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Al-Ghazali

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Haruniyeh tomb, named after . The present structure, located in , was probably built in the 13th century. The great Sufi Sheikh Imam Mohammad  is also buried here.
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Haruniyeh tomb, named after Harun al-Rashid. The present structure, located in Tus, was probably built in the 13th century. The great Sufi Sheikh Imam Mohammad Ghazali is also buried here.
Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali (born 1058 in Tus, Khorasan province of Persia, modern day Iran, died 1111 in Tus) was a Muslim theologian and philosopher, known as Algazel to the western medieval world. Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, or al-Ghazzali as he is written sometimes.
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His life

Al-Ghazali is one of the greatest jurists, theologians and mystical thinkers in the Islamic tradition. Ghazali began his studies in Nishapur being taught by al-Juwayni (d. 1085), who not only held a chair in Shafi law, but was sponsored by the vizier Nizam al-Mulk (d. 1092) who was one of the most powerful men of his day. Ghazali's initial love was therefore for Islamic law. And thus early on in his career he excelled as a lecturer in Shafi jurisprudence. Having been noted for his outstanding abilities, Nizam al-Mulk, following the death of al-Juwayni, appointed him head of the Nizamiyyah College at Baghdad in 1091. As a lecturer until 1095 Ghazali managed to attract literally hundreds of scholars, demonstrating his extensive contemporary popularity. He was the scholar per excellence in the Islamic world. His audience also included scholars from other schools of jurisprudence. This position won him prestige, wealth and respect that even princes and viziers could not match. He thus was justifiably referred to as Hujjat-ul Islam ('The Testimony of Islam').

Only four years after being appointed to the head of the Nizamiyyah College, however, Ghazali underwent a spiritual crisis that was to completely overhaul his theological perspective. Having provided for his family, he thus renounced his position, and worldly possessions and left Baghdad. He left for Damascus, where he lived in seclusion in the city's principle minaret, and then on to Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock, and Hebron. He went on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in 1096 and subsequently travelled widely to Baghdad and Egypt and many other places. Finally he returned to his hometown of Tus. During this time Ghazali had written his most important work, Ihya ulum al-din (The Revivication of the Religious Sciences), which again immediately singled him out as the most important theologians of the day. He ended his seclusion for a short lecturing period, at the behest of Fakhr al-Mulk, the vizer of the Seljuk ruler of Khorasan, at the Nizamiyyah of Tus in 1106. Here he wrote his autobiography al-Munqidh min al-dalal. Here he remained until his death in December, 1111.

Ghazali, throughout his life, also identified himself with the Asharite kalam. This identification is bolstered by the fact that his teacher, al-Juwayni, was also in his lifetime a leading master of Asharite kalam. And this association affected much of his theological output. This is evidenced in his 11th century book the "Incoherence of the Philosophers" which marks a major turn in Islamic epistemology, as Ghazali effectively discovered philosophical skepticism that would not be commonly seen in the West until George Berkeley and David Hume in the 18th century. The encounter with skepticism led Ghazali to embrace a form of theological occasionalism, or the belief that all causal events and interactions are not the product of material conjunctions but rather the immediate and present will of Allah, the Islamic divine being. The logical consequence of this belief in practice, and an outcome that has developed in part from it over the subsequent centuries, is a turn towards fundamentalism in many Islamic societies.

The Incoherence also marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its vehement rejections of Aristotle and Plato. The book took aim at the falasifa, a loosely defined group of Islamic philosophers from the 8th through the 11th centuries (most notable among them Ibn Sina (Avicenna)) who drew intellectually upon the Ancient Greeks. Ghazali bitterly denounced Aristotle, Socrates and other Greek writers as non-believers and labelled those who employed their methods and ideas as corrupters of the Islamic faith.

The supposition that Ghazali was in fact and Asharite and anti-philosophical has, however, been contested (no more vigorously than by Ibn Rushd (Averroes), in his bitterly entitled Incoherence of the Incoherence). The conclusion of several scholars is that Ghazali was in fact a crypto-Avicennan philosopher and was simply using the orthodoxy of Asharism for careerist reasons. Indeed it is apparent that although Ghazali refutes the falasifa he does so on their own terms, by employing philosophical models of his own. Some of his other works, most notably The Niche of Lights, does in fact display a definite affinity for the rational faculty, which would seem to suggest that Ghazali did not necessarily give faith primacy over reason. It is, however, clear that Ghazali self-identified as an Asharite throughout his life, and also that by the time Ghazali's writing that Asharite theology was appreciably more rationalistic than it had been at its inception, 120 years before Ghazali's birth. Therefore although it has often been assumed that with Ibn Rushd's funeral the truly philosophical elements of Islamic culture died, it is clear that on closer inspection it is perhaps more sensible to look for these philosophical traits within the tradition of Asharite theology.

This debate does, however, seem to fade into insignificance, on the realisation of Ghazali’s eventual association to the Sufi way of thinking. His adoption of Sufism in the later stages of life seems to indicate, as Ghazali himself professes, that this mystical path was in fact the only verifiable way of coming to terms with the divine presence. His conclusion, as it appears in his autobiography (al-Mustafa min ‘ilm al-usul), seems to suggest that Ghazali found fault with both a purely faith based approach and a purely rationalistic approach. The problem was that neither of these two could ratify the other, for they were essentially separated functions. Ghazali therefore turned to an ecstatic (fana) and mystical approach to engage with the divine, which he thought transcended both of these and enabled the individual Sufi traveller to ‘taste’ the divine union – and therefore to experience annihilation of self-hood in the presence of God. Ghazali was thus instrumental in allowing Sufism to become part of the mainstream Islamic tradition.

Then at the end of his life, Al-Ghazali came back to the beliefs of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah. He focused on the Qur’an and Sunnah and condemned ‘ilm al-kalaam and its proponents. He advised the ummah to come back to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and to act in accordance with them, as was the way of the Sahabah. After that he came back to the path of the scholars of hadeeth, and wrote Iljaam al-‘Awwaam ‘an ‘Ilm al-Kalaam.

A glance at Iljaam al-‘Awwaam ‘an ‘Ilm al-Kalaam will prove to us that he had indeed changed in many ways:

1 – In this book he advocated the belief of the salaf, and pointed out that the way of the salaf was the truth, and that whoever went against them was an innovator or follower of bid’ah.

2 – He emphatically denounced ta’weel (interpretation of the attributes of Allaah in a manner that differs from their apparent meaning). He advocated affirming the attributes of Allaah and not misinterpreting them in a manner that would lead to denying the attributes of Allaah.

3 – He emphatically denounced the scholars of ‘ilm al-kalaam and described all their principles and standards as “reprehensible innovations” which had harmed a great number of people and created trouble for the Muslims. He said: “The harm caused to a great number of people is something that has been seen, witnessed and experienced. The evil that has resulted since ‘ilm al-kalaam began has become widespread even though people at the time of the Sahaabah forbade that. This is also indicated by the fact that the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and the Sahaabah, by consensus, did not follow the way of the scholars of ‘ilm al-kalaam when they produced arguments and evidence and analysis. That was not because they were incapable of doing so; if they had thought that was something good, they would have done it in the best manner, and they would have studied the matter hard, more than they did with regard to the division of the estate among the heirs (al-faraa’id).”

He also said, 'The Sahaabah (may Allaah be pleased with them) needed to prove the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) to the Jews and Christians, but they did not add anything to the evidence of the Qur’aan; they did not resort to arguments or lay down philosophical principles. That was because they knew that doing so would provoke trouble and cause confusion. Whoever is not convinced by the evidence of the Qur’aan will not be convinced by anything other than the sword, for there is no proof after the proof of Allaah.'

Although Al-Ghazali delved into different fields of Islamic thought and philosophy, it is clear that by the end of his life he repented from it all. Still may Sufis honour him as a great scholar and thinker, despite his refutation and abandonment of Sufism as the right way. We may never be sure what influenced these changes in him, but we can be sure that throughout his life he was a great intelectual thinker and scholar.

Works

Islamic theology

  • al-Munqidh min al-dalal, "Deliverance from Error"
  • al-1qtisad fi'I-i`tiqad
  • al-Risala al-Qudsiyya
  • Kitab al-arba?in fi usul al-din
  • Mizan al-?amal

Sufism

  • Ihya ?ulum al-din, "The revival of the religious sciences", Ghazali's most important work
  • Kimiya?-yi sa?adat, "The Alchemy of Happiness"
  • Mishkat al-anwar, "The Niche of Lights"

Islamic philosophy

Fiqh

  • al-Mustasfa min ?ilm al-usul

Logic

  • Mi?yar al-?ilm (The Standard Measure of Knowledge)
  • al-Qistas al-mustaqim (The Just Balance)
  • Mihakk al-nazar f'l-mantiq (The Touchstone of Proof in Logic)

Literature

  • Laoust, H: La politique de Gazali, 1970
  • Campanini, M.: Al-Ghazzali, in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman, History of Islamic Philosophy 1996
  • Watt, W M.: Muslim Intellectual: A Study of al-Ghazali, Edinburgh 1963
  • Marmura: Al-Ghazali The Incoherence of the Philosophers, (2nd ed.). Brigham: Printing Press. ISBN 0-8425-2466-5.
  • Frank, Richard: Al-Ghazali and the Asharite School, London, 1994

Quotations

From 'The Way of The Sufi' by Idris Shah:

  • Possessions - You possess only whatever will not be lost in a shipwreck.
  • Gain and Loss - I should like to know what a man who has no knowledge has really gained, and what a man of knowledge has not gained.

External links

  • Al-Ghazali Web Site (http://www.ghazali.org) (really good site, has links to almost all of Ghazali's work avaliable online)
  • Full text of The Alchemy of Happiness (http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/tah/) tr. Claud Field, 1909.

See also

fr:Al-Ghazali gl:Al-Ghazali id:Al-Ghazali ja:ガザーリー

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