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



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Then Harun called for ink-horn and paper and wrote it down

with his own hand. 3

al-Ghazali was not only a lover of his fellow-men but of the

humbler creation. He had obviously a great fondness for

animals, taking a great interest in them and their habits, and plainly very observant of them, He does not seem to have shared the usual Muslim prejudice against dogs. He commends the fidelity of the watch-dog, which is ready to sacrifice itself and its sleep, for the sake of its master, and he points out the value of the dog, both for protection and for hunting. 4 He has several stories to tell of dogs, among these, of how someone found Malik b. Dinar4 sitting by himself, with a dog which had put its muzzle on his knee. This officious person wished to drive the dog away, but Malik would not allow it, saying : " Let it alone, it does no harm and it is better than an evil companion."4 He tells also

' I hya, III, pp. 207- 208.

'Abbasid Caliph, reigned AD86 8 .. 7,09.

Iiya, IC, p. 29,5.

" al-Hikmal ft fllukhhigdt

Allah, P 4

fhya, 1I 3•

s fib. 527/741, a famous ascetic of Basra , p. zo8.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 49

a story of 'Abdallah b. Ja'far, who went out one day to one of. his estates and alighted at a, certain palm-grove, where a black slave was working. His food was brought to him and shortly afterwards a dog entered the garden, whereupon the slave threw it a loaf of bread, then a second and then a third. 'Abdallah looked at him and said : " 0 slave, how much food have you each day? " The slave answered : "What you have seen." 'Abdallah asked why he had preferred the dog to himself, and he said : " He had come a long journey and was hungry and I was unwilling to satisfy my appetite, while he went hungry."

But what will you do to-day ? " asked 'Abdallah, and the slave replied : " I shall go hungry to-day." So that the slave-boy should not outdo him in generosity, 'Abdallah b. Ja'far bought the garden and the slave-boy, and the tools in it, and set the boy free and presented him with the garden.'

al-Ghazali was evidently fond of cats, too, and perhaps had a favourite of his own, for he speaks of one who has an eye for beauty being able to find it in his own domestic cat, and he was thinking, no doubt, of the grace of its form and movements. = He also tells a story of how the Sufi al-Shibli found Abu'l­Ijusayn Mr! 3 at prayer, absolutely still and concentrated, with­out any bodily mpivement at all, and al-Shibli asked him after­wards how he had attained to this degree of meditation and stillness, and Nuri replied : " I learnt it from a cat we had when she was seeking her prey, she used to establish herself above the mouse-hole and never stirred a hair." 4 al-Ghazali was indignant over cruel treatment of animals, especially of those who did service to men, and in this connection he quotes the saying of Abu Darda. 5 : "Fear God and beware of men, for they never ride on a camel's back without galling it, nor on the back of a swift horse without laming it." ° He gives advice to the traveller which, we may be sure, he had observed himself

r Ihyd, III, p. 220.

2 Ihyd, III, p. 41. While the cat, in the East, is often a neglected house­hold drudge, expected to secure its own food, in other cases it is cherished as a pet, e.g., the traditiunist Abu Hurayra received his nickname (Father of a Kitten), because of his habit of carrying a favourite kitten about with him.

' Cf. my Early Mystic of Baghdad, pp. 31 ff.' IhY4, IV, PP- 340, 341­

5 One of the Companions of the Prophet, a nctcd ascetic. ' i1A.98, II, p. 209.

50. AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

on his own travels, urging him to be merciful to his beast and not

overload it or beat it in the face, which is forbidden, nor should

sleep upon it, for " he becomes heavy in sleep " and the beast

he

will be Injured by his weight. Godfearing folk, al-Ghazali



observes, do not sleep upon their beasts, except for a short nap.

The Prophet himself said : "Do not regard the backs of your

animals as seats." It is desirable to dismount at least in the

morning and evening and give the animal a rest thereby. It is laid down in the Canon Law that if any man injures a beast by beating or overloading it, that will be required at his hand on the Day of Judgment. It is related that Abu Darda said to a camel of his when it was dying, " 0 camel, do not accuse me to thy. Lord, for I have not overloaded thee." To dismount for an hour serves a double purpose, for it is a benefit to the beast and also to its rider, enabling him to stretch his limbs. 1

al-Ghazaji was equally interested in birds and their ways, and he frequently refers to them in his writings. He may himself have kept pigeons, as it was a common custom to keep doves

of many colours about the palaces of the great, and he must

surely have been speaking from personal experience when he

refers to the pigeon-fancier, who will stand on his feet all day

in the burning sun, and does not feel the heat to be trying,

because of his delight in the birds and their movements in flight,

as he watches them soaring and wheeling about in the vault of

the heavens.2

He quotes as fitting and beautiful the lines

" The dove coos in the watches of the night,

Perched on a branch, while I lie here asleep.

I have lied, r swear it, when I said I was a lover,

For the doves surpass me in their lamentation,

While I assert that I am beside myself with lovq

To my Lord, but I weep not, while even the doves lament."

He commends the cock, too, for its praiseworthy energy, in re­

peating the Prophet's words : " There are three sounds dear

to God Most High, the voice of the cock (when it crows at dawn),

and the voice of him who recites the Qur'an, and the voice of those

who ask for forgiveness at the break of day." He also quotes

Ibyj, II, p. 226.

4Y4, 111, p. 51.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 53:

the saying of the wise man Luqman, to his son, " 0 my son, let not the cock outdo you in greeting the dawn, while you are still asleep." 1 He was perhaps interested in falconry also, for he advises men to treat the lower self as the falcon is treated when it is to be trained and its hostility to man and its wild nature subdued to obedience and discipline. *It must be confined at first th a dark building, with its eyes covered, in order that it may be weaned from its habits of flying in the heavens, until it has forgotten the natural freedom to which it was accustomed. It must be treated kindly and fed with meat, so that it becomes familiar with its owner and grows accustomed to his presence, so that when he calls it, it comes to him and when it hears his voice, it returns to him, 2


There is a story related of al-Ghazali by Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-'Arab! (cf. pp. tog ff. below) which shows again his interest in birds. Once, when he was in Jerusalem, he saw a -crow and a pigeon associating with each other and he said when he saw it " Their association with each other must be due to some bond of kinship," and he pointed to them. They moved away and behold, both of them were lame. 2
al-Ghazali refused to condemn the practice adopted by some of the Sufis of spending the night with wild beasts in the wilder­ness, in order to show their trust in God and His care for them, a custom which his critics thought was to be regarded as tempting Providence. It may be that al-Ghazali himself had personal experience of the practice : at any rate he appears to have held the view that the saints had the power so to subdue and tame wild beasts that they' could ride upon them, and rub their ears, and the creatures would obey them. 4 He writes that it is the mark of the saint that he has the power to tame wild creatures and beasts of prey, and the lions and other wild beasts love him, and the lions " wag their tails for him." He tells a+ story of Ibrahim al-Raggi, 5 who visited Abu'l-Khayr al-Tinati ° and found him reading the Fatiha, and as he went out for his
I Khuld$al al-Tapinif fi'l-TaFawuwf, pp. 11, 12.

2 1hyd, 111. P. 51.

1 al-hfun3wl, op. ci... fol. 195 a. Cf. also Ikyd, II, 6 Murtada, Iliidf, p. 35. Minhdj al-'Abid1n, p. go.

06. 3421953.

s Cf. Sarrdj, K1tdb al-Luma', pp- 234, 317.

6

P. 143.



52 AL-GHAZALT'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

ablutions before prayer, he met a lion and turned back in fear,

and told his host what had befalen him. Thereupon Abu'l­

Khayr went out and called to the lion : Did I not tell you not

to attack my guests ? " and the lion turned away. al-Raggi

then performed his ablutions and returned, and Abu'l-Khayr

observed to him : " You were engaged in adjusting outward

things and we were occupied in adjusting inward things, and so

we were able to make the lion afraid."' It is related also of the

woman Snff Rabi'a of Basra that the wild creatures-deer,

gazelle, mountain goats, and wild asses, used to gather round her,

unafraid and doing her no harm. 2

al-Ghazali had also an interest in, and affection for, plants

and flowers and frees, which suggests that he was a garden-lover,

and like most dwellers in the East, he must have spent much time

in his garden, and this, like other Eastern gardens, would include fruit-trees, grown as much for their blossom as their fruit, and water in the form of streams or fountains. He evidently gave close attention to the habits of plants. This is clear from the observations he makes in his writings. He speaks of rejoicing in the sight of different kinds of fruit with their varied forms and colours, and the beauty of the flowers and blossom and the ruddy apple, and the joy of looking upon green things and running water. On the other hand, he knows something of the difficulties of a gardener in a land where rain falls infrequently and irrigation is necessary. He speaks of the water hidden beneath the dust and the dry clay and how it can be discovered and utilised by the digging of conduits, which is easier than the transport of water

from a distance. The joy of the gardener in the advent of rain

long-desired is shown in his quotation of the words of Luqman :

" 0 my son, associate with the learned and approach them with

great humility, for hearts are given life by wisdom, as the dead

earth is given life by heavy showers of rain." 6 He mentions

the tree which grows of itself and receives no care, which very

soon withers away, or if it does survive-for a time, bears leaves

but no fruit. Again he writes of the plant which has no depth

' Ihya, III, P. 22.

' Cf. my Rdbi'a the Mystic and her Fallow-saints in Islam, P. 34 and similar

stories of the Christian saints, e.g„ St. Anthony.
' IhYd, II', P. 237. IV, p. 67, II, p. 152.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 53

of soil and so dies, while that which is deeply rooted survives.' He compares the imparting of knowledge to the casting of seed into the ground, which will assuredly, grow and thrust its roots downwards and extend its branches upwards. 2 He knows something of the nuisance of weeds in the rainy season, and observes that to pull them up does not ensure that they will not recur as long as the ground is exposed to rain.3 He com­pares the self-deluded to a man who wishes to clear a field of weeds, who goes over it carefully, searching for the weeds and uprooting each one he sees, but not searching for what has not yet raised its head above the earth, because he supposes that everything has appeared and shown itself. But from the roots fine shoots may have grown and extended under the soil (perhaps he knew something of bindweed), which he has overlooked and neglected, and behold, they grow and become strong and injure the roots of his crop, he knows not how. So also is he who thinks that the outward expression of religion is sufficient and neglects the inward corruption.' al-Ghazali had also watched the leaves falling in winter, as they dried up, leaving the tree in its essence, bare, but with a new beauty and delicacy and grace in its bareness, and notes that so, too, sin can fall away from the soul, when it has no longer any encouragement or support. 6
But al-Ghazali thinks of plants and flowers not only as things of beauty and a source of keen delight to every lover of Nature, but also as displaying the wisdom and loving-kindness of God, Who has given the fruit its rind so that it may be protected against the birds, Who has ordained that the roots of the mighty tree shall be buried deep in the ground, in order to drink water therefrom, so that the earth becomes like a nursing-mother to it. The veins of the leaves, he notes, are like those of human beings, and serve the same purpose. It is by the wisdom of God that the leaves appear before the fruit, to protect it while it is still immature and liable to injury from the heat of the sun, or from unduly cold winds. Of His kindness to man, the
I Munawi, op. cit., fol. 196b. Ihya, IV, p. 69, the latter reference perhaps

a reminiscence of the Parable of the Sower. i Ihyd, it, p. 216.

s Subki, Tab., p. '39. 4 Ihyd, III, P. 337­

6 1 hvd, II, p. 141.

54 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

Creator has fashioned the trees and the fruits and the flowers, of different colours and shapes and flavours and scents, small and great, splendid and humble, of all colours and all shades in those colours : the very sight of them, says al-Ghazali, purifies the heart of unclean thoughts, and refreshes the mind as it contemplates them, and the soul rejoices in their radiant beauty. He notes that the branch is made strong enough to support the pomegranate, so that it will not fall until it is ripe, and how the melon and the gourd rest on the ground, because their stems cannot support so heavy a weight, and how all these ripen just at the season when man most needs them. He refers to the wonderful means by which the date-palm is fertilised and notes how God has created aromatic roots with medicinal properties, able to relieve and cure the diseases of men. He points out that, by the Divine power, all these, the tree and the blade of grass and the fragrant herb and the flowers, with their varied hues and shapes, all alike have developed from one substance, from which they have derived their nourishment, and that is water, one cause, yet such infinite variety in results.'

Such a man, then, was al-Ghazali in his maturity, with his intellectual powers unabated, a keen observer, possessed of the eager curiosity which was inspired by his passion for truth, a man wise, tolerant and charitable, a lover of his fellow-men and of the humbler creation, both animate and inanimate.

I al-Hikmat fr blakhlugkt dlldh, pp. 57 fi.

CHAPTER IV

al-Ghazali's family herlat2Hislyhome-lifer His friends and

His sisters a

disciples.

We have very little information Ahmadn who asewell­al-Ghazali s family, except

known both as preacher and mystic. Ahmad seems to have been possessed of great gifts, b outh he was con early tent to act as attracted a servant the religious life and y sha

In so to the Sufis, while learning ala ~owledge~of the mystic Pathltand and seclusion he cam

then went to 'Iraq and gave himself to the task of preaching in Baghdad, where great crowds were attracted to hear his sermons. He used also to o d into recall them to God letAsanvd

preach to the Bedouin,

have seen, r he exercised the privilege of relationship in criticising his more famous brother and he is said to have recited these lines in reference to him

" When you keep company with kings,

then clothe yourself

With the fear of God, the most valuable of garments,

And when.you enter, enter with closed eyes,

And depart, when the time comes, with closed lips.

Ahmad, as already related, was bridgment,ofrhis brother's deathbed,

r an bab

and was responsible ears, and died

alIhyd). He survived Abu llamid by fifteen y

at Qazwin in 520/1'120.2 his mother was still

al-Ghazali had also several thsisters

sons had become famous.

alive and in Baghdad

He was married before the age of twenty, but none of his bio­

graphers give the name of his wife. There are indicatiions,

however, that his was a happy

• C1. P. 30 above. Gi- also Khwans ri,,oQ. dl., p.18o and Zwemer,

• Sublet, Tab., IV, PP- 54

a Moslem Seeker after God, p. 68. 55

56 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

dogmatic teaching, he follows the orthodox doctrine as .to the
subordinate place of women in society, elsewhere it is evident
that he fully appreciated the importance and value of their
influence in the home and also in a wider sphere. He considers
that marriage is a great advantage to a man, not only for the
sake of having children, but because of the satisfaction and
benefit and refreshment to be obtained, from the companionship
of a wife, which is a consolation to the heart and strengthens
it for the service of God. The soul, he says, sometimes grows
weary in well-doing, and the refreshment and joy which it
derives from the companionship of women dispels its heaviness
and cheers the heart, and so a good wife is of the greatest value to a man's religious life. Moreover, it is the woman's character and religious faith which contribute most to a happy marriage. " He who marries a wife for the sake of her wealth and her beauty," he says, " makes her beauty and wealth unlawful to him, but upon him who marries a woman because of her faith, God will bestow both wealth and religion."'
We have seen, too, that he considered that the mother's training of the child's character was as important as that of the father and he held that only a godly woman should be allowed to suckle
and nurse a child. 2 He gives many stories in which women
play the chief part and are held up as an example to the other sex. He advises those who plead that they are unable to follow in the steps of the illustrious leaders of the Faith, to consider the God-fearing women and the degree to which they attained in the spiritual life, and to admonish their own sluggish souls in saying, " 0 soul, be not content to be less than a woman for it is contemptible that a man should come short of a woman in respect of her religion or her attitude to this world. So," he says, "we will now mention somewhat of the spiritual states of those women who have striven to serve God," and he devotes the rest of the chapter to setting forth the outstanding example of the women saints of Islam.9
Among the stories he gives is that of a certain devotee who stopped before Haban b. Hilal, when he was sitting with his

1 Ihya, 1, p. 28.

' M. Rids, op. cit- p. 5a. ' IkydWV, p 351

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 57

friends, and asked if she might put a question to one of them. They bade her ask any question she would of Haban b. Hilal. She then asked them what was their idea of generosity ? They replied : " The giving of gifts, and munificence, and the preference of others to oneself." She said : " This is generosity in relation to this world, but what is generosity in respect of religion ? " They replied : " That we should serve God Most Glorious, with willing hearts, ungrudgingly." She asked : " Do you seek a reward for that ? " They admitted that they did and when she asked why, they answered : " Because God Most High has promised us, for each good deed, a ten-fold reward." 1 She said " God be praised, if you give one and take ten, how can you be called generous ? " Nonplussed, they asked her for her idea of true generosity and she said then : " In my view, generosity means to serve God, with joy and delight in His service, un­grudgingly, and without seeking any reward, so that your Lord may do with you what He wills. Are you not ashamed that God should look into your hearts and know that by one gift you are seeking another ? This is considered a shameful thing in worldly affairs."

Another woman saint once asked : " Do you reckon that generosity is concerned only with dirhams and dinars ? " She was asked : " With what then ? " She replied. " To my mind, generosity means the gift of oneself, body, soul and spirit." 2

al-Ghazali was evidently a devoted father, much concerned with the happiness and well-being of his children. His kunya "Abu Hamid" seems to indicate that he had at least one son, though no sons survived him and perhaps any son or sons died as children. He writes tenderly of the relation of the infant to its mother : " He knows only her and will take refuge only with her and trusts her alone, so that when he sees her, he clings to her skirts and will not leave her and if any trouble overtakes him when she is not there, the first word his tongue utters is a cry of " Mother," and the first thought which comes into his mind is of his mother, for she is his refuge. He depends upon her as his surety and sufficiency and as always full of pity for

Cf. the story of Rahi'a in my Rdbi'a the Mystic, pp. 32 ff. 9 Ihya, III, p. 226.

P

58 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY



him;: and this reliance on her is based on a certain amount of comprehension, through what small power of discrimination he possesses." Again he writes : "The infant boy knows that if he does not cry for his mother, she will seek him out, and even if he does not cling to her skirts, she will he does not ask her for milk, she will give him him drink even if

al-Ghazali knows, too, the value of distracting a child's atten­

tion by a counter-attraction, for he notes that the child is weaned

from the breast, by being induced to play with toy-birds and such­

like, to distract him from his desire. He also notes how sweet

music will hush the crying of the child in the cradle, and take

his attention from the cause of his Weeping.2 It was, no doubt,

from observation of his own children in their infancy that he

points out that the incapacity of the suckling to appreciate the sweetness of honey and fatted birds and delicious sweetmeats does not indicate that these things are not enjoyable, nor does the infant's appreciation of milk indicate that it is the most desirable of foods. I He speaks also of the small boy who, when he has become attached to some plaything, will not be parted from it and if it is taken from him, he weeps and protests until it is restored to him. -When he goes to bed, he takes it with him and when he wakes up, he remembers it and' takes hold of it. Whenever he loses it, he cries, and when he has found it again

he laughs. If anyone disputes his possession of it, he is angry,

but he loves that one who gives it back to him. 4

al-Ghazali had a deep sense of the obligation of a father to his

children : the business of training a .child he reckons to be one

of the most important that can be undertaken. " The boy,"

he writes, " is a trust in the hands of his parents, and his heart,

in its state of pristine purity, is a precious jewel, clear and free,

as yet, from any imprint or image, but susceptible of every

impression and inclination. If he grows up accustomed to

what is good and with a knowledge of it, then he will be happy

in this world and the next, and his reward will be shared by his

teacher and his preceptor. But if he becomes accustomed to

what is evil and is as neglectful (of what is due to God) as the

2 Ihy4, IV, p. 225. IAyd, II, p. 243

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY ~9

brutes, then he will be wretched and come to an evil end, and the responsibility for that sin will be upon the one who controls and rules him." As the father protects his little child from fire in this life, so also he must protect him from the fire of Hell, which is of much more consequence, and this protection is assured by a good upbringing, positive training in virtue, and protection from evil companionship.

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