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Al-Ghazali : Jesus Christ

mardi 24 juin 2014, par Murilo Cardoso de Castro

JESUS CHRIST is the Touch-Stone of character, the Master of all spiritual leaders and the one supreme and infallible Judge who can pronounce an unerring verdict concerning the truth of any religious system or teaching. What place has Jesus in the teaching of the greatest of all Moslem theologians, what place had He in the heart of this great mystic, this seeker after God, who, whatever else he may have been, was utterly sincere in his search ? Al-Ghazali, as a student of the Koran, must have noticed that in this book Christ occupies a high place ; no fewer than three of the chapters of the Koran, namely, that of Amram’s Family (Surah III), that of The Table (Surah V), and that of Mary (Surah XIX), derive their names from references to Jesus Christ and His work. The very fact that Jesus Christ has a place in the literature of Islam, and is acknowledged by all Moslems as one of their greater prophets in itself therefore challenges comparison between Him and Mohammed. Did Al-Ghazali ever meet this challenge and in how far did he compare Mohammed with Christ ? It is our purpose in this chapter to answer the question by collating all the important references in the Ihya and his other works and then to draw some conclusions both as to his sources and his opinions. The reader may judge for himself how far Al-Ghazali is a schoolmaster to lead Moslems to Christ.

We search in vain among all his works for a sketch of the life of Christ or of His teaching. Al-Ghazali doubtless had read and was probably well acquainted with the only popular work known which gives a connected account of the life of Jesus Christ according to Moslem sources, namely, Kitab qusus al Anbiya by Ibn Ibrahim Ath-Tha’labi, a doctor of theology of the Shaft School, who died in a. h. 427 (a. d. 1036). The fabulous character of this mass of traditions has been shown in a translation of the section which deals with Jesus Christ (Zwemer, "The Moslem Christ."). Al-Ghazali does not give altogether the same stories as are given by Ath-Tha’labi but gives a great number of other incidents and reported sayings, many of which resemble those found in the Gospels and others which are wholly apocryphal.

The question again arises where did Al-Ghazali gain this knowledge of the Gospel ? Did he have access to a Persian or Arabic translation ; or was all this material which we have collated, the result of hearsay, gathered from the lips of Christian monks and Jewish rabbis ? It is perfectly clear that he was acquainted with Old Testament tradition even more than with that of the New Testament. There are scores of passages in which he refers to the teachings of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the lives of the Old Testament Prophets. We have already referred to translations of the Bible into Arabic before the time of Al-Ghazali in our first chapter. There is a tradition that " the People of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and interpret it in Arabic to the followers of Islam." Another tradition says that " Ka’ab the Rabbi brought a book to Omar the Caliph and said, ’Here is the Torah, read it’ " (Goldziher, in "Z. D. M. G.," XXXII, 344.). We learn from the Jewish Encyclopaedia that " The fihrist of al-Nadim mentions an Ahmed ibn Abd Allah ibn Salam who translated the Bible into Arabic, at the time of Haroun ar-Rashid, and that Fahr ud-Din ar-Razi mentions a translation of Habbakuk by the son of Rabban At-Tabari. Many of the Arabic Historians as At-Tabari, Mas’udi, Hamza, and Biruni cite passages and recount the early history of the Jews in a most circumstantial manner. Ibn Ku-taibah, the historian (d. 889), says that he read the Bible ; and he even made a collection of Biblical passages in a work which has been preserved by Ibn Jauzi of the twelfth century." The first important Arabic translation is that of Sa’adia Gaon (892-942). The influence of this translation was in its way as great as that of Gaon’s philosophical work.

A version of the Psalms was made by Hafiz al-Quti in the tenth century and from internal evidence we know that the author had been Christian. Another translation of the Old Testament in Arabic was made by the Jews in Cairo in the middle of the eleventh century. The translation of Sa’adia had become a standard work in Egypt, Palestine and Syria, by the end of the tenth century, and it was revised about a. d. 1070. As regards Persian translations of the Bible we learn from the Jewish Encyclopaedia that according to Maimonides, the Pentateuch was translated into Persian many hundred years previous to Mohammed. But this statement cannot be further substantiated. In regard to Arabic versions of the Gospels we have already given Dr. Kilgour’s statement.

Is it not probable that one or other of these versions of the Gospel was known to Al-Ghazali ? Does he not himself state : "I have read in the Gospel " ? Not only does he reproduce the stories and sayings of Christ from the Gospels but in some cases, as the reader will see, the very words of the text. It is true that there is much apocryphal matter also of which the canonical Gospels know nothing. We are in ignorance and we must remain in ignorance whence Al-Ghazali derived this material ; or did he invent it even as the men of his day invented stories about Mohammed ?

In the Ihya we find the following incidents, real and apocryphal, regarding the life of Christ on earth as a prophet and saint. [1] We begin with Al-Ghazali’s witness to His sinlessness : "It is said that the devil (may God curse him) appeared to Jesus and said, 1 Say there is no God but God.’ He replied : ’ The word is true but I will not repeat it after you.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 23.) Again : " It is related that when Jesus was born, the devils came to Satan and said : ’All the idols have fallen on their faces’. He said : ’ This has happened on your account.’ Then he flew until he reached the regions of the earth ; there he found Jesus had been born and the angels were protecting him. So he returned to the devils and said to them : ’Truly a Prophet was born yesterday. No woman has ever given birth before to a child when I was not present except in this case.’ And that is why men now despair of worshipping idols’." (Vol. Ill, p. 26.)

" It is related that Jesus one day was pillowing his head on a stone ; and the devil passed by and said : ’ O Jesus, now you have shown your love for the world !’ Then Jesus picked up the stone, threw it at him and said : ’ Take it and the world.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 26.) We find this reference to the days of His youth in Nazareth : " Some one said to Jesus : ’Who gave you your education ?’ He replied : ’ No one. But I beheld the ignorance of the foolish despicable and so I departed from it.’ " " Jesus the Prophet was of those who were especially favoured. Among the proofs of it is this that he called down peace upon himself, for he said : ’ Peace be on me the day I was born and the day I shall die and the day I shall be raised up alive.’ And this was because of his peace of mind and his loving kindness towards men. But as for John the son of Zachariah (on him be peace), he took the place of awe and fear towards God and did not utter these words until after they were repeated to him by his Creator, who said : ’ Peace be upon him the day he was born and the day he died and the day he was raised again.’ " This is an interesting critical comment on the two passages referred to, which occur in the same chapter of the Koran, and I have never seen them used elsewhere as an argument for the superiority of Christ to John. (Vol. IV, p. 245.)

Al-Ghazali gives Jesus the usual titles given Him in the Koran, namely, Son of Mary, Spirit of God, Word of God, Prophet and Apostle. But these latter titles mean little because he endorses the strange Moslem theory that there have been no less than 124,000 prophets since the world began. In his book "Al-Iqtasad " he devotes a long argument to prove to the Jews that Jesus was indeed a prophet, basing it upon his teaching and miracles (pp. 83-86). In his Jawahir al-Koran he even classes Mary the Virgin with the prophets and gives the list of these worthies in the following curious order : Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Zachariah, John, Jesus, Mary, David, Solomon, Joshua, Lot, Idris, Khudra, Shu’aib, Elijah, and Mohammed !

Regarding the fasting of our Lord, Al-Ghazali says : " It is related that Jesus (on him be peace) remained for sixty days without eating, engaged in prayer ; then he began to think of bread and behold a loaf of bread appeared between his hands ; then he sat weeping because he had forgotten his prayers. And behold an old man came to him and Jesus said : ’ God bless you, O servant of God. Call upon God Most High, for I too was in a sad condition and I thought of bread until my prayer departed’. Then the old man prayed : ’ O God, if thou knowest any occasion when the thought of bread entered my head when I was praying do not forgive me !’ Then he said to Jesus : ’When anything is brought to me to eat I eat it without even thinking what it is’." (Vol. Ill, p. 61.) The following story seems to be based on the injunction of the Gospel " to pluck out the eye " that offends : " It is related of Jesus (on him be peace) that he once went out to pray for rain and when the people gathered together Jesus said to them, ’ Whosoever of you hath committed a sin let him turn back’ so they all turned away and there was no one left in the cave with him save one. And Jesus said unto him, ’Have you any sin ?’ He replied : ’By God, I do not know of any except that one day when I was praying a woman passed by me and I looked upon her with this eye and when she had passed I put my finger in my eye and plucked it out and followed her to ask her pardon’. Then Jesus said to him,’ Call upon God that I may believe in your sincerity’. Then the man prayed and the heavens were covered with clouds and the rain poured down." (Vol. II, p. 217.)

The following stories are related of the miracle-working Christ : " Said the disciples to Jesus : ’ What do you think of the dinar-piece (money) ?’ They said : ’ We think it is good’. He said : ’ But as for me I value it and ashes the same’. " (Vol. Ill, p. 161.) "It was said to the Prophet that Jesus (upon him be peace) used to walk upon the water. He replied : ’ Had he still more striven after holiness, he would have walked on the air’. " (Vol. IV, p. 71.) "It is related that a certain robber waylaid travellers among the children of Israel for forty years. Jesus passed by that way and behind him walked a saint of the worshippers of the people of Israel, one of his disciples. Said the robber to himself : ’ This is the Prophet of God who passes by and with him one of his disciples. If I should come down I would be the third’ " He then goes on to say that the robber tried to show his humility by following not Christ but his disciple. Jesus rebukes them both because of their sins. (Vol. IV, p. 110.) " It is related that Jesus (on him be peace) passed by a blind man who was a leper and lame of both feet because of paralysis and his flesh was consumed by leprosy, and he was saying : ’ Praise be to God who has kept me in good health and saved me from many things which have befallen others of his creatures’. Then Jesus said to him : ’ O thou friend, from what kind of affliction do I see that you are free ?’ and he replied : ’O Spirit of God, I am better than those in whose heart God has not put anything of his knowledge and his grace’. And Jesus said : ’ You have spoken truly. Stretch forth your hand’ and he stretched forth his hand and became of perfect health both as to his body and his appearance, for God had taken away all his sickness. So he accompanied Jesus and worshipped with him." (Vol. IV, p. 250.)

Al-Ghazali often pictures the power of Jesus to heal the sick, for Christ as the Merciful One appeals to Moslems always and everywhere. We have for example in the Masnavi-i-Ma’anavi this beautiful picture which can be found in prose, section by section in Al-Ghazali too.

" The house of Tsa was the banquet of men of heart, Ho ! afflicted one, quit not this door ! From all sides the people ever thronged, Many blind and lame, and halt and afflicted, To the door of the house of ’Isa at dawn, That with his breath he might heal their ailments. As soon as he had finished his orisons, That holy one would come forth at the third hour. He viewed these impotent folk, troop by troop, Sitting at his door in hope and expectation ; He spoke to them, saying,’ O stricken ones ! The desires of all of you have been granted by God :

Arise, walk without pain or affliction. Acknowledge the mercy and beneficence of God !’ Then all, as camels whose feet are shackled, When you loose their feet in the road, Straightway rush in joy and delight to the halting-place. So did they run upon their feet at his command."

Many of the miracles, however, are puerile, as in this story : "A certain man accompanied Jesus the Son of Mary (upon him be peace) and said : ’ I would like to be with you as your companion.’ So they departed and arrived at the bank of a river and sat down and took their meal. Now they had three loaves, so they ate two and one remained. Then Jesus arose and went to the river to drink and returning did not find the remaining loaf. He said to the man : ’Who took the loaf ?’ He replied : ’I know not.’ So he departed with his companion and saw a gazelle with her two young, and Jesus called one of them and it came to him and he killed it and prepared it and they ate together. Then he said to the young gazelle : ’ Get up by God’s will’ and it arose and departed. And he turned to the man and said : ’ I ask you in the name of Him who worked this miracle before your eyes, who took the loaf ? ’ He answered : ’ I know not.’ So they departed to a cave and Jesus (upon whom be peace) began to collect the pebbles on the sand and said : ’Become bread by God’s permission !’ and they became bread ; then he divided them into three parts and said : ’A third is for me, a third is for you and a third is for the man who took the loaf’ and the man said : ’ I am he who took the loaf.’ Jesus replied : ’ Take all of it and depart from me.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 188.) This story is related by Al-Ghazali in his chapter on greed and covetousness to show that he who loves this world cannot be a companion of the saints !

That Jesus was gentle in word and conduct seems to be the lesson taught in the following two stories : " It is related of Jesus that once a pig passed by him and he said to it : ’ Go in peace.’ They said to him : ’ O Spirit of God, why do you say this to a pig.’ He replied : ’I dislike to accustom my tongue to use any evil words.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 87.) " It is related that Jesus with his disciples once passed the carcase of a dog. Said the disciples : ’ How noisome is the smell of this dog.’ Said Jesus (on him be peace) : ’ How beautiful is the shine of his white teeth’ as if he wanted to rebuke them for abusing the dog and to warn them not to mention anything of what God has created save at its best." (Vol. Ill, p. 150.) This incident is given by Jallal ud Din in poetic form :

" One evening Jesus lingered in the market-place,
Teaching the people parables of truth and grace,
When in the square remote a crowd was seen to rise
And stop with loathing gestures and abhorring cries,
The Master and His meek disciples went to see
What cause for this commotion and disgust could be,
And found a poor dead dog beside the gutter laid :
Revolting sight ! at which each face its hate betrayed.
One held his nose, one shut his eyes, one turned away,
And all among themselves began aloud to say,
’ Detested creature ! he pollutes the earth and air !’
’ His eyes are bleared !’
’ His ears are foul !’
’ His ribs are bare !’
’ In his torn hide there is not a decent shoe-string left !’
’ No doubt the execrable cur was hung for theft !’ Then
Jesus spake and dropped on him this saving breath :
’ Even pearls are dark before the whiteness of his teeth !"’

We add the following quotations which set forth the poverty, humility and homelessness of the Christ taken from Al-Ghazali’s " Precious Pearl " : " Consider Jesus Christ, for it is related of him that he owned nothing save one garment of wool which he wore for twenty years and that he took nothing with him on all his wanderings save a cruse and a rosary and a comb. One day he saw a man drinking from a stream with his hands, so he cast away the cruse and did not use it again. He saw another man combing his beard with his fingers so he threw away his comb and did not use it again. And Jesus was accustomed to say,’ My steed is my legs, and my houses are the caves of the earth, and my food are its vegetables, and my drink is from its rivers, and my dwelling-place among the sons of Adam !’" In another connection he writes : " It was said to Jesus : ’ If you would take possession of a house and live there it would be better for you’ and he said : ’Where are the houses of those who lived before us ? ’ " (Ihya, Vol, III, p. 140.)

A story is related (Vol. IV, p. 326) to show that Christ knew what was in the hearts of men and could change their purposes by prayer to God. In this case He makes an old man cease from his work of cleaning the ground, go to sleep and afterwards return to his work.

Another story is as follows : " It is related that Jesus (upon him be peace) in his wanderings passed by a man asleep, wrapped up in his garment. So he wakened him and said : ’ O thou that sleep-est ! arise and make mention of God’. He replied : ’ What do you want from me ? I have forsaken the world to its own’. Jesus replied : ’ Sleep on then my beloved’ " (Vol. IV, p. 140.) " It is related concerning Jesus that he sat in the shade of a wall of a certain man, who saw him and made him get up, but he replied : ’You have not made me arise but verily God made me arise. He does not wish me to delight in the shade by day’" (Vol. IV, p. 163.) The least of life’s pleasures is not for the ascetic saint.

" Said John to Jesus (on them be peace) : ’ Do not be angry’. Jesus replied : ’ I am not able to cease from anger altogether for I am human’. Then said John : ’ Do not desire property’. Jesus replied : ’That is possible’" (Vol. Ill, p. 114.)

He quotes the following prayer of Jesus (Vol. I, p. 222) : "Jesus was accustomed to say to God, ’ O God, I have arisen from my sleep, and am not able to ward off that which I hate and am not able to possess the benefit of that which I desire and the matter rests in hands other than mine. And I have pledged myself to my work and there is no man so poor as I am. O God, let not mine enemies rejoice over me and let not my friends deal ill with me, and let not my afflictions come to me in the matter of my religion. And do not allow the world to occupy my care and do not allow the unmerciful to overcome me, O Thou Eternal !’ "

" It is related concerning Jesus (on him be peace) that God spoke to him saying : ’Though you serve me with the worship of the people of heaven and earth and do not have love towards God in your heart but hatred toward Him it will not enrich you at all’ " (Vol. II, p. 210.) "God Most High said to Jesus (on him be peace), ’Verily when I look upon the secret thoughts of my servant and do not find in them love either for this world or the world to come I fill him with my own love and I put him in my safe-keeping’ " (Vol. IV, p. 258.) In the "Alchemy of Happiness" we already found allusion to this subject : "Jesus (upon him be peace) saw the world in the form of an ugly old hag. He asked her how many husbands she had possessed ; she replied that they were countless. He asked whether they had died or been divorced ; she said that she had slain them all. ’ I marvel’ he said,’ at the fools who see what you have done to others, and still desire you’ " " Jesus (on him be peace) said, ’ The lover of the world is like a man drinking sea-water ; the more he drinks, the more thirsty he gets, till at last he perishes with thirst unquenched’ "

Al-Ghazali, however, never seems to have drawn the conclusion from the life of Christ which a careful study of the Gospel would have made possible. Namely, that a true renunciation of the world is only possible in the service of others and not by withdrawing from men. Mohammedan mysticism has always resulted in two evils, as Major Durie Osborn points out : " It has dug a deep gulf between those who can know God and those who must wander in darkness, feeding upon the husks of rites and ceremonies. It has affirmed with emphasis, that only by a complete renunciation of the world is it possible to attain the true end of man’s existence. Thus all the best and truest natures— the men who might have put a soul in the decaying Church of Islam—have been cut off from their proper task to wander about in deserts and solitary places, or expend their lives in idle and profitless passivity disguised under the title of ’ spiritual contemplation.’ (sikr) But this has only been part of the evil. The logical result of Pantheism is the destruction of the moral law. If God be all in all, and man’s apparent individuality a delusion of the perceptive faculty, there exists no will which can act, no conscience which can reprove and applaud. . . . Thousands of reckless and profligate spirits have entered the orders of the dervishes to enjoy the license thereby obtained. Their affectation of piety is simply a cloak for the practice of sensuality ; their emancipation from the ritual of Islam involves a liberation also from its moral restraints. And thus a movement, animated at its outset by a high and lofty purpose, has degenerated into a fruitful source of ill. The stream which ought to have expanded into a fertilising river, has become a vast swamp, exhaling vapours charged with disease and death."
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Regarding the teaching of Jesus we find the following passages in the Ihya. I have indicated the parallel passages in the New Testament where possible. Some of them are taken from the Gospel according to Matthew, especially from the Sermon on the Mount. These are given first and then the apocryphal sayings, for it is difficult to follow any logical order.

" Said Jesus : ’ If a man come to you when he is fasting let him anoint his head and wipe his lips that men may not say he is fasting ; and if he gives alms with his right hand let not his left hand know ; and if he prays let him put a curtain over his door, for verily God divines his trouble even as He does our daily food.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 203.)

" Said Jesus (upon him be peace), ’ Whosoever shall do and teach shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.’ " (Vol. I, p. 6 ; cf. Matt. 5.19.)

" Said Jesus, ’ Do not hang pearls on the necks of swine ; for wisdom is better than pearls.’ " (Vol. I, p. 43 ; cf. Matt. 7:6.) " Said Jesus,’ How long will ye describe the right road to those who are going astray and ye yourselves remain with those who are perplexed’." (Vol. I, p. 44 ; cf. Matt. 23 : 13.)

" Said Jesus,’ The teachers of evil are like a big stone which has fallen on the mouth of a well so that the water cannot reach the sown fields.’" (Vol. I, p. 45 ; cf. Matt. 23 : 13.)

" Said Jesus, ’ How can that man belong to the people of wisdom who from the beginning of his life until the end looks only after the things of the world ? ’ " (Vol. I, p. 46 ; cf. Matt. 6 : 33.)

Again he makes God address Jesus as follows : ’ O Son of Mary, preach to yourself for if you preach to yourself you will be able to preach to man and if not fear him.’ " (Vol. I, p. 47.)

"Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’Blessed are those who humble themselves in this world, for they shall be the possessors of thrones on the day of judgment. Blessed are those who make peace between men in this world, for they shall inherit Paradise on the day of resurrection. Blessed are they who are poor in this world, for they shall behold God Most High on the day of resurrection.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 237 ; cf. Matt. 5 : 3-9.)

" Some one said to Jesus : ’ Let me go with you on your wanderings.’ He replied : ’Dispose of all that you have and follow me.’ " (Vol. IV, p. 170 ; cf. Luke 9 : 57 and Matt. 19 : 21.) Here two passages are mixed.

" Said Jesus (on him be peace),’ It has been told of ancient times : a tooth for a tooth and a nose for a nose ; but I say unto you, do not return evil for evil, but whosoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the left also ; and whosoever desireth you to go with him a mile go with him twain ; and whosoever taketh away your cloak give him your inner garment also.’ " (Vol. IV, p. 52 ; cf. Matt. 5 : 30-41.) These verses seem to be fairly accurate quotations, though not without some confusion, from some translation of the Sermon on the Mount.

" Said the disciples to Jesus (on him be peace), ’ Behold this mosque how beautiful it is.’ He replied : ’ O my nation ! O my nation ! In truth I say unto you, God will not suffer a stone to remain upon a stone in it but he will destroy it because of the sins of its people. Truly God does not care for gold and silver nor does he care for these stones at which ye marvel ; but the things which God loves most are pure hearts, with them God can build up the earth, and if they are not good they are wasted’" ("Ihya," Vol. Ill, p. 288 ; cf. Matt. 24 : 2.)

" Said Jesus : ’ Do not take the world for your master, for she will make you her slave. Lay up your treasures with him who will not lose them. For he who lays up treasure in the earth fears that which will destroy them ; but he who has treasures with God does not fear for anything that may injure them’ (Matt. 6:9-21). And Jesus said also : ’O company of the Apostles, behold I have poured out the world upon the ground, therefore do not take hold of it again after me, for the evil of this world is that men disobey God in it. And the evil of the world also is that the other world cannot be obtained without abandoning the present. Therefore pass through the world but do not build in it. Know that the root of all sin is the love of the world and perchance the desire of an hour will cause those who follow it to lose the other world altogether.’ He also said : ’ I have cast the world before you and ye have sat upon its back, do not therefore suffer kings or women to dispute its possession with you. As for kings, do not dispute with them for its possession, for they will not give it back to you. And as for women, guard yourselves against them by prayer and fasting’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 139.) "Said Jesus : ’The love of this world and of the world to come cannot abide in the same heart even as water and fire cannot abide in one vessel’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 140.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ O ye teachers of wickedness ! Ye fast and pray and give alms and do not what ye command others and ye teach that which ye do not understand. How evil is that which ye do. Ye repent only with words but your deeds are without value. In vain do ye purify your skins while your hearts are covered with evil. I say unto you, be not as the sieve from which the good flour passes out and all that remains in it are the siftings. Thus ye make the truth to pass out of your mouths, but deceit remains in your hearts, O servants of the world ! How can any one understand the other world while his desires cling to this ? Of a truth I say unto you that your hearts shall weep because of your deeds. Ye have put the world upon your tongues and trampled upon good deeds. Of a truth I say unto you, ye have corrupted your future life, for ye are more in love with the good things of this world than of the good things of the world to come. Which of the children suffers greater loss than ye do, if only ye knew it ! Woe be to you ! How long will ye describe the right way to those who are in darkness and ye yourselves remain in the place of doubt ? It is as if ye invite the children of the world to forsake its pleasure in order to leave it for yourselves a little while. Woe be to you ! What benefit is it to the darkened house if the candle be put on its roof while the rooms of the house remain in darkness ? In the same way ye will not be enriched if the light of knowledge is on your lips, while your hearts remain in darkness. O ye servants of the world ! what of your righteousness or your freedom ? Perchance the world will pluck you up by the roots and cast you upon your faces and drag you in the dust. It will expose your sins upon your foreheads, then it will drive you before it until you are delivered up to the angel of judgment, every one of you naked. Then shall you be punished by your evil deeds.’" (Vol. Ill, p. 183 ; cf. Matt. 23 : 1-27.)

" Do not be anxious about the food of to-morrow, for perhaps to-morrow will be your time of death." (Vol. IV, p. 330 ; cf. Matt. 6 : 34.)

" Behold the bird, it does not sow nor reap nor lay up store and God Most High provides for it." (Vol. IV, p. 190 ; cf. Matt. 6 : 26.)

"Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’He is not wise who does not rejoice when he enters upon trials and sicknesses of the body and loss of his possessions ; for in it he may find atonement for his sins’ " (Vol. IV, p. 205 ; cf. Matt. 5 : 10.)

" It is related of Jesus that he said : ’ If you see a young man passionately fond of prayer to God you will know that he has escaped all temptations’" (Vol. IV, p. 221 ; cf. Matt. 26:41.) The reference might be to Christ’s words in the Garden of Gethsemane.

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ Serve God by hating the people who transgress, and draw near to God by departing from them. Seek the goodwill of God by hating them.’ They said to him : ’ O spirit of God, with whom then shall we keep company ?’ He answered them : ’Keep company with those who make you remember God and those whose words improve your conduct and those whose example makes you earnest for the world to come.’" (Vol. II, p. 110.)

" It is related of Jesus (on him be peace) that he said to the children of Israel : ’Where does that which ye sow grow ? ’ They replied : ’ In the good ground,’ and he said : ’ Verily I say unto you, wisdom does not grow except in the heart which is good soil.’" (Vol. IV, p. 256 ; cf. Matt. 13 : 1-9.)

"Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’Truly the harvest does not grow on the mountain but in the plain. Thus wisdom works in the heart of those that are humble and not in the heart of the proud.’" (Vol. Ill, p. 240 ; cf. Matt. 13 : 23.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ Fine garments make proud looks’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 247.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ What ails you that ye come in the garments of monks and your hearts are the hearts of ravening wolves ? Wear the garments of monks if you wish but humble your hearts with godly fear’" (Vol. Ill, p. 247 ; cf. Matt. 7 : 15.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ O company of disciples, call upon God Most High that he may make light for you this terror, namely, death. For I fear death in such a fashion that I stand afraid of the same.’ " Is it possible that Al-Ghazali here refers to the agony in Gethsemane ? The chapter in which this passage occurs is entitled " The terrors of death." (Vol. IV, p. 324 ; cf. Matt. 26 : 38.)
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We now give other " sayings " of Jesus, as Al-Ghazali himself does, in somewhat confused order. Although not quotations or even misquotations from the Gospels, they are of interest as completing the list and also because they show what Al-Ghazali and other Moslems thought was the teaching of Jesus the Prophet.

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ How many a sound body and beautiful face and eloquent tongue will to-morrow cry out in the fires of hell !’ " (Vol. IV, p. 383.)

" Said Jesus, ’ Which of you can build a house upon the waves of the sea ? Such is the world ; therefore do not take it as an abiding place’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 141.)

" They said to Jesus,’ Teach us the secret of the love of God’. He replied : ’ Hate the world and God will love you’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 141 ; cf. James 4 : 4.)

" Said Jesus, ’ O my disciples, be satisfied with the least of the world as long as your religion is at peace even as the people of the world are satisfied with the least of religion and their possessions are at peace’" (Vol. Ill, p. 142.)

" Said Jesus, ’ O thou who seekest the world for the sake of pure gold, the forsaking of the world is greater treasure’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 142.)

" They asked Jesus (on him be peace) which is the best of good works. He replied : ’To accept whatever God does with pleasure and to love him’" (Vol. IV, p. 258.)

" Said Jesus the Son of Mary (on him be peace), ’ Woe to the lover of this world how soon he shall die and leave it and all that is in it. The world deceives him and he trusts it and has confidence in it, etc’" (Vol. Ill, p. 141 ; cf. Luke 12 : 21.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ Mortify then your bodies that your soul may see your Lord’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 56 ; cf. Rom. 8 : 13.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ The likeness of him who teaches good works and does not do them is that of a woman who commits adultery in secret and then the result of her crime becomes evident to all around her from her condition’ " (Vol. I, p. 48.)

"Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’Whosoever turns away a beggar from his house the angels will not visit that dwelling for seven days’ " (Vol. II, p. 162.) This saying is often quoted by Moslems to-day. They all believe Jesus was the friend of the poor and needy.

"Said Jesus (upon him be peace), ’Blessed is he to whom God has taught his book ; he will not die a proud oppressor’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 235.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ Blessed is the eye which sleeps and does not regard transgression but is wide-awake for that which is not sinful’ " (Vol. IV, p. 260.)

" The disciples said to Jesus (on him be peace), ’What is the best of good works ?’ He replied : ’ That which is done to God and in which you seek the praise of no one else’ " (Vol. IV, p. 273.)

" Said the disciples of Jesus the Son of Mary : ’ O Spirit of God ! Is there any one on earth like thee ?’ He replied : ’ Yes. For whosoever is girded with the remembrance of God and is silent because of this and who looks only for the favour of God, he is like me.’ " (Vol. IV, p. 305.)

" Said Jesus, ’ Beware of the evil look, for when it is in the heart it produces lust and evil desire.’" (Vol. IV, p. 74 ; cf. Matt. 5 : 28.)

"Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’Whosoever multiplies lies his beauty departs from him : and whosoever increases care his body becomes ill ; and whosoever has a bad character punishes himself.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 85.)

" Said Jesus : ’ The greatest sin with God is that his servant should say, ’God Knows,’ concerning something which he knows is untrue, or that he tell lies concerning what he has seen in his dreams.’" (Vol. Ill, p. 98.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace) to his disciples : ’ How would you act if you saw one of your brothers sleeping and the wind had taken off his garment ?’ They said : ’We would cover him.’ Said Jesus : ’ No, but you would expose him.’ They said : ’ God forbid ! Who would do such a thing !’ He replied : ’ When one of you hears a word against his brother he exaggerates it and spreads the report to others !’ " (Vol. II, p. 142.)

" It is related that Jesus (upon him be peace) said,’ O company of disciples, ye are free of transgression, but we the company of apostles are free of infidelity.’" (Vol. IV, p. 124.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ With difficulty will the rich man enter paradise’" (Vol. IV, p. 140 ; cf. Christ’s saying, Matt. 19 : 23.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace),’ Truly I do not love a fixed dwelling place and I dislike the pleasure of the world’ " (Vol. IV, p. 140.)

" Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’ Do not look upon the property of the people of this world for its glory is as nothing in the light of your faith’ " (Vol. IV, p. 144.)

" It was said to Jesus : ’ If you will allow us we will build a house and worship God in it.’ He replied : ’ Go and build a house upon the sea’. They said :’ How can we build upon such a foundation ? ’ He replied : 1 How can your worship exist together with your love of the world ?’" (Vol. IV, p. 158.)

" It is related that Jesus said : ’ Four things do not come to us except with difficulty. Silence, which is the first principle of worship, humility, the abundant remembrance of God and poverty in all things.’" (Vol. IV, p. 159.)

"Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’Verily I say unto you, whosoever seeketh heaven let him eat barley-bread and sleep on the dunghill with the dogs. This is enough for me’ " (Vol. IV, p. 164.)

" Jesus was accustomed to say, ’ O children of Israel, let the water of the brook suffice you and the vegetable of the field and the barley loaf ; and beware of the white loaf for it will keep you from worship’ " (Vol. IV, p. 164.)

"Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’My food is hunger ; all my thoughts are fear of God ; my dress is wool ; my warming-place in winter is the rays of the sun ; my candle is the moon ; my steed is my legs ; my food is fruit that springs from the ground ; I go to bed and have nothing and arise without anything ; and yet there is no one richer than I am’" (Vol. IV, p. 146.)

" Said Jesus (upon him be peace), ’ The world is a bridge ; therefore cross over it and do not build on it’" (Vol. Ill, p. 149.)

"Said Jesus (on him be peace), ’Whosoever seeks the world is like him who drinks water from the salt sea. The more he drinks the more he thirsts.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 149.) This occurs for the second time, but Al-Ghazali loves to repeat his own sayings as well, often in the same book.

" It is related in the gospels that whosoever shall ask for forgiveness of him who praises him, has driven away the devil." (Vol. Ill, p. 127.)
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The following quotations or references to the Gospel occur in some of his shorter works. In the "Alchemy of Happiness," there is this reference to the Gospel : "Whosoever sows reaps, whosoever sets out arrives, and whosoever seeks finds." (Cf. Matt. 7 : 7.) We have already quoted the words from his epistle, " O Child " : " Verily I have seen in the Gospels, etc." In the same epistle he refers to the parable of Dives and Lazarus : " When the people of hell will say to the people of the garden, ’ Give us a little water from that which God has granted you to cool our tongues.’ " He quotes Jesus as saying : "I was not unable to raise the dead, but I was unable to cure the folly of fools," and quotes the Golden Rule in several places without acknowledging its source as being the Gospel of Jesus.

All this and what he says in his "Alchemy of Happiness " about the love of God leaves no doubt in my mind that he had read the New Testament. It is a sort of Moslem Version of St. John’s Epistles and St. John’s Gospel. The great Mystic gives seven signs of love to God. The first is not to be afraid of death. The second is to prefer the love of God to any worldly object. The third sign of a man’s love to God is that the remembrance of God is always fresh in his heart. He never ceases to meditate upon God. Every man thinks and calls to mind an object in proportion to his love to it. The fourth is love and respect for the Koran. The fifth, secret prayer. The sixth, to find the worship of God delightful. And the seventh sign of love to God is, " That a man loves the sincere friends and obedient servants of God, and regards them all as his friends. He regards all the enemies of God as his enemies and abhors them. And God thus speaks in his eternal word : ’ His companions are terrible towards the infidels, and tender towards each other.’ A Sheikh was once asked, ’ Who are the friends of the exalted and blessed God ? ’ He replied : ’ The friends of God are those who are more compassionate to the friends of God themselves, than a father or a mother to their children.’ " (Compare Psalm 103.) [2].

There seems a great difference between Al-Ghazali as dogmatic theologian, always compelled to agree with the Koran, and Al-Ghazali as the Mystic, when he begins to speculate and lift the veil. We are constantly reminded of the words of Anselm in his great work on the existence of God : " I do not attempt, O Lord, to penetrate Thy depths, for I by no means think my intellect equal to them ; but I long to understand in some degree Thy truth, which my heart believes and loves, for I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand".

Whenever Al-Ghazali speaks of God’s nearness to us and of the soul’s desire for human fellowship with the creator, he comes very close to the Christian idea of the Incarnation, and yet always stops short of it. In his " Alchemy of Happiness," for example, he mentions as the fourth cause of love to God the affinity that exists between man and his Maker, referring to the saying of the Prophet :

"Verily God created man in his own likeness." Immediately afterwards, however, he goes on to say : " This is a somewhat dangerous topic to dwell upon, as it is beyond the understanding of common people, and even intelligent men have stumbled in treating of it, and come to believe in incarnation and union with God. Still the affinity which does exist between man and God disposes of the objection of those theologians mentioned above, who maintain that man cannot love a Being who is not of his own species. However great a distance between them, man can love God because of the affinity indicated in the saying, ’ God created man in His own likeness’. "
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Al-Ghazali would doubtless have accepted the statement in the Gospel, " No man hath seen God at any time," but he omits " the only Begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." In speaking of the vision of God he says, "All Moslems profess to believe that the Vision of God is the summit of human felicity because it is so stated in the Law ; but with many this is a mere lip-profession which arouses no emotion in their hearts. This is quite natural, for how can a man long for a thing of which he has no knowledge ? We will endeavour to show briefly why the vision of God is the greatest happiness to which a man can attain.

" In the first place, every one of man’s faculties has its appropriate function which it delights to fulfill. This holds good of them all, from the lowest bodily appetite to the highest form of intellectual apprehension. But even a comparatively low form of mental exertion affords greater pleasure than the satisfaction of bodily appetites. Thus if a man happens to be absorbed in a game of chess, he will not come to his meal though repeatedly summoned. And the greater the subject-matter of our knowledge, the greater is our delight in it ; for instance, we would take more pleasure in knowing the secrets of a king than the secrets of a vizier. Seeing then that God is the highest possible object of knowledge, the knowledge of Him must afford more delight than any other. He who knows God, even in this world, dwells, as it were, in a paradise, ’ the breadth of which is as the breadth of the heavens and the earth’ a paradise the fruits of which no envy can prevent him plucking, and the extent of which is not narrowed by the multitude of those who occupy it." (See 1 John 4 : 7-21.)

" But the delight of knowledge still falls short of the delight of vision, just as our pleasure in thinking of those we love is much less than the pleasure afforded by the actual sight of them. Our imprisonment in bodies of clay and water and entanglement in the things of sense constitute a veil which hides the vision of God from us, although it does not prevent our attaining to some knowledge of Him. For this reason God said to Moses on Mount Sinai,’ Thou shalt not see Me.’"

In this book also we are reminded of the statement that only " the pure in heart" can see God, and it seems scarcely possible that what Al-Ghazali here teaches is not based on a knowledge of the Gospel. He says : " He in whose heart the love of God has prevailed over all else will derive more joy from this vision than he in whose heart it has not so prevailed ; just as in the case of two men with equally powerful eyesight gazing on a beautiful face, he who already loves the possessor of that face will rejoice in beholding it more than he who does not. For perfect happiness, mere knowledge is not enough unaccompanied by love, and the love of God cannot take possession of a man’s heart till it is purified from the love of the world, which purification can only be effected by abstinence and austerity." How close is this teaching to the words of Christ, " Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God " ! It is the vision of God which Al-Ghazali sought through all his religious experiences as the highest good in this world and in the next. Yet with all his efforts to explain the nature of the soul and of God, he still finds himself before a blank wall. He covets the vision of God but cannot shake himself free from the Moslem conception that God is unknowable and that nothing in creation resembles the Creator. As Muhammed Iqbal says : "To this day it is difficult to define with accuracy Al-Ghazali’s view of the nature of God. In him, like Borger and Solger in Germany, Sufi pantheism and the Ash’arite dogma of personality appear to harmonize together, a reconciliation which makes it difficult to say whether he was a Pantheist, or a Personal Pantheist of the type of Lotze. The soul, according to Al-Ghazali, perceives things. But perception as an attribute can exist only in a substance or essence which is absolutely free from all the attributes of body. In his I Al-Madnun, he explains why the prophet declined to reveal the nature of the soul. There are, he says, two kinds of men : ordinary men and thinkers. The former who look upon materiality as a condition of existence, cannot conceive an immaterial substance. The latter are led, by their logic, to a conception of the soul which sweeps away all difference between God and the individual soul. Al-Ghazali, therefore, realized the Pantheist drift of his own inquiry and preferred silence as to the ultimate nature of the soul." ("The Development of Metaphysics in Persia," p. 75.)

We have seen what Al-Ghazali teaches regarding the life and character of Jesus and also of God’s relation to us through the love of those who seek Him with all their hearts. Are these only Moslems, or is there a wider love of God ? Are all souls in His keeping ?

What were Al-Ghazali’s ideas regarding the salvation of those not in the fold of Islam ? We have two striking passages in this connection which seem to contradict each other. They were probably written at different periods of his life. The first passage which is remarkable indeed for his day and his place in Islam occurs on page 22 of his book Faisul Al-Tafriqa Bain al Islam vSal Zandiqa and reads as follows : " I here state that most Christians of the Greeks and of the Turks in our day will be included in the mercy of God. Namely, those who are on the confines of the empire and to whom the call to embrace Islam has not come. For they consist of three classes : One class has never heard the name of Mohammed (upon whom be prayers and peace) and they are excusable. Another class have heard of his name and title and the miracles which were wrought by him ; they who live as neighbours among Moslems ; these are the true infidels and sceptics. And the other class are between these two ; they have heard of the name of Mohammed (upon him be prayers and peace), but have not heard of his title and character. On the contrary they have heard from their youth up that he is a liar and deceiver called Mohammed, who pretended to have the gift of prophecy : in the same way as our children have heard of a false prophet in Khorasan called Al-Mukaffa who pretended to be a prophet. And these last, in my opinion, belong to the first class as to their hope for the future." This account is the more remarkable because in this very chapter he says that God told Adam, according to Tradition, "that out of a thousand of his descendants nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine go to hell and one only will be saved."

On the last page of the Ihya, however, Al-Ghazali expresses the opinion that on the day of judgment not a single Mohammedan, whatever be his character, will enter the fire ! He then quotes a tradition which says that for every Moslem designed to go to hell God will at the last day substitute a Jew or a Christian, evidently approving this substitution-doctrine as satisfactory to God’s mercy towards all who confess Mohammed and to His decree that hell shall be filled with its quota of unbelievers. (See Surah 50 : 29.) The last page of the Ihya, alas, again shows the Moslem spirit of intolerance which prevails even to-day. Men do not remember the more liberal judgment in his other treatise. Al-Ghazali’s attitude towards Christianity and his quotations from the Gospel narrative did much to leaven Persian thought and gave Jesus of Nazareth a large place in later mysticism especially in the foremost mystical poet the immortal author of the Masnavi, Jallal-ud-Din Ar Rumi. He draws the great Lesson from the life of Christ which Al-Ghazali only hints at in his quotations ; namely that Jesus is the Life-giver :

" Thyself reckon dead, and then thou shalt fly
Free, free, from the prison of earth to the sky !
Spring may come, but on granite will grow no green thing :
It was barren in winter, ’tis barren in spring ;
And granite man’s heart is, till grace intervene.
And, crushing it, clothe the long barren with green,
When the fresh breath of Jesus shall touch the heart’s core,
It will live, it will breathe, it will blossom once more."


The City of Mashad, close to the ruins of Tus, where Al-Ghazali was born and where he died, has been truly described as the Mecca of the Persian world. Its streets are crowded with a hundred thousand pilgrims every year. The American Presbyterian Church has an important work there, and the Bible Societies report thousands of copies of the Bible sold there. " We have inundated the City of Mashad with the Word of God," wrote the late Mr. Esselstyn ; " in the bazaars I have repeatedly been warned some one will kill me if we do not stop selling the Scriptures and preaching. But ’Lo, I am with you always’ keeps ringing in my ears and we continue. The Scriptures that have been sold in and around Mashad are sown seed and in due time we shall reap if we faint not."

To-day the black-browed Afghan, the Uzbek Tartar, the dervish, travel-stained and footsore, nay the poorest lad of Khorasan can buy the whole story of what Jesus did and taught. No Moslem is now dependent on Al-Ghazali’s few quotations from the Gospel. A new day has dawned for Persia and the Near East. Everywhere the New Testament is better known than any of the ninety-nine works of Al-Ghazali, and we may also say, without exaggeration, that the New Testament finds a larger circle of readers. The mystics in Islam are near the Kingdom of God and for them Al-Ghazali may be used as a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ. Did not the author of the Gulshan-i-Ras (the Garden of Mysteries) write : "Dost thou know what Christianity is ? I shall tell it thee. It digs up thine own Ego, and carries thee to God. Thy soul is a monastery wherein dwells oneness, thou art Jerusalem, where the Eternal is enthroned ; the Holy Spirit works this miracle, for know that God’s being rests in the Holy Spirit as in His Own Spirit." And such seekers after God to-day will find those who will lead them to Christ. For, as Dr. J. Rendel Harris expressed it : "All of us who love Christ are beginning to realize that we live in the same street and are on the same telephone, some of us that we are lodged next door to one another and can knock on the partitions, a few that we are all under the same roof and all within arm’s length and heart reach."


Voir en ligne : Sophia Perennis


[1After completing this research I found a fuller account of all references to Jesus Christ in Moslem Literature, especially the Ihya as given by Michael Asin Palacios in Logia et Agrapha Domini Jesus apud Moslemicos, etc., in Patrologia Orientalis, Tome XIII fascicule 3. Paris 1917.

[2These last quotations are from the translation by Homes which was from the Turkish. There seem to be several editions of the "Alchemy of Happiness" and the text varies as well as the number of chapters.