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M.S. STERN Distributed By


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Al-Ghazzali on Repentance ©1990, M.S. Stern

All rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher.


Published by S.K. Ghai, Managing Director, Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., L-10, Green Park Extension, New Delhi-110016. Printed at Gopsons Papers (P) Ltd., Noida, (India).


The project goal is the presentation of Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali's teach­ing on repentance as rendered in his encyclopedic Revival of the Reli­gious Sciences (Ihya' 'Ul"m ad-Din). The presentation is made in two parts.

Part One consists of introductory remarks designed to provide a back­ground against which al-Ghazzalii"s teachings on repentance can be viewed. Specifically,, it includes a short. account of the idea of repent­ance imearly Jewish and Christian traditiensy.; a discussion of the Koranic notion: of repentance; a biographical sketch of al-Ghazzali; an outline of the: content and purpose of the Revives, a treatment of al-Ghazzali's conception of salvation; and, finally, a profile of al-Ghazzali's position oa a number of basic theological issues which are both intrinsically bound to his explication of repentance and generally illustrative of his religious and pedagogical stance.

Part Two consists of the translation of the Kitab at-Tawba which is the thirty-first book of al-Ghazzali's Revival. A Cairo edition (c. 1965) of the Revival was used. In order to achieve a more reliable text, however, one manuscript was used as well as the major printed commentary by al-Zabidi which presents a text in the commentary itself, and another running on the margin.' Translations of other books of the Revival were examined for terminological usage. Citations from the literature of Tra­dition (hadith) were checked and the references are given in Appendix

rA. The references of Appendix A are noted in the translation by lower

19 case letters following the pagination of the Arabic text.

  • Many have had a part in the completion of this work. I would espe­

c• ially like to acknowledge those whose contributions were most signifi­cant: Deans Finlay and Lobdell of the University of Manitoba, Professor

rMoshe Nahir, Mrs. Irene Muir and Mrs. Trudy Baureiss. They have my heartfelt gratitude.

r Above all, I wish to acknowledge those without whom this work would

td have been inconceivable.

  • The late Professor G. E. von Grunebaum was a paradigm of humane

o scholarship; he is missed. Professor'Moshe Perlmann, a teacher par

  • excellence and a righteous man; he he constantly before my eyes. And,

C last but not least, my wife and partner,. Sydell Stern; kind, patient and insightful, she nurtures my mind and my soul. These three have provided personal and professional models for me to emulate. I pray that I might prove worthy of each. To them, with gratitude to the Almighty, I dedi­cate this book.



Preface: : v Part One: Introduction I Part Two: Translation of Book XXXI of the

Ihya' 'Ulum ad-Din 29

Appendix A: 133

Appendix B: Index of Persons Mentioned 137

Bibliography: 139

Notes: 143


By the beginning of the seventh century, when Muhammad was begin­ning to preach to his new community of believers, repentance had already become a fundamental concept in both Judaism and Christianity. Both of these religious traditions assert the existence of a personal God, the reality of sin and its consequences and, perhaps most importantly, man's freedom both in his ability to commit and overcome sin. Thus man was seen as a moral being capable of breaking away from a negatively valued past and reforming. Furthermore, this conversion is highly valued as a basic virtue and a permanent condition to spiritual accomplishment.

The Hebrew noun teshubah ('repentance') is mishnaic in origin (i.e., post-biblical) but the same radical in its verbal form (shub) is quite com­mon in the Hebrew Bible. Aside from its denotation 'to turn' or 'to return' in a physical sense,2 there is a parallel usage indicating a spiritual or moral conversion. In fact, there are two-such usages common, especially in the Latter Prophets. One such usage finds Israel as subject, indicat­ing a conversion from sin to righteousness .3 The other uses the verb with God as subject, indicating the abatement of God's wrath and His extending to Israel a return to grace .4 There is a definite collective sense evident in many of these verses which are, incidentally, relatively unique to the Hebrew biblical tradition. The call to return is made to the people Israel, a manifestation of the covenant between God and His people .5 Nonetheless; there is clear evidence that the biblical tradition understood the possibility of repentance to exiii-6 and within it, on an individual basis?''''"

There are, in fact, two main currents to the idea of repentance in the Hebrew Bible. Firstly there is the ritualistic or cultic system by which man seeks forgiveness through sacrifice dW,displacement of guilt .8 This aspect is best exemplified in the ritual.eijoined for the Day of Atone­

ment? Secondly there is the moral and' ethical conversion especially

emphasized by the prophetic sections of the Bible. 10 These two currents should not, however, be viewed as totally independent elements. The




ritual and ethical are intimately related in the biblical conceptions of sin and repentance. Indeed this synthesis becomes one of the fundamental aspects of later rabbinic teaching.' I

Finally, the Hebrew Bible views repentance as a process involving both man and God. Linguistic usage to this effect has already been cited. The prophets, however, put this usage together in such a manner as to indicate that the return by man is the factor under whose initiative God's return is triggered. Clearly, then, the biblical tradition views God's for­giveness and grace as a response to man's obedience.12

The Hebrew Bible does not, however, present a single comprehen­sive conception of repentance. Indeed one sees in this regard the varia­tion of attitude and situation faced by the various biblical authors. The inconsistencies inherent in the biblical texts are, moreover, carried over to some degree into the rabbinic texts of the talmudic period.13 It is only in the medieval era, especially in the work of Maimonides, that consis­tent and comprehensive treatments of the topic are to be found. It can be said, however, that most of the major elements of the rabbinic con­ception of repentance are already mentioned in the talmudic literature. The talmudic sages were clearly aware of the biblical inconsistencies and the lack of systematic topical treatment may, in large measure, be due to the nature of talmudic literature itself.14

It is evident, nonetheless, that repentance had become a basic feature of rabbinic piety. The religious poetry of the period, an increasingly important liturgical resource in the post-Temple period, is marked by a high frequency of penitential themes.15 Further, the word teshubdh (repentance) becomes, at this time, a technical theological term, indicating a more intense concern for and treatment of its nature and characteris­tics.16 The significance assigned repentance by the talmudic sages is so great that it is credited with having been created prior to the physical world. 17 Attributed to it are special life-giving and redemptive powers. 18 Repentance is, furthermore, viewed as a potent form of righteousness. Consequently, at least some authorities see the penitent as more virtu­ous than the sinless man.19

So valued was the penitent in the rabbinic tradition that only his rela­tive virtuosity compared with the unblemished could be questioned. In the Greek philosophical tradition this was not the case. Aristotle, for example, deals with the concept of `repentance as cure in his Nicho­machean Ethics. He does not, however, view it as a virtue. The good

man is not given to repentance2° When the two lines converge in the

work of Philo21 repentance is introduced into .the hellenistic philosophi­

cal tradition as a virtue 22 It would seem that the rabbinic view of man's fallibility and repentance were already so basic within pre-Destruction first century Judaism that Philo did not hesitate to disagree in this matter with the ancient masters.

In early Christianity, as portrayed in the New Testament, repentance becomes an urgent and pervasive theme. Even before Jesus' advent, John the Baptist, sensing the imminence of Judgement, calls for immediate repentance.23 This call is taken up by Jesus who often explains the major purpose of his ministry as being the repentance of sinners 24

This concept of repentance (metanoia) is developed into far more than a turning away from sin. It becomes rather, a complete change of the total spiritual personality.25 Paul describes this in mystical language as a crucifixion and coming again to life.26 With Jesus' death, repentance, as the.key to salvation, seems to be replaced by faith 27 Yet, as faith was understood it differs little, in process, from repentance. Repentance is man's turning away from sin, faith is his turning to God. The shift can be understood as an adjustment from the intense expectation of an imminent Judgement to the acceptance of the possibility of a prolonged interval between the present and the realization of the Kingdom.

This change, from repentance based on eschatological expectation to repentance based on the demands of normative piety, is an important process. It parallels, in many respects, the changes which are discerni­ble in the teachings of Muhammad after the founding of his community in Medina.28 Perforce, the warning, BUT UNLESS YOU REPENT YOU WILL ALL SIMILARLY PERISH,29 has a different intensity after Jesus' death. In the following centuries, through to the emergence of Islam, Christian theological treatment of repentance never goes beyond the New Testament ideas. In fact, with the increasing involvement of the Church in the sacramental process of penance, of which repentance was considered a part, the intensity of the original concept is often lessened 30

In Christianity, however, as in Judaism repentance is highly valued and the penitent, fulfilling, as it were, Jesus' ministry, is considered God's joy. The New Testament parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin are even more emphatic than the rabbinic texts in lauding the virtue of the penitent even against the sinless 31 Thus is the positive emphasis on repentance in Judaism and Christianity at the beginning of the seventh century.




Tawba is the Arabic equivalent to the Hebrew teshubfh. It is a loan word borrowed, in its basic verbal form (tfba), from Aramaic. It does not have the physical denotation of the biblical shfb but does parallel its religious signification.32

In its verbal forms the Koranic tfba occurs both in an absolute form33 or with one of two prepositions, i1a34 or 'alf35 Use of the last men­tioned preposition indicates, without exception, that the verb's subject is God. All other instances of the verb refer to man as subject. There are three nominal deviatives each meaning repentance or conversion: tawb,36 matab,37 and tawba 38 The active participle occurs twice39 and there is an adjectival form, tawwdb,40 which refers to God in all but one case 41 In all, the word tfba or its derivatives occur eighty-four times in the Koran.

The frequency and periodic distribution of this usage would seem to have some significance. Of the eighty four instances in which this radi= cal is encountered, only nineteen are unquestionably of the Meccan period42 Of these nineteen only one is a verbal form with the preposi­tion 'ald43 Further, none of the adjectival forms predate the Medinian period. The adjectival tawwfb usually appears in tandem with the adjec­tive rahim 44 Such a double adjectival arrangement with rahim occurs in the Meccan period but never with tawwfb45 It seems clear that the Koran is asserting that God plays an active role in tawba but this idea is developed and stressed only relatively late in Muhammad's prophetic career. In fact, it would seem that whatever process is meant by tawba, a clear and decisive definition of which is not to be had in the Koran, it was taught in the Meccan period but not stressed or developed until after Muhammad's move to Medina.

Tfba and its derivatives are not the only words used in the Koran to indicate repentance. Raja a, a word meaning return in both physical and religious contexts, is used46 This word has not, however, become a legal or theological idiom and its religious signification would appear to be a simple extension of its literal meaning. Derivatives of fba47 and the fourth verbal form of nfba4s are found in the Koran and do, moreover, occur frequently in later literature.

In the context of the later usage, Hujwiri differentiates the three terms by reference to those who are repenting and their spiritual state at the time of penitence. Tfba refers to the repentance of the ordinary man; anfba, the repentance of the elect; and fba, the repentance of the elite,

those who have attained the degree of divine love 49 It does not neces­sarily follow that this represents the Koranic usage but it is reasonable to assume that Muhammad did, in fact, use them to denote different aspects or categories of repentance.

Aba and its derivatives occur seventeen times in the Koran. Of these, only one is undoubtedly of the Medinian period 50 None of these, including the adjectival form awwfb are used to refer to God. Only one verbal form is present and the subject is the mountains which are to sing God's praises along with David 51 Anfba appears eighteen times from among which only one instance is clearly of Medinian origin 52 Again, all these refer to man. Tfba, on the other hand, occurs, as noted above, eighty four times. Of these, only nineteen are, without question, Meccan. Here God is often referred to and some forms, such as tawwfb, almost exclusively refer to God.

Muhammad was, in Mecca, a warner. He called the people to return to God immediately, the Judgement was at hand. This type of return or conversion, based on imminent eschatological expectations, must be total, immediate and radical. When Muhammad moved to Medina he became increasingly concerned with establishing a normative frame for his growing community53 The concept of repentance, in this context, needed to be more sympathetic to the temptations and ignorant follies of man. If man's conversion was to remain steadfast over a relatively extended period he would feel the need for God, in His mercy, to under­take an active helping and accepting role. This would seem to be the concept expressed by the tfba terminology. It is perhaps of interest that in Medina, and in the context of tawba, Muhammad proclaims that deathbed repentance is unacceptable54 If, in fact, man can prepare him­self for the final judgement only in this life, it seems inconsistent with the Meccan message to invalidate deathbed repentance. Yet, it is explained by the shift in the grounding of repentance from an eschato­

logical frame to one of normative piety.

The Koran does not offer a precise definition of tawba. It is clear, however, that tawba represents, at its most basic level, an abandonment of sin and a reorientation to a life of obedience.55 It follows, then, that there must exist an awareness of having sinned and a feeling of remorse which moves one to turn away from sin. Repudiation of sin, however, is not sufficient. The Koran often juxtaposes tawba and the pursuit of righteousness.56 It is not clear whether the latter is a part of the process of repentance or consequent to it. Whichever is the case, however, man's hope of divine forgiveness requires such a conversion.



Repentance is a requisite, although not necessarily determining, con­dition to the salvation of the sinner.57 Furthermore, the Koran posits a special relationship between the penitent sinner and God. If man repents and turns to God (ild), God repents over man ('ala), turns to him and, perchance, will forgive him. God, moreover, places special value on the penitent and loves them 58 One can conclude, therefore, that while the process of tawba is the repudiation and abandonment of sin, its purpose is the reconciliation of man to God. That the one could follow the other becomes intelligible only by understanding the Koranic conception of sin.

The Koran, in accord with its general character, does not elaborate a systematic theory of sin. There are, however, frequent references to sin, its consequences, and its possible forgiveness. From these references it is possible to construct an outline of the Koranic concept of sin 59

Sin is a breach of moral norms. The Koran, standing by itself, does not present a comprehensive moral code. It does, however, assert a moral sanction, God. When man commits an indecent act it is to God that he must turn in seeking forgiveness.60 This religious orientation stands in `sharp contrast to what was, fundamentally, a socially sanctioned, con­servative and pragmatic moral standard in pre-Islamic pagan Arabia.61 This. assertion of a religious orientation, which infers that sin alienates man from God, is further augmented by the very concept of repentance. Sin's cure lies, at least in part, in turning to God. The assumption that in sinning man has turned from God is clear. This concept, while clearly present in the Koran, is not as fully developed as it later becomes in al-Ghazzali's writings. It is, in this regard, interesting to note that the term ma'siya, which denotes disobedience and rebellion, is used fre­

quently by al-Ghazzali to signify sin. In the Koran it appears only twice and in both cases relates to disobedience to a prophet.62 An additional indication of this orientation is to be found in the. references to atone­ment. The Koran does not provide for, any specific atonement ritual such as is to be found in Judaism63 It does indicate, however, that good deeds atone for sin. The fact that it specifies certain ritual observances, i.e.,

the correct execution of prayers, as efficacious can be attributed to the

underlying assumption that sin is fundamentally an offense against


Sin also entails damage to the perpetrator. Man, in sinning, falls short of his own potential. To express the concept of sin the Koran uses, among other terms, words derived from the radical Kh-t'.65 This radical indi­cates stumbling or falling short of target.66 The Koran indicates, moreover, that a man who accepts. God's morality perceives in sin_ an


effacement of self. Thus, for example, Moses says: 0 MY LORD, I HAVE WRONGED MYSELF (zalamtu nafsi) 67 For Muhammad, sin effects more than subjectively discernible damage. Sin also leads man to hell­fire, barring him from the rewards set aside for the righteous.68 But, unlike the concepts of sin and justice in some other traditions,69 the Koran asserts the lack of necessity in God's executing punishment 70 The concept of uncontrolled and unwilled Fate is lacking.

The Koran refers to a differentiation between major and minor sins 71 It is not clear, however, which sins are included in either category or by what criteria they are to be differentiated. The classification of sin according to intensity, reference and effect is the product of later stages in the development of Islamic law and theology. The elaboration of a theory of sin, and the tangential questions suggested by such an elabora­tion, constituted one of the major elements in the controversy out of which Islamic orthodoxy emerged.


Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazzali was born in the year 1058 in or around Tus, a town in northeastern Persia. After an active and varied life, he died in Tus in the year 1111.72 Interestingly, while al-Ghazzali was an extremely prolific writer and, in many regards, a pivotal figure in Islamic life, only the barest sketch of biographical information about him is available. To a great degree this is due to al-Ghazzali himself who does not often reveal his private self beyond what he deems necessary for pedagogical purposes. This is best illustrated by the obvious gaps in al-Ghazzali's semi-autobiographical Deliverance whose real ;purpose seems more instructional and apologetic than personal and confes­sional. 73 Nonetheless, it is essential to take notee of his own itential `conversion' in order to properly comprehend his approach and to place it in its proper historical setting.

Al-Ghazzali was orphaned at an early age, and according to his fm's will, he was placed in the care of a family friend. He and his brother were given a traditional education in the religious sciences and a1-Ghariili then followed an educational course leading to certification as a jurist and theologian ('slim). Given the mobility of students in that milieu, it is not at all unusual that he travelled to Nishapur in 1077 to study under al-Juwayni, a leading jurist of the age. He remained there, studying and



teaching, until his mentor's death in 1085.

When al-Juwaym died, al-Ghazzali joined the entourage of the Seljuq vizier Nizam al-Mulk. He remained with the vizier until Nizam appointed him to a professorship at the Baghdad Nizamiyya college in July of 1091. He continued in his professorship for four years until his spiritual crisis led to his resignation and withdrawal from public life in 1095.74

AI-Ghazzali, in the Deliverance,75 described his unrelenting search for certainty and truth. This quest, which al-Ghazzali states led to his crisis, brought him to study the four major intellectual and spiritual approaches of his day: theology, philosophy, Isma'ili authoritarian instruction (ta'lim) and Sufism. Yet, a critical analysis of his work and behaviour must lead to the conclusion that his crisis, and therefore his conversion, needs to be viewed as personal, immediate and non­academic. 76

What caused the eruption of al-Ghazzali's crisis? Authoritarian instruct tion does not seem to have been an acceptable personal option. When he refers to it, he is totally polemical. Sufism, on the other hand, was not a new experience. The family friend, in whose care he had been placed as a child, was himself a sufi 77 Rather, al-Ghazzali's crisis flowed from his increasing disenchantment with his colleagues in Bagh­dad. They were not the great religious models he had thought them to be. In his view, they were using their scholarship to further worldly ambi­tions 78 In all probability al-Ghazzali became alarmed because, seeing himself fall into that same state, he became increasingly uncertain of his salvation. This uncertainty, coupled with a feeling' of personal worth­lessness, caused a progressive functional breakdown until al-Ghazzali finally resolved to withdraw from public life and follow the sufi Way in search of personal salvation. That there were other factors, political ones among them, which encouraged his departure from Baghdad is not to be discounted. Yet, they can only have been secondary. In all proba­bility the other factors were decisive only in highlighting the worldli­ness of al-Ghazzali's status. 9

Al-Ghazzali spent the next ten years in retirement. Part of the time was spent in Syria, some on pilgrimage, and it seems, some in Baghdad itself. He returned to teaching, however, at the Nizamiyya college of Nishapur in 1106. He later went into semi-retirement in Tus where he established a small circle among whom he taught .80

His undertaking of renewed public duties is indicative of the direction in which his penitential search led him. The answer to his previous world­liness was not in withdrawal but rather in reorientation, and in a way,

intensification of his pedagogical work 81 His sensitivity to the respon­sibility of the 'ulama' class brought him to realize that a `return' on his part necessitated his working towards a general return, and therefore, a revival of the religious sciences •82

Al-Ghazzali's influence on the development of Islam is both signifi­cant and multi-faceted. He helped to reintroduce the element of fear into the service of God. His work in the areas of philosophy and theology brought these disciplines a clarity that made them available to and treat­able by the greater number of Muslims. In fact, though his interests and foci changed after 1095, he remained throughout his life a doctor of the Law. His later work, as exemplified in the Revival, was as significant to his theology as his earlier efforts. He also created a framework within which sufism attained an assured position within Orthodox Islam. These, moreover, are only some of his important contributions.83

Nonetheless, the above are only contributing elements in the ultimate importance of al-Ghazzali to Islam. Above all he was a religious teacher and guide who felt and exhibited an overriding concern for his fellow believers. His greatest strength lay in his ability, as literary artist and teacher, to project his concern and involvement in the spiritual condi­tion of his age84

Al-Ghazzali, as noted, was a very prolific writer. His works cover almost all the major areas of Islamic religious thought.85 The Ihya' 'Ulum ad-Din, Revival of the Religious Sciences, an encyclopedic work that was written over a period of years beginning with his departure from Baghdad in 1095, is his magnum opus. While not written in a personal or confessional style, it represents the fruits of al-Ghazzali's years of spiritual development and sufi travelling. It is a vibrant work frequently using anecdotes and parables.86 It is characterized, as is most of his writings, by the use of emotional as well as rational persuasion, a mark of his pedagogical style and skill.87

Its intended purpose is to fundamentally redirect the attitude of the believer. In his Beginning of Guidance, al-Ghazzali declares that his Revival attempts, by increasing the fear of God and the believer's aware­ness of self, to decrease the appetite for this world and increase the desire for the life to come. The Revival will acquaint the Muslim with the inter­nal aspects of piety which will lead to the opening of the supernal realm.88

Al-Ghazzali divided the believers into two main categories: the `vulgus' ('awamm) and the elite (khawass). The `vulgus' is the intellectually and spiritually limited masses, usually possessed of imitative faith (tagiid).



Of the sciences of the hereafter they should be restricted to the practical sciences ('ilm al-mu amala). The elite is that group of believers which is intellectually and spiritually capable of revelatory faith. They are initiated to the science of vision ('ilm al-mukashafa) 89 Many have con­cluded that al-Ghazzali taught a 'double truth': an exoteric doctrine for the 'vulgus', and a higher esoteric truth for the elite. Professor Lazarus­Yafeh has ably shown that such was not the case. For al-Ghazzali there was only one truth. As an accomplished and skilled pedagogue, however, he realized that different people have varying capacities for understand­ing. Al-Ghazzali, therefore, advocated limiting the amount of the sin­gular truth taught, according to the capability of the student to absorb and comprehend it 90

AI-Ghazzali, as becomes one who considered himself primarily a teacher and spiritual physician, usually inclined to the theory that a man's rank was subject to his own will and effort. Given this position, the divi­sion of believers loses its rigidity. Most, if not all, of those who are to be reckoned :part of the `vulgus' could raise themselves to the elite class. It would seem, in fact, that al-Ghazzali considered such endeavour to be each man's duty 91

For whom, then, did alGhazzali write the Revival? Wilzer asserts that

the Revival was written for dw 'vulgus'..She bases this assertion on the

repentance terminology used in the b at-Tawba. According to

Tiujwiri's definitions, the appropriate terms for the repentance of the

elite would be abu o aaaa, niter of which is used hereby ai-Ghazzali.

Since al-Ghazzali treats only Twba, defined by Hujwiri as the repent­

ance of the masses, she concludes that the Ritnb at-Tawba is wholly

exoteric 92 This position, however, ignores that fact that, despite dis­

claimers, al-Ghazzali struggles in the JWOb at-Tawba, as in other books

of the Revival, with concepts that belong to the areas of knowledge

reserved for the initiated 93 This apparent contradiction can only be

resolved by reference to al-Ghazzali's fluid concept of the 'vulgus' and

his graded approach to the revelation of the one truth. There are believers,

not yet of the elite but who are capable of being guided to that Path by

means of an awakening to some of the divine secrets. These people are

led gradually to a fuller and more comprehensive knowledge of the truth.

It is to this group that the Revival is directed.94

The Revival is divided into four quarters, each of which consists of

ten books. The first quarter opens with a book dealing with knowledge

and learning. It is here, at the very outset, that al-Ghazzali sets out the

indictment of the `ulama'. The remainder, of this first quarter deals with

ritual observance (e.g., prayer, fasting, alms, etc.). The second quarter deals with the regulation of personal and social aspects of life (e.g., eat­ing, marriage, livelihood, etc.). In the first half, al-Ghazzali deals with the usual legalistic aspects of religious life common to the literature of the 'ulamd'. The second half deals with traits of the spirit and charac­ter. The third quarter treats the negative traits against which man must strive. These include anger, pride, the evil of the tongue and the like. The fourth and last quarter undertakes the exposition of positive traits and their acquisition. It examines patience, asceticism, contentment, self­examination and such as these. This second section is clearly sufi and not unlike many non-Muslim devotional manuals95

It would be wrong, however, to see the Revival as consisting of two separate strands: the legalistic and the mystic. One of al-Ghazzali's most significant characteristics is his blending and harmonizing of these two previously divergent lines. There were, before his time, observant (i.e. orthodox) sufis. Some of these were also members of the 'ulama' class. Yet, to some, orthodoxy must have seemed mere conformity, while with others the two lines were compartmentalized and, therefore, separate. The external observance exists on one level, and the internal, pietistic search on another. For al-Ghazzali, however, the external and legalistic observances of Islam are the very basis for the internal mystic search. Islamic practices were, for him, the means of drawing near to God and preparing for the life to come 96 Indeed, just as al-Ghazzali sought to give deeper content to the religious life of the mechanically pious, he also showed great concern to remove the strongly entrenched indiffer­ence to the religious commandments from among the mystics. 97

All of al-Ghazzali's studies and experiences are reflected in the Revival. He, like the mystics before him, found in the Koran. the Tradition, and the literature of law, the first seeds of a moral-religious approach.98 Yet he never turned away from them. He continued, throughout his career, to draw from these sources and to refine their concepts in light of his mystic studies and experiences. he further clarified them by struggling with the ideas presented by the major movements (e.g., mu tazila, kalam, philosophy, etc.) of Islamic civilization.' Much of the success that the Revival enjoyed in bringing together once divergent lines of tradition can be attributed to the unity which al-Ghazzali himself brought to

his work.

Repentance, as might be expected, is treated in the last quarter of the Revival. In fact, it is the first book of the fourth quarter. Al-Ghazzali, no doubt, viewed repentance as the most basic and requisite process for


attaining positive spiritual qualities working towards the goal of salva­tion. In many ways his treatment of repentance typifies the totality of his teachings as explicated in the Revival.


The goal of life, for al-Ghazzali, is the attainment of salvation.99 To

the uninitiated Muslim, God, the highest spiritual entity, forms with man

a personal moral community.100 The fulfillment of this relationship, one in which God is the Master and man the slave, is at Judgement. In the hereafter, the temporal locus of Judgement, God is manifested in the absoluteness of His mastery, and man in the totality of his subservience. If man is granted salvation, he is vindicated in judgement and awarded the rewards of Paradise. If he, in this life, has failed, he is damned and cast into hellfire. For such a Muslim the guiding theme of life is fear of God, i.e., fear of being denied the rewards of Paradise and fear of the torments of Hell.'°'

Al-Ghazzali did not consider Fear, an element promoted both by the Koran and the early ascetics, to be of no value. For the 'vulgus', whose faith is imitative and whose understanding is limited, it is as effective a means to salvation as is possible.102 For the gnostic (arif ), however, fear can only be a preliminary stage which is overtaken by the stage of Love. Such a man does not seek the pleasures of Paradise nor does he fear the fires of Hell. He only desires to encounter his Beloved. His only fear is separation from God.103 Whereas the masses prepare for Judge­ment, the mystics seek the bliss of knowing God. They become, as it were, indifferent to the whole concept of Judgement as it relates to Para­dise and Hell. Their salvation- is with and in God.

In some mystic traditions the ultimate goal of man's search is to become one with God.104 This objective was, within the monotheistic tradition of Islam, unacceptable. The gulf between God and man cannot be bridged. Yet, for al-Ghazzali, man could, indeed should, strive to attain knowledge of God.105 This knowledge, the search of which becomes man's true purpose and vocation, is not intellectual ('ilm) (although intellectual knowledge is an important factor in the search for higher states). Rather, the sought after knowledge is intuitive and experiential (ma'rifa). In experiencing this knowledge man finds God. Through this illumination the gnostic achieves a portion of the divine substance.106


The traditional terminology for God, in this context, is mahbub (Beloved).107 For al-Ghazzali this was a most apt term. If a man truly finds God as his Beloved, he will seek naught save that knowledge that will allow him to draw nigh and enjoy the bliss of proximity.108 Gnosis (ma'rifa) and Love (hubb) always go together.109 For such a lover the only true salvation is being near to God. The only damnation to fear is that which bars man from God's presence.

This idea, that the greatest bliss is proximity to God, is not unique to the mystical tradition of Islam. Indeed, it is to be found in the Koran110 as well as the talmudic tradition. ut Yet, in those sources the expectation of intuitive knowledge or experience of God's presence is projected solely in the context of the hereafter. Maimonides, for exam­ple, who asserts that knowledge of God is man's prime duty, is discuss­ing an intellectual phenomenon.112 When he asserts the bliss of Encounter (i.e., the equivalent of ma'rifa) as the reward of the righteous, he clearly is talking of the rewards of the hereafter.1t3 The mystics, al-Ghazzali included, understood this experience to be attainable, through ecstacy, in this life. Indeed, it is only through gnosis that man can, in this life, gain a clear and direct image of the life to come. 114

What role, then, does this world (dunya) play in al-Ghazzali's con­cept of salvation?

This life, which is called the World of the Material and the Evident ('alam al-mulk wa-sh-shahada), compares to the hereafter, called the World of the Hidden and Transcendent (alam al-ghayb wa-l-malakut), as sleep compares to the waking state. The literal form of a dream can­not yield a knowledge of the true state of things. Truth, however, can be revealed by the proper interpretation of the content or meaning of a dream. Thus, in this life, man is limited in his apprehension of the true state of things in the hereafter by his ability to properly interpret the parables and allegories presented him by prophecy. Man,can directly experience and know God only by gnosis (ma'rifa).115 This too, however, is strictly limited. Man, because of his very nature, cannot achieve perfect and lasting gnosis in this life.' 16 So long as man's state of morality and knowledge is imperfect, a condition whose inevitability will be treated below, he cannot aspire to salvation,-i.e., full knowledge of and proximity to God, in this life. Salvation is only to be found in the hereafter.' 17

This life is an antechamber to the hereafter118 Al-Ghazzali is wont to refer to the tradition which asserts that this world is a field for the cultivation of the hereafter.' 19 Man's life in this world plays a prepara



tory role in which he can assure for himself either salvation or consign­ment to damnation. The possibility of achieving some measure of gno­sis in this life allows man to foretaste, as it were, of the saved state in the hereafter. He can then be in a position to appreciate the rewards of the good life.

The relationship between this life and the hereafter is, in al-Ghazzali's thought, much more complex than just an antechamber leading into the great hall. Man, he asserts, will experience nothing new in the here­after. Man receives, in the hereafter, only as he has provided himself in this world. If man wishes to find salvation in the hereafter, he must struggle to achieve gnosis, salvation's foretaste, while still in this ephemeral life.120 This concept is very similar to the one expressed in the rabbinic dictum which states that only he who has prepared on the eve of the Sabbath will eat on the Sabbath.121 The parallel is very apt. In the rabbinic tradition, the Sabbath is spoken of as a foretaste of the

life to come.122

It is of interest to note that al-Ghazzali posits, in this regard, another parallel between this life and the hereafter. In different contexts he calls his reader's attention to the fact that the Master of both worlds is one and the same and, furthermore, that His order (sunna) is constant.123 In trying to thus connect this world and the hereafter he is not saying that both are exactly alike. Such would be grossly inconsistent with his projections on the nature of the hereafter. He is saying, however, that there is a continuity between the two worlds. One can in no way dis­sociate the effects of man's life in this world from what he can expect in the hereafter. Thus, while the nature of man's life in the hereafter is unique, its roots and causes are to be found in his temporal


Al-Ghazzali, finally, views this world not merely as a preparation for the hereafter, but as a test.125 This world (dunyd) is the prime cause of sin and, therefore, man's alienation from God. This world is not intrin­sically evil but, if man begins to live it for its own sake, it will lead him to perdition. For al-Ghazzali all sin can be traced to a man's find­ing excessive delight in the pleasures of this world. This life should be valued only. for its functional use in aiding man to achieve salvation. Al-Ghazzali does not advocate extreme asceticism. Such behaviour, in his view, makes man as much a slave to this world as its opposite. Rather, man must learn to use this world to meet his primary goal and be pre­pared to renounce that which is neither useful nor desirable to that end. 126 This moderate asceticism should not be confused with the denial

that al-Ghazzali prescribes for individuals as self-castigation for specific sins. If an individual finds himself so attracted to an aspect of the tem­poral world that it is leading him to sin, he should renounce it even though, for most men, it would be permissible.127

In sum, therefore, this world (dunyd) is a preparation for the here­after. It is a test of man's worthiness and, in fact, a context within which he can gain a foothold on or preclude himself from salvation. Salvation, however, belongs to the hereafter. Only in the hereafter can the success of man's efforts in this life truly be validated.12s

What is man that this life becomes a test and thus threatens his salva­tion? Al-Ghazzali sees man as being endowed, as part of his basic nature, with two hostile forces: appetite and intellect. They are not, however, equal or co-temporal. These forces develop progressively as man grows older. The first to develop are the impulses leading man to desire the delights of this world. Only later, over a span of some thirty-three years beginning at age seven, does the intellect develop as a control on the appetites. Its function is to limit man's devotion to the mundane and direct him to knowledge of God and, thereby, to salvation.129

Al-Ghazzali considers the unbridled pursuit of one's appetites as the basic road to alienation from God, i.e., sin. It follows, then, that with a person's appetites developing before the formation of the intellect, sin is inevitable. Even after the intellect has emerged it requires many years of development before it fully matures. If the appetites are allowed to gain control, the development of the intellect may be stunted and it may never reach full maturity. In such a case sin becomes impervious to con­quest as well as inevitable.130 This view of sin's inevitability in man is shared by both later Christianity and Judaism.131 The view, moreover, that man's moral position is strongly affected by the development of his impulses during his early years is reflected in the biblical tradition132

Man's appetites and impulses, according to al-Ghazzali, also develop progressively and sequentially. First, man develops an animal disposi­tion. Then he moves on to a predatory, a satanic, and finally, an egotis­tic disposition. Each of these stages, separately and in combination, leads man to different traits, and therefore, the tendency to different sins. At the first stage a man might sin by robbery. At the last stage his sin might consist of tyranny over his fellows. Just as a man's intellectual growth may be retarded by the force of his passions, so might his intellect limit the development of sinful tendencies. A1-Ghazzali asserts, therefore, that each person will have a proclivity to a different set of sins. This subjec­tive factor is, for al-Ghazzali, as teacher and spiritual physician, of great



significance. 133

Al-Ghazzali maintains that man is created with a sound heart (galb

salim). Furthermore, only a person who, at the end of his life, presents

himself to God with a sound heart, will be granted salvation in the here­

after." This position seems to indicate that man starts life with salva­tion assured and must only insure that he does nothing to forfeit it. Yet al-Ghazzali also asserts that sin is not an act that counters man's natural disposition. Indeed, sin is inevitable. Moreover, in the parable of the conquering king, the parable by which al-Ghazzali explicates the vari­ous states of the hereafter, he has a specific classification for the likes of the feeble-minded and the children; those who are, for various rea­sons not under their control, beyond obedience or disobedience. Al-Ghazzali does not assign them to Paradise. They are not rewarded with salvation, neither are they condemned to hellfre.135 The sound heart which brings salvation is, for al-Ghazzali, only such a heart as has become pure through refinement.136 Al-Ghazzali's position that every man is born with a sound heart would seem to indicate his convic­tion that every man has, in his very nature and constitution, the poten­tial for attaining salvation. Notwithstanding the inevitability of sin, no man is inherently evil. This understanding is consistent with al-Ghazzali's statement at the beginning of the Kitab at-Tawba that total evil is not the nature of man but of Satan. The nature of man, he asserts there, is to sin but afterward to return to good through sincere repentance.137 Each man has the potential to return the heart God have him in trust, refined by his deeds, and thereby worthy of salvation.

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