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Imam Al-Ghazali on Desire and Deviance July 14, 2009

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Advice, Concepts, Islam.

Below are snippets we deemed instructive. You are highly recommended to benefit from the whole book.

Short excerpts from Al-Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali’s Ihya’ ‘Ulum ad-Deen
Adapted from translation by T.J. Winter published by the Islamic Texts Society

Excerpt 1

The [sexual] desire, which is the greatest of all desires, is susceptible to excess, defect and equilibrium. Excess obtains when the intellect is overcome, so that a man’s concern is so distracted towards [sexual matters] that he is unable to tread the path of the Afterlife; or it may overcome a man’s religion, so that he is drawn into obscene activities.
This may become so extreme in some cases that two foul habits are acquired:
(1) He may partake of something which makes him desire sex more often… This resembles nothing so much as a man tormented by savage beasts and snakes which sleep from time to time, but which he finds methods of awakening and arousing, and then has to make his peace with. For the desires for food and sex are in reality pains, which a man would rather be free of so as to gain another form of delight. […]
(2) In the case of some misguided people, this desire may end in amorous passion (‘ishq), which constitutes utter ignorance of the intended purpose of sexual congress, and a descent to a level lower than that of the animals. For such people are not content merely to gratify their lust, which is the unsightliest of all desires and the one of which a man should most be embarrassed, but instead believe that their lust can only be satisfied by one particular person.
[This infatuation] heaps abasement upon abasement, and enslavement upon enslavement, until their intellects are subordinated to the service of their cravings, even though the intellect has been created to be obeyed, not to obey desires and devise means of gratifying them!
Amorous passion is nothing but a wellspring of excessive sexual desire, and is the disease of an empty and unconcerned heart. One should be on one’s guard against its preliminaries by abstaining from repeated glances and thoughts. Otherwise, it will take firm hold of one and be difficult to shake off. […]
To break the power of ‘ishq in its early stages is like pulling at the reins of a riding-beast when it heads for a gate it would like to enter: to rein it back is a very easy thing. On the other hand, to treat such passion after it has taken hold of one is like letting the beast go in, and then catching it by its tail and pulling it from behind: a much more difficult task. One should therefore take precautions at the onset of these things, for later they can only be treated with an effort so intense as almost to lead to death.
[…] Sexual desire is a praiseworthy thing when it stands in a state of equilibrium, obedient to the intellect and the Law in all its movements. Whenever it becomes excessive, it should be broken with hunger and marriage. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “O young men! You should marry, and whosoever cannot should fast, for fasting is a restrainer of desire.”


Excerpt 2

Now, it may also be the case that a man is able to keep his eyes from women, but not from adolescent boys [whose clean faces may resemble women], and for him too it is better that he marry. For the case of boys is more damaging, since if a man’s heart inclines to a woman he may at least render her lawful to him by marrying her.

To look with desire at the face of a boy is forbidden; in fact, everyone whose heart is affected by the form of handsome boys to the extent that he senses that they are different from bearded adults, is forbidden to look at them. […]

  • Followers (tabi’oon) said, “A wild lion is less to be feared in the case of a youth given to worship than his sitting with an adolescent boy.”
  • Sufyan remarked, “If a man so much as plays with two toes of a boy for the sake of lust, he is a sodomite.”
  • One of the Predecessors (salaf) said, “There shall be three kinds of sodomites in this nation: those who look, those who hold hands, and those who act.”

[The translator notes: Ghazali is here echoing the concerns of other sober mystics of his tradition, such as Qushayri (Risala, 744-5), who were alarmed by what seems to have been a widespread and unnatural interest in ahdaath, male teenagers present at Sufi gatherings. The shaahid, the youth whose beauty bears witness to the beauty of the Divine, is nonetheless one of the commonest and most ambivalent figures of Persian mystical literature.]

Rasheed notes: I included this excerpt to show the subject’s treatment by a leading classical Sufi scholar. I know it is subject to abuse by people wishing to mock Muslims, or to claim that homosexuality was “accepted in Islam”, while it is not even true that it was widespread in Muslim societies. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that it was a matter discussed in Imam Al-Ghazali’s book.



1. yasir abdulkhaliq - July 26, 2010

well chosen, ……………. these excrepts show the real genius of imam in comprehending the most complex logics of this mammoth issue of the day

Rasheed Eldin - July 28, 2010

Thank you Yasir, a little positive feedback encourages us to do more.

2. Imran - November 24, 2013

Today I came to know about Imam Ghazali’s genius and while searching for his art and work, I here, good article, well proposed and wisely chosen… good work Rasheed

JazakAllah Khair

3. Debating Homosexuality - mosaicversemosaicverse - July 20, 2015

[…] classical scholars like Abu Hamid al-Ghazali describe, according to Islamic metaphysics, no amount of indulgence of a desire can lead to complete […]

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