About one thousand years ago, a student of the great Imam Al-Ghazali asked him to summarize his most celebrated work: The Revival of Religious Sciences (Ihya Ulum Al Din). His forty-volume commentary on Muslim spirituality gained a fitting introduction when he wrote this summary. White Thread Press published the complete Arabic text with English translation in 2005 as The Beginning of Guidance (Bidayat Al-Hidaya).
The Beginning of Guidance is a book about the etiquettes of everyday life. Its three sections highlights a series of actions that help readers turn closer to God. Our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said the most weighted deed on the Day of Judgment is good manners (Abu Dawud & At-Tirmidhi), and Imam Al-Ghazali used this mindset to prepare students for knowledge.
My first encounter with the Ihya was at a retreat last summer in the heart of Muslim America (Flint and Detroit, Michigan). Few people I knew then read Imam Al-Ghazali’s writings and I wanted tips before joining the endeavour. I asked about it, and Mufti Hussain Kamani said, “We shouldn’t even be touching the Ihya before studying its preface.”
This introduction to the rest of his work makes the purpose of learning clear: through obedience, refraining from disobedience, and the etiquette of companionship with the Creator and creation we can use the knowledge of our day to day lives to develop sincerity. We can use each section of the book to be God-conscious.
In part one, Imam Al-Ghazali describes what we can do from the moment we wake to when we sleep that helps us make the most of our days. He then transitions to the second part by organizing acts of disobedience with each limb that can commit them (eyes, ears, mouth, etc.). Having established a standard on how to treat the self, Imam Al-Ghazali then wrote the third and final part of the book on etiquettes of relationships: between human and God, teacher and student, child and parent, and even the etiquette of treating people you don’t know.
You don’t have to be the proverbial student of knowledge to benefit from this book. Mufti Kamani quoted his teacher when he explained that the book’s purpose is to make a human of a human (in Urdu, “insan ko insan banna hai”). The book provides counsel based in the prophetic tradition and duas that add blessing to your actions. The Beginning of Guidance gives motivation and an action plan for anyone who wishes to spend time wisely. It made me want to be more accountable for my every day.
As Imam Al-Ghazali wrote, “Your time is your life, and your life is your capital: by it you make trade, and by it you will reach the eternal bounties in the proximity of God. Every single breath of yours is a priceless jewel, because it is irreplaceable; once it is gone, there is no return for it.”
We can use The Beginning of Guidance to remind ourselves of where our days will take us: “Do not rejoice except in an increase of knowledge or an increase of good works. Truly they are your two friends who will accompany you in your grave, when your spouse, your wealth, your children, and your friends will remain behind.”
 The Beginning of Guidance, pg. 60