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Duties of Brotherhood in Islam - Part 1

by Sangharakshita

The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam” Seminar Page 1


(Study of the text translated from the Ihyā of Imām Al-Ghazāli by Muhtar Holland)
Published by The Islamic Foundation, Leicester, First published 1975, Reprinted 1988 ISBN 0 86037 068 2)

Held at:Padmaloka (Chairmen's Retreat)

Date:September 1983
Those Present: The Venerable Sangharakshita, Abhaya, Devaraja, Kuladeva, Kulananda, Nagabodhi, Prakasha, Prasannasiddhi, Ratnavira,
Subhuti, Tejamitra, Vajrananda.

Tape 1, Side 1 Day 1

Sangharakshita: I take it everyone has read the translator's foreword and the introduction. We're not going to go through those together; we're
going to plunge straight into the text itself. The forewords and the introduction are really quite simple and straightforward.

If anyone wants to read up on al-Ghazali in the course of the ten days, I suggest you consult the Encyclopedia Britannica and also Hastings's
Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. There will be some additional information there I think there's a note at the back recommending further
reading. I don't have either of the works mentioned by Montgomery Watt - Islamic Philosophy and Theology and Muslim Intellectual: The
Struggle and Achievement of al-Ghazali, but you can make notes of those and maybe follow up later if you want to do so.

Devaraja: Hasting's Encyclopedia........

S: Of Religion and Ethics. I suggest you look up al-Ghazali in the index rather than going directly to the encyclopedia, because there may be
information about him not only under his own name entry but, for instance, under Islamic Philosophy and so on.

Perhaps I should say a few words to begin with as to why we are having this particular seminar, why this particular text has been chosen. Most
of you know I think that in the last year or even two years particularly there has been quite a lot of discussion in the Movement, and especially
perhaps at Tuscany and growing out of the Tuscany course, on the subject of kalyana mitrata - on the subject of spiritual friendship, and indeed
on the subject of friendship generally. And it did occur to me that it would be a good idea if we had a whole series of study groups, study
retreats, on major texts dealing with the subject of friendship, including spiritual friendship, not only from Buddhist sources but from the
Western cultural and philosophical traditions generally. For instance, I thought we might well do the chapters on friendship from Aristotle's
The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam” Seminar Page 2
Ethics. We might do, for instance, the Symposium, which strikes a rather different note. We might, for instance, do essays by Francis Bacon,
Montaigne, Emerson; the Western tradition is quite rich in that sort of material.

But I also happened to come across this particular text on The Duties of Brotherhood by al-Ghazali. Now this is from the Islamic tradition - it's
right outside the Buddhist tradition, it's right outside the Western cultural tradition. But in going through it I felt that it provided a few insights
into friendship, and especially spiritual friendship, which one didn't find in quite the same way either in the Buddhist tradition itself or in the
Western cultural tradition generally. So I thought that we might perhaps supplement or even enlarge or deepen our conception of friendship and
of spiritual friendship by going through this text.

I also thought it might be a good idea to do this inasmuch as it would provide us with a means of making, within a very limited context, some
sort of comparative study of Islam and Buddhism, because I feel that, as the Movement grows and extends and expands, I think some of us at
least - some members of the Order at least - have got to have some understanding of major religions and spiritual traditions of the world, and
understand to what extent they differ from Buddhism, whether there is any overlap, if so to what extent, in what areas and so on. So this, in
addition to being an exploration of the subject of spiritual friendship, is also an exploration within a particular area of a certain aspect of
comparative religion as regards Islam and Buddhism.

So these are the two main reasons why we are undertaking the study of this text. If the study is successful, if the proceedings of the discussion
are transcribed, if all that is edited, I might well write a proper little introduction, setting forth these considerations at some length. But I think
that the few words I said, the main reasons I gave, are reasonably clear. Anyone like to ask anything on those two points?

Prakasha: Are there actually any Buddhist texts that deal specifically with friendship?

S: I am not aware of any full-length texts. There are chapters in works like The Jewel Ornament of Liberation. There are verses here and there.
I'm not aware of any systematic treatment. [Pause]

Prasannasiddhi: Are there any good books giving you a good account of Islam, the Islamic tradition?

S: That's a very big subject. Again, Islam in English is a little bit like Buddhism in English. There have been a lot of new works produced in
the last ten or fifteen years, written not by Christians but by Muslims, just as there are nowadays a lot more relatively good books written not by
non-Buddhists but by Buddhists on Buddhism. I must say I'm not by any means up to date with this material. I have got some works of my
own. I'm not quite sure what to recommend, because within the Muslim world itself there are divisions just as there are within the Buddhist
world. For instance if one was asked to recommend to a beginner a book on Buddhism, some people might for instance recommend Walpola
Rahula's What the Buddha Taught, but would everybody agree that that was an adequate representation of Buddhism as such - the total tradition?
Some people might think it wasn't, because it was a definitely Theravada-type presentation. So in much the same way, it isn't easy to get a
presentation of Islam. If you look at it more closely, you'll find it's Sunni Islam or Shi'a Islam, those being the two main divisions. But it may be
possible by the end of the study retreat for me to draw up a reading list of things that are reasonably available. But I think clearly on the whole
The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam” Seminar Page 3
it would be better, if we are going to read anything on Islam apart from perhaps historical works, to read books which have been written by
Muslims themselves, and feel at least what Muslims themselves, rightly or wrongly, think that their own religion is. Because as Buddhists we've
been quite exasperated by non-Buddhists telling us what Buddhism really is.

There is also, apart from the Sunni-Shi'a divide, there is the whole question of Sufism, which is in some ways quite ambiguous. Some authorities
- I'm talking now of Muslim authorities, regard Sufism as especially closely connected with the Shi'a tradition. But others don't agree with that.
They regard it as something independent, which may be connected either with the Sunni tradition or with the Shi'a tradition. And there are other
later very interesting, in some ways most interesting, developments within Islam, especially in Iran, to do with - well, they could be regarded as
extreme developments of Shi'a-cum-Sufi tradition - I'm being very approximate here: my terminology is quite loose because this is quite a new
field. But it has been described in Western terms as an oriental theosophy. It owes much to Plotinus and to Plato and perhaps to other Eastern

But anyway, not much of all that will emerge in the course of our study, because al-Ghazali - I've assumed that you all knew this, but perhaps I
shouldn't have - is of course a Sunni. He is not a Shi'a. But I think this came up in the course of the introduction. He is definitely a proponent
of the Sunni tradition, which is of course the major one within Islam, numerically speaking.

Tejamitra: The other division - was that related to Muhammad's daughter-in-law?

S: His daughter and son-in-law, Fatima and Ali. Very broadly speaking, the Sunnis regard the Caliphs as inheriting the secular authority of
Muhammad. They don't regard anyone as inheriting his spiritual authority. But the Shi'as regard Ali and his successors as having inherited the
spiritual authority - the continuing spiritual authority - of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima. So the spiritual heirs ...

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