Saturday, March 13, 2010

Virtues Based on Islamic Religious Tradition & Al-Ghazali (1058-1111, Tus, Khorasan)

Mohamed Ahmed Sherif (1975)

Al-Ghazali (1058 - 1111, Tus, Khorasan)'s declaration that his search for the truth ended by adopting mysticism confirms the view that ethics is a central theme in his writings.

In his view, the ultimate end of mysticism is the vision of God in the hereafter, and he regards this as belonging to the knowledge of revelation ('ilm al-mukāshafah) which cannot be expressed or laid down in writing. What can be expressed, however, is the knowledge of devotional practice ('ilm al-mu'āmalah) which shows the novice how to reach the ultimate goal.

This, in turn, comes about through refinement of the soul, which consists in purifying the soul of bad character traits and acquiring noble ones. The process of acquiring good character traits is continued by the novice until he attains love of God in this life which prepares him for the vision of God in the hereafter.

Therefore, the core of Ghazali's mystical doctrine can ultimately be derived from his ethical teaching.

In addition to his attempt to explain certain aspects of the mystical virtues in terms of philosophic concepts, Ghazali deals with these virtues as essentially based on the Islamic religious tradition.

In his view, and in the view of his major Sufi source, al-Makkī, these mystical virtues are nothing but the interpretation of the hidden meanings of the divine commandments; the only difference between these and the religious legal virtues extracted from the external meanings of the divine commandments is the fact that the former are for the few, whereas the latter are for the many.

We have mentioned in the beginning of this chapter that, in selecting material for his mystical virtues, Ghazali singles out those mystics known for their effort to reconcile mysticism with Islamic teachings. He, in turn, tries to synthesize the mystical and Islamic traditions by showing that mystical virtues admit of degrees of excellence. The lower degrees are usually assigned to pious religious men, whereas the higher degrees can only be acquired by the mystics; it is to these higher degrees that the term mystical virtue most properly applies.

Imam Ghazali's (may Allah sanctify his soul) accomplishments cover many diverse fields of learning: Islamic jurisprudence, dialectical theology, philosophy, and mysticism and because of his manifold interests students of Islamic thought differ sharply as to his greatest achievement. Some regard him as a dialectical theologian who put an end to philosophy in the Muslim East and even consider him its chief executioner. Some regard him as a jurist, although others deny him this status on the grounds that his teachings violate the strictly established rules agreed upon by Muslim jurists. Others see Imam Ghazali as a philosopher at heart who articulated his philosophy in Islamic terminology, and many agree that he was a great champion of mysticism, pointing to his avowed pride in regarding himself a follower of the mystic path.

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Dr. Mohamed Ahmed Al-Sharif was born in Sallum, Libya, in 1937. He received his BA in Philosophy from the Faculty of Arts and Education, Libyan University, in 1960, his MA in Philosophy of Ethics from the University of Chicago in 1963, and his PhD in Philosophy in 1971. Dr. Mohamed Ahmed Al-Sharif is the Secretary of the World Islamic Call Society, Tripoli, since 1980.

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