The true meaning of religion according to Ghazali

The true meaning of religion according to Ghazali

We raise whom We will to the highest degrees.
But above every scientist is the One whose Science has no limit

It is clear that nowadays a large majority of men and women seem to have adopted, often without even realizing it, a point of view and a way of life leading them to consider daily life as separated from the spiritual and religious dimension. In such a context, the work of Imam Muhammad Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111) takes on, more than ever, an extraordinarily topical character. Restoring the possibility, for those who so desire, of rediscovering the true meaning of religion, it is a coherent implementation of the fundamental message of unity and uniqueness of Islam in all its constitutive dimensions of submission to the will Divine (al-islam), of faith (al-iman) and contemplative virtue (al-ihsan).

Whoever wishes to deepen the meaning of his own religious and spiritual life, will be able to find there the expression of a universal wisdom and of an indispensable balance that the world seems to have forgotten, however, paradoxically. Ghazali’s work refuses any entirely mental or sentimental approach to religion which would be cut off from the truly transcendent and spiritual dimension, and which would reduce faith to a simple abstraction or to an emotional impulse that risks drifting towards fundamentalism and fanaticism. But it also avoids the trap of a discourse of reason that would seek to monopolize the place of intelligence by claiming knowledge through the rejection and denial of everything that goes beyond it.

Thus, reason claiming objectivity and faith taxed by it with subjectivity are doomed to oppose each other without ever succeeding in agreeing. This situation could only, in the end, degenerate into a deleterious relativism calling into question the very notion of Truth and the possibility of knowing God in order to be able to recognize Him. However, according to the sacred texts and the teachings of the prophets, it is this knowledge of God, absolute and eternal Truth, which constitutes the very goal of human existence. It is this goal that the authentic saints and scholars of God have achieved, and, among them, Imam Ghazali who calls us, through his immense work, his exceptional journey and his spiritual experience, to join him.

Ghazali marked, by his example and his teachings, the life of many communities of believers, men and women; and if one is sensitive to the spiritual dimension, one will find in the life and intellectual activity of Imam Ghazali an example of enlightened servitude and a clear sign of divine alchemy at work. The contemporary world, which apparently seems to be moving away from the traditional principles and values ​​that Ghazali masterfully expounded more than nine centuries ago, would benefit greatly from deepening, with all the seriousness and honesty that such an undertaking includes, the teachings that the imam transmitted through his works, and through the significant events of his intense life. Due to a superficial veil that hides the knowledge of the true light of faith and spiritual realities, humanity seems today, as in Ghazali’s time, to have forgotten the meaning of its own function in the world. .

Nine centuries later, the debates between “spiritualist faith” and “rational dogmatism”, or between “intellectualist speculation” and “atheistic science”, continue to rage. However, if the context is different, the work that must be undertaken remains the same in each era. It is the work carried out by the witnesses of the authentic Tradition when they re-establish the necessary conditions which give back to humanity the possibility of “tasting” the Unity of God in the multiplicity of His creation. However, the difference today is that it is perhaps no longer just a question of qualitatively or quantitatively analyzing the crisis of contemporary man with regard to his spiritual identity, but of calling, in a very pragmatic way, those who still aspire to the knowledge of the Truth to show coherence and integrity in their very life, by abandoning the external conditionings and the subtle influences of a world which seems more and more incomprehensible, to turn their gaze towards which relates to the certainty of Eternity.

By losing sight of this essential dimension of his existence, the human being fatally renders his function on earth ineffective. The risk is then that he governs the world for which God has entrusted him with the charge, without any science, even in opposition to the action of the divine Intellect, going so far as to participate and even cause this chaos which we know that he will announce the ruin of the world, and that of man. Fighting against this desacralization of existence, Ghazali knew on the contrary to find, through a metaphysical tension, the impetus and the taste of a human life understood as an itinerary of purification, action and knowledge. A knowledge which, within the traditional framework of Islam, manifests itself in progressive unveilings. Scrupulously observing the prescriptions of the Revelation, Imam Ghazali discovered the natural correspondences of his role in this world with the other world, thanks to the frequentation of the masters in the practice of science and the way of the Au. -of the.

However, if they found the courage and the will to abandon the purely quantitative, superficial, dialectical or speculative approach that they generally have to wisdom and religion, men today could draw inspiration of the courage of the imam. By yielding to this effort of “spiritual withdrawal” from appearances and external forms, following the example of Ghazali, they would then rediscover, showing all the necessary determination and patience, the way of a contemplative vocation which also induces , for those who follow it, a serene and harmonious participation in the constant testimony of a sacred vision of existence.

Nevertheless, reading the works of Ghazali could prove futile for those who would like to rediscover the meaning of their stay on earth and straighten the course of their existence, if it is not accompanied by the putting into practice of the example given. by Imam Ghazali; that of a lived dynamic metaphysical tension which drives one to continually seek certainty in knowledge. As a “restorer” imam (mujaddid), Ghazâlî had and will always have, in his time as today, the function of renovating, or better of “reviving”, among sincere students, the transmission of the traditional deposit (al-amana) entrusted by God to every creature.

Today, as it has always been, this is not a philosophical, rational, let alone dogmatic question. The important thing is to preserve and put into action this sacred existential deposit, of which faith and intelligence form a part, and which makes man the representative of God on earth, provided that he does not derogate from the ” mithaq »the “Primordial Pact” which binds him unfailingly to his Lord.

The timeliness of Imam Ghazali’s teachings corresponds to the very timeliness of Quranic Revelation and the prophetic model, which trace a clear and reliable path to the Hereafter, a path that remains valid until the end of the time. About this divine path, Ghazali reminds us of what faith and intelligence are: precious gifts of God that must be cultivated, deepened, and used with wisdom, rigor and openness of heart. , to succeed in benefiting from the divine graces that support the believer in his journey of returning to God.

In the contemporary context, where intellectual rigor, deepening of the faith, purification of the heart, and taste for virtues are increasingly rare, even hackneyed values, even within religious communities such as the Muslim community, the teachings of imam Ghazali constitute an effective tool and a valuable aid in the search for these qualities. The growing number of translations of his works, which can now be found in most languages, testify to a certain interest which can be explained by the fact that Ghazali’s writings provide masterful answers to essential questions about the meaning of life, the dignity of man, the goal of existence and the means to achieve it, with that clarity and simplicity of evidence proper to what is timeless.

At the same time, his reflections and his meditations on the spiritual life, because they remain relatively accessible to the mentality and the nature of the men of our time, and because they are addressed to the heart of everyone, exceed largely within the framework of Islamic studies or the Muslim community. This is the case, in particular, of his famous sum “Revivification of the sciences of religion” (ihyâ’ ‘ulûm ad-dîn), of which we have the honor to present a complete and commented French translation of the first book devoted to Science (kitab al-‘ilm). In this sense, theIhya’ can legitimately be considered as a synthesis of the intellectual and religious testament that Imam Ghazali left to humanity.

According to a hadith, that is to say a tradition relating the words and deeds of the Prophet, transmitted by his Companion ‘Umar ibn al-Khattâb, and reported in the collection Sahih of Muslim: “One day when we were sitting near the Messenger of God (may God pour out on him His grace and His peace), there appeared to us a man with bright white clothes, and dark hair. intense blackness, with no visible trace of travel on him. None of us knew him. He came and sat opposite the Prophet, placed his knees against his and, placing his hands on his thighs, he said to the Prophet: “O Muhammad, inform me about theIslam (submission to the will of God). – I’Islam, replied the messenger of God, it is that you testify that there is no god except God and that Muhammad is the envoy of God; that you perform the ritual prayer, that you pay purifying alms, that you fast the month of Ramadan, and that you make the pilgrimage to the sacred house of God if you have the possibility. “You’re telling the truth!” said the man. What was our astonishment when we heard him approve of the Prophet’s answer! And the man continues: “Inform me about the Faith (al-iman). – It isreplied the Prophet, to believe in God, His angels, His Books, His messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in the predestination of good and evil. “You are right!” repeated the man, who went on to say: “Inform me about Excellence (or contemplative virtue, al-ihsan). – It isreplied the Prophet, that you adore God as if you saw him, because if you do not see him, certainly, he sees you. The man said, “Inform me about the Last Hour. – The person being questioned knows no more than the person questioning him., replied the Prophet. – What are the warning signs? – It issaid the Prophet, when the servant begets her mistress, and when you see the destitute, barefoot and ill-dressed, competing in the erection of lofty buildings. Thereupon the man left. As for me, I stayed a while. Then the Prophet asked me: O ‘Umar, do you know who questioned ? I replied, “God and His messenger know better!” – It’s Gabrielsaid the Prophet, who came to teach you your religion.