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Al-Ghazali’s Sufism in Contrast to Classical Sufism

Introduction

Sufism has often been cited as a representation of Islamic faith and practice. Through it, knowledge and divine love’s truth is sought in God and Godly life. Sufism operates on the concept of mystical paths. The path is focused on enhancing the existence of wisdom knowledge and divine love worldwide in ascertaining the nature of God and humans1. The mysticism of Islam has often been referred to as tasawwuf and this is what has come to be known as Sufism within the western world2. The term generally refers to the olden woollen garments used by Islam in the past. Sufism is applauded as having played a critical role in educating the Muslim masses and expounding the depth of their spiritual concern. The formation of the Muslim foundation owes a lot to Sufism3. The large scale proliferation activities worldwide are also traceable to Sufism. Through the elaboration of the prophet’s image, Sufism has been able to influence Muslim piety to a large extent.

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Sufism

The growth of Sufism is believed to be a stepwise process. Which begin with the appearance of early asceticism known as zuhd, the development of classical divine love mysticism known as mahabba laduniya, and the rise of fraternal mystic’s proliferation order known as turuq4. Its history has, however, mostly been related to an individualistic mystical experience. Its initial stage was characterized by several pious circles opposed to worldliness. Their meditations drew a lot from the Quranic words and knowledge. The society then associated the ascetics with meticulous fulfilment of Quaran injunctions and traditions through piety acts and predilection prayers at night. Introduction of love into the early Sufism altered asceticism into mysticism which has often been ascribed to a woman from Basra. Its initial ideals were founded on the fact that God’s love was non-interested and lacked hope for neither paradise nor fear of hell.

Decades after the growth of the mystical trends to various parts of the globe, ten concept’s focus grew to concentrate more on tawakkul, which refers to absolute trust in God. This grew to become the central Sufism concept. The Iraqi mysticism school became to be known for its fundamentalist strict adherence to self-control and abstruse insight.

Ghazali’s opinion of Sufism

The modern systematic view and Sufism interpretation owe a lot to Ghazali’s works. His works also contributed enormously to the integration of Sufism into mainstream Islamic fundamentals. Ghazali wrote plenty of books on various concepts that touch on Islam and life in general. His writings range from the early Islamic philosophies and psychology to kalam and Sufism. His writing s has been major viewed as a deviation from the classical Sufism known to the early societies5. Some critics have often mentioned that Al Ghazali attempted to introduce new concepts through Sufism6. However, the works are largely accepted as being founded on Sufism and borrowing lots of its foundation from the classical Sufist assertions.

Ghazali remains widely acknowledged as having played a pivotal role in the integration of Sufism into the Islamic Sharīah law. His works led to the increased status associated with the Sunni within the Islamic community and Sufism scholars. His works have often struck many persons with confusion. Though remaining a critical voice of philosophers, he displayed an active prowess in philosophical reasoning. His plenty of works on Sufism have likewise been a subject of divergent views among various scholars7. Al Ghazali’s works on Sufism include the criterion of action, revival of religious studies, beginning of guidance, alchemy of happiness, counselling kings, a rescuer from error and methodology of worshippers. However, the alchemy of happiness and the revival of religious studies remain the most popular and widely read works of al Ghazali.

Ghazali’s writings

While it has been widely, stated that his Sufism differs from classical Sufism in practice and asceticism, little research has focused on highlighting these differences or similarities on the same. This paper investigates the works of al Ghazali on Sufism to come up with conclusive evidence of this assertion.

Al Ghazali is a respected figure in Islamic thoughts and knowledge. His diverse knowledge in every scope of intellectual fields made him a special figure in Islamic thought. His originality in attempting to create a distinction between falsehood and truth put him at par with renowned world philosophers. However, his unique originality upon many western philosophers Rene Descartes’ doubt methodology, scepticism by David Hume and pure reason criticism by Emmanuel Kant, makes him a respectable figure in the philosophical world. It may therefore be reiterated that Al Ghazali’s thought was not only meant for his time but all eternity8. He courageously engaged on continuous search and quest for truth amid falsehood and uncertainties resulting from sectarian conflicts have attracted both the past and present Islamic scholars into the study of his thinking as a resource for knowledge9.

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His scholarship and mystically personality assisted him to develop reasoned criticism and corrections of various philosophies associated with Sufism trends10. Excessive proportions are applied in Sufism movements attempting to shun compulsory prayer observation and Islamic duties adherence. The classical Sufism movement undertakes excessive proportions to avoid obligatory prayers observance and Islam duties. Al Ghazali actively engaged in the cleansing of Sufism approach from various excesses and religious authority orthodoxy. In his writings, he stressed the importance of the faithful practising genuine Sufism. He says that sincere Sufism involves sticking within the path that leads to a person attaining fulfilment by finding the truth.11.

In the revival of religious sciences, al ghazali on Sufism. The work covers all aspects of Islamic religious sciences. These include issues of Islamic jurisprudence referred to as Fiqh, the theology of Islam referred to as Kalam, and Sufism as a subject. The books for major section of interest include the acts of worship, the norms of daily life, the ways of perdition, and the ways of salvation12. The alchemy of happiness is a revised version of the book which he wrote in Persian and both attempt to convey similar view with regard to Sufism and philosophy in general13.

He describes the four fundamentals factors that results into ether misery or happiness as including Qalb, Ruh, Nafs, and Aql which represents the heart, the spirit, the soul, and intellect respectively. Al Ghazali asserts that “the self has an inherent yearning for an ideal, which it strives to realize and it is endowed with qualities to help realize it14.” Additionally, he mentions that the self possess its own motor and sensory motives of which it applied in fulfillment of individual needs15. He mentioned that human motor reactions are dependant on two fundamental which are propensities and impulses. Propensities further include appetite and anger. In his writings, he mentions that hunger is urged by appetite, and likewise thirst and sexual craving. On the other hand he mentions in his writings that anger is a factor of rage, indignation and acts of revenge. Additionally, Al Ghazali asserts that propensities are dependant on body organs which helps in its fulfillment16.

Other than referring to the sensory motives as apprehension, he classifies into four distinct categories based on the external senses. The external senses include hearing, sight, smells, taste and the sense of touch. further he cites five internal senses which or rather common senses which are key to synthesis of sensory information. These include the imagination which facilitates image retention, reflection which combines thoughts to create relevant ideas within the mind. Recollection for remembrance of outer object encountered in the past and creates some form of meaning from them and memory for storage of gathered information from the external sources17. He notes that unlike external sense which utilizes specific body organs to pronounce themselves, internal sense occur within various regions of the brain18. He further reiterates that these inner senses facilitate prediction of the future events on the basis of past experiences encountered19.

In his work, The Revival of Religious Sciences, he cites that both animals and humans possess five internal senses. In his later writings, he quotes that animal’s lack reflective power and their thinking is mainly based n pictorial imagery and are incapable of complexly associating/.dissociating reflection ideas. He additionally, mentions two qualities that distinguish animals and men. The qualities he describes as intellect and will power mentioning that it’s these two that assist men to gain spiritual perfection.

Additionally, he mentions that intellect forms basis for rational faculty fundamentalism enabling individuals to develop a generalized concept and knowledge of the surrounding. In this he asserts that clear demarcation differences exist between human and animal will power. He further asserts that the will of humans is subject to intellectual conditioning unlike the will of animals which is conditioned by their appetite and anger. These, he says are the powers that control and regulate the human body. The heart though he says commands all of them and bears six powers in itself. These include appetite, anger, impulse, apprehension, intellect, and will. He state that unlike animals, humans bear all the there traits. Animals only have appetite, anger and impulse. This contradicts the opinions of ancient and medieval philosophers and Sufism scholars who maintained otherwise and more specifically held the belief that animals lacked capacity of becoming angry.

Al-Ghazali asserts that knowledge appear in only two forms. Either innately or is acquired. He sub-divides innate knowledge into two distinct phenomena which and the material and the spiritual world. On other hand he classifies acquired knowledge as either arising out of imitation, or out of logical reasoning or just by sheer contemplation or by an inner intuition20. To expand his scope, he mentions there nature of human self that that affect behavior. These include sage, lust, gluttony and evil. He cites a conflict between the latter three aspects noting that individual bear different proportions of each21.

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The Nafs, he divides into three different categories on basi of the Quran. are Nafs Ammarah, referring to exhortation of an individual to engage in passions of gratification and hence evil instigation, Nafs Lawammah which is used to referring the conscience that motivates individual to engage in wring doings, Nafs Mutmainnah which helps individual self finds individual peace22.” He further compares an individual’s soul to a king in charge of a kingdom and argues that the organs constituting the body acts as the artisans and work personnel, the intellect plays the wise advisor, desire the role of wicked servant and anger the police force’s role. He mentions that for a king to correctly run the state of affairs, the wise advisor must offer counsel and king must shun the wicked servant, control the workers and artisans and keep anger at manageable level to allow desires domination by intellect.

He argues that perfection of human soul occurs in distinct stages beginning from sensuous, to imaginative to instinctive to rationality before finally settling on divine capacity which enlightens on the reality of spirituality.

He cites two major diseases which he classifies as physical or spiritual and cites that the latter is dangerous and amounts to ignorance and deviation from Godly ways. The spiritual diseases he cites include self-centeredness, wealth addiction/greed, quest for fame and social standing, cowardice and individual ignorance, doubt and acts of lust, malevolence, envy and deception among other evils mentioning that overcoming them imagination can be useful in pursuing the opposite including learning and ignorance, and love versus hate

He further describes individual personality as bringing together of spirit factors and bodily factors. Additionally, he expresses his belief that being close to God reflects equivalence to normality while abnormality is a product of being a distance from God. He argues that the human being’s position exist mid-way between humans and animals in distinguishing his perception of knowledge quality. He expounds this assertion mentioning that humans can take either of the two paths, rise to the angels through knowledge assistance or fall to the animals level through domination of anger and individual lust. He also notes that good conduct originates from within independent of total destruction and propensities originating from nature23.

Hs role in Sufism integration into Muslim and hence compliance with Sharīah is also enormous. He bridged Sufism concepts with the legal doctrine of Sharīah successfully. He is also acknowledged as having been amongst the first writers to formally describe Sufism in their works. His works enormously strengthened the Sunnis view within the Islamic fraternity. His ideologically divergence is illustrated in the case of Batinite (Ismailism) who had had emerged in Persian territories and were constantly gaining increased power during his period. After assassination of Nizam al-Mulkby Ismailia adherents, Al Ghazali strictly refuted this ideology and made several writings against this ideology and thereby weakening their ideological statuses24.

Most of Al-Ghazali works are written in Arabic and few in Persian. The alchemy of happiness Ranks amongst his most vital works. It gives his own version of his other writing, the revival of religious sciences though it is somehow shorter. Other than Kimya which is amongst his most celebrated Persian works, the counsel of kings has also been applauded as one of his best writings.

Al Ghazali remains amongst the respected scholars both in philosophy and in Sufism scholar’s world. He is consedred one of the pioneers of the dount mnemthdology and concept of skepticism. In his work, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, he altered Islamic philosophy course and shifted focus from metaphysics of Islam and Sufism which had mainly been influenced by the philosophies of the Greek and the Hellenist into philosophy more oriented towards cause and effect as defined by God and intermediate angels through religious writings like the Quran.

In one of the last autobigraphies towards his death, the Deliverance from Error he recounts a number of interesting facts. In it, he recounts how an epistemological skepticism crisis was resolved by God and the importance of knowledge in such a resolution25” Though appreciating the valid aspects of the two, he mentions that all the three approaches are not adequate an the final value only lies in mystical insight, belief and experience (the state of prophecy or nubuwwa) he attained because of abiding by Sufism practices and experiences as a result of following Sufi practices..

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Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to note that Al-Ghazali rejected conformism or uncritical acceptance of any set of thought including that of the Sharīah. He is widely known for having sketched his quest based on pre-emptive knowledge and his lifetime ordeals. He reviewed and critiqued the view held by various Islamic groups claiming to offer the gateway to knowledge. His positions with regard to various aspects including Sufism differed with time depending on what he had gone through. He argued that the search for knowledge had to be in conformity with the Sharīah and bear practical application of benefit to the society. His writing indicates that by ascribing to the Sufism concept, he detached himself from the material world. His spirit seemed to have roamed in search of knowledge throughout his life thereby creating a different view of the Sufism approach. Many persons found his Sufism writings interesting and scholars are increasingly focuses their attention on these works.

Bibliography

Al-Ghazzali, Mohammed. The Alchemy of Happiness, Albany, N.Y: Munsell, 1873.

Calverley, E.E. Doctrines of the soul (nafs and ruh) in Islam. Muslim World, 33 (1933): 254-264.

Campanini, M. ‘Al-Ghazzali’, S. H. Nasr and Oliver Leaman. History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routlege, 2001.

Faris, Nabih Amin. The Revival of the Religious Sciences, Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 2003.

Frank, Ryan. Al-Ghazali and the Ash’arite School, London: Duke University Press, 1994.

Marmara, Michael E. “Causation in Islamic Thought.” Dictionary of the History of Ideas, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973.

Najm, Sami M. “The Place and Function of Doubt in the Philosophies of Descartes and Al-Ghazali”, Philosophy East and West 16, no. 4 (1966):133-41.

Quasem, Muhammad Abul. Al-Ghazali’s theory of good character. 1977, Kabul: 229-39.

Sa’ari, Che Zarrina. Analysis of the Doctrine of Sufism, 2004. Jami al-Haqa’iq bi Tajrid al-‘ala’iq:Afkar, pp. 45-66.

Savage-Smith, Emilie. “Attitudes Toward Dissection in Medieval Islam”, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 50, no. 1(1995): 67-110.

Shanab, R. Ghazali. Causation: The Monist: The International Quarterly Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry, 58, no 1 (1974):140.

Footnotes

  1. Al-Ghazzali, Mohammed. The Alchemy of Happiness, 1873. Albany, N.Y: Munsell
  2. Ibid
  3. Campanini, M. ‘Al-Ghazzali’, S. H. Nasr and Oliver Leaman. History of Islamic Philosophy, 2001. London: Routledge.
  4. Faris, Nabih Amin. The Revival of the Religious Sciences, 2003. Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf.
  5. Savage-Smith, Emilie. “Attitudes Toward Dissection in Medieval Islam”, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 50(1), 1995, 67-110.
  6. Najm, Sami M. “The Place and Function of Doubt in the Philosophies of Descartes and Al-Ghazali”, Philosophy East and West 16(3-4), 1966, 133-41.
  7. Shanab, R. Ghazali. Causation: The Monist: The International Quarterly Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry, 58.1, 1974, p.140.
  8. Faris, Nabih Amin. The Revival of the Religious Sciences, 2003. Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf.
  9. Campanini, M. ‘Al-Ghazzali’, S. H. Nasr and Oliver Leaman. History of Islamic Philosophy, 2001. London: Routledge
  10. Al-Ghazzali, Mohammed. The Alchemy of Happiness, 1873. Albany, N.Y: Munsell.
  11. Marmara, Michael E. “Causation in Islamic Thought.” Dictionary of the History of Ideas, 1973-74. 15. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  12. Campanini, M. ‘Al-Ghazzali’, S. H. Nasr and Oliver Leaman. History of Islamic Philosophy, 2001. London: Routlege.
  13. Quasem, Muhammad Abul. Al-Ghazali’s theory of good character. 1977, Kabul: 229-39.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Najm, Sami M. “The Place and Function of Doubt in the Philosophies of Descartes and Al-Ghazali”, Philosophy East and West 16(3-4), 1966, 133-41.
  16. Faris, Nabih Amin. The Revival of the Religious Sciences, 2003. Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf.
  17. Al-Ghazzali, Mohammed. The Alchemy of Happiness, 1873. Albany, N.Y: Munsell.
  18. Calverley, E.E. Doctrines of the soul (nafs and ruh) in Islam. Muslim World, 1933, 33, 254-264.
  19. Al-Ghazzali, Mohammed. The Alchemy of Happiness, 1873. Albany, N.Y: Munsell.
  20. Al-Ghazzali, Mohammed. The Alchemy of Happiness, 1873. Albany, N.Y: Munsell.
  21. Sa’ari, Che Zarrina. Analysis of the Doctrine of Sufism, 2004. Jami al-Haqa’iq bi Tajrid al-‘ala’iq:Afkar, pp. 61.
  22. ibid.
  23. Sa’ari, Che Zarrina. Analysis of the Doctrine of Sufism, 2004. Jami al-Haqa’iq bi Tajrid al-‘ala’iq:Afkar, pp. 45-66.
  24. Al-Ghazzali, Mohammed. The Alchemy of Happiness, 1873. Albany, N.Y: Munsell.
  25. Sa’ari, Che Zarrina. Analysis of the Doctrine of Sufism, 2004. Jami al-Haqa’iq bi Tajrid al-‘ala’iq:Afkar, pp. 45-66.

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