Abu Humaid Al-Ghazali is one of the most prominent and influential philosophers, theologians and jurists in Islamic history. He was born in northern Persia, in a small city by the name of Tus in the 11th century, 1058 AD (449 AH). Al-Ghazali lived through the Abbasid Caliphate, the Fatimid Caliphate, the Seljuk Empire, and the First Crusades. He wrote several books regarding philosophy, ethics and spiritual studies. A few of his most prominent works include “The Revival of Religious Sciences”, “The Incoherence of Philosophers” and “The Alchemy of Happiness”. It was from his works that a generation of pious, virtuous and moral men such Saladin were brought up. I would like to discuss his book “The Revival of Religious Sciences”, in specifically a topic that’s very dear to my heart, and that’s food.
Every being on this planet is humbled and weakened by the need to eat and drink. It is what makes us beings that are dependent on the Creator. There is not one creature on this planet that does not require eating or drinking in any form or way. However, although the earth is rich, there are many of those who end up starving and dying from lack of food and water. According to Bread of The World organization, there are approximately 805 million people starving as of 2014. It is just that those who were given the privilege of meals should be grateful to it. How many times have we fallen victim to throwing out leftovers of food only because we were too full, didn’t like it or wanted more. For those who know me, know that I am not an exception to such act, for I too lack the necessary appreciation and gratitude to the blessing we have. I love food, all of its kind, from green salads to creamy ice creams, however I realized that I too must grow and develop my morals and actions like that of which Al-Ghazali states.
In Al-Ghazali’s book “The Revival of Religious Sciences” he has a whole chapter relating to the manners of eating. This specific chapter of the book is broken down into different four sections. The first section talks about the codes of conduct that a person goes through when eating alone, before food is served, during the meal, and when the meal is over. The second section regards the manners and etiquettes one should learn when eating in company. The third section is mentions the manners to adopt when one is presenting and serving food to a guest. Lastly, the fourth section is regarding the manners of hospitality and legal prohibitions in ones meal and to ones guest. Those four sections make up the manners and responsibilities of eating.
However, before that it is interesting to understand why Al-Ghazali might have wrote this chapter of the book, and why is it that he considered it important enough that it should be in a book. Al-Ghazali lived through an era, and geographical location that was home to several civilizations. The city of Tus lay in one of the first civilizations in Human history, the Babylonian empire, followed by the Persian Empire and then the Abbasid and Seljuk empires. In my opinion, the reason as to why Al-Ghazali saw it important that he writes the codes of conduct to eating was that he was living at the crossroad of major events and empires. With the dominance of the Abbasid and the Fatimid caliphate, in addition to the establishment of the Seljuk Empire and the initiation of the first crusades, food was extremely important. Geographically, Tus is located within a highland forest topography that is well known for its rich soil and its historic production of wheat to its empires. Although there is no evidence I can find which may explain drought and famine during the time of Al-Ghazali, however, I believe that Al-Ghazali wrote such conducts and values because he saw an increase of agriculture and food. What makes a civilization but a surplus of food and agriculture? When states are able to produce and sustain a surplus of food, they start developing into empires and civilizations. Al-Ghazali saw that many in the region started to live in abundance and that they soon started to eat in pleasure and not necessity. Note that this shift of human behavior that diverts us from eating to live to living to eat is of great importance. It changes our behavior towards the way we see food, for surly there is a reason why one of the seven deadliest sins is gluttony. When we start to forget that food is a necessity rather than pleasure, we tend to consume it more, thus widening the social gaps between classes and leaving more people in hunger and poverty.
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