Al-Ghazali letter to Ibn Ul Amil
To Ibn Ul Amil,
Thank you very much for your letter containing many things about the spiritual world and the knowledge of Allah, and your sincere faith in Him. I pray to Allah that He may enable you to dig still deeper for the hidden pearls of your heart so that you may become sensitive to spiritual suggestions and have a quick insight into religious questions. The knowledge which provides us with things other than the fulfillment of the commands of Allah and His Messenger, praise and peace be upon him, is harmful to its possessor. Our Holy Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, said: "Whosoever is granted the maximum of knowledge, but is deprived of proper guidance, stands poles apart from Allah."
The guiding knowledge leads you from the creatures to the Creator, from this world to the next, from pride to humility, from greed to piety, from hypocrisy to sincerity, from doubt to truth, from the slavery of those who live a life of luxury to the doctrines of the mystics. Many people think that he who is busy acquiring religious knowledge also walks along the true path. Actually, this is not so, which is indeed a pity. It is record in Sahihain that our Holy Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, said: "The Wrath of Allah will descend upon those who seek knowledge of Allah with a view to thereby gaining worldly ends." The trouble with the learned is that they do not realize that to hoard knowledge is more dangerous than the accumulation of wealth, for wealth is intended for use in this world and is exclusively meant for the well being of mankind on this planet, but religious knowledge is devoted purely to religion and the heart of religion is always to be found in close contact with Allah in the fathomless depths of the inner life. If it is exploited to serve our personal ends in this life, it contributes to the gravest of sins. Some of the sages observed: "The hardest people in the world to debate with are those who seek religion through such illicit means which are meant for those seeking themselves or their own things."
As a matter of fact, this world is a means and the next, an end. Woe to he who sells religion for worldly gain. This world is an agent and a servant, and the next is the master and the ruler. They are obstinate fools who suppose that the master is a servant and vice versa. You cannot alter Divine principles, nor rebel against the established doctrines by finding fault with His will. Natural laws do not change, though to a certain degree they appear to assume a changed form in this world which is like a fast-fading shadow, because matter, while admitting reflection which it cannot resist, takes the false appearance of motion.
The world of matter and all in it is but a dream, compared to the awakening which will come to man on his deathbed. The moment he closes his eyes, the next world and the meaning of the mysterious realities are unveiled to him. Every quality assumes a bodily shape and every man becomes an animal according to the ruling passion of his earthly life. This idea is expressed in the words of this hadith. "My nation will in the eternal life, rise up in groups - that is, some as apes, some as tigers, and some as pigs etc. At that time men who earned their worldly livelihood at the cost of their religious knowledge will fall into such deep abasement that it would seem to them reasonable that all creatures in heaven and earth should rise up against them. A Divine voice will cry: 'Therefore, we have now removed your covering. Today your sight is sharp.' Koran, Chapter 50 verse 22."
This situation is further explained in the following words of the Holy Koran: "Would that you could see the wrongdoers when they hang their heads before their Lord! They will say: 'Our Lord, we have now seen and heard. Send us back and we will do deeds of righteousness.'" Koran, Chapter 32 verse 12.
Again a Divine voice will reply: "'What, did We not make your lives long enough to remember in for whosoever would remember? A warner came to you, so taste now! None shall help the harm-doer.'" Koran, Chapter 35 verse 37.
The Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, warned: "The thing to be most afraid of and which I am afraid of in respect of my followers is the evil learned man." Evil, learned men will have to endure endless suffering and sorrow. Learned men can be grouped into three categories:
- First: Those who are ignorant and profane. They are possessed of a kind of learning which is not knowledge, and they neither care for, nor desire the eternal truth which is known by experience. In the Koran they are described: "They are those whose hearts, hearing and sight are sealed by Allah; they are the heedless. In the Everlasting Life, they shall assuredly by the losers." Koran, Chapter 16 verses 108 - 109.
- Second, those whose immediate feelings have no content, and who sit holding their heads in their hands and deeply meditate upon their grief for not having done good deeds.
Third, those who guard the way of the ancient Muslims and their illustrious men who were the companions of the Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, as the true path to the ultimate goal - the attainment of the nearness to Allah and final peace in the beautiful vision. When the final nearness is attained their souls become absorbed in the Divinity. Blessed are the eyes that have seen them or those who have seen them. You do not know how fervently I wish I could see them with my own eyes. The following verse in the Koran refers to these three groups: "Among them, is he who was harmful to himself, and some who minimize, and some, by the permission of Allah, race in charity, that is the greatest virtue." Koran, Chapter 35 verse 32.
I pray to Allah to enlist us among the most sincere of His worshipers, and save us from the fraud of those who indulge in worldly pleasures.
- Your sincerely
- Al Ghazali