This summer, I received a beautiful gift in the form of Imam Ghazali’s book The Beginning of Guidance. What I’ve read so far is beautiful, but the book is also very rich, and I’m only able to read a bit at a time. So when I discovered that the SeekersHub is offering a class on The Beginning of Guidance this winter, it seemed like the perfect way to get to know Imam Ghazali’s work a bit better. I was late logging into the class and mostly listened to what Shaykh Faraz was saying instead of taking notes, but below are few pieces from the lesson. (To hear it properly though, you can tune into the class live from the SeekersHub classroom, or attend in person at the Hub) Till next week insha’Allah..
Before entering into a relationship must look for five qualities: a) Intellect. Intellect does not mean you should look for geniuses, talking about practical intelligence, the capacity to seek benefit. The intelligent one is the one that seeks benefit. The fool is the one who follows whatever whims one has. This is true for religious company or any sort of company, should seek to be with people of intelligence, who care about others, who are seeking benefit in a wide sense. b) Good character. True good character is very high. Manifests in having concern for others and it is rare. The third, fourth and fifth qualities are righteousness, lack of greed and honesty.
After giving us the criteria of who to choose for a companion, Imam Ghazali tells us the different types of company can keep, and also tells us that the more difficult thing is fulfilling the rights of companionship. He summarizes by saying that you should treat your friend exactly the way you want to be treated, for the one who does not treat their friend the way they want to be treated, their true companion is hypocrisy. Then he talks about acquaintances and tells us how to make good these relations.
Imam Ghazali details the matter of adab in dealing with people because much of our life is in keeping company with people. So he tells us how to make our dealings and company a means of benefit rather than the wasting of one’s time. And he tells us that this amount of advice should be sufficient for you. Try it on yourself. Dare to act upon it. (…) Be realised in first step on path of guidance. Be realized how? By acting on it, and reviewing it. In outward conduct and inward states.
Imam Ghazali is very frank that if you don’t feel the inclination to practise, then will harm yourself and others. Because if not practising yourself, in conveying to others all that you are doing is conveying information. Because at the heart of religion is sincerity.
True knowledge is transformative. Enables one to approach the station of spiritual excellence. True knowledge is about changing the way you are. Imam Ghazali is a manifestation of this. Imam Ghazali was known as Hujjat al-Islam, the proof of Islam. He was a master of the Islamic sciences.
Easy for learning to become a sectarian pursuit. I.e-Why are you studying the Hanafi school? Because I am Hanafi, and my community is Hanafi. Imam Ghazali always thought about how does one know the way things truly are? He found that the intellect on its own does not lead you to manifest realizations of truth. This led to his own spiritual crisis. How do I know that what I uphold, what I practice, is the Truth? Is my own life, my state reflective of what the truth demands? Anyone who is serious about religious introspection, doe well to read iMam Ghazali’s autobiography: Deliverance from Error.
Each scholar when they write are writing from a particular approach. Broadly two ways in Islamic spirituality. One way is Ghazalian way, way based on fear that causes one to have concern and act on knowledge. Way is focused on majesty of Allah, and instills in one a concern of falling short and taking care of one’s duties of slaveship.
Other way broadly is the way of thankfulness and love. Where the focus is on recognition of the tremendous favour of Allah upon one. Where the impulse is to be thankful. Both the approach of thankfulness and fear are not exclusive of each other. They are mentioned in the Qu’ran. Two ways, but one needs something that wakes one up. Ibn Ata’illah says nothing wakes the heart except fear that disturbs one, or passion that pains one..One needs both.
This is mentioned as a caution because balance is needed. Imam Ghazali is heavy. If focus on the jalali aspects, the majesty, without appropriate focus on beauty and jamali aspects, can be overwhelmed. Also the context is different. Imam Ghazali is speaking in a society of outward religious practice. Imam Ghazali is setting a very high standard, but these kinds of things must be brought to one’s life gradually. There may also be specific things that you read in his work that are not clear and evident to you (ex: what is the heart?) , and in those cases, consult. In some of Imam Ghazali’s work, presupposes a certain degree of religious understanding. This is why we don’t just take knowledge from books alone, take from scholars.
Useful book because English translation is very good, and if you’re trying to learn Arabic, the Arabic text is there as well. Even if you’re just starting out and learning, no harm in reading the Arabic text alongside the English.
Good lesson to review: The audio from Dr Umar’s lesson at the SeekersHub opening. Available here: http://seekershub.org/2011/07/25/audio-notes-what-is-beneficial-knowledge-dr-umar-abd-allahs-lecture-qurba-at-seekershub/
Next class: Introduction of text.