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Al-Ghazali : Jesus Christ

mardi 24 juin 2014

JESUS CHRIST is the Touch-Stone of character, the Master of all spiritual leaders and the one supreme and infallible Judge who can pronounce an unerring verdict concerning the truth of any religious system or teaching. What place has Jesus in the teaching of the greatest of all Moslem theologians, what place had He in the heart of this great mystic, this seeker after God, who, whatever else he may have been, was utterly sincere in his search ? Al-Ghazali, as a student of the Koran, must have noticed that in this book Christ occupies a high place ; no fewer than three of the chapters of the Koran, namely, that of Amram’s Family (Surah III), that of The Table (Surah V), and that of Mary (Surah XIX), derive their names from references to Jesus Christ and His work. The very fact that Jesus Christ has a place in the literature of Islam, and is acknowledged by all Moslems as one of their greater prophets in itself therefore challenges comparison between Him and Mohammed. Did Al-Ghazali ever meet this challenge and in how far did he compare Mohammed with Christ ? It is our purpose in this chapter to answer the question by collating all the important references in the Ihya and his other works and then to draw some conclusions both as to his sources and his opinions. The reader may judge for himself how far Al-Ghazali is a schoolmaster to lead Moslems to Christ.

We search in vain among all his works for a sketch of the life of Christ or of His teaching. Al-Ghazali doubtless had read and was probably well acquainted with the only popular work known which gives a connected account of the life of Jesus Christ according to Moslem sources, namely, Kitab qusus al Anbiya by Ibn Ibrahim Ath-Tha’labi, a doctor of theology of the Shaft School, who died in a. h. 427 (a. d. 1036). The fabulous character of this mass of traditions has been shown in a translation of the section which deals with Jesus Christ (Zwemer, "The Moslem Christ."). Al-Ghazali does not give altogether the same stories as are given by Ath-Tha’labi but gives a great number of other incidents and reported sayings, many of which resemble those found in the Gospels and others which are wholly apocryphal.

The question again arises where did Al-Ghazali gain this knowledge of the Gospel ? Did he have access to a Persian or Arabic translation ; or was all this material which we have collated, the result of hearsay, gathered from the lips of Christian monks and Jewish rabbis ? It is perfectly clear that he was acquainted with Old Testament tradition even more than with that of the New Testament. There are scores of passages in which he refers to the teachings of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the lives of the Old Testament Prophets. We have already referred to translations of the Bible into Arabic before the time of Al-Ghazali in our first chapter. There is a tradition that " the People of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and interpret it in Arabic to the followers of Islam." Another tradition says that " Ka’ab the Rabbi brought a book to Omar the Caliph and said, ’Here is the Torah, read it’ " (Goldziher, in "Z. D. M. G.," XXXII, 344.). We learn from the Jewish Encyclopaedia that " The fihrist of al-Nadim mentions an Ahmed ibn Abd Allah ibn Salam who translated the Bible into Arabic, at the time of Haroun ar-Rashid, and that Fahr ud-Din ar-Razi mentions a translation of Habbakuk by the son of Rabban At-Tabari. Many of the Arabic Historians as At-Tabari, Mas’udi, Hamza, and Biruni cite passages and recount the early history of the Jews in a most circumstantial manner. Ibn Ku-taibah, the historian (d. 889), says that he read the Bible ; and he even made a collection of Biblical passages in a work which has been preserved by Ibn Jauzi of the twelfth century." The first important Arabic translation is that of Sa’adia Gaon (892-942). The influence of this translation was in its way as great as that of Gaon’s philosophical work.

A version of the Psalms was made by Hafiz al-Quti in the tenth century and from internal evidence we know that the author had been Christian. Another translation of the Old Testament in Arabic was made by the Jews in Cairo in the middle of the eleventh century. The translation of Sa’adia had become a standard work in Egypt, Palestine and Syria, by the end of the tenth century, and it was revised about a. d. 1070. As regards Persian translations of the Bible we learn from the Jewish Encyclopaedia that according to Maimonides, the Pentateuch was translated into Persian many hundred years previous to Mohammed. But this statement cannot be further substantiated. In regard to Arabic versions of the Gospels we have already given Dr. Kilgour’s statement.

Is it not probable that one or other of these versions of the Gospel was known to Al-Ghazali ? Does he not himself state : "I have read in the Gospel " ? Not only does he reproduce the stories and sayings of Christ from the Gospels but in some cases, as the reader will see, the very words of the text. It is true that there is much apocryphal matter also of which the canonical Gospels know nothing. We are in ignorance and we must remain in ignorance whence Al-Ghazali derived this material ; or did he invent it even as the men of his day invented stories about Mohammed ?

In the Ihya we find the following incidents, real and apocryphal, regarding the life of Christ on earth as a prophet and saint. [1] We begin with Al-Ghazali’s witness to His sinlessness : "It is said that the devil (may God curse him) appeared to Jesus and said, 1 Say there is no God but God.’ He replied : ’ The word is true but I will not repeat it after you.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 23.) Again : " It is related that when Jesus was born, the devils came to Satan and said : ’All the idols have fallen on their faces’. He said : ’ This has happened on your account.’ Then he flew until he reached the regions of the earth ; there he found Jesus had been born and the angels were protecting him. So he returned to the devils and said to them : ’Truly a Prophet was born yesterday. No woman has ever given birth before to a child when I was not present except in this case.’ And that is why men now despair of worshipping idols’." (Vol. Ill, p. 26.)

" It is related that Jesus one day was pillowing his head on a stone ; and the devil passed by and said : ’ O Jesus, now you have shown your love for the world !’ Then Jesus picked up the stone, threw it at him and said : ’ Take it and the world.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 26.) We find this reference to the days of His youth in Nazareth : " Some one said to Jesus : ’Who gave you your education ?’ He replied : ’ No one. But I beheld the ignorance of the foolish despicable and so I departed from it.’ " " Jesus the Prophet was of those who were especially favoured. Among the proofs of it is this that he called down peace upon himself, for he said : ’ Peace be on me the day I was born and the day I shall die and the day I shall be raised up alive.’ And this was because of his peace of mind and his loving kindness towards men. But as for John the son of Zachariah (on him be peace), he took the place of awe and fear towards God and did not utter these words until after they were repeated to him by his Creator, who said : ’ Peace be upon him the day he was born and the day he died and the day he was raised again.’ " This is an interesting critical comment on the two passages referred to, which occur in the same chapter of the Koran, and I have never seen them used elsewhere as an argument for the superiority of Christ to John. (Vol. IV, p. 245.)

Al-Ghazali gives Jesus the usual titles given Him in the Koran, namely, Son of Mary, Spirit of God, Word of God, Prophet and Apostle. But these latter titles mean little because he endorses the strange Moslem theory that there have been no less than 124,000 prophets since the world began. In his book "Al-Iqtasad " he devotes a long argument to prove to the Jews that Jesus was indeed a prophet, basing it upon his teaching and miracles (pp. 83-86). In his Jawahir al-Koran he even classes Mary the Virgin with the prophets and gives the list of these worthies in the following curious order : Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Zachariah, John, Jesus, Mary, David, Solomon, Joshua, Lot, Idris, Khudra, Shu’aib, Elijah, and Mohammed !

Regarding the fasting of our Lord, Al-Ghazali says : " It is related that Jesus (on him be peace) remained for sixty days without eating, engaged in prayer ; then he began to think of bread and behold a loaf of bread appeared between his hands ; then he sat weeping because he had forgotten his prayers. And behold an old man came to him and Jesus said : ’ God bless you, O servant of God. Call upon God Most High, for I too was in a sad condition and I thought of bread until my prayer departed’. Then the old man prayed : ’ O God, if thou knowest any occasion when the thought of bread entered my head when I was praying do not forgive me !’ Then he said to Jesus : ’When anything is brought to me to eat I eat it without even thinking what it is’." (Vol. Ill, p. 61.) The following story seems to be based on the injunction of the Gospel " to pluck out the eye " that offends : " It is related of Jesus (on him be peace) that he once went out to pray for rain and when the people gathered together Jesus said to them, ’ Whosoever of you hath committed a sin let him turn back’ so they all turned away and there was no one left in the cave with him save one. And Jesus said unto him, ’Have you any sin ?’ He replied : ’By God, I do not know of any except that one day when I was praying a woman passed by me and I looked upon her with this eye and when she had passed I put my finger in my eye and plucked it out and followed her to ask her pardon’. Then Jesus said to him,’ Call upon God that I may believe in your sincerity’. Then the man prayed and the heavens were covered with clouds and the rain poured down." (Vol. II, p. 217.)

The following stories are related of the miracle-working Christ : " Said the disciples to Jesus : ’ What do you think of the dinar-piece (money) ?’ They said : ’ We think it is good’. He said : ’ But as for me I value it and ashes the same’. " (Vol. Ill, p. 161.) "It was said to the Prophet that Jesus (upon him be peace) used to walk upon the water. He replied : ’ Had he still more striven after holiness, he would have walked on the air’. " (Vol. IV, p. 71.) "It is related that a certain robber waylaid travellers among the children of Israel for forty years. Jesus passed by that way and behind him walked a saint of the worshippers of the people of Israel, one of his disciples. Said the robber to himself : ’ This is the Prophet of God who passes by and with him one of his disciples. If I should come down I would be the third’ " He then goes on to say that the robber tried to show his humility by following not Christ but his disciple. Jesus rebukes them both because of their sins. (Vol. IV, p. 110.) " It is related that Jesus (on him be peace) passed by a blind man who was a leper and lame of both feet because of paralysis and his flesh was consumed by leprosy, and he was saying : ’ Praise be to God who has kept me in good health and saved me from many things which have befallen others of his creatures’. Then Jesus said to him : ’ O thou friend, from what kind of affliction do I see that you are free ?’ and he replied : ’O Spirit of God, I am better than those in whose heart God has not put anything of his knowledge and his grace’. And Jesus said : ’ You have spoken truly. Stretch forth your hand’ and he stretched forth his hand and became of perfect health both as to his body and his appearance, for God had taken away all his sickness. So he accompanied Jesus and worshipped with him." (Vol. IV, p. 250.)

Al-Ghazali often pictures the power of Jesus to heal the sick, for Christ as the Merciful One appeals to Moslems always and everywhere. We have for example in the Masnavi-i-Ma’anavi this beautiful picture which can be found in prose, section by section in Al-Ghazali too.

" The house of Tsa was the banquet of men of heart, Ho ! afflicted one, quit not this door ! From all sides the people ever thronged, Many blind and lame, and halt and afflicted, To the door of the house of ’Isa at dawn, That with his breath he might heal their ailments. As soon as he had finished his orisons, That holy one would come forth at the third hour. He viewed these impotent folk, troop by troop, Sitting at his door in hope and expectation ; He spoke to them, saying,’ O stricken ones ! The desires of all of you have been granted by God :

Arise, walk without pain or affliction. Acknowledge the mercy and beneficence of God !’ Then all, as camels whose feet are shackled, When you loose their feet in the road, Straightway rush in joy and delight to the halting-place. So did they run upon their feet at his command."

Many of the miracles, however, are puerile, as in this story : "A certain man accompanied Jesus the Son of Mary (upon him be peace) and said : ’ I would like to be with you as your companion.’ So they departed and arrived at the bank of a river and sat down and took their meal. Now they had three loaves, so they ate two and one remained. Then Jesus arose and went to the river to drink and returning did not find the remaining loaf. He said to the man : ’Who took the loaf ?’ He replied : ’I know not.’ So he departed with his companion and saw a gazelle with her two young, and Jesus called one of them and it came to him and he killed it and prepared it and they ate together. Then he said to the young gazelle : ’ Get up by God’s will’ and it arose and departed. And he turned to the man and said : ’ I ask you in the name of Him who worked this miracle before your eyes, who took the loaf ? ’ He answered : ’ I know not.’ So they departed to a cave and Jesus (upon whom be peace) began to collect the pebbles on the sand and said : ’Become bread by God’s permission !’ and they became bread ; then he divided them into three parts and said : ’A third is for me, a third is for you and a third is for the man who took the loaf’ and the man said : ’ I am he who took the loaf.’ Jesus replied : ’ Take all of it and depart from me.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 188.) This story is related by Al-Ghazali in his chapter on greed and covetousness to show that he who loves this world cannot be a companion of the saints !

That Jesus was gentle in word and conduct seems to be the lesson taught in the following two stories : " It is related of Jesus that once a pig passed by him and he said to it : ’ Go in peace.’ They said to him : ’ O Spirit of God, why do you say this to a pig.’ He replied : ’I dislike to accustom my tongue to use any evil words.’ " (Vol. Ill, p. 87.) " It is related that Jesus with his disciples once passed the carcase of a dog. Said the disciples : ’ How noisome is the smell of this dog.’ Said Jesus (on him be peace) : ’ How beautiful is the shine of his white teeth’ as if he wanted to rebuke them for abusing the dog and to warn them not to mention anything of what God has created save at its best." (Vol. Ill, p. 150.) This incident is given by Jallal ud Din in poetic form :

" One evening Jesus lingered in the market-place,
Teaching the people parables of truth and grace,
When in the square remote a crowd was seen to rise
And stop with loathing gestures and abhorring cries,
The Master and His meek disciples went to see
What cause for this commotion and disgust could be,
And found a poor dead dog beside the gutter laid :
Revolting sight ! at which each face its hate betrayed.
One held his nose, one shut his eyes, one turned away,
And all among themselves began aloud to say,
’ Detested creature ! he pollutes the earth and air !’
’ His eyes are bleared !’
’ His ears are foul !’
’ His ribs are bare !’
’ In his torn hide there is not a decent shoe-string left !’
’ No doubt the execrable cur was hung for theft !’ Then
Jesus spake and dropped on him this saving breath :
’ Even pearls are dark before the whiteness of his teeth !"’

We add the following quotations which set forth the poverty, humility and homelessness of the Christ taken from Al-Ghazali’s " Precious Pearl " : " Consider Jesus Christ, for it is related of him that he owned nothing save one garment of wool which he wore for twenty years and that he took nothing with him on all his wanderings save a cruse and a rosary and a comb. One day he saw a man drinking from a stream with his hands, so he cast away the cruse and did not use it again. He saw another man combing his beard with his fingers so he threw away his comb and did not use it again. And Jesus was accustomed to say,’ My steed is my legs, and my houses are the caves of the earth, and my food are its vegetables, and my drink is from its rivers, and my dwelling-place among the sons of Adam !’" In another connection he writes : " It was said to Jesus : ’ If you would take possession of a house and live there it would be better for you’ and he said : ’Where are the houses of those who lived before us ? ’ " (Ihya, Vol, III, p. 140.)

A story is related (Vol. IV, p. 326) to show that Christ knew what was in the hearts of men and could change their purposes by prayer to God. In this case He makes an old man cease from his work of cleaning the ground, go to sleep and afterwards return to his work.

Another story is as follows : " It is related that Jesus (upon him be peace) in his wanderings passed by a man asleep, wrapped up in his garment. So he wakened him and said : ’ O thou that sleep-est ! arise and make mention of God’. He replied : ’ What do you want from me ? I have forsaken the world to its own’. Jesus replied : ’ Sleep on then my beloved’ " (Vol. IV, p. 140.) " It is related concerning Jesus that he sat in the shade of a wall of a certain man, who saw him and made him get up, but he replied : ’You have not made me arise but verily God made me arise. He does not wish me to delight in the shade by day’" (Vol. IV, p. 163.) The least of life’s pleasures is not for the ascetic saint.

" Said John to Jesus (on them be peace) : ’ Do not be angry’. Jesus replied : ’ I am not able to cease from anger altogether for I am human’. Then said John : ’ Do not desire property’. Jesus replied : ’That is possible’" (Vol. Ill, p. 114.)

He quotes the following prayer of Jesus (Vol. I, p. 222) : "Jesus was accustomed to say to God, ’ O God, I have arisen from my sleep, and am not able to ward off that which I hate and am not able to possess the benefit of that which I desire and the matter rests in hands other than mine. And I have pledged myself to my work and there is no man so poor as I am. O God, let not mine enemies rejoice over me and let not my friends deal ill with me, and let not my afflictions come to me in the matter of my religion. And do not allow the world to occupy my care and do not allow the unmerciful to overcome me, O Thou Eternal !’ "

" It is related concerning Jesus (on him be peace) that God spoke to him saying : ’Though you serve me with the worship of the people of heaven and earth and do not have love towards God in your heart but hatred toward Him it will not enrich you at all’ " (Vol. II, p. 210.) "God Most High said to Jesus (on him be peace), ’Verily when I look upon the secret thoughts of my servant and do not find in them love either for this world or the world to come I fill him with my own love and I put him in my safe-keeping’ " (Vol. IV, p. 258.) In the "Alchemy of Happiness" we already found allusion to this subject : "Jesus (upon him be peace) saw the world in the form of an ugly old hag. He asked her how many husbands she had possessed ; she replied that they were countless. He asked whether they had died or been divorced ; she said that she had slain them all. ’ I marvel’ he said,’ at the fools who see what you have done to others, and still desire you’ " " Jesus (on him be peace) said, ’ The lover of the world is like a man drinking sea-water ; the more he drinks, the more thirsty he gets, till at last he perishes with thirst unquenched’ "

Al-Ghazali, however, never seems to have drawn the conclusion from the life of Christ which a careful study of the Gospel would have made possible. Namely, that a true renunciation of the world is only possible in the service of others and not by withdrawing from men. Mohammedan mysticism has always resulted in two evils, as Major Durie Osborn points out : " It has dug a deep gulf between those who can know God and those who must wander in darkness, feeding upon the husks of rites and ceremonies. It has affirmed with emphasis, that only by a complete renunciation of the world is it possible to attain the true end of man’s existence. Thus all the best and truest natures— the men who might have put a soul in the decaying Church of Islam—have been cut off from their proper task to wander about in deserts and solitary places, or expend their lives in idle and profitless passivity disguised under the title of ’ spiritual contemplation.’ (sikr) But this has only been part of the evil. The logical result of Pantheism is the destruction of the moral law. If God be all in all, and man’s apparent individuality a delusion of the perceptive faculty, there exists no will which can act, no conscience which can reprove and applaud. . . . Thousands of reckless and profligate spirits have entered the orders of the dervishes to enjoy the license thereby obtained. Their affectation of piety is simply a cloak for the practice of sensuality ; their emancipation from the ritual of Islam involves a liberation also from its moral restraints. And thus a movement, animated at its outset by a high and lofty purpose, has degenerated into a fruitful source of ill. The stream which ought to have expanded into a fertilising river, has become a vast swamp, exhaling vapours charged with disease and death."


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[1After completing this research I found a fuller account of all references to Jesus Christ in Moslem Literature, especially the Ihya as given by Michael Asin Palacios in Logia et Agrapha Domini Jesus apud Moslemicos, etc., in Patrologia Orientalis, Tome XIII fascicule 3. Paris 1917.