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Title: The Confessions of Al Ghazzali
Author: Al-Ghazzali, Mohammed
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Confessions of Al Ghazzali" ***

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Internet Archive)

    The Wisdom of the East Series

    Dr. S. A. KAPADIA


    “He who knows himself knows God.”

                     SAYINGS OF MUHAMMED.

                           WISDOM OF THE EAST

                           THE CONFESSIONS OF
                               AL GHAZZALI

                      TRANSLATED FOR THE FIRST TIME
                              INTO ENGLISH

                          BY CLAUD FIELD, M.A.


                    JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.

                               PRINTED BY
                      HAZELL, WATSON AND VINEY, LD.
                          LONDON AND AYLESBURY.



    INTRODUCTION                                                         7

    Ghazzali’s Search for Truth                                         11

    The Subterfuges of the Sophists                                     15

    The Different Kinds of Seekers after Truth                          20

    The Aim of Scholastic Theology and its Results                      21

    Concerning the Philosophical Sects and the Stigma of Infidelity
      which attaches to them all                                        25

    Divisions of the Philosophic Sciences                               27

    Sufism                                                              41

    The Reality of Inspiration: its Importance for the Human Race       50


The object of the Editors of this series is a very definite one. They
desire above all things that, in their humble way, these books shall be
the ambassadors of good-will and understanding between East and West—the
old world of Thought and the new of Action. In this endeavour, and in
their own sphere, they are but followers of the highest example in the
land. They are confident that a deeper knowledge of the great ideals and
lofty philosophy of Oriental thought may help to a revival of that true
spirit of Charity which neither despises nor fears the nations of another
creed and colour. Finally, in thanking press and public for the very
cordial reception given to the “Wisdom of the East” Series, they wish to
state that no pains have been spared to secure the best specialists for
the treatment of the various subjects at hand.

                                                         L. CRANMER-BYNG.
                                                         S. A. KAPADIA.




Aboû Hâmid Muhammed Ibn Muhammad Al Ghazzali was born in the city of Tus
in Khorassan, A.D. 1058, one year after the great poet and freethinker
Abu’ l’ Alā died. He was the son of a dealer in cotton thread (Gazzâl),
whence his name. Losing his father in early life, he was confided to the
care of a Sufi, whose influence extended through his subsequent career.
On finishing his studies he was appointed professor of theology at
Bagdad. Here he achieved such splendid success that all the Imāms became
his zealous partisans. So great, indeed, was his renown, so ardent the
admiration he inspired, that the Muhammedans sometimes said: “If all the
books of Islam were destroyed, it would be but a slight loss, provided Al
Ghazzali’s work on the Revivification of the Sciences of Religion were
preserved.” The following short treatise gives the history of the mind
of this remarkable man in his pursuit of truth. It might not inaptly
bear the title “Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit.” In its intellectual
subtlety it bears a certain resemblance to Newman’s _Grammar of Assent_,
and in its almost Puritanical sense of the terrors of the world to come,
it is akin to Bunyan’s _Grace Abounding_. It is also interesting as being
one of the very few specimens of genuine Eastern autobiography.

After describing the difficulty with which he escaped from an almost
Pyrrhonic scepticism, “not by systematic reasoning and accumulation of
proofs, but by a flash of light which God sent into my soul,” he reviews
the various sects whom he encountered in his search for truth.

I. The scholastic theologians, who profess to follow reason and

II. The philosophers, who call themselves masters of Logic and

III. The Sufis, who claim an immediate intuition, and who perceive the
real manifestation of truth as common men perceive material phenomena.

After mastering the first two systems and still finding the great problem
unsolved, he was forced to pronounce philosophy incompetent, and to
seek in some higher faculty than reason the solution of his doubts.
The intuition or ecstasy (“wajd”) of the Sufis was to him a sort of
revelation. His search for truth occupied several years, in the course of
which he renounced his professorship of theology at Bagdad and went into
devotional retirement at Jerusalem and Damascus, and also performed the
pilgrimage to Mecca.

He returned for a short time to Nishapur, the birthplace of Omar Khayyām,
his elder contemporary, whom, as Professor Browne tells us in his
_History of Persian Literature_, he met and disliked. He finally went
back to Tus, his native place, where he died, A.D. 1111. Professor D.
B. Macdonald, in an article on Ghazzali in the _Journal of the American
Oriental Society_, quotes the following account of his death as related
by his brother Ahmad: “On Monday at dawn my brother performed the
ablution and prayed. Then he said, ‘Bring me my grave-clothes,’ and he
took them and kissed them, and laid them on his eyes and said, ‘I hear
and obey the command to go into the King.’ And he stretched out his feet
and went to meet Him and was taken to the good-will of God Most High.”

The great service which Al Ghazzali rendered to the Sufis was, as Mr.
Whinfield has pointed out, in the preface to his translation of the
Masnavi, to provide them with a metaphysical terminology which he had
derived from the writings of Plotinus the Neo-Platonist. He also gave
them a secure position in the Church of Islam.

In his _Development of Muslim Theology_ Professor Macdonald calls
Ghazzali “the greatest, certainly the most sympathetic figure in the
history of Islam, and the only teacher of the after generations ever put
by a Muslim on a level with the four great Imāms.” He further says of
him: “Islam has never outgrown him, has never fully understood him. In
the renaissance of Islam which is now rising to view, his time will come,
and the new life will proceed from a renewed study of his works.”

                                                                    C. F.



“_In the name of the most merciful God._”

Quoth the Imām Ghazzali:

Glory be to God, Whose praise should precede every writing and every
speech! May the blessings of God rest on Muhammed His Prophet and His
Apostle, on his family and companions, by whose guidance error is escaped!

You have asked me, O brother in the faith, to expound the aim and the
mysteries of religious sciences, the boundaries and depths of theological
doctrines. You wish to know my experiences while disentangling truth lost
in the medley of sects and divergencies of thought, and how I have dared
to climb from the low levels of traditional belief to the topmost summit
of assurance. You desire to learn what I have borrowed, first of all from
scholastic theology; and secondly from the method of the Ta’limites,
who, in seeking truth, rest upon the authority of a leader; and why,
thirdly, I have been led to reject philosophic systems; and finally, what
I have accepted of the doctrine of the Sufis, and the sum total of truth
which I have gathered in studying every variety of opinion. You ask me
why, after resigning at Bagdad a teaching post which attracted a number
of hearers, I have, long afterwards, accepted a similar one at Nishapur.
Convinced as I am of the sincerity which prompts your inquiries, I
proceed to answer them, invoking the help and protection of God.

Know then, my brothers (may God direct you in the right way), that the
diversity in beliefs and religions, and the variety of doctrines and
sects which divide men, are like a deep ocean strewn with shipwrecks,
from which very few escape safe and sound. Each sect, it is true,
believes itself in possession of the truth and of salvation, “each
party,” as the Koran saith, “rejoices in its own creed”; but as the
chief of the apostles, whose word is always truthful, has told us, “My
people will be divided into more than seventy sects, of whom only one
will be saved.” This prediction, like all others of the Prophet, must be

From the period of adolescence, that is to say, previous to reaching my
twentieth year to the present time when I have passed my fiftieth, I
have ventured into this vast ocean; I have fearlessly sounded its depths,
and, like a resolute diver, I have penetrated its darkness and dared its
dangers and abysses. I have interrogated the beliefs of each sect and
scrutinised the mysteries of each doctrine, in order to disentangle truth
from error and orthodoxy from heresy. I have never met one who maintained
the hidden meaning of the Koran without investigating the nature of his
belief, nor a partisan of its exterior sense without inquiring into the
results of his doctrine. There is no philosopher whose system I have not
fathomed, nor theologian the intricacies of whose doctrine I have not
followed out.

Sufism has no secrets into which I have not penetrated; the devout adorer
of Deity has revealed to me the aim of his austerities; the atheist has
not been able to conceal from me the real reason of his unbelief. The
thirst for knowledge was innate in me from an early age; it was like a
second nature implanted by God, without any will on my part. No sooner
had I emerged from boyhood than I had already broken the fetters of
tradition and freed myself from hereditary beliefs.

Having noticed how easily the children of Christians become Christians,
and the children of Moslems embrace Islam, and remembering also the
traditional saying ascribed to the Prophet, “Every child has in him
the germ of Islam, then his parents make him Jew, Christian, or
Zoroastrian,” I was moved by a keen desire to learn what was this innate
disposition in the child, the nature of the accidental beliefs imposed
on him by the authority of his parents and his masters, and finally the
unreasoned convictions which he derives from their instructions.

Struck with the contradictions which I encountered in endeavouring to
disentangle the truth and falsehood of these opinions, I was led to make
the following reflection: “The search after truth being the aim which I
propose to myself, I ought in the first place to ascertain what are the
bases of certitude.” In the next place I recognised that certitude is the
clear and complete knowledge of things, such knowledge as leaves no room
for doubt nor possibility of error and conjecture, so that there remains
no room in the mind for error to find an entrance. In such a case it
is necessary that the mind, fortified against all possibility of going
astray, should embrace such a strong conviction that, if, for example,
any one possessing the power of changing a stone into gold, or a stick
into a serpent, should seek to shake the bases of this certitude, it
would remain firm and immovable. Suppose, for instance, a man should come
and say to me, who am firmly convinced that ten is more than three, “No;
on the contrary, three is more than ten, and, to prove it, I change this
rod into a serpent,” and supposing that he actually did so, I should
remain none the less convinced of the falsity of his assertion, and
although his miracle might arouse my astonishment, it would not instil
any doubt into my belief.

I then understood that all forms of knowledge which do not unite these
conditions (imperviousness to doubt, etc.) do not deserve any confidence,
because they are not beyond the reach of doubt, and what is not
impregnable to doubt cannot constitute certitude.


I then examined what knowledge I possessed, and discovered that in none
of it, with the exception of sense-perceptions and necessary principles,
did I enjoy that degree of certitude which I have just described. I
then sadly reflected as follows: “We cannot hope to find truth except
in matters which carry their evidence in themselves—that is to say, in
sense-perceptions and necessary principles; we must therefore establish
these on a firm basis. Is my absolute confidence in sense-perceptions and
on the infallibility of necessary principles analogous to the confidence
which I formerly possessed in matters believed on the authority of
others? Is it only analogous to the reliance most people place on their
organs of vision, or is it rigorously true without admixture of illusion
or doubt?”

I then set myself earnestly to examine the notions we derive from the
evidence of the senses and from sight in order to see if they could be
called in question. The result of a careful examination was that my
confidence in them was shaken. Our sight for instance, perhaps the best
practised of all our senses, observes a shadow, and finding it apparently
stationary pronounces it devoid of movement. Observation and experience,
however, show subsequently that a shadow moves not suddenly, it is true,
but gradually and imperceptibly, so that it is never really motionless.

Again, the eye sees a star and believes it as large as a piece of gold,
but mathematical calculations prove, on the contrary, that it is larger
than the earth. These notions, and all others which the senses declare
true, are subsequently contradicted and convicted of falsity in an
irrefragable manner by the verdict of reason.

Then I reflected in myself: “Since I cannot trust to the evidence of my
senses, I must rely only on intellectual notions based on fundamental
principles, such as the following axioms: ‘Ten is more than three.
Affirmation and negation cannot coexist together. A thing cannot both
be created and also existent from eternity, living and annihilated
simultaneously, at once necessary and impossible.’” To this the
notions I derived from my senses made the following objections: “Who
can guarantee you that you can trust to the evidence of reason more
than to that of the senses? You believed in our testimony till it was
contradicted by the verdict of reason, otherwise you would have continued
to believe it to this day. Well, perhaps, there is above reason another
judge who, if he appeared, would convict reason of falsehood, just as
reason has confuted us. And if such a third arbiter is not yet apparent,
it does not follow that he does not exist.”

To this argument I remained some time without reply; a reflection drawn
from the phenomena of sleep deepened my doubt. “Do you not see,” I
reflected, “that while asleep you assume your dreams to be indisputably
real? Once awake, you recognise them for what they are—baseless chimeras.
Who can assure you, then, of the reliability of notions which, when
awake, you derive from the senses and from reason? In relation to your
present state they may be real; but it is possible also that you may
enter upon another state of being which will bear the same relation to
your present state as this does to your condition when asleep. In that
new sphere you will recognise that the conclusions of reason are only

This possible condition is, perhaps, that which the Sufis call “ecstasy”
(“hāl”), that is to say, according to them, a state in which, absorbed
in themselves and in the suspension of sense-perceptions, they have
visions beyond the reach of intellect. Perhaps also Death is that state,
according to that saying of the Prince of prophets: “Men are asleep;
when they die, they wake.” Our present life in relation to the future
is perhaps only a dream, and man, once dead, will see things in direct
opposition to those now before his eyes; he will then understand that
word of the Koran, “To-day we have removed the veil from thine eyes and
thy sight is keen.”

Such thoughts as these threatened to shake my reason, and I sought to
find an escape from them. But how? In order to disentangle the knot of
this difficulty, a proof was necessary. Now a proof must be based on
primary assumptions, and it was precisely these of which I was in doubt.
This unhappy state lasted about two months, during which I was, not,
it is true, explicitly or by profession, but morally and essentially a
thoroughgoing sceptic.

God at last deigned to heal me of this mental malady; my mind recovered
sanity and equilibrium, the primary assumptions of reason recovered
with me all their stringency and force. I owed my deliverance, not to a
concatenation of proofs and arguments, but to the light which God caused
to penetrate into my heart—the light which illuminates the threshold of
all knowledge. To suppose that certitude can be only based upon formal
arguments is to limit the boundless mercy of God. Some one asked the
Prophet the explanation of this passage in the Divine Book: “God opens
to Islam the heart of him whom He chooses to direct.” “That is spoken,”
replied the Prophet, “of the light which God sheds in the heart.” “And
how can man recognise that light?” he was asked. “By his detachment
from this world of illusion and by a secret drawing towards the eternal
world,” the Prophet replied.

On another occasion he said: “God has created His creatures in darkness,
and then has shed upon them His light.” It is by the help of this light
that the search for truth must be carried on. As by His mercy this light
descends from time to time among men, we must ceaselessly be on the watch
for it. This is also corroborated by another saying of the Apostle: “God
sends upon you, at certain times, breathings of His grace; be prepared
for them.”

My object in this account is to make others understand with what
earnestness we should search for truth, since it leads to results we
never dreamt of. Primary assumptions have not got to be sought for, since
they are always present to our minds; if we engage in such a search, we
only find them persistently elude our grasp. But those who push their
investigation beyond ordinary limits are safe from the suspicion of
negligence in pursuing what is within their reach.


When God in the abundance of His mercy had healed me of this malady, I
ascertained that those who are engaged in the search for truth may be
divided into three groups.

I. Scholastic theologians, who profess to follow theory and speculation.

II. The Philosophers, who profess to rely upon formal logic.

III. The Sufis, who call themselves the elect of God and possessors of
intuition and knowledge of the truth by means of ecstasy.

“The truth,” I said to myself, “must be found among these three classes
of men who devote themselves to the search for it. If it escapes them,
one must give up all hope of attaining it. Having once surrendered blind
belief, it is impossible to return to it, for the essence of such belief
is to be unconscious of itself. As soon as this unconsciousness ceases
it is shattered like a glass whose fragments cannot be again reunited
except by being cast again into the furnace and refashioned.” Determined
to follow these paths and to search out these systems to the bottom,
I proceeded with my investigations in the following order: Scholastic
theology; philosophical systems; and, finally Sufism.


Commencing with theological science, I carefully studied and meditated
upon it. I read the writings of the authorities in this department and
myself composed several treatises. I recognised that this science, while
sufficing its own requirements, could not assist me in arriving at the
desired goal. In short, its object is to preserve the purity of orthodox
beliefs from all heretical innovation. God, by means of His Apostle,
has revealed to His creatures a belief which is true as regards their
temporal and eternal interests; the chief articles of it are laid down
in the Koran and in the traditions. Subsequently, Satan suggested to
innovators principles contrary to those of orthodoxy; they listened
greedily to his suggestions, and the purity of the faith was menaced. God
then raised up a school of theologians and inspired them with the desire
to defend orthodoxy by means of a system of proofs adapted to unveil the
devices of the heretics and to foil the attacks which they made on the
doctrines established by tradition.

Such is the origin of scholastic theology. Many of its adepts, worthy of
their high calling, valiantly defended the orthodox faith by proving the
reality of prophecy and the falsity of heretical innovations. But, in
order to do so, they had to rely upon a certain number of premises, which
they accepted in common with their adversaries, and which authority and
universal consent or simply the Koran and the traditions obliged them
to accept. Their principal effort was to expose the self-contradictions
of their opponents and to confute them by means of the premises which
they had professed to accept. Now a method of argumentation like this
has little value for one who only admits self-evident truths. Scholastic
theology could not consequently satisfy me nor heal the malady from which
I suffered.

It is true that in its later development theology was not content merely
to defend dogma; it betook itself to the study of first principles,
of substances, accidents and the laws which govern them; but through
want of a thoroughly scientific basis, it could not advance far in its
researches, nor succeed in dispelling entirely the overhanging obscurity
which springs from diversities of belief.

I do not, however, deny that it has had a more satisfactory result for
others; on the contrary, I admit that it has; but it is by introducing
the principle of authority in matters which are not self-evident.
Moreover, my object is to explain my own mental attitude and not to
dispute with those who have found healing for themselves. Remedies vary
according to the nature of the disease; those which benefit some may
injure others.

       *       *       *       *       *

PHILOSOPHY.—How far it is open to censure or not—On what points its
adherents may be considered believers or unbelievers, orthodox or
heretical—What they have borrowed from the true doctrine to render their
chimerical theories acceptable—Why the minds of men swerve from the
truth—What criteria are available wherewith to separate the pure gold
from the alloy in their systems.

I proceeded from the study of scholastic theology to that of philosophy.
It was plain to me that, in order to discover where the professors of
any branch of knowledge have erred, one must make a profound study of
that science; must equal, nay surpass, those who know most of it, so as
to penetrate into secrets of it unknown to them. Only by this method
can they be completely answered, and of this method I can find no trace
in the theologians of Islam. In theological writings devoted to the
refutation of philosophy I have only found a tangled mass of phrases full
of contradictions and mistakes, and incapable of deceiving, I will not
say a critical mind, but even the common crowd. Convinced that to dream
of refuting a doctrine before having thoroughly comprehended it was like
shooting at an object in the dark, I devoted myself zealously to the
study of philosophy; but in books only and without the aid of a teacher.
I gave up to this work all the leisure remaining from teaching and from
composing works on law. There were then attending my lectures three
hundred of the students of Bagdad. With the help of God, these studies,
carried on in secret, so to speak, put me in a condition to thoroughly
comprehend philosophical systems within a space of two years. I then
spent about a year in meditating on these systems after having thoroughly
understood them. I turned them over and over in my mind till they were
thoroughly clear of all obscurity. In this manner I acquired a complete
knowledge of all their subterfuges and subtleties, of what was truth and
what was illusion in them.

I now proceed to give a resumé of these doctrines. I ascertained that
they were divided into different varieties, and that their adherents
might be ranged under diverse heads. All, in spite of their diversity,
are marked with the stamp of infidelity and irreligion, although there
is a considerable difference between the ancient and modern, between the
first and last of these philosophers, according as they have missed or
approximated to the truth in a greater or less degree.


The philosophical systems, in spite of their number and variety, may be
reduced to three: (1) The Materialists; (2) The Naturalists; (3) The

(1) _The Materialists._ They reject an intelligent and omnipotent Creator
and Disposer of the Universe. In their view the world exists from all
eternity and had no author. The animal comes from semen and semen from
the animal; so it has always been and will always be; those who maintain
this doctrine are atheists.

(2) _The Naturalists._ These devote themselves to the study of nature and
of the marvellous phenomena of the animal and vegetable world. Having
carefully analysed animal organs with the help of anatomy, struck with
the wonders of God’s work and with the wisdom therein revealed, they are
forced to admit the existence of a wise Creator Who knows the end and
purpose of everything. And certainly no one can study anatomy and the
wonderful mechanism of living things without being obliged to confess
the profound wisdom of Him Who has framed the bodies of animals and
especially of man. But carried away by their natural researches they
believed that the existence of a being absolutely depended upon the
proper equilibrium of its organism. According to them, as the latter
perishes and is destroyed, so is the thinking faculty which is bound
up with it; and as they assert that the restoration of a thing once
destroyed to existence is unthinkable, they deny the immortality of the
soul. Consequently they deny heaven, hell, resurrection, and judgment.
Acknowledging neither a recompense for good deeds nor a punishment for
evil ones, they fling off all authority and plunge into sensual pleasures
with the avidity of brutes. These also ought to be called atheists, for
the true faith depends not only on the acknowledgment of God, but of His
Apostle and of the Day of Judgment. And although they acknowledge God and
His attributes, they deny a judgment to come.

(3) Next come the _Theists_. Among them should be reckoned Socrates, who
was the teacher of Plato as Plato was of Aristotle. This latter drew up
for his disciples the rules of logic, organised the sciences, elucidated
what was formerly obscure, and expounded what had not been understood.
This school refuted the systems of the two others, i.e. the Materialists
and Naturalists; but in exposing their mistaken and perverse beliefs,
they made use of arguments which they should not. “God suffices to
protect the faithful in war” (_Koran_, xxxiii. 25).

Aristotle also contended with success against the theories of Plato,
Socrates, and the theists who had preceded him, and separated himself
entirely from them; but he could not eliminate from his doctrine the
stains of infidelity and heresy which disfigure the teaching of his
predecessors. We should therefore consider them all as unbelievers, as
well as the so-called Mussulman philosophers, such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna)
and Farabi, who have adopted their systems.

Let us, however, acknowledge that among Mussulman philosophers none
have better interpreted the doctrine of Aristotle than the latter. What
others have handed down as his teaching is full of error, confusion,
and obscurity adapted to disconcert the reader. The unintelligible can
neither be accepted nor rejected. The philosophy of Aristotle, all
serious knowledge of which we owe to the translation of these two learned
men, may be divided into three portions: the first contains matter justly
chargeable with impiety, the second is tainted with heresy, and the third
we are obliged to reject absolutely. We proceed to details:


These sciences, in relation to the aim we have set before us, may be
divided into six sections: (1) Mathematics; (2) Logic; (3) Physics; (4)
Metaphysics; (5) Politics; (6) Moral Philosophy.

Mathematics comprises the knowledge of calculation, geometry, and
cosmography: it has no connection with the religious sciences, and proves
nothing for or against religion; it rests on a foundation of proofs
which, once known and understood, cannot be refuted. Mathematics tend,
however, to produce two bad results.

The first is this: Whoever studies this science admires the subtlety and
clearness of its proofs. His confidence in philosophy increases, and he
thinks that all its departments are capable of the same clearness and
solidity of proof as mathematics. But when he hears people speak of the
unbelief and impiety of mathematicians, of their professed disregard for
the Divine Law, which is notorious, it is true that, out of regard for
authority, he echoes these accusations, but he says to himself at the
same time that, if there was truth in religion, it would not have escaped
those who have displayed so much keenness of intellect in the study of

Next, when he becomes aware of the unbelief and rejection of religion
on the part of these learned men, he concludes that to reject religion
is reasonable. How many of such men gone astray I have met whose sole
argument was that just mentioned. And supposing one puts to them the
following objection: “It does not follow that a man who excels in one
branch of knowledge excels in all others, nor that he should be equally
versed in jurisprudence, theology, and medicine. It is possible to be
entirely ignorant of metaphysics, and yet to be an excellent grammarian.
There are past masters in every science who are entirely ignorant of
other branches of knowledge. The arguments of the ancient philosophers
are rigidly demonstrative in mathematics and only conjectural in
religious questions. In order to ascertain this one must proceed to a
thorough examination of the matter.” Supposing, I say, one makes the
above objection to these “apes of unbelief,” they find it distasteful.
Falling a prey to their passions, to a besotted vanity, and the wish to
pass for learned men, they persist in maintaining the pre-eminence of
mathematicians in all branches of knowledge. This is a serious evil, and
for this reason those who study mathematics should be checked from going
too far in their researches. For though far removed as it may be from the
things of religion, this study, serving as it does as an introduction to
the philosophic systems, casts over religion its malign influence. It is
rarely that a man devotes himself to it without robbing himself of his
faith and casting off the restraints of religion.

The second evil comes from the sincere but ignorant Mussulman who thinks
the best way to defend religion is by rejecting all the exact sciences.
Accusing their professors of being astray, he rejects their theories
of the eclipses of the sun and moon, and condemns them in the name of
religion. These accusations are carried far and wide, they reach the
ears of the philosopher who knows that these theories rest on infallible
proofs; far from losing confidence in them, he believes, on the contrary,
that Islam has ignorance and the denial of scientific proofs for its
basis, and his devotion to philosophy increases with his hatred to

It is therefore a great injury to religion to suppose that the defence of
Islam involves the condemnation of the exact sciences. The religious law
contains nothing which approves them or condemns them, and in their turn
they make no attack on religion. The words of the Prophet, “The sun and
the moon are two signs of the power of God; they are not eclipsed for the
birth or the death of any one; when you see these signs take refuge in
prayer and invoke the name of God”—these words, I say, do not in any way
condemn the astronomical calculations which define the orbits of these
two bodies, their conjunction and opposition according to particular
laws. But as for the so-called tradition, “When God reveals Himself in
anything, He abases Himself thereto,” it is unauthentic, and not found in
any trustworthy collection of the traditions.

Such is the bearing and the possible danger of mathematics.

(2) _Logic._ This science, in the same manner, contains nothing for or
against religion. Its object is the study of different kinds of proofs
and syllogisms, the conditions which should hold between the premises of
a proposition, the way to combine them, the rules of a good definition,
and the art of formulating it. For knowledge consists of conceptions
which spring from a definition or of convictions which arise from proofs.
There is therefore nothing censurable in this science, and it is laid
under contribution by theologians as well as by philosophers. The only
difference is that the latter use a particular set of technical formulæ
and that they push their divisions and subdivisions further.

It may be asked, What, then, this has to do with the grave questions
of religion, and on what ground opposition should be offered to the
methods of logic? The objector, it will be said, can only inspire the
logician with an unfavourable opinion of the intelligence and faith of
his adversary, since the latter’s faith seems to be based upon such
objections. But, it must be admitted, logic is liable to abuse. Logicians
demand in reasoning certain conditions which lead to absolute certainty,
but when they touch on religious questions, they can no longer postulate
these conditions, and ought therefore to relax their habitual rigour. It
happens, accordingly, that a student who is enamoured of the evidential
methods of logic, hearing his teachers accused of irreligion, believes
that this irreligion reposes on proofs as strong as those of logic, and
immediately, without attempting the study of metaphysics, shares their
mistake. This is a serious disadvantage arising from the study of logic.

(3) _Physics._ The object of this science is the study of the bodies
which compose the universe: the sky and the stars, and, here below,
simple elements such as air, earth, water, fire, and compound
bodies—animals, plants and minerals; the reasons of their changes,
developments, and intermixture. By the nature of its researches it is
closely connected with the study of medicine, the object of which is
the human body, its principal and secondary organs, and the law which
governs their changes. Religion having no fault to find with medical
science cannot justly do so with physical, except on some special
matters which we have mentioned in the work entitled _The Destruction
of the Philosophers_. Besides these primary questions, there are some
subordinate ones depending on them, on which physical science is open
to objection. But all physical science rests, as we believe, on the
following principle: Nature is entirely subject to God; incapable of
acting by itself, it is an instrument in the hand of the Creator; sun,
moon, stars, and elements are subject to God and can produce nothing of
themselves. In a word, nothing in nature can act spontaneously and apart
from God.

(4) _Metaphysics._ This is the fruitful breeding-ground of the errors
of philosophers. Here they can no longer satisfy the laws of rigorous
argumentation such as logic demands, and this is what explains the
disputes which arise between them in the study of metaphysics. The system
most closely akin to the system of the Muhammedan doctors is that of
Aristotle as expounded to us by Farabi and Avicenna. The sum total of
their errors can be reduced to twenty propositions: three of them are
irreligious, and the other seventeen heretical. It was in order to combat
their system that we wrote the work _Destruction of the Philosophers_.
The three propositions in which they are opposed to all the doctrines of
Islam are the following:

(1) Bodies do not rise again; spirits alone will be rewarded or punished;
future punishments will be therefore spiritual and not physical. They are
right in admitting spiritual punishments, for there will be such; but
they are wrong in rejecting physical punishments, and contradicting in
this manner the assertions of the Divine Law.

(2) “God takes cognisance of universals, not of specials.” This is
manifestly irreligious. The Koran asserts truly, “Not an atom’s weight in
heaven or earth can escape His knowledge” (x. 62).

(3) They maintain that the universe exists from all eternity and will
never end.

None of these propositions have ever been admitted by Moslems.

Besides this, they deny that God has attributes, and maintain that He
knows by His essence only and not by means of any attribute accessory to
His essence. In this point they approach the doctrine of the Mutazilites,
doctrines which we are not obliged to condemn as irreligious. On the
contrary, in our work entitled _Criteria of the differences which divide
Islam from Atheism_, we have proved the wrongness of those who accuse of
irreligion everything which is opposed to their way of looking at things.

(5) _Political Science._ The professors of this confine themselves to
drawing up the rules which regulate temporal matters and the royal power.
They have borrowed their theories on this point from the books which God
has revealed to His prophets and from the sentences of ancient sages,
gathered by tradition.

(6) _Moral Philosophy._ The professors of this occupy themselves with
defining the attributes and qualities of the soul, grouping them
according to genus and species, and pointing out the way to moderate
and control them. They have borrowed this system from the Sufis. These
devout men, who are always engaged in invoking the name of God, in
combating concupiscence and following the way of God by renouncing the
pleasures of this world, have received, while in a state of ecstasy,
revelations regarding the qualities of the soul, its defects and its evil
inclinations. These revelations they have published, and the philosophers
making use of them have introduced them into their own systems in order
to embellish and give currency to their falsehoods. In the times of the
philosophers, as at every other period, there existed some of these
fervent mystics. God does not deprive this world of them, for they
are its sustainers, and they draw down to it the blessings of heaven
according to the tradition: “It is by them that you obtain rain, it is
by them that you receive your subsistence.” Such were “the Companions of
the Cave,” who lived in ancient times, as related by the Koran (xviii.).
Now this mixture of moral and philosophic doctrine with the words of the
Prophet and those of the Sufis gives rise to two dangers, one for the
upholder of those doctrines, the other for their opponent.

The danger for their opponent is serious. A narrow-minded man, finding in
their writings moral philosophy mixed with unsupported theories, believes
that he ought to entirely reject them and to condemn those who profess
them. Having only heard them from their mouth he does not hesitate in
his ignorance to declare them false because those who teach them are in
error. It is as if some one was to reject the profession of faith made
by Christians, “There is only one God and Jesus is His prophet,” simply
because it proceeds from Christians and without inquiring whether it
is the profession of this creed or the denial of Muhammed’s prophetic
mission which makes Christians infidels. Now, if they are only infidels
because of their rejection of our prophet, we are not entitled to reject
those of their doctrines which do not wear the stamp of infidelity. In
a word, truth does not cease to be true because it is found among them.
Such, however, is the tendency of weak minds: they judge the truth
according to its professors instead of judging its professors by the
standard of the truth. But a liberal spirit will take as its guide this
maxim of the Prince of believers, Ali the son of Abu Talib: “Do not seek
for the truth by means of men; find first the truth and then you will
recognise those who follow it.” This is the procedure followed by a wise
man. Once in possession of the truth he examines the basis of various
doctrines which come before him, and when he has found them true, he
accepts them without troubling himself whether the person who teaches
them is sincere or a deceiver. Much rather, remembering how gold is
buried in the bowels of the earth, he endeavours to disengage the truth
from the mass of errors in which it is engulfed. The skilled coin-assayer
plunges without hesitation his hand into the purse of the coiner of false
money, and, relying on experience, separates good coins from bad. It is
the ignorant rustic, and not the experienced assayer, who will ask why
we should have anything to do with a false coiner. The unskilled swimmer
must be kept away from the seashore, not the expert in diving. The child,
not the charmer, must be forbidden to handle serpents.

As a matter of fact, men have such a good opinion of themselves, of their
mental superiority and intellectual depth; they believe themselves so
skilled in discerning the true from the false, the path of safety from
those of error, that they should be forbidden as much as possible the
perusal of philosophic writings, for though they sometimes escape the
danger just pointed out, they cannot avoid that which we are about to

Some of the maxims found in my works regarding the mysteries of
religion have met with objectors of an inferior rank in science, whose
intellectual penetration is insufficient to fathom such depths. They
assert that these maxims are borrowed from the ancient philosophers,
whereas the truth is that they are the fruit of my own meditations, but
as the proverb says, “Sandal follows the impress of sandal.”[1] Some of
them are found in our books of religious law, but the greater part are
derived from the writings of the Sufis.

But even if they were borrowed exclusively from the doctrines of the
philosophers, is it right to reject an opinion when it is reasonable in
itself, supported by solid proofs, and contradicting neither the Koran
nor the traditions? If we adopt this method and reject every truth which
has chanced to have been proclaimed by an impostor, how many truths we
should have to reject! How many verses of the Koran and traditions of the
prophets and Sufi discourses and maxims of sages we must close our ears
to because the author of the _Treatise of the Brothers of Purity_ has
inserted them in his writings in order to further his cause, and in order
to lead minds gradually astray in the paths of error! The consequence of
this procedure would be that impostors would snatch truths out of our
hands in order to embellish their own works. The wise man, at least,
should not make common cause with the bigot blinded by ignorance.

Honey does not become impure because it may happen to have been placed in
the glass which the surgeon uses for cupping purposes. The impurity of
blood is due, not to its contact with this glass, but to a peculiarity
inherent in its own nature; this peculiarity, not existing in honey,
cannot be communicated to it by its being placed in the cupping glass;
it is therefore wrong to regard it as impure. Such is, however, the
whimsical way of looking at things found in nearly all men. Every word
proceeding from an authority which they approve is accepted by them,
even were it false; every word proceeding from one whom they suspect
is rejected, even were it true. In every case they judge of the truth
according to its professors and not of men according to the truth which
they profess, a _ne plus ultra_ of error. Such is the peril in which
philosophy involves its opponents.

The second danger threatens those who accept the opinions of the
philosophers. When, for instance, we read the treatises of the “Brothers
of purity” and other works of the same kind, we find in them sentences
spoken by the Prophet and quotations from the Sufis. We approve these
works; we give them our confidence; and we finish by accepting the errors
which they contain, because of the good opinion of them with which they
have inspired us at the outset. Thus, by insensible degrees, we are
led astray. In view of this danger the reading of philosophic writings
so full of vain and delusive utopias should be forbidden, just as the
slippery banks of a river are forbidden to one who knows not how to
swim. The perusal of these false teachings must be prevented just as one
prevents children from touching serpents. A snake-charmer himself will
abstain from touching snakes in the presence of his young child, because
he knows that the child, believing himself as clever as his father,
will not fail to imitate him; and in order to lend more weight to his
prohibition the charmer will not touch a serpent under the eyes of his

Such should be the conduct of a learned man who is also wise. But the
snake-charmer, after having taken the serpent and separated the venom
from the antidote, having put the latter on one side and destroyed the
venom, ought not to withhold the antidote from those who need it. In the
same way the skilled coin-assayer, after having put his hand in the bag
of the false coiner, taken out the good coins and thrown away the bad
ones, ought not to refuse the good to those who need and ask for it.
Such should be the conduct of the learned man. If the patient feels a
certain dislike of the antidote because he knows that it is taken from
a snake whose body is the receptacle of poison, he should be disabused
of his fallacy. If a beggar hesitates to take a piece of gold which he
knows comes from the purse of a false coiner, he should be told that his
hesitation is a pure mistake which would deprive him of the advantage
which he seeks. It should be proved to him that the contact of the good
coins with the bad does not injure the former and does not improve the
latter. In the same way the contact of truth with falsehood does not
change truth into falsehood, any more than it changes falsehood into

Thus much, then, we have to say regarding the inconveniences and dangers
which spring from the study of philosophy.


When I had finished my examination of these doctrines I applied myself
to the study of Sufism. I saw that in order to understand it thoroughly
one must combine theory with practice. The aim which the Sufis set before
them is as follows: To free the soul from the tyrannical yoke of the
passions, to deliver it from its wrong inclinations and evil instincts,
in order that in the purified heart there should only remain room for God
and for the invocation of His holy name.

As it was more easy to learn their doctrine than to practise it, I
studied first of all those of their books which contain it: _The
Nourishment of Hearts_, by Abu Talib of Mecca, the works of Hareth
el Muhasibi, and the fragments which still remain of Junaid, Shibli,
Abu Yezid Bustami and other leaders (whose souls may God sanctify). I
acquired a thorough knowledge of their researches, and I learned all
that was possible to learn of their methods by study and oral teaching.
It became clear to me that the last stage could not be reached by mere
instruction, but only by transport, ecstasy, and the transformation of
the moral being.

To define health and satiety, to penetrate their causes and conditions,
is quite another thing from being well and satisfied. To define
drunkenness, to know that it is caused by vapours which rise from the
stomach and cloud the seat of intelligence, is quite a different thing to
being drunk. The drunken man has no idea of the nature of drunkenness,
just because he is drunk and not in a condition to understand anything,
while the doctor, not being under the influence of drunkenness, knows
its character and laws. Or if the doctor fall ill, he has a theoretical
knowledge of the health of which he is deprived.

In the same way there is a considerable difference between knowing
renouncement, comprehending its conditions and causes, and practising
renouncement and detachment from the things of this world. I saw that
Sufism consists in experiences rather than in definitions, and that what
I was lacking belonged to the domain, not of instruction, but of ecstasy
and initiation.

The researches to which I had devoted myself, the path which I had
traversed in studying religious and speculative branches of knowledge,
had given me a firm faith in three things—God, Inspiration, and the Last
Judgment. These three fundamental articles of belief were confirmed
in me, not merely by definite arguments, but by a chain of causes,
circumstances, and proofs which it is impossible to recount. I saw that
one can only hope for salvation by devotion and the conquest of one’s
passions, a procedure which presupposes renouncement and detachment
from this world of falsehood in order to turn towards eternity and
meditation on God. Finally, I saw that the only condition of success was
to sacrifice honours and riches and to sever the ties and attachments of
worldly life.

Coming seriously to consider my state, I found myself bound down on all
sides by these trammels. Examining my actions, the most fair-seeming
of which were my lecturing and professorial occupations, I found to my
surprise that I was engrossed in several studies of little value, and
profitless as regards my salvation. I probed the motives of my teaching
and found that, in place of being sincerely consecrated to God, it was
only actuated by a vain desire of honour and reputation. I perceived
that I was on the edge of an abyss, and that without an immediate
conversion I should be doomed to eternal fire. In these reflections
I spent a long time. Still a prey to uncertainty, one day I decided
to leave Bagdad and to give up everything; the next day I gave up my
resolution. I advanced one step and immediately relapsed. In the morning
I was sincerely resolved only to occupy myself with the future life;
in the evening a crowd of carnal thoughts assailed and dispersed my
resolutions. On the one side the world kept me bound to my post in the
chains of covetousness, on the other side the voice of religion cried to
me, “Up! Up! thy life is nearing its end, and thou hast a long journey to
make. All thy pretended knowledge is nought but falsehood and fantasy.
If thou dost not think now of thy salvation, when wilt thou think of it?
If thou dost not break thy chains to-day, when wilt thou break them?”
Then my resolve was strengthened, I wished to give up all and flee; but
the Tempter, returning to the attack, said, “You are suffering from a
transitory feeling; don’t give way to it, for it will soon pass. If you
obey it, if you give up this fine position, this honourable post exempt
from trouble and rivalry, this seat of authority safe from attack, you
will regret it later on without being able to recover it.”

Thus I remained, torn asunder by the opposite forces of earthly passions
and religious aspirations, for about six months from the month Rajab
of the year A.D. 1096. At the close of them my will yielded and I gave
myself up to destiny. God caused an impediment to chain my tongue and
prevented me from lecturing. Vainly I desired, in the interest of my
pupils, to go on with my teaching, but my mouth became dumb. The silence
to which I was condemned cast me into a violent despair; my stomach
became weak; I lost all appetite; I could neither swallow a morsel of
bread nor drink a drop of water.

The enfeeblement of my physical powers was such that the doctors,
despairing of saving me, said, “The mischief is in the heart, and has
communicated itself to the whole organism; there is no hope unless the
cause of his grievous sadness be arrested.”

Finally, conscious of my weakness and the prostration of my soul, I took
refuge in God as a man at the end of himself and without resources. “He
who hears the wretched when they cry” (_Koran_, xxvii. 63) deigned to
hear me; He made easy to me the sacrifice of honours, wealth, and family.
I gave out publicly that I intended to make the pilgrimage to Mecca,
while I secretly resolved to go to Syria, not wishing that the Caliph
(may God magnify him) or my friends should know my intention of settling
in that country. I made all kinds of clever excuses for leaving Bagdad
with the fixed intention of not returning thither. The Imāms of Irak
criticised me with one accord. Not one of them could admit that this
sacrifice had a religious motive, because they considered my position
as the highest attainable in the religious community. “Behold how far
their knowledge goes!” (_Koran_, liii. 31). All kinds of explanations of
my conduct were forthcoming. Those who were outside the limits of Irak
attributed it to the fear with which the Government inspired me. Those
who were on the spot and saw how the authorities wished to detain me,
their displeasure at my resolution and my refusal of their request, said
to themselves, “It is a calamity which one can only impute to a fate
which has befallen the Faithful and Learning!”

At last I left Bagdad, giving up all my fortune. Only, as lands and
property in Irak can afford an endowment for pious purposes, I obtained a
legal authorisation to preserve as much as was necessary for my support
and that of my children; for there is surely nothing more lawful in the
world than that a learned man should provide sufficient to support his
family. I then betook myself to Syria, where I remained for two years,
which I devoted to retirement, meditation, and devout exercises. I only
thought of self-improvement and discipline and of purification of the
heart by prayer in going through the forms of devotion which the Sufis
had taught me. I used to live a solitary life in the Mosque of Damascus,
and was in the habit of spending my days on the minaret after closing the
door behind me.

From thence I proceeded to Jerusalem, and every day secluded myself in
the Sanctuary of the Rock.[2] After that I felt a desire to accomplish
the Pilgrimage, and to receive a full effusion of grace by visiting
Mecca, Medina, and the Tomb of the Prophet. After visiting the shrine of
the Friend of God (Abraham), I went to the Hedjāz. Finally, the longings
of my heart and the prayers of my children brought me back to my country,
although I was so firmly resolved at first never to revisit it. At any
rate I meant, if I did return, to live there solitary and in religious
meditation; but events, family cares, and vicissitudes of life changed
my resolutions and troubled my meditative calm. However irregular the
intervals which I could give to devotional ecstasy, my confidence in it
did not diminish; and the more I was diverted by hindrances, the more
steadfastly I returned to it.

Ten years passed in this manner. During my successive periods of
meditation there were revealed to me things impossible to recount. All
that I shall say for the edification of the reader is this: I learnt
from a sure source that the Sufis are the true pioneers on the path of
God; that there is nothing more beautiful than their life, nor more
praiseworthy than their rule of conduct, nor purer than their morality.
The intelligence of thinkers, the wisdom of philosophers, the knowledge
of the most learned doctors of the law would in vain combine their
efforts in order to modify or improve their doctrine and morals; it would
be impossible. With the Sufis, repose and movement, exterior or interior,
are illumined with the light which proceeds from the Central Radiance of
Inspiration. And what other light could shine on the face of the earth?
In a word, what can one criticise in them? To purge the heart of all
that does not belong to God is the first step in their cathartic method.
The drawing up of the heart by prayer is the keystone of it, as the cry
“Allahu Akbar” (God is great) is the keystone of prayer, and the last
stage is the being lost in God. I say the last stage, with reference to
what may be reached by an effort of will; but, to tell the truth, it is
only the first stage in the life of contemplation, the vestibule by which
the initiated enter.

From the time that they set out on this path, revelations commence for
them. They come to see in the waking state angels and souls of prophets;
they hear their voices and wise counsels. By means of this contemplation
of heavenly forms and images they rise by degrees to heights which human
language cannot reach, which one cannot even indicate without falling
into great and inevitable errors. The degree of proximity to Deity which
they attain is regarded by some as intermixture of being (_haloul_),
by others as identification (_ittihād_), by others as intimate union
(_wasl_). But all these expressions are wrong, as we have explained in
our work entitled _The Chief Aim_. Those who have reached that stage
should confine themselves to repeating the verse—

    What I experience I shall not try to say;
    Call me happy, but ask me no more.

In short, he who does not arrive at the intuition of these truths by
means of ecstasy, knows only the _name_ of inspiration. The miracles
wrought by the saints are, in fact, merely the earliest forms of
prophetic manifestation. Such was the state of the Apostle of God when,
before receiving his commission, he retired to Mount Hira to give himself
up to such intensity of prayer and meditation that the Arabs said:
“Muhammed is become enamoured of God.”

This state, then, can be revealed to the initiated in ecstasy, and to him
who is incapable of ecstasy, by obedience and attention, on condition
that he frequents the society of Sufis till he arrives, so to speak,
at an imitative initiation. Such is the faith which one can obtain by
remaining among them, and intercourse with them is never painful.

But even when we are deprived of the advantage of their society, we can
comprehend the possibility of this state (revelation by means of ecstasy)
by a chain of manifest proofs. We have explained this in the treatise
entitled _Marvels of the Heart_, which forms part of our work, _The
Revival of the Religious Sciences_. The certitude derived from proofs
is called “knowledge”; passing into the state we describe is called
“transport”; believing the experience of others and oral transmission is
“faith.” Such are the three degrees of knowledge, as it is written, “The
Lord will raise to different ranks those among you who have believed and
those who have received knowledge from Him” (_Koran_, lviii. 12).

But behind those who believe comes a crowd of ignorant people who deny
the reality of Sufism, hear discourses on it with incredulous irony, and
treat as charlatans those who profess it. To this ignorant crowd the
verse applies: “There are those among them who come to listen to thee,
and when they leave thee, ask of those who have received knowledge, ‘What
has he just said?’ These are they whose hearts God has sealed up with
blindness and who only follow their passions.”

Among the number of convictions which I owe to the practice of the Sufi
rule is the knowledge of the true nature of inspiration. This knowledge
is of such great importance that I proceed to expound it in detail.


The substance of man at the moment of its creation is a simple monad,
devoid of knowledge of the worlds subject to the Creator, worlds whose
infinite number is only known to Him, as the Koran says: “Only thy Lord
knoweth the number of His armies.”

Man arrives at this knowledge by the aid of his perceptions; each of his
senses is given him that he may comprehend the world of created things,
and by the term “world” we understand the different species of creatures.
The first sense revealed to man is touch, by means of which he perceives
a certain group of qualities—heat, cold, moist, dry. The sense of touch
does not perceive colours and forms, which are for it as though they did
not exist. Next comes the sense of sight, which makes him acquainted with
colours and forms; that is to say, with that which occupies the highest
rank in the world of sensation. The sense of hearing succeeds, and then
the senses of smell and taste.

When the human being can elevate himself above the world of sense,
towards the age of seven, he receives the faculty of discrimination; he
enters then upon a new phase of existence and can experience, thanks to
this faculty, impressions, superior to those of the senses, which do not
occur in the sphere of sensation.

He then passes to another phase and receives reason, by which he discerns
things necessary, possible, and impossible; in a word, all the notions
which he could not combine in the former stages of his existence. But
beyond reason and at a higher level a new faculty of vision is bestowed
upon him, by which he perceives invisible things, the secrets of the
future and other concepts as inaccessible to reason as the concepts of
reason are inaccessible to mere discrimination and what is perceived
by discrimination to the senses. Just as the man possessed only of
discrimination rejects and denies the notions acquired by reason, so do
certain rationalists reject and deny the notion of inspiration. It is a
proof of their profound ignorance; for, instead of argument, they merely
deny inspiration as a sphere unknown and possessing no real existence. In
the same way, a man blind from birth, who knows neither by experience nor
by information what colours and forms are, neither knows nor understands
them when some one speaks of them to him for the first time.

God, wishing to render intelligible to men the idea of inspiration, has
given them a kind of glimpse of it in sleep. In fact, man perceives
while asleep the things of the invisible world either clearly manifest
or under the veil of allegory to be subsequently lifted by divination.
If, however, one was to say to a person who had never himself experienced
these dreams that, in a state of lethargy resembling death and during
the complete suspension of sight, hearing, and all the senses, a man can
see the things of the invisible world, this person would exclaim, and
seek to prove the impossibility of these visions by some such argument
as the following: “The sensitive faculties are the causes of perception.
Now, if one can perceive certain things when one is in full possession of
these faculties, how much more is their perception impossible when these
faculties are suspended.”

The falsity of such an argument is shown by evidence and experience. For
in the same way as reason constitutes a particular phase of existence
in which intellectual concepts are perceived which are hidden from the
senses, similarly, inspiration is a special state in which the inner eye
discovers, revealed by a celestial light, mysteries out of the reach of
reason. The doubts which are raised regarding inspiration relate (1)
to its possibility, (2) to its real and actual existence, (3) to its
manifestation in this or that person.

To prove the possibility of inspiration is to prove that it belongs to a
category of branches of knowledge which cannot be attained by reason. It
is the same with medical science and astronomy. He who studies them is
obliged to recognise that they are derived solely from the revelation and
special grace of God. Some astronomical phenomena only occur once in a
thousand years; how then can we know them by experience?

We may say the same of inspiration, which is one of the branches of
intuitional knowledge. Further, the perception of things which are
beyond the attainment of reason is only one of the features peculiar to
inspiration, which possesses a great number of others. The characteristic
which we have mentioned is only, as it were, a drop of water in the
ocean, and we have mentioned it because people experience what is
analogous to it in dreams and in the sciences of medicine and astronomy.
These branches of knowledge belong to the domain of prophetic miracles,
and reason cannot attain to them.

As to the other characteristics of inspiration, they are only revealed
to adepts in Sufism and in a state of ecstatic transport. The little
that we know of the nature of inspiration we owe to the kind of likeness
to it which we find in sleep; without that we should be incapable of
comprehending it, and consequently of believing in it, for conviction
results from comprehension. The process of initiation into Sufism
exhibits this likeness to inspiration from the first. There is in it a
kind of ecstasy proportioned to the condition of the person initiated,
and a degree of certitude and conviction which cannot be attained by
reason. This single fact is sufficient to make us believe in inspiration.

We now come to deal with doubts relative to the inspiration of a
particular prophet. We shall not arrive at certitude on this point except
by ascertaining, either by ocular evidence or by reliable tradition, the
facts relating to that prophet. When we have ascertained the real nature
of inspiration and proceed to the serious study of the Koran and the
traditions, we shall then know certainly that Muhammed is the greatest
of prophets. After that we should fortify our conviction by verifying
the truth of his preaching and the salutary effect which it has upon the
soul. We should verify in experience the truth of sentences such as the
following: “He who makes his conduct accord with his knowledge receives
from God more knowledge”; or this, “God delivers to the oppressor him
who favours injustice”; or again, “Whosoever when rising in the morning
has only one anxiety (to please God), God will preserve him from all
anxiety in this world and the next.”

When we have verified these sayings in experience thousands of times,
we shall be in possession of a certitude on which doubt can obtain no
hold. Such is the path we must traverse in order to realise the truth
of inspiration. It is not a question of finding out whether a rod has
been changed into a serpent, or whether the moon has been split in
two.[3] If we regard miracles in isolation, without their countless
attendant circumstances, we shall be liable to confound them with magic
and falsehood, or to regard them as a means of leading men astray, as
it is written, “God misleads and directs as He chooses” (_Koran_, xxxv.
9); we shall find ourselves involved in all the difficulties which the
question of miracles raises. If, for instance, we believe that eloquence
of style is a proof of inspiration, it is possible that an eloquent style
composed with this object may inspire us with a false belief in the
inspiration of him who wields it. The supernatural should be only one of
the constituents which go to form our belief, without our placing too
much reliance on this or that detail. We should rather resemble a person
who, learning a fact from a group of people, cannot point to this or that
particular man as his informant, and who, not distinguishing between
them, cannot explain precisely how his conviction regarding the fact has
been formed.

Such are the characteristics of scientific certitude. As to the transport
which permits men to see the truth and, so to speak, to handle it, it is
only known to the Sufis. What I have just said regarding the true nature
of inspiration is sufficient for the aim which I have proposed to myself.
I may return to the subject later, if necessary.

I pass now to the causes of the decay of faith and show the means
of bringing back those who have erred and of preserving them from
the dangers which threaten them. To those who doubt because they are
tinctured with the doctrine of the Ta’limites, my treatise entitled _The
Just Balance_ affords a sufficient guide; therefore it is unnecessary to
return to the subject here.

As to the vain theories of the Ibahat, I have grouped them in seven
classes, and explained them in the work entitled _Alchemy of Happiness_.
For those whose faith has been undermined by philosophy, so far that they
deny the reality of inspiration, we have proved the truth and necessity
of it, seeking our proofs in the hidden properties of medicines and of
the heavenly bodies. It is for them that we have written this treatise,
and the reason for our seeking for proofs in the sciences of medicine
and of astronomy is because these sciences belong to the domain of
philosophy. All those branches of knowledge which our opponents boast
of—astronomy, medicine, physics, and divination—provide us with arguments
in favour of the Prophet.

As to those who, professing a lip-faith in the Prophet, adulterate
religion with philosophy, they really deny inspiration, since in their
view the Prophet is only a sage whom a superior destiny has appointed as
guide to men, and this view belies the true nature of inspiration. To
believe in the Prophet is to admit that there is above intelligence a
sphere in which are revealed to the inner vision truths beyond the grasp
of intelligence, just as things seen are not apprehended by the sense of
hearing, nor things understood by that of touch. If our opponent denies
the existence of such a higher region, we can prove to him, not only
its possibility, but its actuality. If, on the contrary, he admits its
existence, he recognises at the same time that there are in that sphere
things which reason cannot grasp; nay, which reason rejects as false and
absurd. Suppose, for instance, that the fact of dreams occurring in sleep
were not so common and notorious as it is, our wise men would not fail to
repudiate the assertion that the secrets of the invisible world can be
revealed while the senses are, so to speak, suspended.

Again, if it were to be said to one of them, “Is it possible that there
is in the world a thing as small as a grain, which being carried into a
city can destroy it and afterwards destroy itself so that nothing remains
either of the city or of itself?” “Certainly,” he would exclaim, “it is
impossible and ridiculous.” Such, however, is the effect of fire, which
would certainly be disputed by one who had not witnessed it with his own
eyes. Now, the refusal to believe in the mysteries of the other life is
of the same kind.

As to the fourth cause of the spread of unbelief—the decay of faith owing
to the bad example set by learned men—there are three ways of checking it.

(1) One can answer thus: “The learned man whom you accuse of disobeying
the divine law knows that he disobeys, as you do when you drink wine or
exact usury or allow yourself in evil-speaking, lying, and slander. You
know your sin and yield to it, not through ignorance, but because you
are mastered by concupiscence. The same is the case with the learned
man. How many believe in doctors who do not abstain from fruit and cold
water when strictly forbidden them by a doctor! That does not prove that
those things are not dangerous, or that their faith in the doctor was not
solidly established. Similar errors on the part of learned men are to be
imputed solely to their weakness.”

(2) Or again, one may say to a simple and ignorant man: “The learned man
reckons upon his knowledge as a viaticum for the next life. He believes
that his knowledge will save him and plead in his favour, and that his
intellectual superiority will entitle him to indulgence; lastly, that if
his knowledge increases his responsibility, it may also entitle him to
a higher degree of consideration. All that is possible; and even if the
learned man has neglected practice, he can at any rate produce proofs
of his knowledge. But you, poor, witless one, if, like him, you neglect
practice, destitute as you are of knowledge, you will perish without
anything to plead in your favour.”

(3) Or one may answer, and this reason is the true one: “The truly
learned man only sins through carelessness, and does not remain in a
state of impenitence. For real knowledge shows sin to be a deadly poison,
and the other world to be superior to this. Convinced of this truth, man
ought not to exchange the precious for the vile. But the knowledge of
which we speak is not derived from sources accessible to human diligence,
and that is why progress in mere worldly knowledge renders the sinner
more hardened in his revolt against God.

True knowledge, on the contrary, inspires in him who is initiate in it
more fear and more reverence, and raises a barrier of defence between
him and sin. He may slip and stumble, it is true, as is inevitable with
one encompassed by human infirmity, but these slips and stumbles will not
weaken his faith. The true Moslem succumbs occasionally to temptation,
but he repents and will not persevere obstinately in the path of error.

       *       *       *       *       *

I pray God the Omnipotent to place us in the ranks of His chosen, among
the number of those whom He directs in the path of safety, in whom
He inspires fervour lest they forget Him; whom He cleanses from all
defilement, that nothing may remain in them except Himself; yea, of those
whom He indwells completely, that they may adore none beside Him.


[1] _I.e._ There is nothing new under the sun.

[2] In the Mosque of Omar.

[3] A miracle ascribed to Muhammed.

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