Good deeds in Christianity and Islam : comparing the perspectives of Augustine and al-Ghazālī

2017-10-10T05:41:44Z (GMT) by Abd Rahman, Mohd Rosmizi
This research examines and compares the attitudes towards good deeds taken by two great thinkers of Latin Christianity and Sunni Islam, namely, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) and Imām Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī al-al-Ṭūsī (1058-1111 CE / 450-505 AH). Both thinkers address the issue in their own unique and profound ways, with a strong focus on the inner dimension of good deeds. However, their spiritual insights into the issue have not really been studied comparatively. This research focuses on their thoughts about the nature, significance, and inner dimension of good deeds, employing descriptive, analytic, and comparative methods. The scope of this research is divided into two main parts. The first part offers a general analysis of the concepts of good deeds in relation to religious faith as addressed and understood in both Christianity and Islam, and it attempts to establish their significance in both religions. The second part scrutinises some relevant issues in depth that are related to the attitudes of Augustine and al-Ghazālī towards good deeds. It covers their responses to particular interpretations and controversies, their understandings of the nature and significance of good deeds, and most importantly, their insights into the inner dimension of such actions. Augustine and al-Ghazali were each formulating their reflections on the subject within the framework of their religious traditions at a time of great controversy and debate on the subject within each of their traditions. While neither offers the last word on the subject within their religious traditions, they both focus on an inner dimension of good deeds in a way that deserves attention from Muslims and Christians alike. Indeed, both offer a sophisticated way of understanding and performing good deeds. They address their inner meaning and either directly or indirectly reveal some inner preconditions that need to be observed in performing good deeds. They believe that an appropriate balance between their outward and inward observance is an essential requirement in transforming good deeds from dry understanding and mere outward practices—as exhibited in pure ritualism and legalism—to spiritually fruitful ones. Thus, their insights are not only useful in improving the quality of good deeds, but they also pave a way for a personal spiritual transformation in returning to God, and establishing an intimate relationship with Him.