Al-Ghazali letter to all those who wishing to achieve a peaceful and pious life
To all those who wishing to achieve a peaceful and pious life,
One has to cross many difficult stages and surmount apparently insurmountable difficulties before one attains to spiritual height by completing one's onward march.
The most important of these stages could be summed up in a few words: Social affair and gnosis.
Social affair is an introduction to gnosis and begins with eating a mouthful of simple food earned by halal labor and ends in the sincerity of one's actions and deeds. When this stage is reached the chapter on gnosis written by the pen of Allah in His own Book flashes before our sight and we find that the chapter is entitled: "There is no god except Allah."
The Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, said: "The first words which Allah wrote in His first Book were: "There is no god except Me, My Kindness/Mercy exceeds My Anger."
The chapter on social affairs also bears the same words, but since it covers only one aspect of faith, it cannot reflect the virtues contained in gnosis. It is unwise to give a detailed account of gnosis, for the more one seeks words to express it, the more one feels the impossibility of describing the thing by any of our usual images. A hint of this connection may be of some use to those who are interested.
Gnosis or ma'rifat is knowledge given in ecstasy peculiar to saints who behold Allah with their hearts. This knowledge differs altogether from intellectual and traditional knowledge. On the other hand, the more one seeks to discuss social affairs in detail the more one feels it is easily understood by listeners, and as such it is beneficial to them. I have already said that social affairs start with eating a mouthful of halal-earned food. There are four kinds of piety and devotion meant for those who eat halal food.
One in which the observance of justice is essential. According to the verdict of religious teachers, pious people are required to avoid forbidden things. Another in which good people are not misled by doubt, even though these doubts are not declared illicit by Islamic Law. The Holy Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, said to several of his companions: "In spite of the verdict of the muftis is your favor, always turn to your own conscience for a legal decision." He also said: "Completely abandon that which is doubtful and choose that which you do not suspect."
This kind of piety is not obligatory. It is an optional virtue and contributes to one's moral progress.
The first kind signifies the devotional spirit of the worshipper. The Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, said: "Man cannot become pious unless he fears that even legitimate and harmless objects might lead him to trouble if he does not avoid them."
This is the reason my Hadrat Abu Bakr Siddiq, may Allah be pleased with him, used to place stones on his mouth to hold his tongue so that he might avoid risking saying something which may not be very desirable or of falling into a sin of which he was not aware.
It so happened that once Hadrat Umar bin Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, smelt some musk lying in the government treasury. He touched it and it perfumed one of his fingers. He washed his fingers continuously and then rubbed them on the ground so that the fragrance would at last be removed completely. Although there was no harm in it, he feared that if he indulged in strong smelling substances he might commit the sin of excessive smelling.
The fourth kind relates to the piety of the true believers who abstain from the world and its wickedness and whose minds' eye perceive the vision of beauty of the presence which at one glance fills their minds to the exclusion of all other objects. If they eat, they eat for the sake of Allah, if they drink they drink for the sake of Allah, if they speak, they speak for the sake of Allah, if they live, they live for the sake of Allah - all their affairs are from Allah, in Allah and by Allah. Allah said: "My worshipper draws near to Me by means of voluntary righteous acts, and I love him; and when I love him, I am his ear, so that he hears by Me, and his eye, so that he sees by Me and his tongue, so that he speaks by Me and his hand so that he takes by Me."
Those who receive guidance from the chapter entitle "Social Affairs" are divided into three types as explained by Allah in the verse: "Then, We gave the Book as an inheritance to those of our worshippers whom We chose." Koran, Chapter 35 verse 32.
Those who acquire the virtue of administering justice on a contemplative basis and follow the right middle course between two extremes.
Those who do not appreciate the value of piety and avoid the performance of duty towards their fellow-men belong to the category of tyrants, and serious afflictions will be dispensed to them.
Those who rise higher and enjoy the rank equivalent to that of the early Muslims. In this age of ours it seems impossible that one could belong to their category, though it is earnestly hoped that the people who can fulfil the conditions laid down for the pious and the just could be raised to this high rank, as explained by the Holy Prophet, praise and peace be upon him: "The day is not far off when people who get one tenth of your portion will attain salvation." When his companions inquired how this would be possible he replied: "For you help others to do good deeds."
It is wrong to think that money earned by farmers or businessmen is always legitimate and that the one who makes use of such money is entitled to the rank enjoyed by the early Muslims. It is also incorrect to believe that people in the employ of the Government, who receive pay and emoluments are tyrants, for the money earned by the businessman is inter-mixed, and as such it requires a thorough process of analysis, before it could be properly made use of.
Similarly the large fortune at the disposal of kings also requires thorough scrutiny and careful investigation. Seen from this point of view a king hoards three kinds of wealth:
- Money taken from some one by force.
- Money collected from his subjects on account of a fine or penalty.
- Money realized from subjects on account of tax and revenue at exorbitant rates.
The above mentioned types of wealth are forbidden.
Those kings and sultans are, of course, usurpers and tyrants who accumulate such wealth and do not return it to their rightful owners.
There is a kind of money which is quite legitimate. This is the price of grain grown on one's own farm and disposed of. The goods on money stolen or taken away from others by brute force is illegitimate. The verdict of the Islamic Law is quite clear about this. The one who is in possession of such goods or money should distribute it among the needy, dervishes, or contribute it towards the welfare of the society. It must not be left in the hands of usurpers who will certainly misuse it and disturb social justice. If the owner of the money is a dervish, he should use as much of it as he is surely in need of. And if he is a rich man, he should not spend a single penny, but should contribute it towards the national reconstruction or the relief of the poor and needy. If this rich man is really in need of some money, he is allowed to take as much of it as is required to meet the bare necessities of his family. So and so has stayed several years in a hermitage near my home, he bears a good moral character and has discarded his worldly life for the sake of his life in the Hereafter. If a man is too poor to support his family and wants to be benefited by the sultans' voluntary charity or charitable endowments, he ought to secure a favorable religious verdict on this subject, and avail himself of the concession of the approval of a competent authority.
It is very difficult to subject one's self to a religious verdict of balance in these hard times and discover whether he and his family really stand in need of financial help from the Government. If there is such a poor man he deserves to be looked after instead of being deprived of monetary assistance due to him. Therefore it is incumbent on so and so to seek the help of his Muslim brethren and other shaykhs, who will certainly extend their helping hands to relieve him from his financial distress.
The peace of Allah be upon His Holy Prophet, who is the Head and Chief of His Messengers.
- Yours sincerely
- Al Ghazali