By Fatima Ariadne
As a man who joins orthodox theology with mysticism and philosophy, Al Ghazali’s works are always fascinating. This blog post is taken from excerpt of Ghazali’s work “Al Munqidh min Ad-Dalaal”, translated as “Deliverance from Error”.
(But if I gotta be honest, my lab schedule is very tight and I barely find a time to write an update! Hence I just write this stuff! Let’s see if I can catch up with another original writing from mine, instead of taking from excerpts).
Al Ghazali wrote this work to refute the opponents who pointed finger at him for renouncing his stellar career as theology professor, to pursue the mystical path as a dervish. He summarized what’s called his spiritual journey on seeking truth and how to differ them from falsehood. (Personally, a lot of what he wrote in that essay, resonated very much with me.)
And so here what he wrote :
In the bloom of my youth and the prime of my life, from the time I reached puberty before I was twenty until now, when I am over fifty (at the time of writing), I have constantly been diving daringly into the depths of this profound sea of thoughts and wading into its deep water like a bold man, not like a cautious coward.
I would penetrate far into every murky mystery, pounce upon every problem, and dash into every mazes of difficulty.
I would scrutinize the creed of every sect and seek to lay bare the secrets of each faction’s teaching with the aim of discriminating between the proponent of truth and the advocate of error, and between the faithful follower of Prophetic tradition (Sunnah) and the heterodox innovator (ahlul bid’ah).
I would never leave :
- An interiorist without wanting to learn about his interiorism,
- A literalist without wanting to know the substance of his literalism,
- A philosopher without seeking to become acquainted with the essence of his philosophy,
- A mutakallim (people of kalam/ theosophist) without endeavoring to discover the aim of his discussion and polemic,
- A sufi without eagerly trying to obtain knowledge of the secret of his serenity,
- Or an irreligious nihilist without attempting to find out his background and motivation in order to become aware of the reasons for his bold profession of nihilism and irreligion.
The thirst for grasping the real meaning of things was indeed my habit and won’t leave from my early years and in the prime of my life. It was an instinctive, natural disposition placed in my nature by God Most High, not something due to my own choosing and contriving.
As a result, the fetters of servile conformism fell away from me, and inherited beliefs lost their hold on me, when I was still quite young.
For I saw that the children of Christians always grew up embracing Christianity, and the children of Jews always grew up adhering to Judaism, and the children of Muslims always grew up following the religion of Islam. I also heard the hadith related from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in which he said: “Every infant is born endowed with the fitrah (natural disposition to know the true God) : then his parents make him Jew or Christian or Magian.”
Consequently I felt an inner urge to seek the true meaning of the original fitrah, and the true meaning of the beliefs arising through slavish aping of parents and teachers.
I wanted to shift out these uncritical beliefs, the beginnings of which are suggestions imposed from without, since there are differences of opinion in the discernment of those that are true from those that are false.
So I began by saying to myself: “What I seek is knowledge of the true meaning of things. Of necessity, therefore, I must inquire into just what the true meaning of knowledge is.”
Then it became clear to me that sure and certain knowledge is that in which the thing known is made so manifest that no doubt clings to it, nor is it accompanied by the possibility of error and deception, nor can the mind even suppose such a possibility.
Furthermore, safety from error must accompany the certainty to such a degree that, if someone proposed to show it to be false — for example, a man who would turn a stone into gold and a stick into a snake — his feat would not induce any doubt or denial.
For if I know that ten is more than three, and hence were someone to say: “No, on the contrary, three is more than ten, as is proved by my turning this stick into a snake” — and if he were to do just that and I were to see him do it, I would not doubt my own knowledge just because of his feat.
The only effect it would have on me would be to make me wonder how he could perform such an unnatural phenomenon. But there would be no doubt at all about what I knew!
I realized, then, that whatever I did not know in this way and was not certain of with this kind of certainty was unreliable and unsure knowledge, and that every knowledge unaccompanied by safety from error is not a sure and certain knowledge.
The aim of this account is to emphasize that one should be most diligent in seeking the truth until he finally comes to seeking the unseekable. For primary truths are unseekable, because they are present in the mind; and when what is present is sought, it is lost and hides itself. But one who seeks the unseekable cannot subsequently be accused of negligence in seeking what is seekable.
If you want to read Al Ghazali’s full essay “Deliverance from Error”, feel free to download it here (32 pages long). Enjoy!