I thought I’d share some learnings from a lecture series by ISIP and Al-Ghazali Chair (ISTAC-IIUM) on Imam Ghazali’s perspective on the human psyche being conducted by Dr Osman Bakar, current holder of the Al-Ghazali chair at ISTAC.
Look After Your Soul
We all know that our soul is from God. But it gets impacted as it rides on our body based on how we live our life, resulting in each of our souls ultimately being different. This is what gets assessed and is answerable to God.
The Prophet ﷺ said everything has a head or leader. So the soul is the leader of all the faculties of the body and all the other body parts literally serve it, and not the other way around. This is why Imam Al-Ghazali considers ailments of the body holistically, with them ultimately being ailments of the soul.
In addition, God creates everything for a purpose – our hands are for grasping, our eyes for seeing etc. Our soul was created to know its Creator, our Creator. That is its purpose.
So when we deprive our soul of what it was created for, it’s like preventing our eyes from seeing, our legs from walking etc. Hence, just like for any body part, there will be ramifications to oneself for this. But as our soul ultimately answers to God, the stakes are much much higher.
It seems a perfect example of the body in service to the soul, as can be seen in prayer (Salah). From the Takbir of Allahu-Akbar by the tongue to the lifting of the hands, the focus of the eyes, the movements of the legs, the raising of the index finger – these are all done to serve our soul- the leader, for its purpose of worshipping its Creator. And perhaps that is why such bodily movements that depending on mobility can require some effort, actually bring peace.
In his book “The Alchemy of Happiness,” Al-Ghazali further represents the journey in life to know and seek the love of God through a parable of a rider on a horse seeking a prize, armed with tools for the journey. The successful one will in the end be relieved to be able to finally dismount and put down the burden of the cumbersome tools. But the unsuccessful one will be aggrieved at having to do so while their task is still incomplete.
Since the soul continues to carry the impression on it after death, deeds such as perpetual remembrance and love of God get carried into the next world. Conversely, bitterness from parting from the enjoyments of this world by the lovers of this world, also outlast their death.
“The world pretends that it will always remain with you. While as a matter of fact, it is slipping away from you moment by moment, and bidding you farewell. Like a shadow which seems stationary, but is actually moving.” Al-Ghazali