Deliverance from E
or - Al Ghazali.doc
Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali
"Deliverance from E
(al-Munqidh min ad-Dalal)
in The Faith and Practice of al-Ghazali
translated by W. Montgomery Watt
London: George Allen and Unwin, 1951
AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT
DELIVERANCE FROM ERROR
In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate
Praise be to Him with Whose praise every message and every discourse commences. And blessings
e upon Muhammad the Chosen, the Prophet and Messenger, and on his house and his Companions, who
guide men away from e
You have asked me my
other in religion, to show you the aims and inmost nature of the sciences
and the perplexing depths of the religious systems. You have begged me to relate to you the difficulties I
encountered in my attempt to extricate the truth from the confusion of contending sects and to distinguish the
different ways and methods, and the venture I made in climbing from the plain of naive and second-hand
elief (taqlid) to the peak of direct vision. You want me to describe, firstly what profit I derived from the
science of theology (kalam) secondly, what I disapprove of in the methods of the party of ta'lim
(authoritative instruction), who restrict the apprehension of truth to the blind following (taqlid) of the Imam,
thirdly, what I rejected of the methods of philosophy, and lastly, what I approved in the Sufi way of life. You
would know, too, what essential truths became clear to me in my manifold investigations into the doctrines
held by men, why I gave up teaching in Baghdad although I had many students, and why I returned to it at
Naysabur (Nishapur) after a long interval. I am proceeding to answer your request, for I recognise that your
desire is genuine. In this I seek the help of God and trust in Him; I ask His succour and take refuge with Him.
You must know– may God most high perfect you in the right way and soften your hearts to receive
the truth– that the different religious observances and religious communities of the human race and likewise
the different theological systems of the religious leaders, with all the multiplicity of sects and variety of
practices, constitute ocean depths in which the majority drown and only a minority reach safety. Each
separate group thinks that it alone is saved, and 'each party is rejoicing in what they have' (Q. 23, 55; 30, 31).
This is what was foretold by the prince of the Messengers (God bless him), who is true and trustworthy,
when he said, 'My community will be split up into seventy-three sects, and but one of them is saved'; and
what he foretold has indeed almost come about.
From my early youth, since I attained the age of puberty before I was twenty, until the present time
when I am over fifty, I have ever recklessly launched out into the midst of these ocean depths, I have ever
avely embarked on this open sea, throwing aside all craven caution; I have poked into every dark recess, I
have made an assault on every problem, I have plunged into every abyss, I have scrutinized the creed of
every sect, I have tried to lay bare the inmost doctrines of every community. All this have I done that I might
distinguish between true and false, between sound tradition and heretical innovation. Whenever I meet one of
the Batiniyah, I like to study his creed; whenever I meet one of the Zahiriyah, I want to know the essentials
of his belief. If it is a philosopher, I try to become acquainted with the essence of his philosophy; if a
scholastic theologian I busy myself in examining his theological reasoning; if a Sufi, I yearn to fathom the
secret of his mysticism; if an ascetic (muta'a
id), I investigate the basis of his ascetic practices; if one of the
Zanadiqah or Mu'attilah, I look beneath the surface to discover the reasons for his bold adoption of such a
To thirst after a comprehension of things as they really are was my habit and custom from a very
early age. It was instinctive with me, a part of my God-given nature, a matter of temperament and not of my
choice or contriving. Consequently as I drew near the age of adolescence the bonds of mere authority (taqlid)
ceased to hold me and inherited beliefs lost their grip upon me, for I saw that Christian youths always grew
up to be Christians, Jewish youths to be Jews and Muslim youths to be Muslims. I heard, too, the Tradition
elated of the Prophet of God according to which he said: 'Everyone who is born is born with a sound
nature;1 it is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian'. My inmost being was moved to
discover what this original nature really was and what the beliefs derived from the authority of parents and
teachers really were. The attempt to distinguish between these authority-based opinions and their principles
developed the mind, for in distinguishing the true in them from the false differences appeared.
I therefore said within myself: 'To begin with, what I am looking for is knowledge of what things
eally are, so I must undoubtedly try to find what knowledge really is.’ It was plain to me that sure and
certain knowledge is that knowledge in which the object is disclosed in such a fashion that no doubt remains
along with it, that no possibility of e
or or illusion accompanies it, and that the mind cannot even entertain
such a supposition. Certain knowledge must also be infallible; and this infallibility or security from e
such that no attempt to show the falsity of the knowledge can occasion doubt or denial, even though the
attempt is made by someone who turns stones into gold or a rod into a serpent. Thus, I know that ten is more
than three. Let us suppose that someone says to me: 'No, three is more than ten, and in proof of that I shall
change this rod into a serpent'; and let us suppose that he actually changes the rod into a serpent and that I
witness him doing so. No doubts about what I know are raised in me because of this. The only result is that I
wonder precisely how he is able to produce this change. Of doubt about my knowledge there is no trace.
After these reflections I knew that whatever I do not know in this fashion and with this mode of certainty is
not reliable and infallible knowledge; and knowledge that is not infallible is not certain knowledge.
Thereupon I investigated the various kinds of knowledge I had, and found myself destitute of all
knowledge with this characteristic of infallibility except in the case of sense-perception and necessary truths.
So I said: 'Now that despair has come over me, there is no point in taking problems except in the sphere of
what is self-evident, namely, necessary truths and the affirmations of the senses. I must first
ing these to be
judged in order that I may be certain on this matter. Is my reliance on sense-perception and my trust in the
soundness of necessary truths of the same kind as my previous trust in the beliefs I had merely taken over
from others and as the trust most men have in the results of thinking? Or is it a justified trust that is in no
danger of being betrayed or destroyed'?
I proceeded therefore with extreme earnestness to reflect on sense-perception and on necessary truths,
to see whether I could make myself doubt them. The outcome of this protracted effort to induce doubt was
that I could no longer trust sense-perception either. Doubt began to spread here and say: 'From where does
this reliance on sense-perception come? The most powerful sense is that of sight. Yet when it looks at the
shadow (sc. of a stick or the gnomon of a sundial), it sees it standing still, and judges that there is no motion.
Then by experiment and observation after an hour it knows that the shadow is moving and, moreover, that it
1 The interpretation of this tradition has been much discussed; cp. art. Fitra by D. B. Macdonald in EI. The above
meaning appears to be that adopted by al-Ghazali.
is moving not by fits and starts but gradually and steadily by infinitely small distances in such a way that it is
never in a state of rest. Again, it looks at the heavenly body (sc. the sun) and sees it small, the size of a
shilling;2 yet geometrical computations show that it is greater than the earth in size'.
In this and similar cases of sense-perception the sense as judge forms his judgements, but another
judge, the intellect, shows him to be wrong in such a way that the charge of falsity cannot be rebutted.
To this I said: 'My reliance on sense-perception also has been destroyed. Perhaps only those
intellectual truths which are first principles (or derived from first principles) are to be relied upon, such as the
assertion that ten are more than three, that the same thing cannot be both affirmed and denied at one time,
that one thing is not both generated in time and eternal, nor both existent and non-existent, nor both
necessary and impossible'.
Sense-perception replied: 'Do you not expect that your reliance on intellectual truths will fare like
your reliance on sense-perception? You used to trust in