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CHAPTER II.: On the Knowledge of God . - Al Ghazali, The Alchemy of Happiness 
The Alchemy of Happiness, by Mohammed Al-Ghazzali, the Mohammedan Philosopher, trans. Henry A. Homes (Albany, N.Y.: Munsell, 1873). Transactions of the Albany Institute, vol. VIII.
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In the books of former prophets it is written, “Know thine own soul, and thou shalt know thy Lord,” and we have received it in a tradition, that “He who knows himself, already knows his Lord.” This is a convincing argument that the soul is like a clean mirror, into which whenever a person looks, he may there see God. If you say, however, that there are many who have studied themselves, and have learned that they are creatures, and still they do not know their Lord, I reply, that to pass from the knowledge of the soul to the knowledge of God, and to demonstrate the latter from the former, may be accomplished by two methods. The first method is most deep and profound. The most exalted in wisdom and the most penetrating among men are far from understanding it, even when they apply themselves to it, both with science, practice and a pure life. How then should those ignorant persons understand it, who are utterly destitute of a knowledge of external things! Let us, therefore, pass to the second method and explain that: for he who possesses a discriminating mind, even if he were blind, is capable of understanding it.
Know, therefore, that man from his own existence knows the existence of a Creator; from his own attributes, he knows the attributes of his maker; from the control which he has over his own kingdom, he knows the control that God exercises over all the world. The reason of this is, that when a man looks at himself, beginning at the time when there was no trace or notion of his existence, and contemplates his creation with attention, he sees that he had his origin from a drop of water. He had neither mind nor understanding: and neither fat, flesh nor bones. Afterwards by divine operation and sovereign power, most strange and wonderful internal changes took place, and strong organs, passions, affections, and agreeable qualities rose up all adorned with beauty. When man comes to look upon his organs and members, whether upon the external, as the hand, the foot, the eye, the tongue and the mouth, or upon the internal organs, as the liver, the stomach and the spleen, he sees that each is the result of a special wisdom, that each one has been created for some peculiar uillegiblee, and that each one is in its place and perfect. After a man has observed these things, he knows that the Creator has power to do what he pleases with all things, that his knowledge includes and embraces in perfection whatever is to be known of creatures either externally or internally, and that his power and wisdom pervade every organ and particle.
Beloved, in proportion as a man analyzes the nature of his body and the variety of uses of its several members, his reverence and love for its Creator and Maker will increase. Let a man observe, for example, that his hands are made like columns and separated from the body, to serve as an instrument to seize, or take hold of, or to defend it from an enemy. At the extremity of the hands are five fingers, four of which are in a row, and some long and some short, SO that when they take hold of anything, they may come equally together in the palm of the hand. The thumb, which is opposite to the four fingers, is shorter than any of them and stronger, that it may be a help to the whole and render them capable of retaining and grasping. The four fingers have three joints each, and the thumb has but two, that when contracted they may become like the bowl of a spoon or ladle, and that when open they may become like a plate, and so discharge an infinity of services. The front teeth were formed sharp, to cut and separate the food : the side teeth were formed broad to mash and grind the food. The tongue was formed like a spoon to throw the food into the throat. There is, also, under the tongue, an organ by which water is poured out, and the food is made of the consistence of dough, that it may be more easily swallowed and digested. All the organs, in short, have been devised with the best arrangement and form for use, and each one of them is punctual day and night in discharging its function. Think not, that they are lazy or sleeping. If the minds of the intelligent, the science of the learned, and the wisdom of the sage had been united and had been employed since the beginning of the world, in reflection and contrivance, they could not have discovered anything more excellent than the present arrangement, nor any forms more useful and beautiful. If the eye had been attached to the top of the head, or the ear to the nape of the neck, or the mouth to the back of the body, or if three fingers had been given instead of four, it is plain to a person of intelligence that the existing advantages would not have been secured, and the present beauty of form and appearance would have been imperfect.
Let us notice, also, the daily necessities of man, his need of food, of clothing and of a dwelling; his need of rain, clouds, wind, heat and cold : and that he needs the weaver, the cotton-spinner, the clothier and the fuller to provide him with clothing; and that each one of these has need of so many instruments, and of so many trades, like those of the blacksmith, the farmer, the carpenter, the dyer, and the tanner; and besides, their need of iron, lead, wood and the like. Notice at the same time, the adaptation of these workmen to their instruments, and of the instruments to the trades, and how each art has given rise to several others, and the mind is astonished and distracted. The adaptation of all these instruments comes from the pure grace and perfect mercy of God, and from the fountain of his benevolence. Moreover, God's creating prophets, sending them to us, and leading us to their law and to love them, is a perfume of His universal beneficence. He proclaims himself, “My mercy surpasses my anger,” and the Prophet has said: “Verily, God is more full of compassion to his servants, than the affectionate mother to her nursing child.”
It has been shown that man from his own existence, knows the existence of his creator, that from his analysis of the materials of which his body is composed and of its distinctive characters he understands the almighty power of God, that from the uses, the arrangement and the combination of his organs, he knows the omniscient wisdom of God, and that his clemency and compassion extend to all. He knows, also, that these many mercies and bounties are bestowed upon him without his seeking or care, from God's rich and overflowing grace. Now in this way it is possible that the knowledge of the soul should become the key to the knowledge of God. For just as from a survey of your own being and attributes, you have in a contracted form learned the being and attributes of God, it is also possible to understand how the freedom and the holiness of God, bear a resemblance to the freedom of your soul.
Know, that God exists exempt from and independent of the notions that enter the mind, and the forms that are produced in the imagination, that he is not subjected to reasoning, and time and place cannot be ascribed to him. Still his exercise of power and the manifestation of his glory are not independent of place. But in the same manner, this independence and freedom is possible in your soul. The spirit, for example, which we call heart is exempt from the entrance of fancies and imaginations, and also from size and divisibility. Nor has it form or color, for if it had, it could be seen by the eye, and would enter into the sphere of fancy and imagination, and its beauty or ugliness, its greatness or littleness would be known. If any one ask you about your soul, you may answer, “It exists by the will of God: it has neither quantity or physical quality; it is exempt from being known.” Beloved, since you are incapable of knowing the spirit which is in your body, how should it be possible for you to know God, who created spirits, bodies and all things, who is himself foreign to all of them, and who is not of their class and kind ? It is one of the most important things, yea, a most necessary duty, to treat of God as holy, independent and free.
How many things there are in your body in reference to which you do not know their reality and essence, such as desire, love, misery and pleasure. Their existence is admitted, but their quantity and quality cannot be measured. If you desire to learn the absolute truth about them, you cherish a vain longing; and it is the same, if you desire to know the absolute nature of voice, nutrition or hearing. As that which is perceived by the eye has no relation to voice, and as that which is perceived by the ear has no relation to form, and as that which is perceived by the sense of smelling has no relation to taste, so that the one can be known by means of the other, in the same manner that which is perceived through the medium of the mind or of divine power, cannot be perceived by the senses. Again, as the spirit exists and controls the body, and yet we know not the mode and essence of it, so God is present in all things, and controls and governs all things, but his form, essence and quality are exempt from being known. Exemption and freedom may be illustrated in still another manner. In the same way that the spirit pervades all the limbs and the body, and the body is entirely subject to its control, and that the spirit is indivisible, while the body is divisible, so also in relation to God, all that exists, springs from him, all creatures exist by his word, and in all possible things his operations are seen, yet still he is not related to place, nor does he reason about anything, and he is free from relation or affinity to any quality of bodies or to quantity.
This topic of exemption and freedom, beloved, cannot be perfectly explained, until the mystery about the soul shall have been developed. The law, however, gives no permission to develop this secret, and it is not lawful to stretch out one's hand to do what the legislator forbids. But the language of his excellency the glory of the world,1 “God created man in his own image,” cannot be explained until die mystery about the nature of the soul or spirit has been explained.
And now, student of the divine mysteries, that you have in general understood, as far as your mind can reach, the being and attributes of God, by having your own soul as an example, it is important that you should become acquainted with the influence of the word, government and sovereignty of God in the world. This is called knowledge of operation. You ought to understand, also, as far as reason can go, the government that he exercises over the body, so that you may comprehend in what way creatures obey the word and the will of God, in what way the angels by his decree convey their ministrations from heaven to earth, in what way the movements of the heavens and the revolutions of the constellations are effected, and what is the key to the method by which the orders of dæmons are effected. But unless you know in what way you exercise authority over your body, what probability is there that you can understand how God exercises control over all things.
“Know thyself, and thou shalt know thy Lord.” Observe then that when you desire to write upon paper the phrase, In the name of God, there arises first of all an inclination and a decision in the heart to write it. Next in order, that inclination and decision by means of the animal spirit is carried to the brain. When that decision has reached the brain then the image of the phrase, In the name of God is formed in the faculty of imagination in the brain. Afterwards the image reaches a nerve resembling a white thread, and descends by means of it to the ends of the fingers. Finally by means of the senses the fingers write the phrase In the name of God, in the form in which by the will of the heart, it exists in the treasury of the imagination. Again, also, when the will of God is to anything, a token of it rises and appears in the empyreal heaven. And there is an essence called both the Spirit of Power, and the Holy Spirit, by means of which it arrives at the throne in the heavens. As the phrase, In the name of God, appears in the treasury of the imagination, so the image of the thing dependent on the will of God appears upon the Preserved Tablet. The angels appointed to serve in the empyrean and at the throne, cause it to descend to the inferior world, and by means of the periods and hours of the constellations, it is made to appear through the four elementary qualities — heat, cold, moisture and dryness. As the phrase In the name of God is written down by first dipping the pen in the ink, so the thing which God wills, comes to light by mixing heat and cold with water and earth. As paper is so adapted to writing as to preserve the forms which are written upon it, so dryness and moisture are recipient of those other forms and preserve the images that are produced. If moisture did not exist, forms and images could not be preserved. In the same manner as by the will of the heart and by the method above mentioned, the image In the name of God, which is in the treasury of the imagination is painted with the pen upon paper, so also the will of God, which is an image produced upon the Preserved Tablet in the empyrean, is produced and made visible in the material world, by means of the angels, the constellations and the elemental qualities of water and earth.
At the time when the heart of man had control over all the organs and members, and they were all obedient to it, some thought that man was a dweller in his own heart. When the empyrean in like manner, ruled over all things by the will of God, they reasoned that man was seated in the empyrean. But like as man has dominion over his own heart in the administration of his kingdom, the body, God also rules over the empyrean in the administration of the affairs of created beings, which he has committed to the empyrean. Thus God declares in his holy word, “He sat upon the empyrean to govern the universe.” 1 You should know, also, that what we have been maintaining is convincingly established. It is known to men of penetration by revelation.
“God created man in his own image.” What does this mean, and how is it known to be true ? Know, beloved, that the sovereign recognizes no other person except the sovereign himself. If the Lord had not appointed you to be sovereign over the body as over a kingdom, if he had not confided to you the affairs of its government, and had not given you this brief copy as a model, how would you have been able to comprehend the sovereign, who is independent of reasoning and of place, and who cannot be known by argument or hypothesis or in any other way? Thanks and praises be given to him who is without beginning and eternal, to him who is unceasingly beneficent, to him who made you sovereign over yourself, who subjected your body to you for a kingdom, who made your heart to be an empyreal throne, and made the animal spirit which is the fountain of the heart, to be a seraphic messenger. He appointed the brain to be the throne, and the treasury of the imagination to be the Preserved Tablet. He made the cupola of the brain, which is the source of the nerves and the mine of the faculties, to be like the vault of heaven and the stars. He appointed the fingers and the pen to serve the elemental qualities of nature, and subjected them to your order. He made you more excellent and noble than all other creatures, and to exercise rule over all possible things. He has bidden you to beware and not to be heedless of your soul, which is your kindom and dominion: for to be regardless of your soul, is to be regardless of your Creator and Benefactor.
Know, however, that there is an immense distance and wide interval between perceiving the beauty of the Lord, and understanding that which constitutes its soul, marrow and essence. O seeker of the divine mysteries, those impotent astrologers and physicists, who, shut out from the knowledge of God, ascribe changes and events to the stars and to nature, resemble an ant, that seeing a pen making marks upon paper, should be overjoyed and cry out, “I have found out the secret of the effect. It is the pen that causes the marks.” This class of men in another point resembles the natural man, who ascribes the influences in nature to heat and cold, water and earth: so a second ant looking on with attention, sees that the pen does not move of itself, but rather by the will of the hand: and he turns and says tp the first ant, “You were mistaken; you did not perceive the real nature of the thing: you thought the marks and movements were caused by the pen. It is not so; the whole influence proceeds from the fingers and the pen is subject to the fingers.” Beloved, this ant resembles the astrologer, who ascribes effects to the constellations. He does not know that he also is mistaken, and that the stars and the constellations are subject to the angels, and that the angels can do nothing without the command of God.
In the same manner as there is falsity, in the way in which the material world is regarded by the natural man and the astrologer, there is also a diversity of views among those who survey the spiritual world. There are some who, just as they are upon the point of entering upon the vision of the spiritual world, seeing that they discover nothing, descend back to their old sphere. There is also a difference of view between those who do succeed in reaching the spiritual or invisible world by meditation, for some have an immense amount of light veiled from them. Every one in the sphere to which he attains, is still veiled with a veil. The light of some is as of a twinkling star. Others see as by the light of the moon. Others are illuminated as if by the world-effulgent sun. To some the invisible world is even perfectly revealed, as we read in the holy word of God: “And thus we caused Abraham to see the heaven and the earth.”1 And hence it is that the prophet says, “There are before God seventy veils of light; if he should unveil them, the light of his countenance would burn everything that came into his presence.” 2
Still the miserable naturalist, who ascribes effects to the influences of nature, speaks correctly. For, if natural causes had no operation, the art of medicine would have been useless, and the holy law would not have allowed to have recourse to medical treatment. The mistake which the naturalist makes, is that he contracts his sphere of vision, and is like the lame ass, that left his load at the first stopping place. He does not know that nature also is subjected to the hand of the power of God, and is a kind of humble servant, such as a shoe is to the ass. The astrologer also says, that the sun is a star, which causes heat and light upon the earth. If there had been no sun, the distinction between day and night would not have existed, and vegetables and grain could not have been produced. The moon also is a star, and if there bad been no moon, how many things connected with the requirements of the Law of the Koran, would have been impracticable, such as fasting, alms and pilgrimage, since there would have been no distinction of weeks, months and years. The colors and perfumes of herbs and fruits exist also from its influence. The sun is warm and dry; the moon is cold and moist. Saturn is cold and dry, Venus is warm and moist. And the school of astrologers is to be credited in these representations; but when they ascribe all events to influences proceeding from the heavenly bodies, they are liars. They do not perceive that they all alike are subject to the almighty power of God as God says in his word: “And the sun, moon and stars are subject to his command.” 1 There is also an influence exercised by the stars, which resembles the control, exercised by the nerve that comes from the brain over the finger in writing; while the force of nature is like the control exerted upon the pen by the finger….
When the health of a person undergoes a change, and he becomes the prey of melancholy and suspicion, and the pleasures of the world become distasteful, so that from disgust with it, he withdraws from all society, his physician says, “this person is diseased with melancholy; he must take an infusion of dodder, of thyme and bark of endive as a medicine.” The naturalist says: “As this person's malady is of a dry nature, it arises from a predominance of dryness, which has settled on the brain. The occasion of his having a dry temperament is the season of winter. Until spring comes, and dry weather predominates, there is no possibility of a cure.” The astrologer says, “this person being under the influence of melancholy, which arises from a hurtful conjunction between Mars and Jupiter, there will be no favorable change in his health until the conjunction of Jupiter with Venus shall have reached the Trine.” Now know, beloved, that the language of all these persons is correct, for they all speak and believe according to the degree and reach of their reason and understanding. However, the real and essential cause of the malady may be stated thus. When fortune is favorable to any person, and the Deity desires to guide him into the possession of it, he deputes two powerful ministers to that effect, Jupiter and Mars. These in turn, control the light footed ministers, the elements, and command dryness, for example, to fasten its bridle to the neck of the person, and cause dryness to attack his head and brain. He is thus made to become weary of the world by means of the scourge of melancholy and suspicion, and so with the bridle of the will may be impelled towards the Deity. These circumstances can never be understood in this sense, either by medicine, or by nature, or by the stars. One may, however, learn to understand them by knowledge and the prophetic power combined. For they embrace the whole kingdom of the universe with its deputies and servants, and possess the knowledge of the end for which everything was created: they know to whose command all things are subjected, to what men are invited and what they are forbidden to do.
The Lord invites the servants whom he loves to the contemplation of his glory, at one time by sending misfortune and affliction, and at another by melancholy and sickness: and he says to them, “my servants, what you regard as misfortune and affliction, is but the bridle of my love, by which I draw those whom I love to a spirit of holy submission, and to my Paradise.” It is also found in a tradition that “misfortune is first of all the lot of the prophets, then of the saints and then of those who are like them in successive lower degrees. Look not then upon these things as maladies, for they are my favored servants.”
O seeker after the divine secrets, now that you have learned that within the body of man, there is a sovereign who possesses and controls it, it is time that you should learn the meaning of the sentences, “Glory to God,” “God be praised,” “There is no God but God,” and “God is the greatest.” These sentences are very current on the tongues of men, but they do not know the signification of them. Although these four sentences are in appearance very short, yet there are no others that embrace so much of the knowledge of God. Since from the consideration of the freedom and independence of your own spirit, you have learned the freedom and independence of God, you have in consequence learned the meaning and import of the sentence, “Glory to God.” Seeing that from the sovereignty which you exercise over your own spirit, you have learned the sovereignty which God exercises, and know that all causes and instruments are subject to his power, and that all outward and inward mercies, which are incalculable and innumerable, are from him, you therefore know the meaning and import of the phrase, “God be praised.” As you know also that all things are of his creation, that his government extends over all things, and that without his will no motion or change can affect any thing, you see the meaning of the words, “There is no God but God. ” Listen now to the explanation of the sentence, “God is the greatest.”
Do not suppose that, from all that has hitherto been said, you can understand the greatness of God. His greatness and power are above and beyond the comprehension of the mind and wisdom of man. Moreover the phrase “God is the greatest” does not mean that God is larger than other things : it is a sin to indulge in such a belief. It is as much as to say, that there are large things, but that God is larger than they are. The holy meaning of the phrase “God is the greatest” is that God is so great, that he cannot be known or comprehended by the mind or understanding, or be compared with any thing,—that the knowledge of God cannot be attained by means of the knowledge which a man has of his own soul (which God forbid!), that a knowledge of his attributes cannot be attained from a knowledge of the attributes of man, and that his independence and holiness cannot be compared with the independence and holiness of man in any form whatever. God forbid that His sovereignty and government should be compared and measured ! The doctors of the law have been allowed however, in the way of illustration to explain in a certain degree the knowledge, power, excellence and sovereignty of God to man, who is frail and weak in understanding.
Thus, let us suppose that a person bad been born and brought up in darkness, where he had never seen the rays or light of the sun, but had merely heard a description of the sun. If such a person should ask to have the light and mode of shining of the sun explained to him, how would it be possible in any way to explain to him what it is? If however, there should happen to be in that dark place many glow worms, the person addressed, taking one of them up in his hands, might say, “the light of the sun resembles this,” although in reality it has not a particle or an atom of resemblance. Take another example : suppose a child incapable of making distinctions, should inquire of us about the pleasure derived from exercising authority and sovereignty. We, knowing the impossibility of explaining the matter to him, might answer that the pleasure of ruling was like that obtained from playing with nuts or at ball, although it does not resemble them in any particular. From these examples we may learn that it is impossible for any being, except God himself, to know God. “God is witness ! God is witness! No one knows God, except God himself.”
Finally, seeker after divine mysteries, know that the paths to the knowledge of God, are as numerous as the souls of creatures, and their number is known to God alone. But we have spoken so much as is found above, for the sake of both warning and stimulating the seeker after the knowledge and love of God.
The happiness of man consists in the knowledge, obedience and worship of God. Only a little previously we have shown, how it is that man's happiness consists in the knowledge of God. We now proceed to observe, that it is an argument to prove that the happiness of man consists in obedience and devotion, the fact that when a man dies, his destination is to return to where God is. Every thing which concerns man is with God, and his works will all be presented before Him. Whenever all the affairs of a person are in the hands of another, and his employments and his home are with him — when he is near to him and continually has need of him, there will be perfect harmony between the two, and abiding friendship and love. Whoever be the person whom we love, we shall find our happiness with him. There is nothing more delightful than to meet with and look upon an object that we love. But we ought to know that the love of God will never reign in the heart of a man until first the knowledge of God reigns there, and until the remembrance of God becomes unceasing. If one individual love another, he is continually thinking of him, and by this continual remembrance, his love is increased.
The remembrance of God will be predominant in the heart that is always engaged in devotion: and the heart will be engaged in devotion and worship, whenever it withdraws from worldly lusts and sensual pleasures: it will withdraw from worldly lusts, when it refrains from sins. To abstain from sins of rebellion, brings peace to the heart: to be constant in worship, is a means of remembrance of God; and both are a means of growing in the love of God, which is the seed of happiness. And so the Lord speaks in his word : “Blessed is the man who keeps himself pure, who repeats the name of the Lord and prays. ” 1
Know also that all our acts cannot be devotional. Those acts only are devotional which harmonize with the law. But it is not possible to be totally exempt from sensuous passions, for if the body should be deprived of food and drink for example, it would perish. There is occasion therefore for making distinctions between our acts; but these distinctions, the individual is not capable of making for himself, because the animal soul necessarily casts a veil over the truth and inclines it to vanity. On this account we are obliged to follow after and imitate others — such persons as the prophets. They have been purified and enlightened by the eternal Truth Himself, and have been sent forth to communicate precepts and laws, and to decide upon all circumstances. Every one is therefore bound to imitate them within the limits of the law, and in the regulation of his moral conduct, that he may attain felicity and be preserved from danger of eternal destruction.
Those careless and indifferent persons, O seeker after the divine mysteries, who from ignorance, stupidity and sin have turned away from God and his prophet, and have wandered from the path of religion, may be arranged in seven classes.
To the first class belong those who do not believe in God. They had desired to find him out in his essence and attributes, by speculations and fancies, by comparisons and illustrations. And because they have not succeeded in understanding him, they have referred his acts and his government to the stars and to nature. They have fancied that the soul of man and of other animals, and this wonderful world with its marvellous arrangements came of themselves, and that they are eternal; or that they are effects from natural causes, and that there is no creator beyond the sphere of the world. This class of people resembles the man who seeing a writing, fancies that it was written of itself, and infers that it was not written by a penman or by a super-natural power : or else that it is eternal and that no one knows whence it comes. It is impossible to recover from the path of delusion, persons whose ignorance, error and stupidity have reached such a degree as this.
The second class of errorists are those who deny a day of resurrection and assembly. They allege that man and other animals are like vegetables, and do not enter into another body when they die. They say, that a resurrection, in which spirits and bodies shall be reassembled in one place, is impossible, and that there will be neither discipline or punishment, recompense or reward. The errors of this sect arise from their inability to understand of themselves their own souls. They imagine that the spirit is an animal spirit only, and that the heart, which is in reality the spirit of man, is the place for the knowledge of God, and that no evil can happen to it_ except that it will be separated from the body. They call this separation, death. This sect is unconcerned about this spirit, and in proof of this we shall discourse, if it please God, in the fourth chapter.
The third class of errorists are those who indeed believe in God and a future life, but whose faith is weak, because they do not understand the requirements of the law. They say that “God is able to do without our worship. There is neither any profit to God from our worship, or any injury done him by our disobedience. If we worship God, we shall learn what good it did in the future world; and if we do not worship him, there will neither be any advantage or harm. God himself so declares in his holy word, “Whosoever keep himself pure, does it for his own advantage,” 1 and in another place, “He who does well, does it for his own profit.” 2 Although it is better to worship God, yet as God has no need of our worship, therefore if we do not worship him, what harm is there in it ?” These ignorant people resemble the sick man, who when the physician says to him, “you should be abstinent, if you wish to be cured of your malady,” should answer, “what advantage is it to you whether I am abstinent or not”? Now though the sick man is right when he says that there is no advantage to the physician from his abstinence, yet if he is not abstinent, he will perish. This class regards obedience and transgression as of the same degree in value. But in the same manner as disease may occasion a man's destruction, so transgression defiles the heart, and will cause it to appear in the future world in a state of woe. And just as abstinence and medicine restore the body to health, so to avoid acts of transgression and sin and to be obedient to God, are means of securing salvation.
The fourth class of men who indulge in error, are those who indeed receive the law, but in some peculiar and erroneous sense. They wrongly say, “The law commands U5 to keep our hearts pure from pride, envy, hatred, anger and dissimulation. But this is a thing which it is impossible to do. For the soul has been created with these qualities and affections, and human nature cannot be changed. It is just as impossible to make a black material white by scraping it, as for the human heart to be free from these qualities.” These ignorant men do not know and understand, that the law does not command that these qualities should be entirely effaced and expelled from the heart, but rather requires that they should be brought under subjection to the heart and the reason, to the end that they may not act presumptuously, go beyond the limits set by the law, and indulge in mortal sins. It is possible even to change these qualities, by doing only what reason requires, and by respecting the restrictions of the law. Many devout men in past times have secured this change of the affections of the soul. These qua.ities once existed in the prophet of God, but they were corrected, as we learn from the tradition: “I am a man like you. I become angry, as a man becomes angry.” And God speaks in his holy word of “those who control their wrath, and who pardon the men who offend them.”1 Notice, that in his eternal word, God praises those who dissipate their anger and irritation : he does not praise those who had no anger or rage, since man cannot be without them.
The fifth class of persons in error are those who say that, “God is merciful and ready to pardon, loving and compassionate, and more pitiful to his servants than a father and mother to their children, and therefore he will pardon our faults and cover our transgressions.” They do not consider that notwithstanding God is bounteous and merciful, there are still multitudes of poor and miserable people in the world, multitudes who are infirm and helpless, and many who are subjected to suffering. This is a mystery which is known only to God. But it shows us, that though God is disposed to cover and hide sin, still he is an absolute sovereign and an avenger. While he is bounteous and beneficent, he is at the same time dreadful in his chastisements : while he is a benefactor, and provides the necessaries of life, at the same time he who does not seek to gain, obtains no store: and he who is not industrious, accomplishes nothing in the world. Beloved, these ignorant men, in the affairs of the world, in their schemes of living, and in their business, manifest no trust in the bounty of God, nor do they leave off for one moment their buying and selling, their trades or their farming, although God has decreed the means of their existence many years before they were born, and has made himself surety that it should be provided for them. He announces in his eternal word and book of mighty distinctions, that “there is no creature on the earth, for whom God has not taken upon himself to provide nourishment.” 2 Still they make not the least exertion in reference to their relations and condition in eternity, but merely rely upon the mercy of God, notwithstanding God declares in his holy word, “man can have nothing without exertion.” 1 When they say that God is gracious and merciful, they speak correctly. But they are not aware that Satan is deceiving them with it, hindering them from obedience and worship, and preventing them from engaging in that cultivation and commerce that would prepare them for eternity.
The sixth class who indulge in error, are those who, exalted with pride, think that they have already attained and are perfect: and they say, “we have reached such a state that transgressions do us no harm: we are like the sea, which is not polluted by filth falling into it.” These foolish people are so ignorant, that they do not know that “to be like the sea,” means to attain such a degree of calm that no wind can put them in movement and that nothing can cause any perturbation in their minds. These persons on the contrary, if an individual fail to treat them with honor and respect, or if in conversation the individual do not address them as, my lord or dear sir, or speak a word that touches their reputation, they bear him a grudge for a long time, and even perhaps attempt to do him an injury. And if a person take a piece of money or a morsel of bread from them, the world becomes too straight for them, and every thing looks dark. These foolish people have not even yet reached manhood. They are weak in their own souls, and are in subjection like slaves to passion and anger. If it were not so, how could they be so inconsiderate and presumptuous? Beloved, the falsehood and error of these people appear from this consideration. When inadvertently any of the prophets fell into sin, even a little and venial sin, they would spend years in mourning and lamentation over it, and occupied themselves in endeavors to obliterate their faults, and to obtain pardon and forgiveness. Filled with fear and dread, they became blind from their tears; from their long continuing perturbation and distraction of mind, yon would think they had lost the use of their reason. As for the companions of the prophet, and their immediate successors who were faithful witnesses for the truth and the beloved of God, they were so afraid in their suspicionsness of doing wrong, that they abstained in their anxiety, from doing even what was lawful. Do not these ignoramuses know that their degree of attainment does not equal that of the prophets and apostles, and that they are even at a great distance from them ? Why then do they not shrink in fear and awe from the shining vengeance of the glorious God ?
If they urge, however, that the transgressions of the prophets were doing them no injury, but that they were exercising prudence and carefulness for the sake of other people, we then reply, that you also ought to be careful, lest other people seeing your actions, should imitate your example. And if they respond, we do not belong to the rank of prophets, that men should walk in our steps, or that any injury should befall us, on account of the sins which they may commit, we would again reply,/that it is better that no injury should come to you in consequence of the sins done from imitating you, than that injury should not befall the prophets from the sins done in consequence of imitating them; for they are the praised and accepted servants of God; their earlier and their later sins have been pardoned, and they are blessed in Paradise. Why, then, was it so necessary that they should abstain from forbidden things, from things of a doubtful nature and even from permitted things ? It is said that one day some ripe dates were brought to the prophet, and he took one and put it in his blessed mouth. But immediately a doubt entered his mind, as to the manner in which the dates had been obtained, and he took it out of his blessed mouth and would not eat it. On another occasion a cup of milk was brought to the faithful witness Aboo Bekir by his slave, and he took it and drank it. After drinking it, he inquired, “where did yon get the milk ?” The slave said, “I told a man his fortune, and he gave me the milk in return.” As soon as the faithful witness heard this, he frowned severely upon his servant, inserted his blessed finger down his mouth, and threw up the whole of the milk, so that none of it remained on his stomach. He then said, “I fear that if any of the milk should remain on my stomach, God would expel knowledge and love from my heart.” Now what harm could result to other people from their eating those dates or drinking that milk, that they should have been so careful about such little things ? And since they did abstain from such little things, regarding them as injurious, how should it be otherwise than injurious to these foolish people to drink wine, in full bowls and even by the jar full ?
They know that the wisdom, piety and abstinence of the prophets and saints were not less than their own. Can there be any more astonishing folly than that of these men who dare to compare themselves with the sea, because they are not disturbed by drinking several bowls of wine, while they compare the prophet of God, to a little water, which is changed in its taste by a single date ? They are just worthy that Satan should seize hold of them by the beard and mustachios, and drag them after him both in this world and the next, making them a shame and reproach.
Now the faithful, truthful and experienced in religion, who are mindful that the soul is treacherous, deceptive, perfidious, malicious and false, always watch carefully over their own souls, lest they should do something that transcends the commands of the law, or that is contrary to reason. The soul is always disposed to say to itself, “I am obedient to the truth : I am submissive to the holy law : and I am well instructed in knowledge.” But thou, without being puffed up by this deceitful language of the soul, must constantly look to all its thoughts and states. If it is walking in the path of the law and of the prophets and saints, it is well! and happy is he that is faithful to his word ! But if the soul begin to have an inclination for self-indulgence, to explain away or exceed the limits of the law and to contradict clear and plain knowledge, you must regard it as a machination of the devil and a temptation to the soul. In short, man, until he descends to the grave, must always watch over his soul with attention, to discover in what degree it is obedient to the holy law and in harmony with knowledge. Whoever does not thus watch over and guard himself, is most surely in a delusion and in the way of a just destruction. It is the first step in Islamism, that a man should keep his soul subject to the law.
The seventh form of error, beloved, is that of the class whose mistakes arise from ignorance and carelessness, while they have never heard any thing of these doubts of which we have been speaking. They merely wear the garments, cap and quilted robes of the mystics (soofees), and after learning some of their words and phrases, they pretend to have attained saintship and supernatural powers. And although apparently they have no evil intentions, yet because they do not properly respect the holy law, but practice their devotions in a lax way, their course leads them to corrupt doctrines and errors. They are always inclined to do whatsoever their corrupt disposition would lead them to do, such as yielding to the love of frivolous practices, or to sensual indulgences, or assenting to transgression and sin. In the presence of the multitude, they put on a holy mien and do not approve of error and sin, but they do not withdraw their hearts from the pleasure of wine, nor from adulterous and licentious society, nor withdraw their hands from the business of gaining the world. Although in these associations there may be no overt sin, yet they do not consider that such thoughts are but satanic suggestions and sensual importunities. They are not capable of distinguishing actions and circumstances, or right and wrong. Beloved, to this class belong those of whom God declares in his holy word, “We have covered their hearts with more than one envelop, that they may not understand the Koran and we have put deafness upon their ears. Even if thou shouldst call them to the right way, they would never follow it.” 1 It is better to talk with a sword, than to talk with this class of people, for they are not open to conviction….
S, 10. 3.
S. 6: 75.
The author has commented upon this in his work, Meshkuwet el enwar we masnafat el esrar. Tr.
S. 16: 12
S. 84. 14, 15.
S 35 10
S 41. 46
S 3 : 128
S. 11 : 8.
S. 53: 40.
S. 18: 55, 56.