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|"Imam Ghazali" notes from a lecture|
|05/30/02 at 19:55:02|
"Imam Ghazzali" notes from a lecture heard at university
In the Islamic tradition, Ramadan is a time to further edify a Muslim's spirituality - a time to venture beyond the ritualistic practices by searching their depths and discovering the treasures embedded within. It is a time to understand the principles which are rooted in the teachings of the religion.
Among these principles is that of mysticism - the essence of spirituality
that is grounded in the tenets of Islam.
During the tenth and eleventh centuries, there was a great deal of mysticism in the day-to-day life of the Islamic community. It was not something separated or isolated, but instead something that belonged to the quotidian life of Muslims. The mystics were not a sect apart, but rather shared in the disputes of the community about matters of theology and jurisprudence and included men who propounded the most divergent views in these respects. It was during this time, when religion and spirituality was of such immense significance, that a Muslim theologian named Abu Hamid al- Ghazzali not only outlined a comprehensive worldview based on the religion of Islam, but also specifically attempted to demonstrate how all human behavior should be guided by a religious faith that is as intense and unshakably certain as it is all encompassing.
Much of al-Ghazzali's contributions to the understanding of Islam and the ideologies enmeshed in the religion, in particular through the study of the Quran, derived from this period. Ghazzali repeatedly stressed that man was not created in jest or at random, but "marvelously made" for a great purpose.
Although he is not immortal, he lives forever because, although man's "body is mean and earthly, his spirit is lofty and divine". It was Ghazzali's thought that man could either be a slave to lust and anger or become endowed with angelic qualities. However, he believed that this spiritual alchemy, which transmutes base metals into gold, and catalyzes a transfiguration in man from a slave of desire and lust to an individual free from such desires, is not easily discovered.
It was his perception that the treasuries of God, in which this alchemy is to be sought, are the hearts of the prophets. He who seeks it elsewhere will be disappointed and "bankrupt on the Day of Judgment" when he hears these words of the Quran: "We have lifted the veil from off thee, and thy sight today is keen". The alchemy, according to al-Ghazzali, may be briefly described as turning away from the world's materialism and turning instead to God's spiritual offerings. Furthermore, he believed there to be four constituents of the alchemy of happiness: the knowledge of self, knowledge of God, knowledge of this world as it really is, and knowledge of the next world as it really is. Thus, one can truly understand and appreciate the thoughts, ideas and teachings of al-Ghazzali by synthesizing these four elements which are so integral to the ideologies of Islam.
Ghazzali believed that the knowledge of the self is the key to the knowledge of God, according to the saying of the Qur'an, "He who knows himself knows God." As it is written in the Qu'ran, "We will show them our signs in the world and in themselves, that the truth may be manifest to them." He believed that knowing oneself does not mean knowing the outward shape, body, face, limbs, and so forth, for such knowledge can never be a key to the knowledge of God. Real self-knowledge consists of things such as: Where did one come from? Where is one going? What is one's purpose for this life on earth and what dotrue happiness and misery consist of?
Ghazzali believed that the first step to self knowledge is to recognize that individuals are composed of an outward shape, the body, and an inward entity called the heart or soul. According to him, the heart is an entity that does not belong to the visible world, but rather to the invisible. It is much like a traveler that has come to this world as a visitor and will soon return to his or her native land. It is the knowledge of this entity of the heart and its attributes, which is the key to the knowledge of God.
Ghazzali further expressed that the aim of moral discipline is to purify the heart from the rust of passion and resentment until, like a clear mirror, it reflects the light of God. Purification is thought to be attained through the remembrance of God and distancing of self from the lures of the world. The more a man purifies himself from the lusts of the world and concentrates his mind on God, the more conscious he will be of cleansing the soul.
However, many who contemplate themselves do not find God; therefore it was Ghazzali's thought that there must be some special way of attaining such wisdom. A method mentioned by Ghazzali called for contemplation of man about when he was non-existent. It was his thought that when a man regards himself he knows that there was a time when he was non-existent, as it is written in the Quran: "Doth it not occur to man that there was a time when he was nothing?" Further, man realizes upon contemplation that he was made out of a drop in which there was neither intellect, nor hearing, sight, heads, hand, feet, etc. Thus, it can be concluded that whatever degree of perfection that man may attain, he did not create it of his own volition.
Not only are man's attributes a reflection of God's attributes, but the mode of existence of man's soul affords some insight into God's mode of existence as well. Both God and the soul are invisible, indivisible, unconfined by space and time, and outside the categories of quantity and quality; nor can the ideas of shape, color, or size attach to them. Ghazzali recognized that people might find it hard to form a conception of such abstract realities. Thus, he stated that a similar difficulty is attached to the conception of our everydayfeelings, such as anger, pain, pleasure, and love. These are thought-concepts and cannot be explained by the senses, whereas quality and quantity are sense-concepts. Just as the ear cannot recognize color, the eye cannot discern sound. Thus, in conceiving of the ultimate and non-sensate realities, God and the soul, sentient concepts bear no part. However, we can have faith that, as God is Ruler of the universe, and is Himself beyond space and time, quantity and quality, that He governs entities such as the soul which rules the body and its members being itself invisible, indivisible, and not located in any special part of the physical body. From all this, man can see the validity of the Prophet's saying, "God created man in His own
Ghazzali believed, however, that there are some who, failing to find God by observation, conclude that there is no God and that this world of wonders made itself autonomously, or existed from time immemorial. They are like a man who, seeing a beautifully written letter, should suppose that it had written itself without a writer, or had always existed. Thus, to them, the knowledge of God could be impossible to acquire. This then, in turn, results in hardship in this life as well as the next.
Imam Ghazzali's conception of this world was like a marketplace that the pilgrims passed through on their way to the next. It is here that they provide themselves with the needed provisions for the journey. In other words, man acquires the use of his bodily senses here, some knowledge of the works of God and through them of God Himself, as previously mentioned.
Ghazzali believed that while man is in this world there are two things that are necessary for him. First, the protection and nurturing from his soul and secondly, the care and nurturing of his body. The proper nourishment of the soul, as previously stated, is the knowledge and love of God. To be absorbed in the love of anything else but God is the ruination of the soul.
Additionally, he believed that the world projected a deceitful image to its inhabitants. In the first place, it (i.e. the world) pretends that it will always remain with you. However what one fails to see is that it is slipping away from man, moment by moment, and bidding man farewell.
Nonetheless, Ghazzali stated that it must be remembered that there are some things in the world which are not of it, such as knowledge and good deeds.
A man carries what knowledge he possesses with him into the next world, and though his worldly good deeds may pass just as time passes, the effect of them will always remain in his character. This is especially true in cases that involve acts of devotion towards God, which result in perpetual remembrance and love of God. Furthermore, these are among "those good things" which, as the Quran says, " [shall] pass not away".
Ghazzali warned that the time of death for those who have indulged in pleasures of the world without limits, will be like a man who has gorged himself to repletion on delicious cuisine and then vomits after having partaken in the fare. The deliciousness of the food has gone, yet only the bitterness remains. It was Ghazzali's thought that the greater the abundance of the possessions, that man enjoys in this life (i.e. material objects), the more keenly he will feel the bitterness of parting with them. This visceral bitterness, furthermore, will outlast death, for the soul which has contracted covetousness as a fixed habit will necessarily in the next world suffer from these unsatisfied desires.
Much like attempting to acquire the knowledge of this world, the task of acquiring the knowledge of the next world is somewhat difficult because of man's common inability or unwillingness to think in an abstract way. For example, although man is aware of heaven and hell, it often escapes him that there is also a spiritual heaven and hell. God said to His prophet, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things which are prepared for the righteous." He however believed that in the heart of the enlightened man there is a window opening onto the realities of the spiritual world.
Additionally, Ghazzali believed that some further consideration will show how entirely distinct the human soul is from the body and its distinct members. For example, limb after limb may be paralyzed and cease to work, but the individuality of the soul will remain unimpaired. As revelation of this truth, the body which an individual has now is no longer the body which he or she had as a child. Nevertheless, one's personality as an adult is most likely identical to the personality he or she possessed as a child. It is therefore easy to conceive of the human soul persisting even when the body has changed. This, according to Ghazzali, is the meaning of the saying, "Good things abide." But, if instead of man carrying away knowledge with him, he departs in ignorance of God, his soul will be in darkness. Therefore the Quran says, "He who is blind in this life will be blind in the next life and astray from the path."
Ghazzali believed that the reason behind the human spirit's seeking to return to the upper world (i.e. heaven) derives from its angelic nature and because that is from whence the sprit originated. It was sent down in this lower sphere against its will to acquire knowledge and experience. As God said in the Quran, "Go down from hence, all of you; there will come from you instruction from Me, and they who obey the instruction need not fear, neither shall they be grieved." Furthermore, God's statement, "I breathed into man of My spirit," also points to the celestial origin of human soul. He explained that the health of the animal soul consists in the equilibrium of its component parts. However, when impaired, it is rectified by appropriate medicine. In that same sense, the health of the human soul consists in a moral equilibrium, which is maintained and repaired, when needed, by ethicalinstruction and moral precepts.
Ghazzali warned that there are a great number of people who have abstract ailments of the heart; these people have some love of God, but the love of the world is so predominant in than that they will have to suffer a good deal of pain after death before they are thoroughly weaned from it. For example, many profess to love God, yet a man may easily test himself by watching which way the balance of his affection inclines when the commands of God come into conflict with his desires. Thus, he concluded that the profession of love to God which is insufficient to restrain one from disobedience to God is, at its core, mendacious. Ghazzali considers this aspect to be one of the components of the spiritual hell.
Thus, Ghazzali concluded that man is capable of existing on several different planes from the animal to the angelic. In this lies man's danger, since it is equally possible to fall to the very lowest animal realm or to rise to propinquity with God. Neither animals nor angels can change their appointed rank and place. But man may either sink to the animalistic or soar to the angelic realm.
In closing, Al-Ghazzali thought himself to be the "renewer" of religion for the sixth Islamic century, and many, perhaps most Muslims, have considered that he was indeed the "renewer" of his period. He is, however, best described as a prophetic intellectual. Al-Ghazzali rendered the individualistic aspect of religion, as exemplified by mysticism, intellectually respectable. He illustrated that religious piety can extend into all spheres of life and establish an open connection between faith and action insofar as one understood such principles as the knowledge of oneself, God, and this world as well as the next.. It is through the understanding of such knowledge that one can wholeheartedly become enlightened by the Love and Mercy of God and begin to understand the principles embedded within the religion of Islam.
|05/30/02 at 19:59:02|
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