Sister Tuscany Bernier offers an insightful reflection on the very personal impact that the Ihya Uloom al-Din had on her.
The Ihya ‘Ulum al’Din ( The Revival of the Religious Sciences) is a 40-volume work, the mangus opus of the great scholar Imam Ghazali. The Imam also compiled a Mukhtasir, or abridgement, which captured the essence of each volume into a chapter, making it a single, 40-chapter book.
The Ihya and I met in unique circumstances. In April 2015, I bought a copy of the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din…or at least I thought it was the whole Ihya. It wasn’t until last year that I realised it was actually the Mukhtasir, or abridged version.
As it happened, I did not open the book for several months. Looking in its direction, I would sigh at how much dust it was collecting.
Eventually, I joined a small women’s group, designed to explore leadership, feminism, and spirituality. Participating in the group inspired me to stretch my mind to explore what I didn’t understand. Thus, I picked up the book I had desired to read the most – the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din. Before opening its pages, I made dua that Allah Most High grant me understanding and I aimed to clear my intentions.
Over the next nine months of the program, I poured over the 470+ pages in front of me. On the very first page, there was a hadith narrated from Allah’s Messenger, Blessings and peace be upon him, that said, “Belief is without clothing: its dress is piety, its beauty is modesty, and its fruit is knowledge.”
I was hooked.
The first quarter is titled “Al Ibada”, or worship, and the first chapter covers the virtues of seeking and imparting knowledge.The book then takes you through the second quarter based around or religious practices and onward into the third quarter, al-Muhlikat or moral vices. The final quarter brings the text to a close by focusing on the saving virtues, or al-Munjiyat. The final chapter is a reminder to take the time to remember death, which ultimately brings the entire book to a earnest, yet beautiful closure.
My mind felt simultaneously calmed by the constant invocation of Allah Most High, and stimulated by the diverse concepts brought up in each chapter. I finished it over those nine months, but I often try to revisit the text that brought me so much happiness.
However, reading a translation by myself was nowhere as exciting as reading the original, or learning about it with esteemed scholars through SeekersHub’s free on-demand course, Renewing Religion: Overview of Ghazali’s Ihya. But at the time I was reading it, I had no clue any of these resources existed.
Last year, I had the pleasure of reading a different translation – one much closer to the full Arabic original. It was at this point I realised that the book I’d initially read was only the Mukhtasir, and that every chapter of the Ihya could be considered a book on its own! In fact, the book I was reading was the first one of these books. It was called “The Book of Knowledge” and was considered the backbone of the methodology course at the seminary that I was studying at.
The Ihya brought me closer to my understanding of the religion on a different level and for that, I thank the scholar who wrote it in the 11th century, Abu Hamid al Ghazali. Almost every topic within its pages was relevant to the human experience and thus, touched my heart centuries later.
Tuscany Bernier is from Indiana where she lives with her husband and two cats. She is passionate about cultural diversity and women’s studies. She published her first book in 2015 and hopes to write more in the future. You can visit her website for more information.