This title is a slight change of the title of a short treatise by Imam Al Ghazali (Deliverance from Errors, “Al Munqidh min Al Dhalaal“). It was written after his exclusion (‘uzlah) for almost 12 years. It is really worth reading, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. The subject that he deal with is mainly about seeking the Truth, how one could attain it? Through teachings by teachers? Through philosophy? Through study of (pure) science? Or through the ways of the Sufi (mystics)?
He started the whole discussions by balancing the efforts of seeking knowledge (i.e. the Truth) with “skepticism”. Blind acceptance of anything is by itself futile. Taqlid (holding something blindly) is a major fault. These are the major faults of teachings and teachers. But at the same time, logic and rational thinking are also faulted with many limitations. This is the problem with the philosophers. How could we then, as common people deal with this?
Al Ghazali commend that we have to start with the understanding of the purpose of Prophethood (Hakikah an Nubuwwah). Therein lies many hidden meanings that may pass us without realizing the meaning of it. As Al Quran says: “Laqad kaana lakum fi Rasulillahi uswatun hasanah, liman kaana yarjullaha wal yaumal akhir” (verily in the Prophet saw are the best examples for those who wish for meeting Allah and the hereafter). The Prophet is our link to the world of unknown-unknown (‘alam al ghaib wa al syahadah). Even how hard we try to fathom such world, through our senses and our intellect (‘Aql), it would never be to any extent that fulfill the goal of seeking the Truth.
Just like our sleep, during which we dream; the dream could never become something that’s real, except to remain in our imagination; and yet the dream is a true touch between us and the unseen (al ghaib). In the saying of the Prophet (saw): An Naasu niyamun, faiza maatu, intabihu. Mankind are sleeping, except only when death comes, he will be awaken! The concious world that we are currently in, is in fact a dream, while the unseen world, is the reality (awaken to the full truth of things). Only through death, and by death, we will finally see the Truth (al-Haqq). As the Quran says: “Hatta atakal Yaqiin” (until when the Final Truth comes to you), that is death.
This is the purpose of Prophethood, which is to make us realize, while in our “dream” (i.e. in our concious world) to be awaken to the reality of the unseen (or the real world of al akhirah). If by intellect and logic alone, we could discern the hereafter, then there would be no need of Prophethood, since by logic: we could use our intellect to find out what is the Truth.
The problem is, as Imam Al Ghazali pointed out in the treatise: we think that we may have found the Truth (either by teachings or by logic), but then at one stage later, we may found that there are flaws in that understanding of the Truth, and hence creates doubts within us about such Truth. This is a never ending cycle that affects anyone who is sincerely seeking the Truth.
I found this to be quite true, as I tried to study the philosophy of Aquinas, Pascal, Descartes, Spinoza, Schopenhauer and the later day western philosophers such as Kant, Nietzsche and others: it became quite circular, when it comes to the concept of God and Man (on what is termed as “the First Philosophy”, by Descartes – which is actually coined first by Al Kindi in his short letter to Caliph Al Ma’mun). Aquinas, Pascal, Descartes all argued for the existence of God, and it could be achieved by way of human intellect and reason – and yet, the later day philosophers could easily dispute their arguments and reasoning; to the point that Nietzsche would reject these arguments, and lean in favor of atheism. However, given the scientific discoveries of late, such as arguments by Einstein and Hawking, would give us better reason to hold on the belief of the existence of God. Even then, if we hold to these arguments, someone may come later on with other scientific discoveries that may make us to incline otherwise. Therefore it might goes in circle forever.
Off course, there are uses of logic and reasoning, in matters of better understanding of things, its nature, as well as developing ethical conduct of life. Similarly, scientific discoveries may help us to elucidate many things that are otherwise unknown to us. But one thing that we must be aware of is that, there are so many matters that would be in category of unknown-unknown (al ghaib), that we cannot simply conclude that whatever we hold as the Truth is infallible. The problem of unknown-unknown is that any “theories” of “propositions” could never be falsified, and hence could neither be proven or disproved. We could hold to logic, reasoning, and scientific discoveries as evidences that came to us, to falsify the “first Truth” and hence make us to favor an “updated” version of the “Truth”. But whatever that we hold as the “Truth”, could be never be concluded as the Final Truth. Hence, any “Truth” that we hold on to, could only be “partial Truth”, or even proven to be false, once more evidence is revealed to us in the future. That would be the ethical and correct way to deal with Truth seeking. Therefore, we must always be on guard, and continuously seeking the Truth, and never feels that we have reach the “safe ground”.
In finality, we must seek Truth by learning and understanding from those who already achieved it: The Prophet and the saints (auliya’). This where the argument that Truth could only be understood through the “Revealed Knowledge”; and in the case of Islam, through Al Quran and the Prophet (saw). However, blind faith must be abhorred, since blind faith doesn’t eliminate one problem: “doubts” (or called “Raibun“).
Those who followed faith blindly (i.e. Taqlid), in facts suffer from deep doubts within their own self, and this is evident from their own actions. Just like someone who has faith that fire is hot, will never touch the fire; but if in action, he carelessly touch the fire, then he must have “doubts” in himself that the fire is hot. In real life, it is true that we have absolute faith that fire is hot, and hence we took due care not to touch it. But in matters of faith, we violate all sorts of rule, despite our claim that we believe in the faith. This is a simple way to understand how deep and true our faith is. By that count, we could say almost everyone, including our self, are truly “doubters” of faith.
Relying on logic and reasoning, as well as scientific understanding, as was said earlier, poses severe limitations, and would only be applicable to people who delve deeply into it. For common people like us, to follow the approach of the philosophers and thinker would be extremely difficult and the path is so undefined.
The problem lies with our own self, that is to attain purity of self. Without attaining purity, whatever path that we took, we will be easily misguided. Because, the true enemy of discerning Truth is actually our own self – namely our desire, our own affinity with the worldly life.
Therefore, as Al Ghazali recommend, the first step to seeking Truth is by self purification first. And this is the way of the Prophet, and this is the safest way to follow.