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Al Ghazali Festival - A Phenomenal Success

About 1000 people attended the Al Ghazali Festival that was held from the 17-27 October, a series of three events: a workshop, conference and book expo at the Al Ghazali College in Erasmia, Pretoria; the Qurtuba Islamic Academy in Johannesburg; the Orient School in Durban and the Islamic College in Cape Town.

The workshop focused on a unique curriculum for children based on the Ihya Ulum-ud-Deen of Imam Al Ghazali which is an adaptation of his teaching in story form. Sr Virginia Gray Henry from Fons Vitae (USA), who is the director and publisher of this series of books, conducted the workshop where she explained how this unique curriculum can be implemented at home and at schools.

She explained that the aim of the Ghazali Children’s books is to support children in their ability to recognize and maintain their innate human dignity, in becoming aware of their True Selves and in identifying with this pure aspect of their being rather than with the lower, false, egoic and separative nature which is centered on itself (al-nafs al-ammara). It focuses on a child’s spirituality which hitherto was never taught to our children in this manner as explained by Al Ghazali. By using this curriculum, they will become self-observant and self-correcting, in that they take responsibility for their thoughts, words and actions. She explained how the 4 books are arranged and how each book has a workbook with various activities. There is an interactive website where people upload their activities, videos, etc., thereby creating an international platform for sharing. More than 130 pilot schools are now using the curriculum from Indonesia to the US.

The speakers at the conferences aside from Sr Gray were Sh Sharif Hasan Al-Banna (UK) and Sh Hamza Maqbul (US) who shared their insights on the works of Imam Al Ghazali by reflecting on his teachings and explored how we can imbibe his teachings in our daily lives.

Sh Sharif focused on the Ghazalian approach to personal transformation in a very professional, inspiring and motivational presentation. He spoke on the unique personality of Imam Ghazali who is regarded as the ‘Proof of Islam’, a genius and polymath and one of the greatest and most influential Islamic scholar to have ever lived. He then went on to explain the 7 steps to personal transformation, viz. scepticism & doubt, ambition, self-discovery, migration (hijra), seclusion (khalwa), self-critique, and sincerity.

Sh Hamza Maqbul spoke on one of the most famous of Imam Ghazali’s books Ay-u-halWalad (Dear Beloved Son), where he gives a list of advices to his disciples. In this moving talk the Shaykh touched on a few of Ghazali’s advices and emphasised most importantly that there is no value in acquiring knowledge if it is not applied and practised upon. Knowledge must become a lived experience.

Ebrahim Rasool opened the Cape Town conference in Cape Town reminding the audience on how Islam survived under extremely difficult conditions in the Cape during the Dutch period of enslaving Muslims in the Cape, how Islam survived and prospered in spite of such oppressive conditions. He acknowledged the resilience of these Muslims and in particular because they were many learned scholars and leaders among them. However, he lamented on the deep concern he has on the identity of Muslims in the Cape despite this survival. He expressed concern that we are doubting our selves and we have become victims of hate speech from the radio stations and mimbars. He therefore felt that we need a dose of Ghazali’s teachings, who can teach us how we can be true to ourselves. He also expressed the need to take this curriculum to schools and madrassas and in particular to the youth so that they know what it is to be Muslim.

Sh Seraj Hendricks addressed the Cape Town conference where he spoke on Imam Al Ghazali’s Epistemology: An Islamic Perspective. He explored Imam Al Ghazali’s conceptualization and categorization of Knowledge (‘Ilm). He presented a framework that would enable one to navigate the wisdom and ideas of Al Ghazali in a deeper and more systematic way. The two major areas of interest on this topic – but not to the exclusion of a number of other categories – was the exposition of the concepts al-‘Ulum al-Shar’iyyah (The Sacred Sciences) and al-‘Ulum al-‘Aqliyyah (The Intellectual or Rational Sciences).

For the book expo over 25 titles of Imam Ghazali’s works were on display and sold at very reasonable prices.