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The Confessions of Al Ghazzali

The Confessions of Al Ghazzali
Title: The Confessions of Al Ghazzali
Release Date: 2019-02-27
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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The Wisdom of the East Series

Edited by



“He who knows himself knows God.”

Sayings of Muhammed.






Drawing of the sun rising in the east






Introduction 7
Ghazzali’s Search for Truth 11
The Subterfuges of the Sophists 15
The Different Kinds of Seekers after Truth 20
The Aim of Scholastic Theology and its Results 21
Concerning the Philosophical Sects and the Stigma of Infidelity which attaches to them all 25
Divisions of the Philosophic Sciences 27
Sufism 41
The Reality of Inspiration: its Importance for the Human Race 50



The object of the Editors of this series is avery definite one. They desire above allthings that, in their humble way, these booksshall be the ambassadors of good-will andunderstanding between East and West—the oldworld of Thought and the new of Action. Inthis endeavour, and in their own sphere, theyare but followers of the highest example in theland. They are confident that a deeper knowledgeof the great ideals and lofty philosophyof Oriental thought may help to a revival ofthat true spirit of Charity which neither despisesnor fears the nations of another creed andcolour. Finally, in thanking press and publicfor the very cordial reception given to the“Wisdom of the East” Series, they wish to statethat no pains have been spared to secure thebest specialists for the treatment of the varioussubjects at hand.


Northbrook Society,185 Piccadilly, W.


Birth of Ghazzali

Aboû Hâmid Muhammed Ibn Muhammad AlGhazzali was born in the city of Tus inKhorassan, A.D. 1058, one year after the greatpoet and freethinker Abu’ l’ Alā died. He wasthe son of a dealer in cotton thread (Gazzâl),whence his name. Losing his father in early life,he was confided to the care of a Sufi, whose influenceextended through his subsequent career.On finishing his studies he was appointed professorof theology at Bagdad. Here he achievedsuch splendid success that all the Imāms becamehis zealous partisans. So great, indeed, was hisrenown, so ardent the admiration he inspired, thatthe Muhammedans sometimes said: “If all thebooks of Islam were destroyed, it would be but aslight loss, provided Al Ghazzali’s work on theRevivification of the Sciences of Religion werepreserved.” The following short treatise gives[8]the history of the mind of this remarkable man inhis pursuit of truth. It might not inaptly bear thetitle “Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit.” In itsintellectual subtlety it bears a certain resemblanceto Newman’s Grammar of Assent, and in itsalmost Puritanical sense of the terrors of theworld to come, it is akin to Bunyan’s GraceAbounding. It is also interesting as being oneof the very few specimens of genuine Easternautobiography.

After describing the difficulty with which heescaped from an almost Pyrrhonic scepticism,“not by systematic reasoning and accumulationof proofs, but by a flash of light which God sentinto my soul,” he reviews the various sects whomhe encountered in his search for truth.

I. The scholastic theologians, who profess tofollow reason and speculation.

II. The philosophers, who call themselvesmasters of Logic and Demonstration.

III. The Sufis, who claim an immediate intuition,and who perceive the real manifestationof truth as common men perceive material phenomena.

After mastering the first two systems andstill finding the great problem unsolved, he wasforced to pronounce philosophy incompetent,and to seek in some higher faculty than reasonthe solution of his doubts. The intuition orecstasy (“wajd”) of the Sufis was to him a sort[9]of revelation. His search for truth occupiedseveral years, in the course of which he renouncedhis professorship of theology at Bagdad and wentinto devotional retirement at Jerusalem andDamascus, and also performed the pilgrimage toMecca.

He returned for a short time to Nishapur,the birthplace of Omar Khayyām, his eldercontemporary, whom, as Professor Browne tellsus in his History of Persian Literature, he met anddisliked. He finally went back to Tus, his nativeplace, where he died, A.D. 1111. Professor D. B.Macdonald, in an article on Ghazzali in the Journalof the American Oriental Society, quotes thefollowing account of his death as related by hisbrother Ahmad: “On Monday at dawn mybrother performed the ablution and prayed.Then he said, ‘Bring me my grave-clothes,’ andhe took them and kissed them, and laid them onhis eyes and said, ‘I hear and obey the commandto go into the King.’ And he stretched out hisfeet and went to meet Him and was taken to thegood-will of God Most High.”

The great service which Al Ghazzali renderedto the Sufis was, as Mr. Whinfield has pointed out,in the preface to his translation of the Masnavi,to provide them with a metaphysical terminologywhich he had derived from the writings of Plotinusthe Neo-Platonist. He also gave them a secureposition in the Church of Islam.


In his Development of Muslim Theology ProfessorMacdonald calls Ghazzali “the greatest,certainly the most sympathetic figure in thehistory of Islam, and the only teacher of the aftergenerations ever put by a Muslim on a level withthe four great Imāms.” He further says of him:“Islam has never outgrown him, has never fullyunderstood him. In the renaissance of Islamwhich is now rising to view, his time will come,and the new life will proceed from a renewedstudy of his works.”

C. F.



Ghazzali’s Search for Truth

In the name of the most merciful God.

Quoth the Imām Ghazzali:

Glory be to God, Whose praise should precedeevery writing and every speech! May theblessings of God rest on Muhammed His Prophetand His Apostle, on his family and companions,by whose guidance error is escaped!

You have asked me, O brother in the faith, toexpound the aim and the mysteries of religioussciences, the boundaries and depths of theologicaldoctrines. You wish to know my experienceswhile disentangling truth lost in the medley ofsects and divergencies of thought, and how Ihave dared to climb from the low levels of traditionalbelief to the topmost summit of assurance.You desire to learn what I have borrowed, first ofall from scholastic theology; and secondly from[12]the method of the Ta’limites, who, in seeking truth,rest upon the authority of a leader; and why,thirdly, I have been led to reject philosophicsystems; and finally, what I have accepted of thedoctrine of the Sufis, and the sum total of truthwhich I have gathered in studying every varietyof opinion. You ask me why, after resigning atBagdad a teaching post which attracted a numberof hearers, I have, long afterwards, accepted asimilar one at Nishapur. Convinced as I amof the sincerity which prompts your inquiries, Iproceed to answer them, invoking the help andprotection of God.

Know then, my brothers (may God direct youin the right way), that the diversity in beliefsand religions, and the variety of doctrines andsects which divide men, are like a deep oceanstrewn with shipwrecks, from which very fewescape safe and sound. Each sect, it is true,believes itself in possession of the truth and ofsalvation, “each party,” as the Koran saith,“rejoices in its own creed”; but as the chief of theapostles, whose word is always truthful, has toldus, “My people will be divided into more thanseventy sects, of whom only one will be saved.”This prediction, like all others of the Prophet,must be fulfilled.

From the period of adolescence, that is to say,previous to reaching my twentieth year to thepresent time when I have passed my fiftieth, I[13]have ventured into this vast ocean; I havefearlessly sounded its depths, and, like a resolutediver, I have penetrated its darkness and daredits dangers and abysses. I have interrogatedthe beliefs of each sect and scrutinised themysteries of each doctrine, in order to disentangletruth from error and orthodoxy from heresy. Ihave never met one who maintained the hiddenmeaning of the Koran without investigating thenature of his belief, nor a partisan of its exteriorsense without inquiring into the results of hisdoctrine. There is no philosopher whose systemI have not fathomed, nor theologian the intricaciesof whose doctrine I have not followed out.

Sufism has no secrets into which I have notpenetrated; the devout adorer of Deity has revealedto me the aim of his austerities; theatheist has not been able to conceal from me thereal reason of his unbelief. The thirst for knowledgewas innate in me from an early age; it waslike a second nature implanted by God, withoutany will on my part. No sooner had I emergedfrom boyhood than I had already broken thefetters of tradition and freed myself from hereditarybeliefs.

Having noticed how easily the children ofChristians become Christians, and the childrenof Moslems embrace Islam, and remembering alsothe traditional saying ascribed to the Prophet,“Every child has in him the germ of Islam, then[14]his parents make him Jew, Christian, or Zoroastrian,”I was moved by a keen desire to learnwhat was this innate disposition in the child,the nature of the accidental beliefs imposed onhim by the authority of his parents and his masters,and finally the unreasoned convictions which hederives from their instructions.

Struck with the contradictions which I encounteredin endeavouring to disentangle thetruth and falsehood of these opinions, I was ledto make the following reflection: “The searchafter truth being the aim which I propose tomyself, I ought in the first place to ascertainwhat are the bases of certitude.” In the nextplace I recognised that certitude is the clear andcomplete knowledge of things, such knowledge asleaves no room for doubt nor possibility of errorand conjecture, so that there remains no roomin the mind for error to find an entrance. In sucha case it is necessary that the mind, fortifiedagainst all possibility of going astray, shouldembrace such a strong conviction that, if, forexample, any one possessing the power of changinga stone into gold, or a stick into a serpent, shouldseek to shake the bases of this certitude, it wouldremain firm and immovable. Suppose, for instance,a man should come and say to me, whoam firmly convinced that ten is more than three,“No; on the contrary, three is more than ten, and,to prove it, I change this rod into a serpent,[15]”and supposing that he actually did so, I shouldremain none the less convinced of the falsity ofhis assertion, and although his miracle mightarouse my astonishment, it would not instil anydoubt into my belief.

I then understood that all forms of knowledgewhich do not unite these conditions (imperviousnessto doubt, etc.) do not deserve any confidence,because they are not beyond the reach of doubt,and what is not impregnable to doubt cannotconstitute certitude.

The Subterfuges of the Sophists

I then examined what knowledge I possessed,and discovered that in none of it, with theexception of sense-perceptions and necessaryprinciples, did I enjoy that degree of certitudewhich I have just described. I then sadly reflectedas follows: “We cannot hope to find truthexcept in matters which carry their evidence inthemselves—that is to say, in sense-perceptionsand necessary principles; we must thereforeestablish these on a firm basis. Is my absoluteconfidence in sense-perceptions and on the infallibilityof necessary principles analogous to theconfidence which I formerly possessed in mattersbelieved on the authority of others? Is it onlyanalogous to

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