The faith and

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Senior Lecturer in Arabic University of Edinburgh

An E-text production by Islamic Philosophy Online for Al-Ghazali website

Being a translation of

al-Munqidh min al-Dalal

(Deliverance from Error)

Based on the text published by

Ruskin House Museum Street




AS A RESULT of two Wars that have devastated the World men and women everywhere feel a twofold need. We need a deeper understanding and appreciation of other peoples and their civilizations, especially their moral and spiritual achievements. And we need a wider vision of the Universe, a clearer insight into the fundamentals of ethics and religion. How ought men to behave? How ought nations? Does God exist? What is His Nature? How is He related to His creation? Especially, how can man approach Him? In other words, there is a general desire to know what the greatest minds, whether of East or West, have thought and said about the Truth of God and of the beings who (as most of them hold) have sprung from Him, live by Him, and return to Him.

It is the object of this Series, which originated among a group of Oxford men and their friends, to place the chief ethical and religious masterpieces of the world, both Christian and non-Christian, within easy reach of the intelligent reader who is not necessarily an expert the ex-Service man who is interested in the East, the undergraduate, the adult student, the intelligent public generally. The Series will contain books of three kinds: translations, reproductions of ideal and religious art, and background books showing the surroundings in which the literature and art arose and developed. These books overlap each other. Religious art, both in East and West, often illustrates a religious text, and in suitable cases the text and the pictures will be printed together to complete each other. The background books will often consist largely of translations. The volumes will be prepared by scholars of distinction, who will try to make them, not only scholarly, but intelligible and enjoyable.

This Introduction represents the views of the General Editors as to the scope of the Series, but not necessarily the views of all contributors to it. The contents of the books will also be very varied-ethical and social, biographical, devotional, philosophic and mystical, whether in poetry, in pictures or in prose. There is a great wealth of material. Confucius lived in a time much like our own, when State was at war with State and the people suffering and disillusioned; and the `Classics’ he preserved or inspired show the social virtues that may unite families, classes and States into one great family, in obedience to the Will of Heaven. Asoka and Akbar (both of them great patrons of art) ruled a vast Empire on the principles of religious faith. There are the moral anecdotes and moral maxims of the Jewish and Muslim writers of the Middle Ages. There are the beautiful tales of courage, love and fidelity in the Indian and Persian epics. Shakespeare’s plays show that he thought the true relation between man and man is love. Here and there a volume will illustrate the unethical or less ethical man and difficulties that beset him.

Then there are the devotional and philosophic works. The lives and legends (legends often express religious truth with clarity and beauty) of the Buddha, of the parents of Mary, of Francis of Assisi, and the exquisite sculptures and paintings that illustrate them. Indian and Christian religious music, and the words of prayer and praise which the music intensifies. There are the prophets and apocalyptic writers, Zarathustrian and Hebrew; the Greek philosophers, Christian thinkers and the Greek, Latin, medieval and modern-whom they so deeply influenced. There is, too, the Hindu, Buddhist and Christian teaching expressed in such great monuments as the Indian temples, Barabudur (the Chartres of Asia) and Ajanta, Chartres itself and the Sistine Chapel.

Finally, there are the mystics of feeling, and the mystical philosophers. In God-loving India the poets, musicians, sculptors and painters inspired by the spiritual worship of Krishna and Rama, as well as the philosophic mystics from the Upanishads onward. The two great Taoists Lao-tze and Chuang-tze and the Sung mystical painters in China, Rumi and other sufis in Islam, Plato and Plotinus, followed by ‘Dionysius’, Eckhart, St. John of the Cross and (in our view) Dante and other great mystics and mystical painters in many Christian lands.

Mankind is hungry, but the feast is there, though it is locked up and hidden away. It is the aim of this Series to put it within reach, so that, like the heroes of Homer, we may stretch forth our hands to the good cheer laid before us.

No doubt the great religions differ in fundamental respects. But they are not nearly so far from one another as they seem. We think they are further off than they are largely because we so often misunderstand and misrepresent them. Those whose own religion is dogmatic have often been as ready to learn from other teachings as those who are liberals in religion. Above all, there is an enormous amount of common ground in the great religions, concerning, too, the most fundamental matters. There is frequent agreement on the Divine Nature; God is the One, Self-subsisting Reality, knowing Himself, and therefore loving and rejoicing in Himself. Nature and finite spirits are in some way subordinate kinds of Being, or merely appearances of the Divine, the One. The three stages of the way of man’s approach or return to God are in essence the same in Christian and non-Christian teaching: an ethical stage, then one of knowledge and love, leading to the mystical union of the soul with God. Each stage will be illustrated in these volumes.

Something of all this may (it is hoped) be learnt from the books and pictures in this Series. Read and pondered with a desire to learn, they will help men and women to find `fullness of life’, and peoples to live together in greater understanding and harmony. To-day the earth is beautiful, but men are disillusioned and afraid. But there may come a day, perhaps not a distant day, when there will be a renaissance of man’s spirit: when men will be innocent and happy amid the beauty of the world, or their eyes will be opened to see that egoism and strife are folly, that the universe is fundamentally spiritual, and that men are the sons of God.

They shall not hurt nor destroy

In all My holy mountain:

For all the earth shall be full of the

knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea.





I should like to record my thanks to Professors H. A. R. Gibb and A. J. Arberry for various forms of help and encouragement. To my. colleague, Dr. Pierre Cachia, I am particularly indebted for the compilation of the Index and for advice on some points of detail. For those unfamiliar with Arabic terms the Index may serve to some extent as a glossary. The quotations from the Qur’an (for which the abbreviation ‘Q.’ is used) are taken from the late Richard Bell’s translation (Edinburgh, 1937-9), but have occasionally been modified to suit the context. In Appendix A (3) of my article, ` The authenticity of Works attributed to al-Ghazali,’ in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society for 1952 I have attempted to show that the closing section of The Beginning of Guidance (omitted from the translation below) is spurious.



The University, Edinburgh.

May 1952.



Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali was born at Tus in Persia in 450 A,H. (1058 A.D.) His father died when he was quite young, but the guardian saw to it that this `lad o’ pairts’ and his brother received a good education. After the young Ghazali had spent some years of study under the greatest theologian of the age, al-Juwayni, Imam al-Haramayn, his outstanding intellectual gifts were noted by Nizam al-Mulk, the all-powerful vizier of the Turkish sultan who ruled the `Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad, and he appointed him professor at the university he had founded in the capital. Thus at the age of thirty-three he had attained to one of the most distinguished positions in the academic world of his day.

Four years later, however, he had to meet a crisis; it had physical symptoms but it was primarily religious. He came to feel that the one thing that mattered was avoidance of Hell and attainment of Paradise, and he saw that his present way of life was too worldly to have any hope of eternal reward. After a severe inner struggle he left Baghdad to take up the life of a wandering ascetic. Though later he returned to the task of teaching, the change that occurred in him at this crisis was permanent. He was now a religious man, not just a worldly teacher of religious sciences. He died at Tus in 505 (1111).

The first of the books here translated, Deliverance from Error (literally, `What delivers from error’-al-Munqidh min ad-Dalal), is the source for much of what we know about al-Ghazali’s life. It is autobiographical, yet not exactly an autobiography. It presents us with an intellectual analysis of his spiritual growth, and also offers arguments in defence of the view that there is a form of human apprehension higher than rational apprehension, namely, that of the prophet when God reveals truths to him. Moreover close study shows that al-Ghazali does not always observe strict chronology, but has schematized his description of his intellectual development. Al-Ghazali introduces his discussions in a manner reminiscent of Descartes. The `bonds of mere authority’ ceased to hold him, as they ceased to hold the father of modern European philosophy. Looking for `necessary’ truths al-Ghazali came, like Descartes, to doubt the infallibility of sense-perception, and to rest his philosophy rather on principles which are intuitively certain. With this in mind al-Ghazali divided the various `seekers’ after truth into the four distinct groups of Theologians, Philosophers, Authoritarians and Mystics.

(1) Scholastic theology had already achieved a fair degree of elaboration in the defence of Islamic orthodoxy, as a perusal of al-Irshad by al-Juwayni, (translated into French), will show. Al-Ghazali had been brought up in this tradition, and did not cease to be a theologian when he became a mystic. His criticism of the theologians is mild. He regards contemporary theology as successful in attaining its aims, but inadequate to meet his own special needs because it did not go far enough in the elucidation of its assumptions. There was no radical change in his theological views when he became a mystic, only a change in his interests, and some of his earlier works in the field of dogmatics are quoted with approval in al-Munqidh.

(2) The Philosophers with whom al-Ghazali was chiefly concerned were those he calls `theistic’, above all, al-Farabi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Their philosophy was a form of Neoplatonism, sufficiently adapted to Islamic monotheism for them to claim to be Muslims. Though the part they played in stimulating the medieval Christian scholastics is acknowledged, the contribution of these men to the intellectual progress of mankind as a whole has not yet been fully appreciated. To the great body of Muslims, however, some of their positions were unacceptable, because they tended to contradict principles essential to the daily life of believing Muslims. The achievement of al-Ghazali was to master their technique of thinking-mainly Aristotelian logic-and then, making use of that, to refashion the basis of Islamic theology, to incorporate as much of the Neoplatonists’ teaching as was compatible with Islam, and to expose the logical weakness of the rest of their philosophy. The fusion of Greek philosophical techniques with Islamic dogma which had been partly accomplished by al-Ash`ari (d. 324/935) was thus in essence completed, though the working-out was left to al-Ghazali’s successors. Undoubtedly al-Ghazali learnt much from these Neoplatonists, but the allegations that he finally adopted some of their fundamental principles, which he had earlier criticized, are to be denied, since they are based on works falsely attributed to al-Ghazali.

(3) Those whom al-Ghazali calls the party of ta’lim or `authoritative instruction’ (also known as Isma`iliyah and Batiniyah) held that truth is to be attained not by reason but by accepting the pronouncements of the infallible Imam. The doctrine had an important political reference since it was the official ideology of a rival state, the Fatimid caliphate with centre in Cairo, and thus anyone who held it was suspect of being, at the least, a ‘fellow-traveller’.

(4) There had been an ascetic element in Islam from the time of Muhammad himself, and this could easily be combined with orthodoxy. Sufism, however, was usually something more than asceticism, and the strictly mystical elements which it contained often led to heterodox theology. From the Sufis or mystics al-Ghazali received most help with his personal problems, yet he could also criticize their extravagances, like the words of al-Hallaj, `I am the Ultimate Reality’. Al-Ghazali was at great pains to keep his mysticism in harmony with orthodox dogma and with the performance of the common religious duties. When he became a mystic he did not cease to be a good Muslim any more than he ceased to be an Ash’arite theologian.

What al-Ghazali learnt in the years of solitude after he left Baghdad he tried to set down in his greatest work, The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya’ `Ulum ad-Din).

The second of the books translated below, The Beginning of Guidance (Bidayat al-Hidayah), presents one side of the teaching there given, namely, the religious practices and the conduct in social relationships which al-Ghazali set up as an ideal. Thus The Beginning of Guidance is an introduction to the Ihya’; it deals with the ‘purgative way’ and directs the reader to the larger work for what lies beyond that. The ideal resembles that of a monastic third order with a very strict rule; it does not seem to be suited to the hurried life of a modern city. Yet al-Ghazali’s seriousness and sense of urgency stand out vividly and communicate themselves. The book is interesting, too, in that, though al-Ghazali’s standpoint is almost modern in many ways, dark forces of superstition are prominent in the background.

Al-Ghazali has sometimes been acclaimed in both East and West as the greatest Muslim after Muhammad, and he is by no means unworthy of that dignity. His greatness rests above all on two things: (1) He was the leader in Islam’s supreme encounter with Greek philosophy-that encounter from which Islamic theology emerged victorious and enriched, and in which Arabic Neoplatonism received a blow from which it did not recover. (2) He brought orthodoxy and mysticism into closer contact; the orthodox theologians still went their own way, and so did the mystics, but the theologians became more ready to accept the mystics as respectable, while the mystics were more careful to remain within the bounds of orthodoxy.

Yet perhaps the greatest thing about al-Ghazali was his personality, and it may yet again be a source of inspiration. Islam is now wrestling with Western thought as it once wrestled with Greek philosophy, and is as much in need as it was then of a `revival of the religious sciences’. Deep study of al-Ghazali may suggest to Muslims steps to be taken if they are to deal successfully with the contemporary situation. Christians, too, now that the world is in a cultural melting-pot, must be prepared to learn from Islam, and are unlikely to find a more sympathetic guide than al-Ghazali.




The word Salat has been rendered `Worship’ rather than `prayers’ following Professor Calverley, Worship in Islam, since it seemed desirable to keep ‘prayer’ for du’a’.

For an explanation of the technical terms connected with the Worship see the above volume, or Encyclopedia of Islam, art. sat, or Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, art. Prayer.

The text of al-Munqidh used was that of the third Damascus edition of Jamil Saliba and Kamil `Ayyad, dated 1358/1939; that of the Bidayah one dated Cairo 1353/1934. I have deviated from the printed text of al-Munqidh at the following points: p. 99, line 6, awliyh’ instead of anbiya’ ; p. 125, 6, omit semicolon and vocalize as ‘ilma-hu; 143, 3 vocalize as turaddu instead of taridu. In the Bidayah, 39, 14 add ti or ma before yasta`in. (= translation p.151).







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