Book Review: Letter to a Disciple, by al-Ghazali



Source: google.com

Religious discourses are known to be light on the tongues of scholars but often take such complexities within the pages of books. Oftentimes than we perceive we miss out on the crux of these discourses (due to their comprehensive nature), and, as such, we enrich our brains with so much knowledge that we cannot sort them as per their importance.   

This problem plagued one of the advanced students of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (the renowned Islamic scholar of the 6th century), who, after mastering various kinds of religious sciences, sought to find out which ones will be of use to him so that he may act upon them and give up the rest. Thus, he wrote to his teacher, seeking a ruling, asking questions, and requesting both advice and a prayer. In response, his teacher, al-Ghazali, composed a summary of all his teachings in the book Letter to a Disciple (Ayyuhal Walad).

This, however, is quite different from everyday letters, as al-Ghazali, in this text, evoked the unfamiliar combined arts of cerebration, discretion and civilization that will leave one mesmerized. 

He wrote:
Know O beloved and precious disciple- may God prolong your days in obedience to Him and travel with you on the path of those He loves- that public advice should be quoted from the goldmine of messengerhood (the prophet). If you have received advice from him, what need do you have of my advice? And if you have not received it, then tell me what you have achieved in these years gone-by!

He also wrote:

O disciple, advice is easy- what is difficult is accepting it, for it is bitter in taste to those who pursue vain pleasures, since forbidden things are dear to their hearts. (This is) particularly so for whover is the student of conventional knowledge, who is occupied with gratifying his ego and with wordly exploits, for he supposes that his knowledge alone will be his salvation and that his deliverance is in it, and that he can do without deeds- and this is the conviction of the philosophers. Glory be to God Almighty! This conceited fool does not know that when he acquires knowledge , if he does not act on the strength of it, the evidence against him will become decisive…

Basically, this book centres on acquiring knowledge which is of spiritual benefit, purifying one’s intention and acting on the basis of the acquired knowledge. However, this text wouldn’t have achieved wholesome without the extensive references made to the example of the prophet and that of the early sufis. For every muslim and non-muslim, there is a lot to be learned here.

Letter to a Disciple is a work of extraordinary depth, beauty and uncommon simplicity. For this reason, I rate it 5 out of 5. You may give it your own rating below.

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