The Beginning of Guidance

By Abdal Hakim Murad Presented at Bankstown Town Hall, Sydney, Thursday 8th April, 2004

Transcribed: Badar Zoud

Let us compose ourselves for a moment, in the
presence of Allah. The ‘ulama state, "bithikrihim tunzil al-rahma" by merely mentioning them, the rahma, the compassion, the sweet loving kindness of Allah descends. It’s a rest for the soul as well as an illumination for the mind that comes when we consider the siar, the blessed lives of the great ones of our tradition. Particularly when we consider those who spent their lives healing the great divisions which religion sent to heal - the division between man and his lord and the division between the ‘ibaad themselves between human beings, between believers in the same blessed tradition. Those who attempt that greatest of all tasks, those who therefore walk in the footsteps of the Prophets (a.s), those who are "warathatul-unbiyaa", heirs to the Prophets are those with whose mention the mercy particularly descends because they are the proofs. Islam is not ultimately about books, it’s not about great buildings, it’s not about the mighty civilizations that our culture has historically thrown up. Islam is about men and women, it’s about we shaping our poor flesh after an image of perfection, its about healing hearts that are sick with the drugs and the intoxication of this worldly life, its about bringing light into our lives and banishing the devil and death.

Allah (swt) has such special regard for this ummah, which is as we are told, ummatun marhumah, an ummah upon which there is mercy has many times and places chosen individuals who will indeed walk in the path of the anbiya. Those who do not limit the religion simply to outward conformity, that is a simple task, but those who insist that the religion demands of us not just some things, but absolutely everything. That everything we have we must give to Allah and all we hold back is burnt. The message of Islam in its fullness, in its totality, in its uncompromising demands from everything we are – that is the message that is presented by the great ones whom Allah (swt), in his great mercy and his great

love for this ummah and to honour the founder of this great ummah, has appointed for each generation.

Let’s consider the hadith, "inna allah yub’athu fee haathihi alummah ‘ala ra’si kuli miati sanah man yujadidaha deenaha", hadith narrated by Imam Tabarrani and Imam Al-hakim – it’s a profound hadith. Allah shall raise up, this is a prophecy from him (s), Allah shall raise up for this ummah at the beginning of every 100 years, someone who will renew for it, its religion. As you can imagine a tremendous prediction like this coming from the one who, "laa yantiqu ‘an il-hawa", does not speak out of whim or personal opinion, generated intense interest and enthusiasm amongst the ‘ulama. Who were these individuals? They began to compile lists and as the centuries rolled by, of course the lists became longer and also the differences became greater. Most of the lists say the first mujadid of Islam seems to have been the righteous khalifah, Umar ibn Adbul-Aziz. That’s generally agreed upon with few exceptions. Some of them say, in the second Islamic century perhaps it was Muhammad ibn Idrees al-Shafi’ and so on and so on until we get to a century which really in many ways represents the climax to the evolution of our tradition and Imam Jalal al-din al-suyuti in the 16th Gregorian century who has a separate book on this hadith said regarding this century it is qutb al-islam, Muhammad ibn Muhammad, ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali and he adds, "laa a’lamu lahu khilafun", I don’t know any scholar who disagrees with it. The ‘ulama have disagreed over earlier centuries and disagree over later centuries but when it comes to the hujjatul islam as far as Imam as-Suyuti knows, and he was no mean reader, the ummah was agreed.

How did he get this magnificent title? Why is it that his book, after the Quran and hadith is more commented upon than any other book of Islam? Why is it that the great Shafi’ jurist and hadith

commentator Sharf al-din Nawawi (rahmatullahi ‘alah) said: "law thuhubut qutub al-islam, wal-‘iathu billah, wa-lum yubqa illa alihya la – u’na ‘umma bu’d" – if all the books of islam were to be lost, may Allah preserve us, and only the ihya remained (Imam AlGhazali’s great work, The Revival) it would be enough, it would supply the orb that had been lost. Why this great esteem? Why was he hujjatul-islam, the proof of Islam? Precisely because he revealed Islam in it’s totality. Not a lob-sided preoccupation with the inward with the exclusion of the outward duties, nor a nitpicking pre-occupation with the outward and a neglect of the inward - but an Islam of balance, an Islam of precisely siraat almustaqeem, the straight path which is always the path between two erroneous extremes. This really is the secret of our ummah, "wa-kathaalika ja’alnaakum ummatan wasata", Allah said, thus have we made you a middle nation.

But this ummah is to be a revival of the Abrahamic faith. Our understanding of the way in which earlier ummah’s went astray reflects a lot of this balance, namely that Bani-Israel moved away from the original message of Sayidina Musa (as) in the direction of excessive externalism, Sayyidina Issa (as) was sent to correct this, but then his own followers took things too far in the opposite direction and threw out the law all together and said this is just the spirit you don’t need the latter. Then in the 7th century it became clear that this imbalance had become permanent and Allah (swt) restored the Abrahamic meezan, the perfect balance of Sayyidna Ibrahim (as) by appointing Sayyidina Muhammad (s).

So those who revive his way of being the golden mean. "khayr alumuri awsatuhu wa-kilta tarafayil umuru tameem", the best of all affairs is the middle path and both extremes are reprehensible. Because it’s easy to be extreme, you can switch off your brain and follow the extreme, extremists tend to be the less intelligent

members of any religious community anywhere in the world, because you can have almost no brain and still be growing angry and still be following rules in either direction. To know the middle path requires assurgency, and Allah (swt) wants this ummah to be potent and wise and lead by people who are intelligent and wise and certainly Imam Al-Ghazali (rahmatulahi ‘alah) fits those qualifications.

So, because mercy descends upon those who remember the great ones and who seek to be healed by the revival that they brought let’s remind ourselves briefly of his life story.

It was fairly short; he died at the age of 55. Born in 1058 of the western calendar in the town of Tabiran which is nowadays not very much, the Mongols saw to that around 100 years after the Imam’s death, and thought to have been the centre of the former great Islamic land of Khurasan (unlikely to find it on the map today) but for any Muslim in the middle ages Khurasan meant approximately central Asia. If you took a pair of compasses and drew a circle of radius 400 – 500 km around the points of the present day borders where Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Iran meet you would have what Muslims historically understood by Khurasan.

Khurasan was in many ways along with Iraq the intellectual power house of the entire Islamic ummah, and it was known particularly for its hadith scholars eg, Imam Al-Bukhari from Samarkand, Imam Al-Tirmithi and many others from that part of the world and also remembered for its doctrinal brilliance.

Imam Al-Ghazali who was orphaned at an early age and taken into the care of relatives was dedicated to learning from an early age in a time and place that was blessed with a presence, almost a super abundance, of truly great scholars. Too many particular things that affected his soul and mind, the Imam Abu Ali Al-tirmithi and the Shaykh Imam Al-Haramayn Al-juwayni.

Al-tirmithi is a hadith expert who is also a great exponent of the sciences of the soul; he has that irreplaceable gift of being able to look into the heart of people young and old and detecting the sickness and the ability to consult the scriptures and the wisdom of our tradition to prescribe a remedy. Here is a teacher of Imam Abu qasm Al-busayri (rahmatulallhi ‘alahi) himself a great hadith scholar and a great ‘alim of ‘aqeedah and a great Imam of Tasawuf (the inner science of conforming ones soul to the Prophetic realities).

And the other line of instruction that the Imam was receiving as a small boy this was Imam Al-Haramayn Al-Juwayni, who was a great model of the outward visual discipline of Islam. Juwayni comes from the great tradition of doctrine and hadith scholarship that are associated with the names Ibn-sura, Hakim Al-Nusaburi and many other great scholars of Khurasan. Imam al-haramayn, called the imam of the two sanctuaries because on his visit to Mecca and Medina so impressed the ‘ulama with his knowledge that even though he was a stranger they insisted that he lead all the prayers when he was in those towns in the two harams of Mecca and Medina - a great exponent of the evolving flourishing Islamic sciences defending and vindicating the religion against its enemies through the use of the intellect.

So we can in our minds eye conjure up an image of the Imam still a young boy attending the classes of this very rigorous, difficult and intellectually demanding tradition of theology in the morning in the great mosque in Nisabur sitting with hundreds of other students hanging on every word of the great Imam. After the thuhr prayer mounting his donkey and riding up through the suburbs of the great city to the gardens, the rose gardens where Imam AlTirmithi would speak and sometimes sing.

Throughout his life Imam Al-Ghazali is characterised by the resolution of this tension. Is Islam ultimately to be known and approved and ascertained with the brain or with the heart? What kind of religion developed, where is the proof? Is it a light that Allah casts into the heart or is it possible to prove anything just using the brain alone? Or is it the other way around or is it a subtle combination of the two? An argument that erupts constantly in all circles.

In 1084 Imam Al-Tirmithi dies and in the following year Imam AlHaramayn follows him into the next world and so grief stricken are his pupils that when they hear the news they break their pens as a mark of respect and don’t return to their studies for a year. Imam Al-Ghazali reckons no-one else in Nisabur can help him; he has already reached a very high level in Shafi’ fiqh and in kalam, a formal argumentative proof based theology of Islam. He travels elsewhere, he’s only 28, he travels to the capital of the Islamic world, the great Abassid city of Baghdad and he fetches up in a rather strange place, the fort of the great selduke begir, Nizam Almulk, its strange because its not in a building its in a tent outside Baghdad, the wazir finds it easier to rule from that situation.

Immediately, a kind of symbiosis develops between the two men, they look each other in the eye and they can see that they are on the same wavelength. The wazir, Nizam Al-Mulk is a pragmatic military man; he’s just interested in finding ways of ruling and bringing about the peace and expansion of the Dar al-Islam. Imam al-Ghazali is a specialised theologian and legist. Nizam AlMulk seizes the opportunity and immediately appoints this very young man to the most prestigious professorial chair in the entire Islamic world today, the professorship of Shafi’ fiqh at the great madrasah created in Baghdad the Nidhamiyah. So here is this very young man with 300 – 400 students coming from all over the Islamic world to sit at his feet, he’s already made it (as a tenor professor) yet still not yet certain.

It is here that he produces the most vital works of law that the ummah has ever had and these are the standard text of Shafi’ fiqh that are used and prescribed in the great Islamic universities today. Four big texts on Shafi’ furu’ that is to say the do’s and the don’ts. Also the great text of Usul al-fiqh the roots of the law, how exactly do the jurists (the mujtahid scholar) figure out the exact legal meaning of the Quran and Sunnah, that is what the ‘ulama describe as the Taj al-‘ulum, the crown of the sciences, because its not only the most important but because of the lethal danger implied in the amateur reading of the scriptures and the division and error that can flow from there it has to be done by brilliant experts because of its extraordinary sophistication. Islam invested most of its mental brilliance in the golden ages of Islamic intellectuality not so much in theology but in fiqh and particularly in jurisprudence.

So the Imam is teaching and then apparently having made it under the climax of his career disaster strikes, he starts to experience that most dreadful of all complaints — he starts to

worry about the basis of his faith. This is a calamity not just for himself but for his students and of course the entire Islamic world which by now is really dependant on his formulation of the truths of the religion. So his experiences are very frightening, and he notes this in his kind of autobiography "Al-Munqid Min Al-Dalaal", the deliverer from error, which he writes in order to tell other people in his frightful driven situation to rediscover certainty. He describes how first of all he was beset by doubts about his own sincerity – sitting on the mimbar with all of those adoring students at his feet, hanging on his every word — how can he be sure that he was doing this solely for the glory of Allah (swt) and not to gratify his own sense of importance. Also, doubts regarding the basis of religion itself - how do we know anything? How do we know the basis of scripture? How can we prove the existence of Allah? Is there really a foundation of this huge superstructure that has been erected in his day in the name of Islam? Where is the proof?

It’s noted that the double life he was leading eventually provoked mental catastrophe, a kind of breakdown when in the middle of a lecture he suddenly drops down, climbed down and walked away – he’s not seen again in his circle for eleven years. Where did he go? We are not quite sure. He didn’t really want to be followed; he made provision for his wife and children and announced he was going on the hajj and he left Baghdad.

Well, he did go on the hajj but he went to many other places as well. If you go to haram al-sharif in Jerusalem — may Allah soon restore it to its rightful owners — you will find pointed out the room where the Imam used to stay when he was in his retreat cell meditating, contemplating finding his repository space in that great symbol of spiritual school of our religion, the place of israa and mi’raj. He went to Damascus as well and possibly to other

cities. Then his great achievement is that he returns, he returns to teaching, returns to his family and returns to the ummah with his faith reinforced and restored.

How does this come about? He says, philosophy, theology and all the other great logic propping disciplines are right and legitimate but not for establishing faith. The faith in that which is upperly transcendent beyond this world cannot be established by arguments and brain power that is limited by this world, its beyond - Allah is munazah, He is transcendent above what our brains can demonstrate.

There is a sort of knowledge within ourselves which he defines as the heart. It was the qulb, the heart, the illuminated unimaginable heart of the blessed Prophet that was the point upon which revelation descended "nuzuluhu ‘ala qulbik" we sent it down upon your heart. This is repository of something which actually is not of this world, the ruh, the spirit. "yasaloonaka ‘an al-ruh, qul al-ruh min amri rabi wa-ma ootitum min al-‘ilm illa qaleelaa" Allah says: "They ask you about the ruh, the spirit. Say: ‘The spirit is of the command of my Lord and of knowledge you have been given only a little.’" Why does it have to be said in this obscure, difficult, elliptical way? Because human language cannot really grapple with that which lies outside the four dimensions of space and time. Language is of this world and falls silent when asked to describe that which is outside the horizons of this world. Little knowledge have you been given. But the ruh is there and the ruh is of the command of Allah (swt), it is what Allah at the beginning of things breathed into the clay to make the first man, it is what differentiates us from the clay that is the rest of creation. It is what allows us to acquire in human form names that are names of Allah (swt). It is what differentiates us and it is in this sense that we can be Allah’s khulafa — His deputies, representatives, models on earth.

Imam Al-Ghazali made this discovery which is in fact plain Quranic teaching and he said this is the sort of knowledge if you want to know, if you want yaqeen, if you want certainty, don’t spend too much time talking logic with the Greeks, have a look within and pray and accompany those prayers and that effort with superhuman efforts in perfect conformity to the Prophetic sunnah "walitheena jaahadu feena lanahdiyannahum subulana" those who struggle for our sake, we shall certainly guide them to our path — and guidance is quintessentially iman – its where it comes from. Strive and you will see. This is the divine promise "lanahdiyannahum" we will certainly guide them. The secret of religion is a deep secret and of this Imam Al-Ghazali was convinced most of the ‘ulama of his day where unaware – i.e. knowledge lies within, and only to the extent that we purify what is within ourselves and strip away the filthy layers of vice and greed and lust and anarchy and self centeredness will we truly know, will we have any kind of real ma’rifah, that’s the only way. All else is speculation and wishful thinking. So this is a practical model and this is why the blessed Prophet (s) was at the heart of the Ghazalian teaching.