The Seven Planetary Heavens played a great part in Platonic, Neoplatonic, and Gnostic-theosophical schemes. The naive adoption by Mohammed (in the Koran) of the Ptolemaic celestial construction was one of the things which added picturesqueness to early Mohammedan tradition and theology; caused endless trouble to generations of later theologians; made it easier for Neoplatonic ideas to graft themselves on to Islam; gave to the raptures of the Mystics sensuous form and greater definition; and afforded to the Philosophers a line of defence, and even of attack, in their war with the Theologians. And the allusions of the Koran were heavily reinforced by the legend of the Mirâj, the exact origin of which is obscure, but which appears in a highly developed form almost from the first. The influences of the Mi`râj are indeed evident in page after page of the Mishkât.
Al-Ghazzâlî's sympathies in regard to this subject were divided. He disliked the Philosophers,
[1. See the Vision of Er in the Republic, bk. X.
2. See Averroes' Ki tab al Kashf an manâhij al adillâ, quoted above on p. 11, note 2.]
and this made him displeased with their confident assertions about the Heavens, while he detested the "philosophical" profit to which they put them. On the other hand, he was a Sûfî and thus in closest touch with persons who made very similar assertions about the Heavens, and also put them to profit in their own way. Finally, he was an Ash`arite Theologian, belonging to a school which had recently, after much trouble, eliminated from theology the dangerous ideas to which Mohammed's naive attitude to the Heavens, had given rise.
This uncertainty of touch comes out, as, might be expected, in a treatise like al-Mishkât with its blend of scholasticism and Neoplatonically-tinctured mysticism. The Heavens figure continually in its pages. They seem to play a most important part both in thought and in experience--towards the close of the book a determining part. Yet it is impossible to make. out exactly what that part was, in the mind of al-Ghazzâlî himself.
On p.  we have a correlation of the human microcosm and the macrocosm of the
celestial realm, Ptolemaically construed, in describing the Ascension of a God-united soul. The, adept's body-and-soul structure is conceived of as subsisting in three planes or Spheres, which are correlated with the three lower spheres of the Seven Planetary Heavens. From the highest of these (the Intelligence) the soul takes its departure and ascends through the four upper Heavens (ila saba`i tabaqât) to the Throne [beyond the outermost Heaven]. Thus he "fills all things"' by his upward Ascent just as Allâh did by His downward Descent (nuzûl). In all this the pronoun "he" stands for the soul who is now Allâh-possessed and united, as described in what immediately precedes. It is the upward ascent of Allah (corresponding to His nuzûl illa-l samâ'i-l dunyâ), and not of the Adept only.
On the other hand, in p. , this Ascent is described in purely psychological terms, without this schema of the Heavens. And on p.  we have the following: "Do not imagine that I mean by the World Supernal the World of the [Seven] Heavens, though they are 'above' in respect of part of our world of sense-perception.
These Heavens are equally present to our apprehension and that of the lower animals. But a man finds the doors of the Realm Celestial closed to him, neither does be become of or belonging to that Realm (mala-kûtî), unless this earth to him 'be changed into that which is not earth; and likewise the heavens;' . . . and his 'heaven' come to be all that transcends his sense. This is the first Ascension for every Pilgrim who has set out on his Progress to the nearness of the Presence Dominical." And he continues: "The Angels ... are part of the World of the Realm Celestial, floating even in the Presence of the Transcendence, whence they gaze down upon our world inferior.
The last lines hardly give us the same ultra-spiritualizing impression which is conveyed by their predecessors. And, as we have already seen (Introduction, pp. 12-17), the part played by the Spheres with their Angels in the last section of the book is decisive, and there does not seem to be there any spiritualizing whatever.
[1. S. 14, 48.]
How far, therefore, these passages are mere word-play, pious picturesqueness, or how far they represent speculation of a rather far-reaching character, is one of the puzzles of the book. In the Tahâfut, demolishing the arrogant claim of the Philosophers to prove their doctrine of the Spheres by syllogistic demonstration (burhân), he said: "The secrets of The Kingdom are not to be scanned by means of such fantastic imaginations as these; Allâh gives none but His Prophets and Saints (anbiyâ' and awliyâ') to scan them, and that by inspiration, not by demonstration." So then there were mysteries and secrets in regard to the Spheres. In the Mishkât we are able to see pretty clearly that Ghazzâlî had his; but we are not able to see just what they were. He has kept this secret well.
Answering Islam Home Page