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



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differ from their own, and pointing out that truth is truth,

irrespective of the person who holds it, and that even those who

are in error as a whole may be in possession of some measure

of truth which can be detached from their errors, he reminds

them that gold is obtained from dirt, and that no harm comes

to the assayer when he thrusts his hand without hesitation into

the forger's bag and draws forth the genuine gold and silver

from amongst what is debased and bad, trusting to his expert

knowledge. it is only the ignorant peasant, he continues, not

the expert assayer, who should be prevented from having any

dealings with the coiner. So, too, it is the inexperienced swimmer

who is kept back from the seashore, not the swimmer who has

the skill to surmount the waves, just as a child is prevented from touching a snake, but not so the highly skilled charmer. So al-Ghazali defends the seeker for truth, who is experienced in the search, for his study of what contains the false as well as the true. a

It was perhaps his experience of the illness which preceded his resignation which led al-Ghazali so often to use illustrations drawn from the science of medicine. Pointing out that in the matter of knowledge generally, men accept the conclusions 'of experts, without insisting on testing the matter in question by first-hand experience, lie says : " Suppose we imagine a man, mature and capable of reasoning, who has never before experi­enced illness, and then falls ill, whose father is a doctor, com­passionate and skilled in medicine, whose medical skill has always

i 1hYa, I1', p. 30.

' Ihva, IC, p. 34.

.lluegidh, p. ,3,

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 81

been known to his son. If his father makes up a prescription and says to him : " This will help you in your sickness and will heal you of your affliction," what will his reason suggest to such a man? Even though the medicine is bitter and abominable in taste, will he accept it, or will he reject it, saying " I understand that this medicine can ensure a cure, but I have not myself tested it by experience ? " Would you not reckon him a fool if he did so ? So also teaching which comes down on the authority of the Prophet and his successors is to be accepted even though its validity may not have been tested by the experience of those who receive it, and those who reject it for this reason are but fools who deprive themselves of guid­ance and help."'
Again, in discussing the comparative values of different types of knowledge and the estimation iniwhich they should be held, he points out that the results to be obtained from any branch of knowledge are the really important thing. Therefore a knowledge of religion is of infinitely greater value than a know­ledge of medicine, for the fruit of the latter is temporal life and the fruit of the former is life everlasting. 2

1 mungidh, p. 33­

2 Fn1i¢dt a(-' Ulum, p. 59.

CHAPTER VI


al-Ghazali as Poet and Musician. His love of Beauty.

Although al-Ghazali's fame as a writer and teacher rests on

his prose works, yet he was also a poet, responsible for a volume

of poems, 1 and there are verses of his to be found in his prose

writings, and quoted by his biographers. Moreover, his writing

everywhere, and his choice of words and images, is that of the

poet, whose ears and eyes are open to the world of experience

which lies behind the world of the senses, but is approached

by means of them. " He who is without hearing and sight," he writes, "cannot enjoy sweet singing and beautiful forms and colours," and just as it is not given to all to have the sensitive eye and ear, so also many lack the inner power which would enable them to respond to the beauties' of sight and sound, that feeling for beauty and that love for the beauty of the natural world, which is the " joy in widest commonalty spread." 2 To al-Ghazali, all beauty, whether manifested to the eye or to the ear-for he was a great lover of music-made an irresistible appeal. He writes of the beauty of green things, of running water, of a fair face, and of beautiful colours and sounds, and perhaps there have been few of the mystics with whom it was not so : nearly all of the Sufis were poets, and their mysticism expressed itself most often in poetry. There are Divine yearn­ings within the soul which can be expressed only by means of it and of music, but those who have no poetry within them, who are not responsive to the rhythm and music and imagery of poetry, cannot interpret its significance. " Consider," writes al-Ghazali, " the poetic sense by which certain people are dis­tinguished. It is a kind of apprehension, which is so lacking in others that they cannot discriminate between the scansion of a regular metre and that which is irregular. Consider how,

' dlu'amalal Asrar al-D1x. Cf. pp. 36ff6 above and the Qasida contained in MS. Paris 3198 fol. 87b.

2 Ihya, IN', p. 23.

82

AL-GHAZALT'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 83



in others, this capacity is so developed that thereby they o produce music and melodies, able to provoke sorrow and joy,
slumber and weeping and madness, inciting to combat, or the cause of swooning. But these effects are produced strongly only in one who is himself possessed of this gift, while one who is devoid of it, though he also hears the sound, is very little affected by it, and he wonders at the one who is seized with ecstasy or swoons away. So that, if all those who are them­selves poets or musicians were to try to make him understand not do so." '

what it means to 0 possess that faculty, writes elsewhere : " He al-Ghazali, who possessed. who has a heart (i.e., is spiritually minded) and knows its true

nature, knows that it is moved by poetry and music as it is not moved by other things. Therefore he seeks to move it in this way, either by his own voice or that of another." al-Ghazali defines poetry as that which has measure and significance

in poetry, he says again, is wisdom to be found."


One of his love-poems, which has been handed down and

belongs perhaps to early days, his " The curls3 about her temples, to the moon of her cheeks, have


fall'n,
In loveliness so radiant, that none with her can compare,

In the sign of the Scorpion, we have often seen the moon,


To see the Scorpion in the moon, that is a thing more rare."'
But these lines might well have a mystical significance, for the
hyacinthine locks of the Beloved, in the poetry of the Sufi,
represented the One veiled by the Many, and her moon-like
cheek ses attributed toe him by al-Jawharitexpressed his opinion of the religious leaders of his day Cf. the words of a modern

Ilryk, II, p. 200. llishkat of- in¢u6r, p. L33. i mystic (George Russell), " The purified psyche rs a focus or burning point ests

ure light

through which that which sbecoming sevenfold ;boundless ntellectualpfires are

through p, thoLight, Power, for ever playing upon us and we apprehend them as ~nsdom, love, music is one oay in which teansaersraspiation and we eceive,tinterpret or misinterpret the oracle as our being hose is pure or clouded•" A.~ , 0ng
and its Fountains, pp. 23. 24.

s Ihya, II, p.265, pp 240, 241.

r 'Agarib, which means both scorpions " and" curl IV, p r5 Ibn Khallikdn, op. eit., II. P. 623. Cf, Subki,
84 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

" Like lamp-wicks are the men we know, Whose light burns brightly, but below Is something other than appears : As brass another aspect wears, Its worthless nature hid from sight, When overlaid with silver bright."'

There are verses attributed to him in the days when he was

travelling and living a life of solitude, after his conversion, which are expressive of what his conversion had meant to him :

" Once I had been a slave : Lust was my master, Lust then became my servant : I was free. Leaving the haunts of men, I sought Thy Presence, Lonely, I found in Thee my company.

Not in the market-place is found the treasure Nor by the ignorant, who know not Thee,

Who taunt me, thinking that my search is folly, But at the end, Thou wilt be found with rim'" 2
Among his verses on love to God were the following lines

Though love afflict me, yet it is not grievous,

For death to self, means life in Thee my Lover, To suffer thirst, if that shall be Thy pleasure, To me, is sweeter far, than all refreshment. Nothing can grieve me now, save what divides me

From Thee-but with Thee, nought has power to harm me."'


There are verses left to us which refer to al-,t hazali's experi­

ence in teaching at Nishapnr, when he had been persuaded to leave his life of retirement and had to face such calumny and hostility


What though the darkness of their enmity,

E'en like a threatening cloud, envelop me, Doth not the pearl in darkness chew its light, Against a sombre background shine more bright ? Whether they praise my teaching, or they err, Despising it as false : though they prefer Dust to a gem--it matters not to me, Pearls still are pearls, unvalued though they be."


Of one whose life was devoted utterly to the service of God­
Subki, Tab., IV, p. 115. ' Subki, Tab., TV, p. ri5.

Murtada, Ithaf, p. 24, ' Subki, Tab., IV, p. 105.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 85

and perhaps he was thinking of his own flight from the world, he wrote


" He cast away his books that he might travel without burden, His provisions, yea, even his sandals, did he cast away." 1
al-Ghazali also frequently quotes the verses of other poets, though almost invariably without any reference to their source, 2

Closely linked with his poetic genius was al-Ghazali's love for music, which was responsible for some of his most inspired writing. " The deaf man," he writes, " misses the joy of sweet sounds and musical notes : he is like one who is absent, though present, and dead, though he be alive." 3 It was a much vexed question among the orthodox in Islam, as to whether listening to music and singing was permissible or unlawful. 4 al-Ghazali ranged himself with those who reckoned it to be lawful, for man, he points out, is not forbidden to delight in that which gives him pleasure, if it is not associated with anything which leads to sin. With his usual sanity and breadth of outlook, he states his view that it is not possible that listening to music should be unlawful simply because it is pleasant and measured, for no one regards the voice of the nightingale or of other birds as unlawful, and there is no difference between one throat and another, or between the inanimate and the animate. So we ought to draw an analogy from the voice of the nightingale to the sounds which proceed from other bodies, especially the sound which issues from the throat of man, or from musical instruments.

He quotes the tradition of David (obviously founded on the legend of Orpheus), that when he bemoaned himself, reciting the Psalms, so sweet was the sound that men, jinns, wild beasts and birds used to gather round to listen to his voice. He points out further that even the camel, though stupid by nature, is affected by the cameleer's song to such an extent that its heavy burdens seem light to it, and listening to music gives it an energy that makes long journeys seem short, and produces an

lb:d„ p. toe.

7a For further examples of his own verses cf. dli'ydr al-'Ilm, p. 14. Subkl, iIV, pp. 102 if. Murtac.l5, I!haf, 1, pp. 24 ff. Khwansari, Raaedat al­Jauea, p. 184. Ibn Khallikan, op. cit., 11, p. 623. al-ffikniat fi Makhlzigat Allah, p. 27. Cf. trujwiri, Kasf.f al-.1lahlcib. PP, 399, 413
86 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

excitement which intoxicates it. So when' the desert-roads

seem long to them and they are overcome by the fatigue of

travelling and the weariness of the heavy loads upon their pack­

saddles, then the cameleer summons them with his song and

they stretch out their necks, listening to the singer, with their

ears pricked, and hasten their pace, until their loads and saddles

are shaken upon them, and perhaps they may perish, because

of the violence of their pace and the weight of their loads, of

which they are unconscious, because of their excitement.

al-Ghazali also tells a story of Abu Bakr. M. Da'ud al-Dinawari,

known as al-Raggi, r who, when he was travelling in the desert,

met with an Arab caravan and was given hospitality by one of the men, who brought him into his tent. There Abu Bakr saw a black slave in fetters and a number of dead camels in front of the tent, and one camel so weak and emaciated that it seemed about to die. The slave appealed to Abu Bakr, saying "As a guest you have a right to ask favours, therefore intercede for me with my master, for he will be gracious to his guest and will not reject your intercession, and it may be that he will release me from these bonds." So when food was brought in, Abu Bakr refused to eat and said : " I will not eat until I have interceded for this slave," to which his host rejoined : " This slave has reduced me to poverty and destroyed my possessions," and when Abu Bakr inquired how this had come about, his host said : " He has a beautiful voice, and I made my living from hiring out these camels (lit, from their backs). and he loaded them with heavy loads and then sang to them so that they accomplished a three days' journey in a single night, because of the beauty of his song, and when they were unloaded, they all died except this one camel. But you are my guest and for your sake I give you what you ask." Then Abu Bakr wished to hear the slave's voice, and when morning came, he bade him sing to a camel which was drawing water from a well near by, and when the slave lifted up his voice, that camel was maddened and snapped its ropes, and Abu Bakr fell upon his face, and thought lie had never heard such a wonderful voice.

If therefore, music has such an effect, even upon the brute

'. Or al-flugg1. Cf. ]ami, Nafa~¢i a/-Uun', No. 229.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 87

creation, anyone who remains unmoved by it, must be regarded as being in some way deficient, lacking a sense of proportion, unspiritual, ruder and coarser in nature than the camels and the birds, indeed than all the beasts, for all of them are moved by measured melodies. Music and singing do not produce in the heart something which is not there, but they stir up what is already within it.

Music also refreshes the heart and serves to distract it from temptation and from anxiety, for when hearts are overdriven (and no doubt music had been a relief to al-Ghazali himself at the time of his spiritual wrestling), some recreation helps to strengthen them and to fit them once more for concern with worldly affairs and for religious duties, such as prayer and reading the Qur`an. A period of leisure and recreation may be regarded as the remedy for weariness and restlessness, both of mind and body, and therefore music is permissible and even desirable, for this purpose, but there ought not to be much recreation, as there ought not to be too much medicine, to cure bodily affliction. Moreover, listening to music, simply for the sake of enjoyment and relaxation, though permissible, is the lowest level of listening, shared by every kind of living being.'

A degree above this is listening to music with understanding, but with application to some material thing. A third and higher stage of hearing includes the application of what is heard to the relation of the soul with God, and this kind of listening is that of the seekers (ruridun), especially those who are novices, for they desire the direct knowledge of God Himself and the entrance into His Presence and the enjoyment of secret con­templation, and the removal of the veil between the soul and God. So when the nnurid hears the singer singing of arrival or approach or ardent desire for one expected, or longing for one who is absent, or of loneliness or fellowship, or the mention of the sight of the beloved one, undoubtedly one or other of these will be in harmony with the spiritual state of the fnurid in his search. The heart of man is like a flintstone and music evokes the fire hidden within it, so that its flames blaze up and its longing is strongly aroused and overpowers him who hears,

' 144, II, pp. 239, 243, PP- 250 ff. 257.

88 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

and spiritual experience of divers kinds is made possible for


him thereby.

But the highest type of listening to music, in al-Ghazali's

view, is the listening of the soul for what God Himself may

reveal to it through music.' " The purpose of music, considered

in relation to God," he writes, " is to arouse longing for Him

and passionate love towards Him and to produce states in

which He reveals Himself and shews His favour, which are be­yond description and are known only by experience, and by the Sufis these states are called ' ecstasy.' The heart's attainment of these states through hearing music is due to the mystic relationship which God has ordained between the rhythm of music and the spirit of man, and the human spirit is so affected by that rhythm that music is the cause to it of longing and joy and sorrow and 'expansion' and 'contraction.' 2 But he who is dull of hearing and unresponsive and hard of heart is debarred from this joy, and such a one is astonished at the delight of the mystic and his ecstasy-for enjoyment is a kind of apprehension, and apprehension requires something to be apprehended and-the capacity to apprehend, and he who lacks such a perfected capacity cannot imagine such enjoyment. How can anyone who lacks the sense of taste enjoy food, or he who has no ear, the pleasure of sweet sounds, or one who is out of his mind enjoy intelligible things? So also, after the sound has reached the ear, the true significance of music is appre­hended by the inner sense within the heart, and he who lacks that sense, of necessity takes no pleasure in it," 3

The fourth and highest degree of listening to music, therefore, is that of the gnostic who has passed beyond states and stages, who is conscious only of God and has become unconscious of self and his own actions and his relations with others. In that state of absorption, he plunges into the ocean of contemplation,

I Cf. a modern writer, R. Heber-Newton, who regards music as the living God within us, " if we obliterate or extinguish music, we extinguish the last light God has left burning within us, to point the way to find Him anew." The Mysticism of Mu.cic, p. 4.

' CL sera 11, 246 and Hujwirf, "Qabd denotes the contraction of the heart in the state of being veiled (hijab) and bast denotes the expansion of the heart in the state of revelation (kashf) " Kashf at-Alahjub, p. 374­

-' I¢ya, 11, pp. 246, 247.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 89

and such a state as this the Sufis describe as passing away from the self {fans'). Dhu'l-Nun al-Mi~ri said of the ecstasy produced by music that it was a Divine messenger, urging the heart to seek God, and he who listens to it, seeking its spiritual meaning, will find God, and he who listens to it only with the outward ear, sinks into unbelief. I
So, too, Abu'l-Husayn al-Darraj 2 said : " Ecstasy (wajd) is an expression for what is experienced in listening to music, and music carries me away to the place where Beauty dwells and enables me to contemplate God (wujiid Allah) within the veil, for He has poured out for me the cup of beatitude and I have attained thereby to the station of Satisfaction, and have entered the spacious gardens of eternal joy." 3
Listening to music, al-Ghazali says again, results in the puri­fication of the heart, and purification is the cause of revelation, for by the power of music the heart is roused to activity and is strengthened for the contemplation of what was previously beyond its power, just as, by the cameleer's song, the camel is strengthened to bear a load which it could not endure before, for it is the heart's business to seek for revelation and the con­templation of the mysteries of the kingdom of God. 4
In conclusion, al-Ghazali states that anyone who listens to music should have regard for time and place and company, and should avoid any distraction and anything which would disturb the heart. The listener should give his attention to what he hears, being present in heart, absorbed in what he is doing, guarding his heart and meditating upon what God may reveal to him, of His mercy, within his inmost self. Listening to music, then, is altogether desirable for one who is dominated
I Ihyd 11, P-257. For a further study of gnosis and fans, cf. Chapter XII below.

2 Cf. lami, Nafahaf al-Uns, No. 207.

3 Ikyd, fl. p. 257. Cf. Hujwfri, " IVajd is a mystery between the seeker and the Sought, which only a revelation can expound. 1Vujlid is a grace bestowed by the Beloved on the lover, "and again," wujrid is the thrill of emotion in the contemplation of God . . . some declare that ward is thaglowing passion of lovers, while wuj&d is a gift bestowed on lovers," Iinshf al-Mahjrib,

PP• 413, 313.

Ihyn, II, p. 258. Cf. E. Underhill, " Of all the arts music alone shares with great mystical literature the power of waking in us a response to the life­movement of the universe, brings us-we know not how-news of its exultant passions and its incomparable peace." Mysticism, p. 76.

go AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

by the love of God, in whom music. arouses only praiseworthy
qualities, for on those who by nature are emotional, the effect
of music is greater, fanning into flame the love which has already
taken possession of the heart, whether that love be earthly and
sensual, or Divine and spiritual.'
But music, to al-Ghazali, has also a cosmic significance
earthly music is but an echo of the heavenly music. In his
Qasida al-Ta'%yya al-Ghazali explains that the soul responds
to music here, in this life, because it is reminded of melodies
heard long since, before it was invested with its body, when it
listened to the sweet melody of the spheres. So, by some earthly
melody, it is reminded of the time of its pre-existence,. when it
dwelt in the heavenly places, and it longs to be once again re-united with its Source. When the babe in the cradle is soothed by sweet singing and shows its delight, and lies at peace, it is remembering the celestial music which rejoiced it in the heavenly realms, when the spheres, revolving on their orbits, sang together and offered their praises to the All-High .2 So, also, al-Ghazali writes that the perfected gnostic, within his heart, hears the music of the spheres and has the joy of listening to the angelic choirs, and then he understands the meaning of the songs of the birds, for they, too, uplift their voices in praise of their Maker. 3 In listening to music, therefore, the mystic is sharing in the super­nal harmony, and the human spirit is entering into communion with the Infinite and Eternal Spirit. Music, for al-Ghazali, was

a door to Eternity.

' 'Td, 11, pp. 265. 269. The Alchemy of Happiness, p. 64.

z UP- cit., pp. 228 ff. Cf. Shakespeare,

There's not the smallest orb which thou beholdest, But in his motion like an angel sings, Still quiring to the youngeye'd cherubins Such harmony is in immortal souls."

The Merchant of Venice. Scene I, dct V. 3 al-dln'arif al-'Agiiyya, fol. 8b.

CHAPTER VII

al-Ghazali as mystic. Asceticism and Solitude. The


life of Prayer.

In his autobiography, al-Ghazali states that when he had considered the Sufi way of life, he realised that it could be followed only by means of "knowledge and action." Having acquired the theory by his study of the writings of the Sufis, he knew that he must carry it into practice if he was to attain to their spiritual experience and, through mysticism, find his way to God. The first step on the way was the cleansing of the soul from the qualities which hindered its search for God, it order that it might be set free for His service. " The entrance to the Path," he says, " is the absolute purification of the heart from all save God, the beginning of which (just as the Tahrim-­the acknowledgment of God's Holiness-is the beginning of Prayer) is the complete absorption of the heart in the recollection of God, and the end of it is to pass away altogether into God, the end of the Path, that is, but the beginning of the Unitive Life, and all that precedes it is but the vestibule by which the mystic enters therein." r

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