Book Review—A Treasury of Ghazali by Mustafa Abu Sway

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A Treasury of Ghazali is a beautiful collection of quotations by Imam al-Ghazali with commentary by Mustafa Abu Sway. The tiny, digestible chapters are each based on one quote of the Imam: the original Arabic, an English translation, and a commentary by the author. Meant to be read in small doses, the quotes cover spiritual topics like sincerity in intention, happiness, patience against sin, and detachment from the dunya (worldly life).

Beautifully designed, with gold foiling on the cover, stunning end pages, and a bookmark, this book is perfect for gifting. And because the excerpts are prefaced by a brief biography, this slim volume is a nice introduction to al-Ghazali.

As far as the material goes, I personally found only a few real gems mixed in with quite a bit of overly simple material.

An example of what I considered overly simple is the chapter entitled “Education with the Right Intention.” My takeaway from this quote was that it is better to have a good intention in your education than no intention at all, especially when you are expending time and energy.

In an example of  one of the real gems I found, al-Ghazali compares this world to a plantation for the Hereafter.

The masters of the hearts know that this world is a plantation for the Hereafter and that the heart is like the soil, and faith is like sowing seeds in it, and acts of obedience are like tilling the land and clearing it, and digging waterways to bring water to it. As for the heart that is careless about this world while being absorbed in it, it is like a salt swamp where seeds do not grow. On the Day of Judgement, the day of harvesting, each will harvest what he had planted where no plant will grow except for the one who sowed the seeds of faith. Hardly does faith benefit while the heart is in pure and one’s character traits are bad, just the seeds do not grow in a salt swamp. The servants hope for forgiveness should be analogous to the hope of the farmer. He who seeks a fertile land and sows good seeds that are neither rotten nor infested, and supplies it with what it needs, which is irrigation at specified times, and performs weeding, removing thorns and grass and all that prevents the seeds from growing or destroying them, and he sits down waiting for the favor of Allah Most High to keep away thunderbolts and corrupting diseases until the plants are complete and reach their purpose, then his waiting is called hope. But if he spreads the seeds in a high salty swamp, where water does not reach, and does not even attempt to care for the seeds, and then he waits for the harvest, his waiting is called stupidity and delusion, not hope. And if he sows the seats in a fertile land that lacks water and waits for rain where there is not much rain, but some rain is likely, then his waiting is called wishful thinking, not hope.

I really enjoyed seeing the metaphor of a human being in this world as farmer extended to talk about action, inaction, and tawakkul.

Aside from being a beautiful gift or an introduction to al-Ghazali, this book is also a nice resource for advanced Arabic students who would like to begin reading Arabic texts, but are intimidated to pick up entire books. Students can read the Arabic quote and then check their understanding against the English translation that immediately follows. The Arabic font is clear and fully voweled (with tashkeel), and the translation that follows is both faithful and idiomatic.

You can find A Treasury of Ghazali here: Kube Publishing | Amazon  

Let me know what you thought if you’ve read this book or another in the Treasury series.

Thank you to Kube Publishing for providing a review copy of this book.

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