Friday, December 11, 2015

193. Thoughts of Al-Ghazali. Part two


We were discussing sense-data


What if the dream state was real and ordinary state was unreal like a dream?

He had heard that Sufis could attain states which were different from normal wakefulness and sleep.  There was a hadith,  “Men are asleep: then after they die they awake.” And will be told, according to Quran, ‘But We have removed from you your veil and today your sight is keen’ (50:21-22)

Ghazali struggled for two months with this dilemma. On one side was the surety of sense-data and self-evident truths and on the other side arguments against them which made one doubt them. He could not surmount this impasse.

Then, God in His great mercy guided him and illumination came to him.


At this point, this mote wants to digress and want to site two pertinent examples of two great philosophers.

Remember Ghazali doubting the sense-data. Descartes(born 1596 A.D.) is considered the founder of modern philosophy (3). He went through the same thought process in 17th century which Ghazali had gone through earlier, namely to doubt everything (Cartesian doubt). He said to himself, ‘here, I am sitting in my armchair by the fire place. But I have imagined myself sitting like this while I was in bed. I have had hallucinations and dreams which appeared real to me, but were false. However, although sense-data can be doubted but geometrical and arithmetical realities are certain’. As he further reflected on this point he came to question mathematical beliefs also. He considered, ‘what if a powerful demon or God was misleading me. God would not do such a thing but an evil demon might. He could make me believe in things where none were present’

“there remains, however, something that I cannot doubt. No demon, however cunning, could deceive me if I did not exist. I may have no body: this might be an illusion. But thought is different.”

‘I cannot think unless I exist.’

“ I think therefore I am”

This phrase has become immortal over centuries!

It was his first truth, which he could accept without scruple.


Plato, ( born 428-7 B.C.) discussed what is real and what is an illusion in his famous simile of the cave.


“Behold! Human being living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards light……., and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them……Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and prisoners there is a raised way……there is a wall in front. Between the wall and themselves there is nothing; all that they see are shadows of themselves, and objects behind them, cast on the wall by the light of the fire behind them. Inevitably they regard these shadows as real, and have no notion of the objects to which they are due. At last some man succeeds in escaping from the cave to the light of the sun, for the first time he sees real things, and becomes aware that he had hitherto been deceived by shadows.”

If he is a philosopher he goes back to the cave to tell others that are looking at shadows. Nobody believes him.


Philosophy. Next Ghazali turned his attention to philosophy. “God, most high, gave me an insight in the farthest reaches of philosophy in less than two years.”There were three main divisions:

1.       Most ancient philosophers: they did not believe in God. They alleged that the world had existed from eternity as it is, and not by reason of a Maker. Modern scientist and philosophers, like Einstein and Bertrand Russell, would fall in this category, except their belief in Darwin’s theory of evolution.

2.       Second category were the naturalists. They believed in God, but did not believe in afterlife. This mote, as a young man, belonged to this group.

3.       Third group of philosophers believed in a Creator, and afterlife. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle belonged to this category. This mote, a secular humanist and novice mystic, belongs to this group. They differed from devout religious in several aspects. Ghazali noted twenty differences from ordinary Muslims, especially three questions, and wrote a book (The incoherence )to refute their beliefs. In general, the philosophers of his time, were unbelievers in religion, they were innovators, and practiced mathematical and physical sciences. They also followed logic and syllogism.

Ghazali spent a lot of energy and effort in discussing these topics in his spiritual autobiography. This mote has no intention of doing it because it is unnecessary and outdated for present times. Suffice is to say that Ghazali was satisfied.

Sufism. Finally he planned to learn the way of sufis. It took him eleven years. First he read many books written by great mystics. It soon became evident to him that theoretical knowledge is not sufficient, he had to practice mysticism. Just like knowing the definition of drunkenness is different than actually being drunk.


To be continued




(1)‘AL-Ghazali’s path to Sufism, his deliverance from error’. “Al-Munqidh min al-Dalal”. Translated from the Arabic by Mccarthy. Prefaced by Burrell. Introduction by  Graham

(2) ‘Kashaf ul- Mehjoob’ by Daata Gunj Bakhash

(1)    My source in writings about Descartes and Plato is the book, “ A history of Western Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell


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