Book Review: Al-Ghazali – Love, Longing, Intimacy and Contentment

Imam Ghazali on Love, Longing, Intimacy and Contentment

Title: Al-Ghazali – Love, Longing, Intimacy and Contentment (Kitab al-Mahabba wa’l-Shawq wa’l-Uns wa’l-Rida) Book 36 of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya ulum al-din)
Author: Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali
Translator: Eric Ormsby
Publisher: Islamic Texts Society (2011)

In this book, Imam Ghazali takes the reader on a convincing journey to not only the possibility of love for Allah, but the necessity of it. He attempts to counter those who say love has nothing to do with Islam or Allah. He breaks down the conceptual understanding of love, what it is, its causes, and an explanation of the meaning of human love for Allah. The result of this discussion that of a master weaver, constructing convincing arguments which are supported through the proof-texts from revelation, bringing the reader to acknowledge, understand and appreciate the position of love in the religion of Islam and with Allah.

Once Imam Ghazali breaks down the concepts of love, how humans love and why, he enumerates them, and then he takes the discussion to Allah, his attributes; proving that Allah above all created things is the most worthy of love, is the only one capable of completely fulfilling all the reasons for love. In other words, if these are the qualities that cause one to love, then know that Allah is most perfect in those qualities, thus most worthy of love. Imam Ghazali delivers this incredible case for love in a very practical manner and the book is full of examples. One of the aims of Imam Ghazali’s writing is to strive for simplicity and clarity, and he achieves that in this book with ease. After love, he also discusses pleasure, and how the best pleasure is that of attaining knowledge, and the best of knowledge is knowledge of Allah, His attributes, His actions, His providential design, His book and His messengers. Imam Ghazali states:

Moreover, the pleasure of knowledge is stronger than other pleasures; stronger, that is, than the pleasures of appetite, anger or the rest of the five senses.

Imam Ghazali also discusses seeing the world, and increasing one’s love for Allah thereby it:

The world in its totality is the handiwork – the writing – of God. The common man knows and believes this, but the discerning observer studies the minute particulars of God’s craftsmanship in this world until he perceives in a gnat an example of the prodigies of His craft such that his mind is bedazzled and his reason cast into confusion. As a result, God’s might and majesty and the perfection of His attributes are magnified within his heart, and his love for Him increases. As he grows in knowledge of the wonders of God’s handiwork, he deduces God’s grandeur and majesty as Creator; his knowledge of Him grows alongside his love. The sea of this knowledge – by which I mean knowledge of the marvels of God’s artistry – is without shore. Surely then disparity among men of knowledge in this matter of love is also immeasurable.

Imam Ghazali argues that once love for Allah and longing to meet him is deepened in the heart, it even makes death something to long for:

The heart cannot conceivably love another without also loving to see him and encounter him. If he learned that no such encounter were possible without bidding this world farewell through death, then he would turn to loving death and would not flee it. For a lover, it is no burden to travel from his homeland to the beloved’s dwelling just to gaze at him. Death is a key to the encounter; it is the entrance way to vision with one’s own eyes.

However, he also discusses when aversion to death is acceptable:

The second cause of aversion to death occurs when a person is at the beginning of the station of love. He has no aversion to death as such but rather, to its onrush before he can get ready to meet God. This does not betoken weak love. This is like the lover to whom word comes that his beloved is approaching; he wishes to delay his arrival for an hour to make his house ready and prepare delicacies for him so that he can encounter him as he longs to, with a carefree heart lightened of all burdens. Such an aversion does not run at all counter to perfect love, its telltale mark is unremitting activity and immersion of one’s entire aim in making preparations.

In regards to distinguishing marks of the love of Allah and taking the conceptual discourse to a practical level:

Love is a fragrant tree; its root is firmly planted and its branches reach to heaven; its fruits emerge in the heart and in the tongue and in the limbs.

In this manner, Imam Ghazali imparts a strong understanding of love, longing, intimacy and contentment in the book. His discourse is both deep, yet explained in a manner that the common person can come to understand. He starts with the Quran and Hadiths and concludes the book in practicality, action, and describes an ideal state of heart. I pray that Allah blesses all those who contributed to making this book available, and blesses us all with the propensity and fortitude to enact on the advises of Imam Ghazali. Ameen.

Shaykh Yahya Rhodus has a lecture on this very book that is available here:

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