History of the Saracens/Life of Mohammed/Part III

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History of the Saracens by Al-Ghazali, translated by Edward Pocock
Life of Mohammed, Part III

As an illustration of the Mohammedan Creed and Practice I have thought it advisable to insert their famous Doctor Algazáli’s[1] interpretation of the Two Articles of their Faith, viz.:—“There is no God but God; Mohammed is the Apostle of God.”

Praise be to God the Creator and Restorer of all things: who does whatsoever he pleases, who is master of the glorious throne and mighty force, and directs his sincere servants into the right way and the straight path; who favoureth them, who have once borne testimony to the unity, by preserving their confessions from the darkness of doubt and hesitation; who directs them to follow his chosen apostle, upon whom be the blessing and peace of God; and to go after his most honourable companions, to whom be hath vouchsafed his assistance and direction which is revealed to them in his essence and operations by the excellences of his attributes, to the knowledge whereof no man attains but he that hath been taught by hearing. To these, as torching his essence, he maketh known that he is ONE, and hath no partner: singular, without anything like him uniform, having no contrary: separate, having no equal. He is ancient, having no first: eternal, having no beginning: remaining for ever, having no end: continuing to eternity, without any termination. He persists, without ceasing to be; remains without failing, and never did cease, nor ever shall cease to be described by glorious attributes, nor is subject to any decree so as to be determined by any precise limits or set times, but is the First and the Last, and is within and without.
  • What God is not.] He (glorified be his name) is not a body endued with form, nor a substance circumscribed with limits or determined by measure; neither does he resemble bodies, as they are capable of being measured or divided. Neither is he a substance, neither do substances exist in him; neither is he an accident, nor do accidents exist in him. Neither is he like to any thing that exists, neither is anything like to him; nor is he determinate in quantity nor comprehended by bounds, nor circumscribed by the differences of situation nor contained in the heavens. He sits upon the throne, after that manner which he himself hath described, and in that same sense which he himself means, which is a sitting far removed from any notion of contact, or resting upon, or local situation; but both the throne itself, and whatsoever is upon it, are sustained by the goodness of his power, and are subject to the grasp of his hand. But he is above the throne, and above all things, even to the utmost ends of the earth; but so above as at the same time not to be a whit nearer the throne and the heaven; since he is exalted by (infinite) degrees above the throne no less than he is exalted above the earth, and at the same time is near to every thing that hath a being; nay,[2] nearer to men than their jugular veins, and is witness to every thing though his nearness is not like the nearness of bodies, as neither is his essence like the essence of bodies. Neither doth he exist in any thing, neither doth any thing exist in him; but he is too high to be contained in any place, and too holy to be determined by time; for he was before time and place were created, and is now after the same manner as he always was. He is also distinct from the creatures by his attributes, neither is there any thing besides himself in his essence, nor is his essence in any other besides him. He is too holy to be subject to change, or any local motion; neither do any accidents dwell in him nor any contingencies befall him, but he abides through all generations with his glorious attributes, free from all danger of dissolution. As to the attribute of perfection, he wants no addition of his perfection. As to being, he is known to exist by the apprehension of the understanding; and he is seen as he is by an ocular intuition, which will be vouchsafed out of his mercy and grace to the holy in the eternal mansion, completing their joy by the vision of his glorious presence.
  • His Power.] He, praised be his name, is living, powerful, mighty, omnipotent, not liable to any defect or impotence; neither slumbering nor sleeping, nor being obnoxious to decay or death. To him belongs the kingdom, and the power, and the might. His is the dominion, and the excellency, and the creation, and the command thereof. The heavens are folded up in his right hand, and all creatures are couched within his grasp. His excellency consists in his creating and producing, and his unity in communicating existence and a beginning of being. He created men and their works, and measured out their maintenance and their determined times. Nothing that is possible can escape his grasp, nor can the vicissitudes of things elude his power. The effects of his might are innumerable, and the objects of his knowledge infinite.
  • His Knowledge.] He, praised be his name, knows all things that can be understood, and comprehends whatsoever comes to pass, from the extremities of the earth to the highest heavens, even the weight of a pismire could not escape him either in earth or heaven; but he would perceive the creeping of the black pismire in the dark night upon the hard stone, and discern the motion of an atom in the open air. He knows what is secret and conceals it, and views the conceptions of the minds, and the motions of the thoughts, and the inmost recesses of secrets, by a knowledge ancient and eternal, that never ceased to be his attribute from eternal eternity, and not by any new knowledge, superadded to his essence, either inhering or adventitious.
  • His Will.] He, praised be his name, doth will those things to be, that are, and disposes of all accidents. Nothing passes in the empire, nor the kingdom, neither little nor much, nor small nor great, nor good nor evil, nor profitable nor hurtful, nor faith nor infidelity, nor knowledge nor ignorance, nor .prosperity nor adversity, nor increase nor decrease, nor obedience nor rebellion, but by his determinate counsel and decree, and his definite sentence and will. Nor doth the wink of him that seeth, nor the subtlety of him that thinketh, exceed the bounds of his will; but it is he who gave all things their beginning; he is the creator and restorer, the sole operator of what he pleases; there is no reversing his decree nor delaying what he hath determined, nor is there any refuge to man from his rebellion against him, but only his help and mercy; nor hath any man any power to perform any duty towards him, but through his love and will. Though men and genii, angels and devils, should conspire together either to put one single atom in motion, or cause it to cease its motion, without his will and approbation they would not be able to do it. His will subsists in his essence amongst the rest of his attributes, and was from eternity one of his eternal attributes, by which he willed from eternity the existence of those things that he had decreed, which were produced in their proper seasons according to his eternal will, without any before or after, and in agreement both with his knowledge and will, and not by methodising of thoughts, nor waiting for a proper time, for which reason no one thing is in him a hindrance from another.
  • His Hearing and Sight.] And he, praised be his name, is hearing and seeing, and heareth and seeth. No[3] audible object, how still soever, escapeth his hearing; nor is anything visible so small as to escape his sight; for distance is no hindrance to his hearing, nor darkness to his sight. He sees without pupil or eyelids, and hears without any passage or ear, even as he knoweth without a heart, and performs his actions without the assistance of any corporeal limb, and creates without any instrument, for his attributes (or properties) are not like those of men, any more than his essence is like theirs.
  • His Word.] Furthermore, he doth speak, command, forbid, promise, and threaten by an eternal, ancient word subsisting in his essence. Neither is it like to the word of the creatures, nor doth it consist in a voice arising from the commotion of the air and the collision of bodies, nor letters which are separated by the joining together of the lips or the motion of the ttongue. The Koran, the Law, the Gospel, and the Psalter, are books sent down by him to his apostles, and the Koran, indeed, is read with tongues, written in books, and kept in hearts; yet as subsisting in the essence of God, it it doth not become liable to separation and division whilst it is transferred into the hearts and the papers. Thus Moses also heard the word of God without voice or letter, even as the saints behold the essence of God without substance or accident. And that since these are his attributes, he liveth and knoweth, is powerful and willeth and operateth, and seeth and speaketh, by life and knowledge, and will and hearing, and sight and word, not by his simple essence.
  • His Works.] He, praised be his name, exists after such a manner that nothing besides him hath any being but what is produced by his operation, and floweth from his justice after the best, most excellent, most perfect, and most just model. He is, moreover, wise in his works, and just in his decrees. But his justice is not to be compared with the justice of men. For a man may be supposed to act unjustly by invading the possession of another; but no injustice can be conceived of God, inasmuch as there is nothing that belongs to any other besides himself, so that wrong is not imputable to him as meddling with things not appertaining to him. All things, himself only excepted, genii, men, the devil, angels, heaven, earth, animals, plants, substance, accident, intelligible, sensible, were all created originally by him. He created them by his power out of mere privation, and brought them into light, when as yet they were nothing at all, but he alone existing from eternity, neither was there any other with him. Now he created all things in the beginning for the manifestation of his power, and his will, and the confirmation of his word, which was true from all eternity. Not that he stood in need of them, nor wanted them.; but he manifestly declared his glory in creating, and producing, and commanding, without being under any obligation, nor out of necessity. Loving kindness, and to show favour, and grace, and beneficence, belong to him; whereas it is in his power to pour forth upon men a variety of torments, and afflict them with various kinds of sorrows and diseases, which, if he were to do, his justice could not be arraigned, nor would he be chargeable with injustice. Yet he rewards those that worship him for their obedience on account of his promise and beneficence, not of their merit nor of necessity, since there is nothing which he can be tied to perform; nor can any injustice be supposed in him, nor can he be under any obligation to any person whatsoever. That his creatures, however, should be bound to serve him, ariseth from his having declared by the tongues of the prophets that it was due to him from them. The worship of him is not simply the dictate of the understanding, but he sent messengers to carry to men his commands, and promises, and threats, whose veracity he proved by manifest miracles, whereby men are obliged to give credit to them in those things that they relate.
The signification of the second article; that is, the Testimony concerning the apostle.[4]]—he, the Most High, sent Mohammed, the illiterate prophet of the family of the Koreish, to deliver his message to all the Arabians, and barbarians, and genii, and men; and abrogated by his religion all other religions, except in those things which he confirmed; and gave him the pre-eminence over all the rest of the prophets, and made him lord over all mortal men. Neither is the faith, according to his will, complete by the testimony of the Unity alone; that is, by simply saying, There is but One God, without the addition of the testimony of the apostle; i. e. without the further testimony, Mohammed is the apostle of God. And he hath made it necessary to men to give credit to Mohammed in those things which he hath related, both with regard to this present world and the life to come. For a man’s faith is not accepted till he is fully persuaded of those things which the prophet hath affirmed shall be after death. The first of these is the examination of Munkir and Nakir. These are two angels, of a most terrible and fearful aspect, who shall place [every] man upright in his grave, consisting again both of soul and body, and ask him concerning the Unity and the mission [of the apostle], saying, Who is thy Lord? and, What is thy religion? and. Who is thy prophet? For these are the searchers of the grave, and their examination the first trial after death. Every one must also believe the torment of the sepulchre, and that it is due, and right, and just, both upon the body and the sot., being according to the will of God.
He shall also believe in the balance with two scales and a beam, that shall equal the extent of the heavens and the earth; wherein the works [of men] shall be weighed by the power of God. At which time weights not heavier than atoms, or mustard-seeds, shall be brought out, that things may be balanced with the utmost exactness, and perfect justice administered. Then the books of the good works, beautiful to behold, shall be cast into the balance of light, by which the balance shall be depressed according to their degrees, out of the favour of God. But the books of evil deeds, nasty to look upon, shall be cast into the balance of darkness, with which the scale shall lightly ascend by the justice of the most high God.
He must also believe that there is a real way, extended over the middle of hell, which is sharper than a sword and finer than a hair, over which all must pass. In this passage of it, while the feet of the infidels, by the decree of God, shall slip, so as they shall fall into hell-fire, the feet of the faithful shall never stumble, but they shall arrive safely into the eternal habitation.
He shall also believe the pond where they go down to be watered, that is the pond of Mohammed (upon whom be the blessing and peace of God), out of which the faithful, after they have passed the way, drink before they enter into paradise; and out of which whosoever once drinketh shall thirst no more for ever. Its breadth is a mouth’s journey, it is whiter than milk, and sweeter than honey. Round about it stand cups as innumerable as the stars, and it hath two canals, by which the waters of the [ever] Canthar flow into it.
He shall also believe the [last] account, in which men shall be divided into those that shall be reckoned withal with the utmost strictness, and those that shall be dealt withal more favourably, and those that shall be admitted into paradise without any manner of examination at all; namely, those whom God shall cause to approach near to himself. Moreover, he shall believe that God will ask any of his apostles, whomsoever he shall please, concerning their mission; of the infidels, and whomsoever he shall please, what was the reason why, by their unbelief, they accused those that were sent to them of lying. He will also examine the heretics concerning tradition, and the faithful concerning their good works.
He shall also believe that all who confess one God shall, upon the intercession of the prophets, next of the doctors, then of the martyrs, and finally of the rest of the faithful (that is, every one according to his excellency and degree), at length go out of the fire after they have undergone the punishment due to their sins.
And if besides these remain any of the faithful, having no intercessor, they shall go out by the grace of God; neither shall any one of the faithful remain for ever in hell, but shall go out from thence though ire had but so much faith in his heart as the weight of an atom. And thus, by the favourable mercy of God, no person shall remain in hell who in life acknowledge the unity of the Godhead.
It is also necessary that every true believer acknowledge the excellency of the companions [of Mohammed] and their degrees; and that the most excellent of men, next to Mohammed, is Abubeker, then Omar, then Othman, and then Ali. Moreover, he must entertain a good opinion of all the companions, and celebrate their memories, according as God and his apostle hath celebrated them. And all these things are received by tradition, and evinced by evident tokens; and he that confesseth all these thing, and surely believeth them, is to be reckoned amongst the number of those that embrace truth, and of the congregation of those that walk in the received way, separated from the congregation of those that err, and the company of heretics.
These are the things that every one is obliged to believe and confess that would be accounted worthy of the name of a Mussulman; and that, according to the literal meaning of the words, not as they may be made capable of any sounder sense; for, says the author of this Exposition, some pretending to go deeper, have put an interpretation upon those things that are delivered concerning the world to come, such as the balance, and the way, and some other things besides, but it is heresy.[5]

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. Vide Pocock, Specimen Historiæ Arabum. p. 274.
  2. Koran.
  3. We are not to understand those words, audible, visible, as if it were necessary the things so designated should be so to us, but only in their own, nature.
  4. Mohammed is the apostle of God.
  5. Vide Pocock, p. 222, Spec. Hist. Arab.