Ghazali And The Seljuk Synthesis

This is not the place to rehearse the details of Ghazala's life. Elsewhere in this volume, David Burrell has described how he came to confirm the centrality of Sufism through terrible inner traumata.49 The result was that Ghazala made his famous flight from Baghdad, dedicating himself to the contemplative disciplines of Sufism.

Ghazaalai hyperbolises when he expresses himself in terms of an actual disavowal of the exoteric sciences. For the fruit of his conversion was of course a bold attempt to revive these very sciences through Sufism, as expressed in the title of his major work, The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Ghazaalai thus aimed to generalise Sufism, in keeping with the spirit of integrality. He wanted Sufism to pervade society, guaranteeing its spiritual vitality. He wished, in other words, for a restoration of the primitive theocratic ideal of Islam: a society grounded in the living presence of God, in place of the (at best) nomocratic aspirations of the society he saw around him. It is noteworthy that in one of his last works, the famous O Youth, Ghazali proposed that Sufism, euphemised as the ''science of the states of the heart'', was an ''individual duty'' (fard 'ayn) on Muslims and not merely a ''duty of sufficiency'' (fard kifaya).50 Muslim society should not, in other words, be content to leave the internalising of religion to select individuals. This is breathtakingly radical. Yet it is closely mirrored in the de facto pervasion of Muslim society by organised Sufism in the period from the twelfth century onwards. With the propagation of the great Sufi orders (turuq), a huge proportion of Muslims were involved in the mystical movement, albeit many as affiliates (mutashabbihun) or ''partakers in the blessing'' (mutabarrikun) of one or another order.

Ghazaalai's is of course the consummation of a much older relationship between Ash'arism and Sufism. It is a story whose origins even pre-date Ash'arl himself, and go back to the prefigurations of Ash'arism in earlier counter-Mu'tazilite theology. In the century before Ash'arai, al-Harith al-Muhasiba (d. 857) had been a figure of central importance in the formation of the Baghdad school of Sufism, but was also a selfconsciously orthodox exponent of kalam. Like Ash'ari later, Muhasiba proposed combating Mu'tazilism on behalf of the ahl al-hadath by using the dialectical tools of kalam in works like his (lost) Reflection and Induction (Kitab al-Tafakkur wa'l-i'tibar). He was severely criticised for his approach by his contemporary, Ibn Hanbal, for whom all kalaam was innovatory and suspect. Later, when Ash'ara's school emerged as a major force, a central figure like the aforementioned Ibn Khafaif could be both a well-known Sufi and a committed Ash'arite. This combination of Suf-ism and Ash'arism triumphed ultimately under Ghazaalai's patrons, the Seljuks, the major Sunnai Turkish power operating in Iran, Iraq and Anatolia from the mid-eleventh century to the end of the twelfth (and to the beginning of the fourteenth century in Anatolia). Within the Seljuk context, Ghazaalai is generally seen as completing the project already under way in the previous generation with al-Qushayra (d. 1072), whose widely influential Treatise (Risala) and esoteric commentary on the Qur'an assume an Ash'arite dogmatic framework. Even under the Sel-juks, however, Sufism and Ash'arism did not prevail without tribulation. Despite Seljuk patronage of Sufism through the construction and endowment of khaanqaahs, the trial and execution of Sufis were still not unknown, as in the case of 'Ayn al-Qudat al-Hamadhana (d. 1131). Again, while Ash'arism became the official theology of the Seljuk domains, promoted in the newly founded Nizamiyya colleges all over the eastern lands of Islam in centres like Baghdad, Nishapur and Merv, the theological school had earlier been persecuted and banned by Tughril-Beg's Mu'tazilite vizier, Kundura, up until the latter's death in 1063.

But Ash'arite Sufism was undoubtedly the main intellectual bequest of the Seljuks to Islam. Its influence was primarily felt through the spread of Ghazala's own works. Ghazala became a normative voice in large areas of the Sunna Muslim world, and the Revival, his magnum opus, became a text on which many Sufis founded their entire spiritual programme. There are many examples of this. It is known, for instance, that the Revival was the basic textbook of Ibn Hirzihim (d. 1165), teacher of the great North African saint Abu Madyan. A major figure in Persianate Sufism like Hamadham was thoroughly devoted to the Revival (at least, earlier in his career, before he took up more Avicennan ideas). But Ash'arite Sufism also continued to have major representatives without any obvious dependence on Ghazala. The great visionary and mystical exegete, Ruzbehan Baqla (d. 1209), was strongly Ash'arite in his theology, as is clear from his credal work Road of Monotheism (Maslak al-tawhad). In other texts, it is fascinating to see Ash'arite terms and ideas transposed by Baqla into a purely mystical context. For instance, the difficult kalam issue of the visio beata is explored anew, no longer as an episode of the eschaton, or of the Prophet's ascension, but insofar as Baqla himself claims to have encountered God ''in the most beautiful of forms'' in the privacy of his own home. He explains: ''In my ecstasy and spiritual state my heart did not remember the story of anthropomorphism and abstraction, for in seeing Him, the traces of intellects and sciences are raised.''51 Baqla typically uses the Hanbalite and Ash'arite formula ''without how'' (bi-la kayf) in such visionary contexts: ''He transcends change in His singleness and cannot be encompassed by His creation. I was watching God, awaiting the unveiling of attributes and the lights of the Essence, and God manifested His eternal face ''without how'' to my heart, it was as though I was looking at Him with the external eye, and the hidden world shone from the appearance of His glory.''52 Yet another representative of the synthesis under discussion is Abu Hafs al-Suhrawarda (d. 1234), whose work became the basic textbook of institutional Sufism in the Persianate world, but who also systematically defended Ash'arism against Hanbalism. Finally, in the Arab world, there is an example in the third master of the influential Shadhili order, Ibn 'Ata' Allah al-Iskandara (d. 1309), whose Ash'arism was largely drawn from the Book of Guidance (Kitab al-Irshad) of Ghazala's teacher al-Juwayna. Iskandara's manual on invocation (dhikr), and his mystical aphorisms bear the unmistakable imprint of Ash'arite doctrine and terminology.

Clearly the term ''Ash'arism'' needs to be modulated when used in regard to Sufi thinkers like these. Ghazali, for instance, has standard Ash'arite works which fall outside of Sufism altogether, like his Just Mean in Belief (al-Iqtisid fi'l-i'tiqad). He presents an analogous level of Ash'arism even in certain Sufi contexts, notably in the creed contained in the Jerusalem Epistle. This level of Ash'arism is purely catechistic, and is not Sufi sensu stricto, though it may pave the way for Ghazali's mystical discourse. It should by no means be confused with the tran-scendentalised Ash'arism proper to that discourse.53 It is Ash'arism in the latter sense which is of real interest to us in the study of thinkers like Ghazali.

This transcendentalised Ash'arism must be exemplified. It is well known that a cornerstone of Ash'arism is atomism, according to which the world is made up of indivisible substances jawihir), which have no innate power of duration (thubut/baqi'), and instead must receive it as an external accident directly from God at each moment of their existence. The structure of time itself, according to Ash'arism, is atomistic (compare the ''chronons'' postulated by certain modern physicists). Time too consists in nothing but discrete unextended moments (awqit, or anit = ''nows''). This Ash'arite doctrine is clearly meant to articulate God's omnipotence. For it denies, at each point in the duration of anything non-divine, that it has any intrinsic power of existence. God alone has such a power. Put differently, Ash'arism protests that we are quite right to ask at each point in the endurance of something, why it is there at all. Since it was not there in the past, it is never itself sufficient grounds to explain its presence. It must in fact be made present, ab extra, at every point of its duration. This leads to a radical occasionalism: the denial of secondary causes. The predictability, through time, of the cause-effect chains from which the world appears to be woven, in fact depends on ''God's custom'' ('idat Allah /sunnat Allah = potentia ordinata versus potentia absoluta) and is not part of the intrinsic nature of the so-called cause and effect. Indeed, the Greek concept of ''nature'' (physis = tabi'a) is condemned outright by Ash'arism. God thus becomes the sole and absolute cause (mukhtari') of the universe in its totality throughout its history. Creation is not restricted to a first moment of time, but the universe is perpetually created for as long as it is present in existence.

This occasionalist doctrine was developed by Ash'arism to confirm God's absolute power, against Mu'tazilism, which insisted that God, through surrender or delegation (tafwid), might invest created beings with a capacity of their own. Created beings in Mu'tazilism have a certain independence. If this dialectical context partly explains the emergence of the Ash'arite teaching in question, it took on a life of its own in Sufism. For instance, a figure like Ghazaalai harnesses it to Sufi ethics, when he recommends in O Youth that the best cure for ostentation is to keep in mind that people are really just inanimate objects (jamadat).54 But this is as yet a relatively modest application of the Ash'arite teaching. Ghazaalai has much bolder uses for it, completely shifting the emphasis from causality to ontology, from denying power to creatures to denying existence itself to them, from occasionalism to theomonism. Thus, in Ghazaalai's exegesis of the verse of the Qur'an ''Everything is perishing except His Face'' (28:88), he explains that it is not a matter of things perishing at some particular moment or other, but that they are perishing unceasingly and at every moment. This is a mysterious way of saying that created data have no ontological status of their own at any time, and therefore, that insofar as we speak of existence at all, it is a theophany. Ghazali is quite frank about his drift, for he now says, ''the only existent is the Face of God'' (fa-yakunu'l-mawjudu wajha'llahi ta'ala faqat).55 While the original Ash'arite context is perhaps implied by Ghazaalai's reference to ''moments'', there has been a bewildering transition. The discontinuous, cipher-like atomic substance (jawhar), which Ash'arism stripped of all influence but still formally maintained as the ground of the cosmos, has wholly dissolved. Ibn 'Arabai makes the same transition in the chapter on the prophet Shu'ayb in his Bezels of Wisdom (Fusus al-hikam). The Ash'arites, he says, are on the right lines in their doctrine. But they fall short in maintaining the theoretical distinction between accidents and substances within the cosmos. In fact, the whole cosmos is a ''sum of accidents'' (majmu' al-a'rad), involving nothing substantial. Insofar as we can speak of substance, it is not part of the cosmos, but is God Himself. God, not ''atoms'', is then the real ground of the cosmos. In this way, as Ibn 'Arabai puts it, ''from the sum of what is not self-subsistent has come about what is self-subsistent... and what does not endure for two moments has come to endure for two moments''.56

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