants relinquished their farming and expressed claims similar to these. For this word is pleasant to human nature, since it gives relief from work because of self-justification through the attainment of the mystical stations and states… As for Abi Yazid al-Bistimi (May God have mercy upon him!), what is ascribed to him of such saying is not true, even if he were head saying it. [If so,] he was probably quoting it from God and reporting it in his speech as when he may have been heard reciting, ‘Verily 1 am God. There is no god but Me. Worship Me.’ (20:14)” (Ihya’,I, 36 [K. ‘Ilm, bib 3. Bayan ma-badala…]). Here Ghazali is talking about the harmful effects of these ideas on the mind of the common people, not about the theological implication of the words. He seems to avoid facing the problem.
(50) For example, see Ghazali (tr. by K. Nakamura), Invocations and Supplications, 30 and also ibid. 22, note A.
(51) For example, when Ghazali emphasizes the practical aspect of shukr as the utilization of the benefits from God for their proper purposes, this is different from other Sufis.
(52) Even Ihya’ is not entirely free from interpolations (See 1. Goldziher, Streitschrift des Gazali gegen die Bdtinga-Sekte, I6).
(53) See F Jabre, La notion de la ma’rifa chez Ghazali (Beirut, 1959); idea, La notion de certitude selon Ghazali (Paris, 1958). H. Lazarus-Yafeh, “Philosophical Terms as a Criterion of Authenticity in the Writings of al-Ghazzali;” Studio Islamica, XXV (1966),111.21; W. M. Watt, “A Study of al-Gazali;’ Oriens, XIII/XIV (1960.61),121-31.
(54) See, for instance, W. M. Watt, “A Forgery in al-Ghazili’s Mishkat?” JRAS, 1949, 5-22 and the comments on it by Abi al-‘Ali ‘Afifi in his introduction to Mishkat al-Anwar, 30-31. Generally speaking, we cannot be too cautious in deciding a certain work to be unauthentic. Naturally it must be supported by both internal and external evidence, including study of the manuscripts. As for this “Mishkat-problem,” see further A. J. Wensinck, ” Ghazili’s Mishkat al-Anwar (Niche of Lights)”; W. H. T. Gairdner, “Introduction” to Al-Ghazzali’s Mishkat al-Anwar (London, 1924); idem, “Al-Ghazilf’s Mishkat al-Anwar and the Ghazali-Problem,” Der Islam, V (1914), 121-53.
(55) At the same time, establishing a chronology of all his works is most needed. See
- Massignon, Recueil de textes inىdits concernant (‘histoire de la mystique en pays d’Islam
(Paris, 1929), 93 (C. Brockelmann, Suppl., 1, 745); W. M. Watt, “The Authenticity of the Works Attributed to al-Ghazali,” JRAS, 1952, 24.45; M. Bouyges (ed. M. Allard), Essai de chronologie des o euvres de al-Ghazali (Beirut, 1959); G. F. Hourani, “A Revised Chronology of GhazalI’s Writings,” JAOS, Vol. 104 (1984), 289-302.
Ghazali and Prayer
Islamic Book Trust
Chapter I: Introduction 3
- Ghazali’s Life and Its Difficulties 3
- Ghazali’s Self-Portrait 6
- A New Approach to Ghazali’s Life 13
- Ihya’ as the Source Material 20
Chapter II: Ghazali’s Theological Thought 27
- Tawhid as the Divine Unity 27
- Tawhid as Fana’ 32
- Riyadah or “Training” 41
Chapter III: Dhikr and Du’a’ in Ghazali’s Thought 63
- Dhikr 63
- Du’a’ 74
- Comparison with Koan and the Nembutsu 82
(a) The Koan 82
(b) The Nembutsu 87
Chapter IV: Dhikr and Du ‘a’ in Ghazali’s Practice 110
Chapter V: Conclusion 139
This is a revised version of part of my Ph.D. dissertation presented at Harvard University in 1970. Thirty years have passed since then. The major interest in Ghazalian studies during this period has shifted from focus on Ghazali as a mystic to increased interest in his philosophical thought and his relationship to philosophy. There has not been very much work done on his mystical thought since then. Therefore, I believe it is still worth while to publish this work on Ghazali’s theory of mystical practices in English. Naturally I made minimum revisions and additions necessary for this publication considering the present stage of study. Particularly the Introduction and the part of Chapter III dealing with Nembutsu have been totally rewritten.
It is my great pleasure that this book is published by Islamic Book Trust, Malaysia, and is made available to English-reading Muslims. But I have some apprehension as to how Muslim readers will interpret the comparative method used here. Some may feel comparison is impossible because of the inherent uniqueness of Islam. In the present age of globalization and cultural pluralism, however, such an attitude is loosing universal support. As a matter of fact, the present work is a small attempt by a Japanese scholar to understand Islam, as well as an introduction of a Japanese religion – in our case, Buddhism – to Muslim readers. It is another matter whether or not my attempt will succeed.
The original work was completed with the help of many teachers and friends. Particularly I am grateful to Prof. Annemarie Schimmel and the late Prof. W. Cantwell Smith for their guidance in my study of Islam. I sincerely acknowledge my gratitude to them.
My thanks should also go to my colleagues at Obirin University, Prof. George Oshiro and Lecturer Summer Loomis who helped me greatly in editing the original draft for publication. It goes without saying, however, that any misunderstandings or errors remain my responsibility.
Professor of Obirin University
Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY THE AUTHOR