Being a Translation of Book 31 of Ihya' Uloom al-Din

Revival of Religious Sciences 

of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali 


Translated with an introduction



The project goal is the presentation of Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali's teach­ing on repentance as rendered in his encyclopedic Revival of the Reli­gious Sciences (Ihya' 'Ul"m ad-Din). The presentation is made in two parts.

Part One consists of introductory remarks designed to provide a back­ground against which al-Ghazzali’s teachings on repentance can be viewed. Specifically, it includes a short account of the idea of repent­ance in early Jewish and Christian traditions; a discussion of the Koranic notion of repentance; a biographical sketch of al-Ghazzali; an outline of the content and purpose of the Revival; a treatment of al-Ghazzali's conception of salvation; and, finally, a profile of al-Ghazzali's position on a number of basic theological issues which are both intrinsically bound to his explication of repentance and generally illustrative of his religious and pedagogical stance.

Part Two consists of the translation of the Kitab at-Tawba which is the thirty-first book of al-Ghazzali's Revival. A Cairo edition (c. 1965) of the Revival was used. In order to achieve a more reliable text, however, one manuscript was used as well as the major printed commentary by al-Zabidi which presents a text in the commentary itself, and another running on the margin.' Translations of other books of the Revival were examined for terminological usage. Citations from the literature of Tra­dition (hadith) were checked and the references are given in Appendix A. The references of Appendix A are noted in the translation by lower case letters following the pagination of the Arabic text.

          Many have had a part in the completion of this work. I would especially like to acknowledge those whose contributions were most significant: Deans Finlay and Lobdell of the University of Manitoba, Professor Moshe Nahir, Mrs. Irene Muir and Mrs. Trudy Baureiss. They have my heartfelt gratitude.

          Above all, I wish to acknowledge those without whom this work would have been inconceivable.

         The late Professor G. E. von Grunebaum was a paradigm of humane scholarship; he is missed. Professor Moshe Perlmann, a teacher par excellence and a righteous man; he be constantly before my eyes. And, last but not least, my wife and partner, Sydell Stern; kind, patient and insightful, she nurtures my mind and my soul. These three have provided personal and professional models for me to emulate. I pray that I might prove worthy of each. To them, with gratitude to the Almighty, I dedicate this book.



Preface :  ........................................................................................................ v

Part One: Introduction ................................................................................ 1

Part Two: Translation of Book XXXI of the

Ihya' 'Ulum ad-Din ................................................................ 29

Appendix A: ............................................................................................ 133

Appendix B: Index of Persons Mentioned ......................................... 137

Bibliography:............................................................................................ 139

Notes: .......................................................................................................... 143




By the beginning of the seventh century, when Muhammad was begin­ning to preach to his new community of believers, repentance had already become a fundamental concept in both Judaism and Christianity. Both of these religious traditions assert the existence of a personal God, the reality of sin and its consequences and, perhaps most importantly, man's freedom both in his ability to commit and overcome sin. Thus man was seen as a moral being capable of breaking away from a negatively valued past and reforming. Furthermore, this conversion is highly valued as a basic virtue and a permanent condition to spiritual accomplishment.

The Hebrew noun teshubah ('repentance') is mishnaic in origin (i.e., post-biblical) but the same radical in its verbal form (shub) is quite com­mon in the Hebrew Bible. Aside from its denotation 'to turn' or 'to return' in a physical sense,2 there is a parallel usage indicating a spiritual or moral conversion. In fact, there are two-such usages common, especially in the Latter Prophets. One such usage finds Israel as subject, indicat­ing a conversion from sin to righteousness..3 The other uses the verb with God as subject, indicating the abatement of God's wrath and His extending to Israel a return to grace.4 There is a definite collective sense evident in many of these verses which are, incidentally, relatively unique to the Hebrew biblical tradition. The call to return is made to the people Israel; a manifestation of the covenant between God and His people.5 Nonetheless; there is clear evidence that the biblical tradition understood the possibility of repentance to exist both outside the people Israel6 and within it, on an individual basis?7

There are, in fact, two main currents to the idea of repentance in the Hebrew Bible. Firstly there is the ritualistic or cultic system by which man seeks forgiveness through sacrifice and displacement of guilt .8 This aspect is best exemplified in the ritual.enjoined for the Day of Atonement.9 Secondly there is the moral and ethical conversion especially emphasized by the prophetic sections of the Bible.10 These two currents should not, however; be viewed as totally independent elements. The ritual and ethical are intimately related in the biblical conceptions of sin and repentance. Indeed this synthesis becomes one of the fundamental aspects of later rabbinic teaching.11

Finally, the Hebrew Bible views repentance as a process involving both man and God. Linguistic usage to this effect has already been cited. The prophets, however, put this usage together in such a manner as to indicate that the return by man is the factor under whose initiative God's return is triggered. Clearly, then, the biblical tradition views God's for­giveness and grace as a response to man's obedience.12

The Hebrew Bible does not, however, present a single comprehen­sive conception of repentance. Indeed one sees in this regard the varia­tion of attitude and situation faced by the various biblical authors. The inconsistencies inherent in the biblical texts are, moreover, carried over to some degree into the rabbinic texts of the talmudic period.13 It is only in the medieval era, especially in the work of Maimonides, that consis­tent and comprehensive treatments of the topic are to be found. It can be said, however, that most of the major elements of the rabbinic con­ception of repentance are already mentioned in the talmudic literature. The talmudic sages were clearly aware of the biblical inconsistencies and the lack of systematic topical treatment may, in large measure, be due to the nature of talmudic literature itself.14   

It is evident, nonetheless, that repentance had become a basic feature of rabbinic piety. The religious poetry of the period, an increasingly important liturgical resource in the post-Temple period, is marked by a high frequency of penitential themes.15 Further, the word teshubdh (repentance) becomes, at this time, a technical theological term, indicating a more intense concern for and treatment of its nature and characteris­tics.16 The significance assigned repentance by the talmudic sages is so great that it is credited with having been created prior to the physical world. 17 Attributed to it are special life-giving and redemptive powers.18 Repentance is, furthermore, viewed as a potent form of righteousness. Consequently, at least some authorities see the penitent as more virtu­ous than the sinless man.19

So valued was the penitent in the rabbinic tradition that only his rela­tive virtuosity compared with the unblemished could be questioned. In the Greek philosophical tradition this was not the case. Aristotle, for example, deals with the concept of `repentance as cure in his Nicho­machean Ethics. He does not, however, view it as a virtue. The good man is not given to repentance.20 When the two lines converge in the work of Philo21 repentance is introduced into the hellenistic philosophi­cal tradition as a virtue.22 It would seem that the rabbinic view of man's fallibility and repentance were already so basic within pre-Destruction first century Judaism that Philo did not hesitate to disagree in this matter with the ancient masters.

In early Christianity, as portrayed in the New Testament, repentance becomes an urgent and pervasive theme. Even before Jesus' advent, John the Baptist, sensing the imminence of Judgment, calls for immediate repentance.23 This call is taken up by Jesus who often explains the major purpose of his ministry as being the repentance of sinners.24

This concept of repentance (metanoia) is developed into far more than a turning away from sin. It becomes rather, a complete change of the total spiritual personality.25 Paul describes this in mystical language as a crucifixion and coming again to life.26 With Jesus' death, repentance, as the key to salvation, seems to be replaced by faith 27 Yet, as faith was understood it differs little, in process, from repentance. Repentance is man's turning away from sin, faith is his turning to God. The shift can be understood as an adjustment from the intense expectation of an imminent Judgment to the acceptance of the possibility of a prolonged interval between the present and the realization of the Kingdom.

This change, from repentance based on eschatological expectation to repentance based on the demands of normative piety, is an important process. It parallels, in many respects, the changes which are discerni­ble in the teachings of Muhammad after the founding of his community in Medina.28 Perforce, the warning, BUT UNLESS YOU REPENT YOU WILL ALL SIMILARLY PERISH,29 has a different intensity after Jesus' death. In the following centuries, through to the emergence of Islam, Christian theological treatment of repentance never goes beyond the New Testament ideas. In fact, with the increasing involvement of the Church in the sacramental process of penance, of which repentance was considered a part, the intensity of the original concept is often lessened.30

In Christianity, however, as in Judaism repentance is highly valued and the penitent, fulfilling, as it were, Jesus' ministry, is considered God's joy. The New Testament parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin are even more emphatic than the rabbinic texts in lauding the virtue of the penitent even against the sinless.31 Thus is the positive emphasis on repentance in Judaism and Christianity at the beginning of the seventh century.



Tawba is the Arabic equivalent to the Hebrew teshubfh. It is a loan word borrowed, in its basic verbal form (taba), from Aramaic. It does not have the physical denotation of the biblical shab but does parallel its religious signification.32

In its verbal forms the Koranic taba occurs both in an absolute form33 or with one of two prepositions, i1a34 or 'ala.35 Use of the last men­tioned preposition indicates, without exception, that the verb's subject is God. All other instances of the verb refer to man as subject. There are three nominal deviatives each meaning repentance or conversion: tawb,36 matab,37 and tawba.38 The active participle occurs twice39 and there is an adjectival form, tawwab,40 which refers to God in all but one case. 41 In all, the word taba or its derivatives occur eighty-four times in the Koran.

The frequency and periodic distribution of this usage would seem to have some significance. Of the eighty four instances in which this radical is encountered, only nineteen are unquestionably of the Meccan period.42 Of these nineteen only one is a verbal form with the preposi­tion 'ala43 Further, none of the adjectival forms predate the Medinian period. The adjectival tawwab usually appears in tandem with the adjec­tive rahim.44 Such a double adjectival arrangement with rahim occurs in the Meccan period but never with tawwa..45 It seems clear that the Koran is asserting that God plays an active role in tawba but this idea is developed and stressed only relatively late in Muhammad's prophetic career. In fact, it would seem that whatever process is meant by tawba, a clear and decisive definition of which is not to be had in the Koran, it was taught in the Meccan period but not stressed or developed until after Muhammad's move to Medina .

Taba and its derivatives are not the only words used in the Koran to indicate repentance. Raja’a, a word meaning return in both physical and religious contexts, is used.46 This word has not, however, become a legal or theological idiom and its religious signification would appear to be a simple extension of its literal meaning. Derivatives of aba47 and the fourth verbal form of naba48 are found in the Koran and do, moreover, occur frequently in later literature.

In the context of the later usage, Hujwiri differentiates the three terms by reference to those who are repenting and their spiritual state at the time of penitence. Taba refers to the repentance of the ordinary man; anaba, the repentance of the elect; and aba, the repentance of the elite, those who have attained the degree of divine love.49 It does not neces­sarily follow that this represents the Koranic usage but it is reasonable to assume that Muhammad did, in fact, use them to denote different aspects or categories of repentance.  

Aba and its derivatives occur seventeen times in the Koran. Of these, only one is undoubtedly of the Medinian period 50 None of these, including the adjectival form awwab are used to refer to God. Only one verbal form is present and the subject is the mountains which are to sing God's praises along with David 51 Anaba appears eighteen times from among which only one instance is clearly of Medinian origin 52 Again, all these refer to man. Taba, on the other hand, occurs, as noted above, eighty four times. Of these, only nineteen are, without question, Meccan. Here God is often referred to and some forms, such as tawwab, almost exclusively refer to God. 

Muhammad was, in Mecca , a warner. He called the people to return to God immediately, the Judgement was at hand. This type of return or conversion, based on imminent eschatological expectations, must be total, immediate and radical. When Muhammad moved to Medina he became increasingly concerned with establishing a normative frame for his growing community.53 The concept of repentance, in this context, needed to be more sympathetic to the temptations and ignorant follies of man. If man's conversion was to remain steadfast over a relatively extended period he would feel the need for God, in His mercy, to undertake an active helping and accepting role. This would seem to be the concept expressed by the taba terminology. It is perhaps of interest that in Medina , and in the context of tawba, Muhammad proclaims that deathbed repentance is unacceptable.54 If, in fact, man can prepare him­self for the final judgement only in this life, it seems inconsistent with the Meccan message to invalidate deathbed repentance. Yet, it is explained by the shift in the grounding of repentance from an eschatological frame to one of normative piety.

The Koran does not offer a precise definition of tawba. It is clear, however, that tawba represents, at its most basic level, an abandonment of sin and a reorientation to a life of obedience.55 It follows, then, that there must exist an awareness of having sinned and a feeling of remorse which moves one to turn away from sin. Repudiation of sin, however, is not sufficient. The Koran often juxtaposes tawba and the pursuit of righteousness.56 It is not clear whether the latter is a part of the process of repentance or consequent to it. Whichever is the case, however, man's hope of divine forgiveness requires such a conversion.

Repentance is a requisite, although not necessarily determining, con­dition to the salvation of the sinner.57 Furthermore, the Koran posits a special relationship between the penitent sinner and God. If man repents and turns to God (ila), God repents over man ('ala), turns to him and, perchance, will forgive him. God, moreover, places special value on the penitent and loves them.58 One can conclude, therefore, that while the process of tawba is the repudiation and abandonment of sin, its purpose is the reconciliation of man to God. That the one could follow the other becomes intelligible only by understanding the Koranic conception of sin.

The Koran, in accord with its general character, does not elaborate a systematic theory of sin. There are, however, frequent references to sin, its consequences, and its possible forgiveness. From these references it is possible to construct an outline of the Koranic concept of sin.59

Sin is a breach of moral norms. The Koran, standing by itself, does not present a comprehensive moral code. It does, however, assert a moral sanction, God. When man commits an indecent act it is to God that he must turn in seeking forgiveness.60 This religious orientation stands in sharp contrast to what was, fundamentally, a socially sanctioned, con­servative and pragmatic moral standard in pre-Islamic pagan Arabia.61 This assertion of a religious orientation, which infers that sin alienates man from God, is further augmented by the very concept of repentance. Sin's cure lies, at least in part, in turning to God. The assumption that in sinning man has turned from God is clear. This concept, while clearly present in the Koran, is not as fully developed as it later becomes in al-Ghazzali's writings. It is, in this regard, interesting to note that the term ma'siya, which denotes disobedience and rebellion, is used fre­quently by al-Ghazzali to signify sin. In the Koran it appears only twice and in both cases relates to disobedience to a prophet.62 An additional indication of this orientation is to be found in the. references to atone­ment. The Koran does not provide for, any specific atonement ritual such as is to be found in Judaism.63 It does indicate, however, that good deeds atone for sin. The fact that it specifies certain ritual observances, i.e., the correct execution of prayers,  as efficacious can be attributed to the underlying assumption that sin is fundamentally an offense against God.64

Sin also entails damage to the perpetrator. Man, in sinning, falls short of his own potential. To express the concept of sin the Koran uses, among other terms, words derived from the radical Kh-t'.65 This radical indi­cates stumbling or falling short of target.66 The Koran indicates, moreover, that a man who accepts. God's morality perceives in sin an effacement of self. Thus, for example, Moses says: 0 MY LORD, I HAVE WRONGED MYSELF (zalamtu nafsi).67 For Muhammad, sin effects more than subjectively discernible damage. Sin also leads man to hell­fire, barring him from the rewards set aside for the righteous.68 But, unlike the concepts of sin and justice in some other traditions,69 the Koran asserts the lack of necessity in God's executing punishment.70 The concept of uncontrolled and unwilled Fate is lacking.

The Koran refers to a differentiation between major and minor sins.71 It is not clear, however, which sins are included in either category or by what criteria they are to be differentiated. The classification of sin according to intensity, reference and effect is the product of later stages in the development of Islamic law and theology. The elaboration of a theory of sin, and the tangential questions suggested by such an elabora­tion, constituted one of the major elements in the controversy out of which Islamic orthodoxy emerged.


Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazzali was born in the year 1058 in or around Tus, a town in northeastern Persia . After an active and varied life, he died in Tus in the year 1111.72 Interestingly, while al-Ghazzali was an extremely prolific writer and, in many regards, a pivotal figure in Islamic life, only the barest sketch of biographical information about him is available. To a great degree this is due to al-Ghazzali himself who does not often reveal his private self beyond what he deems necessary for pedagogical purposes. This is best illustrated by the obvious gaps in al-Ghazzali's semi-autobiographical Deliverance whose real purpose seems more instructional and apologetic than personal and confes­sional.73 Nonetheless, it is essential to take note of his own penitential `conversion' in order to properly comprehend his approach and to place it in its proper historical setting.

Al-Ghazzali was orphaned at an early age, and according to his father's will, he was placed in the care of a family friend. He and his brother were given a traditional education in the religious sciences and a1-Ghariili then followed an educational course leading to certification as a jurist and theologian ('alim). Given the mobility of students in that milieu, it is not at all unusual that he travelled to Nishapur in 1077 to study under al-Juwayni, a leading jurist of the age. He remained there, studying and teaching, until his mentor's death in 1085.

When al-Juwayni died, al-Ghazzali joined the entourage of the Seljuq vizier Nizam al-Mulk. He remained with the vizier until Nizam appointed him to a professorship at the Baghdad Nizamiyya college in July of 1091. He continued in his professorship for four years until his spiritual crisis led to his resignation and withdrawal from public life in 1095.74

AI-Ghazzali, in the Deliverance,75 described his unrelenting search for certainty and truth. This quest, which al-Ghazzali states led to his crisis, brought him to study the four major intellectual and spiritual approaches of his day: theology, philosophy, Isma'ili authoritarian instruction (ta'lim) and Sufism. Yet, a critical analysis of his work and behaviour must lead to the conclusion that his crisis, and therefore his conversion, needs to be viewed as personal, immediate and non­academic.76

What caused the eruption of al-Ghazzali's crisis? Authoritarian instruction does not seem to have been an acceptable personal option. When he refers to it, he is totally polemical. Sufism, on the other hand, was not a new experience. The family friend, in whose care he had been placed as a child, was himself a sufi.77 Rather, al-Ghazzali's crisis flowed from his increasing disenchantment with his colleagues in Bagh­dad . They were not the great religious models he had thought them to be. In his view, they were using their scholarship to further worldly ambi­tions.78 In all probability al-Ghazzali became alarmed because, seeing himself fall into that same state, he became increasingly uncertain of his salvation. This uncertainty, coupled with a feeling of personal worth­lessness, caused a progressive functional breakdown until al-Ghazzali finally resolved to withdraw from public life and follow the sufi Way in search of personal salvation. That there were other factors, political ones among them, which encouraged his departure from Baghdad is not to be discounted. Yet, they can only have been secondary. In all proba­bility the other factors were decisive only in highlighting the worldli­ness of al-Ghazzali's status.79

Al-Ghazzali spent the next ten years in retirement. Part of the time was spent in Syria , some on pilgrimage, and it seems, some in Baghdad itself. He returned to teaching, however, at the Nizamiyya college of Nishapur in 1106. He later went into semi-retirement in Tus where he established a small circle among whom he taught.80

His undertaking of renewed public duties is indicative of the direction in which his penitential search led him. The answer to his previous world­liness was not in withdrawal but rather in reorientation, and in a way, intensification of his pedagogical work.81 His sensitivity to the respon­sibility of the 'ulama' class brought him to realize that a `return' on his part necessitated his working towards a general return, and therefore, a revival of the religious sciences.82

Al-Ghazzali's influence on the development of Islam is both signifi­cant and multi-faceted. He helped to reintroduce the element of fear into the service of God. His work in the areas of philosophy and theology brought these disciplines a clarity that made them available to and treatable by the greater number of Muslims. In fact, though his interests and foci changed after 1095, he remained throughout his life a doctor of the Law. His later work, as exemplified in the Revival, was as significant to his theology as his earlier efforts. He also created a framework within which sufism attained an assured position within Orthodox Islam. These, moreover, are only some of his important contributions.83

Nonetheless, the above are only contributing elements in the ultimate importance of al-Ghazzali to Islam. Above all he was a religious teacher and guide who felt and exhibited an overriding concern for his fellow believers. His greatest strength lay in his ability, as literary artist and teacher, to project his concern and involvement in the spiritual condi­tion of his age.84

Al-Ghazzali, as noted, was a very prolific writer. His works cover almost all the major areas of Islamic religious thought.85 The Ihya' 'Ulum ad-Din, Revival of the Religious Sciences, an encyclopedic work that was written over a period of years beginning with his departure from Baghdad in 1095, is his magnum opus. While not written in a personal or confessional style, it represents the fruits of al-Ghazzali's years of spiritual development and sufi travelling. It is a vibrant work frequently using anecdotes and parables.86 It is characterized, as is most of his writings, by the use of emotional as well as rational persuasion, a mark of his pedagogical style and skill.87

Its intended purpose is to fundamentally redirect the attitude of the believer. In his Beginning of Guidance, al-Ghazzali declares that his Revival attempts, by increasing the fear of God and the believer's aware­ness of self, to decrease the appetite for this world and increase the desire for the life to come. The Revival will acquaint the Muslim with the inter­nal aspects of piety which will lead to the opening of the supernal realm.88

Al-Ghazzali divided the believers into two main categories: the `vulgus' ('awamm) and the elite (khawass). The `vulgus' is the intellectually and spiritually limited masses, usually possessed of imitative faith (tagiid). Of the sciences of the hereafter they should be restricted to the practical sciences ('ilm al-mu’amala). The elite is that group of believers which is intellectually and spiritually capable of revelatory faith. They are initiated to the science of vision ('ilm al-mukashafa. 89 Many have con­cluded that al-Ghazzali taught a 'double truth': an exoteric doctrine for the 'vulgus', and a higher esoteric truth for the elite. Professor Lazarus­Yafeh has ably shown that such was not the case. For al-Ghazzali there was only one truth. As an accomplished and skilled pedagogue, however, he realized that different people have varying capacities for understand­ing. Al-Ghazzali, therefore, advocated limiting the amount of the sin­gular truth taught, according to the capability of the student to absorb and comprehend it.90

AI-Ghazzali, as becomes one who considered himself primarily a teacher and spiritual physician, usually inclined to the theory that a man's rank was subject to his own will and effort. Given this position, the divi­sion of believers loses its rigidity. Most, if not all, of those who are to be reckoned part of the `vulgus' could raise themselves to the elite class. It would seem, in fact, that al-Ghazzali considered such endeavour to be each man's duty.91

For whom, then, did al-Ghazzali write the Revival? Wilzer asserts that he Revival was written for the 'vulgus'. She bases this assertion on the repentance terminology used in the Kitab at-Tawba. According to Hujwiri's definitions, the appropriate terms for the repentance of the elite would be aba or anaba, neither of which is used hereby al-Ghazzali. Since al-Ghazzali treats only Tawba, defined by Hujwiri as the repentance of the masses, she concludes that the Kitab at-Tawba is wholly exoteric.92 This position, however, ignores that fact that, despite disclaimers, al-Ghazzali struggles in the Kitab at-Tawba, as in other books of the Revival, with concepts that belong to the areas of knowledge reserved for the initiated.93 This apparent contradiction can only be resolved by reference to al-Ghazzali's fluid concept of the 'vulgus' and his graded approach to the revelation of the one truth. There are believers, not yet of the elite but who are capable of being guided to that Path by means of an awakening to some of the divine secrets. These people are led gradually to a fuller and more comprehensive knowledge of the truth. It is to this group that the Revival is directed.94

The Revival is divided into four quarters, each of which consists of ten books. The first quarter opens with a book dealing with knowledge and learning. It is here, at the very outset, that al-Ghazzali sets out the indictment of the `ulama'. The remainder, of this first quarter deals with ritual observance (e.g., prayer, fasting, alms, etc.). The second quarter deals with the regulation of personal and social aspects of life (e.g., eat­ing, marriage, livelihood, etc.). In the first half, al-Ghazzali deals with the usual legalistic aspects of religious life common to the literature of the 'ulama'. The second half deals with traits of the spirit and charac­ter. The third quarter treats the negative traits against which man must strive. These include anger, pride, the evil of the tongue and the like. The fourth and last quarter undertakes the exposition of positive traits and their acquisition. It examines patience, asceticism, contentment, self-­examination and such as these. This second section is clearly sufi and not unlike many non-Muslim devotional manuals.95

It would be wrong, however, to see the Revival as consisting of two separate strands: the legalistic and the mystic. One of al-Ghazzali's most significant characteristics is his blending and harmonizing of these two previously divergent lines. There were, before his time, observant (i.e. orthodox) sufis. Some of these were also members of the 'ulama' class. Yet, to some, orthodoxy must have seemed mere conformity, while with others the two lines were compartmentalized and, therefore, separate. The external observance exists on one level, and the internal, pietistic search on another. For al-Ghazzali, however, the external and legalistic observances of Islam are the very basis for the internal mystic search. Islamic practices were, for him, the means of drawing near to God and preparing for the life to come.96 Indeed, just as al-Ghazzali sought to give deeper content to the religious life of the mechanically pious, he also showed great concern to remove the strongly entrenched indiffer­ence to the religious commandments from among the mystics.97

All of al-Ghazzali's studies and experiences are reflected in the Revival. He, like the mystics before him, found in the Koran, the Tradition, and the literature of law, the first seeds of a moral-religious approach.98 Yet he never turned away from them. He continued, throughout his career, to draw from these sources and to refine their concepts in light of his mystic studies and experiences. He further clarified them by struggling with the ideas presented by the major movements (e.g., mu’tazila, kalam, philosophy, etc.) of Islamic civilization. Much of the success that the Revival enjoyed in bringing together once divergent lines of tradition can be attributed to the unity which al-Ghazzali himself brought to his work.

Repentance, as might be expected, is treated in the last quarter of the Revival. In fact, it is the first book of the fourth quarter. Al-Ghazzali, no doubt, viewed repentance as the most basic and requisite process for attaining positive spiritual qualities working towards the goal of salva­tion. In many ways his treatment of repentance typifies the totality of his teachings as explicated in the Revival.


The goal of life, for al-Ghazzali, is the attainment of salvation.99 To the uninitiated Muslim, God, the highest spiritual entity, forms with man a personal moral community.100 The fulfillment of this relationship, one in which God is the Master and man the slave, is at Judgement. In the hereafter, the temporal locus of Judgment, God is manifested in the absoluteness of His mastery, and man in the totality of his subservience. If man is granted salvation, he is vindicated in judgement and awarded the rewards of Paradise . If he, in this life, has failed, he is damned and cast into hellfire. For such a Muslim the guiding theme of life is fear of God, i.e., fear of being denied the rewards of Paradise and fear of the torments of Hell.101

Al-Ghazzali did not consider Fear, an element promoted both by the Koran and the early ascetics, to be of no value. For the 'vulgus', whose faith is imitative and whose understanding is limited, it is as effective a means to salvation as is possible.102 For the gnostic (‘arif ), however, fear can only be a preliminary stage which is overtaken by the stage of Love. Such a man does not seek the pleasures of Paradise nor does he fear the fires of Hell. He only desires to encounter his Beloved. His only fear is separation from God.103 Whereas the masses prepare for Judge­ment, the mystics seek the bliss of knowing God. They become, as it were, indifferent to the whole concept of Judgement as it relates to Para­dise and Hell. Their salvation is with and in God.

In some mystic traditions the ultimate goal of man's search is to become one with God.104 This objective was, within the monotheistic tradition of Islam, unacceptable. The gulf between God and man cannot be bridged. Yet, for al-Ghazzali, man could, indeed should, strive to attain knowledge of God.105 This knowledge, the search of which becomes man's true purpose and vocation, is not intellectual ('ilm) (although intellectual knowledge is an important factor in the search for higher states). Rather, the sought after knowledge is intuitive and experiential (ma'rifa).In experiencing this knowledge man finds God. Through this illumination the gnostic achieves a portion of the divine substance.106

The traditional terminology for God, in this context, is mahbub (Beloved).107 For al-Ghazzali this was a most apt term. If a man truly finds God as his Beloved, he will seek naught save that knowledge that will allow him to draw nigh and enjoy the bliss of proximity.108 Gnosis (ma'rifa) and Love (hubb) always go together.109 For such a lover the only true salvation is being near to God. The only damnation to fear is that which bars man from God's presence.

This idea, that the greatest bliss is proximity to God, is not unique to the mystical tradition of Islam. Indeed, it is to be found in the Koran110 as well as the talmudic tradition.111 Yet, in those sources the expectation of intuitive knowledge or experience of God's presence is projected solely in the context of the hereafter. Maimonides, for exam­ple, who asserts that knowledge of God is man's prime duty, is discuss­ing an intellectual phenomenon.112 When he asserts the bliss of Encounter (i.e., the equivalent of ma'rifa) as the reward of the righteous, he clearly is talking of the rewards of the hereafter.113 The mystics, al-Ghazzali included, understood this experience to be attainable, through ecstasy, in this life. Indeed, it is only through gnosis that man can, in this life, gain a clear and direct image of the life to come.114

What role, then, does this world (dunya) play in al-Ghazzali's con­cept of salvation?

This life, which is called the World of the Material and the Evident ('alam al-mulk wa-sh-shahada),compares to the hereafter, called the World of the Hidden and Transcendent (alam al-ghayb wa-l-malakut),as sleep compares to the waking state. The literal form of a dream can­not yield a knowledge of the true state of things. Truth, however, can be revealed by the proper interpretation of the content or meaning of a dream. Thus, in this life, man is limited in his apprehension of the true state of things in the hereafter by his ability to properly interpret the parables and allegories presented him by prophecy. Man, can directly experience and know God only by gnosis (ma'rifa).115 This too, however, is strictly limited. Man, because of his very nature, cannot achieve perfect and lasting gnosis in this life.116 So long as man's state of morality and knowledge is imperfect, a condition whose inevitability will be treated below, he cannot aspire to salvation, i.e., full knowledge of and proximity to God, in this life. Salvation is only to be found in the hereafter.117

This life is an antechamber to the hereafter.118 Al-Ghazzali is wont to refer to the tradition which asserts that this world is a field for the cultivation of the hereafter.119 Man's life in this world plays a preparatory role in which he can assure for himself either salvation or consign­ment to damnation. The possibility of achieving some measure of gno­sis in this life allows man to foretaste, as it were, of the saved state in the hereafter. He can then be in a position to appreciate the rewards of the good life.

The relationship between this life and the hereafter is, in al-Ghazzali's thought, much more complex than just an antechamber leading into the great hall. Man, he asserts, will experience nothing new in the here­after. Man receives, in the hereafter, only as he has provided himself in this world. If man wishes to find salvation in the hereafter, he must struggle to achieve gnosis, salvation's foretaste, while still in this ephemeral life.120 This concept is very similar to the one expressed in the rabbinic dictum which states that only he who has prepared on the eve of the Sabbath will eat on the Sabbath.121 The parallel is very apt. In the rabbinic tradition, the Sabbath is spoken of as a foretaste of the life to come.122

It is of interest to note that al-Ghazzali posits, in this regard, another parallel between this life and the hereafter. In different contexts he calls his reader's attention to the fact that the Master of both worlds is one and the same and, furthermore, that His order (sunna) is constant.123 In trying to thus connect this world and the hereafter he is not saying that both are exactly alike. Such would be grossly inconsistent with his projections on the nature of the hereafter. He is saying, however, that there is a continuity between the two worlds. One can in no way dissociate the effects of man's life in this world from what he can expect in the hereafter. Thus, while the nature of man's life in the hereafter is unique, its roots and causes are to be found in his temporal existence.124

Al-Ghazzali, finally, views this world not merely as a preparation for the hereafter, but as a test.125 This world (dunya) is the prime cause of sin and, therefore, man's alienation from God. This world is not intrin­sically evil but, if man begins to live it for its own sake, it will lead him to perdition. For al-Ghazzali all sin can be traced to a man's find­ing excessive delight in the pleasures of this world. This life should be valued only. for its functional use in aiding man to achieve salvation. Al-Ghazzali does not advocate extreme asceticism. Such behaviour, in his view, makes man as much a slave to this world as its opposite. Rather, man must learn to use this world to meet his primary goal and be pre­pared to renounce that which is neither useful nor desirable to that end.126 This moderate asceticism should not be confused with the denial that al-Ghazzali prescribes for individuals as self-castigation for specific sins. If an individual finds himself so attracted to an aspect of the tem­poral world that it is leading him to sin, he should renounce it even though, for most men, it would be permissible.127

In sum, therefore, this world (dunya) is a preparation for the here­after. It is a test of man's worthiness and, in fact, a context within which he can gain a foothold on or preclude himself from salvation. Salvation, however, belongs to the hereafter. Only in the hereafter can the success of man's efforts in this life truly be validated.128

What is man that this life becomes a test and thus threatens his salva­tion? Al-Ghazzali sees man as being endowed, as part of his basic nature, with two hostile forces: appetite and intellect. They are not, however, equal or co-temporal. These forces develop progressively as man grows older. The first to develop are the impulses leading man to desire the delights of this world. Only later, over a span of some thirty-three years beginning at age seven, does the intellect develop as a control on the appetites. Its function is to limit man's devotion to the mundane and direct him to knowledge of God and, thereby, to salvation.129

Al-Ghazzali considers the unbridled pursuit of one's appetites as the basic road to alienation from God, i.e., sin. It follows, then, that with a person's appetites developing before the formation of the intellect, sin is inevitable. Even after the intellect has emerged it requires many years of development before it fully matures. If the appetites are allowed to gain control, the development of the intellect may be stunted and it may never reach full maturity. In such a case sin becomes impervious to con­quest as well as inevitable.130 This view of sin's inevitability in man is shared by both later Christianity and Judaism.131 The view, moreover, that man's moral position is strongly affected by the development of his impulses during his early years is reflected in the biblical tradition132

Man's appetites and impulses, according to al-Ghazzali, also develop progressively and sequentially. First, man develops an animal disposi­tion. Then he moves on to a predatory, a satanic, and finally, an egotis­tic disposition. Each of these stages, separately and in combination, leads man to different traits, and therefore, the tendency to different sins. At the first stage a man might sin by robbery. At the last stage his sin might consist of tyranny over his fellows. Just as a man's intellectual growth may be retarded by the force of his passions, so might his intellect limit the development of sinful tendencies. A1-Ghazzali asserts, therefore, that each person will have a proclivity to a different set of sins. This subjec­tive factor is, for al-Ghazzali, as teacher and spiritual physician, of great significance.133

Al-Ghazzali maintains that man is created with a sound heart (galb salim). Furthermore, only a person who, at the end of his life, presents himself to God with a sound heart, will be granted salvation in the here­after.134This position seems to indicate that man starts life with salva­tion assured and must only insure that he does nothing to forfeit it. Yet al-Ghazzali also asserts that sin is not an act that counters man's natural disposition. Indeed, sin is inevitable. Moreover, in the parable of the conquering king, the parable by which al-Ghazzali explicates the various states of the hereafter, he has a specific classification for the likes of the feeble-minded and the children; those who are, for various rea­sons not under their control, beyond obedience or disobedience. Al-Ghazzali does not assign them to Paradise. They are not rewarded with salvation, neither are they condemned to hellfre.135 The sound heart which brings salvation is, for al-Ghazzali, only such a heart as has become pure through refinement.136 Al-Ghazzali's position that every man is born with a sound heart would seem to indicate his convic­tion that every man has, in his very nature and constitution, the poten­tial for attaining salvation. Notwithstanding the inevitability of sin, no man is inherently evil. This understanding is consistent with al-Ghazzali's statement at the beginning of the Kitab at-Tawba that total evil is not the nature of man but of Satan. The nature of man, he asserts there, is to sin but afterward to return to good through sincere repentance.137 Each man has the potential to return the heart God have him in trust, refined by his deeds, and thereby worthy of salvation.

In light of the above it is pertinent to note that al-Ghazzali did not accept the concept of infallibility ('Lsma).138 In the biographies of the Prophet (sira) and in Koranic exegesis (tafsir) there exists a tendency, much akin to rabbinic Midrash, to create a more perfect personality for the faith's model. This led to a widespread acceptance among Sunni dog­matists of the concept of prophetic immunity from sin and error. Among the shi'a, of course, infallibility was attributed to the imam to a greater degree than to the prophets.139 In al-Ghazzali's view no man is free of sin, it is a part of man's fundamental make-up. Al-Ghazzali, in many of his writings, makes clear his attitude of opposition to this basic aspect of Shi'ism.140 Furthermore, as regards the Sunni tradition, in discuss­ing the requisite qualities and attributes of the community's leadership he explicitly denies infallibility as a requisite.141 In fact, al-Ghazzali advocated, for pedagogical purposes, the public discussion of the prophets' sins and their consequent punishment.142 All men are fallible but they are also given the potential to overcome the weakness of their nature and achieve salvation.

The ground of sin is the pursuit and love of the mundane world. Such pursuit diverts man from the search for the hereafter and leads to the loss of salvation. The nature of sin is disobedience and its effect is the alienation of man from God. The specifics of any particular act of sinning are important in the process of correction but are irrelevant in defining the act-as sinful. It is the disobedience to God, in whatever form it is manifested, that removes one from proximity to God.143

It has already been noted that man's nature, combining appetites and intellect, make his sinning inevitable but also provides the wherewithal for overcoming the consequences of sin and achieving salvation. This comes through the intellect's gaining control over the appetites. The intellect masters the appetites by gaining knowledge and leading to gnosis. When it fails, totally or partially, it leaves the man with active appetites and ignorance (jahl), and such a state leads inexorably to sin. Knowledge, then, is the key to avoidance of sin.144

Belief, according to al-Ghazzali, is of two types. Firstly, there is the belief in God, His attributes and deeds. This belief belongs to the category al-Ghazzali refers to as the science of revelation ('ilm al-mukashafa). To be lacking in such faith is to be left with sheer unbelief and, there­fore, perdition. It is the root of all belief and knowledge without which there can be no other. Secondly, there is the belief, termed faith (iman), in the practical duties and states of man's heart. This al-Ghazzali refers to under the heading of the science of behavior ('ilm al-mu’amala). This belief is equated, in al-Ghazzali's writings, with knowledge. If one's belief in the practical sciences is defective, therefore, he is ignorant. Ignorance, again, is the condition that brings man to sin. It follows, then, that a person may indeed sin while still being a believer. A defect in the latter belief does not necessitate a defect in the former.145

Al-Ghazzali understood, however, as did others in the Christian and Jewish traditions, that sin is an inner process of disease and decay.146 Continuing sinfulness, which of itself is a defect only in the context of the practical sciences, must, little by little, erode the belief in the science of revelation. Eventually, if sin is left unchecked, the erosion of basic belief will lead to spiritual death, the loss of the heart.147 If one loses the heart, of course, salvation is precluded. In this context al-Ghazzali is fond of using the parable of the mirror. Man's heart is like a mirror which was originally brought to a high polish (i.e., man is born with a sound heart). If he sins he allows vapour and filth to encrust itself upon the surface of the mirror. If this process is not controlled and reversed the metal becomes so dull as to preclude the possibility of reburnishing. Once the mirror begins to dull it must immediately be cleansed and polished. Thus, a man, after sinning, must proceed forthwith to attain the knowledge that counteracts the dulling effect of ignorance and defec­tive faith; if not, the course of the decay will proceed apace.148 This process of correction is, of course, repentance. It emerges from the con­frontation between knowledge and ignorance. This confrontation, rooted as it is in human nature, is constant and enduring. Thus repentance is a life-long obligation flowing from the imperfection of man.149

In pre-Islamic Arabia the gods were worshipped with certain rites cen­tering on public sacrifice. It has already been noted that the morality of the age seems to have had limited religious sanction or relevance. The pagan, insofar as he went beyond the mundane, lived in a world filled with magical forces to be propitiated and neutralized. Muhammad, in preaching the message of Islam, cancelled public sacrifice and relegated such ritual to a private and secondary status. He instituted public wor­ship through prayer and taught obedience to God through the fulfillment of the religious commandments.150 This parallels, to a significant degree, a process of change in rabbinic Judaism just before and follow­ing the destruction of the second Temple of Jerusalem . In Judaism, the sacrificial cult was slowly losing ground to the institution of the syna­gogue so that, with the destruction of the Temple, a smooth transition to obligatory public prayer was possible. The developments of the later biblical tradition in which the sacrificial practices were increasingly limited by the prophetic call to worship through good works and piety, were decisive in the development of both talmudic Judaism and Chris­tianity.151

The centrality of the pious life in obedience to the divine command­ments was challenged by the proponents of sufism. The mystics believed that perfection and salvation could be achieved only by the search for knowledge and experience of God. Worship, on its various levels, was to be defined by its utility in the quest for the unitive state. Many of those traveling on the mystic Way developed an indifference to the observance of the commandments. They viewed the commandments, all normative piety, as a lower form of spirituality designed for the unini­tiated masses. Al-Ghazzali sought to inculcate the mystics with an appreciation of the basic importance of obedience to God through the commandments as an ongoing requisite of salvation.152

Maimonides, representative of many medieval thinkers, in this regard viewed the religious commandments as a means by which man, through control of his bestial impulses and the discipline of virtue, could perfect himself, morally and intellectually. Having thus perfected himself, man would be prepared for the ultimate knowledge of God. This knowledge, for Maimonides, was philosophical.153 After attaining to this perfection the commandments are no longer functional.154 Al-Ghazzali's position is, to a great extent, parallel. The purpose of the commandments is to help man master his appetites, educate himself in virtuous living, and deepen his religious experience. Al-Ghazzali does not, however, view the intellectual knowledge of God to be the highest objective. Man's goal is knowledge, intuitive and experiential. In this world such experience is only attainable through deeds of obedience. Observance of the com­mandments, then, lead to knowledge ('ilm). This knowledge further refines his deeds which allow him to experience gnosis. Man's nature, furthermore, is such that there are always forces working to dull the surface of his heart. The result, for the pilgrim (salik), is a continuous need for further commitment to the pursuit of obedience through the observance of the commandments. Moreover, the higher a man is able to reach in his knowledge, the more he is able to infuse his observance with depth of intent. In the `way of the hereafter' the proper observance of the commandments require the combination of knowledge and action ('ilm wa- amal). The process creates a spiral of expanding knowledge leading to deeper observance which, in turn, brings man to greater knowledge. Clearly al-Ghazzali was addressing himself to both the shal­low religiosity of the mechanically pious and the rootless spirituality of the libertine mystics.155

In sum, then, salvation is to be found in the experience of God the Beloved. It is a constant state attainable only in the hereafter. It must, however, be cultivated in this life which is a proving ground of man's worthiness. Man's nature is such as makes sin and ignorance, the seeds of the disease of the heart, inevitable, but it is also such as allows him, through observance of the religious commandments, in an increasingly refined and deepened manner, to expand his knowledge of God. The continuing combination of knowledge and obedience, counteracting ignorance and heedlessness (ghafla), permits his attaining a measure of gnosis, the foretaste of salvation. This foretaste is itself a credit redeem­able in the hereafter.



During the early formative years of classical Islam there emerged a number of debates whose development and resolution were decisive in forming the body of doctrine that became accepted as orthodox.156 Among these was the debate over the individual and communal conse­quences of sin. The Koran indicates that sin leads man to hellfire.157 The questions that arose, in this context, concerned which sins or types of sin are those that result in damnation and, following such a determina­tion, what status does one sinning in such a way have within the com­munity of believers.

The Koran differentiates, as to punishment or forgiveness, between two groupings of sin: grave (kabira) and minor (saghira). This can be seen in the verse: IF YOU AVOID THE HEINOUS SINS THAT ARE FORBIDDEN YOU, WE WILL ACQUIT YOU OF YOUR EVIL DEEDS AND ADMIT YOU BY THE GATE OF HONOUR.158 Thus it follows that minor sin does not, of itself, carry the punishment of hell­fire. The people of Hell are those who commit grave sins. The ensuing debate concerned itself, then, with the immediate and ultimate disposi­tion of such as commit sins considered grave.

The khariji sectarians believed, to use Watt's terminology, in the `charismatic community'.159 Salvation was tied into membership in the community of believers which alone was the source of the people of Para­dise . Moreover, salvation was dependent on the integrity of the com­munity. A person who committed a grave sin was, therefore, to be excised from the community. Such a man is an unbeliever and of the people of Hell. These people, moreover, posing a threat to the salvation of the entire community, must be fought. killed if necessary. There were, however, variations within the khariji movement. The azariga, for example, were extreme in the application of this principle. They never succeeded in forming large or stable communities and were constantly in armed conflict with the established political and social order. The najdiyya, however, did succeed in establishing their own political unit. The practical demands of government were, no doubt, responsible for a more moderate approach. They asserted that isolated instances of sin did not make one an unbeliever or threaten the salvation of the commu­nity. Such a threat only followed persistent grave violations. In any case, all the khariji factions held the position that grave sin was unbelief and its consequence was eternal punishment16°

The mu'tazila, like most other Islamic groups, did not concur in this attitude toward a salvational community. They held that one who com­mits a grave sin is neither a believer nor an unbeliever. Rather, he occupies an intermediate position (manila bayna 'I-manzilatayn). Their outlook, as with most other early Islamic theologies, was more individu­alistic. They did concur with the kharijis, however, that the consequence of grave sin is eternal punishment.161

A third group, important for the emergence of the orthodox view, was the nurji'a. They believed that the status of the grave sinner, both as to his being a believer and his ultimate fate, were matters that could not be judged by men. They were questions best left for God at Judgement. Man should, to be considered a believer in this temporal setting, make the profession of faith. This latter consideration evokes the question of the relative importance, as regards man's ultimate disposition, of faith versus works.162

The orthodox position, as articulated by al-Ash'ari and his school, posits that all unbelievers will be assigned to eternal damnation. Those attaining the status of believer, however, have done so as a result of their profession of faith and not as a result of their works. If a man has faith, if he accepts the Islamic creed, he will gain entrance to Paradise. The ash’ari school did not ignore the effects of sin. Indeed, many may be purged in the fires of Hell for a time. Ultimately, however, all who profess the faith will be saved.163

Al-Ghazzali's position is, of course, very close to that of the ash’ari school. He does, however, refine this position in light of his understand­ing of both belief and sin. Polytheism (shirk), which is unbelief in the sphere of the revealed sciences, precludes pardon and condemns the unbeliever to perdition, eternally. If, on the other hand, a person is a believer he is assured of salvation.164 If the man dies a sinner, a defect in the practical sciences, he is punished with hellfire for a time. Only the sound heart is accepted by God. If the surface of the heart is dirtied, it must be cleansed by fire. After death the only fire is that of Hell. In such a case the function of hellfire is purgative. After the heart is restored to its purity, entrance to some level of Paradise is effected.165 In this there is no real difference from the ash'ari position. However, al-Ghazzali's understanding of sin, as previously expounded, is much more sophisticated. It is difficult for a man to continue in sin without an erosion of his belief in the revealed sciences. There is an intimate relationship, that of root and branch, between the areas known as faith and works. It is difficult for al-Ghazzali to envision a man persisting unrepentant in sin and remaining uncorrupted in faith. These two are not easily divisible.

Furthermore, while profession of faith is sufficient to preclude exclusion from the community and temporal punishment as an unbeliever, al-Ghazzali is emphatic that ultimately it is of no avail if it is only verbal. Al-Ghazzali believes that it is beyond human competence to judge the veracity of another's profession of faith. Also, he does not believe that a man's faith can, in this life, be confirmed or denied by his sins. All of these judgments are beyond human ken.166 God, however, will indeed make these judgments.

Al-Ghazzali does not consider the community as the basic reference for or source of salvation. In line with the Koran, al-Ghazzali is com­mitted to an individualistic approach.167 Each man stands for judgement as an individual. Also, each person's struggle for salvation must be based on his own strengths and weaknesses as an individual.168 Al-Ghazzali, as Islam in general, does not present an institutionalized atonement proce­dure as might be found in Judaism and Christianity.169 Public confes­sion is neither required nor encouraged except in the case of social offense.170 Indeed, since sin is derived from the pursuit of the appetites, the specific development of which varies from individual to individual, the quest for integrity of faith and works must differ from one person to another. The convenantal relationship in Islam is between the individual Muslim and God .171

In rejecting the community as the source of salvation al-Ghazzali does not lose sight of the societal environment in which man lives out his tem­poral life. Ignorance, for example, can only be removed by the spread of knowledge. As God entrusted the people's education to the prophets so it falls to the lot of.the learned doctors, the prophets' heirs, to con­tinue this work.172 Yet, in terms of ultimate responsibility each learned doctor will be judged as an individual, as will his charges. His com­munal work is a personal obligation imposed by his level of knowledge or appointed position173 That all men have social responsibilities for which they are answerable to God is attested to by the fact that injustices against one's fellows are also transgressions against God and are breaches of the belief in the practical sciences.174 The community is not the source of salvation but rather it is, by divine will and command, an area of responsibility in which man can pursue either obedience or disobedience.

There is another interesting element in al-Ghazzali's treatment of sin. Sins, according to al-Ghazzali, may be measured in two ways: objec­tively or subjectively. Objective assessment may be made by recourse to the Law. Yet, this alone would be an insufficient measure. Al-Ghazzali insists that the measurement of a sin must take into account the spiritual level (i.e. knowledge and perception) of the sinner. The transgression of an ignoramus is not the same violation as the identical infraction per­petrated by a learned doctor.175 Incidentally, the social or communal sta­ture of the sinner, as well as the attendant publicity of the sin, are also important variables. The learned doctor, for example, is a model whose public actions will be emulated. A sin he commits publicly could lead others to sin. He would then be doubly culpable.176

In discussing the division of sins into those grave and those minor, al-Ghazzali has recourse to a number of different standards based on the legal tradition. He is able, finally, to indicate that some sins are definitely known as being grave, others as minor, while some are in doubt.177 Yet, in continuing his analysis he introduces a subjective ele­ment asserting that a minor sin may become grave notwithstanding its status according to the objective sources of tradition through a person's persistence or faulty attitude.178

A determination of sin is based on a code of morality whose violation is an offense against God. The mu'tazila conceived of an autonomous morality which followed from rational premises. Al-Ghazzali rejects this conception out of hand. It is evident from the aforementioned that, for al-Ghazzali, the ethical is secondary to the religious. Revelation is the sole source of morality.179 The basis of that morality is God's com­mand. Sin is no more and no less than rebellion against God.180 This does not mean that Reason has no function in al-Ghazzali's system. To the contrary, even the sciences of the hereafter are categorized by him as rational sciences.181 Nonetheless, al-Ghazzali is insistent that moral­ity is revelatory.

If there is a little of the paradoxical in al-Ghazzali's attitude as regards Reason, such is not unique. There are a number of areas in al-Ghazzali's treatment of repentance that seem paradoxical. It may well be impos­sible to explain these beyond indicating that al-Ghazzali did not consider the Revival as directed to those to whom the whole truth might be exposed. Some things are mysteries, knowledge of which is reserved for the initiated. Yet, in introducing this work, it would seem useful to at least treat an example or two of the mysterious in the Kitab at-Tawba.


One of the most fundamental and contested issues in the formative years after the establishment of Islam was defining the implications of the prophet's assertion of God's omnipotence. An early and basic ques­tion that emerged from this issue pertained to a determination of man's basic nature. Does man act as a free agent or are his actions predeter­mined by God.

The khariji movement, influenced to no small degree by their politi­cal philosophy and goals, were among the earliest advocates of the free will position.182 They were followed in this by the mu'tazila.183 On the other extreme were many in the traditionalist camp who, feeling that the assertion of human freedom impinged upon the absoluteness of God's omnipotence, upheld a position of pure and total determinism.184

Al-Ash'ari, reflecting the orthodox position, affirmed the determinists' position while adding that man was nonetheless responsible for his actions. He explained that God creates all of the component elements that lead to an action and then man chooses the act into which he is com­pelled. While the act is totally of God's creation, man acquires it (kasb, iktisdb). This formulation is quite obscure, proverbially so.185 Yet it is clearly an attempt to reaffirm God's absolute freedom while preventing fatalistic indifference to proper moral behaviour. Man's subjective feel­ing of choice is given formal status while, at the same time, there. is a recognition of God's acting out His will through men. This concep­tion is foreign to Jewish thought as it is, in general, to Christianity. There does, however, exist a similar idea in the New Testament.186

This conception is echoed by al-Ghazzali. Man, he says, is compelled into that choice that is his. He goes to great length to show how God creates the various sequential elements that lead man into acting in a predetermined manner.187 Yet, al-Ghazzali also promotes ideas that do not seem to harmonize with this position. The very idea of repentance implies man's ability to choose and act upon that choice. In fact, al-Ghazzali asserts that the ability to turn from evil and correct one's mistakes is a fundamental characteristic of human nature.    Al-Ghazzali, moreover, states that God does not require of man more than that of which he is capable. If so, God's commanding man presupposes his ability and volition. Finally, al-Ghazzali often emphasizes the ability of all men, at least potentially, to raise themselves to the ranks of the saints, prophets, and angels.188

The basic paradox inherent in the various writings of al-Ghazzali on this subject is explicitly rendered in his presentation of the parable of the blind man and the elephant. In this parable of Buddhist origin, al-Ghazzali tells of a group of blind men who examine, by touch, differ­ent parts of an elephant in order to ascertain its nature. Each man, having felt a different part of the animal, describes the nature of the animal differ­ently. All of the men spoke truthfully, yet none of them was able to encompass, in his description, the totality of the animal. Thus, says al-Ghazzali, those who take the positions of determinism, acquisition (kasb), and free well, have each stated a part of the truth but, if taken singly as embracing the totality of the truth, each position is only a dis­tortion of reality.189

Al-Ghazzali, the teacher and spiritual physician, had, it seems, a basic functional commitment to the position that man has the ability to make choices and act freely. He also understood that creation's order, as well as man's own previous actions, limit his freedom. The elements requi­site for any choice must also exist. Moreover, al-Ghazzali no doubt felt the need, as did those before him (e.g., al-Ash'ari), to protect the theo­logical integrity of God's omnipotence. Man is required to understand that nothing can be accomplished, even for the gnostic ('arif ), without divine grace.190 Yet as dependent as man is on God, he is not simply a vessel or automaton. He does, in a real sense, have the ability to exercise choice (ikhtiyar).191

Man, especially such as for whom al-Ghazzali wrote the Revival, should be, left with the mystery and paradox unresolved. It was, for al-Ghazzali, a mystery in pursuit of which the unenlightened would stum­ble and which the illumined are forbidden to reveal.192

The debate about man's free volition was intimately tied to two other issues: Order and Justice. Do defined causes beget constant and predic­table results. Most of the early Muslim theologians, in the context of their attitudes on the question of God's omnipotence, were atomistic in their view of the world. There does not exist a necessary cause-effect relationship. Rather, each moment is a fresh creation and expression of divine will. If man stands witness to the fact that a particular cause has always resulted in the same effect, he cannot, with certainty, project this as having a bearing on the next instance of that cause.193

Al-Ghazzali rejects this position. Happiness or misery in the hereafter are directly attributable to man's actions, good or bad. In fact, this causal relationship can be reduced to the lowest measurable degree. The scales of judgment are tipped to salvation or perdition even by the weight of an atom. His parable of the conquering king, which was cited previ­ously, is eloquent testimony to this belief in causality. Each man's sta­tion in the hereafter, as in the newly conquered territory, is defined directly by the measure of his service or disservice. Again, in a differ­ent context, al-Ghazzali indicates that a person's fate is decided, in the minutest detail, by the quantity, duration, and intensity of his faith and works.194 This is not an insignificant statement of fact. The acceptance of the reality of this causal order was, in his view, the very foundation of the belief in the divine origin of the commandments and the revelation (shar).195

This causal order does not relate to the hereafter alone. Remaining in the moral sphere, al-Ghazzali viewed all calamity in this life as being a consequence of sin.196 Al-Ghazzali also viewed the struggle for moral correction to be a natural outcome of the maturation of the intellect. If the intellect is allowed to develop, it will naturally confront the appe­tites and induce man to repentance.197 According to Obermann, moreover, al-Ghazzali feels that acceptance of repentance is necessary in the sense that the very act of repentance results, causally, in the effects of acceptance (i.e. purification of the heart).198

The mysterious element is raised by al-Ghazzali in treating the ideas of God's mercy and wrath. At times a man will be granted salvation or condemned to hellfire when all the apparent causes point to a differ­ent result. The condemnation of an apparently righteous man or the saving of an evil one would argue for the lack of order and causality. Al-Ghazzali, however, emphatically asserts that there is always a cause even, as in such a case, if it be hidden and secret. These hidden causes (asbab hafiya), however, that result in mercy or wrath are not compre­hensible through the rational sciences.199 While there exists a causal order, it is God's order (sunna) and as such it is comprehensible only through revelation.

The other issue was that of Justice. There is order in creation, can this order be termed equitable. The Mu'tazila held, as one of their two most basic propositions, that it was part of the very nature of God that He be just and, according to some of their theorists, act in man's best interests. Thus they could speak of justice being an obligation of God.200 Al-Ash'ari was convinced, no doubt, of God's being equitable. This concern is probably one of the motives for his struggling with man's responsibility in the face of the doctrine of determinism. Yet, he could not reconcile the idea of obligation with God's omnipotence, a concept that assures absolute freedom of will.

Al-Ghazzali follows and elaborates al-Ash'ari's position. Is God just? His response is a resounding affirmative. God does not reward evil or punish obedience. Man's actions are requited with absolute equity.201 There exists almost infinite variety, among men, in the quantity and qual­ity of their obedience or disobedience. God, then, prepares innumer­able levels both in Paradise and Hel1.202 A man's fate is measured according to his faith and works. These are, therefore, examined even to the measure of an atom.203 If a man realizes genuine repentance it will surely be accepted.204 Even in the working of the mysterious ele­ments of mercy and wrath al-Ghazzali explicitly insists on their being just.205 Can this justice, which is clearly an absolute, be termed an obli­gation or a necessity? Here al-Ghazzali responds with an emphatic nega­tive.206 Justice, for al-Ghazzali, is a part of God's order and practice (sunna). This order is an act of God's will, He could have willed other­wise. Being a part of His order, however, it is not wholly comprehensible to man except insofar as God wills it to be so. The dimension of justice must also be one in which, for man, mystery remains a part.

Al-Ghazzali's low valuation of formal theology might, through these examples, be more readily understood. He felt that theology might be useful to treat the doubts of the spiritually sick, but it could not be a tool of the healthy seeker of God.207 God, ultimately, cannot be known, as the philosophers would have it, through the exercise of reason and intellect. God, as His order, is beyond human comprehension. The knowledge that al-Ghazzali would have the believer seek is the intuitive knowledge that comes solely through the experience of and proximity to the living and omnipotent God. Only in this manner, through illumi­nation, can the mysteries be uncovered. The totality of the single truth in which al-Ghazzali believed could not even be taught, objectively, by men.208


Repentance was a concept accepted and valued in both Judaism and Christianity. It was an integral part of Muhammad's message. In al-Ghazzali, however, repentance is given added dimensions and sig­nificance. Repentance is not only the means of overcoming the conse­quences and influence of a ‘sick’ past, it is the first step towards a ‘healthy’ future. Given man's nature, and the ordeal of this mundane existence, it is also a continuing part of man's quest for salvation.

Many of al-Ghazzali's insights and teachings can be seen in the earlier traditions of Judaism and Christianity. To a large degree, also, al-Ghazzali drew directly from earlier Muslim sources, traditional and mystic.209 The unique contribution that was al-Ghazzali's remains his mastery in two areas. Firstly, he possessed in his own person, the vast and variegated knowledge that was classical Islam. He was Koranic devotee, theologian, jurist, student of mystical theory, and defender of orthodoxy locked in debate with sectarianism and philosophy. He possessed this knowledge and integrated it into his own spiritual life and quest. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, he was a master peda­gogue. He was devoted to his fellow believers and was, because of his belief in the idea of renewal dedicated to sharing his quest.

It is in this light that we proceed to al-Ghazzali's Book of Repentance.





Which is the first book in the Quarter of Salvation of the Book of the

Revival of the Religious Sciences


Praise to God, with whose praise every book is prefaced; with whose invocation every discourse commences; by whose praise the people of felicity shall abide with ease in the abode of recompense; and by whose name the wretched are consoled, even if the bar is set down before them, and they are separated from the blissful by a portaled wall; inside thereof Divine Mercy obtains, while outside Divine Chastisement proceeds.

We turn unto Him in penitence, convinced that He is master of all masters and originator of all causes. We look to Him in anticipation, knowing Him to be the King, compassionate, forgiving and disposed to accept penitence. We blend dread with hope, not doubting that while being forgiving of transgression and receptive to repentance He is also stern in inflicting punishment.

We pray for His prophet Muhammad, God bless him, and for his family and companions, 211  a prayer that will rescue us from the terror of the place whence one will look down on the day of resurrection212  and will secure for us nearness to and safe refuge with God.

But to proceed; Repentance from sin, by recourse to the Veiler of vices, Knower of secrets, is the starting point for the followers of the spiritual path, the capital of the successful, the first step of the aspirants, key to the straightening of the bent, the prelude of the selection and election for those who are brought close to God; and for our father Adam, God bless him,213 and all the other prophets. How appropriate it is for children to emulate their fathers and ancestors. It is small wonder if a son of Adam sins and does wrong, a disposition which one who transgresses may recognize as a hereditary trait.214 For who resembles his father and does no evil? But if the father is restored after failing215 and is revitalized after aging, let the emulation of him be at both poles, of the negative and the positive. Adam has been smitten with remorse, filled with repentance over his past deeds. Anyone who follows him as a model of sinning [only], and not in penitence, has stumbled.

Devotion to pure goodness is a trait of the angels close to God. Devo­tion to uncorrected evil is the nature of devils. But, return to good after stumbling in evil is inevitable in human beings. The devotee of absolute good is an angel intimate of the King [who is] Judge. The devotee of evil only is a devil. But he who rectifies evil by returning to good, is, in truth, human. So, in man's nature there is a duality of disposition, two traits joining in him.

Every human being verifies his relationship with the Angel, Adam or the Devil. The penitent, by keeping to the definition of Man, truly proves that he is related to Adam, whilst he who persists in iniquity is proving that he is related to the Devil. Confirmation of relationship to the Angels, [3] however, by dedication exclusively to the good, is beyond the realm of possibility. For evil is firmly kneaded with good in the nature of man, and it cannot be refined except by one of the two fires: of peni­tence, or of Hell. Burning in fire is necessary to purify the human essence of the Satanic pollution.216 It is up to you now to choose the easier fire,217 and to be prompt in embarking on the lesser discomfort before the choice is withdrawn to give way to the inevitability218 of either Paradise or Hell.

Since219 repentance holds such a place within the faith, it must be put first in the Quarter of Salvation with explanation of its true nature, requisites, motivation, manifestation and benefit, the difficulties barring it 220 and the remedies facilitating it. This will become clear by discuss­ing four pillars.

The First Pillar: On the Nature of Repentance.

Explication of its definition and true character; that it is obligatory, at once, for all men, under all conditions and, if properly carried through, accepted.

The Second Pillar: On the Context of Repentance (i.e. transgression).

Explication of sin's division into venial and mortal sins, some toward one's fellow-man others toward God; how higher and lower states [in the hereafter] are distributed according to good and evil works [in this life]; the circumstances amplifying the venial sins.

The Third Pillar: On the Requisites and Perseverance of Repentance. How past iniquities may be corrected, and

transgression atoned; the categories of men221 according to their perseverance in repentance.

The Fourth Pillar: On the Stimulus spurring Repentance and the way of Treatment for the Dissolution of the Knot of Persistence.

The goal of the exposition concerning these four pillars will be attained by God's will.




Explication of Repentance and its Definition

Repentance is a concept consisting of three successive and joined ele­ments: knowledge, state [of remorse] and action. Knowledge is first, awareness second and action third.222 The first necessitates the second, and the second necessitates the third, in accord with the continuity of the divine regimen in matters temporal and spiritual.

As for knowledge, it is the realization of the magnitude of the sin's harm and its being a barrier between man and the divine. If he realizes this with utter and decisive certainty, overwhelming his heart, this reali­zation will stir a heartache on account of the Beloved eluding him. For the heart, whenever it perceives the withdrawal of the Beloved, is pained. If the withdrawal be through man's own action, he is regretful of that alienating behaviour. Such grief of the heart over behaviour alienating the Beloved is called Regret.

When this anguish becomes overpowering, another inner state is induced, termed volition and aspiration towards [new] behaviour con­nected with the present, the past, and the future. Its connection with the present consists of the repudiation of the sin with which he was entwined. For the future, it involves the determination to abandon forever the sin which causes alienation from the Beloved. With regard to the past, it entails correction of what was omitted by [doing] good and performing [the omitted act], if it is susceptible to [such] restoration.

Thus, knowledge is prerequisite and is the starting point of these bless­ings. By this knowledge I mean faith, and certitude. To have faith is to accept as true that Sins are a deadly poison. Certitude consists of the assurance of the acceptance of this truth, the removal of all doubt about it and finally its mastery over the heart, so that whenever the illumina­tion of this Faith shines upon the heart it produces the fire of Regret. It, in turn, will bring forth anguish as the heart perceives, through this illumination of the light of the faith, that it has become veiled from its Beloved. As one who was in darkness and on the verge of ruin, and, with the dispersal of clouds and the rending of a veil, the illumination of the sun shone and radiated upon him,223 and he saw his Beloved. Then the flames of love burn in his heart and these flames flare up in his will to rise to correct his ways.

Knowledge, Regret, and the intent connected with abandonment [of sin] in the present and future, and correction of the [sin perpetrated in the] past are three successive concepts within this process. The term Penitence (tawba) refers to this totality. Frequently, the term Penitence is used for the concept of Regret alone, as if making knowledge a precon­dition, and abandonment a result and later consequence. It is in this sense that the Prophet said: ‘Regret is Repentance,’a for Regret is void of knowledge which [4] necessitates and evokes it, and of determination which follows it. Regret is surrounded at both ends, by its result and its cause.

In this sense it is said, about Repentance as such that it is the melting of the entrails as a result of previous offense for this exposes to sheer agony. It is therefore said: /It is a fire raging in the heart, a fissure within that does not heal/. With respect to the meaning of Abandonment as an element of Repentance, it is related: It is the casting off of alienation and the start of fidelity.

Sahl ibn 'Abd Allah al-Tustari224 has said: Repentance is the change from reprehensible acts to commendable acts. This can be accomplished only in solitude and silence, eating from that which is allowed [i.e., earn­ing an honest livelihood]. He seems to have pointed to the third element of Repentance.

The sayings about Repentance are innumerable. Yet, if you have understood these three aspects in their junction and sequence you will know that all that has been said regarding it falls short of encompassing all its aspects. The search for the knowledge of the true essence is more important than the pursuit of mere verbalizations.

Explication of the Obligatoriness and Excellence of Repentance

Know, that the obligatoriness (wujub) of repentance is evident in the Koran and the Tradition,b and it is manifest in the light of discernment to him whose discernment has developed and whose heart God has laid open to the light of faith, so that he is capable225 of advancing. in this light amidst the murk of ignorance, without need of someone directing226 his every step.

A pilgrim (sdlik), may be blind, and must have someone to direct his steps; or his vision may be good, and he will be guided227 to the begin­ning of the way (tariq) whence he will guide himself. In the way of religion, men are similarly divided. There is the limited type not able to transcend blind imitation (taqlid) of past authority, and requiring, at each step, a text from God's Book or the tradition of His prophet, and in the absence of such a passage he may become perplexed, and, though he live long and be most diligent, such a man's progress may be limited, and his steps failing.

But then there is the fortunate man whose heart God has opened to an acceptance of Islam, and who is illumined by God. He will respond to the slightest indication to follow a difficult path and overcome tire­some obstacles. The light of the Koran and the Faith will glow in his heart, and, due to the intensity of his inner illumination, the slightest explanation will suffice him. IT IS AS IF HIS OIL WELLNIGH WOULD SHINE EVEN IF NO FIRE TOUCHED IT; and if THE FIRE TOUCHED IT THEN IT WOULD BE LIGHT UPON LIGHT. GOD GUIDES TO HIS LIGHT WHOM HE WILL.228 Such a man has no need for a traditional text at every turn.

A person like that, if he desires to understand the obligation of repent­ance, examines, through the light of [his] discernment, what is the nature of repentance, then he scrutinizes what is the meaning of Obligation, then he combines these, and there will be no doubt as to his persever­ance therein: To wit, he knows that the meaning of the obligatory is that which is obligatory for attainment of eternal bliss and deliverance from everlasting damnation. For unless 'happiness and misery are depen­dent229 on some action or its Omission, describing the act as being obligatory would be without meaning. The statement, 'it became obliga­tory by being given obligation [in some impersonal way]', is mere verbiage. For, in the case of an act where we have no purpose, near or distant, in doing it or leaving it undone and so no meaning in busying ourselves with it, someone else made it obligatory for us or did not make it obligatory.

If man understands the concept of obligation [of repentance], that it is the means to eternal bliss; that. there is no bliss in the Hereafter except in encounter of God; that everyone barred therefrom is no doubt suffer­ing, feeling separated from. the object of his desire, and seared by the flame of separation and hellfire; that what keeps him away from encoun­tering God is following the lusts and fondness for this ephemeral world and the pursuit of affection for something with which lie inevitably must part; that nothing can bring near the encounter with God except the severance of his heart's attachment to the vanity of this life, complete responsiveness to God, in search of intimacy with Him by constantly remembering Him and by love (mahabba) for Him, in the knowledge of His Majesty and Beauty, to the extent of man's capability; and that the transgressions which constitute turning from God and following the delights of the devils, those enemies of God that keep one away from His presence, are the cause of man's being shut off, kept out from [the presence] of God; then there is no doubt that renunciation of the path leading away [from God] is obligatory in order to achieve closeness to Him.

Renunciation, however, is achieved by Knowledge, Regret, and Determination. As long as man knows not that transgressions are the causes for the remoteness of the Beloved, he will neither regret nor grieve over his traveling on the path of withdrawal. As long as he has not grieved, he will not turn back, retreat being abandonment and determination. No doubt, these three elements are necessary in reaching [5] the Beloved, Such is then Faith that derives from the light of perception.

As for the [ordinary] man who is not qualified for such a station, whose climax transcends the bounds of most people, he has ample scope, through the following of convention and example, to attain salvation from dam­nation. Let him heed the word of God, His prophet and the righteous forebears (salaf ).

God said, as a universal statement, BELIEVERS, TURN TO GOD [in repentance], HAPLY YOU MAY PROSPER;230 and He said: 0 BELIEVERS, TURN TO GOD IN SINCERE REPENTANCE.231 The meaning of 'sincere' in the verse is 'sincere with God', free of blemish, the word being derived232 from 'sincere counsel'. Further, God's word points out the excellence of repentance. TRULY GOD LOVES PENI­TENTS AND THOSE THAT CLEANSE THEMSELVES.233

The Prophet said: 'The Penitent is beloved unto God, and he who repents of sin is as one who has never sinned.'a He also said: 'God is happier with the repentance of His faithful servant than the man [about whom the following story is related].

'Accompanied by his camel which bore his food and drink, he came to an arid desert. He laid down his head and napped. He awoke and his camel was gone. He searched for it until the heat and thirst overcame him, et cetera. He said, I will return whence I started and sleep until I die. He proceeded to place his head upon his arm so as to die. Then, he was aroused, and lo, his camel stood before him, provisions intact. God's joy at the repentance of the faithful servant is more intense than that of the man on account of his camel.'a (Some versions have it that in his great joy and desirous of thanking God, he exclaimed: 'I am your master and you are my servant.')

It has been transmitted on the authority of Hasan [al-Basri]: When God forgave Adam, the angels congratulated him. Gabriel and Michael descended to him and said: '0 Adam, may you delight in God's for­giveness!' Adam replied: '0 Gabriel, if a question remains after this pardon, what is my standing?' God, then, revealed to him: '0 Adam, you have bequeathed your descendants toil and hardship but also repen­tance. Whosoever of them shall call upon Me, I shall respond to him as I did to you. Whosoever shall seek pardon, I shall not withhold it from him, for I am nigh and responsive! 0 Adam, I shall gather up the penitents from their graves happy and laughing, their supplication answered.'

There are innumerable traditions on the subject, and there exists within the community a general consensus as to the obligatoriness [of penitence]. For its meaning is the recognition that sins and iniquities are destructive and remove Man from God. This sense is part and parcel of the obligatori­ness of Faith. At times, however, disregard of it may occur. Knowledge means the elimination of this disregard. There is no doubt of the obliga­tory nature of repentance.

Among the various aspects of repentance are the abandonment of iniquities in the present; resolve to abstain in the future; correction of previous shortcomings. Of the obligation of these there is no doubt. As for regret and sadness of past offenses, surely this is obligatory. It is the very spirit of repentance which includes full rectification. How could this not be obligatory? Nay, it is a sort of pain one suffers following the realization of how much of lifetime has passed away and was wasted in the wrath of God.

You might say:

Heart anguish is a necessary state about which one has no choice. How then can it be classified as an obligation?

Know, then, that such anguish is caused by the certainty of having missed the Beloved. Man has a path by which to grasp its cause. In this sense, knowledge can be classified as obligatory. It cannot, however, be understood as a self-induced creation of man, for this would be absurd. Rather, Knowledge, Regret, Action, Volition, Capacity and the carrier ate all creations and deeds of God . GOD HAS CREATED YOU AND [ALL] THAT YOU DO.234 This is what men of insight235 consider true, and all else is wrong.

You might also ask:

Has man, then, no choice in action and abandonment?

This we must answer in the affirmative. Yet this does not contradict our previous statement that everything stems from God's creation. So, also, does choice. Man is compelled in that choice which is his.

Indeed when God created the right hand, [6] delicious food and the appetite for food in the stomach, He also created the innate awareness that this food would alleviate the craving. He also produced the oppos­ing notions: does or does not this food, while alleviating the craving, also contain harm and, perhaps, there is some objection to it, making its consumption objectionable. Further He created the knowledge that there is no obstacle. When these factors converge, there emerges a resolve motivating consumption. The emergence of the resolve, then, after vacil­lating between contradictory notions, and following on the intense236 appetite for the food, is called choice. It is inevitable that it should set in upon the convergence of all these conditions. Then, as resolve emerges through God's creation of these conditions, the right hand duly rises towards the food. For after volition and ability are attained, the follow­ing of the act is necessary so that the movement is produced. Thus the movement is by God's creation, following the attainment of ability and the emergence of the resolve, both also of divine creation. The emer­gence of volition follows real appetite and the recognition that there are no objections, again by divine creation. But some of these creations follow others in an order habitual in divine creation. YOU SHALL NOT FIND FOR THE WAY OF GOD AUGHT OF CHANGE.237

God does not create the movement of the hand in orderly writing so long as He has not created in the hand the quality of capacity, life and emerging will. Nor does He create a firm resolve as long as He has not brought forth desire and inclination in the soul. This inclination is not fully induced until there is knowledge that it suits the soul either immedi­ately or ultimately. Knowledge, also, comes about only by other ele­ments going back to movement, will and knowledge. Knowledge and natural disposition, then, always entail firm resolve. Movement always follows power and resolve. Such is the order of each action. All of it derives from divine origination.

Some of His creations, however, are preconditions of others and, there­fore, some will have to precede others, e.g., will appears only after knowledge, which comes only with life, which emerges only after the creation of the body. The creation of the body is, therefore, requisite for the incidence of life but not in the sense that life is generated from the body. Likewise, the creation of life is a condition for the creation of knowledge, but not in the sense that knowledge is born of life. Yet, there is no ready receptacle for knowledge except it be alive. The crea­tion of knowledge is then a requisite for the emerging resolve but not in the sense that knowledge engenders resolve. But only a live and know­ing body is receptive of a state of volition.

Nothing is included in Existence except that which is possible, and possibility is an ordained order which does not tolerate change, for such would be an absurdity. As soon as the precondition of a quality exists, the carrier endowed with it is created to receive the quality. This qual­ity, then, is attained through divine grace and eternal power, once the disposition has set in. In as much as the disposition, on account of the preconditions, has [pre-ordained] order, the flow, by God's directives, of events has a set order, and Man, then, is the arena of these divinely pre-ordained successive events. These events are regulated by divine decree, which is as the twinkling of an eye,238 in a universal and unchangeable order. Their manifestation239 is so predestined in detail that man cannot transcend them. This is expressed in the divine saying, WE HAVE CREATED ALL THINGS ACCORDING TO A FIXED DECREE,240 and concerning the absolute and eternal decree in the verse, WE HAVE COMMANDED. BUT ONE WORD, AS THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE.241

Men are subject to the flow of fate and divine decree. Part of destiny is the creation of the movement in the hand of the writer242 after the creation of a special quality in the hand which quality is termed capacity. This follows the introduction of a strong and definite inclination, called Intent, in man's soul. This succeeds knowledge of the object of his incli­nation, which is called Awareness and Perception.

When, from the hidden reaches of the invisible world,243 these four elements appear upon the person of a man, who is subject to the com­pulsion of fate, the people of the visible world, barred as they are from the invisible and sublime world, come and say: O man, you who have moved, aimed and written. But proclaimed from behind the veil of the transcendental and the whirlwind of majesty, it has been announced: When you have aimed it is not you that has aimed but God. When you have killed, it is not you that has done it.244 But, BATTLE THEM, GOD CHASTIES THEM AT YOUR HANDS.245

The minds of those sitting in the middle of the sensible world are there upon sorely confused. Some teach utter predestination (jabr). Some main­tain pure indeterminism (ikhtird' sirf). Yet others mediate and tend towards the theory of acquisition (kasb). If the gates of heaven were opened to them and they looked into the transcendental world, it would become apparent to them that each one is right in a sense, and yet all share in failure, and not one of them had fathomed the matter in all its aspects. Complete perception of it is attained by illumination through an aperture reaching into the invisible world. God knows the hidden world and the manifest. He reveals this hidden realm only to such a messenger with whom He is well-pleased.246 The manifest may be perceived [7] by one who has not come within the scope of [His] satisfaction. To him, who sets into motion the chain of causes and results, and knows the manner of its sequence and the nature of its connection to the primal cause; the secret of destiny is disclosed, and he acquires certainty that there is no creator and originator save for God.

If you say: you have concluded that each of these respective advo­cates of predestination, free will and acquisition is correct, to some degree, but also falls short of truth, are you not positing a contradic­tion? How can such a situation be understood? Is it possible to explain this through a parable?

A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town but none of them had seen its shape nor had they heard its name. They said: 'We must inspect and know it by touch of which we are capable.' So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. One of them grasped its leg,247 another its tusk and the third its ear. Then they said: `Now we know it.' When248 they departed, the other blind men questioned them but the three differed in their answers. The one who felt the leg said: `The elephant is similar to a coarse cylinder outside although it appears to be softer than that.' The one who had felt the tusk said: 'It is not as he says. It is solid without any softness on it. It is smooth, not coarse. It is not at all stiff but rather it resembles a column.' The third man, who had handled the ear, said: `By my life, it is soft and somewhat coarse. One of them is right but it is not like a column or a cylinder. It is rather, like broad, thick hide.'

Now, each of these presented a true aspect when he related what he had gained from experiencing the elephant. None of them had strayed from the true description of the elephant. Yet, together, they fell short of fathoming the true appearance of the elephant. Ponder this parable and learn from it. It is the pattern of most human controversies. If these words touch the revealed sciences and provoke ripples therein, this was not our intention.

Let us, then, return to our present concern, i.e., the explanation that repentance with all its three divisions: Knowledge, Regret and Renun­ciation is obligatory. Regret comes within the scope of obligatoriness as this occurs in all of God's actions that are interposed between man's knowledge and his will and power. That which answers this description is included in the term 'obligatoriness'.


Explication that Promptness is [essential in fulfilling] the Obligation of Repentance

No one doubts that promptness if [essential in fulfilling] this obliga­tion, since perception of sins' destructiveness is of the essence of faith (iman), which is immediately obligatory. Its obligatoriness is profoundly grasped by him whom this keeps from reprehensible action. Indeed this perception is not of the revealed disciplines ('umm al-mukashafat) which are independent of action. Rather, it is of the sciences of practical religion ('ulian al-mu amala).249 Every [item of] knowledge that is intended to be a stimulus to action has not been fully perceived as long as it has not become such a stimulus. The knowledge of sins' harm was intended to be a stimulus to renouncing them. He, then, who has not abandoned sin is failing in this part of faith. Such is the intent of the Prophet's say­ing: `The adulterer does not fornicate at the time of fornication, he being a believer."

His intent in [this saying] was not the denial of the faith which pertains to the revealed disciplines, such as knowledge of God['s existence], His unity, His attributes, His scriptures and Apostles. Indeed, adultery and transgression do not preclude that. Rather, he thereby meant denial of the belief that adultery alienates [one] from God and leads to abomina­tion. It is similar to a situation where the physician says: 'This is poison, do not take it.' If the patient then takes it, it can be said [that] he took it as a non-believer. [This is meant] not in the sense that he lacks belief in the existence of the physician or in his being a physician. Neither [does it indicate] the patient's distrust of the physician. Rather, what is meant is that the patient distrusts the physician's statement that the compound is a lethal toxin. Indeed, he who knows [the nature of] the toxin will not take it at all.

The sinner, of necessity, lacks in faith. Faith is not one variety but rather some seventy whose highest point is the creed (shahada) that there is only one God, and whose lowest point is the removal of harm from the path. It is similar to the saying: Man is not one creature but rather some seventy whose highest is the heart and spirit, and whose lowest is keeping harm from the outer skin so that the mustache will be shaven, the nails cut and the skin free [8] of scum so that he is set apart from the beasts soiled by their detestable dung, with their long claws and hooves. This is a fitting simile.

Faith is similar to man. The loss of the affirmation of [God's] unity produces total futility like the loss of the spirit. He who has nothing save the affirmation of God's unity and of [Muhammad's] mission is like a man whose limbs are cut off, whose eyes have burst, and who has lost all his organs, both internal and external, except250 the spiritual element.

Just as he, who is in this condition, is close to death, the weak and solitary spirit, bereft of the limbs which support it and give it strength, abandoning him, so, he who being deficient in works, has naught save the root of faith is near to having the [whole] tree of his faith uprooted when, preceding the approach and arrival of the Angel of Death, the tempest which dislocates faith strikes the tree.

Any faith that is not firmly rooted in certitude nor branched out in action will not withstand the stormy terror of the Angel of Death, and may be in danger of an evil end, unlike faith that is tempered continu­ously with pious deeds until faith is firmly anchored.

The statement of the defiant to the obedient [servant]: 'I am a believer just as you are a believer,' is like the statement of the pumpkin tree to the stone pine: 'I am a tree and you are a tree.' How apt was the pine's retort when it said: 'When the autumn winds blow you will surely realize your foolishness in including [us both under the same] nomenclature, for then your roots will be severed, your leaves will fall away, and your conceit in sharing the name 'tree', as well as your heedlessness of the conditions of a tree's stability, will be made apparent.'

When the dust settles, you will see, If it's a horse you're riding, or an ass.

This matter will become apparent at the end. The arteries of people of perception collapse in fear of the vicissitudes of death and its terrible foreshadowing which only very few will withstand.

The sinner, when undaunted by the consequence of his disobedience, eternal hellfire, is like the healthy man who, addicted to injurious passions, is not, while in his healthy state, afraid of death. Indeed death does not usually occur suddenly. He may be told: 'The healthy man fears sickness, then, if he takes ill he hears death. So, the sinner fears a bad end, then, when, God forbid, his end is bad, he is consigned to eternal hellfire'.

Sins are to faith what toxic foods are to the body. They. keep accumulat­ing inside [the body] until the component elements change, imperceptibly, until the composition deteriorates and suddenly the man falls ill, then, suddenly, dies. So it is with the sinner. If a man afraid of ruination in this passing world must, immediately and constantly, abandon toxic sub­stances and harmful foods, so too, and even more so must he who fears eternal perdition.

If a man who consumed poison, then felt regret, would need vomit and discontinue the consumption of poison by invalidating and remov­ing it from the stomach in the quickest manner, to save his body which is on the verge of death, the loss merely of this ephemeral world, then, he who consumes what is toxic to religion, that is commits sins, is even more obliged to desist from these sins by correcting whatever is possible so long as there remains time for correction, namely [the remainder of his] lifetime.

For, what is feared from this toxin is the loss of everlasting life which contains lasting bliss and the great kingdom;251 its loss entails the fire of Hell and lasting chastisement which is such as multiples of life in this world are less than one tenth of a tenth of its duration, it having no end at all.

Hurry, hurry, then, to repent before the toxic sins do their work on the spirit of faith, and the matter will transcend physicians and their knowledge.252 After which seeking shelter will avail naught nor will counsel and admonition, and man may be said to be among the damned, as it says: SURELY WE HAVE PUT ON THEIR NECKS FETTERS UP TO THE CHIN, SO THAT THEY ARE MADE STIFF NECKED; AND WE HAVE PUT BEFORE THEM A BARRIER AND BEHIND THEM A BARRIER; AND WE HAVE COVERED THEM, SO THEY DO NOT SEE. IT IS ALIKE WHETHER OR NOT YOU FOREWARN THEM, THEY DO NOT BELIEVE.253

Do not be deluded by the word `faith'. We say the verse pertains to the unbeliever. Since it has been explained to you that faith is of some seventy varieties, and that 'the adulterer does not fornicate being a believer',254 he then who is barred from faith which is bough and branch, will be barred, in the end, from that faith which is the root. Just as the man who, bereft of limbs, which are the branches, will be led to final death of that spirit (ruh) which is the root. But the root has no continuity without the branch, [9] nor has the branch existence without the root. There is no difference between the root and the branch except in one point: the existence and continuity of the branch requires the exis­tence of the root while the existence of the root does not require the exis­tence of the branch. The continuity of the root, then, lies in the branch, and the branch draws its existence from the root.

Likewise the revealed discipline and the disciplines of practical religion are as inseparable as the root and branch. Neither can dispense with the other even though one of them has a primary status and the other is secondary. If the disciplines of practical religion have not become a stimu­lus to action, their non-existence is preferable to their existence. If they have not carried out their intended function, they turn into a support for the case against their student. Therefore, the chastisement of the learned but immoral is greater than that of the immoral ignoramus, as can be seen from the Traditions we cited in the Book of Knowledge.255

 (To be continued...Inshallah! (Thanks to Said Sh. (Proofreader)


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