Category Archives: Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī

Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī on showing that appointing a Caliph is obligatory

We should not think that this obligation derives from the intellect. We have explained that obligations derive from the revelation, except when ‘obligatory’ is interpreted to designate an act, such that there is benefit in performing it or harm in refraining from it. According to this interpretation, it cannot be denied that appointing an imam is obligatory, since it leads to benefit and prevents harm in this worldly life. However, we present a conclusive legal demonstration that is it is obligatory. We will not rely solely on the consensus of the Muslim community; rather we bring attention to the basis of this consensus.

Hence we say:

Well ordered religious affairs are decidedly a purpose of the man with the revelation (صلى الله عليه وسلم). This is an unquestionable premise about which no dispute is imaginable. We add to it another premise, which is that well-ordered religious affairs can only be achieved through an imam who is obeyed. The correctness of the proposition that the appointment of an imam is obligatory follows from these two premises.


If it is said that the last premise, which is that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only through an imam, is not conceded, then we say: “Its demonstration is that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only by well-ordered worldly affairs and well-ordered worldly affairs can be achieved only by an imam who is obeyed.” These are two premises: which one is the subject of dispute?


It might be said: “Why do you say that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only through well-ordered worldly affairs? On the contrary, it can be achieved only by destruction of worldly affairs, for religious affairs and worldly affairs are opposites, and hence to be occupied with making one of them flourish is the ruin of the other.”

We say:

This is the argument of someone who does not understand what we intend here by ‘worldly affairs’. For it is an ambiguous term that may be used to designate luxury and pleasure and being excessive beyond what is needed and necessary, or it may be used to designate all that is required prior to one’s death. One of the designations is opposed to religion and the other is its very condition. It is this way that the one who does not distinguish between the meaning of ambiguous terms errs.

We thus say:

Well-ordered religious affairs are achieved through knowledge and worship. These cannot be achieve without the health of the body, the maintenance of life, the fulfillment of needs – such as those for clothing, shelter and food – and security from the onset of calamities. How true this is: “When a man wakes up safe among his family, with a healthy body, and in possession of his daily sustenance, it is as if the whole world is made available to him.”[1] A man does not achieve security in his life, body, wealth, home, and sustenance under all circumstances but [only] under some. Religious affairs cannot flourish unless security is achieved in these important and necessary matters. Otherwise, if one spends all his time being occupied with protecting himself against the swords of oppressors, and with winning his sustenance from exploiters, when would he find time for working and seeking knowledge, which are his means for achieving happiness in the hereafter? Therefore well-ordered worldly affairs – I mean the fulfillment of needs – are a condition for well-ordered religious affairs.


As for the second premise, which is that worldly affairs and security in life and wealth can be maintained only through an imam who is obeyed, it is confirmed by observing the periods of social upheavals when the sultans and imams die. If these periods are prolonged and not quickly terminated by the appointment of another sultan who is obeyed, the killing would continue and the sword would dominate, famine would spread, livestock would diminish, and industry would collapse; and whoever wins would plunder; and no one who manages to stay alive would have time to worship or seek knowledge; and the majority would die under the shadows of the swords. For this reason it has been said that religion and sultan are twins, and also that religion is a foundation and the sultan is a guard: that which has not foundation collapses and that which has no guard is lost.


In sum, no rational person doubts that if mankind, given their different classes, diverse desires, and disparate opinions, are left to their own devices without decrees that they obey and that unify their factions, they would all end in ruin. This is an epidemic that has no remedy other than a strong sultan who is obeyed and who unifies their disparate opinions. This shows that a sultan is necessary for achieving well-ordered worldly affairs, and well-ordered worldly affairs are necessary for achieving well-ordered religious affairs, and well-ordered religious affairs are necessary for achieving happiness in the hereafter, which is decidedly the purpose of all the prophets. Therefore, the obligation of appointing an imam is among the essential requirements of the law – a requirement that by no means can be ignored.

[1] This is a ḥadīth. It is reported by Ibn Maja, Sunan, XXXVII.9, No. 414; and Tirmidhi, al-Jāmi‘ al-Ṣaḥīḥ, XXXVII.34, No. 2347

[Al-Ghazali’s Moderation in Belief: Al-Iqtiṣād fi al-I‘tiqād, translated by A M Yaqub, Unviersity of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2013, pp. 229-231]


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Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī on Good Deeds

O disciple, advice is easy – what is difficult is accepting it, for it is bitter in taste to those who pursue vain pleasures, since forbidden things are dear to their hearts. [This is] particularly so for whoever is the student of conventional knowledge, who is occupied with gratifying his ego and with worldly exploits, for he supposes that his knowledge alone will be his salvation and his deliverance is in it, and that he can do without deeds and this is the conviction of the philosophers. Glory be to God Almighty! This conceited fool does not know that when he acquires knowledge, if he does not act on the strength of it, the evidence against him will become decisive, as the Messenger of God (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, ‘The man most severely punished on the Day of Resurrection is a scholar whom God did not benefit by his knowledge.’ [1]


[1] Ismā‘īl ibn Muḥammad al-Jarrāḥī, Kashf al-khafā’ wa muzīl ’l-ilbās, vol, 1, p. 145, ḥadīth 376; also ‘Alā al-Dīn al-Muttaqī al-Hindī, Kanz al-‘ummāl, vol. 10, p. 187, ḥadīth 28977

 [Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, Letter to a Disciple: Ayyuhā ’l-Walad, translated by Tobias Mayer, Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge, 2005, p. 6]

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Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī on the Reality of the Dunyā

Know that in their forgetfulness the people of dunyā are like a group of people sailing upon a ship. When they come to an island, and disembark to relieve themselves, the captain warns them against returning late, and instructs them to remain only so long as is necessary, lest he raise anchor and set sail without them. Heeding this, some of them hurry back quickly, and hence find themselves able to sit in the best and most spacious part of the ship. The others, however, behave in different ways. Some become entranced by gazing at the island’s flowers and rippling streams, and its gems and precious metals, and then suddenly come to, and hasten back to the ship, and although they find spaces which are inferior to those occupied by those who preceded them, they are still safe. Others are so preoccupied by the flowers that they cannot bring themselves to leave them, although the flowers fade and dry soon enough. When the wind gets up, they are forced to throw their dry flowers overboard, and escape just with their own lives. Others, however, have penetrated the jungles and forgotten the captain’s advice, so that when they hear his final call to depart, they rush back only to find that the ship has sailed without them, and they remain marooned with what they had collected, until they perish. Still others are so obsessed with gathering good things that they are deaf even to the captain’s cry. Of these, some are eaten by wild beasts, or are poisoned by snakes, while others wander aimlessly until they die of hunger. This class resembles the people who live for the world, who are preoccupied with its mortal pleasures, and live in heedlessness of their future. How repulsive is the man who claims to be intelligent and full of insight, and yet is deluded by gems, silver and gold, and by flowers and fruits, nothing of which will accompany him to his destination!

[Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, quoted by Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī in فتح الباري شرح صحيح البخاري (Fat al-Bārī Sharḥ aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī), English Translation: Selections from the Fat al-Bārī (Commentary on aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī) by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Academic Trust, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 6-7]

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Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī on Takfīr

Know that a full explanation of the grounds on which a person may or may not be branded an Unbeliever would require a long and detailed discussion covering all of the various doctrines and schools of thought along with the proofs and pseudo-proofs adduced by each, as well as the manner in which they departed from the apparent meaning of scripture and the degree to which they rely on figurative interpretation. Several volumes would not be enough to cover all of this. Nor do I have time to explain it all. So, for the time being, content yourself with a piece of advice and a maxim.


As for the Advice, it is that you restrain your tongue, to the best of your ability, from indicting the people who face Mecca (on charges of Unbelief) as long as they say, ‘There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God,’ without categorically contradicting this. And for them to contradict this categorically is for them to affirm the possibility that the Prophet,* with or without excuse, delivered lies. Indeed, branding people Unbelievers is a serious matter. Remaining silent, on the other hand, entails no liability at all.


As for the Maxim, it is that speculative matters (al-naarīyāt) are of two types. One is connected with the fundamental principles of creed, the other with secondary issues. The fundamental principles are acknowledging the existence of God, the prophethood of His Prophet, and the reality of the Last Day. Everything else is secondary.


Know that there should be no branding any person an Unbeliever over any secondary issue whatsoever, as a matter of principle, with one exception: that such a person reject a religious tenet that was learned from the Prophet* and passed down via diffusely congruent channels (tawātur). Even here, however, regarding some matters he may simply be subject to being deemed wrong, as is done with legal issues. Or he may be subject to condemnation for unsanctioned innovation (bid‘a), such as with wrong ideas regarding the Caliphate and the status of the Companions.

*صلى الله عليه وسلم

[Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, فيصل التفرقة بين الإسلام والزندقة (Fayal al-Tafriqa Bayn al-Islām wa al-Zandaqa). English translation: On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam by Dr. Sherman Abdul-Hakim Jackson, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 112-113]

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