A study of the Life and Personality of Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Tusi al-Ghazali, together



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The tradition states that " he who knows himself knows his Lord," and al-Ghazali does not hesitate to draw the conclusion that the soul is itself Divine in its origin ; it knows God, because it is godlike. The spirit of man is " of the amr of God " and amr has a deeper meaning than that of " command " ; it is rather the Divine Spirit. 4 There are two worlds, says al-Ghazali, the world of creation (khalq) and 'the world of amr and both belong to God. All that is material belongs to the phenomenal world of created things and is subject to modality and dimension, and sensible things have, no real existence, but all that is free from modality and dimension, all that has real existence, belongs to the spiritual world, the world of amr and this is the sphere of the human soul. It, like all else belonging to that world,

• al-Risdlal al-Laduniyya, pp. 26 ff. Ma'arij al-Quds, p. i i.

• Ihyk, III, p. 2. Kimiya at-Sa'nda,, p. 6.

• Aflshkal al-Anwar, pp. 131, 132.

• Cf. P. 107 above.

AL-GHAZALI'S MYSTICAL TEACHING 143

is abiding, eternal, self-subsistent, incorruptible. I The secret self, man's inward' part (sirr al-galb) al-Ghazali states elsewhere, is a Divine thing, a ray from the Light of God, a spark from the Eternal Flame, and within it, and to it, is revealed the Ultimate Reality, the image of the Whole, so that it, too, is filled with the Divine Light and manifests it forth. 2 Again he speaks of the human soul as Divine in origin (min al umur al-Alihiyya), more glorious and exalted than vile bodies. 3 The body is a type of the lower world and the spirit is a type of the higher world. The rational soul is like a governor who organises and controls and rules and issues commands and prohibitions and does what he wills in effacing and confirming it is the vicegerent of God in the sphere of the body and the Word of God in relation to the gross outward form. It is the Divine bridge stretched between the brutes who are unmixed evil and the angels who are unmixed good. As it descended from the Heavens so it will re-ascend thither and at the last pass away into the Divine Majesty.'


The human soul is enabled to see and perceive Divine -Reifrty by means of a spiritual sense called intuition, which goes beyond reason. Personality, al-Ghazali holds, includes the outward form and the inward character or self since man is composed of a body which perceives by the vision of the eyes, and of spirit and soul which perceives by the insight : both have an appear­ance and a form, either foul or fair, and the soul which perceives by means of the insight is of greater value than the body which perceives by means of the eyes. s " Certain of the Sufis maintain," writes al-Ghazali, " that the heart possesses an organ of sight like the body, and outward things are seen with the outward eye and inward realities with the eye of the mind. The Apostle said : " Every servant has two eyes in his heart," and they are eyes by which he perceives the Invisible, and when God wishes well to one of His servants He opens the eyes of his heart, so that he may see what is hidden from his outward
i al-Risalat al-Laduniyya, p. 29. Ihya, 11. P. 200. III, pp. 326 ff. Kil4b

al-Arba'in, p. 53. Cf. al-Madnun al-. aghfr, PP. 4, 9.

al-Dfunawi, op. cit., fol. ig8a. Ihya, III, p. 350. s .ilfzan al-'Anal, p. 18.

al-Ma'arif al-'Agliyya, fol. 9b, al-Madnan al-Saghir, p. 9. 1 Ihya,-III, p. 46.

IF

144 AL-GHAZALI'S MYSTICAL TEACHING



sight." The spiritually-minded (arbab al-qulub) see with the inward eye more clearly than with the outward eyes, for the latter may be at fault, seeing what is far-off as near and the large as small, but the spiritual insight cannot be at fault. Each of these eyes,. the outward and the inner has a sun and a light, whereby its vision is perfected, one of these lights is external, belonging to the material world, to wit, the sun, and the other

to nl 3...7. .,

int rr al, belonging to the spiritual world, and it is the Word

of God. I The veil of man's lusts and his worldly pre-occupations


prevent him from seeing anything of the unseen Divine world,
so long as the veil is not withdrawn from the eye of his.heart,
but when it is withdrawn, as in the case of God's elect, then
undoubtedly man can look upon that Divine world and contem­
plate its wonders. 2
There is, too, an " inward hearing." What is heard with the
" outward hearing " is only sound and man shares that faculty.
with the rest of the animals, but by the "inward hearing"
(al-sama` al-bdtin) he can hear and comprehend the spiritual
meaning which lies beyond outward speech. To the man whose
spiritual hearing is dulled, the song of the birds, the noise of
the waves and the sighing of the wind, are mere sounds, but to that one whose spiritual hearing is alert, they are all bearing witness to the Unicity of God and praising Him with eloquent tongue. 3 This inward perception, which is intuition (al-basirat. al-batina) finds its satisfaction in what is invisible; inaudible, to the outward senses-in the things which are not temporal, but eternal.4 The heart, therefore, has two gates, one opening outwards, which is that of. the senses, and one opening inwards, towards the Divine world, which is within the heart, and that is the gate whereby it receives inspiration and revelation.6
Like other mystics, both.Christian and Sufi, al-Ghazali compares the human heart or soul, to a mirror. The human soul, he says,
i al-Ris4lat al-Laduniyya, p. 30. 1hya, IV, P. 26. Mishhat al-4"M-4r, p. roe. Cf. a present-day writer on mysticism : " What we need to acquire is the seeing eye that sees through the visible and temporal, in clairvoyant fashion, and discovers the eternal and spiritual here and now revealed in the midst of time and. things. R. Jones, New Studies in Mystical Religion, p. 86.

' Iliyd, IV, P. 437.

' Ihyd, 11, pp. 218, 219.

' Kilab al-Arba'in, p. 251.

Ihyd, III, p. 22. Mfzan al-'Amal, p. 21.

AL-GHAZALI'S MYSTICAL TEACHING 145

is a mirror able to reflect the truth and its perfection, and that by which it is distinguished from all the lower animals, consists in this aptitude, but very often there is a veil over the mirror which hinders the reflection.. Yet, as a veil may sometimes be removed by the hand and sometimes by the action of the wind moving it, so also the breezes of the Divine grace may blow, and raise the veil from men's hearts and reveal therein some­thing oof the Eternal Truth. That may happen in sleep and also in waking hours, when the veil is raised by God's favour, and there shines within the human heart something from behind the curtain of the Invisible. So to the inmost self Reality as a whole may be revealed so that the whole of existence is reflected in it and it comprehends the Universe. I
The human soul, since it is Divine in its origin, the effect of the inbreathing of the Eternal Spirit, existed before the body to which it is temporarily attached while in this world, but with which it has no real affinity, the body being only its vehicle and instrument. The spirit itself is like a radiant sun and its light is dimmed only while it inhabits this temporal body, in which it is a . stranger, but that sun will rise again when this body, which obscures its light, passes away. 3 In his Qasida al-Ta'iyya, al-Ghazali conceives of the soul as being one in essence with its Lord before it descended into this world for a period of affliction in the body. The death of the body means, for the soul, only a return to the state in which it was before it was abased.' He quotes the words of the Prophet, to the effect that " Bodies are the cage of birds or thestable of beasts of burden," but the soul, when released from that cage, flies upwards to its own
abode. 4
This visible world is a road along which man journeys, but his native land and his permanent abode is the world invisible.
i Mfzan af'Arial, p. 31. Ihyd, III, pp. 16, 450. 1V, p. 431. III, p. 450• This latter conception finds a curious parallel in the experience of the German mystic Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) who wrote : " I saw and knew the Being

of all Beings, the Byss and the Abyss-the Descent and Origin of the World and-of all creatures through the Divine, Wisdom.... In this Light my spirit suddenly saw through all and in and by all the creatures it knew Cod Who He is and what His Will is." The Aurora; Chap. XIX.

' 1iiy.,, .IV. T1. 20. at-Ris4lat al-Laduniyya, p, 30. Ma'arij.al-Quds, p. 13o,

i 222, 233•

n,.::i al al-I asanlf fi'l-Ta¢awwuf, p. id and cf. p. 113-above.

K

b



is

146 AL-GHAZALI'S 'MYSTICAL TEACHING

This phenomenal world is like a sleep in relation to the Divine

world! as the Prophet said : "Men are asleep and when

they die, they awake." The realities of waking hours can be

shown in sleep only by images and so what will come to pass

in the awakening of the life to come is seen in the sleep of this

world under an image, and things are seen only as types. When the soul returns to its Lord,, it is awakened and knows the Reality of what was only typified before. I

al-Ghazali, therefore, believes in the immortality of the soul.

If the soyl.is not immortal then all of which we have been told and which"we have experienced is vain." 2 He quotes the Qur'anic verse : " Say not of those who are slain for the sake of God that they are dead, nay, they are alive." s The soul, being a siihpie essence, having real existence, a spiritual thing, Divine in nature, cannot be subject to corruption or mortality, and al-Ghazali develops the argument with great subtlety, bringing it to a triumphant conclusion. 4 Since the human soul is the sphere of faith and gnosis, death has no power over it. "The heart of the believer does not die and the knowledge he possesses at the time of his death is not obliterated and his state of purity is not defiled, and that is the meaning of the saying ' The dust does not devour the abode of faith,' nay, rather death is a means of access and approach unto God.- 6 That sun, which was temporarily veiled by the body, must return to its Creator and Maker, either darkened and eclipsed, or shining and radiant, and the sun which shines with its pristine radiance will not be veiled from the Divine Presence. 6 The soul which descended from its Divine Source to inhabit a body in this terrestrial world will ascend again to that higher world " it will look towards its Source and unto Him it will return." 7

Ihya, r[I, p, g, IV, p. 21. Cf. St. Paul "Here we see through a glass

darkly, but then face to face." I Cor., xiii, 12.

' Mi'raj al-Salikisn, p. 23. ' Sura Ir, 149,

s Ma'artjIal-Quds, pp. 126-134. Cf. al-Risalat al-Laduniyya, p. 29. Ihya, II p I

g

,. ' Ihyo, IV, p. 26. .



s at-Risdlat al-Laduniyya, p. 30. Cf. Fatihal al-'Ulum, p, 40

CHAPTER X

The Beginning of the Ascent, The Creature and the Creator.

It is on this conception of the relation of the human soul to God that al-Ghazali bases his teaching on the mystic Path, by which the soul ascends whence it came. He relates the saying of a certain gnostic who said that God has two secrets which He makes known to His servant. The first is revealed when he comes forth from his mother's womb and his Lord says unto him : I have brought you forth into this world, pure and undefiled, and I have committed your life unto you and given it to you in trust, therefore look how you fulfil that trust and consider in what manner you will meet with Me hereafter." The second is revealed when the spirit returns to Him Who made it and He says : " My servant, what have you done with that which I committed unto you ? Have you so preserved it that you can meet Me having fulfilled your trust, so that I can fulfil My promise unto you ? Or have you so squandered it, that I must meet you with a claim against you for requital ? "

The soul, then, belonging to the spiritual world, bearing the image of the Divine, a mirror able to reflect Reality, was pure (salim) in its origin-" every child is born with an innate sense of religion," but through its association with a material body in this lower world, the soul has fallen from its high estate. The mirror has become tarnished and the pristine purity of the soul defiled : ".that fair countenance has become disfigured by the dust and defilement of sin." 1

In considering the causes by which the human soul has become alienated from its Divine Source, al-Ghazali has recourse to the tradition : " God hath Seventy Thousand Veils of Light and Darkness : were He to withdraw them, then would the glory of His Countenance consume every one who looked upon Him." al-Ghazali considers that these veils vary according to the

I Ihya, IV, P. I1.



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148 AL-GHAZALI'S MYSTICAL TEACHING

different natures of those veiled from the One Reality. The

first class of these are veiled by Pure Darkness, the atheists

who believe neither in God nor His judgment, and these can be

subdivided into those who regard Nature as the cause of this

world, and those who are not concerned with causality, but

with themselves. Their own selves and their dark lusts are

the veil they establish between themselves and God. Of those

who are veiled by self some make sensual pleasures their chief

aim, others are ruled by the love of power, or riches, or personal

renown. All of these are veiled from God by pure darkness,

and they themselves are darknes- fk- '

The second class are those veilr~, o} ht mingled with dark­

ness, and they are of three types. The first are those veiled by the

darkness of the senses, all of whom have passed beyond mere

absorption in themselves, for they look for a God and long

for the knowledge of their Lord, the lowest rank of these being the idolaters and the highest the dualists. The idolaters make to themselves images of gold and silver and precious stones and regard these as gods, and they are veiled by the light of Glory and Beauty from the attributes of God and His Splendour, because they attached these attributes to material bodies, and the darkness of the senses has barred them from the Divine Light. Some tribes believe that their god must be something of great beauty, so if they see a beautiful human being, or tree or horse, they worship it as their god. They are veiled by the light of Beauty, mixed with the darkness of the senses. Others think that their god must be essential Light, but perceptible to the senses. They find that Fire answers to this description and they worship it as divine. These are veiled by the light of Might and Splendour, which really belong only to the Light of God. Others seek for what has absolute control and is exalted and sublime and so they put their faith in astrology and the influence of the stars. These are veiled by the light of Exalta­tion, of Radiance and Dominion, and these, too, come from the Divine Light alone. Another group hold that their deity must be the greatest of lights, so that they worship the sun, and these are veiled by the light of Grandeur. The last of

AL-GHAZALI'S MYSTICAL TEACHING 149

these maintain that their deity must have no partner in luminosity and so they worship Absolute Light, which includes all lights, and believe that Light strives with darkness, and these are the Dualists. There are, also some in this second class who believe in the true God, but have false notions about Him, such as the anthropomorphists. All of these are veiled by light mingled with darkness.'

The third class are veiled by pure light. They are free from anthropomorphism, for they know that the Divine attributes are beyond all human attributes, but yet they do not attain to the highest conception of the Divine Unity, which is that of the Unveiled, who attain to a Being Who transcends all that is comprehensible by sight or insight, for they find Him to be indescribable and inconceivable. 2

It is to be noted that, while all the veils come between the soul and its vision of God, and all prevent it from recognising Him as He really is, the darkest of the veils are due to the self and its desires, so that the soul which is entirely self-centred and self indulgent, is farther away from God than the idolater or the Fire-worshipper or the Dualist, who at any rate recognise something higher and better than themselves and seek to worship it.

The purpose of the mystic, then, is to set the soul free from its fetters, to purify the heart, to polish the mirror, and so remove the veils between the soul and God, so that it may he able to return to its true home, to know God as He is and once more be united with its Source. This search of the soul for God is the greatest of all quests. " If he who seeks the King Supreme in the abode of Eternal Bliss possessed a thousand thousand souls and a thousand thousand lives, each like the life of this world and longer, and if he were to spend them all in this great quest, it would be little enough, and if he attained thereby to what he sought, he would have gained a Prize far beyond all he had given." 3 Again al-Ghazali prays for one of his disciples: " May God decree for you the search for the highest bliss ; may He prepare you for the ascent to the highest height ; may He

2 1 alishkat al-Anwar, pp. 140 ff. Ibid., p. 144.

Alinnhaj al-Abidin, p. 9z.

' Alishkoe al-Anwar, p. 139.

I

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150 AL-GHAZALI'S MYSTICAL TEACHING



anoint your inward vision with the light of Reality ; may He empty your inmost self from all save His own Presence."'

Since all the veils are due to a wrong conception of God, some setting up themselves and their lusts as gods, some wor­shipping His gifts instead of the Giver, others mistaking His true nature and attributes, the first step to be taken on the return to Him is for the soul to realise what is His real nature and what is its own relation to Him. It must acknowledge His transcendence as Creator and its own creatureliness and need. Those who neglect this task are no more intelligent than the ant which has made its home in a royal palace, the dwelling­place of fair maidens and noble youths,.which is adorned with many rare and precious things. The ant, when it comes out of its hole, talks to its fellow-ants only of its home and its food and how to hoard it, but the beauties of the palace and the royal state are far beyond its consideration, it is concerned only with itself and its material needs. So, too, man, unmindful of his Creator and the heavens which are His dwelling-place, knows no more of them than the ant in the roof of his own house knows of him. But whereas the ant is incapable of understanding the palace and its rarities, man has the capacity to think upon the Divine world, and to recognise its

wonders.'

Men are too apt, like the ant, to concern themselves with the

means rather than the Final Cause. They think of the rain as

being the means of the sprouting of the seed and its growth,

and the clouds as being the cause of the rain, so, too, they think

of the wind as causing the boat to sail on its course, but all of

this is really polytheism and ignorance. The one who reflects

on the real meaning of things realises that the wind must have

some motive force behind it, and that has a further force behind

it, which ultimately comes back to the First Movent, Who is

not moved in Himself. If a man who has received a royal

letter of pardon begins to think about the ink and the paper

and the pen with which the pardon was written, and imagines

that his deliverance is due to the pen, not to him who employs

Mishhal al-'Anwar, p. 9-9.

' 14a, 1V, p. 381.

AL-GHAZALI'S MYSTICAL TEACHING 151

it, he is guilty of the greatest folly. But he who realises that it is controlled by the king's hand, pays no attention to the pen, but gives thanks only to the writer. So, to the spiritually­minded man, every particle in the heavens and the earth has been made articulate by the Divine Power, so that these utter their praises to God Most High, while bearing witness to their own impotence. All things are holding secret and ceaseless converse with the Most High and to the spiritually-Minded they whisper the secrets of the King and His Kingdom, but only those who listen will hear.'

" You ought to know yourself as you really are," aI-Ghazali writes, " so that you may understand of what nature you are and whence you have come to this world, and for what purpose you were created, and in what your happiness and your misery consist, for within you are combined the qualities of the animals and the wild beasts and the angels, but the spirit is your real essence and all beside it is, in fact, foreign to you. . . . So strive for the knowledge of your origin, so that you may know how to attain to the Divine Presence and the contemplation of the Divine Majesty and Beauty, and deliver yourself from the fetters of lust and passion . . . for God did not create you to be their captive, but that they should be your thralls, under your control, for the journey which is before you, to be your steed and your weapon, so that you may therewith pursue your happiness and then cast them under your feet." 2

The true happiness of everything and its joy consists in its attainment of the perfection belonging to it. The perfection proper to man is his comprehension of the real meaning of things, and this goes beyond imagination or feeling, which the animals share with him. The soul within itself thirsts for this perfection and, through its innate religious feeling, is prepared for it, and is kept from it only by its pre-occupation with bodily desires, when these pre-dominate, but when a man gains control over them and the reason is freed from its servitude to the body, then he concerns himself with reflection upon the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, nay more, upon himself and the

' Ihvd, IV, PP. 213, z14.

' Kdniiyo al-Sa'dda, pp. 4, 5.

0

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152 AL-GHAZALI'S MYSTICAL TEACHING '

wonderss of his creation, and so attains to the perfection proper to him and to the joy of that attainment.'

There are three stages on the Path which ,will lead the soul to re-union with its Source, the salvation which all desire­that of the novice or seeker (al-murid) the creature conscious of its creatureliness and acknowledging the lordship of the Creator: that of the traveller, who is 'mid-way (al-sd'ir), the servant walking with his Lord : and that of the perfected gnostic, the one who has attained (al-wasil), the lover rejoicing in the Beloved.

The novice is concerned with the knowledge of himself and his Lord and its fruits, he is subject to wagl. 2 This stage means effort and toil, and the drinking of bitter draughts and the sacrifice of pleasure and ' the undertaking of what is a torment to the self, 3 The novice can be greatly helped by a wise spiritual director, who is well acquainted with the defects of the self, and understands its secret sins, which he can make known to the novice, and he can help him to overcome them. " He who finds a Shaykh, a gnostic, wise, realising the faults of the self, compassionate, able to give counsel concerning the religious life, one who has accomplished the amendment of his own spiritual life, and is concerned with the amendment of God's servants­has found the physician for his ills. Let him cleave to that physician who will deliver him from the destruction with which he is threatened, for the heart is 'sick' if it cannot accomplish the work for which it was created, knowledge and wisdom and the love of God and His service and delight in the thought of Him, and the preference of that over every other object of . desire."

Repentance is the beginning of the Way and the "key of happiness " for the novice, for it means the return from alienation to proximity and it is based on faith, the conviction that there is no god but God. Faith appears as a spot of light in the heart and when it leads to doing that which is the will of God,

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