Letter to a Disciple (Summary Notes)


Advice is Easy:

  • O disciple, advice is easy – what is difficult is accepting it, for it is bitter in taste to those who pursue vain pleasures, since forbidden things are dear to their hearts.
  • Particular so for the student of conventional knowledge, who is occupied with gratifying his ego and with worldly exploits.
  • Such a person thinks that his knowledge alone will be his salvation and deliverance, and that he can do without deeds.
  • This is the conviction of philisophers.
  • Imam Ghazali is not just attacking the self-satisfaction of the learned, but a definite doctrine of the philosophers.
  • Evidently the Neoplatonic teaching that posthumous salvation is attained through the development of the individual’s intellectual potentialities while on earth, ultimately producing ‘contact’ (ittisal) with the active intellect.
  • This was help by Avicenna (Ibn Sina).
  • The doctrine has been described as follows: the soul enjoying supreme eudaemonia (sa’ada) is the one that achieves a perfect disposition for intellectual thought in the present life.
  • The conceited fool does not know that when he acquires knowledge, if he does not act on it, it will be evidence against him.
  • The Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam, said, ‘The man most severely punished on the Day of Resurrection is a scholar whom Allah did not benefit by his knowledge.’
  • It is reported that Imam al-Junayd was seen in sleep after he had died, and was asked, ‘What is the news Abul Qasim?’ He said, ‘Those expressions were wide of the mark, and those counsels came to nothing. Nothing was of benefit to me except some small prayers I made in the middle of the night.’

Knowledge & Action:

  • Mere knowledge will not help.
  • It is as though a man in the desert had ten swords and other weapons besides, the man being brace and a warrior, and a huge, terrifying lion attacked him. Will the weapons repel this danger without their being used and wielded? It is obvious that they will not.
  • Likewise, if a man studied a hundred thousand intellectual issues and understood them, but did not act, they would not be of any use to him.
  • Or if a man had a certain sickness, which is treated by a certain medication, no recovery will take place except by using them.
  • Though thou pour two thousand measures of wine, Unless thou drink, no oblivion is thine!
  • Even if you studied for a hundred years and collected a thousand books, you would not be eligible for the mercy of Allah except through action.
  • Allah says, ‘Man does not receive other than that for which he strives.’ Qur’an 53:39
  • ‘So let him who hopes for the meeting with his Lord act righteously.’ Qur’an
  • ‘Verily, those who believe and do righteous deeds will have gardens of Paradise, to dwell in forever, whence they will not seek change.’ Qur’an 18:107-108
  • ‘Descendants have replaced them who neglected prayer and followed passions. They shall come to perdition – except for whoever repents and believes, and acts righteously, for these will enter the Garden and not be harmed at all.’ Qur’an 19:59
  • Islam is based on five things: testimony that here is no Allah but Allah, and that Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam) is the Messenger of Allah; keeping up the formal prayer, paying alms, fast of Ramadan, and pilgrimage to the house for whoever is capable of the journey. (Bukhari)
  • Faith is a verbal declaration, consent by the heart, and action in accordance with the (five) pillars.
  • If moreover it is said, ‘He gets there by faith alone’, we reply: Yes, but when will he get there? How many difficult obstacles must he overcome before arriving? And the first of these obstacles is that of faith (itself) and will he be safe from the denial of faith or not, and when he arrives, will he be unsuccessful and destitute?

To be continued …


  • Subhanahu wa-ta’ala – Translated as “May He be praised and exalted” and is an honorific often said or written alongside Allah.
  • salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam – Translates as “peace be upon him” and is a conventionally complimentary phrase or durood attached to the names of the prophets in Islam.
  • ‘alayhi as-salam – Translates as “peace be upon him” and is a conventionally complimentary phrase or durood attached to the names of the prophets in Islam.
  • Radhiallahu ‘anhu –  An Arabic phrase meaning, “Allah is pleased with him.” This phrase is usually uttered by Muslims after a male Companion’s name.
  • RadhiAllahu ‘anha – An Arabic phrase meaning, “Allah is pleased with her.” This phrase is usually uttered by Muslims after a female Companion’s name.
  • RadhiAllahu ‘anh’um – Plural form.
  • salaam-o Allah alayha – this expression follows specifically after the name of historical Islamic women, e.g. Fatima, daughter of the Prophet, Asiya, wife of the Pharaoh and Mary, the mother of Jesus.

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