Sunday, April 10, 2011

al-Ghazzali - Islam: A Short History

So, al-Ghazzali was a teacher at a madrasah, an expert in Islamic law, who suffered a nervous breakdown in 1095. His breakdown was caused by the fact that he felt he was losing his faith. He became paralyzed and couldn't speak.

"his doctor's diagnosed a deep-seated emotional conflict, and later Ghazzali explained that he was concerned that though he knew a great deal about God, he did not know God himself."

Ghazzali went to Jerusalem, practiced Sufi exercises and returned to Iraq ten years later to write Iyah alum al-Din (The Revivial of the Religious Sciences). It became the most quoted Muslim text after the Qur'an and the ahadith.

"It was based on the important insight that only ritual and prayer could give human beings a direct knowledge of God; the arguments of theology (kalam) and Falsafah, however, could give us no certainty about the divine."

What do you think? Is it only through ritual and prayer that we can know God? Does theological argument get us nowhere, spiritually?

"All the Shariah rules about eating, sleeping, washing, hygiene and prayer were given a devotional and ethical interpretation, so that they were no longer simply external directives, but enabled Muslims to cultivate that perpetual consciousness of the divine that is advocated by the Qur'an. The Shariah had thus become more than a means of social conformity and a slavish exterior imitation of the Prophet and his sunnah: it became a way of achieving interior islam. Al-Ghazzali was not writing for the religious experts, but for devout individuals. There were, he believed, three sorts of people: those who accept the truths of religion without questioning them; those who try to find justification for their beliefs in the rational discipline of kalam; and the Sufis, who have a direct experience of religious truth."

Are there different sorts of believers? I think we know the answer to that is yes. How do you feel about Ghazzali's categories?

Why do you think that ritual gives people a sense of the divine? Does it?

Unrelated, I kind of want to do video posts, but I don't have anything to talk about that's worth the effort it takes to record and then upload. Is it easier with a webcam?


  1. "those who accept the truths of religion without questioning them; those who try to find justification for their beliefs in the rational discipline of kalam; and the Sufis, who have a direct experience of religious truth."

    It could have just said the Salafis, the Progressives and Sufis perhaps? :)

    Maybe rituals make people more disciplined so they are actually more God-conscious than folks who don't have time for God because they are busy doing all the things we like doing each day. How often have we skipped out on doing "God things" because we are (me) on the internet, reading, watching TV, visiting family...just about anything else?

    I've thought of this not long ago especially when you were shocked that I prayed so seldom, if I were Muslim I would be praying five times per day if I were devout. This is 5 times daily, I would fall on my face before God and have some consciousness of Him. How can you not then get to know Him and have some sort of spiritual experience? Well, I'm sure if you are just going through the motions it would be easy enough. Anyway, I'm not making much sense.

    I'd love to see your video posts - think of something, woman!!

  2. Susanne,

    But I'm assuming he was trying to make it applicable to all religions. :)

    Aren't we all busy doing all the things we like? The thing about religious rituals is you have to make a conscious choice to either perform them or not. In most places, no one forces you to do them.

    I like ritual, but unless you already have faith to back it up, I don't see how it's going to instill a sense of God in you. In example: I could go to the local mosque, dress as a Muslimah, go into the womens section, learn how to perform salah, and I could look like a pious Muslim woman. Heck, if I wanted to carry the charade far enough, I could probably go on Hajj, get into Mecca, etc. with no one the wiser, as long as I knew the proper movements to make, the right things to say. I'd look like a good Muslimah. Doesn't make me one.

  3. Acting like a Muslim doesn't make you one? Oh,I guess you forgot the shahada...the belief! Or saying you believe.

    What do you think of what al-Ghazzali wrote?

  4. But see, that's the thing. I could do it all. I could even say the shahada, be technically counted by every single person on the planet as a Muslim. But without actual belief, can I experience or learn God that way? I don't think that rituals and going through the technical motions are enough.

    I think that ritual and prayer are good ways to learn about and know God, they do help you feel closer to the divine. But theology is also very important. If you don't have the right belief to go with the right practice, does it mean anything?

  5. Right belief?

    You mean absolutes exist? Why not all roads lead to God? You're getting a little narrow-minded, aren't you? ;)

    The other week my dad and I were talking about Islam and I told him the shahada and how that since I just repeated it I could technically be considered a Muslim by some (or I've seen this on blogs that you could by just saying it), but it was silly because I AM NOT A MUSLIM if I say such words. I have no belief in Islam and do not follow this religion. I think we were actually talking about that sinner's prayer thing that I grew up with and how I no longer believe you can put your faith in a little ol' prayer you said at church camp when you asked Jesus to come into your heart. A living faith works! If there is no fruit, there was no real salvation.

    Thanks for putting up with my nonsense.

  6. I am a person who doesn't like rituals. I don't know why but even as a child I didn't enjoy ritual anything. I feel bored easily and I see repeated motions as unintellectual pursuits. That is my own shortcoming but I realise that to me knowing God means more than repetitive motions which is why I can't apply Ghazzali's wisdom in my life much like what you said about praying like a Muslim to be accepted as one.

    I often think if God needs worship. Does He want worship or our consciousness of Him? I don't have an answer - it is just something I think about.

  7. Right belief? You mean absolutes exist? Why not all roads lead to God? You're getting a little narrow-minded, aren't you? ;)

    Hush. I'm busy being narrow-minded over here!

    Did I say that? I did not. I just said that ritual alone does not equal comprehension and experience of God. Saying something does not make it so! :)

    I remember, when I was first learning about Islam I was so very careful not to even type out the words of the shahada when talking to Muslims, just in case they took it the wrong way. I didn't want to give a false impression. I'm sure it was just my own paranoia, but having there be just this phrase that you say and boom, you've switched religions scared me a tad.

    Yeah. Same as the Jesus-salvation prayer thing.

  8. Suroor,

    I'm the opposite. I've always loved ritual. I love the feel of them. They're like scripted dances!

    But I totally agree that knowing God is about far more than repetitive motions. They have their places, but it's not the key thing.

    I wonder what God gets out of our worship sometimes as well. Does He need our worship in some fashion? Or is it just meant to help us?


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