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

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The purification of the Sufi, be states elsewhere, means that " he offers the pleasures of the self as a ransom for the sake of his soul. There was no difference, he held, between a man's worship of himself and his worship of an idol. Whenever man worships any other than God Himself, he is veiled thereby from God, 3 al-Ghazali therefore, applied himself to the asceticism which would purify his heart from vice, and enable it to acquire virtue as a fixed habit of life, against which no temptations could prevail, but he did not find it an easy thing, and he felt that it would have been harder still, had he not felt the call of

' Mungidh, pp. 22, 23.

• Ayvuha'6Walad, p. 4a.

• IhYd, III, p. 53­



God while still in the prime of life. "What is acquired in

youth," he says, "is like engraving on stone, but it is hard to

teach old age."' Three things, he felt, were necessary for the

healing of his soul, sick as it was with self-love and love of this

world : firstly, flight from temptation, for so long as he remained

on the scene of his worldly triumphs, desire would get the better

of him, and God had made the world wide enough to offer a

place of refuge from temptation, as He Himself said : " Is not

God's earth broad enough for you to find refuge therein ? " 2

Secondly, he must constrain himself to change his whole manner

of life, and, for wealth and ease, he must substitute poverty and

hardship, exchanging the garb of pomp for the vesture of humility,

and, in fact, in every aspect of life, in his downsitting and his

uprising, he must do the exact opposite of what he did, while

still in the world and of it. The remedy must be the antidote

for the disease. But, thirdly, he must be mindful in doing this,

to go gently and gradually and not rush from one extreme to

the other, for human nature is perverse and its attributes cannot be changed in a moment, so renunciation should be first of one thing and then of another, until little by little his evil qualities would be eradicated and the service of God would not seem hateful to him. I Asceticism, for al-Ghazali, began with control of the natural appetites, for self-indulgence he regarded as one of the gates to Hell, and satiety as its foundation, while self­condemnation and contrition were a gate into Paradise, the foundation of which was fasting. The locking of a gate into Hell meant the opening of a gate into Paradise, to be near to one meant being far from the other. He held, too, that moderation in eating kept the body healthy and excess led to sickness, in addition to being a hindrance to devotion. Self-indulgence and the love of this world were the cause of man's destruction in the next and therefore he set himself against both and cut himself loose from worldly attachments, in order that he might be detached to God. a Four things, he considered, would guard against " bandits " on the road to God, those temptations which might snatch the traveller back to the world he had abandoned, and


these four were solitude and silence, fasting and vigils. Fasting made the heart pure and receptive of the Divine revelation, from which it is veiled while hardened by self-indulgence. Vigils have the same effect, and by such means the heart becomes like a bright and shining star, or a polished mirror, wherein is mani­fested the Divine Beauty, and so it may contemplate within itself the mysteries of the world to come. 1 Too much sleep al-Ghazali considered to be destructive to the heart, the ascetic should indulge only in the strictly limited amount necessary for health, during which he might hope to have revealed to him the secrets of the Unseen. 2 Love of this world al-Ghazali felt to be largely identical with love of money, for " dirhams and dinars " were the means by which all the goods of this world were obtained. Wealth he compared with a snake, producing both venom and the antidote for it, being calamitous in respect of its venom and profitable in regard to the remedy for it. Anyone who recognises both the danger and the advantages of wealth can guard against its perils and extract what is good from it. But renunciation of the world meant renunciation of wealth for all personal use, hence al-Ghazali s abandonment of his own possessions, except what was needed for the support of his family, after his conversion.3

f Asceticism, he felt, was of three degrees, the aim of the lowest

degree being salvation from the fires of Hell and its sufferings,

and of the second degree, the desire for the Divine reward and

the favour of God and the fulfilment of His promises. But the

highest degree is that in which the ascetic desires nothing but

God and communion with Him, and his heart is not concerned

with escape from the pains of Hell nor with attainment of the

bliss of Paradise, but his concern is only with God Most High,

and this is the asceticism of the lovers of God, the gnostics, for

only that one who knows Him really loves Him. This highest

degree of renunciation, to the ascetic, does. not seem to be re ~- nunciation, for he does not feel that he has abandoned anything,

since he knows that the world is of no account, he is like one who

has cast away a potsherd and replaced it by a jewel and that

1 I4ya III, p. 65.

2 11uni%V1. Op. cit., fol. r96b. above.

2 Ihya, III, pp. ?02, 204. Cf. p. z-

' ' ' n al-'Aural, p. 38. Siura, IV, gg.

Ihya, IV, P. 69.

1 Mundw3, op. cit., fol. rgya.


seems to him no renunciation. So the ascetic does not rejoice in ,`-hat he possesses nor grieve over what he lacks : praise and blame are alike to him, for his fellowship is with God Most High and what predominates in his heart is the joy of obedience.'

To al-Ghazali this world seemed to be only a place of sowing for the world to come and the harvest was the consummation for ever of that fellowship with God which has its beginning here on earth. Death to him, was not the end of existence, but merely the final separation from this world and a closer approach to God, the Beloved. While in this world he was hindered from continuous fellowship and continuous recollection of Him and the contemplation of His Beauty. The tomb, there­fore, seemed to him but the entrance-gate into the gardens of Paradise, whereby he would be set free from the prison of the body and worldly fetters, and could at last be alone with his Beloved. Therefore, while still travelling on the way to that invisible world, he continued to observe a rule of life which would keep him apart from this world and would enable him to give his time to recollection and meditation upon the life to

come. 2

al-Ghazali say that he had heard one of the Sufi Shaykhs declare that the traveller to God looks upon the next world whil<' he is still in this, and Paradise is really found within his own heart, when the self has been purified from its defilements and the concern is concentrated upon God. But recollection i p;sible only to the heart at leisure from itself and for this

uliiudc is necessary. Only in solitude can the mystic hear i L, call of the Creative Truth and contemplate the Divine Glory. ,l-Ghazidi himself had sought that experience and lie states that all solitaries know that this is true. 4 He writes of his own experience, when lie strove to overcome desire and sought seclusion and tried to give himself to meditation and recollection and found himself continually distracted by Satanic suggestions " There is no remedy for this except bycutting off all ties, both outward and inward, by flight from wife and child and wealth

N1 161a. op. cit., p. 65.

ILna, ill, p. rg!.

nnawi, op. cit., foL r97a. ,ilizun al-'Arlrrl, p. ii.

P. 33.


and position and companions and friends. Then must come the withdrawal to a cell and a minimum of food, and contentment with that. But all this will not suffice unless the concerns of the heart become one concern, which is God Himself. Even

when that prevails over the eupon t, it the Kingdom of heaven meditation by the inmost self earth and the wonders which God has made and the rest of the

gates which lead to a direct experience of God and then, and then
/only, will the solitary be free from Satanic temptations." Then
every moment `must be occupied with reading and recollection

and prayer, with a heart at leisure orecollection. attention This


n the approach to God through beginning, says a1-Ghazali, when you utter the name of God with your tongue and your heart is present with Him. Then ersevere the tongue no longer moves, bremain ssoul in the heart.

heart So far the

and the meaning of that word w

mystic has chosen to concentrate his thoughts, but after this the of hat

choice ceases and there remains Only the Cectatiinwhowhad may be revealed by God. " This,,, say

trodden that way, " is the highroad of the Sufis," 1 and he notes in connection with Recollection that the Prophet had said that hearts get rusty as iron does and the means of polishing them is

t-"' the recollection of God.'

al Ghazali relates that a certain monk was asked how he could endure his loneliness and the monk replied : " I am not alone, I have God as my Companion : when I wish Him to talk with me. I1 read His book, and when I wish to talk with Him, I pray." al-Ghazali himself had the quality of mind which could endure and was content to be alone for the sake of gathering the fruits of seclusion. But the chief value which he found in solitude was the opportunity it offered for Prayer.' Much of his time was given to the prayer-life : we know that he spent whole days and nights in devotion and he has left us many of his prayers, both of intercession and adoration and he has told us much of what

• 1NHaaf al-'A-al, p. 35. anwuf, p 31. Cf. Chapter X1 below.

• Khuld$at al-fasdnff, f'l-Tai

• 14ya, II, p. 202,

• Cf. Ibn Jubayr who says that most of al-Ghazali s prayers were answere ,

and adds ; .1 We commend all sinners to his intercession, far God benefits us by the prayer of the pure-headed among His saints." Rlhla, p. 119.



Prayer meant to him and of what he felt as to its nature and purpose.

He quotes a saying of Sufyan al-Thawri that God has a wind which blows at daybreak and'bears the praises and supplications of men to the King Supreme. 1 He forestalls the objection that there is no end to be reached by prayer if all is pre-determined by the Almighty Will of God, in saying that it is pre-determined that evil shall be averted by prayer and supplication for mercy. Just as the shield serves to turn aside the arrow and water causes the plants to spring out of the earth, and the shield contends with the arrow, so also Prayer and evil wrestle together, and belief in the pre-determining power of God does not debar anyone from using armour or from watering the earth, after sowing the seed. 2 God invites His worshippers to pray, in order that prayer may

lead them to recollection and humility and self-surrender, which

enlighten the heart and make it receptive of His revelation and

mean a continuance of His loving kindness. This does not mean

dissatisfaction, on the part of those who pray, with God's Will

for them, but just as lifting up the water-jar and drinking its

contents does not mean dissatisfaction with the thirst which

God has decreed, for He has also decreed that water shall quench

thirst,-so also it is right to pray, for prayer is the means appointed

by God for the satisfaction of men's spiritual needs. e

It is characteristic of al-Ghazali to believe that even the humbler

creation joins with men in offering prayer and praise to God

and he observes that it is said that the birds and the insects

meet one another on Friday 4 and say : " Peace, peace, this is

a sacred day." s Of prayers for rain he states that when the streams cease to flow and the rains fail and the conduits are dried up, it is an act of merit for the Imam to bid the people first to fast for three days and to give alms according to their ability, and to refrain from doing injustice, and to repent of their sins. Then, on the fourth day, he should go forth with them, accom­panied by old women and boys, all having purified themselves

' I(hulaFat al-lacinff f'l-Ta,awuutf, p. 10. ' Ihya, I, p. 298.

' Ihya, IV, p. 303.

' Friday th6o.ay for public worship in Muslim countries.


and being clad in coarse raiment, submissive, humble, in contrast
to their mien on feast-days, and it is said to be a very fitting thing
to take with them the cattle, because they also share in the need,
and may fittingly share in their petitions. I
aI-Ghazali held that a man should pray for his friends not only
during their life-time but also after their death, and he gives a
prayer to be said at the burial of the dead, commending the soul
of the faithful departed unto its Lord : " 0 Lord, Thy creature
has returned unto Thee, therefore have pity upon him and show
mercy towards him. 0 Lord, we beseech Thee, open the gates
of heaven unto his spirit and welcome him as he approaches
Thee. 0 Lord, if he did good (while here upon earth), then multi­ply his good deeds and if be did evil, then close Thine eyes to his sins." s He also quotes the Prophet's words : "By the prayers of the living, the tombs of the dead are lighted up," and the words of one who said : " Prayer for the dead takes the place of guidance for the living and because of it, an angel enters into the presence of the dead bearing radiant lights and says : " This is guidance for you from such a friend or relative," and the dead rejoice in that as the living rejoice in guidance here." 3
He felt that God Himself called His servants to Prayer and made them desire thus to enter into the. closest relationship with Himself. ° " Praise be to God," he says in an outburst of thanks­giving, Who overwhelms His servants with His gifts and fills their hearts with the radiance of faith and devotion.... He differs from earthly kings in that He inspires His servants to ask of Him and make their plea unto Him, for He says : ' Is there any who calls unto Me ? I will answer him. Is there any who seeks for forgiveness ? I will grant it unto him.' Unlike the rulers (of this world) He opens the door and lifts the veil and gives leave to His servants to enter into familiar intercourse with Him through Prayer. Nor does He limit Himself to giving

1 Ibid., p. 183.

1 Ibid., p. 184.

e Ihya, II, p. 164. Cf. the Christian prayer for the dead : " Let Light

perpetual shine on them, may they rest in peace."

1 Cf. the anchoress Julian of Norwich : I am the ground of thy beseeching:

first it is My Will that thou have it : and after I make thee to will it: and after I make thee to beseecRevel o o sh f n sine Love, p. 84 (14th Revelation).


them leave but He shows His loving-kindness in inspiring them with the desire for this and calling them unto Him." 1
The first thought on awaking and the first word upon the tongue, for al-Ghazali, was the remembrance of God and praise to Him and he gives a morning prayer which we may assume was his own greeting to his Lord on awaking : "Praise be to God, Who bath brought us back to life from death (i.e. from sleep).
. 0 Lord, I ask Thee that Thou wilt lead me unto all good and that Thou wilt protect me from evil.... Through Thee, 0 Lord do we arise in the morning and through Thee do we come to eventide. Through Thee we live and through Thee we die and unto Thee do we return." a
The remembrance of God and the sense of His constant pre­sence, he felt, should be with His servant at all times. " Know," he says, and he is undoubtedly relating his own experience, " that your Companion, Who never forsakes you, whether you are at home or abroad, asleep or awake, in life or in death, is your Lord and Master, your Protector and your Creator, and when­ever you remember Him, He is there beside you. For God Most High bath said : ' I am the Companion of Him Who remembers Me. Whenever your heart is stricken with grief for your shortcomings in religion, He is there at hand, continually beside you. For He bath said : ' I am with those who are con­trite in heart,. for My sake.' If you but knew Him in truth, you would take Him as your Friend and forsake all others but Him. If you are not able to do that at all times, do not fail to set apart time both night and day, in which you may commune with your Lord and enjoy His presence in inward converse with Him and may know what it means to have continual fellowship with God." a
al-Ghazali bids all who draw near to God to forget this world and its people and to approach Him as He will be approached on the day of resurrection, when the soul will stand in His Presence, with no mediator between. In Prayer he says, " God is face to face with you and you are in intimate conversation

, 1 Fn'a, 1, pp. 129, 130.

Iiidayi al-Hidayat, p. 5. s tlidavat al-Hidayat, p. 39.

AL GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY you are stand­with Him and you must know in Whose presence "

ing, for He is the King Supreme.' The five

al-Ghazali expresses his se

the Pro

nse of the of the ritual prayer beside

in quoting the words of

times of Prayer are like a river 0 fresh eaplunges five beside


the door of each one of you suppose that leaves of his defile­each day, and what do you

ment ? " s

Prayer with the.lips only ,vas real communion' alwith zGod

view, since he held that confidential cunco mu i His Presence.

could not exist along with any presence

The essence of prayer, he held, was humility, intention, sized

" If Prayer be an inner

of the heart and single-minded devotion, and he always em

the need for the heart to be " present-the rpresence of the heart,

reality, he says, six things are needful, and shame. By the

understanding, adoration, awe,

presence " of the heart al-Ghzltmeant ai t which

F ch the worshipper

enever the

be concerned with nothing except is engaged and what is uttered everything thelse ahe lips. nd the hear is mindful thought is detached from fro then there is presence of the of that with which it is concerned, eant something beyond this,

heart. By " understanding

the heart's comprehension of the spiritual meaning of what i is

uttered. Adoration goes beyond both t these and , A5o is an which cannot be given to man but only to God.

expression for the reverence whi ~h results is from fittig on adoration tthe hrt

its source is the Divine ~lal~~-tY oodness towards him of the servant who believes in Cod's g

enter into prayer, for

it is the

and he does rightly in hoping t that his prayer will be effective. Shame, al-Ghazali feels, n

creature's sense of his shortcomig;and ifY i that about presence

of the Creator. The heart is 11 Present it is concerned and when faith rnce of ~thisa world ands its affairs, Ill the n~ith a sense of the insigni „ Your heart is Present,'

then resent in prayer. the heart is p

t. i•htfall.

t Kawdat of-T it bhp idp'ay tioh, e x 261. noon and sunwCt, un'ct and n 6

At dash, noun.

s Maya, 1, p 130

Idea u/ the Ha[)', PP

(;f.It.att,, r;,'


al-Ghazali says, " when you enter the presence of one accounted
great (in this world) who is, after all, a creature, with no real
power to injure you or do you good ; ought it not then to be
present when you are in confidential communion with the King
of kings, in Whose hand are both this world and the next, Who
controls all that comes to you, of good or ill ? "'

These things, then, al-Ghazali felt to be necessary if Prayer

was to be an inward reality and he was doubtless speaking from
his own experience. He felt, too, that the external ritual and
formalities which accompany prayer must be realised to have a
spiritual significance : they were but outward symbols of an
inner reality. Of the ritual purification which preceded prayer al-Ghazali writes : "When you purify the place in which you
pray, which is your outermost container, and then your garments, which are your nearest covering and f hen your skin, which is your inner rind, do not forget your kernel, which is your real essence, 2 and that is your heart. So strive to cleanse it by repentance and contrition and therewith purify your inmost self, for He Whom you worship is looking thereon." 3 This purification of the inmost self means that it is emptied and prepared for the Divine action, for the ultimate purpose of this purification is that the glory of God and His majesty should be manifested to the soul. " The knowledge of God," al-Ghazali says, " will never enter and abide in the soul in very truth until all else but God has been removed from it." 4
Then, too, just as in the ritual prayer, the outward face is turned towards the qibla (the direction of Mecca) and away from any other direction, so also during prayer the heart should be turned towards God and to nothing else. " Let the face of your heart," he writes, " be turned in the same direction as the
• 1hyd, I, p. 145, Cf. the Catholic mystic Angela of Foligno, "Prayer is nothing else save the manifestation of, God and oneself and this manifestation is perfect and true humility. For humility consists in the soul beholding God and itself as it should."

• Cf. po. 71,

72 above.

• fhya, f, pp. 148.

• 1hya, ill, p. iii. Cf. a modern writer : "The fundamental discipline and the fundamental duty in the face of the Eternal is prayer .. , it is more than an outpouring and iar more than an entreating. It is a gripping of the self by an act of painful and arduous abstraction, from the concerns of time and space, for the purpose of facing eternity and speaking with the Eternal." R. Barker, The 5,beclator, November 25th, 1938.


Jface of your body and know that the heart does not turn towards God except when it is freed from the thought of all but Him."' He writes elsewhere on this subject, When you turn your face towards the qibla, then turn your heart towards the Creative Truth and do not rejoice, for you have no reason for it, but remember how you must stand in His Presence on the Day of udgment. Therefore stand on the feet of fear and hope, detaching your heart from regard for this world and for mankind and transfer your concern to Him, for He will not reject one who take refuge in Him, nor disappoint a suppliant." 2

al-Ghazali had much experience of the distraction of thought by which prayer is hindered, but he knew that only those whose prayer was directed solely towards God in humility and adoration could receive the Divine illumination and apprehend the mysteries revealed by God to His saints. In player alone were those mysteries revealed and the revelation came only to that one whose heart was set upon God alone. "When you can say,

My living and my dying belong to God,' then," says al-Ghazali, " you may know that this is the state of one who is lost to himself and found to his Lord." For when the creature, so lost to self, approaches God in prayer, He raises the veil between Himself and His servant and meets him face to face, 3

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