Al-Ghazali: The Proprieties of Retreat (Book 16 of The Revival of the Religious Sciences)

JUST RELEASED: The Proprieties of Retreat (Kitāb ādāb al-ʿuzla) Book 16 of The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn) 176 pp. Translated by James Pavlin.

Al-Ghazali’s Kitāb ādāb al-ʿuzla (The Proprieties of Retreat) is the sixth book in the Rubʾ al-ʿādāt (Quarter of Customary Practices) in his monumental work known as Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn (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-Ghazālī 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 Kitāb ādāb al-ʿuzla is premised on approaching the issue of spiritual fulfillment in the Islamic context, al-Ghazālī 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-Ghazālī, 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.

Author: m h

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