Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE):
Munkidh min al-Dalal (Confessions, or Deliverance from Error), c. 1100 CE
The Deliverance from Error
A Translation of al-Munqidh min al-Dalal
by Muhammad Abulaylah
In the name of God, merciful benefactor, Praised be to God –with such praise every message and address should begin — and blessed be Muhammad, His chosen prophet and messenger: Blessings be upon his kin and companions who have guided people away from error.1
My brother in faith,2 you have asked me to reveal to you the purpose and secrets3 of the sciences, and the dangerous and complex depths of the schools of thought. You would like me to tell you what I have undergone in order to distinguish the truth4 from error in the different sects, despite the differences in their paths and methods.
You wish to know the daring it took to rise above the plain of conformism (Taqlid)5 to the heights of observation and independent investigation.6 First, what profit I drew at the beginning from Kalam7 (or theology). Secondly, how I then turned away from those who defended Ta’lim8 (teaching) because they were impeded in reaching the truth by their subjection to an Imam.9 Thirdly, how much I mistrusted the methods of philosophers,10 and finally how I came to appreciate the way of Sufism.11
You would like to see the “pulp of the truth” as it appeared to me after I came to doubt my efforts to analyze what different people said, and you would like to know what caused me to abandon my teaching in Baghdad despite the great number of my pupils there, and what made me take it up again, a long time later, in Nîshapãr.12 I promptly fulfilled your wishes, which I recognize as sincere, and, counting on God to grant aid, confidence, success and protection I now plunge into my subject.
You should know — may God set you on the right path, and lead you gently towards the truth — that people have different religions and beliefs, that there are different theological systems among religious leaders, and that the community of Islam has different sects and paths. All of this constitutes a deep sea in which most have foundered and only a few have survived. Yet each group believes it has found salvation, “each party rejoices at what it possesses.”13 This was accomplished by what the Master of prophets — peace be upon him — foretold sincerely and truthfully when he said: “My nation will divide into seventy-three sects, and only one of them will be saved.” What he foretold has indeed almost come true.
As for myself, since my early youth when I reached puberty, and before twenty, up to the present time when I am over fifty, I have not ceased to delve into the depths of the deep ocean (of the various beliefs of mankind), to plunge into its depths boldly, not as a cautious coward; to bury myself in obscure questions, eagerly seizing upon difficulties and leaping bravely into difficult and obscure issues; and to scrutinize the beliefs of each sect, examining from the doctrinal point of view the hidden aspects of every religious group.
I do this in order to distinguish those who promote truth from those who advocate falsehood, and the faithful follower of the Sunna (tradition)14 from the innovator.15 I do not leave an interiorist” (Baini) without attempting to discover his doctrine, or a “literalist” (Zahiri)16 without seeking to know the essentials of his belief. I want to know the real thought of the “philosopher” (Falsafiyy);17 I try to understand the purpose of the theologian`s” (Mutakallim)18 discussion and argumentation. I wish to penetrate the secrets of the “mystic” (Sufi); I observe the devotee and what he gains from his severe devotion, as well as the nihilist materialist (Zindiq)19 in order to discover the reasons for his bold attitude.
From my youngest years in the prime of life, my thirst to seize the profound reality of things was a natural instinct or tendency which God placed in me not by my choice or conscious decision. As I approached adolescence, while still young, the traditional bonds had already loosened and my inherited tendencies20 had broken down. I perceived that Christian children grew up as Christians, young Jews grew up in Judaism, and young Muslims in Islam. I had heard the tradition (hadith)21 that the prophet — peace be upon him — said: “Everyone is born with a sound nature (fitra),22 it is one’s parents who make one into a Jew, a Christian or a Magian.”23
An interior force drove me to research the reality of original human nature, and that of the beliefs which derive from conformism to the authority of parents and teachers. I tried to discern among the elements which are taught by rote and accepted without question, which discrimination gives rise to so much controversy regarding what is true and what false.24
Then I said to myself, “My aim is to perceive the deep reality of things; I wish to seize the essence of knowledge. Certain knowledge is that in which the thing known reveals itself without leaving any room for doubt or any possibility of error or illusion, nor can the heart allow such a possibility.25 One must be protected from error, and should be so bound to certainty that any attempt, for example, to transform a stone into gold or a stick into a serpent would not raise doubts or engender contrary probabilities. I know very well that ten is more than three. If anyone tries to dissuade me by saying, No, three is more than ten, and wants to prove it by changing in front of me this stick into a serpent, even if I saw him changing it, still this fact would engender no doubt about my knowledge. Certainly, I would be astonished at such a power, but I would not doubt my knowledge.
Thus I came to know that whatever is known without this kind of certainty is doubtful knowledge, not reliable and safe, that all knowledge subject to error is not sure and certain.
THE WAY OF SOPHISTRY
AND THE DENIAL OF
However, when I examined what I know, I found myself lacking this kind of certain knowledge, except as concerned things I could confirm with my senses27 or necessary (self-evident) for reason.28
So I said, “Now that despair has overcome me, there is no point in studying any problems except on the basis of what is self-evident, namely, the affirmations of the senses and the necessary truths of reason. I had to look clearly at the nature of my trust in what I could confirm with my senses, and my confidence in being safe from error by following the requirements of reason. Are these feelings similar to my previous trust in the opinions of authority29 and the feeling of most people regarding speculative knowledge?30 Or is it a question of a certainty without illusion or surprise?
I proceeded therefore most earnestly to consider the evidence of my senses and the requirements of reason to see if I could make myself doubt these. This led me to lose faith in the evidence of my senses. This doubt, which became completely pervasive, can be expressed as follows:
How can one trust the evidence of one’s senses? Sight is the most powerful of our senses, and we could stare at a shadow and judge that it is fixed and not moving at all. Yet, at the end of an hour’s watching, we find that the shadow has moved, not all at once, but gradually or little by little: it has been moving all the time, and never was in a state of rest. The eye looks at a star and sees it reduced to the size of a coin (dinar), whereas geometrical computations show it to be larger than the earth. This and similar cases exemplify how the evidence of one’s senses leads one to a judgment which reason shows irrefutably to be totally erroneous.
Thus, I told myself that there is no security even in the evidence of one’s senses. Perhaps such surety can be found only in intellectual truths which play the role of first principles of thought, such as: ten is greater than three; the same thing cannot simultaneously be affirmed and denied; nothing here below can be both created and eternal, existent and non-existent, necessary and impossible.31
But the evidence of my senses replied, Are you sure that when you trust the requirements of reason it is not the same sort of trust that you had in the evidence of your senses? You trusted us, then reason accused us of being in error; without that word of reason, you would trust us still. Perhaps there is something beyond reason which would show that reason in turn is in error, just as reason showed the error of the evidence of the senses. The fact that this further intelligence is not manifest does not prove that it is impossible.
I remained for some little time speechless. Then the difficulty appeared to resemble the problem of sleep. I told myself that when one is asleep one believes all sorts of things and finds oneself in all sorts of situations; one believes in them absolutely, without the slightest doubt. When one wakes up, one realizes the inconsistency and inanity of the phantasms of the imagination. In the same way, one might ask oneself about the reality of beliefs one has acquired through one’s senses or by reason. Could one not imagine oneself in a state which compares to being awake, just as wakefulness compares to being asleep? Being awake would be like the dreams of that state, which in turn would show that the illusion (of the certainty) of rational knowledge is nothing but vain imagination.
Such a state might be the one that the mystics (Sãfis) claim, for they assert that, when they become totally absorbed in themselves and completely abstract from their senses, they find themselves in a state of mind which does not agree with what is given by reason.
Perhaps this state is none other than death? Did not Allah’s messenger, peace be upon him, say: “Men are asleep; in dying they awaken.”32 Life here below may be a stream, compared with life beyond. After death, things would appear in a different light, and, as the Qur’an says, “We have lifted your veil, and today your sight is penetrating.”33
Then these thoughts came to my mind and gnawed at me I tried to find some way of treating my unhealthy condition, but this was in vain. They could be dispelled only by reasoning, which is impossible without recourse to the first principles of knowledge. If these are not admissible, no construction of a proof is possible.
My disease grew worse and lasted almost two months, during which I fell prey to skepticism (safaa), though neither in theory nor in outward expression. At last, God the Almighty cured me of that disease and I recovered my health and mental equilibrium. The self-evident principles of reason again seemed acceptable; I trusted them and in them felt safe and certain.34 I reached this point not by well-ordered or methodical argument, but by means of a light God the Almighty cast into my breast,35 which light is the key to most knowledge.36
Anyone who believes that the “unveiling of truth is the fruit of well-ordered arguments belittles the immensity of divine mercy. God’s messenger — peace be upon him — was asked about spiritual expansion and the sense in which this is found in the word of God; “Him who when God wishes to direct, He opens his breast to Islam,”37 he said, “It is a light which God the Almighty throws upon the heart.” When they asked him, “How may we recognize it?” he replied, “By this, that a person abandons every vanity to return to eternity.”38 Muhammad — peace be upon him — said, God the Almighty created mankind in darkness, and then scattered some of His light upon them.”39 It is to this light that one should look for inspiration. In certain circumstances it springs up from the depths of divine goodness. We must be on the lookout for it, according to the saying of Muhammad — peace be upon him — “It happens that your Lord sends messages of grace on certain days of your life; be ready for these messages.”40
To sum up, know that in the quest for truth one must strive for perfection, even to the point of seeking the unseekable. Primary truths have no need of being sought because they are present in the mind. What is present will disappear if you seek it, but one who seeks the unseekable will not be suspected of negligence in seeking what can be sought.
THE CATEGORIES OF SEEKERS
When God the Almighty had cured me of this disease through His mercy and immense goodness, I perceived that the categories of those who seek (truth) are divided into four groups:
1. The scholastics (mutakallimãn), who claim discernment and speculative capabilities.
2. The interiorists (bainiyya), who claim to be the masters of teaching (ta’lim) and are characterized by their belief in the need for an infallible Imam.
3. The philosophers (Falasifa), who consider themselves exponents of logic and proof.
4. The mystics (sãfiyya), who seek the privilege of divine presence (Ahl-Al-Hadra), vision and inspiration.41
I said then to myself: truth does not escape these four groups of seekers, for they follow the path which leads thereto. Were truth to elude them there would be no hope of even finding it, especially not by conformism. The conformist is excluded from the beginning for he could succeed in finding the truth only by realizing that he is deceived in being a conformist. Then his glass shield would shatter; the pieces could never be reassembled, but would have to be melted down and recast once again as a new form.
I soon set myself to follow these four paths and to examine what these groups hold, beginning with scholasticism, passing through philosophy and interiorism, and finishing with the mysticism of the Sufis.
THE SCIENCE OF KALAM:
ITS AIMS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
I began with the study of scholasticism and studied it thoroughly. I read the books written by its well-established scholars and wrote some myself. I discovered it to be a science that served its own purposes, which, however, were not mine. Its only purpose is to preserve the creed of orthodox (Sunnite) faith and to protect it against the confusion brought by innovators.
God transmitted to His people, by the voice of His prophet, a creed which is the true faith concerning both this world and the hereafter, as is stated in the Qur’an and the traditions (Sunna).43 Then, through the ideas of the innovators, the devil introduced heresies contrary to the tradition (Sunna).44 Vigorously quoting them, the innovators were on the point of corrupting the true creed for its adherents.
That is when God raised up the scholastics to defend the tradition by a series of well-ordered discourses which revealed the heresies which had been mischievously innovated. That is the origin of scholasticism and its teachers.45 Some have carried out their task honestly: they have defended the tradition, repulsed the attacks on the faith of the prophet, and fought against religious innovations.
But in doing this they used arguments borrowed in a Spirit of concession from their adversaries. They accepted these either uncritically or based on the consensus of the Muslim nation, or by too simply accepting (a supposed meaning) of theQur’an and tradition.46
Most often their argument was restricted to revealing the contradictions in the opposing view and to attacking their conclusions from their premises. This was not of great use to anyone who does not concede anything beyond the basic certainties. For myself, scholasticism brought little satisfaction and could not cure the sickness from which I suffered.47
It is true that after a long time the advocates of Kalam wished to defend the tradition by searching deeply into the nature of things. They have undertaken research into substances, accidents and natural laws.48 But since the purpose of their science lay elsewhere, what they said fell short of its goal; due to the differences of opinion the result has not helped to dissipate the dark confusion due to the differences of opinion among persons.
I do not doubt that others have had a better experience than I, perhaps even a whole category of persons. But for them this was mixed with a blind acceptance of questions which have nothing to do with basic principles. My present goal is to reveal the state of my soul, not in order to blame those who have sought a remedy in scholasticism, for healing medicines vary according to the disease: those which benefit some patients will harm others.
On the essence of philosophy: What is blameworthy in it, and what is not? What makes its patron an unbeliever and what does not? What makes one an innovator or heretic and what does not? What philosophers have plagiarized from the works of the people of truth and incorporated this into their writings in order to propagate their own falsehoods together with those truths? How do souls come to refrain from truth, and how to distinguish unadulterated truth from the falsehood and deceptions found in the philosophers’ teaching?49
Having finished with scholasticism, I passed over to philosophy (al-falsafa). I knew very well that it is impossible to detect the distortions in a branch of knowledge without a deep understanding of it rivaling those most knowledgeable in that subject. One must even outstrip them to sound the depths and explore the perils which its teachers had ignored. Only in this way may one hope to expose its weak points. But I do not know any Muslim scholar who has taken up this approach.
The books of the scholastics, in so far as they were concerned to respond to the philosophers, contain nothing but obscure and sparse allusions. They have evident contradictions and errors and do not seem capable of convincing a person of average intelligence, let alone one familiar with the subtleties of the science.
I have learned that to attempt to refute a system without understanding it or knowing it through and through is to do so blindfold. Therefore I set myself to a serious study of this science (of philosophy) through its written works, reading them without the help of a teacher. I did this during leisure moments while working on the composition and teaching of religious law50 — at this time in Baghdad I had 300 pupils to teach and instruct.
Thank God, reading alone in these stolen moments allowed me to understand the deep secrets of philosophy in less than two years. I continued after this to reflect upon the subject for nearly a year: returning to it, taking it up again, and reexamining its depths and its hidden dangers. Finally I was in a position to sum up with great certainty what it contained of heresy and of both practical and abstract delusions.51
Here is my exposé of the philosophers and the results of their sciences. There are many categories of philosophers and many branches of philosophy, but throughout their numerous schools they suffer from the defect of being infidels and irreligious,52 though among the different groups of philosophers the older seem less distant from the truth than do others.
A. The Categories of Philosophers and Their Atheism
Considering their many groups and their different theories, the philosophers can be divided into three categories: materialists, naturalist and theists:
1. The materialists (dahriyyãn).53 This oldest group denies the existence of the creator — ruler, omniscient and omnipotent,54 –maintaining that the universe always has existed by itself without a maker. According to them, the animal issued from the sperm, and the sperm from the animal continuously. These are atheist (zanadiqa).55
2. The naturalists (tabi’iyyãn)56 have carried out much research into the natural world and the wonders of the animal and vegetable kingdom; they have advanced the anatomical study of animal organisms. What they have seen of the wonders of creation, the works of divine wisdom, has obliged them to acknowledge a wise creator, knowledgeable about things and their ends. It is not possible to study anatomy and the marvelous functioning of the organs without perceiving the necessary perfection of Him who formed the body of the animal, or above all that of human beings.57
Nevertheless, the naturalists have concluded on the basis of their research that the balance of one’s humors58 has a great influence on one’s physical constitution. They believed further that the faculty of reasoning depended on this, to the extent that the faculty would disappear without this balance. And it seemed inconceivable to them that once it ceased to exist it could be reborn.
Hence, they held that the human soul dies and does not return to life. They denied the last things, paradise and hell, resurrection and judgment.59 The reward for good behaviour and the punishment of the bad becomes pointless. Unchecked, these naturalists have plunged like animals into lechery. They are also atheists, since faith has to be in God and the day of judgment, whereas even if the naturalists believed in God and His attributes, they have denied the existence of the last judgment.
3. The theists (ilahiyyãn)60 are the most recent. Among them were Socrates, the teacher of Plato, the teacher of Aristotle. Aristotle put them on a logical footing, systematized the philosophical sciences, developed them and brought their fruit to maturity. In general, the theists refuted the pretensions of the materialists and naturalists and, by exposing their shameful errors, saved others the task. In this way, God saved the believers the trouble of combatting such errors.61
At great length and sparing no effort, Aristotle refuted the allegations of Plato, Socrates and those theists who preceded them. He distanced himself from them, although he could not avoid preserving traces of their ugly heresies and innovations. They all should be regarded as heretics, as should their successors: such Muslim, philosophers as Ibn Sina (Avicenna)62 and al-Farabi,63 and their like.64 More than any, these two contributed to the spread of Aristotle’s ideas.
The errors and confusions in the work of the other philosophers have so troubled their readers as to appear unintelligible. But how can one reject or accept something that one does not understand? Aristotle’s authentic philosophy, if we keep to what al-Farabi and Avicenna transmitted to us, consisted of three parts: the first two would be condemned, one for disbelief, the other for innovation or heresy; the third would not be condemned without appeal.65
B. The Divisions of the Philosophical Sciences
The sciences that concern the philosophers in relation to our aim are divided into six categories: mathematics, logic, the natural sciences, metaphysics, politics and ethics.
1. Mathematics. This deals with arithmetic, geometry and astronomy, but nothing in them relates positively or negatively to religious matters. Mathematics treats demonstrable matters66 which in no way can be denied once they are known and understood. However this presents two risks.
The first risk from studying mathematics is that the student is struck by the precision of this science and the imposing power of its proofs. He extends this high esteem to all the philosophical disciplines and attempts to generalize the clarity and firmness had by mathematical proofs. Then, when he hears mathematicians being reproached as heretics, for having negative attitudes67 or for being scornful of revelation, he rejects the truths which he had admitted previously through pure conformism. If faith were true, he will say to himself, how is it that these mathematical experts have not perceived it? As people say that they are heretics and irreligious, truth must consist in rejecting and denying religious beliefs. How many people have lost their faith because of this simple argument!
The answer is that each technician is a specialist. The lawyer or scholastic is not necessarily a good physician; one who is ignorant of metaphysics is not necessarily ignorant of grammar. Every technique has its unrivalled experts who are ignorant and stupid in other fields. The mathematics of the ancients68 was founded on proofs, their study of divinity was founded on speculation. But this can be known only to an experienced person who has made a thorough investigation of the matter.
Unfortunately, these considerations escape those whose faith is only a matter of conformism. They persist in having a good opinion of all the philosophical disciplines, driven as they are by vain passions,69 destructive irony, and the desire to appear clever.
As the risk is considerable, it is fitting to warn regarding mathematics. Although it has no connection with religion, it provides the basis for the other sciences; anyone who studies it risks infection by their vices. Few who study it escape the danger of loss of faith.70
The second risk comes from the ignorant, if faithful, Muslim. Imagining that one should defend one’s faith by rejecting all philosophy, such a one rejects all the sciences, going so far as to deny the scientific explanations for eclipses of the sun or the moon, claiming that they contradict Islam.71 If this reaches the ears of someone who has learned about necessary truths, he will not begin to doubt the scientific explanations, but will doubt the basis of Islam, believing it to be founded upon ignorance and a denial of truth. This can do nothing but consolidate a person’s love for philosophy and hatred of Islam. People who imagine that they are defending Islam when they reject the philosophical sciences are really doing great harm to Islam. It assumes72 neither a positive nor a negative attitude to such sciences, which in no way are opposed to religion.
The prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him — has said: “The sun and the moon are two of the divine signs. They are eclipsed neither for the death nor for the birth of anyone. When you see an eclipse you should have recourse to praise of God and prayer.”73 Where in these words is there mention of any rejection of arithmetic,74 which calculates in a particular way the path of the sun and the moon, their conjunction and their opposition?
As for the prophet’s saying: “But when God reveals Himself to something it humbles itself before Him”, this addition is not found in the authenticated collections of Hadiths.75 Those are the two risks which mathematics can present.
2. Logic. This has nothing to do with faith, which it neither approves nor disavows. It is restricted to an examination of methods of demonstration, syllogisms and reasoning by analogy; to the conditions of the premises of proof and the modes of their combination; and to the conditions of exact definition and how it is to be drawn up. Logic is concerned solely with the concept, which is a question of definition, and with judging the truth of something,76 which is a question of proof.
There is nothing in that which should be rejected. Scholastic and speculative scholars77 already have made use of it. The logicians differ from them only in their vocabulary, their terminology, their definitions and their more profound classifications. Here is an example of their reasoning: “If one admits that all A is B, it must follow that some B is also A. In other words, if it is true that all men are animals, it must follow that some animals are men.” This is what they mean when they say that a universal truth is the reverse of a partial truth.
What connection is there between such logic and religious questions, which would require one to reject or condemn it? If you condemned it you would gain a poor reputation among the logicians, first for your own poor mind, but above all for the religion which you claim to be founded apparently on this denial.
It is true that there is some injustice on the part of logicians. They wish to accumulate for their proofs conditions they know to be capable of giving rise to infallible certainty, about which there can be no doubt. But when they take up questions of religion, they cannot realize these conditions and do not follow their own principles. Thus, someone who admires logic will imagine that the blasphemies attributed to the philosophers are based on seemingly solid proofs and quickly will opt for a heresy before even having studied theodicy. Thus, logic too78 is not without risks.
3. The Natural Sciences. These deal with the heavens and the stars, as well as with such simple bodies below as water, air, earth, fire, and such organic bodies as animals, vegetables and minerals. They examine also the causes of their change, transformations and mixtures. They proceed like medicine in its study of the anatomy of the parts of the body and the causes of the mixing of humors. It is no more necessary for religion to reject the natural sciences than the science of medicine, except for a few points mentioned in our book on The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafat79al Falasifa). The other points of disagreement are subsumed in these.
The basic theme of these natural sciences is to recognize that all nature is in the service of the all powerful; nature does not act of itself, but is used in the service of the creator. It is thus that the sun, the moon, the stars and the elements are subject to God’s command. Nothing in them is able to act independently by and of itself.80
4. Metaphysics. This contains most of the philosophers’ errors. Because these scholars are not able to furnish the proofs which their logic requires, they contradict each other in this domain. On this point, Aristotle’s theory is close to that of Muslims as regards what is transmitted by al-Farabi, and Ibn Sina. But the sum of their errors amounts to twenty basic articles,81 all of which would excommunicate the philosophers: three count as heresy, and the other seventeen as innovations. To refute these twenty errors I wrote al-Tahafut (The Incoherence of the Philosophers).
Here, to start with, are the three main heresies, which have excommunicated their holders from Islam:
a. They hold that at the last judgment human bodies will not be reassembled82 but the souls alone will be rewarded or punished. They also say that the rewards and punishments will be spiritual, not physical. They are right to insist on the spiritual rewards and punishments, which in itself is certain. But they are wrong to deny the physical rewards and punishments. This is a sheer denial of the revealed law.
b. They also believe that God knows the universal; but not the particular, which is also a proper heresy; what is correct is that, “In heaven as on earth, not an atom escapes His knowledge.”83
c. They affirm further the preexistence of the universe and its eternity,84 something that no Muslim has ever believed.85 On other questions — such as the denial of the Attributes of God, and maintaining that God knows through His essence rather than by knowledge added thereto, and similar ideas — their doctrine is close to the theories of the Mu’tazilites.86 But they should not be considered heretical on the basis of such views. In my work, “The Clear Criterion for Distinguishing between Islam and Godlessness”,87 I mentioned that, as well as the error of those who are quick to condemn as heresy anything not of their own system.
5. Politics. On the whole, politics concerns the management of temporal government and the authority of rulers. It has taken its maxims from the Books revealed by God to the prophets, and the maxims of the ancient prophets.88
6. Ethics. The object of the science of ethics comes down to the study of the qualities of the soul and of character, their different categories, and the way to cultivate and direct them. The moralists took their doctrine from the mystics (Sufis).89 These are holy men who devote themselves to calling upon God90 the Almighty, to struggling against the passions, and to following the divine path, while separating themselves from the good things of this world. In their spiritual states, human nature and its faults and vices have been revealed to them: they have explained this clearly.
The philosophers took over what the mystics said, and incorporated it into their own teaching in order to spread their errors under the bright luster of the mystics. In their time, as always, there was one of those groups which God never leaves the world without, for they are the pillars which support the earth.91 God’s mercy descends upon it because of their spirit, in accord with Muhammad’s saying — peace be upon him — “It is by them that the rain and your subsistence comes to you.” The sleepers in the cave92 were of such persons. According to the Qur’an there were such persons in ancient times.
C. The Dangers of Philosophy
The philosophers have incorporated in their writings the sayings of the prophets and the maxims of the mystics. From this there has arisen a double risk, both for the one who accepts their teachings and for the one who rejects them.
1. The danger of rejecting philosophy is considerable. Some weak spirits have believed that they should reject the words of the prophets and mystics because these are found among erroneous statements in the writings of the philosophers. They even thought they should not cite these as extracted from the philosophers, because, to their weak minds, such sayings would be false because uttered by those in error.
This attitude is like that of people who criticize Christians for saying, “There is no god but God, and Jesus is the messenger of God.” They say, that is what the Christians say, without stopping to think whether the Christian is an unbeliever because of this saying, or because of his denial of Muhammad as a prophet — peace be upon him. If one is an unbeliever only because of what he denies, he should not be opposed in anything other than what he denies of the things which are inherently true, even though the Christian also holds it to be such. That is the mistake made by people of weak minds: they do not recognize the truth except in the mouth of certain people, instead of recognizing people when they speak the truth.
On the contrary, a wise man follows the advice of the commander of believers, ‘Ali Ibn Abi Tálib,93 who said, “Do not recognize the truth in the mouth of certain men, but first recognize the truth and then you will recognize who are truthful.” An initiate, a wise man, begins by recognizing what is true and after that examines individual sayings. If one of these is truthful, he accepts it, whether the person who said it is in error or in truth.
A wise person may even attempt to isolate the part of the truth which is contained in the statements of mistaken people. He is well aware that grains of gold are hidden in the sand and that the experienced money-changer takes no risk in hunting through a forger’s94 moneybag in order to separate the pure gold from the false coins. Of course, one would not allow a rustic to deal with a forger: one keeps the fool away from the riverbank, but not the expert swimmer; one forbids the child to touch the snake, but there is no danger for the snake-charmer.
Alas, most people are too quick to believe themselves capable, expert and perfectly capable intellectually to discriminate between the true and the false, between the straight path and error. Hence, it would be better if it were possible to forbid everyone from reading the writings of mistaken people, so that those who might escape the danger of rejecting philosophy might also avoid accepting it en bloc.
On the other hand, some of my readers have criticized some passages of my books dealing with the mysteries of religion. They have not studied the sciences sufficiently deeply, and their minds have not been able to embrace the full implications of our teachings. They believed that those passages were borrowed from the ancient philosophers. In fact, some of my expressions were the fruit of my own thinking (and why should the tracks of one horse not cover those of another); some of them can be found in the sacred texts; many others are to be found, in substance, in the works of the mystics.
But even if my words could be found nowhere but in the writings of the ancient philosophers, why should they be dismissed, if they are acceptable, demonstrable, and in accord with the Qur’an and the traditions? If we were to open this door and begin to reject every truth that has already been discovered by a mistaken author, we would have to reject a great deal, including the Qur’anic verses, sayings of the prophet, narratives of the ancients, and sayings of the wise men and the mystics. It would be enough to argue that they had been quoted by the author of the book of the Brethren of Purity95 who used them as a basis for his argument and to deceive his stupid readers. Mistaken thinkers borrow from us authentic quotations and introduce them into their writings.
Nevertheless, the least that one should require of a scholar is that he should be distinguishable from the ignorant common man: he knows that honey keeps its flavor, even if contained in the cup of one who lets blood, for he knows well that the substance of honey does not change according to its recipient. His natural revulsion is due to ignorance, to the fact that the cup is made to receive blood deemed inpure;96 but it is not the cup that makes the blood dirty, the blood is already dirty. Honey is nothing of the sort and is not spoiled by being in the bloodletter’s cup.
Nevertheless this sort of error is common. Most people will agree with a statement, even if false, provided it is believed by someone they admire; whereas they reject it, even if true, when it comes from the mouth of people they do not like. This is equivalent to judging truth according to who speaks it, instead of judging people according to whether or not they speak the truth. This is enough about the danger of rejecting philosophy.
2. The danger of accepting philosophy is that one who studies books, such as those of the Brethren of Purity and others, sees that they are full of tasty bits taken from the sayings of the prophets and maxims of the mystics. It is possible to appreciate and agree with them, but this would be tantamount to accepting the error of their teaching under the pretext of preserving the partial truth that it contains. Because of this danger, we have to forbid reading them. This essential precaution is like the prudence of keeping non-swimmers away from the sea, and keeping children away from snakes.
A snake-charmer should not manipulate snakes in the presence of his small child, who might want to imitate his father’s actions, thinking he is like him. The child should be warned by the example of his father in not touching the snake in front of him. The scholar who is firm in knowledge should do the same.
On the other hand, the expert snake-charmer grabs hold of the snake, chooses between the venom and the antidote, extracts the antidote from the glands and overcomes the venom: he must not refuse the antidote to anyone who has need of it. In the same way, the observant money-changer searches the bag of the forger and separates the pure gold from the counterfeits: he too must not refuse gold to anyone who asks him for it.
Also it is necessary to overcome the repugnance of a sick person for the antidote which he knows to have been taken from a poisonous snake. It is also necessary to explain to a poor person, who does not dare draw on the purse of the forger, that he risks falling victim to his ignorance. He must be made to understand that truth and error do not contaminate each other, and above all that they do not change their meaning from the simple fact of being side by side. That is all I wish to say about the dangers which philosophy may present.
THE THEOLOGY OF TEACHING (TA’LAM)
AND THE DANGERS
WHICH ARISE THEREFROM
When I had finished with philosophy, having examined it well and revealed its error, I perceived how inadequate this science was, for reason alone cannot clear up every problem and resolve every difficulty.
After that, there came on the scene the supporters of teaching (Ta’lim), who spread theories about the acquisition of knowledge via the intermediary of an infallible Imam or teacher of the truth.
I was about to start studying their doctrine and to read their books98 when a formal order from his Highness, the Caliph, obliged me to write a treatise on this subject to disclose their true themes.99 As I could not avoid this, my personal impulse was now given an external motivation. Therefore I began to collect the texts and the sayings attributed to supporters of “education” or teaching; I took account of recent discussions, which differed from the opinions of the first representatives of the sect. In this way I assembled a well-ordered collection, and dressed a complete reply, to such an extent, indeed, that certain “People of the Truth”100 then reproached me for my favorable attitude. They said, “You have done their work! Without you, your detailed study, and the logic of your exposé, they would never have been able to know the precise flow of their thought.”
This reproach is not without foundation. When Amad Ibn anbal101 criticized al Harith al Muhasibi102 — may Allah be pleased with them — for his attacks on the Mu’tazila, al-Harith replied that “It is obligatory to refute innovation.” But Amad replied, “Indeed, but you have begun by quoting their uncertainties, before replying to them. How do you know that one of your readers will not absorb the uncertainties without taking note of your reply, or read your reply without really understanding it?”
This remark by Ahmad is just, on condition that it is a question of an uncertainty, of something equivocal which is not already widely known. Otherwise it is quite necessary to answer it, which is to begin by exposing it.
Of course, it would be useless to speak of an equivocal thought that the supporters of “education” have never held. I have not done this. But one of my friends, who used to be one of them suggested this. He told me that the sect in question laughs at its detractors’ works, saying that they have understood nothing of their position. It was then that he explained to me what they do believe. I reviewed it later so as not to be accused of ignorance; I made a clear exposé of it so that no one could accuse me of not having understood any of it. I even pushed it to the absurd, in order to make apodictic proof of its errors.
The result of all this was to reveal that this group has nothing of value to offer. This innovation, so weak in content, would not have made such an uproar without the help of the ignorant friends of truth. But their passion for the truth has led the defenders of the faith to have long discussions with this group, in order to condemn their theories, namely, the “necessity of teaching dispensed by a teacher”, and “not just any teacher suffices; it must be an infallible teacher.”
This double thesis, the need of authoritative teaching and the infallible teacher has had wide circulation, while the arguments against it have appeared weak. Some people have even believed in the solid basis of teaching” and the weakness of its adversaries, instead of perceiving the ignorance of the former.
It is true that we need a teacher, an infallible master, but he already exists. This is the prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him.
Should they say, but he is dead, we shall answer: your teacher is in hiding.
If they say, our teacher has trained and sent out missionaries; he is awaiting their return in order to enquire about their disagreements and problems, we shall reply that our master also trained and sent out missionaries, and that his teaching is perfect, for God the Almighty said, “Today I perfected your religion and gave you my entire benefaction.”103 Since that time, the teaching has been complete; the death or absence of the teacher cannot affect it.
There remains one question: “How can one judge something on which one has not been instructed? Is it by reference to a text that has not been taught? Or by making an effort at personal interpretation (Ijtihad)104 and discernment, which presume disagreement?”105 Here is the answer: “Do as Mu`adh did, when the prophet — peace be upon him — sent him to the Yemen: we use the text, if it exists; if not, then personal judgment.”106
Thus, we shall imitate the propagandists of teaching”, doing what they do when they are far from their Imam. With limited texts they cannot make decisions on an infinite number of cases. Nor can they travel to consult their Imam, and then travel back to the person who consulted them. The person surely would have died in the meantime, so that the return would be useless.
For a person who is not sure of the direction of the Kibla,107 all he can do is trust his own judgment. If he took the time to go to consult the Imam, he would miss the hour of prayer. Thus, it is permitted to pray in the direction one estimates to be true, though it may not be the real direction of Mecca. Indeed, it has been said, “He who is mistaken in his personal judgment deserves reward, while he who judges correctly deserves a double reward.” Everything that depends on an effort of personal interpretation is of this sort. For example, for legal almsgiving108 the recipient may be poor in the personal judgment of the donor, whereas secretly he is wealthy. This mistake is not sinful because it was based on conjecture.
One may say, “My adversary’s opinion is as good as mine.” We reply, “He is obliged to follow his own opinion, like the person who trusts his own judgment about the direction of prayer, even if the others do not agree.”
Should one ask whether “the conformist must follow Abã Hanifa,109 or al-Shafi`i110 — God be pleased with them both — or others, I reply, “If a person relies on conformism when he is in doubt about the direction of Mecca, what will he do if the initiated disagree?” One will say that he must choose from among them the best qualified and most knowledgeable about the direction of the Kibla, and then follow personal judgement in this particular domain. It is the same as regards the different schools of thought.111
In this way the prophet and religious leaders were forced to refer the faithful to personal interpretation, despite the risk of error. The prophet — peace be upon him — said, “I judge by appearances, it is God who looks after what is hidden.”112 This means, “I judge according to general opinion taken from fallible witnesses, though they may be mistaken.” If the prophets themselves were not immune to error in matters of personal judgement, how much more so ourselves?
There are two obvious objections here:
The first is that this attitude is permitted in the case of personal thinking, but cannot apply to the very basis of the faith:113 one who makes a mistake there cannot be pardoned, how can one answer that? The answer is that: “The basis of the faith is found in the Qur’an and in the tradition. For the remaining details or disagreements, the truth can be determined by recourse to the just balance, that is, to the collection of five rules — cited in the Book and recalled in my treatise, TheJust Balance.”114
Objection: This criterion is not recognized by your adversaries.” Reply: “If completely understood, it is inconceivable that anyone could fail to recognize it. How could supporters of teaching disagree about it, for I took it from the Qur’an and learned it from the same Book.115 The logicians do not disagree for it agrees completely with the conditions and rules of logic. Nor will the scholastics disagree, for it agrees with their ideas about speculative demonstrations and the criterion of truth in the scholastic domain.”
Objection: “If you possess such a criterion, why have you not put an end to all disagreement among people?” Reply: “I would do so if they would listen to me. In my treatise, The Just Balance, I have explained this. Reflect and you will see that my criterion is good and would suppress all discord if people would only listen to it. But not everyone will listen. Those who have, I have led to agree. Further, your Imam116 wants them all to be in accord, although they do not listen much; why has he not managed yet to achieve this agreement?”
“Why did Ali — God be pleased with him — the first of the Imams, fail? Did he think he could make them docile in spite of themselves? Why has he failed so far; till what point has he postponed success; what result has he had except to increase discord and the number of his adversaries? Yes, it is to be feared that this discord might lead to bloodshed, devastation, the orphaning of children, brigandage, and pillage. Across the world, your work of pacification so far has brought unheard of disagreement.”
If one says: “You wish to put an end to all discord, but anyone hesitating between opposing schools and rival sects117 will not want to hear only your side, and not that of your adversary. Most of them are against you, and one cannot see any difference between you and them.” This is their second objection. I reply: “This objection above all recoils upon your own head. It is true that the puzzled reader you wish to attract might ask you what makes you better than the others, when most men of science are in disagreement with you. I should like to know what you would say? Should you say, `My Imam is indicated by a text,’118 who would believe you, for this text has not come from the mouth of the prophets. The men of science agree about your inventions and your falsehoods.”
However, supposing we admit that the puzzled reader concedes that you possess this text, but doubts the basis of the prophethood. He suggests that your Imam have recourse to the miracle wrought by Jesus, saying, “The proof of my authenticity is that I resurrect your father.” But suppose he does resurrect him, people did not all agree on the authenticity of Jesus because he performed such a miracle.119
“Indeed, in this field there are problems which can be resolved only by detailed reasoning. According to you, however, reasoning cannot be trusted. Yet a miracle does not prove authenticity (unless one knows what magic is and can distinguish between magic and miracle). One needs to know also whether God ever misleads His servants — a delicate but familiar question.120 What then could you answer, for your Imam has no more right to be followed than have his detractors.”
The supporters of teaching reject the rational arguments their adversaries present, or even clearer ones. Thus, this second objection has very badly turned against its authors: from the first to the last, none is able to answer of them.
The spread of error has been the fault of weak persons who wanted to reason with them. Instead of arguing rationally, they only made retorts which prolong the debate but do not save time or silence the adversary.
Should one say, “This is an argument by retort, but is there a direct reply?” I answer, “Yes. One who says he is puzzled without specifying what he is puzzled about is like a sick person who asks for a cure for his illness without saying what it is.” The latter should be told that there is no cure for illness in general, but only for a particular malady, such as migraine, diarrhoea or their like. The questioner must describe his difficulty. Then one shows him how to apply my five rules. If he understands them, he will recognize that they contain the norm of truth, an accurate measure, and the criterion of precise thought. Thus, someone who is studying arithmetic will understand simultaneously the calculation and the authentic scientific knowledge of the teacher. I have explained all this clearly in about twenty pages in my treatise The Just Balance, which should be studied.
My actual intent is not to reveal the error of their doctrine. I have already done so in my earlier works: first, al-Mustahiri; secondly, the book Kitab hujjat al-haqq which replies to ideas from Baghdad; thirdly, the book Mifsal al-khilaf, in twelve chapters, where I reply to ideas gathered in Hamadhan; fourthly, the book al-Darj al-Marqwn, arranged in tables, which contains some mediocre ideas of theirs collected in Tãs; and fifthly, in the book al-Qista al-Mustaqãn, (The Just Balance), an independent book directed at exposing the criteria of the sciences and showing that one can do without an infallible Imam. Here I will restrict myself to bringing out that these men offer no remedy at all to the different obscure opinions.
In spite of their inability to prove the designation of the Imam, we long agreed with them. We shared their conviction on the need for teaching and for an infallible teacher. But to our questions on this teaching and the problems we put to them, they were not able to understand, let alone to reply. When they failed they referred us to the hidden Imam, saying, “It is absolutely necessary to go to see him.” It is astonishing that they waste their life in seeking after the Imam and arrogantly claim to have found him, but strangely have not learned anything from him. They are like a dirty person who wears himself out looking for water, but does not wash himself when he finds it, and thus remains dirty.
A certain number of them claim to know a little of the teaching, which amounts to a few insipid crumbs of Pythagoras’s philosophy. He was one of the early ancient thinkers, and his doctrine is even more weak than that of the philosophers. Aristotle refuted it and revealed the weakness and error of its theories, yet this can be found once again in the book of the Brothers of Purity; it is the refuse of philosophy.
It is strange to see these people struggling all their lives in search of knowledge, only to be content with worthless banalities while believing they have reached the highest point of knowledge. We have kept in touch with them, and have sounded out their exterior and interior semblance of truth. Their efforts are limited to making the common people and weak minds gradually admit the need to go to a teacher. If one refuses, they begin to argue harshly in order to silence him. If one agrees and asks to learn the science of the teacher in order to profit from it, they stop and say, “Because you admit this, go and search out the teacher yourself.” They know full well that if they go further they will be covered in shame, since they are incapable of resolving the least difficulty, or even understanding it, let alone replying to it.
That is what they are like. Once you try them, you will hate them.121 We have kept company with them, but now have washed our hands of them.
THE SUFI MYSTIC WAY
After I had finished with those branches of knowledge, I directed my mind entirely to the Way of the mystics. I came to know that their Way122 consists of both knowledge and deeds as equally necessary. The object of their works123 is to eliminate the obstacles created by one’s own self,124 and to eradicate the defects and vices in one’s own character. In this way, in the end the heart will be rid of all that is not God the Almighty, and will adorn itself solely with praise of God.
However, I found that knowledge came more easily to me than deeds. Therefore, I began to learn their teaching by reading their mystic works, such as Kut al-Kulãb (“Food of Hearts”), by Abã Talib al-Makki125 — God be pleased with him — the works of al-arith al-Muasibi,126 and the quotations from al-Junayd,127 al- Shibli128 and Abã Yazid al-Bisami129 and the sayings of other sheikhs — God hallow their spirits.
By doing this I learned the essence of their theoretical thinking and as much as can be learnt through teaching and listening.
But it became clear to me that what is proper to it can be learnt only through savoring or experiencing130 the mystic states of the soul,131 and the exchange of attributes (or behavioral attitudes).132 With regard to health and satisfaction, consider what a difference there is between, on the one hand, simple knowledge of their respective definitions, causes and conditions, and, on the other hand, the reality of being oneself in good health or satisfied, or between the reality of being drunk and academic knowledge of the definition of drunkenness as the state caused by vapors rising from the stomach to the brain. A drunkard does not know the definition or scientific explanation of drunkenness: he does not even worry his head about it.133 But a sober person134 knows them perfectly, without experiencing drunkenness in reality. In the same way, a sick physician may know the definition of health, its causes, and the remedies which will re-establish it, but still he is ill. Thus, it is one thing to know all about the ascetic life, its conditions and causes, but something completely different to be effectively in an ascetic state of soul, completely detached from the good things of this world.
I became certain that the mystics are not great as speech makers,135 but that they do achieve certain states of soul. I learned what could be learned; the rest comes only from experience and following the path oneself.136 As a result of my research in the field of both religious and rational sciences, I have already arrived at an unshakable faith in God, in prophethood, and in the last judgment. These three principles of religion were engraved deeply in my heart, not because of carefully elaborated argument, but as a result of particular reasons, circumstances and experiences, too many to be listed here in detail.137
I also perceived that I could not hope for eternal happiness unless I feared God and rejected all the passions, that is to say, I should begin by breaking my heart’s attachment to the world. I needed to abandon the illusions of life on earth in order to direct my attention towards my eternal home with the most intense desire for God, the Almighty. This entailed avoiding all honors and wealth, and escaping from everything that usually occupies a person and ties him down.
Turning to look inward, I perceived that I was bound by attachments on all sides. I meditated on all that I had done, teaching and instructing being my proudest achievements, and I perceived that all my studies were futile, since they were of no value for the Way to the hereafter.138 Moreover, what had been my purpose in teaching? My intention had not been pure, for it had not been directed towards God the Almighty alone. Had I not preferred to seek glory and renown? I was teetering on the edge of a precipice, and if I did not step back I would plunge into the Fire.
I thought of nothing else, all the time remaining undecided. One day, I would determine to leave Baghdad and lead a new life, but the next day I would change my mind. I took one step forward, and then one step back. In the morning I might have a desperate thirst for the hereafter, but by the evening the troops of desire would have stormed and defeated it.
My passions kept me chained in place, while the herald of faith cried, “Take to the road! Take to the road! Life is brief, the journey is long. Knowledge and deeds are nothing but mere outward appearance and illusion.139 If you are not ready at this very moment for the life to come when will you be ready? And if now you do not break your moorings, when will you break away?” At that moment, I felt impelled to go; my decision to depart and escape would be made.
But Satan returned, saying, “This is only a passing mood! Do not be taken in by it, the feeling will pass quickly. . . . If you give way to it, you will lose your honors, your well-established peaceful and secure position which you will find nowhere else. You will be taking the risk that you will change your mind again and live to regret it. It will not be easy to come back, once you have lost your position. . . .”
This tug of war between my emotions and the summons from the Hereafter lasted nearly six months, from the month of Rajab 488 A.H. (July 1095 A.D.), during which I lost my free will and was under compulsion.
The fact is that God tied my tongue and stopped me teaching. I struggled to no avail to speak at least once to my pupils, to please the hearts of those who were attending my lectures, but my tongue refused to serve me at all. And having my tongue tied made my heart grow heavy. I could not swallow anything; I had no appetite for food or drink; I could neither swallow easily nor digest any solid food.
I grew weak. The physicians despaired of treating me. They said, “The malady has descended to the heart, and has spread from there to the humors. There is no other remedy but to free him from the anxiety which is gnawing at him.”140
“Feeling my impotence, my inability to come to a decision, I put myself in the hands of God, the ultimate refuge of all those who are in need. I was heard by the one who hears those in need when they pray to Him.”141 He made it easy for me to renounce honors, wealth, family and friends.
I pretended that I planned to travel to Mecca, when really I was preparing to leave for Damascus. Actually, I was afraid of alerting the Caliph and some of my friends. Once I had decided never to return, I had to use subterfuges to leave Baghdad. In this way I left myself open to the reproach of the Iraqi scholars, none of whom could imagine that religious motives could lead me to renounce teaching, which they regarded as the summit of religion, for their ideas of the highest knowledge extended no further.142
Then, people became entangled in their own hypotheses about the reasons for my actions. Some, outside Iraq, thought the authorities had insisted on my departure; others, more in touch with Baghdad, seeing that the authorities were trying to keep me whereas I was insisting on leaving, said, “It is a blow from heaven; an evil eye has struck down the Muslims and the wise!”143
Those were the circumstances in which I left Baghdad, after distributing my money and keeping only the absolute minimum to feed my children. My Iraqi money was put to good works, invested in pious foundations for Muslims. Nowhere in the world have I seen a better thing that a scholar could do for his family.
I travelled to Damascus, where I spent nearly two years, which I devoted to retreat and solitude, exercises and spiritual combat. I devoted myself entirely to purifying my soul, cleansing my character, and making my heart ready to glorify God the Almighty according to the teachings of the mystics. I spent some time in the mosque in Damascus, passing the entire day from dawn to dusk at the top of the minaret where I shut myself in.144
From Damascus I traveled to Jerusalem, where every day I shut myself in the Dome of the Rock.145 Then I received the call to perform the prescribed pilgrimage to receive the holy blessings of Mecca and Medina and to visit to the shrine of the prophet of God — peace be upon him — after having visited the tomb of Abraham — the friend of God,146 peace be upon him. I set out on the road for the Hijaz.147
Later, certain preoccupations and the appeals of my children summoned me home to my own country. I returned — I, the person least likely to return, who preferred retreat and who had a taste for solitude and a desire to open my heart to prayer. Nevertheless, circumstances, domestic cares and material obligations reversed my decision and interrupted the best part of my solitude, my soul was only intermittently in a state of perfect peace. Nevertheless, I did not cease to aspire thereto, and returned to the attempt again and again, despite every obstacle.
My period of retreat had lasted about ten years,148 during which I had innumerable inexhaustible revelations. It will be enough to say that the mystic Sufi follow to an uncommon degree the Way of God. Their behavior is perfect, their Way is straight, their character is virtuous. If to this were added the good sense of the reasonable, the wisdom of the wise, and the knowledge of the doctors of law, could one be sure that this would improve their behaviour or character? Surely not! Every action or state of theirs, their outward appearance and their inward conscience, is illuminated by the flame of prophecy sitting in its niche149 beyond which there is no other light on the face of the earth.
What can be said about such a Way? Its purification consists above all of cleansing the heart of everything which is not God, the Almighty. This begins, not with the state of sacralization which opens prayer,150 but by the fusion of the heart with God’s name, and is completed by the total annihilation of the self in God.151
Even this completion is only the first step with regard to one’s free will and all that one has learned. It is the first step on the Way itself. What went before152 was only the waiting room.
Once one has started on the way, one begins to receive inspirations and visions. The mystics keep vigils in which they even see angels and the spirits of the prophets. They hear their voices and have the benefit of their counselling. From these visions of images and symbols they ascend further to degrees of spirituality which cannot be described. Nobody can attempt to express these states of the soul without failing miserably.
In a word, the mystics achieve a nearness to God which for some can be a virtual in-dwelling,153 total union,154 or fusion155 with God. This is not true, as we have shown in our treatise al Maqsid al-Asna (The Greatest Goal). A person in such a state should say nothing but these lines.156 “Whatever has happened, I shall not speak of it. Think well about this. Do not question me about it.”
In general terms people who have not been privileged to taste this union know nothing of the reality of prophecy, but only its name. The prophets were prefigured (or prepared) by the miracles (or charisma)157 of the saints.158 Thus, the first step of Muhammad as a prophet came when he went to pray alone on mount Hira,159 and the Arabs said, “Muhammad is burning with longing for God.”160
Anyone who practices the Way will experience similar states of ecstasy. One who has not experienced them, by keeping company with the mystics, may hear accounts of their experiences and be convinced through the circumstances (of their ecstatic states). Or one may attend their meetings and profit from their belief, for their companions are never in distress.161
As for a person who has not been divinely favored to attend their meetings, he may be sure that all this is absolutely proven as I did in the chapter “`Aja’ib al-Qalb” (“The Wonders of the Heart”) in my work, The Revivification of the Religious Sciences.162
Science163 is verification by proof; experience or savoring164 is intimate knowledge from ecstasy; faith,165 founded on conjecture, is the acceptance of oral testimony and the evidence of those who have experienced. These are three degrees, and God will raise through this hierarchy those among you who believe and receive the knowledge.166
Besides these categories of men, there are the ignorant who in principle deny everything. One speaks to them on this subject; they marvel, listen again, and laugh at it saying “What a story; how he goes on!” It is of these people that God was speaking when He said, “Among unbelievers, some listen to you, but when they go away they ask those who have been given knowledge: what was he going on about just now? They are the people whose hearts have been sealed shut by God and follow pernicious doctrines.” “Such are the men whom God has cursed, for He has made them deaf and blinded their eyes.”167
Having spoken about the mystics; it is necessary to deal with the reality and particular character of prophecy,168 a completely indispensable matter.
THE TRUE NATURE OF PROPHECY
AS A UNIVERSAL HUMAN NEED
Humankind was created originally169 with an empty and simple mind, unaware that God had other worlds known only to Him. No one knows the armies of the Lord, save He alone.”170 Man comes to know the world only through his senses, formed to provide him with contact with the world and its different sorts of creatures.
The first sense is that of touch, by which one can feel, for example, hot and cold, wet and dry, smooth and rough, etc. But with this sense alone one could not experience colors or sounds, which do not exist so far as touch is concerned. Next is the sense of sight, which allows one to perceive colors and shapes. It is the most extensive of the sensible worlds. Then comes171 hearing, which allows one to hear sounds and melodies.172 Next comes the sense of taste.
At the age of seven years, one reaches the age of discernment and passes beyond the frontiers of the world of senses. One has reached a new stage where one can perceive new things unknown to the senses.
Then one proceeds to another stage, that of intelligence, at which one is able to appreciate what is necessary, what is possible, what is impossible,173 and things which he could not understand during the earlier stages.
After the stage of intelligence, there comes another realm, a new faculty,174 which permits him to see hidden things, future events, and many other things which are as unknown to the intellect as this realm is to childish discernment, and as childish understanding is, in turn, to the world of senses.
When confronted with things intelligible to the intellect, a person who has reached only the age of childish discernment will balk and call them improbable. In the same way, certain people who have remained at the stage of intellect have rejected as improbable what they have heard about prophecies. This attitude is pure ignorance, for not having reached the suprarational stage (which does not exist for them personally) these skeptics conclude that it does not exist for anyone. If someone had been born blind and never heard of colors or shapes, but then suddenly heard of them, he would not at all understand what they were and would not believe in them.
In order to make it possible to understand such difficult things, in the experience of sleep175 God has given His creatures an example of prophecy. A sleeper may have dreams of what will happen, sometimes clear in meaning, sometimes symbolic, which can be explained by interpretation. If someone had never had any personal experience of sleep and it was described to him — some people become lethargic or unconscious, lose their sense of hearing and their sense of sight, and then see things which are hidden — he would say that this was beyond belief and would justify his skepticism by saying, “We perceive things by means of the senses. If someone does not see certain things when he is awake, how will he see them when he is asleep. It is impossible.” Yet we have experienced sleep and dreams, so we know that in fact this apparently logical argument by analogy is not valid.
In human life, the intelligence is only one stage in which a person gains a new faculty of perception which allows him to take in all kinds of rational knowledge and things unknown to the realm of the senses. It is similar with prophets, who have, as it were, an extra eye which can perceive things which are invisible and beyond rational understanding.176 Some people doubt the possibility of prophecy, or doubt its existence, or its realization in a given person. The fact that it exists answers the first doubt whether it is possible. Moreover, everyone knows that there are more things that can be understood by the intellect alone. This is the case in medicine and astronomy.177 One who studies either of these soon sees that he needs the help of inspiration and guidance from God the Almighty, and that he cannot gain this knowledge from his own experience! There are laws in astronomy that are verifiable only once every thousand years; how could one verify these personally? It is similar with the properties of medicines.
This shows that there are ways of knowing these phenomena in addition to perceiving them with one’s own intellect, and that is precisely what prophecy is. But knowledge of things unknowable to the intellect is only one of the numerous aspects of prophecy, only one drop from its ocean. I mention this aspect because I was using the example of dreams, and I mentioned two analogous cases: medicine and astronomy, which enable us to accept the miracles of the prophets which are equally beyond the grasp of the intellect.178
As for the other aspects of prophecy, these can be perceived only by suprarational experience179 had through following the mystic way. Knowledge beyond the grasp of the intellect could be explained to you only by using the example of sleep. How could one believe in other aspects of prophecy if one has no personal experience with which to compare them, for no one will assent to anything until one understands what it is.
In the case of prophecy, it is necessary to set out on the mystic Way, for one attains some first sense of its suprarational capability by exercising it; the result is based on the analogy with what has been attained180 in assent to things that are beyond logical argument. The fact of that unique unprovable quality of prophecy should make one believe in the principle of prophecy.
Should you doubt the divine inspiration of this or that particular prophet, the solution is to examine his powers, either from your personal experience, or from authentic tradition and hearsay. When you embark on a study of medicine or jurisprudence, for example, you have some idea of doctors and lawyers;181 you hear them speak, even if you do not know them personally. Nothing prevents you from knowing that al-Shâfi’i182 — God be pleased with him — was a jurist, or that Galen183 was a physician, and knowing this in actual fact, not because someone orders you to believe it. It is sufficient to study a little jurisprudence and medicine and to read the works of these two authors in order to know how they thought.
In the same way, if you have come to understand what prophecy is and if you often read the Qur’an and the tradition you will realize with great certainty that Muhammad — peace be upon him — reached the highest level of prophethood. You should also make things easier for yourself by adopting his suggestions for religious practices and the effect they have on the purification of hearts. How right he was to say, if a person acts according to what he knows, God will give him knowledge of things which he does not know; “A tyrant’s servant will become his slave”; and “If a person devotes all his care to one thing184 (i.e. the fear of God), God will accept that as payment for (that is, save him from) all the cares of this world and the next.” Test these sayings a thousand times, and another thousand times, and you will have acquired a certitude which leaves no room for any doubt.
It is in this way that we seek certainty about prophecy, not by the way of changing a stick into a serpent, or breaking the moon in half.185 Taken out of context, these could lead to magic, illusion or even a trap set by God, “For he leads astray those that He will, and guides those that He will.”186
Now one comes to the question of miracles.187 It may be that you believe in a miracle, basing your belief on a sound argument which proves its existence. It is also possible that your faith in it would be destroyed by another type of reasoning which emphasizes exterior features and the ambiguity of the phenomenon. The example of these unusual actions should be regarded as only one section of your overall reasoning.188 In this way you will acquire a knowledge that is certain, though you cannot explain its specific basis. This is like someone who acquires information from several different sources and is not able to say precisely which source made him certain. He is certain of the fact, without knowing the precise origin of his certainty; it forms part of a whole, but is not based on this or that statement. That is what we mean by solid and scientific belief.189 “Personal experience”, however, is like “seeing” which consists of “taking by the hand”190 and can be found only in the mystic way.
What I have said here about the reality of prophecy is sufficient for my present purpose. Now we shall see man’s great need for it.
WHY I RETURNED TO TEACHING
A. Physicians of the Heart
During my ten years of retreat and solitude it became clear to me from lived experience,191 by demonstration, or by act of faith that man was created with a body and a heart. This heart or spirit is the seat of a person’s knowledge of God; it has nothing to do with his flesh and blood, which a corpse or an animal has in common with a human being.
The health of the body makes it happy; illness destroys it. Similarly, the heart can be in good health and nobody shall be saved except one “who comes to God with a pure heart”,192 but on the other hand, the heart can also fall victim to a fatal illness, a “sickness of the heart.”193
To be ignorant of God is a deadly poison. To disobey Him in order to follow the call of one’s own passions causes illness. On the other hand, to know God is the antidote that saves one’s life. To obey God, while controlling one’s own passions, that is the remedy that restores one’s health. As in the case of physical illnesses, it is only by the use of remedies that the illnesses of the heart can be treated and health restored.194
Now, the remedies for physical illnesses act by virtue of specific prophecies, which even the brains of intelligent people cannot perceive. Such people have to entrust themselves blindly to physicians who have their science from the prophets. They, in their capacity as prophets, know the real quality of things.
In the same way, it became clear to me that it is the same as regards the effectiveness of the practices of worship. Their prescriptions and quantities are defined and measured by the prophets, but what makes them effective cannot be perceived by the intellect. In this case, too, one has to accept the fundamental teaching of the prophets, which they received from the prophetic light, rather than being mediated by the intellect.
Remedies are concocted according to prescribed ratios, e.g. two parts of one substance to one part of another; the secret of this depends on their specific properties. This is also true in the case of religious practices, which are the remedies for the illnesses of the heart. Religious practices consist of many different gestures, in variable proportions. So that two prostrations, Sujãd, are equal to one bow, Rukã, and a prayer in the afternoon195 is worth two prayers in the morning. The secret of this is that the particular properties of the practices can only be illuminated by the light of prophecy. One would have to be extremely stupid or extremely ignorant to seek a logical reason for these differences, or to try to explain them by simple coincidence, and not because of a profound divine significance in them which causes them to be such.
On the other hand, every remedy contains a basic substance, to which the medicine is added to create a specific effect.196 It is the same with prayers or with supererogatory actions:197 they create the effect when added to the basic elements of the ritual gesture.
To sum up, the prophets are physicians for treating the maladies of hearts. One’s brain has no purpose except to enable one to understand this fact. It provides rational assent which supports what the prophets have said, while recognizing its own inability198 to perceive what the prophetic eye perceives. We are taken by the hand as it were and docilely guided like blind men, or like suffering patients entrusting themselves to their compassionate physicians. That is the limit of our intellect. It has no further purpose beyond enabling the sick person to understand the prescriptions of the physician.199 That, at least, is what we have gained of necessity from our knowledge, not from our senses, during our years of retreat and solitude.
B. Lukewarm Faith
We have seen how lukewarm is the faith which people have in prophecy, its principles, reality and resulting actions. We have established that this diffident response is due to the actions of four groups: philosophers, mystics, the proponents of teaching and scientists.200
I have questioned some of those who try to escape from the divine law, examining their doubts, beliefs and inmost thoughts. I have said to them, “Why do you act to your own disadvantage? It is stupid to sell the hereafter in exchange for goods of this world. If you believe in the hereafter but are not preparing to go there yourself, though you would not sell material possessions for half price, you are ready to sell eternity in exchange for the finite number of days you have in this world? On the other hand, if you do not believe in the hereafter then you are nothing but an infidel! In that case you had better start looking for a religion! If you look for the reason for your secret impiety you can find it in your doctrine buried deep within you.
That is what makes you so bold, although you wish merely to adorn yourself outwardly with an acceptable faith and to profit from the honors paid to the divine law.
One of these men answered me thus: “According to you, the learned should be the first to set a good example. But one of the most famous of them201 does not perform his prayers; there is another who drinks wine;202 another devours the assets of religious endowments and the property of orphans; another drains public funds and does not shun forbidden things;203 finally, there is one who takes bribes to twist his legal decisions and testimony, and so on.”
Another claimed that he was so advanced in mysticism that he no longer needed to practice his religion! A third gave the ambiguous excuse of a libertine about freedom.204 All these have gone astray from the mystic Way.205
A fourth person from the company of the proponents of teaching said: “It is difficult to know what is true, for the road to truth is blocked by obstacles. There are many controversies in which one view seems as good as another; rational arguments contradict each other. We cannot trust people’s opinions, and those who support teaching state this fact emphatically, without feeling the need to prove it value. In these circumstances is it surprising that we have doubts about what is certain to others?”206
A fifth person told me: “I do not act from a simple desire to conform; I have studied philosophy and have perceived the reality of what the prophets said and that it leads to207 and promotes the public good. The cultic practices they recommend have but one purpose: to bring discipline to the human community, to stop them from killing each other, quarrelling or giving free rein to their passions. But I am not an ignorant nobody who will submit to legal obligations. I am one of the wise and am practiced in wisdom. I see clearly and do not need to practice conformism.”
That is the summit of faith for people who have learned philosophy from the theists, and studied the works of Avicenna and Abu Nasr al-Farabi. These are the men who adorn themselves with the trappings of Islam.
It is possible that there are some among them who read the Qur’an, attend assemblies and prayers and pay lip service to the revealed law (Shari’a).208 However, at the same time they continue to drink wine and to behave badly in other ways. If one were to ask them, what is the use of praying, if there is no truth in what the prophets have said? They would doubtless reply, “It is good exercise, it is a local custom, it is a useful system to secure private possessions and family.”
It is also possible that they would perceive that the revealed law and that what the prophets said is true. Then should one say: “Why, then, do you drink wine? Probably they would reply: Wine is only prohibited because of the excesses which can lead to enmity and hatred. But my wisdom can help me to avoid this; I drink only to sharpen my mind.”
Such a person might add that Avicenna wrote that he promised God the Almighty to do such and such things, to promote the revealed law, to practice His religion without negligence, and to drink not for pleasure, but only as a remedy and tonic. Thus, the most that one can demand, both with respect to the faith and to religious practices, would make an exception for wine when taken as a tonic.
That is the belief of people who call themselves believers! Many of them have been led astray by the subjects they have studied, or by the feeble arguments raised against them, which consist merely of rejecting geometry, logic or other exact sciences which are truly necessary for the philosophers, as we have demonstrated above.
C. My Return to Teaching
For all these reasons I perceived that at this point the faith (of all) had become feeble. I felt capable of explaining these errors. I could unmask these fellows more easily than drink a glass of water, because I was completely familiar with the sciences and the ways of the sciences of the mystics, the philosophers, the proponents of teaching and those who claimed to be learned. My decision suddenly sparked like struck flint, exact and precise: what purpose is served by solitude and retreat when the sickness is universal, when the doctors themselves are sick, and humankind is at the point of perishing?
At that, I began to reflect: “You shall undertake to dissipate the melancholy and chase away the shadows from this period of torpor and epoch of error. But you who would wish to bring your contemporaries back to the right path know well that all will turn against you. How will you hold your own against them or put up with them if it is not the propitious moment, and if you do not have the support of an effective religious authority? It seemed to me that God was authorizing me to continue my retreat, under the pretext that I was incapable of successfully arguing the truth.”
It was then that, by God the Almighty, the authorities209 came to a spontaneous decision, without any outward pressure, and gave me strict orders to go to Nîshapãr, to fill the vacancy caused by my absence. The orders were strict enough to put me in danger of being disgraced if I refused to obey.210
It seemed then that my first decision was no longer valid. I told myself, “You should not choose to remain in solitude just from laziness and a taste for repose. You do not have the right to wait to become famous and honored. Nor do you have the right to avoid contact with other people, for you do not wish to remain in retreat merely to avoid the difficulties of life in the community.”
God has said, “In the name of God the most gracious, most merciful. Do men think that they will be allowed to say `We believe’ without being tested? Certainly we have tested their predecessors.”211 God, Mighty and Glorious, also says to His messenger, the dearest of His creatures, “Certainly, apostles who came before you have been treated as impostors. They showed fortitude in putting up with being treated as impostors and abused until they received our help. No one can escape God’s ordinances. Certainly you have already heard some reports about those we sent.”212
God, Mighty and Glorious, said also:
In the name of God the most Gracious, most merciful, Ya sin. By the wise Qur’an you are indeed one of the apostles sent down on a straight path in order that thou mayest admonish a people whose fathers had received no admonition, and who therefore remain heedless (of the signs of God). The word against the greater part of them is true, for they do not believe. We have put yokes round their necks right up to their chins so that their heads are forced up (and they cannot see). And we have put a bar in front of them and a bar behind them, and further we have blindfolded them, so that they cannot see. It is the same to them, whether thou admonish them or not: they will not believe. You can admonish only one who follows the message.213
I then consulted several men of good counsel, men of devotion and visions. They all agreed, telling me to renounce my retreat and to come out of my hiding place.214 Moreover, righteous men had repeatedly seen dreams about me which foretold good and beneficial effects resulting from my departure. Such was God’s will, at the beginning of this sixth century: God — may He be exulted — has indeed promised to revivify His religion at the beginning of each century.215 All these testimonies gave strength and support to my own hopes.
Finally, thanks to God I departed for Nîshapãr, in the month of Dhu’l, Qa’da of the year 499 (July, 1106 A.D.). As my departure from Baghdad had been in Dhu’l Qa’da, 488 (November, 1095 A.D.), my retreat lasted eleven years. This change was God’s work. I never thought about it in my solitude. It was He who originally inspired me to leave Baghdad and abandon my position. I should not have thought of doing that by myself. It is God the Almighty who changes one’s heart and one’s situation: “The gracious one holds the believers’s heart between two fingers.”216
Now I am well aware that, though I seemed to come back to teaching, I did not really do so, because to come back means to return to the previous state. But previously I used to teach in order to obtain honors and to call people to them by my words and deeds. That was my goal and purpose. In contrast, nowadays my teaching invites people to renounce all honors, and shows them how to stop regarding them as important. That is my present intention, goal and desire: in this God is my witness!
I wish to make myself and others better. Whether I shall succeed or die before I achieve my goal I do not know. However, I believe, with a sure faith, based on “sight”, that there is no strength or power except in God, the Most High. It was not I who moved, it was He who moved me. It was not I who acted, it was He who made use of me. Therefore, I ask Him, first, to make me better, and then to make other people better by my example; to guide me, then to guide other people through me; to show me the very truth, and grant me to follow it; and to show me absolute wrongdoing, and enable me to avoid it.
D. Remedies for the Lukewarm
Let us return to the causes of tepidity in religion and its remedies in order to deliver the following groups from the causes of their destruction:
1. Those confused by the statements of the proponents of teaching: they should refer to my book, al-Qistas al-Mustaqim (The Just Balance), we shall not expand on this text.
2. Those confused by the excuses of the libertines: these are classified into seven categories in our work entitled Kima’ al-Sa’ada (The Alchemy of Happiness).217
3. Those whose faith has been destroyed by philosophy, and who reject even the principle of prophecy. I have already spoken about the reality of prophecy and its necessity, basing my argument on the existence of the specific properties of medicines, on knowledge of the stars, and other things as well. The discussion of those matters was only to provide the premise for that argument. I developed this argument precisely because it is drawn from philosophy and I wished to present the proof of prophecy for each separate scientist by drawing on his particular field: astronomy, medicine, the natural sciences, magic, the art of talismans, etc.
4. There are also people who recognize verbal prophecy, but who put the prescriptions of the revealed law on the level of human wisdom, which is really to deny prophecy. Such a person believes only in a sage218 born under a particular star, for which reason other people follow him; this has nothing to do with prophecy.
Belief in prophecy means certainty regarding the existence of a suprarational zone, where there opens an eye219 endowed with a particular power of perception. The intellect is excluded from this zone, just as ears cannot perceive colors, eyes cannot perceive sounds, and the senses cannot perceive matters of reason.
Though a friend of the dialecticians may deny the evidence, I have shown the possibility and even its actual existence. If one admits this, one recognizes that there are “properties” which escape understanding or appear almost impossible.
For example, a sixth of a dram220 of opium is a deadly poison because, due to its excessive cold, it freezes the blood in one’s veins. For anyone who calls himself a naturalist bodies cannot be cold except by reason of the two cold elements: earth and water. However it is clear that large quantities of earth and water would not be enough to produce so much cold. Should we say this to a naturalist who has not experimented with this himself, he will say, “It is impossible, because opium contains two other elements, air and fire, and they cannot make anything cold, and even if it were made only of earth and water, it could not freeze anything to such an extent — all the less if it is made of two hot elements.” Our expert would think this proved!
Most of the “proofs” brought by the philosophers in natural sciences and in theodicy are of this kind. They represent things to themselves in ways that fit in with their discoveries and the limits of their understanding. Things unfamiliar they declare impossible.
If true dreams221 were not so common, people who reason like this would refuse to believe that it is possible to discover hidden things while the senses are asleep. If one were to say to one of them, “Is it possible that there exists in this world something only the size of a grain of seed that can destroy a whole town, and then destroy itself entirely?” He would say, “No, that is but fantasy.” However, this does happen with fire, in a way that is unbelievable if you have not seen it. Most of the marvels of the other world are like this.222 To the naturalist we say, “You have to admit that opium has the property of freezing, even if this fact cannot be deduced by logical argument. In the same way, why should prescriptions of the divine law not contain for treating and purifying one’s heart properties which cannot be understood by dialectics, but can be perceived by the eye of prophet?
Do not the naturalists in their books admit properties which are equally surprising? An example is the use in a difficult birth of the following figure:
4 9 2 D T B
3 5 7 J H Z
8 1 6 H A W
The mother-to-be looks at two pieces of cloth which have never been moistened on which is written this pattern. Then she places them under her feet and immediately gives birth. Naturalists mention this case in their tract on “Marvelous properties”.223 The magic pattern consists of nine squares containing nine specific figures which add up to fifteen across, down or diagonally.224
How could one believe in this, and not admit that the prescription of two inclinations in morning prayer, four at midday and three at dusk, is because of special properties, unknowable by rational faculties? It is a question of different times of day, whose different properties are perceived only by a prophetic light. Amazingly, if one changed to astrological terms, one would certainly admit these differences in numbering, because the horoscope depends on the position of the sun at noon, at sunrise and at sunset. Upon such things are based the calculations for working out remedies, or determining the length of life and the hour of death.225 However, there is no difference whatsoever between the zenith and the sun at the equator, or between the west and the setting sun, so how can one believe in astrology? Nevertheless, this false science has its believers, even when they have seen it proven wrong a hundred times! If an astrologer says to them, “When the sun is in the centre of the sky, when such and such a star is turned towards it, and when the ascendant is such and such a sign of the zodiac, if at this moment you are wearing a new outfit you will be killed while wearing it,” that would be enough for them never to wear it again, even if they died of cold as a result, and even if the astrologer in question had already lied to them several times!
I would like to know how someone who is sufficiently broad minded to embrace such bizarre beliefs, and must recognize that certain prophets have prodigious properties, can deny what he hears reported of an authentic prophet, a miracle worker who has never lied?
A philosopher denies that such properties are possible as regards the number of Rakas (bows in prayer), the ritual throwing of stones,226 the number of basic elements in a pilgrimage or other religious practices, but they are no different at all from the properties of medicines or of stars.
He might say, “I have experimented myself with certain properties of stars and of medicine and have partly established their existence; therefore I have stopped regarding them with incredulity and mistrust. But, as for prophetic qualities, even if I thought they were possible, how should I know that they existed unless I had personal experience of them?” The answer is this: “Personal experience is not enough, for you always take other people’s testimony on trust. Therefore you must trust the words of the prophets: they are speaking from experience and have seen what is true in all that revelation has brought us. You need only follow their path and you will be able to share in their vision of things.”
However, I must add, “Even if you did not make this attempt, your common sense would tell you that, in this field, you have to believe and follow blindly.” Let us imagine the following case. A reasonable adult who usually is healthy falls ill. His father is a good doctor, as our man has known since he was a child. The father prepares a remedy for his son and tells him, “This is what you need; this will cure you.” Though the remedy is bitter, with a dreadful taste, will the patient take it, or will he refuse it, saying, “It is possible that this is the right remedy, but I have not had personal experience of it.”
Your doubts make you like this sick person in the eyes of those who can see clearly. If you say, “How shall I know the compassion of the Prophet — peace be upon him — and his knowledge of (spiritual) medicine?” I reply, “How can you know his compassion, which is not apparent to your senses? You can know it in an indubitable manner from the circumstances of his life or the story of his deeds.”
Indeed, it is enough to reflect upon the words of God’s messenger — peace be upon him — upon the tales of the care which he took to set men upon the right path, upon his generosity towards all creatures, and upon his vigilance in improving their character and relationships, and in making sure that they had everything necessary for this world and the next. It is clear that the Prophet’s love for his community surpassed that of a father for his son. Reflect upon the prodigies which he has worked, upon the miracles of the invisible world which have been revealed to the prophet in the Qur’an and which he has told in the traditions, and upon what he foretold about the end of time, which have come to pass as he foretold. It is clear that the prophet crossed the suprarational border, the (third) eye opened for him to reveal the hidden things which only some special persons can see, and to manifest all the things which escape the intellect.
This is what has to be done to be certain of the authenticity of the prophet: try, meditate on the Qur’an, read the traditions and you will see all this with your own eyes.
But this warning to those who side with the philosophers will have to suffice. I have included it, because it seems particularly necessary today.
The fourth cause of lukewarm religion is the sight of the misconduct of scholars. I see three remedies for this:
a. First, this reply: “You see a scholar eating forbidden food. He is as acquainted as are you yourself with wine or usury, slander, lies or calumny. That will not stop you from sinning, but that is from desires, not from lack of faith. The learned man’s lust is as strong as yours; it dominates him as much as it does you. The fact that he knows things that you do not know does not increase the degree of prohibition concerning this particular matter.
“How many people believe in medicine, but still eat fruit, or drink cold water, though their doctor has forbidden it! Their imprudent action does not prove that they were right, nor that medicine is worthless. And when wise men behave badly their reasons are not different”
b. A second response is: “The wise man regards his science as his provision for the journey to the hereafter. He believes that it will save him, that it will intervene in his favor and excuse his bad deeds. The truth is that his knowledge can just as easily turn against him as act in his favor. In any case, he can try to benefit from his science if he has not been a practicing believer. But for you who are not learned, if you make this calculation and neglect religious practices your bad behaviour will damn you and there will be nothing to intervene in your favor.”
c. Thirdly, a good reply is that a truly learned man does not sin except inadvertently; he does not persevere in error because true knowledge shows him clearly that sin is a deadly poison, and that this world is nothing compared to the hereafter. Anyone who knows that will not exchange what is of high value for something inferior.
The true knowledge has nothing to do with the other branches of science with which most people busy themselves, and which only lead them to further sins. True knowledge inspires an increase in reverence, awe and hope; it holds people back from sins, except for such as are venial, intermittent and inevitable. These latter do not prove the feebleness of faith, since a believer will succumb and then repent, which is quite different from persevering in error.
That is what I wish to say as a criticism of philosophy and teaching, and in order to reveal the dangers to which a person is exposed if he tries to refute them in inappropriate ways.
We pray God Almighty to count us among the number of those chosen by Him, set by Him upon the right path and led by Him to the truth. May we be among those whom He inspires to call upon Him, so that they do not forget Him; those whom He preserves from their own evil, so that they will love Him alone;227 and those whom He has made His chosen people, so that they will worship none but Him.