Syed Ameer Ali.

The spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm online

. (page 50 of 55)
Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 50 of 55)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Imam Riza's disciple. The Imam was greatly attached to him and treated
him as a son, from which comes the saying " AH Miisi Riza az-wai-raza
bud." Ma'ruf was killed in a riot at the gate of the Imam's residence in Meshed.

3 In Junaid's time already convents and congregational lodges had come
into existence.

4 Rabi'a died in the year 160 a.h., and her name is embalmed in the annals
of mysticism as one of the holiest of saints. She had a long line of successors ;
the last of them, Bibi Pakdaman, died in Lahore about the middle or towards
the end of the last century.

6 These Sufis or dervishes in India are called Be Shara' — " without law."


Al-Asha'ri died in 320 of the Hegira ; al-Ghazzali was born
exactly 130 years later, towards the close of the fifth century
of the Moslem era, and began his work of revivification when
he was forty years of age. The sixth century was the most
critical in the history of Islam. Whilst the faith of Mohammed
was involved in a deadly struggle with Christendom which
threatened its very existence, an insidious enemy within its
own bosom was poisoning its life. Hasan Sabbah's tenets
inculcated implicit and unquestioning obedience to him as the
vicegerent of the Fatimide Caliph Nizar, commonly regarded
by the sect as the incarnate Imam ; he taught that the " path "
to Truth led to and through him. His disciples, drugged by
hashish, obtained on awakening a foretaste of the delights he
promised them in after-life as the reward for their obedience and
unfaltering execution of his orders. Beautiful maidens gathered
from every quarter helped in fastening his chains on the neck
of his votaries. His emissaries, actuated by varied motives,
but all subject to an irresistible driving force, abounded in
every city, township and village of Central and Western
Asia. Every household contained a concealed member of the
dread fraternity. Neither heroic service to the Faith, nor
learning, devoutness or nobility of character was a protection
against these nihilists of Islam. 1 The best and noblest of
Moslems were struck down by these enemies of society. Their
propaganda was not confined among Moslems alone. Jews,
Christians, Zoroastrians and Hindus alike became the victims
of their insidious methods of proselytism. Both men and
women, and even children, were seduced from their faith by
alluring hopes of immediate reward from Heaven. To con-
tend against these enemies of Islam it had become essential
to galvanise the conservative forces into fresh vitality. Whilst
Asha'rism had hardened into a rigid formalism, among the
populace the cult of the mystic had run wild. Every man or
woman who found the discipline of the Faith irksome turned

1 Compare the destructive tendencies of Hasan Sabbah's cult with those
of the Illuminati in the eighteenth century. Professor E. G. Browne in
his Literary History of Persia gives a list of some of the eminent men who
fell victims to the daggers of the Isma'ilis. See also the opening chapter in
M.|Guyard's Un Grand Maitre des Assassins au Temps de Saladin ; and the
life" of Hasan Sabbah by Moulvi Abdul Halim in Urdu, published in Lucknow.


to Sufi'sm, to a life independent of rules. Philosophical
reasoning brought no immediate relief or consolation to minds
in terror from enemies within and without. There was a
general relaxation in ethical conceptions and an amazing
deterioration in ideals. It was just at this critical period in
the life of Islam that al-Ghazzali's call to a mystical life in
God, and to the attainment of truth by the individual soul in
direct communion with the Almighty, struck a responsive
chord in many distracted hearts. It relaxed the tension and
gave orthodoxy a new weapon with which to fight the dis-
ruptive teachings of Hasan Sabbah's emissaries. 1

It is a dispensation of Providence that wherever a religion
becomes reduced to formalism cross-currents set in to restore
spiritual vitality. The author of The Forerunners and
Rivals of Christianity enumerates the men, each of whom,
according to his light, tried to vitalise the old creed of Palestine.
But it was the Prophet of Nazareth who, by his mystical
summons to the worship of the Spirit in place of the national
God of Israel, infused new life into Judaism.

Al-Ghazzali was preceded by other intuitionalists besides
the Apostolical Imams. Immediately before him came as-
Sarraj and al-Kushairi. 2 But al-Ghazzali set the coping stone
upon their work, and freed the Sunni church from Asha'rite

The story of al-Ghazzali's life told by himself, of his trials and
tribulations, of his doubts and his hopes, of his final emergence
from " darkness into light," is an interesting record of spiritual
growth finally ending in Quietism, a form of spiritual relief
which brings solace and comfort to many a heart tossed on the
ocean of doubt.

Al-Ghazzali 3 was born in 450 of the Hegira (1058 a.c.) at

1 In Professor Goldziher's learned chapter on " Ascetism et Sufism " in
Le Dogme et la lot de I'Isldm, which I read only after I had sent this chapter
to the press, I find that my estimate of the causes which brought forward
al-Ghazzali is in general accord with the views of that eminent scholar ;
compare also the masterly essay of Professor D. B. Macdonald in the Journal
of the American Oriental Society, vol. xx.

2 Al-Kushairi (Abu'l Kasim) died in 465 a.h. (a.c. 1074).

3 Aba Hamid Mohammed al-Ghazzali surnamed, says Ibn Khallikan,
Hujjat-ul- Islam, "the Proof of Islam," and Zain ud-din, "the ornament
of Religion."


Tus, 1 a township in the neighbourhood of Meshed in Khorasan.
He must have been gifted with a peculiarly virile and inde-
pendent mind, for, as he tells us in the Munkiz, he had aban-
doned in early youth that test of orthodoxy in all creeds called
taklid or conformity. To abandon taklid and strike out a path
for the exercise of individual judgment in the domain of
religious thought has been in all ages and in all creeds regarded
by dogmatic theologians as a sin of the first degree. Orthodoxy
in the Sunni Church meant conformity with the principles of
one or other of the founders of the four schools of law. Ghazzali,
with an audacity which demands admiration, refused to
adhere to any particular dogma without independent examina-
tion. 2 But as he always called himself ash-Shafe'i', he must
have conformed more or less to the doctrines of that school.
Ibn Khallikan, in fact, says al-Ghazzali was a doctor of the
Shafe'i sect. " Towards the close of his life the Shafe'is had
not a doctor to be compared to him." In the twentieth year
of his age al-Ghazzali proceeded from Tus to Naishapur, a
great centre of learning until its destruction by the Mongols
in 1256 A.c. Here he enrolled himself in the Nizamieh College,
which had been founded only a few years before, as a pupil of
the Imam ul-Har amain al-Juwaini. Al-Ghazzali studied with
this saintly Imam until his death in 478 a.h. (1084 a.c).
Al-Ghazzali was then in his twenty-eighth year ; ambitious,
energetic, well-versed in all the learning of the Islamic world,
he betook himself to the court of Nizam-ul-Mulk, 3 the great
Vizier of the Seljukide sovereign Malik Shah. Nizam-ul-Mulk
by his munificent patronage of scholarship, science and arts,
had gathered round him a brilliant galaxy of savants and
learned men. He recognised the worth of the new aspirant for
his help and support, and after a short probation in his own

1 Tus is also the birthplace of Firdousi, the greatest of Persian poets. Meshed,
properly Mashhad (mausoleum), is venerated by the Shiahs as the eighth
Apostolical Imam AH bin Musa ar-Riza is buried there.

2 It is only in recent times that a new sect has grown up among the Moslems
of India, which bears the proud name of ' Ghair Miikallid ' (" Non-confor-
mists "), see ante, p. 353.

3 Abu Ali al-Hasan, also a native of Tus. He is the author of the Sidsat-
Ndmeh, a book on the administration of the commonwealth — " the art of
government." The text of this work in the original Persian with a French
translation has been published by the late M. Ch. Schefer.


entourage conferred on a professorial seat in one
of the colleges in Bagdad. Nothing shows so clearly the extra-
ordinary solidarity of the intellectual world of Islam nor the
link throughout the vast extent of the territories over which
the Seljukide sovereigns in the plenitude of their power held
sway as the manner in which officials of every rank, including
professors and lecturers, were transferred from one centre to

In Bagdad al-Ghazzali performed his professorial duties for
six years. His lectures attracted pupils of all classes from
every part of the Empire to hear his discourses on scholastic
theology and logic. Towards the end of 488 a.h. (1095 a.c.)
he was compelled to leave Bagdad in consequence of a severe
nervous breakdown. The very subjects on which he lectured
strengthened his doubts in the teachings of the schoolmen and
divines of his Church. Asha'ri had emerged from his retreat
after a fortnight's contemplation of the comparative virtues
of Rationalism and Patristicism. It took ten years for
al-Ghazzali to find the resting-place for his soul. That rest he
found, as he tells us himself, in the Master's words read in the
light of the revelation which the Fashioner of the Universe
vouchsafes to all hearts that seek Him. During his prolonged
wanderings he visited every centre of learning and every
scholastic or religious institution, where he found scholars or
holy men engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, secular or
divine. Al-Ghazzali was in Jerusalem just before the crusad-
ing storm burst on that devoted city (Sha'ban 492). x He
seems to have tarried longest at Damascus, where he lectured
in a corner of the cathedral mosque situated on the west bank
of the river. The cloister he occupied in the mosque is still
called the Zdvia of Imam al-Ghazzali. When he returned to
Naishapur after his long wandering, he was forty-eight years
of age, still in the prime of life, worn and scarred, though he
had found what he sought — the knowledge of God and peace
of soul. His great and generous patron, Nizam-ul-Mulk, had
been assassinated by an Isma'ili Fiddi, one of Hasan Sabbah's
emissaries, in 485 a.h. (1092 a.c), whilst al-Ghazzali was still
lecturing in Bagdad. Malik Shah had died six months after

1 He is said to have visited in his wanderings even Alexandria.
S.I. 2G


the assassination of his faithful servant, the bulwark of his
empire. Sultan San jar, one of Malik Shah's sons, now reigned
over the shrunken patrimony of Tughril and Alp Arslan, and
Fakhr-ul-Mulk, a son of Nizam-ul-Mulk, held at this time the
office of Vizier under San jar. As great a patron of learning as
his distinguished father, Fakhr-ul-Mulk at once requisitioned
the services of Ghazzali and appointed him to a high professorial
post in the Maimunieh-Nizamieh College x at Naishapur. Here
commenced that marvellous activity of a prolific mind which
has left its impress on the emotional and mystical side of

The Munkiz-min-az-Zaldl (" The deliverer from darkness ") 2
was evidently written about this time. In this book, which
is not more than a discourse, he divides the " seekers of truth "
(at-tdlibin) into three classes or groups (sinf). The first group
consists of the dogmatic theologians (the Ashar'ite Mutakal-
limin). These people base their conceptions on " deductions "
(rdi) and speculation (nazar). Their unsatisfactory dogmatism
is ruled out in rather a measured criticism. In the second
group are included the Batinis or Isma'ilias, 3 those who
profess to derive their knowledge from a " living Imam."
After an examination of the views of the philosophers, among
whom are included the authors of the Ikhwdn-us-Safd, " which
is no more than a compilation of philosophy," al-Ghazzali
subjects the teachings of the Ta'limis, that is the Isma'ilias,
to a merciless criticism and exposes their anti-Islamic char-
acter. To their assertion that they follow a living Imam,
he replies, " There is the Prophet, why should we follow any
other leader." 4 And he adds that these misbelieving heretics
would not have met with so much success among the people,
had their opponents (implying the dogmatists) not been so
remiss and feeble in their arguments. In the fourth group

1 The old Nizamieh College appears to have been extended and enlarged
by Fakhr-ul-Mulk, and received the new designation.

* J^i^^i*.' Printed with Schmolder's Essai sur les £coles Philoso-
phiques chez les Arabes ; India Office copy.

3 See ante, note, p. 326.

4 This is identical in spirit to the famous couplet of Sanai already quoted,
ante p. 47.



come the Sufis, the intuitionalists, people of " vision and
manifestation." In other words, they see Truth where others
find the Divine Essence from reason. According to the his-
torian Ibn-ul-Athir, who compiled his great work in Mosul not
long after al-Ghazzali's death, the Ihya-ul-'Ulum 1 ("the Re-
vivification of Knowledge ") was written before the Imam
returned to Naishapur. There is some difference of opinion on
this point ; although by consensus it is by far the most impor-
tant of his productions. The Ihya-ul-'Ulum is an encyclopaedic
work dealing comprehensively with the philosophy and ethics
of Sufism.

Al-Asha'ri had condemned all enquiry into the mysteries
of existence. Although equally dogmatic in his denunciation
of philosophers and philosophy, of rationalism and its ideals,
al-Ghazzali gives them a hearing ; appraises their work
and finds it wanting, wanting in the capacity to attain the
goal to which, according to him, humanity should strive.
And what is more, as people of the same kibleh 2 he includes
them within the pale of Islam. It is extraordinary that the
greatest mystics of the succeeding ages make little reference to
him. Jalal-ud-din sings of Attar and Sanai but expresses
no obligation to al-Ghazzali for his transcendentalism. Is

1 cr.. c*))> fA^'ife I Cairo Ed. India Office copy.

A short reference to some of the subjects with which it deals will show
its extraordinary range and the industry and intellectual powers of the
writer. The book (in vol. i.) opens with a disquisition on the excellence
of learning (knowledge)— fazilat-ul-'Ilm ; and it is established by proofs
furnished by reason and authority (ash-shawdhid ul-'aklieh wa'l naklieh) ;
there is a disquisition on the "excellence of Reason" (Sharaf-ul-'akl) and the
difference between soul (nafs) and Reason ('akl) ; and Islam and Iman (faith).
Toleration is extended to all who bow to the same kibleh {i.e. are followers of
Islam). In vol. ii. he deals with the duties of man to man, of the reciprocal
duties of children and parents. He defines here the meaning of nafs (the
soul) and riXh (the spirit), of kalb (the heart), and 'a hi (Reason) ; he points out
the distinction between intuition (ilhdm) and instruction Ua'aUum) . And in
this volume he deals with the whole philosophy of Sufism (tarik-us-Sufiyeh
fi-istikshdf il-Hak wa-tarik un-nazdir).

The other two volumes are mainly concerned with the ethics of Islam ;
he condemns pride, anger and vindictiveness, avarice and miserliness ; and
commends condescension and humility (hilm), forgiveness and mercy,
generosity (sakha) and kindness. The Ihya-nl-U'lum is held in high esteem
also among the Shiahs ; in the Bihar -ul- Anwar, in the thesis on Reason and
Knowledge it is mentioned as one of the Isndds or " supports."

2 Kibleh is the point to which the Moslem turns his face when offering his
orisons, i.e. Mecca, or rather the Kaaba.


it because the impetus he gave to emotional Islam lost its force
in the life and death struggle with the crusading hordes which
lasted for nearly two centuries ? To the Christian onslaught
in Western Asia, followed by the Mongol avalanche which swept
over mid-Asia, destroying in its course every vestige of civil-
isation and culture, is entirely due the long night that followed
the sack of Bagdad. It is not improbable that the force of
his example and precept became barren in the cataclysm that
overwhelmed Islam not long after his death. And yet the
faith in communion with the Almighty, with its aspirations
and inwardness, survived in the hearts of the truly earnest
and devout disciples, and the 'drif claimed to have visions
where the philosopher and the rationalist obtained cognition
by reason. The emotional part of al-Ghazzali's mystical
philosophy found refuge in the monasteries of the dervishes ;
zdvias, rabdts 1 and khdnkdhs 2 sprang up on all sides.
Wherever the holy men who claimed a transcendental insight,
an insight beyond the ken of reason, took up their abode,
disciples clustered round them ; they founded orders, and
imparted mystical knowledge to their followers. Many were
sincere and honest, others were impostors. The influence and
teachings of the first, whilst they lasted, were undoubtedly
beneficent ; the influence of the others, with their sundering
tendencies from Islam, were demoralising.

Al-Ghazzali himself did not place his trust in dogmatic
theology (Kaldm) and denounces it as opposed to reason,
but the exact sciences, arithmetic, geometry and the connected
branches, are considered by him as absolutely unassailable
and not open to doubt or controversy. At Naishapur he wrote,
among other works, the Makdsid ul-Faldsifa (" The Aims of
Philosophy "), and the Tahdfut-ul-Faldsifa (" the Destruction
of the Philosophers "), both directed against philosophy and
those who cultivated it, and in both he tries to prove the

1 From the word rabdt is derived the word " marabout." In the eleventh
century the Murabita established a powerful empire in Morocco and Spain ;
see History of the Saracens, p. 532.

2 Meninski defines a khankah thus : domus propter Deus extructa in usum
sophorum aut religiosorum ; ccenobium. Richardson calls it a monastery or
religious structure built for Eastern Sufis and dervishes. There is a startling
analogy between those Moslem institutions and the Hindu Muths in southern
India, where also disciples gather for religious instruction.


futility of philosophic reasoning and the unsatisfying character
of the teachings of philosophy.

On the assassination of his patron. and friend Fakhr-ul-Mulk
Ali x by an emissary of that arch-enemy of ordered society "the
Old Man of the Mountain," Hasan Sabbah, in the Muharram
of 500 a.h. al-Ghazzali retired sorrow-stricken to his native
city of Tus, where he had built a madrassa for students and a
khdnkdh (monastery) for his disciples. Here he lectured,
and here he laboured on his works which have made him a
personality in the world of Islam. The great Sufi died on
Monday the 14th of Jumadi n. 505 a.h. (18th December mi).

With him passed away one who, in spite of his mysticism,
was endowed with a particularly virile character, the influence
of which lasted long after his death. Imam al-Ghazzali as a
follower of Shafe'i, was bitterly hostile to Imam Abu Hanifa,
whose encouragement of analogical reasoning and of the
exercise of ratiocination 2 he seems to have strongly dis-
approved. Whilst on the one hand the mystic Imam by his
Quietism chilled the blood in the veins of the Moslem races
and arrested their energies 3 for progress and development, on
the other he imparted to Ash'arism an idealism it did not
previously possess.

The desire to enforce conformity and repress " heresy "
has been the curse of every religious system where ecclesiastics
and legists have usurped authority in the church. Islam
has not escaped from it, though it has been less harsh to
" unbelievers " than to its own " innovators," whom ortho-
doxy designated as ahl-ul-bida' . Men suffering from spiritual
exaltation, or whose minds had become unhinged by excessive
self -mortification, along with rationalists and reformers, became
the victims of persecution. The story of Mansur al-Hallaj

1 Fakhr-ul-Mulk was held in such love and esteem by the people, for his
wise and beneficent administration of Sanjar's kingdom, that history has
named him Jamal-nsh-Shuhada, " The Glory of the Martyrs." Husain, the
grandson of the Prophet massacred at Kerbela, is called the Syed ush Shuhada,
" The Chief of the Martyrs."

2 The followers of Abu Hanifa were accordingly called ahl-ur-rai-wa'l-Kyas,
" people of reasoning and analogy."

3 Dr. Sachau, the eminent translator of al-Beiruni's Indika, says that " were
it not for al-Asha'ri and al-Ghazzali the Arabs would have been a nation of
Galileos and Newtons."


is one of the most pitiful in the annals of mysticism. 1 Farid-
ud-din-'Attar was, like Firdousi, an adherent of the House of
Mohammed ; he was also a Sufi of the first degree. In the
Mazhar-ul-'Ajdib 2 'Attar gives an account of his sufferings ;
of his expulsion from the place of his birth (Tus) ; of the con-
fiscation of his property and goods, and of his subsequent
wanderings. Many of them suffered the penalty of death ;
in the case of others the punishment was posthumous ; their
works were consigned to the flames. Even al-Ghazzali's
Ihya-ul-'Ulum met with that fate in Cordova, at one time the
home of Saracenic culture. 3 But these repressive methods
did not succeed in stopping the spread of the mystical cult.
Every holy man round whom gathered disciples became a
saint or wali. The saints were credited with supernatural
powers ; and although the most noted Sufis of early times who
rank now as walls of the first rank, like Junaid and Bayezid
Bistami, strongly discountenanced thaumaturgic practices, the
Tazkirat-nl-Awlia, and the Nafahdt-ul-Uns recount remark-
able acts by the saints outside ordinary human experience.
These wonders are called kardmdt, performed as they are by
virtue of the powers gifted to them by God. In these days
they would probably be attributed to what is called " psychic
influence." Hypnotism and mesmerism, under the name of
tdsir ul-anzdr, and telepathy have long been known in the
East. Some of the acts might be due to unconscious

Sufism travelled speedily from Irak and Persia into India,
where it found a congenial soil. A large number of Sufi saints,
both men and women, flourished in Hindustan and the Deccan
and acquired great fame in their lifetime for sanctity and good
work. Their tombs are up to the present day the objects of
pilgrimage to Moslems and, remarkable to note, to Hindus as
well. 4 These saints taught their disciples who congregated in
the colleges or monasteries they established Islamic theosophy

1 Tazkirat-ul-Awlia, Pt. ii. p. 135.

2 Mazhar-ul-'Ajdib is a title of the Caliph Ameer ul-Mominin All.

3 This happened in the reign of 'AH bin Yusuf Tashfin, who died in 1143 A.c.
* Lutfullah in his Qdnuni Isldm, translated by Herklot, gives an account of

most of these walis, with the practices and superstitions common among the
Indian Sufis.


and Sufi rules of life. They, Jike their successors, were called
sajjddanashin. 1 They are, in fact, spiritual preceptors. In
the West the preceptor is called the sheikh ; in India, pir or
murshid ; the disciple the murfd. On the death of the fir his
successor assumes the privilege of initiating the disciples into the
mysteries of dervishism or Sufism. This privilege of initiation,
of making murids, of imparting to them spiritual knowledge,
is one of the functions which the sajjddanashin performs or is
supposed to perform. He is the curator of the mausoleum
where his ancestor is buried, and in him is supposed to con-
tinue the spiritual line {silsila). The shrines (dargahs), which
are to be found all over India, are the tombs of celebrated
dervishes who in their lifetime were regarded as saints. Some
of these men had established khdnkdhs where they lived and
where they taught their Sufi doctrines. Many did not possess
khdnkdhs and when they died their tombs became shrines.
They were mostly Sufis ; but some were undoubtedly the
disciples of Mian Roushan Bayezid, 2 who lived about the
time of Akbar, and who had founded an independent esoteric
brotherhood, in which the chief occupied a peculiarly distinctive
position. They called themselves dervishes or fakirs, on the
hypothesis that they had abjured the world, and were humble
servitors of God ; by their followers they were honoured with

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 50 of 55)