The root question in regard to al-Ghazzâlî, and every other advanced mystic and adept in Islâm, is the question of Pantheism: did he succeed in balancing himself upon the edge of the pantheistic abyss, and finding some foothold for his creationist theism, some position that cleared his conscience towards his orthodox co-religionists? Or did he fail in this? The Mishkât contains a good deal that is relevant to this final issue.
It contains much, in the first place, which on the face of it reads like naked pantheism; and in particular the whole passage on
pp. [19, 201 and [22-4], where not only is the most extreme language of the extreme wing of Sûfism (Ana-l Haqq and the rest) quoted with guarded approval, but there is open eulogy of the formula lâ huwa illâ Huwa "there is no it but HE", which is declared to be more expressive of real, absolute truth than the Mohammedan creed itself lâ ilâha ill-Allâh "there is no god but God". This would seem to be as unreserved an assertion of flat pantheism as could be found in philosophic Hinduism itself. Equally worthy of philosophic Hinduism is Ghazzâlî's "He is everything: He is that He is: none but He has ipseity or heity at all . ."(p. ). And then gain the experience of the advanced Initiates and Adepts is described in terms of thorough pantheism: to them "the plurality of things fell away in its entirety. They were drowned in the absolute Unitude and their intelligences were lost in its abyss" (p. ); and when they return to earthly illusions again from that world of reality they "confess with one voice that they had seen nought existent there save the One Real
[1. Which, it must be remembered, might not unfairly be translated -I am God---; see footnote above.]
(Allâh)". Existent! Do words mean what they say?
No, not precisely! with a Ghazzâlî, and with Mohammedan mystics, clinging desperately to orthodoxy! The matter, in fact, turns precisely on this word "existent". What is existence? What is non-existence? It was Ghazzâlî's ontological philosophy that seems to have yielded him a fulcrum on which he could precariously balance the pantheistic and the deistic moments of his religious thought.
This philosophy is poetically stated in our treatise, but in spite of the poetic, imaginative diction it can be recognized as identical with his usual doctrine. It will be found on pp. [17-19, 21, 22]. We have there a picturesque representation of a doctrine well known to the schoolmen of Islâm, that Not-Being is a sort of dark limbo in which the Contingent awaits the creative word Kun "Be!"--compared in this "Light" treatise to a ray of light from the One Self-existing Being. Neither the Greeks nor the schoolmen could
[1. See, for example, Minqiah and the Lesser Madnûn (if that is Ghazzâlî's).]
ever quite get over the feeling that, in predicating anything of Not-being or a Nonentity, in using the word "is" in a sentence with Not-being or a Nonentity as its subject, you have in some way ascribed, not existence, but a sort of quasi-being, to that subject. Hegel's solution was so to evacuate the category of mere, bare "Being" of all content, and to demonstrate its consequent total impoverishment and inanity, that it could be seen to be, the equivalent of Not-being. This was impossible for the schoolmen, above all for Oriental schoolmen, even of the most contradictory schools, who regarded the category of "pure" being (they would never have said "mere") as the sublimest and most radiant of all the categories, and the very object of the whole quest of life. But the obverse of the Hegelian paradox may nevertheless be seen in their ascription to contingent not-yet-being a sort of quasi-existence. The effect of the creative word was simply to turn this potential into actual being. Thus the universe, always contingent, indeed but formerly potential-contingent, now became actual-contingent.
All this is schematized in al-Mishkât. The limbo becomes Darkness (p. 30); the potential-contingent, Dark Things; the divine creator, the Sun; the creative act, a Ray from His real being, whereby a dark Nonentity flashes into being and becomes an Entity, but an Entity that depends continuously on the permanent illumination of that ray, for in the Mohammedan creational scheme, at any rate, Creator is equally capable of being Annihilator.
At this point Ghazzâlî's tortured thought is greatly helped out by the ambiguous word
[1. It is just here that, as it seems to the writer, the Philosophers with their Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity, the formless substrate of things--might well have forced a place for their thought, in spite of the Ghazzâlian wrath against them and it. For when the dark "self-aspect" of these contingencies of the Theologians is considered, prior to their "existence" (p. ), is there much to choose between the eternal potentiality asserted of them by Ghazzâlî, and the eternity asserted for hyle by the Philosophers? Ghazzâlî himself quotes a saying of Mohammed (p. ), on to which these Philosophers would eagerly have seized proving the point: "Allâh created the creation in darkness, then sent an effusion of His light upon it," For a man who was using this divine light-emanation to typify the act of creation, of Calling out of non-being to being it was dangerous surely to give, apparently so powerful an indication as this of a previous creation in "darkness" (= not being in Ghazzâlî's chosen symbology). It might very well have been claimed by the Philosophers that this creation-in-darkness is precisely their formless, chaotic hyle, eternal as darkness is eternal before the light shines. The Philosophers did pretend to prove their thesis from the Koran; see Averroes' Manâhij, ed. Müller, p. 13 (=Cairo ed. Faisafat Ibn Rushd, p. 12), where the following texts are cited in support, S. 11, 9; 14, 49; 41, 10.]
wajh, which has two senses, or rather three, Face, Side, Aspect (logical). This gave him a formula: it was not the first time, nor the last, that the ambiguity of the chief word in a theological formula has been welcome to all concerned. He could take the Koran texts "the Wajh of everything faces (muwajjah) to Him and is turned in His direction," and "Whithersoever they turn themselves, there is the Wajh of Allâh;" and the hadîth qudsî, "Everything is a perishing thing except His Wajh;" and could then play on the word. In ancient and mediaeval times the merest plays on words were not considered figures of speech but profundities of thought. Quibbles masqueraded as discoveries. And so this word (a) enabled Ghazzâlî to keep his hold on creationism on the one hand, for these were "things" sure enough, all turned towards the central Sun and dependent for their existence on its creative light; and there was also the sound logical position, that under this aspect (wajh) of relatedness these things have actual being (p. [18j). So the actuality of the universe is saved, and the abyss of pantheism is avoided. And (b), on the other hand, he could say to the
pantheistic Sûfî (and to himself in that mood), that equally under this "aspect" of relatedness things, if and when considered an sich, had no existence, were not existent at all. The only Existent was the Wajh Allâh (p. ) that is, Allâh Himself, for, as he carefully informs us i (p. [191), Allah cannot possibly be said to be greater" (akbar) than His own wajh; and I must, therefore, be identical therewith. And thus the out-and-out pantheist might well feel his case complete; the last vestige of dualism disappears; Allah is All, and All is Allah, lâ mawjûda ill-Allâh (M. p. )! As Ghazzâlî himself put it, Allah is the Sun and besides the sun there is only the sun's light. Quid plura?
Nevertheless, it may be believed that Ghazzâlî himself contrived to use this ontology so as to keep, not lose, his hold on the reality and actuality of things, and that early training, central theological orthodoxy, and strong commonsense proved by its help too strong for the pull towards pantheism, with which his late
[1. I.e. in the modern or western sense of the word, = "objectivity" To the mediaeval eastern thinker the Arabic the word meant rather "ideality." It is a case of the difference between phenomenal and transcendental reality.]
Sûfism with its Neoplatonic atmosphere and sensational ecstasies undoubtedly did pull him--as Sûfism pulled every Mohammedan mystical devotee. Is it not notable that even in the lyrical passages in this treatise, in which he describes (with a rather scared unction) the Mystics' intoxication and the verbal blasphemies which that state so happily permitted, and which were permitted to that state, Ghazzâlî keeps his head, and preserves the same cautious balance as he does in the ontological sections (see pp. [19, 20])? When these inebriates, he says, became sober again, "and they came under the sway of the intelligence they knew that that had not been actual Identity, but only something resembling Identity" (not homoousion but homoiousion!). If we correctly translate ittihâd thus, the remark is of crucial importance; for the ultimate test of a complete Pantheism is whether things are identical with God, or only united with Him. All classes of mystics without exception assert at least the latter--it is the "Union" of the Christian, as of the Muslim, Catholic; but only
[1. Professor Macdonald prefers "identification," to bring out the verb-aspect of the masdar more clearly.]
those who have actually surrendered their balance and toppled over into the pantheistic abyss assert the former. And Ghazzâlî did not do so. He goes on to quote yet another "drunken" cry of a soul in Union, "I am He whom I love, and He whom I love is I," and shows how even here a distinction is preserved. And then that other, who likened the Union to a transparent Glass filled with red Wine--
"The glass is thin, the wine is clear.
The twain are alike, the matter is perplexed
For 'tis as though there were wine and no wineglass there,
Or as though there were wine-glass and nought of wine."
And thus comments: "Here there is a difference between saying 'The wine is the wineglass' and "tis as though it were the wineglass'." The former, he tells us, is Identity (tawhîd), the latter Unification (tawhîd), not in the commonalty's meaning of tawhîd, he honestly says (p. ), for them this is one of "the mysteries which we are not at liberty to discuss"--but at the same time not inconsistent With that meaning. What he had in mind was,
perhaps, something like this: "I reject the herd's interpretation of tawhîd, the mere declaration-of-the-oneness of Allâh, as a bare truism, miserable in its inadequacy. I likewise reject the other extreme, the pantheist's interpretation of the word as an absolute denial of the actuality of things, or an assertion that things are Allâh. Against them both I assert that Allâh and the Universe constitute a UNITY, but one wherein the Universe is wholly relative to and dependent on Allâh, for existence or nonexistence; preservation or annihilation. All existing things are and must be 'united' to Allâh. But even this must not be declare, openly, for, then, what about Iblîs, Hell, and the Damned? I must not seem to teach 'universalism' any more than pantheism. Allâhu a'lam! "
It therefore seems to the writer that Ghazzâlî's position, which he tortured rather than explained when he tried to describe and illlustrate it, really amounted to nothing more than the inevitable distinction between absolute and relative being; between things when viewed relationally, in their relation to their
Author, and things viewed apart from that relation. Neither Author nor Things were to be denied actuality, or reality, as we understand the latter term. As between Allâh and human intelligences he even goes great lengths (in this very treatise of all others) in asserting parallelism and comparability, similarity therefore; but between Allâh and all else ONE fundamental all-sufficient difference had to be asserted; namely, ALLAH is self-subsistent, qayyûm; things are not so. This distinction was the minimum one; yet also the maximum, for it preserved at once Creator and created, and gave actuality to each. There is, in truth, a good deal of wilful paradox in the Mishkât, of Oriental hyperbole, of pious highfalutin intended perhaps to scare the "unco" orthodox of the day, to make their flesh creep a little for their health's sake, and to "wake them out of their dogmatic slumbers". For it is in the Mishkât that we find the following words, too,
[1. And to assert similarity between two things is at once to have asserted two, and a distinction between them. See M, p. .
2. Is not this true for all Sûfî writers? Do we not take their language too seriously? It parades as scientific; it is really poetico-rhetorical.]
which seem plain and harmless enough: "Being is itself divided into that which has being-in-itself, and that which derives its being from not-itself. The being of this latter is borrowed, having no existence by itself. Nay, if it is regarded in and by itself it is pure not-being. Whatever being it has is due to its relation to not-itself, which is not real being at all . . ." In other words, it is by a purely arbitrary mental abstraction that we "regard derived being in and by itself". The impossibility of really effecting this abstraction is precisely what preserves to derived being its measure of actuality --"whatever being it has . . ." To us these last words are a clear concession of reality to conditioned being. It is true Ghazzâlî denies reality to it in the next sentence. But this only shows that when an Oriental talks of "Real" he means what we mean by "Unconditioned", and that when he is thinking of "Conditioned or Relative" he says "Unreal." The matter has become one of terms.
[1. Gh. has no more use for the Noumenon, for the Ding an sich, than had the post-Kantians; though for how different reasons.]
It is impossible to demand more than this from Ghazzâlî as philosopher-theologian. He was, perhaps, not more successful than other eastern theologians in finding a place for the universe, philosophically, with or in Allâh. But has western philosophy been any more successful in finding a place for Allâh, philosophically, with or in the universe?