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2.8 Imam al-Ghazali and Ihya Ulumuddin - Book 3 (Fazlul Karim, 1991)

2.8.11 Obstacles to Divine knowledge


identify the five obstacles to getting the divine knowledge which are the hurdles in the reflection on truth and work on to overcome them.


brightens the soul and avoids low desires and urge of passion; as Allah (SWT) says in al-Qur’an:

And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.

(Al-Ankabut, 29: 69)

3. Attention devoted to worldly pursuits

The soul that engages complete devotion and energy to the fulfilment of Divine knowledge can acquire knowledge. Whereas the soul with attention diverted to worldly pursuits will not be blessed with Divine knowledge. The soul that cares for himself or herself tends to devote to the fulfilment of Divine knowledge. As being narrated by Abu Umayyah ash-Sha'bani in Sunan Abu Dawood in (Nasiruddin al-Khattab, 2008, p.540):

I asked Abu Tha'labah al-Khushani: “What is your opinion about the verse ‘Care for yourself’. He said: I swear by Allah, I asked the one who was well informed about it; I asked the Messenger of Allah (saws) about it. He said: No, enjoin one another to do what is good and forbid one another to do what is evil. But when you see niggardliness being obeyed, passion being followed, worldly interests being preferred, everyone being charmed with his opinion, then care for yourself, and leave alone what people in general are doing; for ahead of you are days which will require endurance, in which showing endurance will be like grasping live coals. The one who acts rightly during that period will have the reward of fifty men who act as he does. Another version has: He said (The hearers asked :) Messenger of Allah, the reward of fifty of them? He replied: The reward of fifty of you.

In regard to this matter, Allah clearly says in al-Qur’an:

Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children. (It is) as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller;

afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the Hereafter (there is) a severe torment (for the disbelievers-evildoers), and (there is) forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers- good doers).

And the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment

(Al-Hadid, 57: 20)

The above Hadiths and verse explained beautifully how the worldly pursuits can destroy a person. When we are too busy with worldly pursuits, our soul is totally engaged


with what we see through the external eyes which blinds our self to gain Divine knowledge and hinder a person from gaining a high level of spiritual intelligence.

4. The environment and surrounding

A person’s belief is the root of his or her life. Without a firm and strong root, individuals are easily influenced by negative environment and surrounding which creates a block or border. This might create obstacles in finding the truth.

According to Robbins and Judge (2013), three factors can determine a person’s personality; heredity, environment and surrounding. At the early stage of an individual’s life, heredity plays an important role, but along the way, environment and surrounding play a crucial part in shaping one’s personality.

Shaping a divine personality is not merely through continuous purification and acknowledging purpose of life in the context of human-God relationship but as well with an inherently dynamic interaction with environment and surrounding. Failure to interact and be vigilance with environment and surrounding can be a great hindrance to build a better human-God relationship. In order to have a personality with Divine knowledge, one should be surrounded with an environment of that kind.

5. Ignorance

Ignorance in Divine knowledge merely means lack of knowledge. They are aware about the Divine knowledge, but it is not their priority. These individuals are being blinded by the devil’s influence with other aspects of their life as they choose to gain things other than God’s love and knowledge. As Allah (SWT) says in al-Qur’an:


But as for anyone who chooses to remain blind to the remembrance of the Most Gracious, to him We assign an [enduring] evil impulse, to become his other self.

And indeed, the devils avert them from the way [of guidance] while they think that they are (right) guided.

(Az-Zukhruf, 43: 36-37) These five obstacles will be the impediments in the reflection of truth in souls in which we barely perceive the truths. As Imam al- Ghazali (Fazlul Karim, 1991, p. 17) said,

“soul is a holy entity, and it has got the natural attributes of knowing the truth”, as Allah (SWT) says in al-Qur’an:

Indeed, We offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it. Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant

(Al-Ahzab, 33: 72) This verse explained that the soul has acquired a superior trait as mentioned in Kitab al-Qur’an al-‘Azim by Ibnu Kathir (Abdullah, 2012) as a trust (amanah) which the heavens and the earth and the mountains could not take. This trust is what Prophet Adam has accepted for mankind in which the soul will be rewarded for good deeds and be punished for misconducts and bad deeds. Ibn Kathir further stated that, it is recorded by Imam Ahmad that Hudzaifah said, “Prophet (PBUH) told them that the trust is given to the soul (qalb) and later al-Qur’an is given to mankind. The qalb takes al-Qur’an and as-Sunnah to be learnt and practiced.

This amanah is supported by Imam al-Ghazali as ma’arifat, Divine knowledge and related to the concept of tawhid. The soul is naturally apt to accept this trust, but it cannot attain its real nature due to the five obstacles stated above. The Prophet (PBUH) once said,

“Where is God? On earth or in heaven?” He said: God is in the soul of the believer. The Prophet was asked, “Who is the best man?” The Prophet replied, “The believer whose soul is makhsoom is best.” He was asked, “What is makhsoom?” He said: “The soul is


makhsoom when it is God-fearing, in which there is no deception, dishonesty, deceit, contrivance and abhorrence” (Fazlul Karim, 1991, p. 17). The objective of all the deeds is to create a soul that is pure and bright. As Allah (SWT) says in al-Qur’an:

He who purifies it will get salvation.

(Ash-Shams, 91: 8)

Only with soul purification is the human able to gain Divine knowledge; able to gain the light of Allah the Almighty as being said in al-Qur’an:

Can he whose breast Allah has opened up for Islam and who is thus (moving along a Path) illumined by a light from Allah (be likened to him who derives no lesson from what he observes)? Woe, then, to those whose hearts were further hardened after Allah's admonition. Such are indeed in obvious error.

(Az-Zumar, 39: 22) Al-Ghazali (Fazlul Karim, 1991) divided the light of faith into three stages:

Stage 1: Light of an ordinary man (heard about something from other people) Stage 2: Light of the followers of fiqh (heard about something by listening by own self)

Stage 3: Light of friends of God (see and listen by own self)

These three stages can be related to spiritual intelligence as in Figure 2.6:


Figure 2.6: Levels of spiritual intelligence 3 adapted and modified from al-Ghazali’s Ihya Ulumuddin – Book 3 (Fazlul Karim, 1991)

The initial stage is the light of an ordinary man, which is the light of blind faith. At this stage a person might believe that God is one, that there are rewards and punishments, but they themselves have never practiced what they heard from other secondary sources.

This ordinary man can be categorised with low level of spiritual intelligence as they do not practice what they heard from others (Fazlul Karim, 1991), as said by Imam al- Ghazali in his book entitled Khulashah at Tashanif fit Tasawwuf, “ilm (knowledge) without amal (action) is crazy and amal without ilm is useless” (Naquib al-Attas, 2010).

As human beings climb up the stage of light of faith, the light becomes brighter and their level of spiritual intelligence is getting higher. In the second stage they are not depending on others to gain Divine knowledge, but they themselves gained it by listening to the primary sources. In the third stage it is not only what they listen to, but what they are able to see for themselves. For instance, they learn face to face about Divine knowledge by attending classes, talks, and discussions. Finally by seeing and listening to the knowledge they are able to practice it (Fazlul Karim, 1991).

Stage 3 of Light of Faith

Stage 2 of Light of Faith

Stage 1 of Light of Faith

Low Spiritual Intelligence High Spiritual



Ilm (knowledge) and amal (action) could not be separated. Mankind is considered handicapped without either one. That is why the learned men will continuously act to seek improvement and obtain blessings from God and overflow themselves in terms of time to seek knowledge. Evidence of this statement could be seen in al-Qur’an:

And among them (O Muhammad) are those who listen to you, until when they depart from you, they say to those who were given knowledge, "What has he said just now?" Those are the ones whom Allah has sealed over their hearts and who have followed their [own] desires. And those who are guided – He increases them in guidance and gives them their righteousness.

(Muhammad, 47: 16-17).