GHAZALI, ABU HAMID MUHAMMAD b. Muhammad Tusi (450-505/1058-1111), one of the greatest systematic Persian thinkers of medieval Islam and a prolific Sunni author on the religious sciences (Islamic law, philosophy, theology, and mysticism) in Saljuq times.
i. Biography. ii. The Ihya’ `ulum al-din. iii. The Kimia-ye sa`adat. See KIMIAH-YE SA`AHDAT. iv. Minor Persian works. v. As a faqih. vi. And theology. vii. And the Batienis. viii. Impact on Islamic thought. See Supplement. i. BIOGRAPHY
A man of Persian descent, Ghazali (variant name Ghazzali; Med. Latin form, Algazel; honorific title, Hojjat-al-Islam “The Proof of Islam”), was born at Tus in Khorasan in 450/1058 and grew up as an orphan together with his younger brother Ahmad Ghazali (d. 520/1126; q.v.). After instruction in Islamic jurisprudence as a teenager in Jorjan, he became a student of the leading Ash`arite theologian and Shafi`ite jurist Emam-al-Haramayn Abu’l-Ma`ali Z?ia’-al-Din `Abd-al-Malek Jovayni (d. 478/1085) in Nishapur, where he also studied with the Sufi master Abu `Ali Farmadhi (d. 477/1084-85), a disciple of Abu Sa`id b. Abi’l-K¨ayr (d. 440/1049, q.v.), Abu’l-Qasem Qushayri (d. 465/1072), and Abu’l-Qasem Korrakani (d. 469/1076). In 478/1085, after the death of his teachers, Ghazali joined the circle of scholars at the camp and court of the Saljuq vizier Khaja Nizam-al-Mulk (assassinated in 485/1092, q.v.), the patron of colleges (madrasas) he had founded. Appointed by Nizam-al-Mulk in 484/1091, Ghazali became an influential professor on Shafi`ite jurisprudence for four years at the Nizamiya madrasa in Baghdad (Glaasen, pp. 131-75). Overcome by a severe physical illness and plagued by a nagging skepticism born of his intensive self-study of Islamic philosophy, Ghazali decided to abandon his teaching position in 488/1095 in favor of his brother Ahmad. This year signaled a deep identity crisis in Ghazali. Shaken by epistemological doubt, he resolved to seek certitude (yaqin) as the underpinnings of his intellectual knowledge. His crisis occurred only a few years after political rivals, in concert with Nizari Isma`ili enemies against whom Ghazali had written a refutation on the order of caliph al-Mustazher (487-512/1094-1118), had engineered his patron’s assassination. Using a pilgrimage to Mecca as the pretext to escape Baghdad, Ghazali gave up his academic career. He was particularly disillusioned by the corruption affecting the scholarly circles of the college in the aftermath of the political turmoil following Rukn-al-Din Barkiaruq’s (q.v.) teenage accession to the Saljuq sultanate in 485/1092.
The next eleven years, from 488/1095 until 499/1106, when Ghazali returned to his academic career as a professor at the college of Nishapur, were doubtless a period of intense intellectual incubation, although specific details about his life and work in this period remain historically uncertain. According to his autobiography, Ghazali first went to Damascus where he taught in the zawia of Nasr Maqdisi (d. 490/1097; Makdisi, p. 45). Then he journeyed from Syria to Jerusalem and visited the tomb of Abraham at Hebron in 489/1096, where he made the vow never again to take money from the government, never again to serve a ruler, and never again to enter into scholastic disputations (van Ess, p. 61). He then went to Medina and Mecca, where he performed the pilgrimage in 489/1096, returned to Syria, possibly after a short visit to Alexandria in Egypt, and finally, after a brief stay in Baghdad in 490/1097, settled down at Tus. During this intellectual exile from organized teaching, Ghazali lived in great solitude and poverty, engaged in ascetical exercises and mystical prayer, and composed his most famous work, Ihya’ `ulum al-din “The revival of the religious sciences,” which advocates Sufi spirituality as the fulcrum of Islamic religion. Although this work bears all the marks of the manual of a great teacher and would thus presuppose Ghazali lecturing to students, the sources offer few clues about who his crucial Sufi contacts might have been on his journeys, or, barring a few minor exceptions, who his audience might have been in his hometown.
In 499/1106, Nizam-al-Mulk’s son Fakhr-al-Mulk (q.v.), who had become the vizier of Sanjar, the Saljuq sultan of Khorasan, invited Ghazali to return to lecturing at the Nizamiya of Nishapur. Breaking the vow he had made at Abraham’s tomb, Ghazali accepted the invitation and taught in Nishapur until shortly before his death, animated by his belief that it was God’s will for him to function as the renewer of religion (mujaddid) at the threshold of the new Islamic century. His autobiography, al-Munqidh men al-Dhalal “The deliverer from error” (cf. Watt, 1953; tr. McCarthy, pp. 61-143; first translation into French by A. Schmulders, Paris, 1842) dates from this final period of Ghazali’s teaching, during the last months of which he retired to the Sufi retreat (khanaqah) he had established for his disciples earlier in Tus. He died there in Jumada II 505/December 1111. The chronology of Ghazali’s biography has been established by Margaret Smith (1944), Maurice Bouyges and Michel Allard, and W. Montgomery Watt, (1963) on the basis of Ghazali’s autobiography and a great number of biographical accounts found in the Arabic primary sources (listed in Dhahabi, p. 115).
Ghazali was a prolific author whose writings, examined chronologically by Bouyges and Allard (pp. 85-170; Badawi), number about five dozen authentic works, in addition to which some 300 other titles of works of uncertain, doubtful, or spurious authorship, many of them duplicates owing to varying titles, are cited in Muslim bibliographical literature. The charge that books were falsely ascribed to Ghazali increased after the dissemination of the large corpus of Ebn `Arabi’s works (d. 638/1240, q.v.). Nevertheless, it is a questionable criterion of authenticity to reject works of Ghazali that are highly mystical or esoteric in character as spurious, separating them from works said to be genuine because they are rather rational or exoteric in nature. It is also an all-too simplistic assumption that Ghazali’s writings move from exoteric topics to mystical ones as he advances in age, though some of the most esoteric writings attributed to Gazali do belong to the last phase of his literary activity. The rule-of-thumb criterion suggested by Watt (1952, pp. 24-45; idem, 1961, pp. 121-31) that Ghazali never directly contradicted on “higher” levels what he maintained on lower levels, forces a harmonizing consistency on a highly prolific author who underwent severe personal crises and shifts of intellectual outlook. Already Ibn Tufayl (d. 581/1185, q.v.) observed that Ghazali wrote for different audiences, ordinary men and the elite (pp. 69-72), and Ghazali himself completed the rather moderate theological treatise, Iljam al-`awamm `an `ilm al-kalam “The restraining of ordinary men from theology,” in the last month before his death (cf. Hourani).
In addition to the aforementioned autobiography, which is the retrospective story of his religious development rather than a historical account of his life curve, the following are considered to be the major works of Ghazali, all undisputedly penned by him. The legal writings of Ghazali, who followed the Shafi`ite school of law, include the compendia, known as al-Basit, al-Wasit, and al-Wajiz that still await scholarly analysis and may represent paraphrases of his teachers’ works. The first two are treatises on legal applications (furu` al-fiqh) written early in his career, while the third one is an epitome compiled in 495/1101. Ghazali’s principal treatise on the foundations of Islamic jurisprudence, entitled al-Mustasfa min `ilm al-usul “The essential theory of legal thought” was written in 503/1109 at Nishapur (Ibn Khallikan, ed. `Abbas, IV, p. 217). This last great treatise, completed two years before his death, examines the rules of law (ahkam) and their foundations (osul) with unparalleled methodical acumen (Laoust, pp. 152-82). A generation after Ghazali, scholars such as Abu `Abd-Allah Mohammad b. `Ali Mazari (d. 536/1141-42), praised Ghazali for his comprehensive knowledge of the legal applications but criticized his grasp of the legal foundations (Subki, Tabaqat 2 VI, p. 241). High praise was expressed also by Ibn `Abbad Rundi (d. 792/1390), who, on account of Ghazali’s first half of his voluminous Ihya’, called Ghazali an authority on Islamic jurisprudence (pp. 88-89). Except for Sufism, no other field of the Islamic sciences absorbed so much of Ghazali’s time and energy as that of jurisprudence (Lazarus Yafeh, pp. 373-411). He was in the first place a professor of Shafi`ite law.
Ghazali’s study of Islamic philosophy received initial motivation from his teacher Juwayni, but benefited mainly from his self-study of the works of Abu Nasr Farabi and Avicenna (qq.v.) during his years as professor at the Nizamiya of Baghdad. Ghazali approached philosophy in three stages. First (pace Graef, ZDMG 110, 1961, pp. 162-63), he summarized the principal points of philosophy by compiling a systematic exposition, entitled Maqased al-falasefa “The intentions of the philosophers,” which became a highly acclaimed treatise in medieval Europe upon its translation into Latin (Logica et Philosophia Algazelis Arabis) by Dominic Gundisalvi in the 12th century (Muckle; cf. P. Liechtenstein’s Latin edition, Venices, 1506), and into Hebrew in the 13th century (Steinschneider). Second, in the first fortnight of 488/1095, he completed the Tahafut al-falasifa “The incoherence of the philosophers” (ed. M. Bouyges with a summary in Latin, Beirut, 1927), a controversial work of refutation which provoked the great philosopher of Muslim Spain, Ibn Rushd/Averroes (d. 595/1198) to reply with his own refutation (Tahafut al-tahafut). In the Tahafut al-falasifa Ghazali enumerated twenty maxims of the philosophers that he found to be objectionable or inconsistent with their own claims, three of them justifying the charge of unbelief: the philosophers’ claim of the eternity of the world, their denial of God’s knowledge of particulars, and their repudiation of the resurrection of the body. Ghazali tended to reject the necessary link of causality since all that can be affirmed is a post-hoc rather than a prior hoc, as shown by his example that the combustion of cotton occurs at the moment of its contact with fire, while it cannot be demonstrated that it occurs because of the contact between cotton and fire. For Ghazali human reason alone is unable to attain certitude, though he paradoxically uses his own certain reason to destroy the certitudes of the philosophers by borrowing their method for his arguments! Third, Ghazali authored three treatises that prepared the ground for his subsequent systematic writings on theology, his elaborate Mi`yar al-`ilm “The standard of knowledge” and his brief Mahakk al-nazar “The touchstone of thought,” both treatises on logic, as well as his Mizan al-`amal “The balance of action,” a tract on philosophical ethics.
Ghazali’s writings on Islamic theology (`ilm al-kalam) signal a significant stage of development for its rational methodology because he used the Aristotelian syllogism and systematically applied it to theological thought. Ghazali’s influence on theological method, noted in Ibn Khaldun’s (d. 808/1406, q.v.) Muqaddima (tr., III, p. 52), is evidenced in his principal work on Islamic theology, al-Iqtisad fi’l- i`tiqad “The just mean in belief” (Asin Palacios, 1929) completed in 488/1095, the year of his departure from Baghdad. This work weighs traditional theological maxims (maintained by major scholars of law, e.g., Shafi`i, Malik b. Anas, Abu Hanifa, Ibn Hanbal) against Ghazali’s own opinions and expresses strong reservations about a theology based on faith in authority (taqlid) and marked by polemics. In the Ihya’ and the Munqidh this reserve turns into outright rejection of theology as a reliable way to certain truth and, in the Iljam, into a warning against the dangers hidden in its study. Ghazali, however, engaged in theological polemics himself, and his more systematic writings on theology were preceded by his polemical treatise against the Batieniya sect of Nezari Isma`ilism. This refutation, al-Mostazheri fi fazµa’eh al-Batieniya “The abominations of the sectarians” (Goldziher, 1916), was named after the caliph al-Mostazher (acceded to the caliphate in 487/1094), on whose order Ghazali wrote the work in Baghdad. Two later works that reflect Ghazali’s intellectual struggle with the principle of hermeneutics (ta’wil), upheld by the authoritative teaching (ta`lim) of the Batieniya, are the al-Qestias al-mostaqim “The correct balance” (tr. McCarthy, pp. 287-332) and the Faysal al-tafreqa bayna’l-Islam wa’l-zandaqa “The arbiter between Islam and heresy” (tr. McCarthy, pp. 145-74), the latter of which includes an innovative argument for the tolerance of heterodox groups within the Islamic community (Griffel, pp. 34-42). The authenticity of Ghazali’s al-Radd al-jamil `ala’l-elahiyat `Isa sarih al-Enjil “The excellent refutation of the divinity of Jesus from the clear evidence of the Gospel” is maintained by Louis Massignon (pp. 491-536), although questioned by others (Lazarus-Yafeh, pp. 458-87).
Ghazali’s most important work, the monumental Ihya’ `olum al-din, written during his years of travel and retreat between his teaching at Baghdad and Nishapur, represents a moderate form of Sufism, one stressing religious knowledge and righteous action (cf. the analysis of Bousquet). The work as a whole reflects Ghazali’s self-perception as one chosen to revive religion, being a complete guide to Islamic piety, divided into four volumes of ten “books” each (`ibadat “religious duties,” `adat “social customs,” muhlikat “faults of character,” and munjiyat “virtues”). Convinced that in his time the scholars of law and religion (`olama’) had debased religious knowledge, making it a business of this-worldly gain, Ghazali tried to revive a true religiosity that, in his view, had become moribund. To this end he wrote his work in an eloquent didactic style, addressing himself to the common people yet also adding insights for the mystically attuned elite. A teacher and preacher more than an original thinker, he intended, through clarity of thought rather than brilliance of diction, to convert others to following the path to God. Though Ghazali used Abu Taleb Makki’s (d. 386/996) Qut al-qulub and Qushayri’s Risala as major sources, and even copied pages of Makki’s work wholesale, the work is an independent and freshly organized compendium drawn from his broad knowledge of the Islamic sciences. After the completion of his monumental work Ghazali wrote a short summary of it, entitled Kitab al-arba`in “The book of the forty,” compiled the al-Maqsad al-asna fi asma’ Allah al-husna “The noblest of aims,” an exposition of the most beautiful names of God (al-asma’ al-husna) and answered the critics of the Ihya’ with his al-Emla’ `ala mushkil al-Ihya’ (printed in its margin). Among the smaller treatises, written after the Ihya’, mention may be made of the eschatological tract, al-Durra al-fakhira fi kashf `ulum al-akhera. Finally, an extensive commentary on the Ihya’ (Ithaf al-sadat al-muttaqin) was compiled by Mohammad b. Mohammad Zabidi, known as Sayyed Mortazµa (d. 1205/1791), while in modern times dozens of the “books” of Ghazali’s magnum opus have been translated into Western languages (such as, e.g. the annotated translation of Gramlich).
The scholarly analysis of works of Ghazali, and his Sufi writings in particular, has been controversial for about a century (Macdonald, pp. 71-132; Carra de Vaux; Asin Palacios, 1931-41; Wensinck; Obermann; Jabre; Watt, 1963; Laoust; Lazarus-Yafeh) because of the predominant emphasis on Ghazali as an orthodox rationalist. In addition, his monumental Ihya’, which deals with Sufi topics for only half the work, has overshadowed a number of smaller Sufi treatises Ghazali authored especially in the later stages of his life. The crux of the question about the extent to which Ghazali may be interpreted as a mystical philosopher is centered on his Mishkat al-anwar “Niche of lights.” The work was first studied and translated by William H. T. Gairdner (1924; 1914, pp. 121-53), whose attribution and analyses were challenged by W. Montgomery Watt (pp. 5-22), and `Abd-al-Rahman Badawi (pp. 193-98) added the observation in 1948 that a collective manuscript of Ghazali’s writings, copied only four years after his death (MS Shihid Ali 1712), included the entire Mishkat al-anwar. In a recent study, Hermann Landolt (pp. 19-72) assembled a series of arguments in favor of the authenticity of the work and of the consistency of its ideas with esoteric passages of the Ihya’. More textual studies on other small Sufi treatises of Ghazali, in comparison with the Ihya’, are needed to clarify our understanding of Ghazali’s mystical philosophy. Such small treatises of disputed authenticity are the Minhaj al-`abidin (Bouyges and Allard, pp. 82-84), assumed to have been his last work, and the al-Mazµnun (Cairo, 1303/1885-86; Bouyges and Allard, pp. 51-56), addressed to his brother Ahmad. Meticulous manuscript study is also required to support the authenticity of the Risala al-laduniya (M. Smith, 1938, pp. 177-200, 353-74; idem, 1944, p. 212), which is frequently held to be a work of Ibn `Arabi (Bouyges and Allard, pp. 124-25).
Because the vast majority of Ghazali’s writings are compiled in Arabic, little scholarly attention is commonly given to the books he wrote in Persian. His Kimia-ye sa`adat “Alchemy of happiness” is a Persian synopsis of his Ihya’ for his disciples, rather than its popularized version (Pretzl, p. 17). Completed shortly before 499/1106 (Bouyges and Allard, p. 60), the work is a well-organized religious ethics (de Fouche‚cour, pp. 223-52), enriched by mystical reflections on the heart (qalb) that is “alchemically” purified and empowered to reach God. Succinctly put, the Kimia-ye sa`adat finds the solution of Ghazali’s own original crisis concerning the human heart, held in the physical body, though fashioned from the substance of angels, as being in the image of God. As the organ of intimate union with God and the locus of the inborn nature (fetra), it is the seat of the knowledge and love of God as well as the source of moral action. In his brief refutation of the ebahiya (Islamic freethinkers) written in Persian in 499/1106, Ghazali tries to safeguard his moderate mystical synthesis by attacking antinomian Sufi extremism (ed. Pretzl). It may also be noted that Ghazali’s short Ayyoha’l-walad “Oh child” (cf. Hammer-Purgstall), written after the Ihya’, was originally composed in Persian, and only later translated into Arabic under the title Kholasat al-tasanif (Bouyges and Allard, pp. 60-61, 97-98).
Another Persian work is the Nasihat al-moluk “Counsel for kings” (tr. into Arabic well after Ghazali’s death by Abu’l-Hasan `Ali b. Mobarak b. Mawhub Erbili as al-Tebr al-masbuk; Meier, pp. 395-408), which was compiled about 503/1109 and belongs to the literary genre of “mirrors for princes.” Weaving together anecdotes of Sasanian court literature and stories of Muslim lore, the book is written in a pleasing Persian and divided into two parts, a theological part, explaining the beliefs and principles on which a ruler should act, and an ethical part, including counsels and maxims according to which a ruler should administer his charge. It is generally assumed that the Nasihat al-moluk was written for the Saljuq sultan Mohammad b. Malekshah, whose rule (498-511/1104-17) followed that of his brother Barkiaroq (Meier, p. 395; Gazali, tr. Bagley, pp. xvii-xviii). In her dissertation on Ghazali’s letters and public addresses, however, Dorothea Krawulsky argues (pp. 20-25; Laoust, pp. 144-52) that the book was addressed to the Saljuq sultan Sanjar, the brother of his two predecessors, who, prior to his own rule (513-52/1119-57), administered the eastern half of the sultanate in his two brothers’ stead as “king of the east” (malek-e mashreq). Then again, attribution of the second part of the Nasihat al-moluk has been seriously questioned by C. H. de Fouche‚cour (pp. 389-412), while Patricia Crone has rejected its authenticity altogether (pp. 167-91). The compilation of the small treatise, Serr al-`alamayn “The secret of the two worlds,” also in the genre of “mirror for princes” though written in Arabic, is linked with an often repeated, yet doubtful, story about Ebn Tumart (d. 524/1130). The Mahdi of the Almohads, said to have copied the book while studying with Ghazali in Baghdad, informed the master about the public burning of his Ihya’ in Cordoba and throughout the Almoravid dominions (Goldziher, 1903, pp. 18-19).
Given the great volume of Ghazali’s writings, it is difficult to state succinctly the significance and influence of his life and work. Nevertheless, Ghazali’s own confession, in the opening pages of his Monqedh (ed. Jabre, pp. 10-11), of a thirst to free his inborn intellectual nature (fetira) from the blind adherence (taqlid) to inherited religion may reflect the core of his religious quest and provide the key to his work. A more balanced interpretation of Gazali may well lie in the acknowledgment that his manifold ideas evolved over a long career, rather than in the insistence upon either an objectivist or subjectivist approach to his thought. The richness of Ghazali’s legacy embraces not only a systematic study of law and theology that rejects both legal casuistry and scholastic ingenuity, yet includes a polemical fervor against philosophers and heretics, but it also embodies a high standard of morals and a deep mystical insight. Ghazali’s influence on the rationalist philosophy of the Islamic West as well as on the scholasticism of Judaism and Christianity in medieval southern Europe has been highlighted for centuries; the study of his impact on the inner life and mystical thought of the Persian-speaking world has barely begun.
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Source: Al-Ghazali Article from Encyclopedia Iranica, with minor corrections by GSG editorial team. Contents is copyrighted by Encyclopedia Iranica. see www.iranica.com for more information. Encyclopedia Iranica is to be commended for their generosity for placing this great resource online. eds.