This is for LK, Ellen, and anyone else who’s ever felt this way!
From “A History of God”, chapter 6.
Al-Ghazzali … had a restless temperament that made him struggle with truth like a terrier, worrying problems to the bitter death and refusing to be content with an easy, conventional answer. As he tells us,
I have poked into every dark recess, I have made an assault on every problem, I have plunged into every abyss. I have scrutinised the creed of every sect, I have tried to lay bare the inmost doctrines of every community. All this I have done that I might distinguish between true and false, between sound tradition and heretical innovation.
He was searching for the kind of indubitable certainty that a philosopher like Saadia felt, but he became increasingly disillusioned. No matter how exhaustive his research, absolute certainty eluded him. His contemporaries sought God in several ways, according to their personal and temperamental needs: in Kalam, through an Imam, in Falsafah and in Sufi mysticism. Al-Ghazzali seems to have studied each of these disciplines in his attempt to understand ‘what all things really are in themselves’. The disciples of all four of the main versions of Islam that he researched claimed total conviction but, al-Ghazzali asked, how could this claim be verified objectively? …
The strain of his quest caused al-Ghazzali such personal distress that he had a breakdown. He found himself unable to swallow or to eat and felt overwhelmed by a weight of doom and despair. Finally in about 1094 he found that he could not speak or give his lectures…
He fell into a clinical depression. The doctors rightly diagnosed a deep-rooted conflict and told him that until he was delivered from his hidden anxiety, he would never recover. Fearing that he was in danger of hellfire if he did not recover his faith al-Ghazzali resigned his prestigious academic post and went off to join the Sufis.
There he found what he was looking for. Without abandoning his reason – he always distrusted the most extravagant forms of Sufism – al-Ghazzali discovered that the mystical disciplines yielded a direct but intuitive sense of something that could be called ‘God’.
Now, I’m not saying we should all go off and join the Sufis! I included that last part just to show there was a happy ending. I just found it amusing to read this description of the famous scholar al-Ghazzali. It made me laugh at myself a little bit. It is also quite validating in a way. Plus, at least I didn’t get such a huge dose of religious angst as him! It could be worse! 😀