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Al-Ghazali: Authority

I. Truth by Authority (taqlid).

But they (mankind) have broken their religion among them into sects, 
each group rejoicing in its tenets. 
Sura 23:53

 In his book, Deliverance from Error, he responded to questions about his intellectual journey from blind belief in a religious authority (taqlid) to Sufism. Perceptively, Al-Ghazali thought that authority-based opinions (taqlid) did not lead to infallible truth. 

You have begged me to relate to 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 belief (taqlid) to the peak of vision. You want me to describe, firstly what profit I derived from the science of theology (kalam), secondly, what I disapproved of in the methods of the party of ta'lim (authoritative instruction), who restrict that 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. - p.19

Al-Ghazali noted that all religions of the world claim that they alone have the right way. 

You must know—and 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 safely. Each separate group thinks that it alone is saved, and 'each party is rejoicing in what they have' (Q. 23,55[53]; 30,31[32]) - p. 20

But they (mankind) have broken their religion among them into sects, each group rejoicing in its tenets. Sura 23:53 Pickthal's translation
Those who split up their Religion, and become (mere) Sects,- each party rejoicing in that which is with itself! Sura 30:32 Yusuf Ali's translation

Al-Ghazali wrote, "I saw that Christian youths always grew up to be Christians, Jewish youths to be Jews and Muslim youths to be Muslims." In other words, Christians, Jews, and Muslims all think they have the true religion. Al-Ghazali's observation is true.

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 related 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. - p.21 (emphasis added)

Hence, it is vital there is intellectual and religious freedom to investigate the claims of the different religions without fear of intimidation, persecution, or execution. As Al-Ghazali noted, religion should not be based upon a blind authoritarian faith. Al-Ghazali is an inspiring example of a person who freely sought the truth in spite of pronouncements by religious authorities and powers. Al-Ghazali argued that religious authority is not an adequate standard of truth. We fully agree with Al-Ghazali's logical and rational claim. Tragically, many are prevented from seeking sincerely the truth by Islamic governmental authorities, who are fearful of an objective and open search for the truth. Even though Al-Ghazali is praised as a great scholar by today's Muslims, they have no use for his open search for truth.

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.
2 Al-Ghazali, The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali, Translated by W.M. Watt, 1952, pp. 155. (This volume contains two works by Al-Ghazali: 1. Deliverance from Error, 2. The Beginning of Guidance. After the translator's introduction, the book begins the translation of Al-Ghazali's Deliverance from Error on page 19.)

Last edited 08/12/2001
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