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Abu Hamid Muhammad Ghazali: The gnostics climb up from the lowlands of metaphor

Abu Hamid Muhammad Ghazali: The gnostics climb up from the lowlands of metaphor
Photo: A Celebration in Mostaganem, Alegria in 1925 with the presence of the Sufi sage and founder of the Darqawiyya Alawiyya order Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi (top far left).



The gnostics climb up from the lowlands of metaphor to the highlands of reality, and they perfect their ascent. Then they see by direct eye-witnessing that there is none in existence save God and that Everything is perishing but His face. Not that each thing comes to perish at one time rather than another, but rather that it is perishing from eternity without beginning to eternity without end. It cannot be conceived of in any other way. After all, when the essence of anything other than He is considered in respect of its own essence, it is sheer nonexistence. But when it is considered in terms of the face to which existence flows forth from the First, the Real, then it is seen as existing – not in itself, but through the face toward its Giver of Existence. Hence the only existent is the Face of God.

So, each thing has two faces – a face toward itself, and a face toward its Lord. Considered in terms of the face of itself, it is nonexistent, but considered in terms of the face of God, it exists. Hence, there is no existent but God and His face. Therefore, Everything is perishing but His face from eternity without beginning to eternity without end.

(Abu Hamid Muhammad Ghazali)




Recommended Reading:

'Al-Ghazali on Disciplining the Soul and on Breaking the Two Desires: Books XXII and XXIII of the Revival of the Religious Sciences'
by Abu Hamid Muhammad Ghazali (Author), T. J. Winter (Translator)

Purchase Book:


The spiritual life in Islam begins with riyadat al-nafs, the inner warfare against the ego. Distracted and polluted by worldliness, the lower self has a tendency to drag the human creature down into arrogance and vice. Only by a powerful effort of will can the sincere worshipper achieve the purity of soul which enables him to attain God's proximity.

This translation of two chapters from The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din) details the sophisticated spiritual techniques adopted by classical Islam. In the first step, On Disciplining the Soul, which cites copious anecdotes from the Islamic scriptures and biographies of the saints, Ghazali explains how to acquire good character traits, and goes on to describe how the sickness of the heart may be cured. In the second part, Breaking the Two Desires, he focusses on the question of gluttony and sexual desire, concluding, in the words of the Prophet, that 'the best of all matters is the middle way'.  

The translator has added an introduction and notes which explore Ghazali's ability to make use of Greek as well as Islamic ethics. The work will prove of special interest to those interested in Sufi mysticism, comparative ethics, and the question of sexuality in Islam.



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