The Foundations of the Islamic Belief
-Al Ghazali

Chapter 2: The Graduation of Guidance and Classification of the Stages of Belief

You should know that what we have already mentioned under The Exposition of the Creed should be presented to children in their early years in order that they may commit it to memory. Its meaning will continue to be unfolded before them little by little as they grow older.

The first step is to commit it to memory, after which comes understanding, then belief, then certainty and realization, all of which are ingrained in the child without proof.

Allah - the Exalted - from His Virtue over the heart of the human being has widened it by preparing the heart from the beginning for belief without the need for any argument or proof.

How can this be denied when all the articles of faith of the people are based upon pure repetition and imitation.

Yes, a belief which results from pure imitation may not be free of some weakness at the beginning, in that it can be shaken and impaired by its opposite whenever it is presented.

It should, therefore, be strengthened and confirmed in the heart of the child and the layman until it becomes well established and unshakable.

The way to strengthen and confirm it does not lie in learning the art of debate and dogmatic theology. Rather, to be busy with the recitation of the Koran and its explanation, and reading the Prophetic quotations and their meanings. Also, being busy in the performance of religious duties and acts of worship.

It is in this way that one's belief continues to increase and become well established through the proofs and arguments heard from the Koran.

It is also increased through the explanation of the prophetic quotations with their merits. As well as it is increased by the light of worshiping, the fulfillment of obligatory duties and through observing the pious, by keeping company with them, listening to them, observing their stages and manners in obedience to Allah - the Mighty, the Glorified - the way in which they fear Him, and humble themselves before Him.

So the first repetition was like the sowing of seeds in the heart and what followed is like its watering and nursing until it grew and was raised as a good tree having well established roots with branches reaching up into the air.

The senses of the child should also be guarded with utmost care against argumentation and dogmatic theology, because what argumentation impairs is greater than what it repairs. What it corrupts is greater than what it reforms. In fact, strengthening the child through argumentation is like striking a tree with an iron axe in the hope that it will strengthen it. In such a way limbs are broken off that can lead to either its destruction, or, most probably impair its growth.

Seeing should, in this case, suffice as a reason.

Compare then the faith of the good, the righteous and the common person to that of those of dogmatic theology and debators. You will find that the belief of the ordinary person is as firm as a high mountain which is moved neither by storm nor lightning. On the other hand, the belief of those of dogmatic theology and he who guards his belief with the classified debate is like a thread hanging in the air, blown to and fro by the wind.

This is true of all except those who have heard the proof of faith and have accepted it through fellowship, just as they have taken hold of belief itself and accepted it through fellowship, since there is no difference in fellowship between learning the proof or the proved.

Learning the proof is one thing; arriving at it through independent thinking is another which is far from it.

If the child were to be brought up on this firm belief then occupy himself with gaining his livelihood, he might not be more enlightened. But according to the belief of the people of the truth he will be saved.

This is because the Religion did not obligate the uncivilized Arabs more than believing and certifying in the apparent articles of belief.

They were never obligated to research, inquire, nor to be burdened with the classification of arguments.

However, if one wishes to be among the travellers along the path of the Hereafter in order to be fortunate, one would be able to continue to act in accordance with one's knowledge by holding fast to piety, restraining one's soul from lust, practicing self-discipline and self-mortification. Then avenues of guidance would be opened which would reveal the realities of this belief through the Divine Light cast into one's heart through self-mortification in fulfillment of the promise of Allah who said:

"Those who struggle in Our Cause, We will surely guide them to Our ways; and Allah is with those who do good." (Ch.29:69).
This is, in truth, the precious pearl which is the ultimate goal of the belief of the sincere and those close to Allah.

It is the precious secret which rested in the heart of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq - may Allah be pleased with him - and by which he excelled all others.

The revelation of this secret, rather, these secrets, have different stages, that depend upon the degree of self-mortification and upon the degree in which the inner self is clean and free of things other than Allah - the High - as well as upon obtaining guidance by means of the light of faith.

This is just like the differences which exist among mankind in the comprehension of the mysteries of medicine, jurisprudence and the other sciences because their differences vary with their diligence and with their natural brilliance and prudence. Just as the former variations are not limited, so are the latter not limited.

For example, if you ask whether the study of argumentation and scholastic theology is blameworthy, like astrology, or that it is permissible or commendable, then, you should know that in this particular respect men go to excess and exaggeration on both sides. Some say that it is an innovation and unlawful and that, excluding the sin of polytheism, it is better for the worshipper to face the Creator guilty of every offense except that of Greek based logic of theology. Others say that it is an obligation and an ordinance either an Islamic public mandate or individual mandate. Therefore it is the best form of deed and the highest kind of obligation, and that it is the verification of the science of Oneness and the safeguard of the Religion of Allah - the High.

Among the famous jurisprudists who hold it unlawful are al-Shafi'i, Malik, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Sufyan and all the scholars of the Prophetic quotations.

Ibn Abd al A'la - may Allah be pleased with him - said, "On the day Al Shafi'i - may Allah be pleased with him - debated with Hafs Al Fard, a Mu'tazilite theologian, Al Shafi'i said: `Excluding the sin of polytheism it is better for the worshipper to face his Creator guilty of every offense than to stand before Him with a little scholastic theology (the science of Divinity). I have also heard Hafs say things which I cannot repeat." He added, "I have discovered among the scholastic theologians things which I never expected to find. Excepting the sin of polytheism, if the worshipper is tried with all the prohibitions it is better for him than looking into scholastic theology."

Al Karabisi related that al-Shafi'i - may Allah be pleased with him - was once asked about some of the scholastic theology and became infuriated and said, "Ask Hafs al Fard and his cohorts about this - may Allah dishonor them." When al-Shafi'i - may Allah be pleased with him - was taken ill, Hafs came to him and asked: "Who am I?" He replied, "You are Hafs al-Fard - may Allah neither protect you nor take you under His auspices until you repent of your sins." He added: "If people only but knew what predilections lurk in scholastic theology they would run away from it as they would run away from a lion." And added, "Whenever I hear a man say that the "name" is "the named" or different from "the named" I bear witness that he is one of the people of scholastic theology and that he has no religion."

Al Za'farani related that al-Shafi'i once said, "My judgment concerning the scholastic theologians is that they should be beaten with palm branches and carried in that condition among the tribes and clans. While pronouncing "this is the penalty of those who desert the Koran and the prophetic sayings and take themselves to scholastic theology."

Ahmad ibn-Hanbal, said, "A scholastic theologian never succeeds. You cannot find anyone who, having dabbled in scholastic theology, without unsoundness in his heart." He was so strong in its condemnation that he ostracized al Harith al Muhasibi, in spite of the latter's asceticism and piety, because he wrote a work on the refutation of heresy, in which he told him, "Woe unto you. Do you not first state their heretical beliefs and then answer them, thereby compelling men to study these heresies and to ponder over these dubiosities, all of which will draw them into self opinionation and research."

Ahmad - may Allah have mercy on him - also said, "The scholastic theologians are heretics." Malik - may Allah have mercy on him - said "Have you seen how, when one of stronger argument confronts him he will discard his religion for a new one every day?" In other words, the position of the debators is changing. Malik - may Allah have mercy on him - also said, "The testimony of the people of innovation and heretics is not permissible." In interpreting this, some of his companions said that he meant by heretics the scholastic theologians, no matter whichever doctrine they might belong.

Abu-Yusuf said, "He who seeks knowledge through dogmatic theology will become a heretic. Al-Hasan said, "Neither argue with heretics, associate with them nor listen to them." Upon this the scholar of the prophetic quotations in the first era have been unanimous. The narrations which came down to us from them are innumerable. They have said that the companions refrained from it although they are more knowledgeable of the realities and more capable of mastering the wording than others because they knew what evil would come out of it.

For this reason the Prophet - praise and peace be upon him - said, "Destroyed are those who split hairs! Destroyed are those who split hairs! Destroyed are those who split hairs! And these are those who are extravagant in investigation and research."

Also they proved by saying that if this subject were an integral part of Religion the Messenger of Allah - praise and peace be upon him - would have considered it to be the most important thing to command his Companions to address themselves with, and would have taught them its ways. He would have also praised it and commended its founders.

One must bear in mind that he even taught how one should clean oneself after relieving oneself and urged them to study the law of inheritance and commended them on it. He forbade them from speaking on destiny.

And he said: "Refrain concerning destiny." And accordingly the Companions did so - may Allah be pleased with them.

Needless to say, to add to what the teacher set forth is harm and error; the Companions are our teachers and our example, and we are their followers and students.

The other group proved that the forbidden in the scholastic theology are such terms as substance and substance's quality and the other strange terms with which the Companions - may Allah be pleased with them - were not familiar.

But the matter is not difficult to explain, because there is not a single branch of knowledge in which new terms have not been introduced for the sake of conveying meanings.

For example, the Science of Prophetic Quotations, the Science of interpretation, and the Science of Jurisprudence. Had the recipients encountered terms such as refutation, invalidation, composition, deduction, and false collocation, as well as the other questions which are brought as evidence by analogy, they would not comprehend them.

Therefore the introduction of new terms to signify a definite meaning is just as legitimate as inventing vessels with a new shape and form for use in permissible usages.

If it is the meaning of these terms which is forbidden, we do not mean to attain through them anything except the knowledge of the proofs for the creation of the universe, the Oneness of the Creator, and His Attributes as they are mentioned in the Religion.

Since when, is it unlawful to know Allah - the High - with the proof? But if it is sectarianism, fanaticism, enmity, hatred, and all that dogmatic theologies and controversy breed which are meant and intended, then these are unlawful and should be guarded against and avoided, just as pride, conceit, hypocrisy, and the desire for power which the sciences of the Prophetic Quotations, Koran interpretation, and jurisprudence breed are unlawful and should be guarded against and avoided.

Nevertheless, some of the knowledge should not be prohibited because of the methods. How then is mentioning the proof or requesting it or searching for it prohibited, when Allah said, "Say: Bring your proof" And He - the Mighty, the Glorified - said "that he who would perish might perish by clear proof, and he who would live might live by clear proof." And He - the High - said: "Have you any authority for this?" In other words a proof. And He - the High - said: "Say: `For Allah is the overwhelming proof.'" And He - the High - said: "Have you not seen him who disputed with Abraham about his Lord" up to "He who disbelieved became pale" When He - the Exalted - mentioned how Abraham presented the proof in debating and gained the upper hand over his opponent in a matter that praises Abraham.

And He - the Mighty, the Glorified - said: "This is Our proof, We give it to Abraham over his nation." And He - the High - said: "They said: `O Noah, you have debated us a lot." And He - the High - said in Pharoah's story "And who is the Lord of the World" up to "even if I bring to you something clear" Briefly, the Koran, from its beginning to its end, is an argument with the unbelievers.

The greatest proof of theologians for the Oneness of Allah is His Saying: "Had there been in either (Heaven or earth) gods besides Allah, both would have surely gone to ruin." Their greatest proof for the prophecy is, "And if you are in doubt as to that which We have sent down to our worshipper (Prophet Muhammad), then produce a chapter like it." Their greatest proof for the resurrection is, "Say: He shall give life to them Who originated them at first." And so on of the rest of the verses and the proofs.

Thus the prophets - the praise of Allah be upon them - did not cease to debate with the unbelievers and dispute with them. Allah said, "Dispute with them in the kindest manner." The Companions - may Allah be pleased with them - too used to debate and dispute with the unbelievers, but only when necessary. During the time of the Companions the need for disputation was minimal.

The first to establish the precedence of summoning innovators back to truth by means of debate and argument was `Ali ibn abi Talib - may Allah be pleased with him - when he sent ibn Abbas to the Kharijites. Ibn Abbas argued with them saying, "What, you rebel against your leader?" They replied, "He has fought, but did not turn the prisoners to be slaves nor took the spoils of war." Ibn Abbas explained to them that prisoners and spoils are taken only in a war against unbelievers, adding, "Would any of you, if Lady A'isha - may Allah be pleased with her - had been taken captive on the Day of the Camel, and if she had fallen to his lot, have deemed it lawful to deal with her as he dealt with his own property while she is referred to in the Koran as your mother?" They answered "No," and consequently two thousand of them returned to be obedient.

It was also reported that al Hasan once debated with a Qadarite (who denied predestination) with the result that the latter repented. Similarly, `Ali ibn Abi Talib - may Allah honor his face - also debated with a Qadarite.

It is also reported that `Abdullah ibn Mas'ud - may Allah be pleased with him - debated with Yazid ibn `Amirah on the subject of belief. `Abdullah said: "If I say that I am a believer it will be like saying that I am in Paradise." Thereupon Yazid ibn `Amirah said to him, "O Companion of the Messenger of Allah, what is belief except to believe in Allah, His angels, Books and Messengers, as well as in resurrection and the scales, and to perform the prayers, keep the fast, and pay the obligatory charity. Yet we have sins which, if we knew that they will be forgiven us, we would know that we will be of the people of Paradise. For this reason we say that we are believers, but we do not say that we are from the people of Paradise." Ibn Mas'ud replied, "By Allah, you have said the truth; this was a mistake on my part." Thus it should be said that the Companions immersed little in the debating and this they did for a short time and not as a long time necessity nor by the way of authorship, teaching it or taking it as a profession. Furthermore this limiting practicing on their part was due to little need for it as innovation did not appear in their time.

They addressed themselves to it briefly because their only purpose was to silence the adversary and compel him to admit his error; they aimed at revealing the truth and removing dubiosities. Yet, whenever the confusion of the adversary persisted or he insisted in continuing in error, they prolonged their argument, never reckoning, as it were once they started they could not measure the need or the weight.

Their not applying themselves to teaching and writing about it is not unlike their custom with regard to jurisprudence, interpretation of Koran, and prophetic quotations. Therefore, if it is permissible to compose books on jurisprudence and to work out rare hypothetical cases which seldom arise, either as a preparation for the time when it is needed, or simply to sharpen the wits. It is also permissible for us to classify the methods of disputation in preparation for the time when dubiosities flare up or an innovator runs loose; or simply to sharpen the wits or have the argument ready so that when needed it will be within reach of all just as the preparation of armaments for war before the day of battle.

This is practically all that can be said on behalf of the two groups (the proponents and the opponents of dogmatic theology).

(i) Rulings Concerning Debate

If you ask me what I think the best is: I will say that the truth of the matter is that those who condemn it absolutely and under all circumstances as well as those who praise it absolutely and unreservedly are wrong. The matter should be more carefully detailed.

You should know then, that first of all a thing, such as wine or carrion, may be pronounced unlawful from its very nature. What I mean by `its very nature' is that the cause of its being pronounced unlawful is a quality inherent in it. Intoxication and death. If we were asked concerning these two things, we would not hesitate to say that they were absolutely unlawful, and would in no way think of allowing carrion to be eaten in time of desperation, nor ever think of permitting the drinking of wine when a person starts to choke over a mouthful of food and finds nothing with which to swallow it besides wine.

In the second place a thing may be pronounced unlawful for some other reason, such as underselling your Muslim brother during the period of option, trading during the call to prayer, or eating earth which is pronounced unlawful because of its harmful effect. Such things are divided into those which are harmful both in small and large quantities, and are therefore pronounced unlawful. For example, poison which is fatal whether in small or large quantity; and those which are harmful only when taken in excess like, for example, honey, which can be harmful to a feverish patient. The same is true of eating earth. Therefore, in pronouncing wine absolutely unlawful, only the most general cases were taken into consideration. In the event that something new arises, it will be well to consider the detailing.

We return now to the science of scholastic theology to say that it has benefits and harm.

With regard to its usefulness whenever it is useful it is either lawful, commendable, or obligatory, as the occasion demands. As to its harm, whenever it is harmful it is unlawful. Its harm lies in raising doubts and undermining the articles of faith by moving them out from the realm of certitude and determination. These things are happening at the beginning and their restoration by means of proof is doubtful. Furthermore, it varies with the individual. Therefore it is true that it is harmful to the faith.

Yet it has another harmful influence which manifests itself in confirming the belief of the heretics in their heresies and establishing them in their hearts so that their claims increase and their insistence on them becomes more stubborn. This kind of harm, however, results from the fanaticism which disputation arouses. For this reason you find that the lay heretic can, through kindness, be easily dissuaded from his error in no time. But if he were brought up in a town where disputation and fanaticism abound it will be impossible for both the past and current generation to remove the heresy from his heart, their combined efforts notwithstanding. On the contrary, passion, fanaticism, hatred of the adversaries of disputation and non- conformist groups prevail over his heart and prevent him from comprehending the truth so that even if he were told, "Do you want Allah to remove for you the veil and to reveal to you through seeing that the truth is on the side of your adversary?" he would dislike it for fear that his adversary would be gladened by it. This, then, is the chronic disease which has spread among men all over the land. It is a kind of corruption which is set in motion by the disputants through their fanaticism. That is its harm.

As to its benefits some think that it is useful in revealing realities and knowing them as they really are. But how far from the truth this is, because the fulfillment of noble desire is not found in disputation. In fact the perplexity and confusion consequent on disputation surpass anything which it may reveal or unfold. If you were to hear that from a scholar of the prophetic quotations or a semi- scholar you would think that men are the enemies of that of which they are ignorant.

Take it, then, from one who has familiarized himself with disputation and, after a careful study and a thorough investigation of it in which he surpassed the extreme limits of its masters and went even further to study in great detail other cognate subjects, has come to dislike it, and has ascertained that the road to the realities of knowledge is closed from this direction.

Disputation, as a matter of fact, will inevitably reveal, unfold and clarify a few things, but this is very rare and only occurs in simple and clear matters which are readily understood even before any thorough study of the art of disputation. It has only one benefit. It preserves the belief for the ordinary people and safeguards it against the confusion of innovators by different kinds of argumentation. For the layman is swayed by the argument of the innovator although the argument may be false; and to confront a false position with another refutes it. People are expected to follow this belief which we have already mentioned because the Religion has ordained it for the good of their temporal and spiritual lives and because the good early generations agreed on it.

The learned are expected to watch over it for the ordinary people against the ambiguities of the innovators, just as the magistrates are expected to safeguard their property against the attacks of the oppressors and ravishers.

When both its harm and benefit are fully understood, one should be like the physician who is adept in the use of dangerous drugs, which he does not apply except to the right place and only at the time of desparation.

To explain further, the laymen and the ordinary people who are engaged in crafts and trades should be left alone in the integrity of their beliefs which they have accepted when they were instructed in the faith which we have already stated. To teach them disputation is decidedly harmful to them as it will perhaps arouse doubts in their minds which will shake their belief. Once these doubts are aroused it will not be possible to remedy their shaken belief.

As to the layman who believes in a certain innovation, he should be called back to the truth with kindness and tact and not with fanaticism, with soft words which are convincing to the soul and effective in the heart, words similar to those of the arguments of the Koran and the prophetic quotations, mixed with a little admonition and warning. This is much better than debate along the line set down by the scholastic theologians. This is because the layman, when he hears such arguments, thinks that they are a kind of technique in disputation which the disputant has learned in order to draw men to his belief. Consequently, if the layman fails to reply to these arguments he will assume that the scholastic theologians of his school are capable of refuting them. Disputation with both this man and the former is unlawful.

Likewise it is unlawful to argue with one who has fallen victim to doubt, since doubt should be removed with kindness by admonition and understandable proofs free of excessive speculation and endless debate. In fact disputation is useful in only one case, namely, when the layman has been persuaded to believe in an innovation through one kind of argument, in which case it should be countered by the same kind of argument in order to recall the person to the truth. This, however, applies to those who - because of their fondness of disputation - are no longer satisfied with the ordinary admonitions and warnings, but have reached a stage where nothing will cure them except debate. Consequently it is permissible to argue with them. But in a country where heresy is rare and one rite prevails, it should be sufficient to state the articles of faith which we have already mentioned, without any attempt to take up the question of proofs. The person should wait until something questionable arises before he takes up the question of proofs which he should present according to the need. If the heresy were a common one and a fear existed that the children might be beguiled with it, then there would be no harm in teaching them the equivalent of what we have included in part of this book entitled "The Jerusalem Message" (al-Risalah al- Qudsiyah), as a means for overcoming the influence of the disputations of innovators if that influence should confront the children.

This is a brief thing which we included in this book because of its brevity. If the child were bright and therefore became aware of a certain question or grew skeptical of something in his mind, then the feared disease has appeared and the malady has become visible. There will be no harm, then, to promote the child to the equivalent of that which we have included in the book entitled al-lqtisad fi al-I'tiqad (The Mid-way Belief), which is free from any departures from a discussion of the foundations of the articles of faith to the other investigations of the scholastic theologians. If this convinces the child then he might be left alone; but if this should fail to convince him, then the disease has become chronic, the malady rooted, and the epidemic widespread. Let, then, the physician be as kind and tactful as possible, and let him await the Will of Allah until, through His Grace, the truth shall be revealed to the child. Otherwise he will persist in his doubt and skepticism.

The material contained in that book and others of the same kind is that from which benefit can be expected. Chapters not confined to the same subject are of two kinds.

The first comprises chapters which deal with subjects other than the foundations of the articles of faith, such as those which discuss propensity, transmutations and the different kinds of perceptions or discoursing on sight, whether or not it has an opposite which is called obstruction or blindness. If this obstruction does exist, then it will be an obstruction (which prevents the eye) from (seeing) all invisible things, or a proof which verifies every visible thing that can be seen, as well as other misleading trivialities.

The second kind of these chapters contains a further expansion of the same arguments as applied to other subjects, together with several questions and answers - details which add nothing but confusion and perplexity to him who has not already been convinced by the previous material. For there are certain things which become more obscure with dilation and expansion.

If one were to say that the investigation into the rules of perceptions and propensities is useful for sharpening the mind which is the instrument of Religion just as the sword is the instrument of Holy war (jihad), hence there is no harm in sharpening it, it will be like saying that playing chess, because it sharpens the mind, is a part of Religion. This, however, is insane because the mind may be sharpened through the other sciences of the Religion in which there is no fear of harm or injury.

By this you see how much of scholastic theology is blameworthy and how much is praiseworthy, the conditions wherein it is condemned and these wherein it is praised, as well as the persons who are benefited by it and the persons who are harmed. If you should then say that, since you acknowledge the need for it in refuting the arguments of the innovators, and since innovations have now risen and calamities spread, the need for it has become urgent, it is inevitable that undertaking this science should become an Islamic public mandate just as undertaking to safeguard property and other rights and fulfilling the duties of justice and government and the rest. And unless the learned men engage in spreading and teaching this science and in making research in it, it will not endure; and if it were completely abandoned, it would surely disappear; nor is there in human nature by itself a sufficient ability to cut through the dubiosities of innovators unless this subject is learnt and studied. Therefore there should be instruction in it, and its investigation is now one of the Islamic public mandate, contrary to what it was at the time of the Companions when the need for it was not urgent.

If you should say this, then know that the truth of the matter is that undoubtedly there should be, in every town, someone who would undertake to engage in this science and take it upon himself to refute the dubiosities of the innovators which have spread in that particular town. This undertaking is performed through education, but it is not wise to instruct the laity in it just as they are instructed in jurisprudence and interpretation. For this is like a drug, and jurisprudence is like food. The harm of food is not dangerous but the harm of drugs is dangerous as we have already mentioned.

The learned people of this science should confine their instruction to men who have the three following traits: The first is devotion to knowledge and passion for it; for the working man is prevented by his work from mastering the subject completely and from dispelling doubts when they arise.

The second trait is sagacity, intelligence, and eloquence, because those with lessor intellect do not benefit by his understanding and the dull one does not gain by his argument. On the contrary such a person is injured by disputation and should not expect any good from it.

The third trait is that the man should by nature be good, religious, and pious; he should not be dominated by passions, because the sinful man would stray from Religion at the least provocation. Passions would do away with all deterrents and remove the barrier which stands between him and worldly pleasures. He would not be keen on dispelling anything questionable, but rather would seize upon it to free himself from any obligation. The things which such a student will spoil would be greater than those which he would reform.

When you know these divisions you would realize that, in disputation the praiseworthy argument is of the same kind as the arguments of the Koran, kind words which influence the hearts and convince the minds without going deeply into reasoning and analyses which most people do not understand; and whenever they understand them they consider them trickeries and artifices which their proponent has learnt in order to make things ambiguous. Should he be confronted by one of his professional colleagues he would resist him.

You will also know that al-Shafi'i and all the good, early generation were forbidden from engaging in disputation and devoting themselves exclusively to it, because of the harm inherent in it which we have already pointed out. The reports of ibn Abbas' debate with the Kharijites and Ali's debate concerning free will was of the clear and intelligent kind, carried out at the time of need. Such disputation is praiseworthy under all conditions.

Undoubtedly the need for disputation differs with the time; therefore it is not unlikely that the rule which governs it should also differ. This then is the rule of the creed which Allah imposed on mankind and the method of defending and preserving it.

As to dispelling doubts, revealing truths, knowing things as they really are, and comprehending the mysteries which the words of this belief signify, there is no way to attain any of them except through self-mortification and the subduing of passions, through seeking Allah whole heartedly and persisting in thoughts which are free from the blemishes of disputation. They are a mercy from Allah which comes to those who expose themselves to its beneficence according to what Allah ordained for them and the extent to which they had exposed themselves to it as well as the capacity of their hearts and the degree of their purity. This is the sea the depth of which cannot be sounded and the waters of which cannot be traversed.

(ii) Reality and Religion

If you say that this discourse implies that these sciences have external as well as internal meanings, that some of them are obvious and readily understood, while others are hidden and become evident through self-mortification, discipline, earnest desire, pure thinking and a heart free from all worldly activities except those which are required, and conclude that such discourse is almost contrary to the Religion because the Religion does not have external and internal meanings, secret and manifest, but the external and the internal, the secret and the manifest, are in it all the same. Then you should know that the division of these sciences into hidden and obvious is not denied by anyone of any insight but is denied by the ignorant who, having acquired some knowledge in their youth, did not advance any further and consequently failed to gain promotion to the lofty heights where lie the stations of the learned men and the spiritual sheikhs.

This is evident from the testimony of the Religion as the Prophet said, "Indeed, there is an external meaning and an internal meaning to the Koran, a scope and a point." `Ali, pointing to his breast, said, "Indeed, herein lies abundant knowledge; would that there were some to (comprehend and) transmit it." The Prophet also said, "We prophets were ordered to communicate with everyone according to his ability to understand." And again, "No one has ever recited a prophetic quotation to a people which their minds have failed to grasp without it being a temptation for them." Allah says: "And we strike these similitudes for the people, but none understands them except those who know." Ch.29:42 Koran.

The Prophet - the praise and peace be upon him - said, "Indeed, knowledge has a branch which resembles a hidden thing; no one grasps it except those who know Allah." And again, "If you only knew what I know, you would laugh a little and weep much." If this had not been a secret which he was forbidden to divulge because of the inability of the minds to comprehend it, why then did he not explain it to them, especially as they would have certainly believed him if he had done so? In connection with the interpretation of the Words of Allah, "It is Allah who has created the seven heavens and of earth their like; and between them the Command descends...." (Ch.65:12 Koran). Ibn Abbas said, "Were I to relate its interpretation you would stone me." In another transmission, "you would have said, `He is an unbeliever'." Abu- Hurayrah said, "I have received from the Prophet of Allah two things, one of which I have made public. Were I to divulge the other, this throat would be cut." The Prophet - the praise and peace be upon him - said, "Abu-Bakr has excelled you not by excessive fasting and much prayer, but by a secret which rests in his chest." No doubt this secret was connected with the foundations of Religion and not removed from it. And whatever belonged to the foundations of Religion could not have been hidden from the other Companions through its outward form.

Sahl al-Tustari - may Allah be pleased with him - said, "The learned person possesses three kinds of knowledge: visible knowledge which he imparts to people in general; invisible knowledge which he cannot reveal except to its own people; and finally a confidential knowledge which lies between him and His Lord and which he cannot reveal to anyone." One of the gnostics said, "To divulge the secret of the Lord is equivalent to unbelief." Some one also said, "The Lord has a secret, if revealed, prophecy will become obsolete. Prophecy has a secret, if divulged, knowledge will become useless, and the learned people of Allah have a secret, if disclosed, the Religion will become of no force." If he who had said this did not mean thereby the futility of prophecy as far as those with lessor intellect are concerned because of their inability to understand, then what he said is not true. Rather, that which is true is free of contradiction. The perfect man is he whose knowledge does not destroy his piety, and the road to piety is through the prophecy.

You may say, "These verses and prophetic quotations may be subject to several interpretations. Show us, then, how their visible meaning differs from the invisible. For if the visible is contradictory to the invisible, it will destroy the Religion, which is exactly the position of those who say that reality is contrary of the Religion. This is unbelief because the Religion represents the visible and reality represents the invisible. If the one is neither contradictory to, nor in disagreement with the other, then both are identical. Therefore the division (of knowledge into obvious and hidden, visible and invisible) is hereby destroyed and the Religion will have no secret (meaning) which should not be divulged. Rather both the hidden and the obvious will be the same." If you inquire, then you should know that this question raises a grave issue and leads into the science of Revelation departing from the intent of the science of practical Religion which is the purpose of these books. For the articles of faith which we have already mentioned come under the deeds of the heart which we are required to receive with acceptance and consent, by fixing the heart on them and adhering to them, not by endeavoring to comprehend their realities, since this was not required of all people.

Were it not a part of practical Religion we would not have mentioned it in this book, and were it not one of the outward deeds of the heart we would not have mentioned it in the first half of the book. Real (and complete) revelation is an attribute of the essence of the heart and its inward part. But if the discussion leads to the stirring up of doubt or the shadow of doubt concerning the contradiction of the visible to the invisible, a brief word of explanation becomes necessary. For he who says that reality disagrees with the Religion and the invisible contradicts the visible is closer to unbelief than to belief.

(iii) Secrets Concealed by the People of Allah

In fact, the secrets whose comprehension is peculiar to the favorites of Allah and the practice of which is limited to them and which they do not divulge to the masses may be divided into five categories.

The first is that the thing in itself is subtle and beyond the comprehension of most hearts and minds. Consequently its comprehension is restricted to the elite who should not divulge it to those who are unable to grasp it lest, whenever their hearts fail to comprehend it or to understand the concealed secrets of the spirit, it becomes a calamity to them.

The Prophet himself refrained from explaining this part. The minds fail to comprehend its reality and the imaginations to imagine its truth. But do not think that this was not revealed to the Prophet of Allah - the praise and peace be upon him - for he who does not know the spirit does not know himself, and he who does not know himself does not know his Creator.

It is not unlikely that this was revealed to some of the people who are close to Allah and the learned men although they were not prophets; but they disciplined themselves in the etiquette of the Religion and held their peace in the matters where the Prophet - the praise and peace be upon him - himself was silent. In fact there are in the attributes of Allah many hidden things which are beyond the comprehension and understanding of the crowds. Of these, the Prophet of Allah - the praise and peace be upon him - did not mention anything except those that are obvious to the minds, such as knowledge and power and the like, which men understand in terms of something akin to them and then suppose that they performed the feat through their own knowledge and power, especially since they possess certain qualities which are called knowledge and power. Consequently they arrive at that by some manner of analogy. But if the Prophet - the praise and peace be upon him - mentioned some of the attributes of Allah to which men have nothing akin and which do not resemble, even remotely, anything they possess, they would not have understood them. Thus, the pleasure of coition, if mentioned to the child or to the impotent, will not be understood by them except in relation to the pleasure of eating which they comprehend. This understanding, however, will not be one of actual experience.

Furthermore, the difference between the Knowledge and Power of Allah and human knowledge and power is greater than the difference between the pleasure of coition and the pleasure of eating. In short, mankind does not comprehend except themselves and their own attributes which are present with them or were with him in the past. By comparison and analogy with these they understand the attributes of others. They will also realize that there is a difference between their attributes and those of Allah in nobleness and perfection. Therefore it is not within the power of people but to declare as belonging to Allah what has been declared as belonging to themselves, such as action, knowledge, and power as well as other attributes and to acknowledge that in Allah they are the most perfect and the most noble. Most of their emphasis would, therefore, be on their own attributes rather than on those of Majesty which belong exclusively to Allah.

For this reason the Prophet said, "I cannot count praising You as You have praised Yourself. "This does not mean the inability to express what I comprehend but rather an admission of the inability to comprehend the Essence of the Majesty of Allah. For this reason again someone said: "No one truly knows Allah except Allah Himself." Abu-Bakr al-Siddiq said, "Praise be to Allah who has not given men a way to know Him except through their inability to know Him." Let us now, however, stop this kind of discussion and go back to the main purpose, namely that one of these categories comprises that which the minds fail to comprehend, such as the spirit and some of the attributes of Allah. Perhaps the Prophet refered to something of the same nature when he said, "His cover is Light, if He reveals it, indeed, the Exaltation of His Face will burn everything of His creation that His Sight reaches." (Darwish notes: Christians are taught to believe and surrender their limited reason and trust God. The same applies to Muslim scholars who believe in the limitation of the brain and trust Allah and His Messengers so the question remains: "Is there proof that God has a son which came from Him Himself?" The answer in both Islam's Koran and authentic, early Christian literature is that He does not. In the Koran you will find a denial of such claim and that Allah told Prophet Muhammad to tell the world "If the Merciful has a son, indeed I will be the first one to worship him." Therefore the rejection is not based upon malice or even the limitation of the brain that it fails to comprehend, but it is based upon clear revelation which should be considered by all.)

The second category of the hidden things which the prophets and the people who are close to Allah decline to mention or divulge comprises those things which are intelligible in themselves and the minds do not fail to grasp, but their mention is harmful to most hearers although it is not harmful to the prophets and the people who are close to Allah.

The secret of the decrees of Allah which the learned men were forbidden to divulge belongs to this part. Consequently it is not unlikely that certain truths may be harmful to some people just as the light of the sun is harmful to the eyes of bats and the perfume of the rose is harmful to black-beetles. And how could this be deemed unlikely when we know that our saying that unbelief, adultery, sin, and evil exist all by the Will of Allah, which in itself is true, but, nevertheless, has been harmful to many because it was taken by them as an evidence for folly, lack of wisdom, and approval of evil and wickedness? Thus has al-Rawandi as well as several separatists, deviated from the right path by following such heresies. Similarly, if the secret of the decrees of Allah were divulged most people would fancy that Allah is lacking in power, because their minds are incapable of comprehending anything which will remove that fancy.

Furthermore, if someone should discuss the Day of Resurrection and should say that it will fall after a thousand years, or a few years after or a few years before, his words would be understood. Nevertheless the appointed time of the Day of Resurrection was not foretold for the welfare of mankind and for fear of the harm which might ensue. The (intervening) period may be long and the appointed time very distant, with the result that people, thinking that the Day of Recompense is remote, would cease to mind or care. On the other hand it may be, in the Knowledge of Allah, close at hand. If then, the appointed time should be foretold, people would be greatly frightened with the result that they would neglect their (daily) work and transactions and havoc would overtake the world. Were this to occur and come true, it would be an example of this category.

The third category is where the thing is such as will be understood and cause no harm when mentioned clearly, although it is usually expressed through metaphor or allegory so that its impression on the heart of the listener may be deeper. Its value is that it leaves a greater impression on the heart. Thus if a person had said that he had seen a man place pearls around the necks of swine and his words were taken metaphorically to express the imparting of knowledge, and the spread of learning among those who are unworthy, the (ordinary) listener would readily understand its literal meaning while the thorough and careful listener, when he examines and finds that the man had no pearls and was not surrounded by swine, would see through and comprehend the inner and invisible meaning. Consequently men differ in this respect. An example of this found in the following poem: Two men, one a weaver the other a tailor on either side of Constellation of Virgo; One is weaving shrouds for the deceased, and his companion tailors for the forthcoming one.

The poet expressed the celestial phenomena of the rising of the stars and their setting metaphorically through the parable of two artisans. This kind of (metaphor) belongs to the principle of expressing a certain meaning through a picture which contains the same meaning or a similar meaning.

Belonging to the same kind are the words of the Prophet when he said, "Verily the mosque will shrink when people spit in its courtyard just as the piece of skin shrinks when it is placed over the fire." You can readily understand that the courtyard of the mosque does not actually shrink when people spit in it. What the words of the Prophet really mean is that the atmosphere of the mosque, being honored and exalted, has been dishonored and belittled by spitting, which is as opposed to the idea of the mosque as fire is to the integrity of the particles of skin.

Belonging to the same kind are the words of the Prophet when he said, "Is he who raises his head from prostration before the prayer leader not afraid that Allah will transform his head into that of a donkey?" This, however, will never take place literally but only metaphorically since the head of the donkey is proverbial, not for its form and shape, but for its characteristic stupidity and foolishness. Thus, whoever would raise his head from prostration before the prayer leader, his head would become like that of a donkey in stupidity and foolishness. It is this which is meant and not the shape which the literal meaning (of the words) indicates. For it is utterly foolish to place following (the prayer leader) and preceding (him) together because they are contradictory.

The knowledge that, in such cases, there are inner meanings which differ from the outward significations, can only be determined by either rational or legal evidence. The rational is when any interpretation according to the outward meaning is impossible, as in the words of the Prophet - the praise and peace be upon him - when he said: "The heart of the believer lies between two of the fingers of the Merciful (Allah)." When we examine the hearts of the believers we shall not find them surrounded with fingers, and consequently we shall know that the words are used metaphorically for power which is inherent in fingers and constitutes their hidden life. Furthermore, power was metaphorically represented by the fingers because such a metaphor conveys the idea of power more completely.

Of the same kind is the instance where Allah expresses the idea of His Power metaphorically by saying: "When We decree a thing, We only say: `Be,' and it is." (Ch.16:40 Koran) The outward meaning of this verse is not possible because if the saying of Allah `Be' was addressed to the thing before that thing came into existence, then it would simply be an impossibility since the non-existent does not understand address and, therefore, cannot obey. And if it was addressed to the thing after the thing has come into existence, then it would be superfluous, since the thing is already in existence and does not need to be brought into being. But whereas this metaphor has been more impressive upon the minds in conveying the idea of the greatest power, recourse has been made to it.

Those cases where the inner meaning is determined by means of legal evidence are the cases which can be interpreted according to their literal and outward signification, but, on the authority of prophetic quotations, a meaning other than the outward was intended, as is the case in the interpretation of the Words of Allah when He said, "He sends down water from the sky which fills the riverbeds to overflowing, so that their torrents carries a swelling foam..." (Ch.13:17 Koran). Here the word water stands for the Koran and the torrents represent the hearts. Some of the hearts receive and hold a lot; others receive a lot and hold little; while others still receive a lot and hold nothing at all. The foam represents unbelief and hypocrisy, which, although it rises to and floats upon the surface of the water, does not last; but guidance which benefits mankind, endures.

In this part a group of men went deeply and interpreted the things which were mentioned in connection with the Hereafter, such as the balance, the Bridge, and the like. All this, however, is innovation because it was not handed down by prophetic quotations, especially since its literal and outward interpretation is not impossible. Therefore it should be interpreted literally.

The fourth category is where a person comprehends the thing in a general way and then through further investigation and experimentation, understands its particulars so that it becomes a part of him. Thus the two kinds of knowledge differ. The first, (i.e. the general) resembles the husks, while the second (i.e. the particular), resembles the pith. The first is the visible or outward, the second is the invisible or inward. This is just like the example of the man who sees a person in the dark or from a distance and acquires a certain picture of that person. But when he sees him from a close range or after the darkness has gone, he realizes certain differences. This last picture, however, is not opposed to the first but complementary to it.

The same is true of knowledge, faith, and belief. For a person may believe in the existence of love, sickness, and death even before any of them occur. But to believe in their existence after they have taken place is more complete than believing in their existence before they take place. In fact mankind has, with regard to passion and love as well as the other conditions, three different stages and three distinct degrees of comprehension.

The first is to believe in the existence of the thing before it takes place; the second is to believe in its existence at the time of its occurrence; and the third is to believe in its existence after it has taken place.

To recognize the existence of hunger after it is gone is different from recognizing its existence before it is gone. Similarly, there are some of the sciences of Religion which mature by experience and their mature state as compared with their premature state is like the invisible as compared to the visible. Hence there is a difference between the sick man's knowledge of health and the healthy man's knowledge of it. In short, people differ in these four parts; yet in none of them is there an invisible meaning which contradicts the visible. Rather the invisible meaning completes and perfects the visible just as the pith completes the husk.

The fifth category is where concrete words are used figuratively. Those with lessor intellect will regard the literal and visible meaning sensible and will not go beyond it; but the man who has an insight for realities will comprehend the secret it contains. This is like the words of him who said, "The wall said to the peg, `why do you split me?' The peg replied `Ask the one who is hitting me and does not let me go. Go and see the mallet which is behind me.'" This is, undoubtedly, figurative.

Of the same kind are the following Words of Allah, "Then He willed to the heaven, when it was smoke, and to it and to the earth He said: `Come willingly, or unwillingly.' `We come willingly,' they answered." (Ch.41:11 Koran). Those with lesser intellect, because of their lack of understanding, would assume that both the Heaven and the earth possess life intellect, and the ability to understand speech. He would also assume that they were addressed by a speech of actually enunciated words which both could hear and reply to with enunciated words saying, "We come willingly." But whosoever has insight would realize that this was a figurative (use of language) and that Allah only expressed that the Heaven and earth are subject to His Will.

Of the same kind, too, are the Words of Allah when He said, "There is nothing that does not proclaim His Praise..." (Ch.17:46 Koran). Those with lesser intellect, because of their lack of understanding, would assume that the inanimate things possess life intellect, and the ability to speak and enunciate words, so that they would have to say, "Praise is to Allah" in order that His Praise might be established. But he who has insight would know that the actual utterance with the tongue was not meant by that but merely that everything, through its own existence, praises Allah, and in its own essence exalts Him and attests to His Oneness. As has been said: "In everything He has a sign which declares that He is One." In the same way it is said, "This masterpiece testifies that its Maker possesses the ability and perfect knowledge." This does not mean that the masterpiece actually utter the words, "I testify ..." etc. but merely that, through its form and state, (it testifies to the Ability and Knowledge of its Maker).

Similarly everything does, in itself, stand in need of the Creator to create and sustain it, to maintain its attributes and to move it to and fro in its different states. And through its need it testifies to its Maker by Exalting Him. Such a witness is comprehended by those who have insight, not those who stand still and do not venture beyond the externals. For this reason Allah said, "But you do not understand their extolling." (Ch.17:46 Koran). Those with lessor intellect do not understand this at all, while the favorites of Allah and the versatile learned men do not understand it perfectly because everything extols Allah and praises Him in many ways and each comprehends according to his intellect and insight.

The enumeration of these witnesses is not becoming under the science of practical Religion. In this part too those who cling to externals differ from those who have insight, and in it the disagreement between the visible and the invisible becomes evident.

(iv) Interpretation and abstention with submission

In this connection people are either extremists or followers of the middle-road. As extremists, some have gone so far in the (allegorical) interpretation of words that they have explained away all or most of their outward and literal meaning. They have taken the Words of Allah, "Their hands will speak to and their legs will testify to their earnings." (Ch.36:65 Koran) as well as, "`Why did you bear witness against us,' they will say to their skins, and their skins will reply: `Allah gave us speech, as He gave speech to everything.'" (Ch.41:21 Koran) and the conversation which takes place between Munkar and Nakeer, and in the Balance, the Bridge, and the Judgement Day together with the debate between the people of Hell and the people of Paradise when (the former) says: "Pour upon us some water, or of the refreshments Allah has given you," and claimed that all this was figurative.

On the other hand some went to the opposite extreme and forbade (any but the literal interpretation). Among those was Ahmad ibn-Hanbal who went as far as to forbid the allegorical interpretation of the Words of Allah "`Be', and it is." (Ch.16:42 Koran). His followers have claimed that these Words were words of actual speech with enunciated letters and sounds brought into existence by Allah the very moment He created a created thing. I have even heard one of his followers say that (Ahmad ibn-Hanbal) forbade the allegorical interpretation of all but three prophetic quotations, namely the words of the Prophet when he said, "The Stone is the right Hand of Allah in the earth," (the Stone in Ka'bah) and, "The heart of the believer lies between two of the fingers of the Merciful (Allah);" and "Verily I shall find the soul of the Merciful (coming) from the direction of al-Yaman." Even here the literalists have been inclined to forbid any allegorical interpretation.

It is assumed, however, that Ahmad ibn Hanbal knew that ascending is not fixity of location, and descending is not change of location; nevertheless he forbade allegorical interpretation for the good and welfare of people, since whenever it is allowed matters become worse and get out of control, overstepping the limits of moderation. Things which go beyond the limits of moderation are beyond control. Therefore there is no harm done by such a prohibition which is also attested by the lives of the good, first generation who used to say, "Take them literally as they have been (revealed and) handed down." Thus Malik, on being asked about ascending, went so far as to say, "The fact of ascending is known but its manner is not; to believe in it is an obligation, to inquire about its manner is a heresy.' Another group advocated the middle of the road position and permitted allegorical interpretation in everything which relates to the attributes of Allah but have taken the things which pertain to the Hereafter in a literal sense and forbade their allegorical interpretation. The advocates of this position are the Ash'arites.

The Mu'tazilites go further. They explain away the possibility of seeing Allah and His being possessed of hearing and sight. They also explain away the ascension (al mi'raj) of the Prophet and claim that it had not taken place bodily, the punishment of the grave, the balance, the Bridge, and other eschatological representations. Nevertheless they confess the resurrection of the body, Paradise with its food, perfume, and sex as well as other sensual pleasures, and Hell with burning fires which scorch the skin and melt the fat.

The philosophers (who invaded all the branches of today's Christianity) go still further. They interpret all eschatological representations as allegories denoting mental and spiritual pain, and mental and spiritual delight. They deny the resurrection of the body but believe in the immortality of the soul and that it will be punished or made happy by punishment and delight of non-sensual nature. They are extremists.

The true middle-road (called Asharia after Imam Abul Hasan Al Ashari) between this complete allegorism and the rigidity of the Hanbalites is subtle and obscure. It is found only by those who enjoy Divine Guidance and comprehend things by the aid of Divine Light, not by hearsay. Then when the mysteries of things are revealed to them, so that they see them as they are, they go back to the Koran and prophetic quotations and their wording; whatever agrees with what they see with the light of certainty they affirm, and whatever disagrees with it they interpret allegorically. But he who bases his knowledge of these things on mere hearsay will thereby fail to secure a firm foothold or gain a well defined position therein. Such a man who confines himself to mere hearsay would do better to follow the position of Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

But a closer examination and definition of the middle-road position in these things belongs to the vast subject of revelation which we must leave aside.

Our aim was only to make clear that the invisible and visible may be in harmony with one another and that no disagreement exists between them. At any rate many things have been unfolded through our discussion of these five parts.

It is our opinion that for the common people the explanation of the faith which we have already given is sufficient for them and that nothing further will be required of them in the first degree. But if any fear of disturbances arises on account of the spread of heresies, then, in the second degree, recourse may be had to a statement of the belief wherein a brief and undetailed outline of the obvious proofs is presented.

We shall, therefore, present these obvious proofs in this book and shall confine ourselves therein to what we have issued to the people of Jerusalem, entitled al Risalah al Qudsiyah fi Qawa'id al `Aqa'id (The Jerusalem Epistle on the Foundations of the Articles of Faith) and included in the following third section of this book.

Main Chapter 1 Chapter 3 Chapter 4