Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali
Abu Hamid Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tusi al-Shafi'i
al-Ghazali was born in 1058 A.D. in Khorasan, Iran. His father died
while he was still very young but he had the opportunity of getting
education in the prevalent curriculum at Nishapur and Baghdad.
Soon he acquired a high standard of scholarship in religion and
philosophy and was honoured by his appointment as a Professor
at the Nizamiyah University of Baghdad, which was recognised as
one of the most reputed institutions of learning in the golden era
of Muslim history.
After a few years, however, he gave up his academic pursuits
and worldly interests and became a wandering ascetic. This was a
process (period) of mystical transformation. Later, he resumed his
teaching duties, but again left these. An era of solitary life, devoted
to contemplation and writing then ensued, which led to the authorship of a number of everlasting books. He died in 1128 A.D. at
Ghazali's major contribution lies in religion, philosophy and
sufism. A number of Muslim philosophers had been following and
developing several viewpoints of Greek philosophy, including the
Neoplatonic philosophy, and this was leading to conflict with several
Islamic teachings. On the other hand, the movement of sufism
was assuming such excessive proportions as to avoid observance of
obligatory prayers and duties of Islam. Based on his unquestionable
scholarship and personal mystical experience, Ghazali sought to
rectify these trends, both in philosophy and sufism.
Page from the manuscript of Ihya' 'ulum al-din (Revival of the sciences of religion), Al-Ghazali's great masterpiece preserved in the Tunisian National Library in Tunis. Source Muslim Literary Society
In philosophy, Ghazali upheld the approach of mathematics and
exact sciences as essentially correct. However, he adopted the
techniques of Aristotelian logic and the Neoplatonic procedures and
employed these very tools to lay bare the flaws and lacunas of the
then prevalent Neoplatonic philosophy and to diminish the negative
influences of Aristotelianism and excessive rationalism. In contrast
to some of the Muslim philosophers, e.g., Farabi, he
inability of reason to comprehend the absolute and the infinite.
Reason could not transcend the finite and was limited to the observation of the relative. Also, several Muslim philosophers had held that
the universe was finite in space but infinite in time. Ghazali argued
that an infinite time was related to an infinite space. With his
clarity of thought and force of argument, he was able to create a
balance between religion and reason, and identified their respective
spheres as being the infinite and the finite, respectively.
In religion, particularly mysticism, he cleansed the approach
of sufism of its excesses and reestablished the authority of the orthodox religion. Yet, he stressed the importance of genuine sufism,
which he maintained was the path to attain the absolute truth.
He was a prolific writer. His immortal books include Tuhafut
al-Falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), Ihya al-'Ulum
al-Islamia (The Rivival of the Religious Sciences), The Beginning
of Guidance and his Autobiography, Deliverance from Error.
Some of his works were translated into European languages in the
Middle Ages. He also wrote a summary of astronomy.
Ghazali's influence was deep and everlasting. He is one of the
greatest theologians of Islam. His theological doctrines penetrated
Europe, influenced Jewish and Christian Scholasticism and several
of his arguments seem to have been adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas
in order to similarly reestablish the authority of orthodox Christian
religion in the West. So forceful was his argument in the favour of
religion that he was accused of damaging the cause of philosophy
and, in the Muslim Spain, Ibn Rushd (Averros) wrote a rejoinder to his Tuhafut.
This page last updated 10/11/2009 12:39 p.m.