On the ethical educational influence of al-Iṣfahānī on al-Ghazālī, see Yasien Mohamed, “The Ethics of Education: al-Iṣfahānī’s al-Dharī’a
as a source of inspiration for al-Ghazālī’s Mīzān al-‘amal
,” in The Muslim World
, ed. M. Afifi al-Akiti 101, no. 4 (2011): 633–57; Yasien Mohamed, “Duties of the Teacher: Isfahani’s al-Dhari’ah
as a Source of Inspiration for al-Ghazālī’s Mizan al-Amal
,” in Islam and Rationality: The Impact of al-Ghazālī
, papers collected on his 900th anniversary, vol. 1, ed. Georges Tamer (Leiden: EJ Brill, 2015): 186–206; “Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science”, Texts and Studies
, series editor, H. Daiber et al., vol. 94.
Lane states: “al-’ilm
are made to have one meaning; and this is mostly said by most of the lexicologists: but most of the critics discriminate every one of these from the other; and ‘ilm
according to them, denotes the highest quality, because it is that which is allowed to be an attribute of God.” See Edward Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon
(Cambridge: Islamic Text Society, 1984), 2138–40.
, ed. Nadim Mar’ashli (Beirut: Darul Fikr, n.d.), 343. For an exposition on the epistemology of al-Iṣfahānī, and his definitions of ‘ilm
see Yasien Mohamed, The Path to Virtue: The Ethical Philosophy of al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī
International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, 2006), chap. 4.
Joel Kramer, Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam (
Brill, 1992), 10–11.
Monographs on philosophical education have not been preserved. However, Plato’s “Exhortation on the Education of the Young Men” (Adab al-ṣibyān
) had been embodied by Miskawayh’s Jawadhin khiradh
, and excerpts attributed to Plato are preserved in al-‘Āmirī’s Kitāb al-sa‘ādah
. Likewise, the section on children’s education by the neo-Pythagorean Bryson was available in the tenth century in an anonymous Arabic translation and had an impact on Muslim educational monographs, including the ethical works by Miskawayh and al-Ghazālī. Cf. Franz Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant
(Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970), 284–85; Martin Plessner, Der Oikonomikos des Neuphythagoreers “Bryson” und sein Einfluß auf die Islamische Wissenchaft
(Heidelberg: Orient unt Anteka, 1928).
Joel Kramer, Humanism,
7 Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature
, s.v. “Adab,” by Hilary Kilpatrick, 1998, 56.
8 Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature
, “Adab,” 56.
Knowledge and its relation to moral conduct became an important educational theme between the ninth and eleventh centuries, and it was this key theme that al-Iṣfahānī and then al-Ghazālī incorporated into their educational philosophies.
Abū ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sulāmi, A Collection of Sufi Rules of Conduct,
trans. Elena Biagi (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2010), XXXIV.
Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant
, 290f. Cf. Muḥammad Ibn Saḥnūn (Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd al-Salām), Kitāb adab al-mu‘allimīn
, ed. Muhammad al-Arusi al-Mutawi (Tunis: Dārul-Kutub al-Sharqiyyah, 1972). In the sphere of the etiquette of religious education, Muḥammad Ibn Saḥnūn produced the earliest monograph on elementary teaching of the Qur’ān, Ādāb al-mu‘allimīn
(The Behavior of Teachers
). This work recommends treating pupils equally and using corporal punishment sparingly.
Bradley Cook, Classical Foundations of Islamic Educational Thought
(Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2010), xxxv–xxxvi; Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant
, 269–70. Al-Māwardī (d. 1058) wrote the Kitāb adab al-dunyā wa l-dīn
. He integrated the literary and ethical dimensions of adab
and produced a treatise on moral-didactic literature. Like al-Iṣfahānī’s Muḥāḍarāt al-udabā’
he identifies knowledge with adab
and the intellect. See al-Iṣfahānī, Muḥāḍarāt al-udabā’
, vol. 1–4 (Beirut: N.p., 1961), 45–58. The first chapter deals with respect for mature students, the merits of memorization, the value of asking questions and admitting one’s ignorance, and the problem of diverse knowledge. The pedagogics considers the disparity in the mental capacity of the students, cautions against poor teaching habits, advises the withholding of complex knowledge from students who are not receptive, and states the importance of imparting complex knowledge to those who are ready for it.
Ibn Jamā‘ah, Tadhkirat al-sāmi‘
(Hyderabad, 1353 AH); Shoaib Shah, trans., Etiquette of the Learner
(N.p.: Turath Publishing, 2015). Shāfi‘ī Imam Badr al-Dīn ibn Jamā’ah al-Kināni wrote Tadhkirat al-sāmi‘ wa l-mutakallim fī adab al-‘ālim wa l-muta‘allim
, which is relevant for the etiquette of the student.
In his Ta’līm al-muta’alim tarīq al-ta’alum
(Instruction of the student: The method of learning), he looks at religious duties, personal hygiene, and responsible independence. He was probably inspired by al-Iṣfahānī’s Means to the Noble Virtues of the Revealed Law
. In his ethical treatise, al-Zarnuji mentions the name of Abu’l Qasim, which is also the name of al-Iṣfahānī: “The Most Illustrious Imam, the martyred Sayyid Naṣr al-Din Abu al-Qāsim composed a book on ethics, and praiseworthy is what he composed—a book which is necessary for every Muslim to bear in mind!” See Cook, Classical Foundations
, 111. And on page 276, the translators, G. E. Von Grunebaum and Theodora M. Abel, suggest that the author of the ethical treatise could be al-Iṣfahānī, because the name Abu’l Qāsim is included in the name Abu Qāsim al-Ḥusayn bin Muḥammad bin al-Mufaḍḍal al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī. This is a plausible hypothesis, because the name Abu’l Qāsim is mentioned, and also because al-Iṣfahānī is the author of an ethical treatise. Another point worthy of note is that al-Zarnuji refers to him as “al-shahīd
,” a martyr, perhaps because he was one of the scholars who might have died during the sacking of Iṣfahān.
For a concise introduction into the life, thought, and works of al-Iṣfahānī, see: Yasien Mohamed, “The Ethical Philosophy of al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī,” Journal of Islamic Studies
6, no. 1 (1996): 51–75; for a detailed exposition of his ethical thought, refer to Mohamed, Path to Virtue
We make use of al-Ghazālī, Mīzān al-‘amal
, ed. Sulayman Dunyā (Cairo: Dārul Ma‘ārif, 1964). For other Arabic editions, see al-Ghazālī, Mīzān al ‘amal
, ed. Ahmad Shamsudin (Beirut: Dārul Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1989); al-Ghazālī, Mīzān al-‘amal
, ed. Ali Bu Mulhim (Beirut: Dār wa Maktabat al-Hilāl, 1995); al-Ghazālī, Mizan al-‘amal
, ed. Mahmud Biju (Damascus: Dār al-Taqwā, 2008). For a recent translation into German, see Das Kriterium des Handelns
(Ghazzali’s Mīzān al-‘amal
), translation with notes by Abd-Elṣamad Abd-Elḥamīd, Darmstadt, WBG.
Abū Hāmid al-Ghazālī, Iḥyā’ ‘ulūm al-dīn
, corr. A. A. I. al-Sirwānī, 5 vols. (N.p.: Beirut, n. d.).
Previous research on al-Iṣfahānī’s educational impact on al-Ghazālī appeared in Mohamed’s Path to Virtue
; Jules Janssens, al-Ghazālī’s
Mizan al-Amal: An Ethical Summa based on Ibn Sina and al-Raghib al-Isfahani, Islamic Thought in the Middle Ages: Studies in Text, Transmission, and Translation, In Honour of Hans Daiber
, ed. Anna Akasoy and Wim Raven, 123–38; M. Afifi Alakiti, “The Madnun of al-Ghazālī: A Critical Edition of the Unpublished Major Madnun with Discussion of his Restricted Philosophical Corpus,” (DPhil thesis, Worcester College, 2007) for a section dealing with the connection between al-Iṣfahānī’s al
and al-Ghazālī’s Mīzān
This distinction between theoretical and experiential knowledge of God was elaborated later in Islamic history, as it does not appear in the Qur’an. The Qur’an defines “ulama
” as those who intimately know and fear God. See also Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant
, 22–24. “Marifa is not given any special connotation in the Qur’an, except that it is never applied to God, only to humans, which suggests acquired knowledge after not having it, according to some scholars.”
200ff; Mohamed, Path to Virtue
240–241; al-Ghazālī, Iḥyā’
, 1:76; Nabih Amin Faris, trans., The Book of Knowledge
(Lahore: Muhammad Ashraf, 1979), 126.
96; cf. al-Ghazālī, Mīzān
, 341f; al-Ghazālī, Iḥyā’
Ritual worship is obligatory (fard
) and the pursuit of virtue is supererogatory (nafl
). When nafl
is performed in addition to the fard
, the aggregate total is superior to that of performing only fard
. Scholars generally agree on this, because of the famous hadith qudsi
in Bukhari, “My servant does not draw closer to Me with anything more beloved to Me than the obligations. Then, he continues coming closer to Me with the voluntary actions.” Thus, the practice of virtues are part of these voluntary actions (nawafil
), which will lead to closeness to God, intuitive knowledge of God, and felicity in the hereafter.
For al-Iṣfahānī, the word najis
signifies more than just spiritual and moral impurity. This is confirmed by his quotation of verse 6:15, which refers to unbelievers. But this does not detract from the literal meaning of najis
, which signifies ritual or physical impurity.
, 320; Qur’an 2:249.
240; cf. al-Ghazālī, Mīzān
, 343f; al-Ghazālī, Iḥyā’
, 1:76, 67f; Faris, Book of Knowledge
Bradley J. Cook, Classical Foundations of Islamic Educational Thought
(Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2010), 178; Qur’an 33:4.
343f; al-Ghazālī, Iḥyā’
Al-Ghazālῑ, Mῑzān al-‘amal
, ed. Sulaymān Dunya (Cairo: Dar al-Ma’arif, 1964), 197.
This must be qualified, lest the reader thinks that Islam rejects desire or passion completely. While Augustinian Christianity promotes the obliteration of desires, Islam considers these desires to be natural, but to be regulated. For instance, while Christianity casts lust as sinful, Islam casts it as natural and necessary and something that must be regulated through marriage or fasting.
Al-Ghazālī, al-Munqidh min al-ḍalāl
, trans. Muhammad Abu Layla (Washington: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2001), 92.
Al-Ghazālī, Letter to a Disciple: Ayyuha’l walad
, trans. Tobias Mayer (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2005), 29.
Qur’an 2:83, 4:36, 6:151.
Cook, Classical Foundations of Islamic Educational Thought
38 Sunan Ibn Mājah
, kitāb al-ṭahārah wa sunanihā
, bāb al-istinjā bi ’l-ḥijārat wa ’l-nahy ‘an al-rawth wa ’l-rimmah
, no. 313; Sunan al-Nasā’ī
, kitāb al-ṭahārah
, bāb al-nahy ‘an al-istiṭābah bi ’l-rawth
, no. 40.
240; Qur’an 9:128.
240; cf. al-Ghazālī, Mīzān
, 344f; al-Ghazālī, Iḥyā’
1:68f; Faris, Book of Knowledge
Though not mentioned by name in the Qur’an, he is named by Islamic scholars as the figure described in Qur’an 18:65–82
as a servant of God who has been given “knowledge.” Prophet Moses questions him about his unjust actions, such as killing a man, sinking a ship, and repaying inhospitality by repairing a wall. Only after Khiḍr explained to him at the end did Moses realize that those actions were appropriate for the context.
Al-Razi, cited in Nasr, Study Quran,
752; Qur’an 12:76.
Shafi, Ma’arif al-Qur’an
, 236–237; cf. al-Ghazālī’s sixth duty in Mīzān
, 348; Iḥyā’
, 1:76f; trans. Faris, Book of Knowledge
, 134–136. Al-Ghazālī does not mention al-Iṣfahānī’s analogy of a traveler with provisions that appears in the next paragraph.
The seventh duty does not correspond with the seventh duty in Iḥyā’
, but with another part of bk. 1, chap. 1; cf. Al-Iṣfahānī, al-Dharī‘ah
Medicine in the classical sense was not limited to treatment of pathological conditions, but also focused on the patterns of conduct necessary to ensure health.
, 231. Compare the same point in al-Ghazālī, Mīzān
, 351–52. As al-Iṣfahānī explains, “We speak of the science of religion as more noble than the science of medicine because the fruit of religion is eternal life and the fruit of medicine benefits us in this temporal life. The science of religion is also more authentic as it is based on revelation, whereas the science of medicine is based on experiments. Not only virtue, but the benefit of a science should be measured by its fruit or its principles. Medicine is more beneficial to health than Algebra. But in terms of the authenticity of its principles, Algebra is more beneficial than medicine: it is a pure science, and it does not require experimentation.”
, 230. The theoretical dimension of religion pertains to the ontological realities, including the realities of God; the prophets; the angels; the Last Day; the intellect; the soul; basic principles of matters; the pillars [of Islam]; the heavenly sciences; knowledge about the sun, moon, and stars [astronomy]; and knowledge about plants [botany], animals [zoology], and, finally, human beings [medicine].
, 348. The disbelievers reject the Qur’an because they are incurious about it, as God states: “Since they will not be guided by it, they will say: ‘This is an ancient perversion.’” (Qur’an 46:11). Their ignorant rejection is confirmed by the verse: “Nay, but they deny that whose knowledge they cannot comprehend and whose interpretation has not yet come to them”(Qur’an 10:39). This verse, although relevant to the context, is not cited by al-Ghazālī in the Mīzān
and the Iḥyāʾ.
232; cf. al-Ghazālī, Mīzān
, 409. Al-Ghazālī valued doubt as a means of gaining certainty. He was not anti-intellectual. His Scale of Action
(especially the last chapter) and his Deliverance from Error
demonstrate his method of doubt, which he used to critique the Islamic schools of thought of his time.
, 361–62; corresponding to the ninth duty in the Iḥyā’
; Fazlul Karim, trans., Essential
Iḥyaʾ ʿulum al-dīn (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2015), 1:53–54.
As observed by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics: “As it is not one swallow or a fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.” The writer Will Durant summarized Aristotle’s view, in a quote that has been widely misattributed to Aristotle, in the following way: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
For an in-depth insight into al-Ghazali’s theory of knowledge and the philosophical and Sufi ways to certainty and knowledge of God, see Nabil Yasien Mohamed, “A Critical Study of Doubt and Certainty in al-Ghazali’s Epistemology” (MA thesis, University of the Western Cape, 2021).