Event Review: Seminar on Al Hujjat Al Islam, Imam Ghazali

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“The scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.”- The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon
him), as related by Tirmidhi

It was a wet Saturday morning as many thronged the humble auditorium of Masjid Khadijah to learn more about the preeminent scholar Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad Al-Ghazali, better known to the world as Imam Al Ghazali. Four local scholars, namely Ustaz Ghouse Khan, Ustaz Feisal Hassan, Ustaz Anwar Hussein and Ustaz Muhammad Mukhtar, each took turns to elaborate on different aspects of Al Ghazali’s life and work.

Ustaz Ghouse was the first to take the stand. Apologising for his self-described poor command of English, Ustaz Ghouse explained that he had kept the English language in the drawer, as he put it, as he pursued his studies in Islam and only recently relearned to speak with some fluency. Ustaz Ghouse took the opportunity to elaborate on Imam Al Ghazali’s biography, beginning with his early childhood and initiation into the study of the din, his appointment as the Mudir of the Nizamiyyah of Baghdad (a position whose importance was equivalent to that of a qadi or a mufti) and subsequent spiritual crisis which led to him leaving his post to his brother to go into isolation.

Ustaz Ghouse stated that just he had put his English aside, during his time as Mudir Imam Al-Ghazali too
had cast aside the spiritual lessons of his youth, believing them to be unimportant and subsequently forgotten them. It was only during his period of isolation in Damascus that Al-Ghazali rediscovered tasawuf and wrote some of his greatest works, including the Ihya Ulumuddin (Revival of the Religious
Sciences).

Ustaz Ghouse also spent some time addressing the idea that Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani had been a student of Imam Al-Ghazali, stating that while their histories meant they were unlikely to have met, there was a possibility that the young man addressed in Al Ghazali’s tract Ayyuhal Walad was in fact a young Abdul Qadir Jilani.

After a short break, Ustaz Feisal took to the microphone next to deliver his talk on ‘Identifying Al Ghazali’s Concept of Wasatiyyah’.Quoting Ibn Manzur’s definition in Lisan Al-Arab, Ustaz Feisal identified ‘Wasat’ as “the best, the middle between two extremes and the most just” and saying the ummah of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) would be the Ummah Wasat on the day of judgement, as revealed by Allah in Surah Al Baqarah verse 143. He then presented the key characteristics of Ummah Wasat as identified by Imam Al Ghazali in the Ihya Ulumuddin including wisdom (al-hikmah), courage (al-shuja’ah) and modesty (‘iffah). Ustaz Feisal balanced the heavy, academic content of his presentation with humour, provoking laughter as he advised against Muslims venting all their frustrations on Facebook and spoke on the need to ‘wasatise’ Facebook.

There was a short question and answer segment, where Ustaz Feisal and Ustaz Ghouse clarified and elaborated on certain sections of their presentation, stressing on the need for Muslims to study the religion and put into practice what we learn, given our own capabilities and the context of the realities that we live in.

After Zuhur, Ustaz Anwar delivered his talk on the aqidah and fiqh of Imam Al-Ghazali. He apologized that he would have to sidetrack a bit to explain the aqidah of Imam Abu Hassan Al-Ashari, founder of the Ashari school of aqidah, in order to better to explain Al-Ghazali’s view of aqidah.

He explained that the aqidah of Imam Al-Ghazali was the same as the aqidah of Abu Hassan Al-Ashari, which was the aqidah of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him), and that it was equivalent to the aqidah of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, founder of the Hanbali madhab of fiqh. Ustaz Anwar stated we live in times similar to that which Al Ghazali lived in, with many differing and competing ideologies within Islam itself. He insisted that such clarifications were necessary to correct the misconceptions of our Muslim brothers and sisters who were, as Shaykh Faraz Rabbani puts it, ‘attitudinally-divergent’ and seek to refute what they see as deviant opinions on aqidah held by Imam Al-Ashari and Imam Al-Ghazali.

The last speaker of the day, Ustaz Muhammad Mukhtar, gave a brief introduction to the Ihya Ulumuddin in his presentation ‘Understanding Ihya Ulumuddin: Al-Ghazali’s Magnum Opus’. Ustaz Mukhtar began by pointing out the connection Imam Ghazali made between the Shariah and Tasawuf, and added that neither could exist without the other, and continued to say that Imam Al-Ghazali tied all the religious sciences together in the Ihya, in essence tying the dunya and the akhirah together by revealing the inner dimensions of religious rituals. He then concluded by reading a short section on the Discipline of the Soul and promoted a class he would be conducting at Khadijah Mosque on Saturday afternoons after Asar on the Ihya Ulumuddin itself.

After Asar prayers, Ustaz Anwar and Ustaz Mukhtar together fielded questions from the audience. Ustaz Mukhtar clarified what exactly Sufism and tasawuf were, and drew laughter with his statement that to become a Sufi was easy, by simply reading Bidayat al Hidaya and following the advice Imam Al-Ghazali offered within. A brother asked the Ustazs to clarify what the difference was between a Sufi and a Salafi, why one would need a Shaykh and how to find one. Ustaz Anwar stressed that there was no conflict between Sufi and Salafi, as Sufism simply means that one practices Ihsan, one of the foundations of the religion as stated in the hadith of Jibril, and Salafi refers not to a madhab, but to a timeframe of history within the first three hundred years after hijrah, meaning that the mujtahid Imams of the four Sunni Madhabs could all be considered salafis. Ustaz Mukhtar continued by saying that taking a shaykh was like consulting a doctor to cure spiritual diseases, and that one could find a shaykh by waking for the night prayers (tahajjud) and making du’a to Allah to find one.

Kudos go to the Khadijah Mosque Management Board for organizing the Al Ghazali Seminar, and shedding light on Imam Al-Ghazali, a giant in the world of Islamic scholarship and truly an inheritor of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him). May Allah bless their efforts and may they continue to organize such events for the benefit of the Muslim community in Singapore.

Written by
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah

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