Asceticism: Experiences and Thoughts of Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali and Francis of Assisi

Title: Asceticism (Experiences and Thoughts of Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali and Francis of Assisi)

Author: A. Kemal Riza (CRCS, 2005)



This thesis analyzes the detail of the concept of asceticism through the life and thought of two prominent persons of medieval period from different religious tradition in order to the relevance of asceticism and its applicability today. Abu Hamid al-Ghazali is an outstanding personality in the history of Islam who embarks on his mystical endeavor as an ascetic. Likewise, Francis of Assisi shocked the establishment of Catholic Church with his sheer asceticism. This comparative research is important because so many people nowadays consider asceticism, which was a religious virtue, no longer contextual. At the very least, they demand reinterpretation and redefinition. This belief is understandable at the first glance because the simple definition of asceticism is otherworldliness. However, when analyzed thoroughly, it turned out that asceticism has many configurations, gradations, and nuances.


This thesis is a library-based research. The main source is writings in form of biographical accounts and thoughts of the aforementioned persons. The comparison of the two persons is conducted by comparing the history of Islam in the East and its counterpart in Christian West. Likewise, their ideas on asceticism are discussed in the framework of their history. The findings then are analyzed to determine the relevance of asceticism and its application today in the Indonesian context. This thesis discovers that as a phenomenon in almost all religions, distinctions can be made between one tradition to another. Such an assertion is also valid in case of al-Ghazali and Francis of Assisi. On the other side of story, like any history of ideas, external factor is contributory to the outcome. Thus, al- Ghazali’s and Francis of Assisi’s religious experience and social and political situations contribute dearly in shaping their ascetical concept and practice. It is no surprise that many scholars nowadays are on the opinion of the obsoleteness of asceticism, or at least they recommend different kind of asceticism. Nonetheless, there are minimal similarities among religions on asceticism. Moreover, modern humankind is now facing social and political situations in which asceticism grew at the first instance. To cut story short, asceticism remains relevant today. For this regard, al-Ghazali and Francis of Assisi had proposed solutions by practicing different gradations of asceticism depending on own situation and potential.

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