Who is Al-Ghazali?
Al-Ghazali (full name أبو حامد محمد بن محمد الطوسي الغزالي, Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad aṭ-Ṭūsī al-Ġazālī; latinized Algazelus or Algazel; c. 1058 – 19 December 1111) was one of the most prominent and influential philosophers, theologians, jurists, and mystics of Sunni Islam. He was of Persian origin.
Some muslims consider him to be a Mujaddid, a renewer of the faith who, according to the prophetic hadith, appears once every century to restore the faith of the ummah (“the Islamic Community”). His works were so highly acclaimed by his contemporaries that al-Ghazali was awarded the honorific title “Proof of Islam” (Hujjat al-Islām).
Al-Ghazali believed that the Islamic spiritual tradition had become moribund and that the spiritual sciences taught by the first generation of Muslims had been forgotten. That resulted in his writing his magnum opus entitled Iḥyā’ ‘ulūm ad-dīn (“The Revival of the Religious Sciences”). Among his other works, the Tahāfut al-Falāsifa (“Incoherence of the Philosophers”) is a significant landmark in the history of philosophy, as it advances the critique of Aristotelian science developed later in 14th-century Europe.
The believed date of al-Ghazali’s birth, as given by Ibn al-Jawzi, is AH 450 (1058/9). Modern estimates place it at AH 448 (1056/7), on the basis of certain statements in al-Ghazali’s correspondence and autobiography. He was a Muslim scholar, law specialist, rationalist, and spiritualist of Persian descent. He was born in Tabaran, a town in the district of Tus, Khorasan (now part of Iran), not long after Seljuk captured Baghdad from the Shia Buyid and established Sunni Caliphate under a commission from the Abbasid Dynasty in 1055 AD.
A posthumous tradition, the authenticity of which has been questioned in recent scholarship, is that his father, a man “of Persian descent,” died in poverty and left the young al-Ghazali and his brother Ahmad to the care of a Sufi. Al-Ghazali’s contemporary and first biographer, ‘Abd al-Ghafir al-Farisi, records merely that al-Ghazali began to receive instruction in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) from Ahmad al-Radhakani, a local teacher. He later studied under al-Juwayni, the distinguished jurist and theologian and “the most outstanding Muslim scholar of his time,” in Nishapur, perhaps after a period of study in Gurgan. After al-Juwayni’s death in 1085, al-Ghazali departed from Nishapur and joined the court of Nizam al-Mulk, the powerful vizier of the Seljuq sultans, which was likely centered in Isfahan. After bestowing upon him the titles of “Brilliance of the Religion” and “Eminence among the Religious Leaders,” Nizam al-Mulk advanced al-Ghazali in July 1091 to the “most prestigious and most challenging” professorial at the time: in the Nizamiyya madrasa in Baghdad.
He underwent a spiritual crisis in 1095, 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 an ascetic lifestyle. According to biographer Duncan B. Macdonald, the purpose of abstaining from scholastic work was to confront the spiritual experience and more ordinary understanding of “the Word and the Traditions.” After some time in Damascus and Jerusalem, with a visit to Medina and Mecca in 1096, he returned to Tus to spend the next several years in ‘uzla (seclusion). The seclusion consisted in abstaining from teaching at state-sponsored institutions, but he continued to publish, receive visitors and teach in the zawiya (private madrasa) and khanqah (Sufi monastery) that he had built.
Fakhr al-Mulk, grand vizier to Ahmad Sanjar, pressed al-Ghazali to return to the Nizamiyya in Nishapur. Al-Ghazali reluctantly capitulated in 1106, fearing rightly that he and his teachings would meet with resistance and controversy. He later returned to Tus and declined an invitation in 1110 from the grand vizier of the Seljuq Sultan Muhammad I to return to Baghdad. He died on 19 December 1111. According to ‘Abd al-Ghafir al-Farisi, he had several daughters but no sons.
Al-Ghazali contributed significantly to the development of a systematic view of Sufism and its integration and acceptance in mainstream Islam. As a scholar of orthodox Islam, he belonged to the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence and to the Asharite school of theology. Al-Ghazali received many titles such as Sharaf-ul-Aʾimma (شرف الأئمة), Zayn-ud-dīn (زين الدين) and Ḥujjat-ul-Islām (حجة الإسلام).
He is viewed as the key member of the influential Asharite school of early Muslim philosophy and the most important refuter of the Mutazilites. However, he chose a slightly-different position in comparison with the Asharites. His beliefs and thoughts differ in some aspects from the orthodox Asharite school.
A total of about 60 works can be attributed to Al-Ghazali.
Incoherence of the Philosophers
His 11th century book titled The Incoherence of the Philosophers marks a major turn in Islamic epistemology. The encounter with skepticism led al-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 God.In the next century, Averroes drafted a lengthy rebuttal of al-Ghazali’s Incoherence entitled The Incoherence of the Incoherence; however, the epistemological course of Islamic thought had already been set. Al-Ghazali gave as an example of the illusion of independent laws of cause the fact that cotton burns when coming into contact with fire. While it might seem as though a natural law was at work, it happened each and every time only because God willed it to happen—the event was “a direct product of divine intervention as any more attention grabbing miracle”. Averroes, by contrast insisted while God created the natural law, humans “could more usefully say that fire caused cotton to burn—because creation had a pattern that they could discern.”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 Avicenna and Al-Farabi) who drew intellectually upon the Ancient Greeks.
This long-held argument has been criticized. George Saliba in 2007 argued that the decline of science in the 11th century has been overstated, pointing to continuing advances, particularly in astronomy, as late as the 14th century. On the other hand, Hassan Hassan in 2012 argued that while indeed scientific thought in Islam was stifled in the 11th century, the person mostly to blame is not Al-Ghazali but Nizam al-Mulk.
The autobiography al-Ghazali wrote towards the end of his life, Deliverance From Error (المنقذ من الضلال al-munqidh min al-ḍalāl) is considered a work of major importance. In it, al-Ghazali recounts how, once a crisis of epistemological skepticism was resolved by “a light which God Most High cast into my breast … the key to most knowledge,” he studied and mastered the arguments of kalam, Islamic philosophy, and Ismailism. Though appreciating what was valid in the first two of these, at least, he determined that all three approaches were inadequate and found ultimate value only in the mystical experience and insight (the state of prophecy or nubuwwa) he attained as a result of following Sufi practices. William James, in Varieties of Religious Experience, considered the autobiography an important document for “the purely literary student who would like to become acquainted with the inwardness of religions other than the Christian” because of the scarcity of recorded personal religious confessions and autobiographical literature from this period outside the Christian tradition.
The Revival of Religious Sciences
See also: The Revival of the Religious Sciences
Another of al-Ghazali’s major works is Ihya’ Ulum al-Din or Ihya’u Ulumiddin (The Revival of Religious Sciences). It covers almost all fields of Islamic sciences: fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), kalam (theology) and sufism.
It contains four major sections: Acts of worship (Rub’ al-‘ibadat), Norms of Daily Life (Rub’ al-‘adatat), The ways to Perdition (Rub’ al-muhlikat) and The Ways to Salvation (Rub’ al-munjiyat). The Ihya became the most frequently recited Islamic text after the Qur’an and the hadith. Its great achievement was to bring orthodox Sunni theology and Sufi mysticism together in a useful, comprehensive guide to every aspect of Muslim life and death. The book was well received by Islamic scholars such as Nawawi who stated that: “Were the books of Islam all to be lost, excepting only the Ihya’, it would suffice to replace them all.”
Ghazali rewrote The Revival of Religious Sciences in Persian to reach a larger audience; he published this book under the name The Alchemy of Happiness.
The Alchemy of Happiness
The Alchemy of Happiness is a rewritten version of The Revival of the Religious Sciences. After the existential crisis that caused him to completely re-examine his way of living and his approach to religion, Al-Ghazali put together The Alchemy of Happinessto reassert his fundamental belief that a connection to God was an integral part of the joy of living. The book is divided into four different sections. The first of these is Knowledge of Self, where Al-Ghazali asserts that while food, sex, and other indulgences might slake humans appetites temporarily, they in turn make a human into an animal, and therefore will never give true happiness and fulfillment. In order to find oneself, people must devote themselves to God by showing restraint and discipline rather than gluttony of the senses . The second installment is called Knowledge of God, where Al-Ghazali states that the events that occur during one’s life are meant to point an individual towards God, and that God will always be strong, no matter how far humans deviate from his will. The third section of The Alchemy of Happiness is Knowledge of the World. Here he states that the world is merely a place where humans learn to love God, and prepare for the future, or the afterlife, the nature of which will be determined by our actions in this phase of our journey to happiness. The final section is Knowledge of the Future World, which details how there are two types of spirits within a man: the angelic spirit and the animal spirit. Al-Ghazali details the types of spiritual tortures unbelievers experience, as well as the path that must be taken in order to attain spiritual enlightenment. This book serves as a culmination of the transformation Ghazali goes through during his spiritual awakening.
Disciplining the Soul
One of the key sections of Ghazali’s Revival of the Religious Sciences is Disciplining the Soul, which focuses on the internal struggles that every Muslim will face over the course of his lifetime. The first chapter primarily focuses on how one can develop himself into a person with positive attributes and good personal characteristics . The second chapter has a more specific focus: sexual satisfaction and gluttony.Here, Ghazali states that indeed every man has these desires and needs, and that it is natural to want these things. However, the Prophet explicitly states that there must be a middle ground for man, in order to practice the tenets of Islam faithfully . The ultimate goal that Ghazali is presenting not only in these two chapters, but in the entirety of The Revival of the Religious Sciences, is that there must be moderation in every aspect of the soul of a man, an equilibrium. These two chapters were the 22nd and 23rd chapters, respectively, in Ghazali’s Revival of the Religious Sciences. It’s also important to note here that Ghazali draws from Greek as well as Islamic philosophy in crafting this literary staple, even though much of The Incoherence of the Philosophers, his most well known work, takes a critical aim at their perspective.
The Eternity of the World
Al-Ghazali crafted his rebuttal of the Aristotelian viewpoint on the creation of the world in The Eternity of the World . Al-Ghazali essentially formulates two main arguments for what he views as a sacrilegious thought process. Central to the Aristotelian approach is the concept that motion will always precede motion, or in other words, a force will always create another force, and therefore for a force to be created, another force must act upon that force. This means that in essence time stretches infinitely both into the future and into the past, which therefore proves that God did not create the universe at one specific point in time. Ghazali counters this by first stating that if the world was created with exact boundaries, then in its current form there would be no need for a time before the creation of the world by God. The second argument Ghazali makes is that because humans can only imagine the time before the creation of the world, and your imagination is a fictional thing, that all the time before the world was created is fictional as well, and therefore does not matter as it was not intended by God to be understood by humans.
The Decisive Criterion for Distinguishing Islam from Clandestine Unbelief
Al-Ghazali lays out in The Decisive Criterion for Distinguishing Islam from Clandestine Unbelief his approach to Muslim orthodoxy. Ghazali veers from the often hardline stance of many of his contemporaries during this time period and states that as long as one believes in the Prophet Muhammad and God himself, there are many different ways to practice Islam and that any of the many traditions practiced in good faith by believers should not be viewed as heretical by other Muslims. While Ghazali does state that any Muslim practicing Islam in good faith is not guilty of apostasy, he does outline in The Criterion that there is one standard of Islam that is more correct than the others, and that those practicing the faith incorrectly should be moved to change. In Ghazali’s view, only the Prophet himself could deem a faithfully practicing Muslim an infidel, and his work was a pushback against the religious persecution and strife that occurred often during this time period between various Islamic sects.
Works in Persian
Al-Ghazali wrote most of his works in Arabic and few in Persian. His most important Persian work is Kīmyāyé Sa’ādat (The Alchemy of Happiness). It is al-Ghazali’s own Persian version of Ihya’ul ulumuddin (The Revival of Religious Sciences) in Arabic, but a shorter work. It is one of the outstanding works of 11th-century-Persian literature. The book was published several times in Tehran by the edition of Hussain Khadev-jam, a renowned Iranian scholar. It is translated to English, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, Azerbaijani and other languages.
Apart from Kimya, the most celebrated of al-Ghazali’s works in Persian is ‘Nasīhatul Mulūk (The Counseling Kings), written most probably for Sultan Ahmad Sanjar ibn Malekshah. In the edition published by Jalāluddīn Humāyī, the book consists of two parts of which only the first can reliably be attributed to al-Ghazali. The language and the contents of some passages are similar to the Kimyaye Sa’adat. The second part differs considerably in content and style from the well-known writings of al-Ghazali. It contains the stories of pre-Islamic kings of Persia, especially those of Anoshervān. Nasihatul Muluk was early translated to Arabic under the title al-Tibr al-masbuk fi nasihat al-muluk (The Forged Sword in Counseling Kings).
Zād-e Ākherat (Provision for the hereafter) is an important Persian book of al-Ghazali but gained less scholarly attention. The greater part of it consists of the Persian translation of one of his Arabic books, Bedāyat al-Hedāya (Beginning of Guidance). It contains in addition the same contents as the Kīmyāyé Sa’ādat. The book was most probably written during the last years of his life. Its manuscripts are in Kabul (Library of the Department of Press) and in Leiden.
Pand-nāma (Book of Counsel) is another book of advice and probably attributed to Sultan Sanjar. The introduction to the book relates that Al-Ghazali wrote the book in response to a certain king who had asked him for advice. Ay farzand (O son!) is a short book of counsel that al-Ghazali wrote for one of his students. The book was early translated to Arabic entitled ayyuhal walad. Another Persian work is Hamāqāti ahli ibāhat or Raddi ebāhīyya (Condemnation of antinomians) which is his fatwa in Persian illustrated with Quranic verses and Hadiths.
Faza’ilul al-anam min rasa’ili hujjat al-Islam is the collection of letters in Persian that al-Ghazali wrote in response to the kings, ministers, jurists and some of his friends after he returned to Khorasan. The collection was gathered by one of his grandchildren after his death, under five sections/chapters. The longest letter is the response to objections raised against some of his statements in Mishkat al-Anwar (The Niche of Light) and al-Munqidh min al-dalal (Rescuer from Error). The first letter is the one which al-Ghazali wrote to Sultan Sanjar presenting his excuse for teaching in Nizamiyya of Nishapur; followed by al-Ghazali’s speech in the court of Sultan Sanjar. Al-Ghazali makes an impressive speech when he was taken to the king’s court in Nishapur in 1106, giving very influential counsels, asking the sultan once again for excusing him from teaching in Nizamiyya. The sultan was so impressed that he ordered al-Ghazali to write down his speech so that it will be sent to all the ulemas of Khorasan and Iraq.
During his life, he authored over 70 books on science, Islamic reasoning and Sufism. Al-Ghazali distributed his book The Incoherence of Philosophers, set apart as the defining moment in Islamic epistemology. The experience that he had with suspicion drove al-Ghazali to shape a conviction that all occasions and connections are not the result of material conjunctions but are the present and prompt will of God.
Another of al-Ghazali’s most prestigious works is Ihya’ Ulum al-Din (“The Revival of Religious Sciences”). The work covers all fields of Islamic science and incorporates Islamic statute, philosophy and Sufism. It had numerous positive reactions, and Al-Ghazali at that point composed a condensed form in Persian under the title Kimiya-yi sa’adat (“The Alchemy of Happiness”). Although al-Ghazali said that he has composed more than 70 books, attributed to him are more than 400 books.
Al-Ghazali likewise assumed a noteworthy part in spreading Sufism and Sharia. He was the first to consolidate the ideas of Sufism into Sharia laws and the first to give a formal depiction of Sufism in his works. His works fortify the position of Sunni Islam, contrasted with different schools of thought.
Al-Ghazali had an important influence on both later 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, having studied at the University of Naples where the influence of Arab literature and culture was predominant at the time.” 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.
The period following Ghazali “has tentatively been called the Golden Age of Arabic philosophy” initiated by Ghazali’s successful integration of logic into the Islamic seminary Madrasah curriculum.
Al-Ghazali also played a major role in integrating Sufism with Shariah. He was also the first to present a formal description of Sufism in his works. His works also strengthened the status of Sunni Islam against other schools. The Batinite (Ismailism) had emerged in Persian territories and were gaining more and more power during al-Ghazali’s period, as Nizam al-Mulk was assassinated by the members of Ismailis. Al-Ghazali strongly rejected their ideology and wrote several books on criticism of Baatinyas which significantly weakened their status.
Al-Ghazali succeeded in gaining widespread acceptance for Sufism at the expense of philosophy. At the same time, in his refutation of philosophers he made use of their philosophical categories and thus helped to give them wider circulation.
His influences and impact on Sufism and Islam during the 11th century has been a subject of debate in contemporary times. Some fifty works that he had written is evidenced that he was one of the most important Islamic thinkers of his time. Three of his works, Ihaya’ Ulum ad-Din (Revival of Religious Sciences), Tahafut al-Falasifa (The Incoherence of Philosophers), and al-Muniqidh min a-alal (Al-Ghazali’s Path to Sufism: His Deliverance from Error) are still widely read and circulated among Islamic scholars today. After the death of Al-Ghazali, it is believed there followed a long era in which there was a notable absence of Islamic philosophers, contributing to the status of Ghazali in the modern era. The staple of his religious philosophy was arguing that the creator was the center point of all human life that played a direct role in all world affairs. Al-Ghazali’s influence was not limited to Islam, but in fact his works were widely circulated among Christian and Hebrew scholars and philosophers. Some of the more notable philosophers and scholars in the west include David Hume, Dante, and St. Thomas Aquinas. Moses Ben Maimon, a Jewish theologian was deeply interested and vested in the works of Al-Ghazali. One of the more notable achievements of Ghazali were his writing and reform of education that laid the path of Islamic Education from the 12th to the 19th centuries CE. Al-Ghazali’s works were heavily relied upon by Islamic mathematicians and astronomers such as At-Tusi.
Early childhood development was a central focal point of Al-Ghazali. He worked to influence and develop a program to mold the young minds of children at an early age to develop their mind and character. He stressed that socialization, family, and schools were central in the achievement of language, morality, and behavior. He emphasized incorporating physical fitness such as games that were important in the development of young minds to attract the idea of attending schools and maintaining an education. In addition, he stressed the importance of understanding and sharing cultures in the classrooms to achieve a civic harmony that would be expressed outside the classroom and kindness to one another. In his writings he placed this responsibility upon the teachers. His treatise on early education centered on Islamic laws, God, and memorizing the Qur’an to achieve literary skill. Ghazali emphasized the importance that there should be a dual respect in regard to the teacher and the pupil. Whereas the teacher guides the student and takes the role of a father figure and offers council to the student, and the student respects the teacher as a patriarch. He stressed that the teacher needed to pay attention to the learning paces of his students so that he could help them be successful in academic achievements.
Al-Ghazali was by every indication of his writings a true mystic in the Persian sense. He believed himself to be more mystical or religious than he was philosophical however, he is more widely regarded by some scholars as a leading figure of Islamic philosophy and thought. He describes his philosophical approach as a seeker of true knowledge, a deeper understanding of the philosophical and scientific, and a better understanding of mysticism and cognition. In the contemporary world, Al-Ghazali is renowned not only for his contribution to Sufism, Islam, Philosophy, or education. But his work and ethical approach transcends another boundary into the Islamic business practice. In the Journal of Business Ethics, authors Yusif Sidani and Akram Al Ariss explain how Islamic business ethics are governed by the writings of Abu-Hamid Al-Ghazali and even posit that Al-Ghazali is the greatest Muslim since the prophet Muhammad. Traditional Islamist’s are influenced by Ghazali’s writings since he was indebted to writing about and incorporating Sharia Law. They emphasize, “His mastery of philosophical logic and reasoning earned him the title of philosopher without losing his status as a religious scholar.” Al-Ghazili’s reasoning on the use of intellect in combination with the rational and spiritual is an integral part of Muslim society today. Therefore, they approach the business perspective with the same ideology and organizational thought.
Al-Ghazali mentioned the number of his works “more than 70” in one of his letters to Sultan Sanjar in the late years of his life. Some “five dozen” are plausibly identifiable, and several hundred attributed works, many of them duplicates because of varying titles, are doubtful or spurious.
The tradition of falsely attributing works to Al-Ghazali increased in the 13th century, after the dissemination of the large corpus of works by Ibn Arabi.
Bibliographies have been published by William Montgomery Watt (The Works Attributed to Al-Ghazali), Maurice Bouyges (Essai de chronologie des oeuvres d’Al-Ghazali) and others.
|works definitely written by al-Ghazali
|works of doubtful attribution
|works which are almost certainly not those of al-Ghazali
|are the names of the Chapters or Sections of al-Ghazali’s books that are mistakenly thought by him
|books written by other authors on al-Ghazali’s works
|books of other unknown scholars/writers regarding al-Ghazali’s life and personality
|the name of the manuscripts of al-Ghazali’s works in different libraries of the world:
|al-Munqidh min al-dalal
|Rescuer from Error
|Proof of the Truth
|Al-Iqtisād fī al-iʿtiqad
|The Moderation in Belief
|al-maqsad al-asna fi sharah asma’ Allahu al-husna
|The best means in explaining Allah’s Beautiful Names
|Jawahir al-Qur’an wa duraruh
|Jewels of the Qur’an and Its Pearls
|Fayasl al-tafriqa bayn al-Islam wa-l-zandaqa
|The Criterion of Distinction between Islam and Clandestine Unbelief
|Al-radd al-jamil li-ilahiyyat ‘Isa bi-sarih al-Injil
|The Excellent Refutation of the Divinity of Jesus through the Text of the Gospel
|The Niche for Lights, a commentary on the Verse of Light
|Tafsir al-yaqut al-ta’wil
|Criterion of Action
|The Revival of the Religious Sciences
|Beginning of Guidance
|The Alchemy of Happiness [a résumé of Ihya’ul ulum, in Persian]
|Counseling Kings in Persian
|al-Munqidh min al-dalal
|Rescuer from Error
|Methodology for the Worshipers
|The Infamies of the Esotericists, a refutation of esoteric Sufism in general and Isma’ili doctrines in particular
|Maqasid al falasifa
|Aims of the Philosophers written in the beginning of his life, in favour of philosophy and presenting the basic theories in Philosophy, mostly influenced by Avicenna’s works
|The Incoherence of the Philosophers), [Book refutes the Greek Philosophy aiming at Avicenna and Al-Farabi; and of which Ibn Rushd wrote his famous refutation Tahafut al-tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence)
|Miyar al-Ilm fi fan al-Mantiq
|Criterion of Knowledge in the Art of Logic
|Mihak al-Nazar fi al-mantiq
|Touchstone of Reasoning in Logic
|The Correct Balance
|Verdicts of al-Ghazali
|Al-wasit fi al-mathab
|(The medium [digest] in the Jurisprudential school)
|Kitab tahzib al-Isul
|Prunning on Legal Theory
|al-Mustasfa fi ‘ilm al-isul
|The Clarified in Legal Theory
|Foundation of Analogical reasoning
|The Jerusalem Tract
Reception of work
According to William Montgomery Watt, Al-Ghazali considered himself to be the Mujaddid (“Revivier”) of his age. Many, perhaps most, later Muslims concurred and, according to Watt, some have even considered him to be the greatest Muslim after Muhammad.
As an example, the Islamic scholar al-Safadi stated:
|Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad, the Proof of Islam, Ornament of the Faith, Abu Hamid al-Tusi (al-Ghazali) the Shafi’ite jurist, was in his later years without rival
and the jurist, al-Yafi’i stated:
|He was called The Proof of Islam and undoubtedly was worthy of the name, absolutely trustworthy (in respect of the Faith) How many an epitome (has he given) us setting forth the basic principles of religion: how much that was repetitive has he summarised, and epitomised what was lengthy. How many a simple explanation has he given us of what was hard to fathom, with brief elucidation and clear solution of knotty problems. He used moderation, being quiet but decisive in silencing an adversary, though his words were like a sharp sword-thrust in refuting a slanderer and protecting the high-road of guidance.
The Shafi’i jurist al-Subki stated:
|“If there had been a prophet after Muhammad, al-Ghazali would have been the man”.
Also a widely-considered Sunni scholar, Al Dhahabi in, his praise of Al Ghazali, wrote: “Al-Ghazzaali, the imaam and shaykh, the prominent scholar, Hujjat al-Islam, the wonder of his time, Zayn al-Deen Abu Haamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Toosi al-Shaafa’i al-Ghazzaali, the author of many books and one possessed of utter intelligence. He studied fiqh in his own town, then he moved to Nisapur in the company of a group of students. He stayed with the Imaam al-Haramayn and gained a deep knowledge of fiqh within a short period. He became well-versed in ‘ilm al-kalaam and debate, until he became the best of debater.”
Ibn Rushd (Averroes), a rationalist, famously responded that “to say that philosophers are incoherent is itself to make an incoherent statement.” Rushd’s book, The Incoherence of the Incoherence, attempted to refute al-Ghazali’s views, but the work was not well received in the Muslim community.
According to Firas Alkhateeb, “When one reads Imam al-Ghazali’s works at a very superficial level, one can easily misunderstand what he is saying as anti-scientific in general. The truth, however, is that al-Ghazali’s only warning to students is to not fully accept all the beliefs and ideas of a scholar simply because of his achievements in mathematics and science. By issuing such a warning, al-Ghazali is in fact protecting the scientific enterprise for future generations by insulating it from being mixed with theoretical philosophy that could eventually dilute science itself to a field based on conjecture and reasoning alone.”
Al-Ghazali was commonly accused by Orientalist scholars of causing a decline in scientific advancement in Islam because of his refutation of the new philosophies of his time. He believed he saw danger in the statements made by philosophers that suggested that God was not all-knowing or even non-existent, which strongly contradicted his orthodox Islamic belief. He is known today for his role in protecting the traditional Islamic beliefs of the Muslim culture. His contributions played a role in the revival of the Islamic faith as taught by the prophet Muhammad before him, despite the challenges presented by philosophy during his time.
Most aspects of Al-Ghazali’s life were heavily influenced by his Islamic beliefs, and his economic philosophy was no exception. He held economic activity to a very high level of importance in his life and thought that others should as well, as he felt that it was not only necessary for the overall benefit to society but also to achieve spiritual wholeness and salvation. In his view, the worldly life of humanity depended on the economic activity of people and so he considered being economically active to be a mandated part of the Sharia law.
He established three goals of economic activity that he believed were part of one’s religious obligation as well as beneficial to the individual: “achievement of self-sufficiency for one’s survival; provision for the well-being of one’s progeny; and provision for assisting those in economic need.” He argued that subsistence living, or living in a way that provides the basic necessities for only one’s family, would not be an acceptable practice to be held by the general population because of the detrimental results that he believed that would bring upon the economy, but he acknowledged that some people may choose to live the subsistence lifestyle at their own will for the sake of their personal religious journey. Conversely, he discouraged people from purchasing or possessing excessive material items, suggesting that any additional money earned could be given to provide for the poor.
Al-Ghazali thought that it should not be necessary to force equality of income in society but that people should be driven by “the spirit of Islamic brotherhood” to share their wealth willingly, but he recognized that it is not always the case. He believed that wealth earned could be used in two potential manners. One is for good, such as maintaining the health of oneself and their family as well as taking care of others and any other actions seen as positive for the Islamic community. The other is what Al-Ghazali would consider misuse, spending it selfishly on extravagant or unnecessary material items.
In terms of trade, Al-Ghazali discussed the necessity of exchanging goods across close cities as well as larger borders because it allows more goods, which may be necessary and not yet available, to be accessible to more people in various locations. He recognized the necessity of trade and its overall beneficial effect on the economy, but making money in that way might not be considered the most virtuous in his beliefs. He did not support people taking “excessive” profits from their trade sales.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia