• Start
  • Previous
  • 13 /
  • Next
  • End
  • Download HTML
  • Download Word
  • Download PDF
  • visits: 2632 / Download: 1131
Size Size Size


Publisher: www.ghazali.org

This book is corrected and edited by Al-Hassanain (p) Institue for Islamic Heritage and Thought

Alhassanain (p) Network for Islamic Heritage and Thought




Senior Lecturer in Arabic University of Edinburgh

An E-text production by Islamic Philosophy Online for Al-Ghazali website

Being a translation of al-Munqidh min al-Dalal (Deliverance from Error)

Based on the text published by



Ruskin House Museum Street


Table of Contents








I. The Science of Theology: its Aims and Achievements 15

2. Philosophy 16

A. The schools of philosophers, and how the defect of unbelief affects them all 17

B. The Various Philosophical Sciences 18


2. LOGIC 19




6. ETHICS 21

3. The Danger of `Authoritative Instruction’ 24

4. The Ways of Mysticism 30



Notes 48


AS A RESULT of two Wars that have devastated the World men and women everywhere feel a twofoldneed. We need a deeper understanding and appreciation of other peoples and their civilizations, especially their moral and spiritual achievements. And we need a wider vision of the Universe, a clearer insight into the fundamentals of ethics and religion. How ought men to behave? How ought nations? Does God exist? What is His Nature? How is He related to His creation? Especially, how can man approach Him? In other words, there is a general desire to know what the greatest minds, whether of East or West, have thought and said about the Truth of God and of the beings who (as most of them hold) have sprung from Him, live by Him, and return to Him.

It is the object of this Series, which originated among a group of Oxford men and their friends, to place the chief ethical and religious masterpieces of the world, both Christian and non-Christian, within easy reach of the intelligent reader who is not necessarily an expert the ex-Service man who is interested in the East, the undergraduate, the adult student, the intelligent public generally. The Series will contain books of three kinds: translations, reproductions of ideal and religious art, and background books showing the surroundings in which the literature and art arose and developed. These books overlap each other. Religious art, both in East and West, often illustrates a religious text, and in suitable cases the text and the pictures will be printed together to complete each other. The background books will often consist largely of translations. The volumes will be prepared by scholars of distinction, who will try to make them, not only scholarly, but intelligible and enjoyable.

This Introduction represents the views of the General Editors as to the scope of the Series, but not necessarily the views of all contributors to it. The contents of the books will also be very varied-ethical and social, biographical, devotional, philosophic and mystical, whether in poetry, in pictures or in prose. There is a great wealth of material. Confucius lived in a time much like our own, when State was at war with State and the people suffering and disillusioned; and the `Classics’ he preserved or inspired show the social virtues that may unite families, classes and States into one great family, in obedience to the Will of Heaven. Asoka and Akbar (both of them great patrons of art) ruled a vast Empire on the principles of religious faith. There are the moral anecdotes and moral maxims of the Jewish and Muslim writers of theMiddle Ages. There are the beautiful tales of courage, love and fidelity in the Indian and Persian epics. Shakespeare’s plays show that he thought the true relation between man and man is love. Here and there a volume will illustrate the unethical or less ethical man and difficulties that beset him.

Then there are the devotional and philosophic works.The lives and legends (legends often express religious truth with clarity and beauty) of the Buddha, of the parents of Mary, of Francis of Assisi, and the exquisite sculptures and paintings that illustrate them. Indian and Christian religiousmusic, and the words of prayer and praise which the music intensifies. There are the prophets and apocalyptic writers,Zarathustrian and Hebrew; the Greek philosophers, Christian thinkers and the Greek, Latin, medieval and modern-whom they so deeply influenced. There is, too, the Hindu, Buddhist and Christian teaching expressed in such great monuments as the Indian temples,Barabudur (the Chartres of Asia) and Ajanta, Chartres itself and the Sistine Chapel.

Finally, there are the mystics of feeling, and the mystical philosophers. In God-loving India the poets, musicians, sculptors and painters inspired by the spiritual worship of Krishna and Rama, as well as the philosophic mystics from the Upanishads onward. The two great Taoists Lao-tze and Chuang-tze and the Sung mystical painters in China,Rumi and othersufis in Islam, Plato and Plotinus, followed by ‘Dionysius’, Eckhart, St. John of the Cross and (in our view) Dante and other great mystics and mystical painters in many Christian lands.

Mankind is hungry, but the feast is there, though it is locked up and hidden away. It is the aim of this Series to put it within reach, so that, like the heroes of Homer, we may stretch forth our hands to the good cheer laid before us.

No doubt the great religions differ in fundamental respects. But they are not nearly so far from one another as they seem. We think they are further off than they are largely because we so often misunderstand and misrepresent them. Those whose own religion is dogmatic have often been as ready to learn from other teachings as those who are liberals in religion. Above all, there is an enormous amount of common ground in the great religions, concerning, too, the most fundamental matters. There is frequent agreement on the Divine Nature; God is the One, Self-subsisting Reality, knowing Himself, and therefore loving and rejoicing in Himself. Nature and finite spirits are in some way subordinate kinds ofBeing , or merely appearances of the Divine, the One. The three stages of the way of man’s approach or return to God are in essence the same in Christian and non-Christian teaching: an ethical stage, then one of knowledge and love, leading to the mystical union of the soul with God. Each stage will be illustrated in these volumes.

Something of all this may (it is hoped) be learnt from the books and pictures in this Series. Read and pondered with a desire to learn, they will help men and women to find `fullness of life’, and peoples to live together in greater understanding and harmony. To-day the earth is beautiful, but men are disillusioned and afraid. But there may come a day, perhaps not a distant day, when there will be a renaissance of man’s spirit: when men will be innocent and happy amid the beauty of the world, or their eyes will be opened to see that egoism and strife are folly, that the universe is fundamentally spiritual, and that men are the sons of God.

They shall not hurt nor destroy

In allMy holy mountain:

For all the earth shall be full of the

knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea.



I should like to record my thanks to Professors H. A. R. Gibb and A. J.Arberry for various forms of help and encouragement.To my. colleague , Dr. PierreCachia , I am particularly indebted for the compilation of the Index and for advice on some points of detail. For those unfamiliar with Arabic terms the Index may serve to some extent as a glossary. The quotations from the Qur’an (for which the abbreviation ‘Q.’ is used) are taken from the late Richard Bell’s translation (Edinburgh, 1937-9), but have occasionally been modified to suit the context. In Appendix A (3) of my article, ` The authenticity of Works attributed to al-Ghazali ,’ in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society for 1952 I have attempted to show that the closing section of The Beginning of Guidance (omitted from the translation below) is spurious.


The University, Edinburgh.

May 1952.


AbuHamid Muhammad al-Ghazali was born atTus in Persia in 450 A,H . (1058 A.D.) His father died when he was quite young, but the guardian saw to it that this `lad o’pairts ’ and his brother received a good education. After the youngGhazali had spent some years of study under the greatest theologian of the age, al-Juwayni , Imam al-Haramayn , his outstanding intellectual gifts were noted byNizam al-Mulk , the all-powerful vizier of the Turkish sultan who ruled the `Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad, and he appointed him professor at the university he had founded in the capital. Thus at the age of thirty-three he had attained to one of the most distinguished positions in the academic world of his day.

Four years later, however, he had to meet a crisis; it had physical symptoms but it was primarily religious. He came to feel that the one thing that mattered was avoidance of Hell and attainment of Paradise, and he saw that his present way of life was too worldly to have any hope of eternal reward. After a severe inner struggle he left Baghdad to take up the life of a wandering ascetic. Though later he returned to the task of teaching, the change that occurred in him at this crisis was permanent. He was now a religious man, not just a worldly teacher of religious sciences. He died atTus in 505 (1111).

The first of the books here translated, Deliverance from Error (literally, `What delivers from error’-al-Munqidh min ad-Dalal ), is the source for much of what we know about al-Ghazali’s life. It is autobiographical, yet not exactly an autobiography. It presents us with an intellectual analysis of his spiritual growth, and also offers arguments indefence of the view that there is a form of human apprehension higher than rational apprehension, namely, that of the prophet when God reveals truths to him. Moreover close study shows that al-Ghazali does not always observe strict chronology, but has schematized his description of his intellectual development. Al-Ghazali introduces his discussions in a manner reminiscent of Descartes.The `bonds of mere authority’ ceased to hold him, as they ceased to hold the father of modern European philosophy. Looking for `necessary’ truths al-Ghazali came, like Descartes, to doubt the infallibility of sense-perception, and to rest his philosophy rather on principles which are intuitively certain. With this in mind al-Ghazali divided the various `seekers’ after truth into the four distinct groups of Theologians, Philosophers, Authoritarians and Mystics.

(1) Scholastic theology had already achieved a fair degree of elaboration in thedefence of Islamic orthodoxy, as a perusal of al-Irshad by al-Juwayni , (translated into French), will show. Al-Ghazali had been brought up in this tradition, and did not cease to be a theologian when he became a mystic. His criticism of the theologians is mild. He regards contemporary theology as successful in attaining its aims, but inadequate to meet his own special needs because it did not go far enough in the elucidation of its assumptions. There was no radical change in his theological views when he became a mystic, only a change in his interests, and some of his earlier works in the field ofdogmatics are quoted with approval in al-Munqidh .

(2) The Philosophers with whom al-Ghazali was chiefly concerned were those he calls `theistic’, above all, al-Farabi andIbn Sina (Avicenna). Their philosophy was a form ofNeoplatonism , sufficiently adapted to Islamic monotheism for them to claim to be Muslims. Though the part they played in stimulating the medieval Christian scholastics is acknowledged, the contribution of these men to the intellectual progress of mankind as a whole has not yet been fully appreciated. To the great body of Muslims, however, some of their positions were unacceptable, because they tended to contradict principles essential to the daily life of believing Muslims. The achievement of al-Ghazali was to master their technique of thinking-mainly Aristotelian logic-and then, making use of that, to refashion the basis of Islamic theology, to incorporate as much of theNeoplatonists ’ teaching as was compatible with Islam, and to expose the logical weakness of the rest of their philosophy. The fusion of Greek philosophical techniques with Islamic dogma which had been partly accomplished by al-Ash`ari (d. 324/935) was thus in essence completed, though the working-out was left to al-Ghazali’s successors. Undoubtedly al-Ghazali learnt much from theseNeoplatonists , but the allegations that he finally adopted some of their fundamental principles, which he had earlier criticized, are to be denied, since they are based on works falsely attributed to al-Ghazali .

(3) Those whom al-Ghazali calls the party ofta’lim or `authoritative instruction’ (also known asIsma`iliyah andBatiniyah ) held that truth is to be attained not by reason but by accepting the pronouncements of the infallible Imam. The doctrine had an important political reference since it was the official ideology of a rival state, the Fatimid caliphate with centre in Cairo, and thus anyone who held it was suspect of being, at the least, a ‘fellow-traveller ’.

(4) There had been an ascetic element in Islam from the time of Muhammad himself, and this could easily be combined with orthodoxy. Sufism, however, was usually something more than asceticism, and the strictly mystical elements which it contained often led to heterodox theology. From the Sufis or mystics al-Ghazali received most help with his personal problems, yet he could also criticize their extravagances, like the words of al-Hallaj , `I am the Ultimate Reality’. Al-Ghazali was at great pains to keep his mysticism in harmony with orthodox dogma and with the performance of the common religious duties. When he became a mystic he did not cease to be a good Muslim any more than he ceased to be anAsh’arite theologian.

What al-Ghazali learnt in the years of solitude after he left Baghdad he tried to set down in his greatest work, The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya ’ `Ulum ad-Din).

The second of the books translated below, The Beginning of Guidance (Bidayat al-Hidayah ), presents one side of the teaching there given, namely, the religious practices and the conduct in social relationships which al-Ghazali set up as an ideal. Thus The Beginning of Guidance is an introduction to theIhya ’; it deals with the ‘purgative way’ and directs the reader to the larger work for what lies beyond that. The ideal resembles that of a monastic third order with a very strict rule; it does not seem to be suited to the hurried life of a modern city. Yet al-Ghazali’s seriousness and sense of urgency stand out vividly and communicate themselves. The book is interesting, too, in that, though al-Ghazali’s standpoint is almost modern in many ways, dark forces of superstition are prominent in the background.

Al-Ghazali has sometimes been acclaimed in both East and West as the greatest Muslim after Muhammad, and he is by no means unworthy of that dignity. His greatness rests above all on two things: (1) He was the leader in Islam’s supreme encounter with Greek philosophy-that encounter from which Islamic theology emerged victorious and enriched, and in which ArabicNeoplatonism received a blow from which it did not recover. (2) He brought orthodoxy and mysticism into closer contact; the orthodox theologians still went their own way, and so did the mystics, but the theologians became more ready to accept the mystics as respectable, while the mystics were more careful to remain within the bounds of orthodoxy.

Yet perhaps the greatest thing about al-Ghazali was his personality, and it may yet again be a source of inspiration. Islam is now wrestling with Western thought as it once wrestled with Greek philosophy, and is as much in need as it was then of a `revival of the religious sciences’. Deep study of al-Ghazali may suggest to Muslims steps to be taken if they are to deal successfully with the contemporary situation. Christians, too, now that the world is in a cultural melting-pot, must be prepared to learn from Islam, and are unlikely to find a more sympathetic guide than al-Ghazali .


The wordSalat has been rendered `Worship’ rather than `prayers’ following ProfessorCalverley , Worship in Islam, since it seemed desirable to keep ‘prayer’ fordu’a ’.

For an explanation of the technical terms connected with the Worship see the above volume, or Encyclopedia of Islam, art.sat , or Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, art.Prayer.

The text of al-Munqidh used was that of the third Damascus edition ofJamil Saliba andKamil `Ayyad , dated 1358/1939; that of theBidayah one dated Cairo 1353/1934. I have deviated from the printed text of al-Munqidh at the following points: p. 99, line 6,awliyh ’ instead ofanbiya ’ ; p. 125, 6, omit semicolon and vocalize as ‘ilma-hu ; 143, 3 vocalize asturaddu instead oftaridu . In theBidayah , 39, 14 addti or ma beforeyasta`in . (= translation p.151).

In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate


Praisebe to Him with Whose praise every message and every discourse commences. And blessings be upon Muhammad the Chosen, the Prophet and Messenger, and on his house and his Companions, who guide men away from error.

You have asked me, my brother in religion, to show you the aims and inmost nature of the sciences and the perplexing depths of the religious systems. You have begged me to relate to you the difficulties I encountered in my attempt to extricate the truth from the confusion of contending sects and to distinguish the different ways and methods, and the venture I made in climbing from the plain of naive and second-hand belief (taqlid ) to the peak of direct vision. You want me to describe, firstly what profit I derived from the science of theology (kalam ), secondly, what I disapprove of in the methods of the party ofta`lim (authoritative instruction), who restrict the apprehension of truth to the blind following (taqlid ) of the Imam, thirdly, what I rejected of the methods of philosophy, and lastly, what I approved in the Sufi way of life. You would know, too, what essential truths became clear to me in my manifold investigation into the doctrines held by men, why I gave up teaching in Baghdad although I had many students, and why I returned to it atNaysabur (Nishapur ) after a long interval. I am proceeding to answer your request, for Irecognise that your desire is genuine. In this I seek the help of God and trust in Him; I ask Hissuccour and take refuge with Him. You must know-and may God most high perfect you in the right way and soften your hearts to receive the truth-that the different religious observances and religious communities of the human race and likewise the different theological systems of the religious leaders, with all the multiplicity of sects and variety of practices, constitute ocean depths in which the majority drown and only a minority reach safety. Each separate group thinks that it alone is saved, and `each party is rejoicing in what they have’ (Q. 23, 55; 30, 31). This is what was foretold by the prince of the Messengers (God bless him), who is true and trustworthy, when he said, `My community will be split up into seventy-three sects, and but one of them is saved’; and what he foretold has indeed almost come about.

From my early youth, since I attained the age of puberty before I was twenty, until the present time when I am over fifty, I have ever recklessly launched out into the midst of these ocean depths, I have ever bravely embarked on this open sea, throwing aside all craven caution; I have poked into every dark recess, I have made an assault on every problem, I have plunged into every abyss, I have scrutinized the creed of every sect, I have tried to lay bare the inmost doctrines of every community.All this have I done that I might distinguish between true and false, between sound tradition and heretical innovation. Whenever I meet one of theBatiniyah , I like to study his creed; whenever I meet one of theZahiriyah , I want to know the essentials of his belief. If it is a philosopher, I try to become acquainted with the essence of his philosophy; if a scholastic theologian I busy myself in examining his theological reasoning; if a Sufi, I yearn to fathom the secret of his mysticism; if an ascetic (muta’abbid ), I investigate the basis of his ascetic practices; if one of theZanadiqah orMu’attilah , I look beneath the surface to discover the reasons for his bold adoption of such a creed.

To thirst after comprehension of things as they really are was my habit and custom from a very early age. It was instinctive with me, a part of my God-given nature, a matter of temperament and not of my choice or contriving. Consequently as I drew near the age of adolescence the bonds of mere authority (taqlid ) ceased to hold me and inherited beliefs lost their grip upon me, for I saw that Christian youths always grew up to be Christians, Jewish youths to be Jews and Muslim youths to be Muslims. I heard, too, the Tradition related of the Prophet of God according to which he said: `Everyone who is born is born with a sound nature;[ 1] it is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or aMagian . My inmost being was moved to discover what this original nature really was and what the beliefs derived from the authority of parents and teachers really were. The attempt to distinguish between these authority-based opinions and their principles developed the mind, for in distinguishing the true in them from the false differences appeared.

I therefore said within myself: `To begin with, what, I am looking for is knowledge of what things really are, so I must undoubtedly try to find what knowledge really is’. It was plain to me that sure and certain knowledge is that knowledge in which the object is disclosed in such a fashion that no doubt remains along with it, that no possibility of error or illusion accompanies it, and that the mind cannot even entertain such a supposition. Certain knowledge must also be infallibly; and this infallibility or security from error is such that no attempt to show the falsity of the knowledge can occasion doubt or denial, even though the attempt is made by someone who turns stones into gold or a rod into a serpent. Thus, I know that ten is more than three.

Let us suppose that someone says to me: `No,three is more than ten, and in proof of that I shall change this rod into a serpent’; and let us suppose that he actually changes the rod into a serpent and that I witness him doing so. No doubts about what I know are raised in me because of this. The only result is that I wonder precisely how he is able to produce this change. Of doubt about my knowledge there is no trace.

After these reflections I knew that whatever I do not know in this fashion and with this mode of certainty is not reliable and infallible knowledge; and knowledge that is not infallible is not certain knowledge.


Thereupon I investigated the various kinds of knowledge I had, and found myself destitute of all knowledge with, this characteristic of infallibility except in the case of sense-perception and necessary truths. So I said: `Now that despair has come over me, there is no point in studying any problems except on the basis of what is self-evident, namely, necessary truths and the affirmations of the senses. I must first bring these to be judged in order that I may be certain on this matter. Is my reliance on sense-perception and my trust in the soundness of necessary truths of the same kind as my previous trust in the beliefs I had merely taken over from others and as the trust most men have in the results of thinking? Or is it a justified trust that is in no danger of being betrayed or destroyed’?

I proceeded therefore with extreme earnestness to reflect on sense-perception and on necessary truths, to see whether I could make myself doubt them. The outcome of this protracted effort to induce doubt was that I could no longer trust sense-perception either. Doubt began to spread here and say: `From where does this reliance on sense-perception come? The most powerful sense is that of sight. Yet when it looks at the shadow (sc. of a stick or the gnomon of a sundial), it sees it standing still, and judges that there is no motion. Then by experiment and observation after an hour it knows that the shadow is moving and, moreover, that it is moving not by fits and starts but gradually and steadily by infinitely small distances in such a way that it is never in a state of rest. Again, it looks at the heavenly body (sc. the sun) and sees it small, the size of a shilling;[2] yet geometrical computations show that it is greater than the earth in size’. .

In this and similar cases of sense-perception the sense as judge forms hisjudgements , but another judge, the intellect, shows him repeatedly to be wrong; and the charge of falsity cannot be rebutted.

To this I said: `My reliance on sense-perception also has been destroyed. Perhaps only those intellectual truths which are first principles (or derived from first principles) are to be relied upon, such as the assertion that ten are more than three, that the same thing cannot be both affirmed and denied at one time, that one thing is not both generated in time and eternal, nor both existent and non-existent, nor both necessary and impossible’.

Sense-perception replied: `Do you not expect that your reliance on intellectual truths will fare like your reliance on sense-perception? You used to trust in me; then along came the intellect judge and proved me wrong; if it were not for the intellect judge you would have continued to regard me as true. Perhaps behind intellectual apprehension there is another judge who, if he manifests himself, will show the falsity of intellect in its judging, just as, when intellect manifested itself, it showed the falsity of sense in its judging. The fact that such a supra-intellectual apprehension has not manifested itself is no proof that it is impossible’.

My ego hesitated a little about the reply to that, and sense-perception heightened the difficulty by referring to dreams. `Do you not see’, it said, `how, when you are asleep, you believe things and imagine circumstances, holding them to be stable and enduring, and, so long as you are in that dream-condition, have no doubts about them? And is it not the case that when you awake you know that all you have imagined and believed is unfounded and ineffectual? Why then are you confident that allyour waking beliefs, whether from sense or intellect, are genuine? They are true in respect of your present state; but it is possible that a state will come upon you whose relation to your waking consciousness is analogous to the relation of the latter to dreaming. In comparison with this state your waking consciousness would be like dreaming! When you have entered into this state, you will be certain that all the suppositions of your intellect are empty imaginings. It may be that that state is what the Sufis claim as their special `state’ (sc. mystic union or ecstasy), for they consider that in their `states’ (or ecstasies), which occur when they have withdrawn into themselves and are absent from their senses, they witness states (or circumstances) which do not tally with these principles of the intellect.Perhaps that `state’ is. death ; for the Messenger of God (God bless and preserve him) says: `The people are dreaming; when they die, they become awake’. So perhaps life in this world is a dream by comparison with the world to come; and when a man dies, things come to appear differently to him from what he now beholds, and at the same time the words are addressed to him: `We have taken offthee thy covering, and thy sight today is sharp’ (Q. 50, 21).

When these thoughts had occurred to me and penetrated my being, I tried to find some way of treating my unhealthy condition; but it was not easy. Such ideas can only be repelled by demonstration; but a demonstration requiresa knowledge of first principles; since this is not admitted, however, it is impossible to make the demonstration. The disease was baffling, and lasted almost two months, during which I was asceptic in fact though not in theory nor in outward expression. At length God cured me of the malady; my being was restored to health and an even balance; the necessary truths of the intellect became once more accepted, as I regained confidence in their certain and trustworthy character.

This did not come about by systematic demonstration ormarshalled argument, but by a light which God most high cast into my breast. That light is the key to the greater part of knowledge. Whoever thinks that the understanding of things Divine rests upon strict proofs has in his thought narrowed down the wideness of God’smercy. When the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) was asked about `enlarging’ (sharh ) and its meaning in the verse, `Whenever God wills to guide a man, He enlarges his breast forislam (i.e. surrender to God)’ (Q. 6, 125), he said, `It is a light which God most high casts into the heart’. When asked, `What is the sign of it?’, he said, `Withdrawal from the mansion of deception and return to the mansion of eternity.’ It was about this light that Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, `God created the creatures in darkness, and then sprinkled upon them some of His light.’ From that light must be sought an intuitive understanding of things Divine. That light at certain times gushes from the spring of Divine generosity, and for it one must watch and wait as Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: `In the days of your age your Lord has gusts offavour ; then place yourselves in the way of them’.

The point of these accounts is that the task is perfectly fulfilled when the quest is prosecuted up to the stage of seeking what is not sought (but stops short of that). For first principles are not sought, since they are present and to hand; and if what is present is sought for, it becomes hidden and lost. When, however, a man seeks what is sought (and that only), he is not accused of falling short in the seeking of what is sought.