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Al-Ghazali on Disciplining the Soul and on Breaking the Two Desires

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The spiritual life in Islam begins with riyadat al-nafs, the inner warfare against the ego. Distracted and polluted by worldliness, the lower self has a tendency to drag the human creature down into arrogance and vice. Only by a powerful effort of will can the sincere worshipper achieve the purity of soul which enables him to attain God's proximity. This translation of two The spiritual life in Islam begins with riyadat al-nafs, the inner warfare against the ego. Distracted and polluted by worldliness, the lower self has a tendency to drag the human creature down into arrogance and vice. Only by a powerful effort of will can the sincere worshipper achieve the purity of soul which enables him to attain God's proximity. This translation of two chapters from The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din) details the sophisticated spiritual techniques adopted by classical Islam. In the first step, On Disciplining the Soul, which cites copious anecdotes from the Islamic scriptures and biographies of the saints, Ghazali explains how to acquire good character traits, and goes on to describe how the sickness of the heart may be cured. In the second part, Breaking the Two Desires, he focusses on the question of gluttony and sexual desire, concluding, in the words of the Prophet, that 'the best of all matters is the middle way'. The translator has added an introduction and notes which explore Ghazali's ability to make use of Greek as well as Islamic ethics. The work will prove of special interest to those interested in Sufi mysticism, comparative ethics, and the question of sexuality in Islam.


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The spiritual life in Islam begins with riyadat al-nafs, the inner warfare against the ego. Distracted and polluted by worldliness, the lower self has a tendency to drag the human creature down into arrogance and vice. Only by a powerful effort of will can the sincere worshipper achieve the purity of soul which enables him to attain God's proximity. This translation of two The spiritual life in Islam begins with riyadat al-nafs, the inner warfare against the ego. Distracted and polluted by worldliness, the lower self has a tendency to drag the human creature down into arrogance and vice. Only by a powerful effort of will can the sincere worshipper achieve the purity of soul which enables him to attain God's proximity. This translation of two chapters from The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din) details the sophisticated spiritual techniques adopted by classical Islam. In the first step, On Disciplining the Soul, which cites copious anecdotes from the Islamic scriptures and biographies of the saints, Ghazali explains how to acquire good character traits, and goes on to describe how the sickness of the heart may be cured. In the second part, Breaking the Two Desires, he focusses on the question of gluttony and sexual desire, concluding, in the words of the Prophet, that 'the best of all matters is the middle way'. The translator has added an introduction and notes which explore Ghazali's ability to make use of Greek as well as Islamic ethics. The work will prove of special interest to those interested in Sufi mysticism, comparative ethics, and the question of sexuality in Islam.

30 review for Al-Ghazali on Disciplining the Soul and on Breaking the Two Desires

  1. 4 out of 5

    Farhad

    Some of my favourite quotes: "It has been said that 'every building has a foundation, and the foundation of Islam is good character'." "Thus it is with the heart, which falls ill when it becomes incapable of performing the activity proper to it and for which it was created, which is the acquisition of knowledge, wisdom, and gnosis, and the love of God and of His worship, and taking delight in remembering Him, preferring these things to every other desire, and using all one's other desires and memb Some of my favourite quotes: "It has been said that 'every building has a foundation, and the foundation of Islam is good character'." "Thus it is with the heart, which falls ill when it becomes incapable of performing the activity proper to it and for which it was created, which is the acquisition of knowledge, wisdom, and gnosis, and the love of God and of His worship, and taking delight in remembering Him, preferring these things to every other desire, and using all one's other desires and members for the sake of His remembrance. God (Exalted is He!) has said: 'I created jinn and mankind only to worship Me'." "The finest thing through which good character can be put to the test is steadfastness in the face of suffering, and enduring the harshness of others, for whoever complains of the bad character of another man has revealed the badness of his own character, since good character is to endure that which offends." "Slay not your hearts with much food and drink, for the heart is like a farmland which dies if watered excessively." "A certain doctor of upright conduct once condemned overeating by saying, 'The most beneficial thing that a man can admit to his belly is a pomegranate, while the most damaging thing for it is salt. I prefer that one reduce one's intake of salt rather than increase the number of pomegranates one eats'."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marc Manley

    I had read the 'Ihya' years ago in Arabic but saw that they had produced some English translations. And while I'm sure many may quibble about the choice of vernacular in the translation, I found the book to read well, if a bit archaic. Then again, al-Ghazali lived almost a thousand years ago so we should cut the translator some slack. I for one prefer the almost prose-like sense to it. I feel it better preserves what al-Ghazali is trying to say. Those who've read his works in the original Arabic I had read the 'Ihya' years ago in Arabic but saw that they had produced some English translations. And while I'm sure many may quibble about the choice of vernacular in the translation, I found the book to read well, if a bit archaic. Then again, al-Ghazali lived almost a thousand years ago so we should cut the translator some slack. I for one prefer the almost prose-like sense to it. I feel it better preserves what al-Ghazali is trying to say. Those who've read his works in the original Arabic will know that he was quite the wordsmith. But for Muslims who wish to begin looking into studies in Tawawwuf but may be turned off by other new-age'y sounding authors, al-Ghazali is definitely a good starting point. I can comfortably recommend the English translation series.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Arzu A

    “A man who turn to God in repentance is higher in His sight than anyone else.” PG. 188 What a beautiful book. I recommend everyone, and yes also sisters, to read this book. Take it easy, and look chapter by chapter, reflect while/after reading.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Umar

    Overall worthwhile read. Most of the beginning seems to be a lengthy introduction on part of TJ Winter/Abdal Hakim Murad. Like Hamza Yusuf he repeats much of his lectures in the introduction. He pays special attention to the influence on Ghazali's moral thought of Greek ethics, Galen, Neoplatonists, Christian lore, and Muslim moral teachers such as Miskawayh whom he relies on more than any other, so as you read you can tell where many of Ghazali's comments are coming from. One vivid example borr Overall worthwhile read. Most of the beginning seems to be a lengthy introduction on part of TJ Winter/Abdal Hakim Murad. Like Hamza Yusuf he repeats much of his lectures in the introduction. He pays special attention to the influence on Ghazali's moral thought of Greek ethics, Galen, Neoplatonists, Christian lore, and Muslim moral teachers such as Miskawayh whom he relies on more than any other, so as you read you can tell where many of Ghazali's comments are coming from. One vivid example borrowed from Miskawayh is the example of man being like an ant stuck inside a heated ring, that outside the ring are angels and man or the ant must remain in the center of the ring to preserve himself. Winters does a good job of footnotes, detailed endnotes, providing commentary, biographical sketches and explaining some hard to understand passages. One can trace the chain from the early Muslims to the Sufis, which is nice to see the genesis and history (TJ Winters is a historian). He also threw in the Wonders of the Heart in the end which was nice and short to read. And of course, Winters has a great vocabulary that he utilizes successfully. Most of the book consists of narrations of Sufis are early Muslims and then commentary from Ghazali of how to implement these traits. Its surprising, if not shocking to read many of the narrations on long stretches of hunger which sounds near impossible from the perspective of our daily consumerism. Ghazali's advice is needed in our society and sadly much of his advice explains the deplorable state of piety today. Ghazali drops hints and pieces of advice that hint to his intellect but he doesn't delve more deeply, preferring narrations, though I wish he would indulge more with these gems. There are points where Ghazali has lengthy narrations but some of them lack in comprehensiveness though they are memorable because of their attention to detail which is a break from the hagiographical anecdotes. There is also an excellent chapter on rearing children which was refreshing to read a pedagogy that instills piety, masculinity and femininity, while also being nurturing and caring for the children. Weaknesses: I wish they would explain the types of food with images perhaps, even cooking instructions, so that I can give it a shot. Its crucial to preserve Ghazali's intent of making this book livable and do-able in real life for the reader. Ghazali is quite repetitive, and many of his narrations I have read elsewhere, even in the same book, but perhaps this is good since he memorized these narrations. Which leads me to another thing: it would have been nice to put more of the sayings in Arabic transliteration for readers to learn and memorize, which is there in the some footnotes but only mentioned in partial when there are differing quotes. And of course, it leaves me wanting to read more of Ghazali.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kaaronica Evans-Ware

    It's good to re-read this book when the nafs are trying to take over. It's good to re-read this book when the nafs are trying to take over.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Talha Ali

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. “A man once summed up the signs of good character by saying, ‘It is to be abundantly modest, to avoid harming others, to be righteous, truthful in speech, and of little discourse; it is to do many things and slip up infrequently, to avoid excess, to be loyal, friendly, dignified, patient, grateful, satisfied, forbearing, charitable, chaste and pitying; and not to curse or to insult people. or to backbite or slander them, and to avoid hastiness, hatred, meanness, and jealousy; to be cheerful and “A man once summed up the signs of good character by saying, ‘It is to be abundantly modest, to avoid harming others, to be righteous, truthful in speech, and of little discourse; it is to do many things and slip up infrequently, to avoid excess, to be loyal, friendly, dignified, patient, grateful, satisfied, forbearing, charitable, chaste and pitying; and not to curse or to insult people. or to backbite or slander them, and to avoid hastiness, hatred, meanness, and jealousy; to be cheerful and kind, to love [good] and hate [evil] for the sake of God, to be well-pleased with Him and to be angry for His sake. Such is the man of good character’.” “Yusuf ibn Asbāt said, 'Good character has ten signs: reluctance to argue, fairness, never hoping for slips in others, looking for a charitable interpretation of other people's misdeeds, finding excuses for them, tolerating the harm they do to one, blaming oneself, knowing one's own faults and not those of others, meeting young and old alike with a cheerful face, and speaking kindly to those who are superior or more humble than oneself’.” “If he sees that his is a predominantly irascible disposition he should oblige him always to be gentle and quiet, and should make him serve and keep the company of an ill-mannered in order that he might train his soul to tolerate him. One of the Sufis habituated his soul to mildness and freed himself from excessive anger by hiring a man to insult him in public: he himself to be forbearing and to suppress his anger, continuing in this way until his nature became characterised by proverbial gentleness.” "What is required is the establishment of an equilibrium between 'grudgingness' and 'prodigality', so that one remains in the centre and at the greatest possible distance from the two extremes. Should you wish to determine where this middle point lies, then consider the action which results necessarily from the blameworthy trait: if it is easier and more pleasurable for you than its opposite, then that trait is predominant in your case. For instance: should you find the acquisition and retention of money easier and more enjoyable than giving it to those who may justly receive it, then you should know that avarice is a dominant characteristic in you, and you must constantly give until such time as giving to a undeserving recipient becomes easier and more enjoyable than to withhold it legitimately, at which time prodigality will have assumed the dominant place. Then return to the practice of withholding your wealth, and constantly watch over your soul and draw inferences about your character from the evidence of what deeds it finds easy and which ones hard, until the connection between your heart and money is broken, and you incline neither towards giving it nor withholding it, since it has become as water to you, so that when you give or withhold it you do so for a needful purpose, and so that giving your money does not seem preferable to you than its retention."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aisha

    I decided to read this in English! I have no idea why! I love medieval Arabic & find it very beautiful but I don't want to be distracted by it perhaps! I don't know.. I really need to get this into my materialistic heart & mind 3 I decided to read this in English! I have no idea why! I love medieval Arabic & find it very beautiful but I don't want to be distracted by it perhaps! I don't know.. I really need to get this into my materialistic heart & mind 3

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kipriadi prawira

    I think this is the most useful book I have ever read.It explains about the good character, desires, and so inspiring

  9. 5 out of 5

    Imrana Shaheen

    Loved this book, it’s just amazing. It helps you improve yourself and gives great tips of improving one’s own self. I’ve read it time and time again.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hafidz

    Beautiful set of books (Ihya) for those who are on the spiritual path in Islam and wants to read more than the Quran and books of hadiths. Style of writing may be complex initially.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Danial Bhaila

    Excellent

  12. 5 out of 5

    Raskolnikov

    clear instructions on how to detoxify yourself from modern days artificially induced desires.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ammar

    This book is just pure wisdom and medicine for everyone. It is a very good translation by Sh. Abdal Hakim Murad. It is really indispensable for one aiming to achieve greater control over their self (or nafs). It contains numerous wonderful stories of saints who set an example for everyone. The knowledge about good character, desires, and rectification are too inspiring, enlightening, and effective to be expressed in words. It really is like a wondrous journey exploring the beauty of good charact This book is just pure wisdom and medicine for everyone. It is a very good translation by Sh. Abdal Hakim Murad. It is really indispensable for one aiming to achieve greater control over their self (or nafs). It contains numerous wonderful stories of saints who set an example for everyone. The knowledge about good character, desires, and rectification are too inspiring, enlightening, and effective to be expressed in words. It really is like a wondrous journey exploring the beauty of good character and the profound consequence of controlling the desires of food and sex. I absolutely recommend this book to read, but it seems like it is one of those books you can't just 'read', it is an intense book necessitating reflection and rereading to get the most out of it. When you read this book please be open to criticize yourself and reform your character to get the most out of it. God-willing, your self will be successfully reshaped into an illuminating body filled with humility and intellect removed from the shackles of desire to the freedom of righteousness and divine worship.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is the translation of a portion of one of the most famous volumes on Islamic spirituality and purification of the soul. It is a very complex book, and a guide best read with a teacher. This book is the epitome. The reader would hope to achieve the states indicated, but by all means not expected. One would read this book as a general guide to a higher state of being, but start small. In the age of extreme materialism, these kinds of books keep us grounded.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sabira

    Proabably the most useful book I have ever read...think:intellectual philosophy only applicable and necessary. I mean, if the everyone took a little something from Imam Ghazali and practiced it, the world would be a much better place. And this after only having read the first five chapters...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Saquib

    This book teaches a very important long forgotten discipline. If the orange book was implemented, the world would be a much better place. At least we have the mercy of God in our waste of existence.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Md Amin

    hi

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hamood Hqf

    imam ghazali

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sheryar

    I fasted for entire year 2006 knowing from this book and sheikh helped me along on the journey of self discipline. Truly bliss and wisdom the book chose's you I fasted for entire year 2006 knowing from this book and sheikh helped me along on the journey of self discipline. Truly bliss and wisdom the book chose's you

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ej Missy

    This helped me through my darkest times :)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alanur

    truly an amazing read. took me a month to read not because of its length but content. A book that takes you on a personal journey of awareness.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Asif

    Another part of the "Revival", arguably the greatest masterpiece of Islamic civilisation. A great work of spirituality. Timeless. Another part of the "Revival", arguably the greatest masterpiece of Islamic civilisation. A great work of spirituality. Timeless.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Monib

    Few books move you to action. This one does.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jona

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mensur Ibric

  26. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Wilkerson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lumumba Shakur

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sofia

  29. 4 out of 5

    Shameer A

  30. 5 out of 5

    Humza

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