Al-Ghazali



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Fast Facts
Al-Ghazali.jpg
Other Names and Nicknames: 
Abu Hāmed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazzālī
Function: 
Mystic
Traditions: 
Sufism, Islam
Main Countries of Activity: 
Persia
Date of Birth: 
1058
Place of Birth: 
Tus, Persia
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
No
Date Left His/Her Body: 
1111
Ancestor Gurus: 

Biography

Abu Hāmed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazzālī, known as Algazel to the western medieval world, born and died in Tus, in the Khorasan province of Persia (modern day Iran) was a Persian Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic.

Ghazali has sometimes been referred to by historians as the single most influential Muslim after the Prophet Muhammad. Besides his work that successfully changed the course of Islamic philosophy—the early Islamic Neoplatonism developed on the grounds of Hellenistic philosophy, for example, was so successfully refuted by Ghazali that it never recovered—he also brought the orthodox Islam of his time in close contact with Sufism. The orthodox theologians still went their own way, and so did the mystics, but both developed a sense of mutual appreciation which ensured that no sweeping condemnation could be made by one for the practices of the other.

Al-Ghazali was born in 1058 in Tus, a city in Khorasan province of Persia. His father, a traditional sufi, died when he and his younger brother, Ahmad Ghazali, were still young. One of their father's friends took care of them for the next few years. Later in 1070, Ghazali and his brother went to Gurgan to get enrolled in a madrassah. There, he studied fiqh (islamic jurisprudence) next to Ahmad ibn Muhammad Rādkānī and Abu'l Qāsim Jurjānī. Approximately after 7 years of studying, he returned to Tus.

His first important trip to Nishapur occurred around 1080 when he was almost 23 years old. He became the student of the famous muslim scholar Abu'l Ma'ālī Juwaynī, known as Imam al-Haramayn. After the death of Al-Juwayni in 1085, Al-Ghazālī was invited to go to the court of Nizamul Mulk Tusi, the powerful vizier of the Seljuq sultans. The vizier was so impressed by Al-Ghazali's scholarship that in 1091 he appointed him as chief professor in the Nizamiyya of Baghdad. He used to lecture to more than 300 students, and his participations in Islamic debates and discussions made him popular in all over the Islamic territories.

He passed through a spiritual crisis in 1095 and abandoned his career and left Baghdad on the pretext of going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Making arrangements for his family, he disposed of his wealth and adopted the life of a poor Sufi. After some time in Damascus and Jerusalem, with a visit to Medina and Mecca in 1096, he settled in Tus to spend the next several years in seclusion. He ended his seclusion for a short lecturing period at the Nizamiyyah of Nishapur in 1106. Later he returned to Tus where he remained until his death in December, 1111. He had one son named Abdu'l Rahman Allam.

Sources: 
Wikipedia

Teachings

Ghazali had an important influence on both Muslim philosophers and Christian medieval philosophers. Margaret Smith writes in her book Al-Ghazali: The Mystic (London 1944): "There can be no doubt that Al-Ghazali’s works would be among the first to attract the attention of these European scholars" (page 220). Then she emphasizes, "The greatest of these Christian writers who was influenced by Al-Ghazali was St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), who made a study of the Arabic writers and admitted his indebtedness to them. He studied at the University of Naples where the influence of Arab literature and culture was predominant at the time."

Ghazali's influence has been compared to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas in Christian theology, but the two differed greatly in methods and beliefs. Whereas Ghazali rejected non-Islamic philosophers such as Aristotle and saw it fit to discard their teachings on the basis of their "unbelief," Aquinas embraced them and incorporated ancient Greek and Latin thought into his own philosophical writings.

"A careful study of Ghazali's works will indicate how penetrating and widespread his influence was on the Western medieval scholars. A case in point is the influence of Ghazali on St. Thomas Aquinas — who studied the works of Islamic philosophers, especially Ghazali's, at the University of Naples. In addition, Aquinas' interest in Islamic studies could be attributed to the infiltration of ‘Latin Averroism’ in the 13th century, especially at [the University of] Paris."

Ghazali also played a very major role in integrating Sufism with Shariah. He combined the concepts of Sufism very well with the Shariah laws. He was also the first to present a formal description of Sufism in his works. His works also strengthened the status of Sunnite Islam against other schools. The Batinite (Ismailism) had emerged in Persian territories and were gaining more and more power during Ghazali's period, as Nizam al-Mulk was assassinated by the members of Ismailis. Ghazali strictly refuted their ideology and wrote several books on refutation of Baatinyas which significantly weakened their status.

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Books & Media

Recommended Books: 
Cover image

The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife: Book XL of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ghazali Series, Bk. 40)

by Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali

(Paperback)

This is the first English translation of the last chapter of Al-Ghazali's Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din), widely regarded as the greatest work of Muslim spirituality. After expounding his Sufi philosophy of death and showing the importance of the contemplation of human mortality to the mystical way of self-purification, Ghazali takes his readers through the stages of the future life: the vision of the Angels of the Grave, the Resurrection, the Intercession of the Prophet, and finally, the torments of Hell, the delights of Paradise and—for the elect—the beatific vision of God's Countenance.