Al-Ghazali on Condemnation of Pride and Self-Admiration (Book XXIX of The Revival of the Religious Sciences [Ihya’ Ulum al-Din]) translated with introduction and notes by Mohammed Rustom. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2018. Pp. 175 +xxvi.
The Condemnation of Pride and Self-Admiration is the twenty-ninth chapter of The Revival of the Religious Sciences, a monumental work of classical Islam written by the theologian-mystic Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali. Perhaps the most important chapter in the whole of Revival, The Condemnation of Pride and Self-Admiration delves into the fundamental spiritual ailments and major impediments of the soul, namely pride and self-admiration. In Part One, Ghazali focuses on pride, firstly by showing how the Qur’an condemns it, then by demonstrating what pride is and what its symptoms are, how pride manifests outwardly, as well as the seven causes of pride, the root cause being self-admiration. In seeking ways to cure the soul of pride, Ghazali presents the virtue of humility as the spiritual virtue par excellence; he offers examples of true humility, of false humility, and the manner by which the seven causes of pride can be uprooted. In Part Two, Ghazali hones in on the root cause of pride: self-admiration. As with pride, Ghazali defines self-admiration, shows the various ways it manifests inwardly, how it causes negligence, delusion and complacency, how each of these can be remedied.
Just as humility is recognised as the virtue par excellence, pride is recognised as the vice par excellence; and this by all religions. The Condemnation of Pride and Self-Admiration is therefore a genuine contribution to the field of virtue ethics and will be of interest to all those engaged in the religious and spiritual life.
Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111), theologian, logician, jurist and mystic, was born and died in Tus in Central Asia, but spent much of his life lecturing at Baghdad or leading the life of a wandering dervish. His most celebrated work, Revival of the Religious Sciences, has exercised a profound influence on Muslim intellectual history by exploring the mystical significance of the practices and beliefs of Islamic orthodoxy, earning him the title of Hujjat al Islam, the ‘Proof of Islam’.
Mohammed Rustom is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Carleton University. He is the author of the award-winning book The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mulla Sadra (2012) and co-editor of The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (2015).
Review from David B. Burrell, Hesburgh Professor emeritus, University of Notre Dame:
“The translator avers that he was initially attracted by ‘the practical value of the book’s content’, as he had ‘at that time become disillusioned by the pretension of academia … and found the problems addressed by Ghazali were remarkable resonant with [his] own [XX111]’. I wager that many a reader will find the same in this penetrating rendition of human foibles—Ghazali at this best.
Many of his observations parallel those found in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and with the same trenchant presentation, though the Qur’an, traditions of the Prophet, and early Muslims remain the sources offered. The first part on pride comprises ten chapters, with the second on ‘self-admiration’ needing five. Part one will treat the virtue of humility with methods for treating pride and acquiring humility, while part two anatomizes various penchants for self-admiration, yet Ghazali’s crafting of trenchant descriptors confirms the translator’s choice. The result is anything but tedious, as we are delivered delicious renditions of our very selves! The context is thoroughly theological, resting on the robust base of free creation, mocking throughout the American icon of the ’self-made man’, and deftly incorporating Ghazali’s arresting insistence (in the Book of Divine Unity and Trust in God) that tawhid really comes to asserting that ‘there is no doer but God and no creator other than He’ (125).
So all is gift, even what we have come to envisage as our legacy! So on the rich platform of free creation, yet more of the tributaries feeding our ‘self-admiration’ will be found severely wanting, if not openly exposed as blissful ignorance, once you perceive that ‘you, your ability, will and motion are all created and originated by God’ (122).
Christians will hear echoes of Paul: ‘if you are impressed with yourself but not with the One to whom belongs the entire affair, [recall that] he did all of this for you without any prior means to this on your part …. Rather he chose you …out of His bounty. How astounding would your self-admiration be when you recognize this’! (124). In short, ‘the cause of self-admiration is pure ignorance’ (119) of the true source of all things.
To follow this line of analysis, Fons Vitae has taken on the monumental task of bringing out Imam al-Ghazali’s magnum opus, “The Revival of the Religious Sciences” based on the 2011 Dar al-Minhaj critical Arabic edition, so those captivated by Ghazali’s penchant for contemporaneity can now enjoy an educational package re-crafted for families and schools.”