Al-Ghazali: The Proprieties of Retreat (Book 16 of The Revival of the Religious Sciences)
JUST RELEASED: The Proprieties of Retreat (Kitab adab al-‘uzla) Book 16 of The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din) 176 pp. Translated by James Pavlin.
Al-Ghazali’s Kitab adab al-‘uzla (The Proprieties of Retreat) is the sixth book in the Rub’ al-‘adat (Quarter of Customary Practices) in his monumental work known as Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din (Revival of the Religious Sciences). Focusing on the issue of seclusion, or retreat from society, the main discussion in this book is the question of whether it is better to engage in social intercourse (al-mukhalata) or remove oneself from society to focus on perfecting one’s relation to God.
As he addresses this issue, al-Ghazali takes us through the numerous benefits and dangers of seclusion while laying out the rules to guide the one who chooses this option. He explains that although it depends on many factors, the most important is the person’s intention and purpose for going into seclusion. If it is not done for the sole purpose of drawing near to God, seclusion becomes a harmful path of self-deceit.
Although Kitab adab al-‘uzla is premised on approaching the issue of spiritual fulfillment in the Islamic context, al-Ghazali presents to us his deep insight into the human condition that relates to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This is perhaps one of the great appealing aspects of al-Ghazali, for he delves into the human psyche to explain the behavior of his fellow Muslims. As such, the reader is invited to embark on this journey through the heart and mind of a spiritual traveler.